Giant panda. Siberian tiger. Buffalo offensive coordinator. Endangered species all.
The Bills went through six offensive coordinators in 10 years before they handed the play-calling duties to veteran assistant Turk Schonert last season. Buffalo could have been excused for looking for yet another after the Bills wobbled to a 2--8 finish, scoring three points or fewer three times after Thanksgiving. But the organization gave Schonert another shot—for one, quarterback Trent Edwards improved markedly in his second season. Now, by the looks of the first few days of training camp, Schonert is putting every chip he's got into the center of the table. The man is coaching all-in.
Over slightly more than four hours of practice in two consecutive sessions last week, the Bills offense did not huddle. Not once. Asked if there was a chance they'd play entire games without huddling this season, Schonert grinned. "I don't know," he said. "Maybe. You'll have to come to the games."
Until last year Schonert had always been in the NFL shadows—eight seasons as a backup to quarterbacks Ken Anderson and Boomer Esiason in Cincinnati, then 16 years as a QBs coach in the NFL. Last season marked the first time he'd held the reins of an offense. The 52-year-old Schonert tried to install the no-huddle attack he'd learned under Sam Wyche with the Bengals in the mid-1980s, but injury and holdout issues prevented the players from fully absorbing the scheme, so Schonert didn't use it much.
This year the commitment is total. "We want to wear down the defense, and we don't think opposing teams will be able to match our tempo for four quarters," Schonert says. "It can work in this league. It's how they went to four straight Super Bowls here with Jim Kelly running the K-Gun. And players loved the speed of the game."
Every Bill is on board. "People have talked about getting enough balls for all of us," says sixth-year wideout Lee Evans, who now will share the big-play duties with Owens. "But this is good for all the receivers. One's doubled, or one's tired, and you've still got a great one on the other side."
If a rebuilt O-line can do the job—there are new starters at all five positions—this is going to be a difficult attack to stop. And like the bald eagle, the Buffalo offensive coordinator may no longer be endangered.
"We want to wear down the defense," says Schonert. "We don't think teams will be able to match our tempo."
MICHAEL J. LEBRECHT II/1DEUCE3 PHOTOGRAPHY (EDWARDS)
FULL THROTTLE Buffalo is banking on Edwards (above) to master the no-huddle attack and Owens (right) to go long.
MICHAEL J. LEBRECHT II/1DEUCE3 PHOTOGRAPHY (OWENS)
[See caption above]