High hopes for Bills (cont.)
I asked Schonert how deposed starter J.P. Losman was handling his backup status behind Edwards, and Schonert gave a revealing assessment of the team's 2004 first-round pick.
"He's handled it OK,'' Schonert said. "Obviously it's a huge disappointment for anybody. He's a competitive guy and he wants to play. But there's a time where you've got to put it aside, because he's one play away from being on the field and everybody's counting on him.
"He's had some ups and downs. He gets into a funk and you've got to kick him in the butt and say, 'It's not might, we will need you at some point. I'm counting on you big time, and so are the rest of your teammates.' ''
Losman is in a contract year, and no one is under any illusion he'll remain in Buffalo past 2008. When he takes the field this season, his performance will help determine the rest of his career.
"There's two ways he could go,'' Schonert said of Losman's '08 season. "He could prepare like he's a starter and be ready when called upon and produce. If so, he's going to make a lot of money for himself. Probably with some other team. But if he falters, he could ruin his career and make it hard for anyone to want him. But he's competitive and he'll be all right. He'll pull out of it. It's got to happen sooner than later that he gets focused.''
The Bills can't wait to throw the ball more this season to running back Marshawn Lynch. They didn't want to over-burden him as a rookie last year, but he could top last season's 18 receptions for 184 yards by the end of September.
"He's definitely ready for it,'' Jauron told me. "He's a very talented player and we've got to use him. He's a guy who understands that the game is to get the ball in the end zone, and he can do it from almost anywhere. So we've got to give him a lot of chances.''
I'm thinking Lynch could hang up some monster numbers this season. Maybe 1,300 yards on the ground, and another 700 through the air.
It's too early to tell if second-round pick James Hardy will be able to handle a major role in the Bills offense this season. More likely he'll be asked to use his height to contribute in the red zone, where he is just what the doctor ordered for a Buffalo team that has lacked size at the receiver position. The Bills will probably try to figure out the two or three things that Hardy does best, and then make those routes the focus of his rookie year.
"A big receiver can be open even when he's covered,'' said Jauron, adding he loves Hardy's work ethic and dedicated approach to the game. "You can throw him the ball high, and he can shield the defender with his body, and hold people off. And then in the red zone, which is really the only place on the field where the so-called jump ball comes into effect, I think he's got a chance to win some jump balls. We haven't had that.''
If there's a position that should be competitive throughout the preseason, it's tight end, where incumbent veteran Robert Royal is trying to hold off several competitors for the starting job. The Bills signed Courtney Anderson in free agency, and have drafted a pair of tight ends the past two years, Derek Schouman and Derek Fine.
Royal is returning from a knee injury that required surgery, and Schonert is eager to see someone make a clear-cut case for the first-team role.
"That's the area of our offense we've got to find out about, because we've got so many young guys there,'' Schonert said. "Of all the positions, that's the one that's the biggest question mark in my mind.''
NFL players normally do anything in their power to avoid the Turk. He's the guy on every team who comes and finds them on cut-down day, telling them to bring their playbook. But the Bills offensive players I talked to absolutely love playing for their Turk.
"I'm thrilled he's our offensive coordinator,'' said Evans, of Schonert, a longtime NFL assistant getting his first chance to coordinate an offense. "You know Turk's played the game, so it's not like somebody telling you something they've never done before. He has a confidence about him. He knows the game and that rubs off on you. He knows how to relate to players, how to communicate, and how to get things going. And his offense, it's very dynamic.''