PITTSFORD — Excitement has been officially rebooted at the quarterback position at St. John Fisher College in the form of a 6-foot-1, 215-pound wild card.
The moment he stepped through the tunnel on Monday, fans shouted his name. When practice ended, they shouted some more. Tyrod Taylor Fever is spreading — even the Buffalo Bills’ general manager is catching it.
General manager Doug Whaley was a happy camper on Monday.
“It’s a production-based business,” Whaley said. “He produced with the twos so we’re excited for him to get in there Thursday with the ones to see what he can do. Everybody knows what he can do with his feet. But I’m impressed with a couple of his throws.
“He’s got everything you’re looking for. We just have to make sure he can produce when his time’s called.”
So this is the most important week in Taylor’s career to date.
Matt Cassel is the safe pick, the what-you-see-is-what-you-get default option. He rarely ever throws to the wrong receiver and hasn’t been turning the ball over. On a team with LeSean McCoy, a dangerous pass rush and a defensive-minded coach in Rex Ryan, maybe a quarterback who simply won’t mess up is the best option.
Then, Taylor somehow spins away from a sack to scramble left and hits Karlos Williams for 13 yards in Buffalo’s 25-24 loss Friday night. Then, he has a potential 40-yarder to Marquise Goodwin dropped. Then, another 20-yard touchdown to Thompson dropped, which Whaley brings up.
Where Cassel dinked and dunked, Taylor dazzled … against back-ups. If he’s lights out at Cleveland on Thursday night, he could still win the job.
This week is about proving himself as a pocket passer.
“Obviously the running quarterback — especially a shorter one — you’re going to try to keep him as much in the pocket as possible,” Whaley said, “and make him beat you with his arm. So that’s what I’m sure Cleveland is going to do Thursday. If he produces, hey, it’s up to him.”
Asked if Taylor can win the job this week, Whaley said it’ll be “a combination of practices and everything,” though added “It’d be a big step forward for him.”
Taylor has improved as a passer throughout camp, but he’s still shorter than the norm at the position. Many of Taylor’s best throws have come outside the pocket. He didn’t hesitate when asked if he can throw from the pocket with consistency, saying “Yes, yes, I know I can.”
If the pick was Taylor over Cassel, surely offensive coordinator Greg Roman would get creative. The Bills have practiced plenty of read option and, in their dream scenario, a steady diet of McCoy opens up a play action-heavy scheme for Taylor.
Whaley wouldn’t call the playbooks for Cassel and Taylor totally different — saying a strong running game is the basis for both — but admits they’d try to get Taylor outside the pocket a lot more than Cassel. When the Bills signed Taylor this off-season, they absolutely had Russell Wilson on their mind.
“I mean, yeah,” Whaley said. “Yeah. Obviously him and how Greg had Kaepernick, that’s the new-age guy. And it puts the defense in a bind. Because even if you have everything covered, you still have to account for him and his legs.”
Still, there’s a difference between scrambling and scrambling with a purpose. During Monday’s joint practice with Cleveland, Taylor was “sacked” on one scramble. Wilson’s rare sixth sense for the rush helps him create his own passing windows and take off upfield. Last season, he threw for 3,475 yards, ran for 724 and had 26 touchdowns with only seven interceptions.
Whaley calls it a “perfect feel.”
“And you saw a little bit of that with Tyrod,” he said, “His back’s to the guy and he’s able to spin out and everything. So, yeah, we’re excited.”
The Peoples’ Champ, for now, seems to be Taylor. He wouldn’t feed into the hype of the week after practice, repeating he’s taking this day to day. A four-year wait behind Joe Flacco helped, he said. Simply, he wants to “command the offense” and “take control” as the No. 1 quarterback this week.
He’s trying to stay true to himself, his game, and that’s a player who makes plays with his arm and legs. A player who brings “magic,” as Rex Ryan said last week.
“I’m just being me,” Taylor said. “I’m just doing the things I know I can do. … I have to have that clock in my head, but the job is to get the ball to the open guys and that’s what I have to do.”
They’re hobbled in the secondary but the Browns did hold opposing quarterbacks to a league-low 74.1 passer rating last season — this is a timely test.
If he can truly do both, maybe Taylor forces the Bills’ hand. Such a weapon can make life difficult for cornerbacks.
Stephon Gilmore shakes his head.
“He just has no fear,” Gilmore said. “You can just tell — he has no fear. He wants to make the big plays and he’s not afraid to throw it up. … Some quarterbacks have fear. When everything’s going, life is good. But he’s not scared to bounce back in any way.”
Gilmore is quick to defend Taylor’s arm, too.
“He can throw it,” Gilmore said. “I face him every day and he can put it on the money. So he has a great arm.”
The Bills were teased with some magic. It’s a start. It keeps Taylor in this race.
Now, they want more.
“He just has to do it consistently,” Whaley said, “and we’ll see.”