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Schonert enthused by QB's growth

Don't underestimate the benefit Trent Edwards will get from experience in his second full year as starting quarterback for the Buffalo Bills.

That was a point emphasized by Bills offensive coordinator Turk Schonert on Friday in his first comments of the offseason.

"A lot happened to him that he's going to learn from," Schonert said. "The great thing about Trent is something happens to him one time, and he's going to learn from it. He doesn't make the same mistake most of the time. So his level of play is going to get better just from what he experienced, what defenses threw at him."

Schonert echoed the strong support of Edwards expressed Thursday by Bills head coach Dick Jauron. The Bills' brain trust firmly believes Edwards has what it takes to lead the team out of the non-playoff wilderness it is in.

"He did a lot of good things," Schonert said of Edwards. "He made some young mistakes. He had some things happen to him that caught him off guard in some games and he struggled. But he regained his composure in some games. Like the Denver game. He started off really bad, missed some throws. But he rebounded and he played very well and we won the game."

"The year before he was a 56 percent passer," Schonert said of 2007. "And he went to 65.5 percent, the second-best in Bills history. So there were a lot of positives."

Edwards' completion percentage ranked sixth in the NFL. His passer rating of 85.4 ranked 17th.

However, the Bills' offense overall made the seventh most turnovers in the NFL and ranked tied for 22nd in sacks allowed.

Those are two key areas Schonert thinks are most crucial to the improvement of the offense.

"He took some hits this year," Schonert said. "One thing we've got to improve is our pass protection. We've got to get a lot better in pass protection and try to take some of those hits off him."

Here are the other highlights of an interview with Schonert at the NFL Scouting Combine:

*Schonert would not say what tops his offseason wish list, but he acknowledged it was too easy for opponents to take Lee Evans away.

*"In our division they know who our big threat is," he said. "It's Lee Evans. So what are they going to do? They're going to take him away. They're going to make you beat them in other ways. We have to improve in the pass game, no doubt about it."

"When you double Lee, he's your big home run threat. You've got to find someone else who's going to get deep. We don't really have that guy. We had James [Hardy] but he was limited in what he did, being a rookie. We have to find other ways to get the ball down the field."

*At the same time, Schonert said he tried to call deeper routes more times than people realized.

"We call them and you get sacked. You get beat right away. There were times when we had Lee Evans for a touchdown. We had Hardy for a touchdown the very first play of the first Jets game, but we had to dump it off to Marshawn real quick because of protection."

*He thinks another year with the same players in the same offense will help Edwards connect with his targets. "We've got to get to where Trent is on the same page with all of our receivers. They've got to be better at running their routes more consistently. Everyone's at the same depth. Everyone's running it the same. Last year we were too much, this guy's at this depth, this guy's at another depth. They didn't run it the same. Trent was kind of [hesitant at times]. That's why the rhythm of the passing game wasn't as good as it needs to be."

*It's undecided whether the Bills will use a true fullback in the offense. Last year's fullback, Corey McIntyre, is an unrestricted free agent. But his snaps waned the second half of the season as the Bills ran more out of two tight end sets.

"Right now we're evaluating our offense," Schonert said. "We haven't determined how much we're going to use the fullback this year. We have some tight ends who you can put in the backfield as well. They're versatile guys. All that evaluation is happening right now. I don't know how much we're going to use that guy and what type of guy that's going to be."

*He would like a veteran with experience as the new backup to Edwards. The Bills need a new No. 2 because J.P. Losman will leave in free agency.

"I think it'd be good to have a veteran behind Trent that knows his role and can help Trent in the room," said Schonert. "Now who that guy is, I don't know."

*He intends to use the no-huddle more next season. Circumstances, starting with the holdout of tackle Jason Peters, conspired to severely limit the use of the no-huddle last season, he said.

"We used it in the fourth quarter of the Oakland game and it helped us win the game," he said. "It wore them out. We started a couple games in no-huddle but we didn't execute it. We weren't very good. So I got out of it in the first quarter.

"We're going to continue to work on it," Schonert said. "We like it. We want to use it. Last year we had to back off a little bit at the start of the season because of Jason's holdout. All of a sudden he comes and the terminology [with which Peters was unfamiliar] changed. We had to back off at the beginning of the season due to that.

"Then Josh gets hurt. He's out three games, we've got a rookie flanker in there and we had to back off a little because of that. Then Trent gets hurt. We kind of hit these roadblocks that kept us from using it as much as we wanted to. But we're going to use it. We're going to try to improve it, get better with it, and we're going to plan on having it in our arsenal."

e-mail: mgaughan@buffnews.com

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