Bills offensive coordinator excited about, surprised by T.O. signing
Turk Schonert said Terrell Owens deal came together quickly
Trent Edwards' lobbying for T.O. is a good thing, says Schonert
Schonert: Lee Evans and T.O. will be dangerous combination
When Turk Schonert took the call at home Saturday morning, and was told by Buffalo head coach Dick Jauron to be on alert for an unscheduled trip into the Bills team complex that afternoon, he had no idea the reason for the audible.
Then he found out. Terrell Owens was in town, and part of Schonert's assignment was to make sure he didn't leave without first becoming the Bills' biggest acquisition of the Jauron era.
"It happened so quick,'' Schonert, the Bills offensive coordinator, told SI.com Tuesday in his first public comments since Buffalo signed the ex-Cowboys receiver. "Dick called and said we need you to come in. He didn't even tell me who I was coming in to meet, just that I was to be on alert. But I was in by 2:15, and by 2:30 I was sitting down with Terrell and [agent] Drew Rosenhaus and telling them about our system and how we were going to use him, where we are and where we think we're going, all those issues. It sounded like he liked what he heard, because we got a deal done with him soon thereafter.''
Even three days later, Schonert still sounded as surprised as anyone that Owens' newest NFL address is One Bills Drive in Orchard Park, N.Y. But he also sounded invigorated by the idea of adding a weapon of T.O.'s caliber to a Bills offense that ranked 22nd in passing and 25th overall last season. For a Buffalo offense that has been big-play challenged in recent years, Owens represents a proven play-making commodity that Schonert views with much more than half-glass-full optimism.
"I think everybody around here is excited about the possibilities,'' said Schonert, who was elevated to coordinator last year after serving as the Bills quarterbacks coach the previous two seasons. "Right off the bat he gives [quarterback] Trent Edwards another weapon. He's a guy who has produced and always gotten into the end zone. There's no doubt about it, we've got to get in the end zone more. We've got to be more explosive. We need guys who threaten people down the field. Guys who can catch it, make people miss, and go a long way. Other than Lee [Evans], we just haven't had that, that player who can make things happen once he catches the ball.''
More than anything else, I wanted to know what Schonert thought of his quarterback's lobbying to get Owens to Buffalo. As SI.com's Peter King reported Monday, Edwards text messaged Bills COO Russ Brandon early Friday morning with a plea to pursue Owens, the noted quarterback killer who did not end up on blissful terms with his past three passers: Jeff Garcia in San Francisco, Donovan McNabb in Philadelphia and Tony Romo in Dallas.
"I thought it was great when I heard what Trent did,'' Schonert said. "You want a quarterback who gets excited about getting a weapon like that on your team. We've got to just look at it like the past is the past and not get caught up in all of that other stuff. If you're a quarterback and you've got trepidation about something like this, then you've got a problem to begin with.''
And would the Bills still have pursued Owens if Edwards had showed some hesitation? Would it have been a tougher call if he had voiced some concern about becoming Owens' next QB victim?
"I think so, yeah,'' Schonert said. "If he wasn't on board with this, and there was some trepidation, then he's coming into this with a different mindset. He'd be looking over his shoulder somewhat, where you really want a guy to be saying, 'Hey, whoever's here, let's go. Let's get it done.' But that's really the kind of guy Trent is, and it's nice to have that.''
Since Owens signed with the Bills Saturday afternoon, there has been speculation that Jauron might have been the one not fully on board with the move. Buffalo's soft-spoken fourth-year head coach didn't address the media at Owens' introductory news conference on Sunday, and he didn't issue a statement about the signing. Brandon spoke to the media, as did Owens and Edwards, but no Jauron, at least not until he did a Tuesday morning radio interview with a Buffalo station.
"Dick was the one who pushed it,'' Schonert said of the move. "He's the one who said, 'Let's do it.' And you take your hat off to him for that. He wants to get players and playmakers who are going to get us to the playoffs. We've got some, but we need more. He jumped forward and said let's do it. He was eager to get it done.''
After finishing 7-9 in each of their three seasons in Buffalo, Jauron and his coaching staff are under no illusions. They know it's time to end the Bills' nine-year playoff-appearance drought, or likely pay for that failure with their jobs.
"We've got to win,'' Schonert said. "Everybody knows that. We want to go to the playoffs. And to do that, we've got to repeat the kind of start we had last season (5-1), and then we've got to carry it throughout the season. We've got to finish. Finish the season. Our goal is to go the playoffs, and then make some noise in the playoffs. If we're short of that, we're not up to our standards and we'll have to deal with that.''
As Schonert points out, most of Owens' troubles on his three previous NFL teams have been with "quarterbacks and coordinators.'' But the Bills seem to be going into their Owens experiment with eyes wide open on that front.
"He's had some issues with his quarterbacks and his coordinators, but that's been it,'' Schonert said. "He doesn't go out and get in trouble in public. He pretty much keeps to himself from what I understand. And he's passionate about winning. At times that has led to some things that have been disruptive, without a doubt. But everybody wants to judge this guy, and they want to hang him before he gets here.
"All I know is that he's a tremendous player, and we've lacked a guy on offense that's exciting and makes defenses look at us differently. We need to challenge defenses more. And let's face it, he's a high-profile name with some star appeal. This town hasn't had many of those for a while.''
While most Bills fans probably wish the season could start this weekend, Schonert said he'll need the next four months to figure out how to best use Owens in Buffalo's offense. He'll be watching a lot of Cowboys film between now and then.
"I need to see how he runs routes and what he does well,'' Schonert said. "We've been heavy Lee [Evans]-oriented, and now we've got think differently. We've got to make sure we've got enough stuff in our offense to complement him. We don't want him to run just clear-outs all the time. Trent was in here yesterday, and we're itching to go. But we've got to learn about him as well, and put him in the right positions to do some things.
"It's one thing to watch him on film and another thing to plug him into your offense. We have to see what T.O. can do for us. But I know this much: While we do it, while we figure it out, we're going to all be grinning, because he's a great player.''
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