Buffalo Bills: State of the Team

By PFC Bills Writer Jay Kommuru

For just one day, I would love to be inside Dick Jauron’s head, or at least a fly on the wall when he discussed what has now transpired into a situation where Alex Van Pelt has 10 days to prepare for his first game in the NFL as an offensive coordinator against the mighty New England Patriots led by a coaching staff that some can rationally argue is the best in the NFL. Former Bills offensive coordinator Turk Schonert probably diminished any chances he had to land a job somewhere else in the same position when he blamed head coach Dick Jauron for essentially not allowing him to do things his way. Go figure – a head coach fired his offensive coordinator for not being on the same page as him. I’m not calling this a surprising move by any means, but what is surprising to me is the timing of it.  Just 10 days before a season, after a preseason that was filled with offensive play as exciting as watching grass grow, and with an incredibly inexperienced offensive line (which just got a whole lot more inexperienced with the release of LT Langston Walker, but I digress) it was, to say the least, a move that really puzzled me.

 But then I started to think of the context in which this decision was probably made. Even a casual NFL fan knows that the Bills’ recent seasons have ranged from downright terrible to mediocre at best. Most avid fans also know that Dick Jauron has been a model for consistency in one department – coaching an NFL team to gather 7 wins and 9 losses. It doesn’t take a brain scientist to figure out that Jauron is on extremely thin ice this year. After all, the Bills made an uncharacteristically bold move by acquiring Terrell Owens for at least one season. It was almost as if to say, “We have almost everything in place, we just need this one piece to take us over the hump and we are willing to add a potentially destructive player if that’s what it takes.” Make no mistake about it, if the Jauron doesn’t get the Bills into playoffs this year he will be fired. If for some reason Ralph Wilson gets delusional and keeps Jauron around for another year, the fan base will significantly diminish.

 So keeping all of this in mind, the usually “company-first” Dick Jauron made a bold move earlier this week by getting rid of an individual who apparently doesn’t believe in chain of command – and it was the correct move I believe. I only wish this move was made at the end of last season, or even a week or so before preseason. But clearly, Jauron showed that he is not afraid of causing ripples even in the name of self preservation. Coach Jauron is an extremely intelligent individual, and the consensus around the NFL is that he is a coach that players want to play and play hard for. Let’s hope that Alex Van Pelt is being provided the proper amount of support to make the transition. Let’s also hope that the locker room is united behind Jauron, and not divided by the firing of Schonert. As far as Van Pelt goes, he’s not a complete rookie to calling plays – he did so for one year as the Quarterbacks coach for Frankfurt Galaxy of NFL Europe. But he has been in coaching for exactly 4 years – doesn’t exactly make you feel warm and fuzzy. Maybe it will end up saving the season, at least for the offense. After all Schonert wasn’t exactly an offensive genius. It is also important to note that it’s not that the offensive scheme or even the plays will change, just the play-calling itself will. And with a simpler philosophy, it may end up being very friendly to a young team. However most likely, the Bills are going to take their lumps ( I feel like I have been making this statement for the better part of the last decade) in the process and hopefully the lack of familiarity will at least hinder the opposing defensive coordinator somewhat to tip the scales in favor of the Bills. One thing is for sure, AVP will be more on the same page as Dick Jauron than Schonert or he knows he will be gone after the season.

 Another important thing to note was that Jauron’s philosophy, which Schonert was so reluctant to accept, is to simplify the offense and focus on the plays that you know you’re good at and call them until the defense finds a way to stop you. It’s not a foreign concept. The Colts use it with Peyton Manning. Several other teams use it successfully. That’s not to say that Schonert’s philosophy of an intricate playbook with hundreds of shifts, formations, and reads is necessarily flawed. But as I have already conveyed, not following orders is the easiest way to get fired – especially in a cut throat business such as the NFL.

 The Bills also released LT Langston Walker this week, which essentially leaves them with 3/5ths of their starting offensive line having zero starts. While this move surprised me, a closer look at the preseason game tapes helped calm me down immensely. Here are a few things I noticed while watching the preseason games.

Langston Walker Notes:
- Relies on his big frame and weight more than anything else.
- He is fairly strong at the point of attack, however his lack of natural athletic ability doesn’t allow him to use that strength as often as he would like.
- Technique is suspicious at best – he usually wins his matchups if he’s able to put his body between him and the defender within a second or so after the snap. However, once the defender gets by him, his footwork is too slow to keep the defender at bay and usually either ends up holding or giving up a sack/QB pressure.
- In the run game, he is almost an afterthought when it comes to outside run plays such as toss, sweep, and stretch etc unless he is able to get in front of the defender right away.
- His recovery ability is marginal and is certainly more of a natural RT than a LT where he would be facing the best pass-rushers who are usually stronger and quicker off the snap.
- His big frame hampers him against smaller pass rushers who are able to get their hands underneath his pads and take his leverage away.
- He has long arms which, when he is able to engage the defender, can be very effective in the run and the passing game.

Demetrius Bell Notes:
- He is very athletic, nimble on his feet.
- His technique, from what I saw in preseason action, is pretty good. It’s not great, but it’s solid.
- He is usually able to recover because of good footwork if he takes a bad step.
- He’s not very strong or overly big which makes him a liability against a straight bull rush, but he’s not exactly weak or small either and is generally able to shield the QB or just cause the defender to fall down with him – however on one occasion against Green Bay the defender got by him and he was guilty of holding (even though the official never called it).
- He is a natural LT, gets in stance very quickly and he has been pretty good at picking up the right defender.
- Overall, he is a developmental prospect who has the necessary “intangibles” to be at least a solid LT in the NFL but he needs to improve his strength and needs to get more aggressive in the run game to be of starting caliber.

I’m surprised by both moves, not because I believe they shouldn’t have been made, but because of how bold and uncharacteristic they are of this coach and the Bills organization as a whole. I’m not yet sure if we will see the results of this move right away, or really ever (since Jauron will probably be gone if the Bills don’t make it over the hump this year). But it does show me one thing – the Bills are serious about winning this year. Ironically enough, as a result of trimming out the fat, they are left with an inexperienced offensive line and offensive coordinator which may eventually spell the end of the Jauron era in Buffalo. The Bills are taking a lot of gambles these days. Only time will tell if they pay off.