The Ferrari was kept in the shop for a large chunk of training camp. As LeSean McCoy joked, Buffalo Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins had that “Allen Iverson injury.”
And Watkins wasn’t the only player sidelined in August. Several starters – Robert Woods, Percy Harvin, all four running backs on the current roster – missed stretches of training camp.
So, yeah, Watkins was worried about getting chemistry down with his quarterback.
That’s why he ran 30 routes with Tyrod Taylor before one exhibition game and then another 28 at a recent practice. The quarterback must know exactly where the wide receiver will be on specific routes. At Tuesday’s practice, Taylor let ’er rip with a defender in his face.
“He trusted me on a route to be in that position and just threw the ball,” Watkins said. “I came back to the huddle and he was like, ‘I didn’t even see you. Did you catch it?’ I said, ‘Yeah, great ball.’ ”
The previous day, Taylor missed Watkins on that same route.
Now, the countdown is on. Indianapolis comes to town in five days – Buffalo must cram in the chemistry lessons. For all of the shiny new toys at One Bills Drive, they haven’t played together much at all in pads. Even offensive coordinator Greg Roman admits this is “definitely a concern.” So Watkins is sneaking in those extra reps with Taylor. Receivers are meeting with Taylor for film sessions. They’re leaning on their total volume of work together, back to OTAs and minicamp.
There’s no denying the talent on offense – owners Terry and Kim Pegula opened up their wallets in a way Ralph Wilson never did.
But is there enough time for it all to sync up? The receivers all express cautious optimism.
“We just have to have a busy week and get it,” said Woods, snapping his fingers, “freshened up a little bit now that everybody’s back. I don’t think it’ll hinder us in this upcoming game. I think that we just have to get clicking again, look smooth and get things going.”
As Watkins notes, there’s a lot of practice work reporters never see. Taylor has been throwing to his receivers plenty behind closed doors.
Still, there’s a difference between the cozy confines of a scripted practice and game day. And as Taylor earned the starting job, he did it with players he will not be throwing to on Sunday. The team’s preseason receptions leader, Andre Davis? Not even on the practice squad. Watkins and Woods played in one game apiece with three total receptions. The 5-foot-11, 184-pound Harvin, has been the team’s best-kept secret. He didn’t even play a snap.
Harvin expects to be a “multidimensional” threat and says he’s been getting the timing down with all quarterbacks since April.
On Sunday, his role will finally be unveiled.
“I think as the offseason went on, I got better,” he said. “My routes got more precise. The last couple practices, I think I’ve really been coming along. … Everything is coming together for me. Body. Team-wise. As far as me getting a grasp of the offense, I’m right where I need to be.”
Extra meetings have helped. Chris Hogan points out that all receivers will watch film of the Colts with Taylor as a group. It’s one thing to get instruction from a coach; it’s another to hear how Taylor wants a specific route versus a specific coverage. They need to know his thought process.
One day, for example, they’ll dissect all of the Colts’ third-down looks. Ball placement. Where to cut off a route. Everything will be discussed.
“What he’s thinking, what we’re thinking,” wide receiver Chris Hogan said. “We’ll obviously put in that extra time this week and I think it’ll be an every-week kind of thing. You have to make sure you’re on the same page.”
Woods, a master of his craft, says receivers dissect the leverage cornerbacks use, how their hands “shoot” and where there are soft spots in the Colts’ secondary.
“There’s some holes in the defense,” Woods said. “We just have to get there.”
Looking around the locker room, Hogan adds that “the sky’s the limit” with this offense, calling Roman a “mastermind.”
And, true, this is a complicated scheme. The lack of live 11-on-11 reps combined with a deep playbook could be viewed as a recipe for disaster. Nonetheless, neither Hogan nor Woods find this offense too confusing.
What will be that final product Sunday? “Very explosive,” Woods assures. “A lot of speed. … In this offense, there’s mismatches everywhere.”
In reality, it’ll probably take two, three, four weeks for the Bills offense to truly rev up.
Offenses powered by MVP-level quarterbacks – New England, Indianapolis, Green Bay, Seattle etc. – don’t even need audibles at the line of scrimmage. Quarterback and receiver see the same thing in real time and react at a Chemistry 501 level. That’s why Roman says this offense will “evolve” as the year goes on. Buffalo cannot manufacture a well-oiled machine overnight.
In the meantime, Chemistry 101 isn’t so bad. Watkins, Woods, Harvin, Clay and Co. can still pose problems in a game of checkers.
“Really, to a man, I think it is hard to say we are just going to double this guy or take this guy away,” Roman said. “I don’t think teams can do that and not have to worry about what they might have to deal with. That is a huge advantage for us.”