Bills eager to improve popgun offense
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — The Buffalo Bills’ front-office spent the offseason delivering on its commitment to upgrade the talent on offense.
Now, veteran center Eric Wood said, it’s on the players to start delivering on that potential.
“There’s no excuse, saying we don’t have a piece here or a piece there,” Wood said. “Technically, it all is there.”
Wood provided his assessment after getting a firsthand glimpse of the Bills’ new-look attack during a three-day voluntary minicamp that concluded Friday.
It’s a unit that includes numerous additions brought in as part of the Bills’ commitment to improve what had been a popgun, EJ Manuel-led attack that contributed to Buffalo’s 6-10 finish last year.
The Bills made a splash in the draft by trading up five spots to pick receiver Sammy Watkins fourth overall before using three of their final six selections on offensive linemen. And then there are the experienced newcomers acquired in trades (receiver Mike Williams and running back Bryce Brown) and free agency (guard Chris Williams).
The changes didn’t end there.
Coach Doug Marrone also expanded his staff by hiring Todd Downing as a quarterbacks coach and Jim Hostler as a senior offensive assistant.
If that’s not enough, Marrone has spent a majority of the practice sessions focusing primarily on the offense, leaving the defensive details to newly hired coordinator Jim Schwartz.
“I feel that I can help this team more by being involved a little bit more on that side of the ball,” Marrone said. “If there’s a way I can help this football team get better, I’ve got to do it.”
Marrone, whose background is on offense, has taken an all-in, hands-on approach. He spends time working with offensive linemen on blocking techniques. When Marrone’s not poking his head into the huddle during team drills, he can usually be found lined up directly behind the quarterback watching plays develop.
It’s all about offense in Buffalo, and a team eager to end a 14-season playoff drought that stands as the NFL’s longest active streak.
Offensive struggles are nothing new in Buffalo, and a reflection of the Bills’ failure to find a long-term successor at quarterback since Hall of Famer Jim Kelly retired following the 1996. The Bills haven’t finished in the NFL’s top 10 in net yards gained since a sixth-place ranking in 1998 under Doug Flutie.
“It’s one of the worst feelings in the world,” running back Fred Jackson said about the lengthy string of offensive inconsistencies. “You want to be known as an explosive offense that you have to fear when you step on the field. And we haven’t been that for a while. We’ve been stagnant.”
Jackson has high hopes that is about to change.
“The sky’s the limit,” he said. “It’s one of the No. 1 things that we’re talking about in OTA’s is being able to make big plays for ourselves on offense and take a lot of pressure off the defense.”
Where the Bills struggled was in the passing game. Buffalo finished 28th in yards passing, and Manuel’s development was slowed by three separate knee injuries that led to him missing six regular season and two preseason games.
Watkins provides the offense a dynamic outside threat, and complements what was the league’s second-best running attack last season.
So the emphasis is on Manuel to stay healthy and show signs of improvement entering his second season.
“He’s the cog to this. He’s going to take us as far as we can go,” Jackson said of Manuel. “He knows the pressure’s on him. And he’s embracing that.”
NOTES: DB Darius Robinson did not practice Friday, a day after hurting his left shoulder while falling awkwardly to the ground attempting to cover receiver Ramses Barden. ... DL Alan Branch and LB Manny Lawson are the only veterans who have not been present for all three voluntary sessions. ... The Bills are off until resuming a voluntary three-day minicamp on Tuesday.
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