Trent Edwards: Built to Lead

Buffalo has searched high and low for a franchise quarterback since Jim Kelly retired 11 years ago. But last season, rookie Trent Edwards provided hope that the search may be over. A clutch mentality and textbook fundamentals have Edwards on the fast track to success. Read on for analysis...

There's something about losing.

That regretful repulsion on the tip of your taste buds. Feeling, check that, knowing, that you could have done something more.

The blunt reality that a week's worth of preparation, audible organizing, game-planning, Xs and Os – all of which dominated over class work and college life – might've well of been tossed in the trash. An ‘L' is an ‘L.'

The constant licks from pass rushers. The humiliation of being a campus punch line.

No doubt about it. Failure builds layers. And Trent Edwards knows failure.

It couldn't have gone much worse for the Buffalo Bills' quarterback in college. As a senior at Los Gatos High School in California, Edwards was ranked as the No. 1 pro-style quarterback by USA Today…which means nothing on a JV-style team. Over the next four dizzying years at Stanford University, Edwards suffered a shoulder injury, a foot injury, was sacked 71 times, knocked out of two games, all while stumbling to a 10-20 record as a starter.

But Edwards' skin became so thick that nothing seemed to bother him. Throughout his rookie season at Buffalo, Edwards saw a little bit of everything and never appeared overwhelmed. Last season was made-for-movie drama in Orchard Park, NY.

The Wait: The glorified starter in front of Edwards struggles in September and the Bills start 0-3. The starter gets hurt and Edwards must start (something only nine third-round-or-lower QB's have done their rookie season in the past seven years).

The Rise: In his first start, Edwards leads Buffalo to its first win, 17-14 over the New York Jets. The next week Buffalo suffers its most heartbreaking loss this side of the Music City Miracle…on its first Monday Night home stage in 13 years. Edwards is partly blamed. But no hangover. He beats a 4-2 Baltimore team the following week, 19-13.

The Fall: Seven days later, Edwards sprains his wrist at New York, the starter is re-inserted, and all Edwards can do is watch his competition hurl an 85-yard touchdown to win the game. The recipient of the bomb publicly endorses the starter over Edwards. The backup is sent back to the pine and back to square one.

The Re-Rise, Climax and Re-Fall: The starter struggles again with three touchdowns and five picks through a 2-2 stretch and the backup is re-inserted. Edwards wins two straight games, including a four-touchdown outburst in a December game against Miami (the best combo for any Bills fan). Edwards has the city of Buffalo thinking playoffs for the first time in three years. In a virtual elimination game at Cleveland, the Bills are swept away by a Lake Erie blizzard and lose 8-0. Victimized by the whiteout, Edwards struggles. The season, for all intents and purposes, is over.

Good thing Trent Edwards' skin is thick.

Different than his predecessors?

Buffalo's passing game was handcuffed all season. For the fifth straight year, Buffalo's passing game ranked 27th or lower and failed to muster 3,000 yards. Defenses stacked the box and dared Edwards to beat them. And for the most part, he did. Edwards won five of his first six starts, with the lone loss against NFC East-champion Dallas in an improbable 25-24 Cowboys win. Edwards lost his final three games and finished with pedestrian numbers (1,630 yards, 7 TD, 8 Int.) but his blend of strict fundamentals and gritty intangibles suggest that he will not be thrown into the post-Jim Kelly Z-List of Rob Johnson, Drew Bledsoe, and J.P. Losman.

Unlike this trio, Edwards did not become the team's starter on a silver platter with a first round pick lost in translation.

- Johnson was anointed as the savior in 1998 after Buffalo coughed up its first- and fourth-round picks to Jacksonville. That ninth overall pick turned out to be running back Fred Taylor. This high-price became the unspoken reason that Johnson was constantly chosen over Doug Flutie throughout a very uncomfortable three-year quarterback controversy. Johnson infamously set the NFL record for sacks per pass attempt.

- Bledsoe's entrance was even more exorbitant. In 2002, Buffalo traded a '03 first-rounder to the Patriots for a franchise quarterback. Ironically, that same season, the Bills drastically changed their uniforms. During the unveiling ceremony, the guest band, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, sang a "Jack and Diane" remake with such lyrics as "This is a story about Drew Bledsoe and "Gonna take us to the Super Bowl!" After one Pro Bowl season, Bledsoe flamed out for the same reasons as Johnson. Poor line. Statue in the pocket. Constant sacks.

- Losman's unofficial knighting ceremony was eerily similar to Bledsoe. During the Buffalo Bills' 2005 Celebration of Champions, Losman highlighted the unveiling of Buffalo's flashback uniforms. With Jim Kelly and Jack Kemp by Losman's side, there was no doubt about it: J.P. Losman was the future and the future was now. Like Johnson and Bledsoe, it took trading a first-round pick to get Losman, but this was different. Losman was the mobile gunslinger with the unlimited ceiling. But after going 10-21 record as the Bills' starter, Losman will probably be traded this offseason with one year left on his contract.

Is Edwards really any different? Is he simply another California kid that doesn't understand what the Buffalo fan base has endured over the past decade?

Bills fans want to know. Fast. The team's future in Western New York is shaky, as the team begins playing games in Toronto this fall. Right now, Buffalo's blue-collar fan base needs hope – a ray of light to cling to.

Edwards could be the guy. He isn't the overly laid back type Johnson was, the steadfast stern type Bledsoe was, or the rah-rah type Losman is. Trent Edwards is sincere and privileged. Thick skin will do that.

"I feel pleased but also I feel I'm too much of a perfectionist type where I'm looking back on those plays, those games that I could have changed and helped this team get in a better position to win," said Edwards during his season-end locker room cleanout.

He added, "But there is a lot to learn from this situation. I did play a lot more than I had expected. I was sitting during training camp trying to make sure I could hold the third quarterback spot here and we let the second string guy go and I was in the second spot. And then J.P. gets hurt in the New England game and you're facing the defending champs that are right across from me is Tedy Bruschi and Junior Seau and that's your first experience."

It was a scenario no one saw coming.

When the season began, Losman's job was safer than Eliot Spitzer's. But things change, as Client No. 9 disgracefully proved.

G.M. Marv Levy was criticized for even drafting Edwards last year. Losman was fresh off the proverbial ‘breakthrough' season after throwing for 3,051 yards and 19 touchdowns, while leading Buffalo to comeback wins over Houston and Jacksonville. Even the local radio station, WGR 550 dedicated a segment pronouncing Losman as a better quarterback than Brett Favre, shooting down callers who disagreed.

But when Losman sprained his left knee at New England in Week Three, opportunity knocked.

Clutch Meets Fundamentals

In his rookie season, Trent Edwards didn't take the league by storm a la Ben Roethlisberger. The Bills' passing game remained mostly one-dimensional, and Marshawn Lynch consistently faced crowded eight-man boxes. But Edwards' calming presence and veteran-like fundamentals was a stark contrast to Losman's unpredictable, jittery decision-making.

At Washington, days after Sean Taylor's shocking death, the Bills trailed 16-14 with 56 seconds left at his own 31-yard line. After two short completions moved the ball to the Buffalo 37, taking 29 seconds off the clock, Edwards stood unfazed in the pocket and delivered a 31-yard strike to Josh Reed in tight coverage. The cold-blooded completion set up Rian Lindell's game-winning field goal and all-but sealed Edwards' destiny as the team's starting quarterback in 2008.

But the ultimate reason Edwards is the choice over Losman is fundamentals. How else could someone that is eaten up and spit out through four years in college be highly regarded as the third best quarterback in the ensuing draft? The tools were there all along. Whereas Losman turns simple addition into upper-level Calculus, Edwards breaks the game down to its lowest common denominator. His body motion is the same every play. No wasted, superfluous dancing in the pocket. Simple and consistent.

Losman's shortcomings are internal – poor accuracy on short routes and sloppy decision-making. Edwards' are external and easily corrected – recognizing complex defensive coverages and learning termonology.

Buffalo QBs coach and former starter Alex Van Pelt hinted at this after the season when asked what Edwards must improve on.

"I think the recognition is big, defensive recognition, seeing the whole field," he said. "The little things that tip you off to where the blitz is coming from. It is all information that you take in and the older you get as a player the more easily you pick up that information. Fundamentally, he is pretty sound."

Take for example, one simple lob pass against Miami. Typically the end zone lob is designated for a tall receiver, whether it's Randy Moss or Ernest Wilford. In an isolated jump ball situation, 6-foot-5 receivers will beat 5-foot-10 corners almost every time. Well, Buffalo has no such wideouts (its top four WRs are all under six-feet tall). But they tried the lob pass anyways, leading the Dolphins 24-7.

Edwards' didn't drop back, rather using a split-second hop step to gain separation from the line off the snap. He lofted the ball to Lee Evans, who was blanketed by Miami's Travis Daniels. The pass was placed perfectly, inches out of Daniels' fingertips and into Evans' mitts at the highest point. The completion was ruled out of bounds initially, but overturned when cameras clearly showed that Evans got both down – barely. The slightest delay in Edwards' throwing motion would have extended the play and Evans would've certainly caught the ball out of bounds, if at all.

But Edwards does the little things that go unnoticed by the naked eye.

On that same play, when Edwards was under center, his right foot was far ahead of his left foot, completely unparallel. This allowed him to instantly whip his right foot back on the hop step. Edwards didn't use the extra "safety step" to secure footing. His entire throwing process is deliberate, from his throwing motion (he releases the ball at his ear) to his foot placement.

Some quarterbacks can get away with bad mechanics. Well, one quarterback – Favre. Teams need to stop reaching for the N.B.F. (Next Brett Favre) and dismissing poor mechanics simply because Player X is the clichéd gunslinger. We hear it every year. Rex Grossman, Kyle Boller, J.P. Losman, Jay Cutler. Enough already. Favre isn't the blueprint, he's the exception. No one else can flip underhand passes on the run, zing bullets into triple coverage and routinely do an ugly crayfish-like back-jump after every throw to avoid a collision… and win three MVPs.

Edwards is Mr. Fundamentals. What's wrong with that? He can't hurl a football 60 yards like Losman, but in four years Losman has become a Favre wannabe. Losman's raw playmaking is not compensating for poor mechanics, and his accuracy has plummeted.

Edwards' sophomore year will be crucial to his development. Many quarterbacks earn quick praise in their rookie season with the public becoming prisoners of the moment. Rookie Shaun King took over for Trent Dilfer in 1999 and took Tampa Bay to the NFC Championship game. Like Edwards, King excelled on short pass routes to small receivers (Jacquez Green, Bert Emanuel). But after one full season as the starter, King flopped. A great defense and running game hid his suspect arm. Eventually, the truth was uncovered.

In Year Two, Edwards must go downfield more often and trust his arm strength to avoid such a downfall.

But with him, it always comes back to that thick skin established back at Stanford. That is his true wild card to differentiate himself from the Shaun Kings and the Rob Johnsons. Before starting his first game, Edwards said "overwhelmed" wasn't in his vocabulary. His poised play backed that up.

Also before even starting a game, Edwards earned the respect of his teammates.

Command cannot be underestimated, as tight end Robert Royal punctuated.

"First thing (Edwards) said was, ‘Fellas, let's go!'" Royal said. "No balls hitting the ground in 7-on-7 today. Coming from him, it kind of threw me off, like ‘Whoa, hold up. That's what I need to hear."

Tyler Dunne is the Editor-in-Chief of the Buffalo Football Report. Contact him at

Buffalo Football Report Top Stories