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Fitzpatrick steps it up
New coach Lee working on quarterback's footwork

Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is confident enough in his ability to seize the opportunity to be self-deprecating when it comes his way.

So when Fitzpatrick was asked last week if he was surprised to learn from new quarterbacks coach David Lee that he still has significant work to do on his throwing mechanics, Fitzpatrick quipped: "Not at all. You guys have seen me throw."

Fitz is a funny guy when he wants to be. Bills fans, however, weren't laughing about his slump the second half of last season.

Some of the reasons had nothing to do with the quarterback. Such as the fact the Bills' defense gave up a league-worst average of 17 points -- in the first half alone! -- over the second half of the season. Or the fact the Bills' offense was riddled by injuries.

But Lee -- a key new addition to head coach Chan Gailey's staff -- believes having more fundamentally sound footwork can help Fitzpatrick get back to the consistency he showed through most of 2010 and the first half of 2011.

"I just saw some things I thought we could correct fundamentally from his lower body," Lee said after the Bills practiced Friday. "Just where his placement of his left foot was. He was blocking out his right hip to get more power and velocity."

Fitzpatrick says he welcomes the technical instruction.

"I just go out there and throw; that's what I've done my whole life," he said. "No one's really ever taught me how to do it. Now for a guy to come in and say, 'This is why you're missing that throw low,' for him to actually have evidence for me to look at and say, 'OK. It looks like that's something I really need to work on,' and for a guy to be as respected as he is, to be as knowledgeable as he is, that's somebody that I'm going to listen to every time.

"I knew I had a long way to go with my mechanics, but I just didn't know how to find that person or how to improve at it," Fitzpatrick said. "He's going to be a very big help for me this year."

Lee, 58, is a 36-year coaching veteran who helped develop Tony Romo in Dallas as a member of Bill Parcells' coaching staff. Lee and Parcells go way back. Parcells was the defensive coordinator at Vanderbilt in the '70s when Lee was a quarterback there. Lee helped Chad Pennington to a great season in Miami in 2008.

Lee also developed the Wildcat offense with Darren McFadden at Arkansas in 2007 and with the Dolphins in 2008. Lee was offensive coordinator at Ole Miss last season. The Bills beat out the New York Jets in bidding for his services this offseason.

Fitzpatrick's passing yardage total of 3,832 last season was third best in Bills history. He ranked sixth in the NFL in completions, ninth in completion percentage and 10th in touchdowns. He also led the league in interceptions with 23.

Through seven games, Fitzpatrick had 14 TD passes and seven interceptions. The last nine games he had 10 TDs and 16 interceptions.

The fact the Bills' offense was in constant catch-up mode hurt. Of those 16 INTs, 10 came with the Bills down by 10 or more points.

Nevertheless, there were some issues with Fitzpatrick's mechanics, particularly as they affected his deep accuracy. He missed Stevie Johnson twice on downfield throws to the left against the Giants, which arguably cost the Bills a win over the eventual Super Bowl champs. An INT against Miami came on a deep throw to the left.

Quarterbacks also have the tendency to stay "too closed" -- not stepping toward the target -- while throwing to the opposite side of the field, which causes them to throw the ball across their body. Drew Bledsoe had an issue with it in Buffalo in 2003 and 2004, and Lee coached him the next year in Dallas.

"Yes, I irritated him because he would never open up far enough to his left," Lee recalled.

Lee on Fitzpatrick's deep accuracy: "I think he possibly struggled a little bit more deep to his left than he did to his right. No. 1 is when he was releasing the ball. When he lets that thing go between 9 and 12 yards (the receiver's distance downfield), he's not underthrowing anybody. It's when he holds it longer and it comes out at 15, 16 that's when the underthrow takes place.

"There's a lot to do with that, He does an unbelievable job, fellas, at looking people off. I've coached Pennington -- smart guys. This guy looks where he's not throwing better than anybody I've ever seen."

"But then when you come back [to the target], you have limited your time as to when you're focusing on throwing. So, he's so good at looking them off it hurts him for when he comes back because he doesn't have a long enough picture where he's gonna intersect the ball and the receiver," Lee said. "If we can cut that time of looking them off down a little bit -- let's not do it quite as long, just so we can get a little bit of a focus back."

With some more work on subtle mechanics, like firing the right hip, Lee already is optimistic about Fitzpatrick's progress.

"Fortunately he is so smart," Lee said. "He sees it on tape. And when he sees it and has evidence as to why it's going where it's going, and then trusts and believes that maybe there is something in the lower body that's wrong."

"Today was his best day," Lee said Friday. "I didn't anticipate him hitting a back shoulder till the middle of camp. And he just nailed that. He hit the go route. So I'm really pleased with how quickly he's taken to it but it's not muscle memory yet, because we haven't done it long enough. You throw one way your whole life then somebody tries to adjust some things, it doesn't just happen overnight."

Lee says Fitzpatrick has the mental makeup to be a winner in the NFL.

"He's got the one thing you've got to have at that position is confidence," Lee said. "I think the biggest thing is it's in his eyes when he does something good, when he does something bad. When he has a bad day, how's he react? In his eyes, is he shook a little? Does it bother him? Or is it: I know I'm good, I'll get it corrected. I see that in him. His eyes tell me a lot about him when things go bad."