Rick Dennison and Tyrod Taylor are reunited in Buffalo under very different circumstances.
During the lone year they spent together in Baltimore in 2014, Taylor was the backup quarterback to Joe Flacco, and rarely called on. In fact, he took just six snaps the entire year.
That doesn’t mean Dennison – who served as the Ravens’ quarterbacks coach that season – didn’t learn anything about Taylor.
“I was very impressed with his work habits,” the Bills’ new offensive coordinator said. “His study habits, he was always on task. We quiz the quarterbacks every Saturday before a Sunday game, go through the whole game plan, and he was always on task with that. He did everything that we asked of him.”
Taylor, of course, is no longer relegated to a mop-up role. Even as his head coach and general manager have declared every job on the roster an open competition, he is undoubtedly the heavy favorite to be the Bills’ starting quarterback in September.
Dennison, who spoke to the Western New York media for the first time Thursday since being hired, said a change in responsibilities has not changed Taylor.
“He’s doing what I expected when I worked with him in Baltimore,” he said. “I think he knows what he’s doing, he knows where everybody is; he’s a good leader in the huddle. I think he’s doing a good job. Obviously, his work habits are just as great as they were back then. I mean, he’s working his tail off at it. He’s watching film, he’s doing work outside of the building.”
Seemingly from the moment Dennison took the job in January, there has been a belief that his offense – which is expected to feature plenty of bootlegs and play action – will be a good fit for Taylor’s abilities.
“Right fit or not fit, he’s a good player,” Dennison said. “He throws the ball well and he’s athletic, so he can do some of the stuff that we want to do wen we move him out of the pocket. But I’ve had quarterbacks that aren’t as gifted that can still get that done because they have to defend the run. Obviously with the guys we have up front and LeSean McCoy, I think we can run the ball pretty dog-gone good. They will have to defend a lot of the field.”
In other words, don’t expect the Bills to get away from what their identity has been the last two years – a team that first wants to run the ball.
“There are going to be some bad-weather games where you have to run the ball well,” Dennison said. “That’s just all there is to it, and I think we will. I have confidence in our system. I have confidence in the players that we have in that locker room.
“But once they’re up in there, you take shots over their head. That’s how we’ve always tried to do it in the years I’ve learned this game from the guys that have taught me the game. We’ll be successful running it and when they’re up there trying to stop the run, we’ll take our shots down the field.”
Plenty of debate went into whether Taylor would be back with the Bills, and Dennison certainly had a big voice in that. Ultimately, the quarterback returned on a restructured contract. While the “open competition” talk hasn’t exactly been a ringing endorsement, Taylor didn’t seem bothered by it Thursday.
“I definitely think I can take it to the next level. It’s something that I’ve focused on throughout this offseason, which is to continue to keep digesting the offense and trying to be better at it each day,” he said. “This offense allows us to spread the ball around, allows me to get on the edge with the keepers, and matching up with the run game that we’re doing. I’m excited about the week that we’ve had thus far, just got to continue to keep building throughout OTAs and minicamp moving into training camp.”
Taylor will need to use the spring to familiarize himself with some new receivers. With No. 1 wideout Sammy Watkins still not practicing as he recovers from foot surgery and second-round draft pick Zay Jones out because of a knee injury, the Bills lined up Andre Holmes and Philly Brown with the starters Thursday. It would have been easy for Taylor to have some flashbacks to 2016, when injuries were a constant at receiver.
That impacted how the Bills approached their game plans, Taylor said.
“Could we have taken more shots? Yes. But at the same time, you want to do that with the group of guys you're comfortable doing that with,” he said. “Last year's behind us. ... It's a different scheme now.”
One that Taylor – and Bills fans – hope will bring out his best.
“I've always liked his offense,” he said of Dennison. “His styling of coaching, he's very detailed with what he expects from the quarterback position. I’m just trying to soak up his knowledge.”