Many words can be used to describe the Bills' passing attack last season, and few, if any, are positive. 30th in the league in receiving yards. 29th in receiving touchdowns. 30th in total offensive scoring. If Bills fans are too disgruntled to even muster up words, then those stats said it all: The Bills simply need to get better through the air. This season brings in new players, a new offensive coordinator and system, and finally, a stable quarterback. Bills fans are fed up, and they're hoping this year will be different from the years of a stagnant, dull pass attacks.
The change starts with the new blood on the roster. This season's receiving corps has that desired mix of skill, experience and fresh rookie talent. They have some real playmakers and also players who have valuable experience to help mold the younger players.
The most obvious starter will be five-year veteran playmaker, Lee Evans. Evans is entering the last year of his contract with the team and will be the most anxious to forget last season and move on. Everyone knows what a threat Evans is downfield. He isn't the biggest receiver, but his speed certainly makes up for the lack in height.
In 2006, Evans turned in a great season recording 1,292 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. His numbers dipped significantly last season, putting up less than 850 yards and five touchdowns. The reason for the drop-off was the lack of another receiving weapon defenses had to worry about. A season of double coverages added to the unstable quarterback situation and stagnant play calling severely limited Evans' talent.
Enter James Hardy, the Bills' second-round pick out of Indiana. Standing at 6-foot-5, Hardy not only brings up the average height of the receivers, but he brings pure athleticism that is a big plus for the Bills against defenses. A former basketball player, Hardy will be very useful in red zone situations and will be able to win in jump ball situations downfield. He may not be completely ready to enter in as the second receiver just yet, but expect him to be a big part of the offense this season.
While Hardy will be new talent on the roster, two veterans are returning that are looking to build on their prior successes. Josh Reed, who is returning for his seventh season, has made dramatic improvements in the past few seasons. He is now a very reliable receiver that may just take the second spot behind Evans.
His competition for the spot comes from Roscoe Parrish, the speedster punt returner who is entering his fourth season. Like Evans, Parrish isn't the biggest receiver, but he is fast and can make defenders miss everywhere.
Filling out the depth chart is another freshman receiver, seventh-rounder Steve Johnson, and second-year vet Justin Jenkins. Both could very well have big roles on special teams, just as Sam Aiken did before leaving the team this offseason. Bobby April loves getting new special teams talent and these two have the perfect athleticism and speed to be effective on coverage units.
If the changes for the receivers were only in personnel on the field, their season wouldn't be much better. However, this season the Bills have a new offensive system under new offensive coordinator, Turk Schonert, and that makes all the difference.
For the past two seasons, the Bills have had a very conservative, and very dull passing attack, thanks to departed offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild. Everyone had it figured out: Run on first down, two-yard pass on second down, run again on third down, punt. Over and over, time after time, the offensive game plan failed to impress anybody. More importantly, it failed to put points up on the board.
Schonert promises a more wide-open passing attack, utilizing his skill players and getting them the ball downfield. Who knows if this will really materialize, but it's still a big plus to at least shake up the play calling from the past two seasons. He's developed both Trent Edwards and JP Losman, so there is good continuity for them in learning his new system.
Speaking of the Bills' ever-embattled quarterbacks, there is finally some continuity for the receivers. Trent Edwards is the un-disputed starter, and hopefully it will stay that way. He's had an entire off-season where had time to bond with his receivers and develop that necessary quarterback-receiver relationship. Injuries can and will always happen, and as much as he hates it, JP is there to step in. Both aren't rookies anymore and that experience will start to be a positive factor for the receivers this year.
Beyond Evans, it's unclear just how the receivers will be used this season. Hopefully there won't be any injuries to contend with, as was the case last season. Additionally, it will depend on the development of Hardy. He will eventually be the number two guy behind Evans, but he still has a few hurdles to cross before he reaches that spot.
What is clear is that there were some definite changes made to the receiving corps this offseason. On paper, they should be better. They have the speed, talent, and experience to be a solid group of receivers. Let's see if they can turn all that into points this season and not more headaches for Bills fans.