Some people think the wide receivers are a forgotten part of the Buffalo Bills' offense. Think again.
Despite all the preseason talk surrounding the other positions, the wideouts will play a major role this season.
"What people think is going to happen doesn't concern us," said offensive coordinator Dan Henning. "I think this is a good group. There's some experience, youth and a lot of savvy. Trust me, we're going to make sure these guys get their hands on the football."
The wide receivers will be used, but the number of them on the field will change.
In Henning's two-tight end base formation, there is room for only two receivers.
As a result, it bears watching who emerges as the top two during training camp and the preseason games.
Andre Reed, Quinn Early and Eric Moulds are the clear front-runners.
Reed continues to show the skill that has made him the cornerstone receiver of the Bills' passing attack the past 12 seasons.
He bounced back from an injury-riddled 1995 campaign to lead the Bills with 66 catches for 1,036 yards and six touchdowns in 1996. He had five 100-yard games and averaged a solid 15.7 yards per catch.
Early, a free-agent acquisition from New Orleans, grabbed 50 balls for 798 yards.
One of his four scores was a team-record 95-yarder against Indianapolis.
Moulds, the Bills' top draft choice a year ago, had 20 catches for 279 yards and two touchdowns and added another score on a 97-yard kickoff return. Most fans complained that he did not get the football enough last season, but they will be happy to know the Bills have plans for him in 1997. He's been spectacular in camp thus far.
"We have a very solid group of receivers here," Reed said.
"I think whoever is in there will do a good job for us. It's a new offense, but we'll still do some of the things we did in the past."
Maybe some three-wide formations?
"We're certainly not going to have Andre Reed, Quinn Early and Eric Moulds standing next to us on the sidelines very much, I can tell you that," Henning said. "They are going to be in the game, therefore, we might use a lot more three-wide than people think."
Actually, Henning used three wide receivers often when he developed a potent passing attack in Washington with the Redskins' Super Bowl teams in the 1980s.
Early is pretty familiar with Henning's system. Early played for the San Diego Chargers in 1989 and 1990 during two of Henning's three years as head coach.
"Most of the pass routes are the same, but the terminology is a little different," Early said. "It's going to take a little time for us to get that down, but once we do, it should be very effective for us."
That the Bills want to emphasize the run is no surprise. Even when they ran the no-huddle, the number of running plays usually outnumbered the passes.
Whether it's the new offense or the old one, the intent is the same -- balance.
"It's an old cliche, but you've got to have a good running game to set up the passing game and vice-versa," Reed said. "If you balance them just right in any given situation, you're going to create some problems for a defense."
An important key to a balanced offense is it can create mismatches that often lead to big plays. The wide receivers will certainly be a part of that.
"I think we're going to get some big plays," said receivers coach Charlie Joiner. "We're not just going to be a ball-control team. We are going to spread people out and make them defend the entire field."
"I think we have a very sophisticated method of blitz control, which involves the wide receiver," head coach Marv Levy said. "They are integral in what we are going to do."
With Reed, Early and Moulds getting most of the snaps, it doesn't leave much playing time for the others.
Steve Tasker will see limited time now that he has gone back to being a full-time special teamer.
Chris Brantley was a training camp surprise last year and could make the team again because of his deep speed.
Justin Armour, who was out last season with an injured foot, is a good possession receiver who runs precise routes and has good hands.
Mitchell Galloway, Jimmy Cunningham and Jerry Reese are also getting long looks in camp. Cunningham has value as a kick returner as well. He led the Canadian Football League in all-purpose yards for the 1996 Grey Cup champion Toronto Argonauts and had five punt-return touchdowns in two years.
"The competition has been great," Brantley said. "I want to stick around for another year, and I'm trying to do everything I can to make sure that happens."
"We're pretty deep, so anything you can do to stand out helps," Armour said. "Everybody is fighting for the same job, but at this point, we all try to encourage each other and help each other out when we're out there and let the coaches decide."