With a new offensive system come changes. Bills head coach Doug Marrone and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett will be busy instituting those changes in the coming weeks as they put the playbook together. At the same time they don't want to compromise what has enabled the top playmakers on their roster to consistently produce.
Under the previous coaching regime top wideout Stevie Johnson posted a franchise record three straight 1,000-yard seasons. An unconventional route runner, Johnson accomplished the feat in part by being afforded the freedom to improvise in his route assignments. His stop-and-start route running style was tolerated as long as he got to his designated spot in the route at the proper time on a given pass play.
Buffalo's new staff has been adamant that despite a new scheme, they will continue to put their players in position to succeed. According to Bills receivers coach Ike Hilliard, Johnson will be afforded the same freedoms in Hackett's offense.
"I think first and foremost Stevie is a dynamic player," Hilliard said. "We'll have to find ways to get him the ball and other guys in our receiving corps. Stevie has a game that's unique. He's had a lot of success with it. We have a system in place that we're going to implement and we're all going to learn at the same time, and he's going to be able to have the freedom to play his game within the system."
Johnson uses his stuttering route running to keep defensive backs off balance. It makes it hard for cornerbacks to anticipate where Johnson is headed and that leads to consistent separation. While Hilliard believes the system will allow the latitude for that he also said there with be a means by which all parties involved find a happy medium.
"There's a certain way we're going to go about it," Hilliard said. "We're looking forward to it. I'm not giving out all the details to make sure we all understand what we're trying to accomplish and go forward from there."
Bills GM Buddy Nix has said more than once that they intend to add a big receiver to play outside this offseason, which would enable the staff to move Johnson inside to the slot. Nix believes Johnson could be even more dynamic working out of the slot. Hilliard, who spent a fair amount of time in the slot himself in his 12-year playing career believes Johnson has a versatile skill set that could just as easily work inside.
"Again I think Stevie is a dynamic talent and as a coaching staff our job is to get him and other guys involved as much as possible as far as playmakers," he said. "But there's a process we have to go through. We're in the early stages of evaluating all our guys. Once we go through this entire process and offseason growth, we'll get to a situation where we have all those guys here and we'll learn and grow at the same time."
Despite being a top receiver, Johnson is a team first player. Buffalo's new coaches are likely to pick up on that just watching game tape. They'll see the way he blocked downfield for his backs, or made plays when games were already out of reach (see: Seahawks vs. Bills).
Hilliard has been around this offensive system almost his entire career both as a player and coach. He knows the freedoms it affords. For now however, the focus will be on building the offense as a unit. Maximizing the talents of playmakers like Johnson will come later.
"We're going to be a multiple offense," Hilliard said. "We're going to have a chance for explosive plays. We're going to run the football. We're going to do a lot of good things, and as we move through the process we'll figure it out."