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Analysis: Bills have speed to burn, everywhere, but how will OC Greg Roman use it?

If a 4x100 relay breaks out at Ralph Wilson Stadium, the Buffalo Bills will be in good shape. This season, they’ll field their fastest offense ever.

Marquise Goodwin ran a 4.27 in the 40-yard dash, the third-fastest time ever at the NFL scouting combine. A two-time NCAA long jump champion, he's gunning for a spot on the 2016 Olympic team.

Dri Archer edged out Goodwin for the second-best 40 time at the Combine at 4.26.

Kolby Listenbee? The wide receiver has been recorded at 10.03 in the 100-meter dash, anchored TCU’s 4x100 relay and ran a ho-hum 4.39 through a double sports hernia.

Not to mention that LeSean McCoy, Sammy Watkins and Tyrod Taylor — three engines running this Bills offense — are 4.4 roadrunners, too. On paper, this all seems too good to be true. Rex Ryan’s defense got bigger this off-season and Greg Roman’s offense got even faster. So this is the offensive coordinator's challenge: harnessing all of this speed in ways others could not.

Archer, a third-round pick, didn’t last in Pittsburgh. Goodwin, a third-round pick, has been injured, ineffective, misused.

Listenbee produced at TCU to the tune of 19.9 yards per reception though admitted he only ran four routes.

There’s speed here but it’s extremely under-cooked, untapped speed for now. Maybe you “can’t coach speed” as General Manager Doug Whaley said after the draft. But from now to September, the Bills must figure out how to use it all effectively.

“When you look at it, you put (Listenbee), Goodwin and Sammy on the field at one time, with Tyrod and maybe Shady," Whaley said, "it’s going to put some heartache in some defensive coordinators. Right coach?"

Smiled Ryan, "There’s no question about it."

Many other offenses are QB-driven. The quarterback has complete autonomy at the line of scrimmage to change plays. Option routes are the norm. The Bradys, Big Bens, Rodgerses and Lucks are the ones making verbal and non-verbal audibles on the fly with virtual keys to the offense hanging from their belt buckles.

This is not the case in Buffalo.

Taylor, no doubt, will get more free rein in Year 2 but Roman is pushing all the buttons. And while defensive players were not "all in" with Ryan in 2015, it’s hard to find anyone who disliked Roman’s scheme. Linemen rave about its complexities; there's an infinite number of ways to block defenders up front. McCoy called his OC a “genius.” No, Watkins wasn't happy one month in, calling for 10 targets a game. But the two started talking more openly with each other and Watkins averaged 100 yards per game the final nine weeks.

Watkins said the two grew closer “because he respects me more on coming to him and saying ‘Hey, I want the ball. You moved up in the draft to get me.’”

So can Roman now turn Listenbee, Archer and Goodwin into roaming game-changers? The opportunity lurks. Defenses are bound to load the box again with eight, nine defenders to stop the Bills' No. 1-ranked rushing attack. They'll see more single-high safety looks. With attention paid toward McCoy, toward Karlos Williams, toward Taylor's scrambling, the three other speedsters will be low on defenses' priority list.

Subtle misdirection could spring Archer loose with one tackler to beat to the end zone. With the right timing — maybe a third and 1 from the 50? — Roman could send Listenbee on a go route one on one with a cornerback. With the right blocking design from a trips set, maybe Goodwin takes a receiver screen to the house.

This personnel is a Madden nerd's dream.

Yet Archer, the latest addition, is an enigma.

Back at Kent State, in 2012, Archer ran for 1,429 yards on only 159 carries (9.0 avg.) with 16 touchdowns. He averaged 28.2 yards per kick return with four scores for his collegiate career. Even through an injury-shortened 2013 senior year, Archer averaged 7.8 per carry. There were blips of promise in Pittsburgh, such as Archer’s 46-yarder off a screen pass in the preseason. Four New York Giants defenders are caught in virtual mud, useless as Archer dashes diagonally across the field.

But through two pro seasons, Archer has a grand total of 10 carries and seven receptions. He never stuck. To figure out how he can stick, call the one who coached him at his best: Brian Rock. The former Kent State offensive coordinator now coaches at Holy Cross, where he's driving through the cornfields of Ohio recruiting. Over the phone, he makes it clear the Archer he had — the one who embarrassed his peers — can transfer to the pro game.

Rock calls him a "double-edged blade" of an athlete. As he explains, Archer was a gear faster than everyone else and downright "magical" in the return game. So as the coordinator, Rock tried to simulate those returns as much as possible, tried to scheme his offense in ways that let Archer's creativity flourish.

“I still think he has all the tools to be an incredibly productive piece of the puzzle,” Rock said. “Obviously he’s really fast. But he’s a long strider. And he’s a quick, change of direction guy. He’s not just one of those fast guys who’s got straight-line speed. He can stick his foot in the ground and change direction without slowing down. He’s magical with that. He can cut at full stride, which is not the norm.

“Most guys need to stutter their feet. Dri doesn’t have to and it’s really odd. He’s not a real tall guy but he has a long stride for his size.”

Archer brought a running back background to college, but was also only 5 foot 8, 173 pounds. So Rock motioned him constantly, lined him up in the slot and sought one-on-one match-ups with linebackers as much as possible. Bubbles. Quick screens. Pitches. You name it. Anything that could get Archer to the edge of the defense. Rock would even mix in a dash of inside-zone plays.

What happened in Pittsburgh? “I couldn’t even venture to say,” he said. Rock's old one-man wrecking crew now gets a second chance with Roman.

The coach is quick to make an important distinction.

“Dri is not a track guy playing football,” Rock said. “There’s a lot of guys out there who can ‘wow’ you with their 40 time but it doesn’t translate to being a good football player. Dri is a very good football player first, and then he’s fast.”

This is what it'll come down to.

Archer "changed games" every Saturday, Rock said, but he hasn't in the NFL yet.

TCU track coach Darryl Anderson is convinced Listenbee can run in the 4.1's, calling Listenbee's speed "freaky," and the receiver mastered the art of the over-the-shoulder catch with hours upon hours of extra work. But can the Bills polish his route running? Goodwin’s ridiculous speed was on full display again last summer. By September, however, Rex Ryan was nicknaming him “McRib” because of his broken ribs. This is the 5-foot-9 Goodwin's last chance to stay healthy, to prove he's a football player.

And if Roman turns a sixth-round project, a Steelers outcast and an injury-prone Goodwin into playmakers, well, his phone should be ringing off the hook for head coaching opportunities.

Genetically, all three are wired differently. They may be the three fastest players in the league.

Starting with OTA's later this month, the real work begins.

 

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