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Unshackled offense looking for more Better line to allow attack to open up

(This is the second of four stories previewing Buffalo Bills training camp. Today's installment is on the offense.)

The Buffalo Bills attempted the second fewest passes in the NFL last season.

They have no intention of repeating that statistic in 2007.

More, more, more is what the offense is looking to create as the team opens training camp Thursday. More passes. More yards. More plays. More efficiency. More points.

"We could open it up a little more," Bills offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild said. "We have the ability now with the changes we've made up front to get our tight ends and backs involved, and spread it out a little bit more. We've got a few more weapons, so maybe the touches get distributed a little bit."

The Bills will spend training camp building what they think will be a truly balanced offense that has multiple weapons.

During parts of last season, the Bills' attack essentially was playing not to get beat. The team was learning a new system. There was a crisis over pass protection.

Now they think they have improved the offensive line enough that they can
finally have a major-league passing game.

"I think it starts there," Fairchild said of the front five. "I think it's two things: the offensive line and then the experience at quarterback. When you look at last year, we were trying to identify a starter and get experience at quarterback with a not solid situation up front. That made it difficult. Now we're a little more well-equipped in those areas."

So the offensive identity may end up being described as the Cold-Weather St. Louis Rams. They have an all-purpose running back in Marshawn Lynch, who they think will be in the class of the Rams' Steven Jackson. They have multiple receiving weapons. They can stretch the field. But they also have a big offensive line to run behind 50 percent of the time. That's the idea, anyway.

"I still think you have to run the ball in this division," Fairchild said. "You're outdoors in the weather, and just the way the game is played up here. I think you still have to have a real physical identity. I feel like we spent enough time on the run in the spring practices and made it a priority."

Exactly how will the football be distributed? The Bills must spend training camp and preseason trying to figure that out.

At running back, how soon can Lynch assert himself? There's no question he's going to be the No. 1 back. Will he carry the majority of the load starting with the season opener? How quickly can he force himself into the third-down package?

"You hate to anoint anyone without pads on, but he sure looks to have a lot of different abilities," Fairchild said after spring practices. "It's still kind of in the stages of finding out just what he can do. But he looks to be not only a tremendous runner but a guy who can come out of the backfield and do some things in space. I'm really excited, to be honest, and we'll see where it goes."

Veteran Anthony Thomas is a reliable backup. Rookie Dwayne Wright looks faster than Thomas. Both also can catch. How fast can Wright catch on?
"How that all plays out is something to see," Fairchild said. "Is it three guys [in a committee]? Is it two? What does each guy do best? . . . When you look around the league, even the teams that have a featured guy have another guy taking reps -- even [San Diego's LaDainian] Tomlinson has another good back getting carries. It's hard in this league to just have one guy carrying the ball."

At receiver, the Bills must sort out just how much they like their four-receiver set. And how much will Josh Reed push Peerless Price for snaps in the two-receiver set? Reed is not likely to become the full-time starter at flanker but he is a better blocker than Price. A strong summer by Reed could force him onto the field in a few more first- and second-down situations. Does Roscoe Parrish take a step forward in his third season? He looked good in the spring. Fairchild may be forced to get Parrish the ball more.

Then there's the tight end position. Robert Royal is the clear No. 1. Can talented Kevin Everett emerge as the clear No. 2? How much will tight ends Brad Cieslak and Ryan Neufeld be used in the fullback spot?

"These are all things to see," Fairchild said.

NEXT: Defense.

e-mail: mgaughan@buffnews.com

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