Last piece of the puzzle

The Bills found a possession receiver. The offensive line is fortified. A new offensive coordinator will be calling the plays. Now all the Bills need is for Trent Edwards to take the next step in his sophomore season. BFR's Marc Heintzman explains...

Expectations for the 2008 Buffalo Bills are the highest fans have seen for nearly a decade. The team has had several very productive off-seasons, bringing in fresh talent from the drafts and signing key veteran players from free agency. Some of the team's rookies already turned heads last season, most notably RB Marshawn Lynch and QB Trent Edwards. Their surprisingly mature, and effective play helped keep the Bills in many games last season. Both were named to All-Rookie teams last season, in addition to receiving Rookie of the Week honors for two weeks apiece. Their success is expected to carry over into this season, attributing to the excitement surrounding the team going into the 2008 season. However, it is Edwards who has the most pressure on his shoulders to lead the squad to the postseason for the first time this millennium.

Edwards was thrust into the position sooner than most rookies, in only week 3, when starter JP Losman was sidelined with an injury. He went on to finish the season 5-4 as a starter, with seven touchdowns, eight interceptions, and a QB rating of 70.4. His numbers obviously weren't what impressed people, it was his playing style and ability to control a game. Coming from Stanford, he is a very smart quarterback who stays calm and relaxed in the pocket, which is in stark difference to Losman's wild, uncontrolled play. However, teams do not reach the postseason by having a quarterback who simply looks the part, they need a quarterback who can also put up the big numbers.

Last season, the Bills ranked near the bottom of the league in nearly every passing category. 30th in passing yards, 31st in receiving yards, and 30th in scoring and touchdowns. Put simply, the passing game was non-existent. Some of the blame can be placed on shuffling quarterback situation, which had both Edwards and Losman getting injured and giving up their starting roles several times. More blame can be placed on the injuries the team suffered, a total of 17 players on injured reserve by season's end. That's where the blame game ends, as the rest of the reasons for an abysmal offense have to do with a lack of players, and a fledging offensive system run by Steve Fairchild.

Problem No. 1 was solved when the Bills drafted James Hardy in round two of the draft. The receiver from Indiana will relieve much of the pressure on Lee Evans by drawing coverage away from him with his astounding 6-foot-5 frame. Both receivers should have a productive year as defensive backs will have trouble covering Evans' speed and Hardy's height.

Problem No. 1 solved itself when Fairchild announced he would leave the Bills to accept a head-coaching job at his alma mater, Colorado State. It was quite obvious his offensive schemes didn't work, and a major change would've needed to be made. With Fairchild's departure came the promotion of Turk Schonert, the former quarterbacks coach, to the coordinator position. Schonert will be bringing in a new system, while still keeping continuity for the players by having a familiar face at the helm.

In addition to solving those pressing needs, the front office has been building up the offensive line for the past few seasons, signing Derrick Dockery and Langston Walker last season, while developing Jason Peters into an elite left tackle. These measures were taken to give Edwards all the protection he needs, and it worked last season as they only allowed 26 sacks, the fewest in 25 years for the team.

The running game was one of the few bright spots for the Bills offense last season, with Lynch compiling over 1,100 yards and seven touchdowns. Lynch will most likely continue to be a force in the offense, helping the passing game with his skills as a receiver out of the backfield.

Nearly all of the pieces are in place on the offense, and the only one left is for Edwards to have a stellar season. He needs to be able to step up his game and jumpstart the passing game and turn the Bills offense into a finely tuned machine. The Bills cannot afford a sophomore slump from Edwards. He is the last piece of the puzzle for a team primed to make the leap to the postseason.

Edwards is a highly motivated player, who seems to be committed to having his team succeed. When he was drafted, he had Bill Walsh singing his praises to Marv Levy, so it's no secret that he has promise. Already this off-season he has made great strides in adjusting to Schonert's new offense, while improving his strength and skills as well. He needs to stay healthy and stay focused during training camp, tightening his grip on the offense even more.

The stakes are the highest yet for the young QB. Coach Dick Jauron said this season is a season in which the team must make the playoffs, and it can happen, if Edwards performs. He now has all the tools he needs for a winning season, now it all comes down to execution. If he doesn't execute, then it's back to the old Edwards/Losman juggling act, and nobody wants that.

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