Shaky state of affairs

Bills aren't exactly firing on all cylinders heading into week one...

When training opened, the Bills had plenty of concerns, goals and expectations. And what transpired in the positive? Not as much as the team hoped.

Young quarterback Trent Edwards did not regain the confidence he exuded during last season's 5-1 start, and failing to lead the offense to a single touchdown in four preseason starts led to the firing of offensive coordinator Turk Schonert.

The Bills wanted to use training camp to adjust to the carnival sideshow that is wide receiver Terrell Owens, but he wasn't to be found for three weeks as he recovered from a sprained toe.

An offensive line that has five position changes never got up to speed. The Bills made the shocking decision to cut Langston Walker and go with the young Demitrius Bell at left tackle, a development that could pay dividends in time but could damage Edwards' psyche even more.

The team's 14th-ranked defense, meanwhile, wanted to find upgrades at strong-side linebacker and free safety, but instead will start the usual suspects in Keith Ellison and Donte Whitner.

The Bills were expected to show signs of being a legitimate threat to snap a playoff drought now at nine seasons. They remain anything but and head into the Sept. 14 regular-season opener at New England reeling from the firing of Schonert.

"I just didn't feel like we were progressing and I didn't get the sense that we were going to move forward,'' said coach Dick Jauron in announcing Schonert's firing after two seasons. He was the team's quarterbacks coach before that.

Jauron, fearful that he himself won't survive another slow start after three consecutive 7-9 finishes, plans to keep the system Schonert ran in place, including using a no-huddle mode with regularity.

Buffalo had an extra preseason game but didn't do much with the extra prep time in posting a 1-4 preseason record.

In 15 series, the first-unit offense generated just 279 yards, 15 first downs and a field goal to go with five turnovers.

Its 17-0 loss at Pittsburgh was actually much more than just another preseason game setback. The Steelers are the defending Super Bowl champs and a litmus test that Buffalo failed badly.

When the starters were in the game, Pittsburgh out-gained Buffalo 209-50 and led 12-3 in first downs. Edwards went 6 of 13 for 31 yards with one touchdown (an interception Pittsburgh returned for a score). All he could surmise afterwards was that the Steelers have "a great defense.''

Edwards said he has not lost his confidence and was just looking for the regular season to begin. That's Sept. 14 at rival New England, which has a healthy Tom Brady back.

"You know you're going to go through some highs and lows throughout the season and throughout the sport of football,'' Edwards said. "Obviously we're not going in the direction we want to go right now, but there's no reason why we can't. I feel that we have the pieces here and that's the bottom line. That's why I'm still confident.''

Buffalo's experimentation with a no-huddle offense hasn't been pretty. Ultimately, many inside the organization are betting heavily that 35-year-old free agent wide receiver Terrell Owens will be the team's offensive savior.

"We'll hopefully just stretch the field, be explosive, and obviously with my presence and obviously with Lee's (Evans) presence and the things that we can do coming out of the backfield, (we will be very good),'' Owens said.

He then summed it up in a nutshell: It's all about the offensive line. The Bills will start two rookies at guard.

"I think this offense and this team is going to rely on those guys up front,'' Owens said. "If those guys up front develop some chemistry and we keep those guys, having Trent comfortable back there in the pocket, then we're capable to do anything.''

Van Pelt, a former Bills backup quarterback, has a history of running the no-huddle and could help Edwards' development. Jauron said he wants to "attack'' more offensively.

"Hopefully it'll provide a jolt forward and move us on,'' he said of Schonert's firing.

There will be no major changes on defense. The Bills are hoping the return of No. 2 career sack leader Aaron Schobel from a foot injury and addition of No. 1 pick Aaron Maybin will improve their 26th-ranked pass rush. Maybin missed a month of camp in a contract holdout.

"With everything that's been said, with what happened last year, I think this has to be a big year for us,'' linebacker Paul Pozluszny said. "For our coaches, for our players, this has to be a big year. We have to make the playoffs or things are going to have to change.''


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