Through the first two weeks of training camp one change in Buffalo's offense is obvious. The running backs will play a larger role in the passing game. Another change in Turk Schonert's offense is the willingness to utilize short routes for big gains knowing the talent he has at his disposal at the skill positions. Those two changes add up to a lot of high percentage plays that should lead to a lot more first downs and time on the field for the Bills attack in 2008.
"I just know what our guys can and can't do and we've got guys that can make plays after the catch," said Schonert. "So you don't always have to throw it down the field all the time. Get it in their hands quick and now the onus is on the defense to make tackles on guys that can make people miss."
Defending players like Lee Evans, Roscoe Parrish, Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch in space is a tall task knowing how elusive each of them can be. Buffalo's defense has learned that first hand in camp.
The Bills offense to this point has relied on shorter throws to get the ball in the hands of their playmakers that much faster.
"I think he's getting guys the ball in different positions, in different areas of the field to give guys a chance to run after the catch," said Evans of Schonert's approach. "Ultimately that's what you're going to need to make big plays. You're not always going to get long bombs so you'll have to get yards running after the catch. Moving and spreading guys around certainly helps."
And Trent Edwards' quick release only gives his receiving targets more time to gain yards before the defense closes in on them.
"It's a great advantage," said Jackson. "The sooner we get the ball we can kind of look out and see what's going on and decide what we want to do with it. The quick release he has is definitely an advantage for us."
"That's all part of it. That's what Drew Brees does in New Orleans and they've got Reggie Bush, who one-on-one out in open space is tough to stop. So a two-yard pass can turn into a 50-yard play any time," said Schonert. "We've got guys like that. We've got a lot of guys that if you get the ball in their hands quick in space they can make something happen."
Schonert references New Orleans because the Saints were second in the league in yards after the catch last season gaining 2,112 yards collectively after Brees got them the football. Green Bay led the league with 2,294 yards after the catch and went to the NFC Championship game. New England was third and went to the Super Bowl.
Last season Buffalo ranked 19th in that category managing just 1,465 yards after the catch, but that was due mainly to the fact that the Bills offense couldn't stay on the field and sustain drives.
If you look at average yards after the catch, Buffalo was tied for third in the league in 2007 at 5.6 yards gained after the reception was made. That's why Buffalo's offensive coordinator feels the Bills can be successful with this approach.
Schonert believes with virtually the same receiving corps from last year, if he increases the touches per game for Lynch and Jackson the team's yards after catch could be appreciably higher.
"He thinks there's not a linebacker that can cover either one of us in the open field," said Jackson of Schonert. "So he thinks it's a way to get us out there and use our explosiveness and our elusiveness and our ability to break tackles and just get us out and get the ball and let us be creative. It's just one of the things he wants to do this year."
Jackson had all of 22 receptions last season and Lynch had just 18. But Lynch averaged better than 10 yards per catch (10.2). That not only ranked third on the team, but would've tied Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew for highest receiving average in the league among running backs had Lynch had enough receptions to qualify.
"Marshawn is a guy that has tremendous upside and we want to use that as much as we can," said running backs coach Eric Studesville. "I think he's really going to be a fantastic player in this league. I just think he's going to get better and better."
So while Buffalo's short completions might look conservative on the surface, Schonert is confident the returns on those short throws will be significant.
"We have guys that can turn short passes into eight, 15 sometimes 30-yard gains," said Schonert. "Those are hidden yards that don't show up that mean a lot in the league when it all adds up at the end of the season."