Never mind the actual throwing of the football.
David Lee doesn’t concern himself with that in his duties as the new quarterbacks coach for the Buffalo Bills.
“If the release part isn’t there, then we’ve drafted the wrong guy or signed the wrong guy,” Lee said.
When it comes to doing his part to help improve the passing skills of Bills quarterbacks EJ Manuel, Matt Cassel, Tyrod Taylor and Jeff Tuel, Lee’s attention is focused below the hand and arm.
“It’s all in the lower body,” he said. “I think that’s one of my strengths as a coach.”
If Lee has learned anything in 42 years of coaching football – 31 years at the collegiate level and 11 in the pros – it’s that everything a quarterback does after taking the snap stems from his footwork. How he moves, where he moves, and when he moves will ultimately have the most to do with his ability to complete passes.
During the Bills’ voluntary offseason conditioning program, Lee has sat with Manuel, Cassel, Taylor and Tuel individually to review videotape of each in game action.
“And from that, I would talk about what I saw fundamentally, more specifically in the lower body,” said Lee, who is back for a second stint with the Bills after having also been their quarterbacks coach in 2012.
For the past two weeks, Lee has gone through the early phases of introducing the quarterbacks to a playbook that is new to them … as well as to the quarterbacks coach.
The book was assembled by new Bills offensive coordinator Greg Roman, and the scheme is different than what they’ve done in Buffalo or any of their previous NFL stops. It incorporates much of the West Coast-style, horizontal passing that the late Bill Walsh made famous while building a dynasty with the San Francisco 49ers in the 1980s. Roman used archived film of Walsh’s tutorial sessions with his players to gain a thorough understanding of the offense and incorporate it into the scheme he devised during the last four seasons as the 49ers’ offensive coordinator.
“This is a brand new system,” Lee said. “It’s new to me, it’s new to them. And it means studying.
“I was telling EJ, ‘You haven’t got time to’ go out. ‘You’ve got to study.’ They’ve all got to study. Matt’s got to study, Tyrod’s got to study, Jeff’s got to study. I’m studying.
“So the first thing is, for you to be able to play fast, you’ve got to know what to do, you’ve got to know what you’re doing. The second thing is defensive structure. You’ve got to know what” the opponent is “doing on defense so you can play fast, so you can make the checks, so you know when you’re” making a ‘hot read’ against a blitz, “when you’re not, where to throw the ball against this coverage versus that coverage.
“They cannot study defensive structure, study their protections enough.”
Lee is looking forward to Tuesday, when the players finally take the field for the start of the Bills’ voluntary veteran minicamp. He will primarily be looking to see what each quarterback does best during passing drills.
The session will mark the beginning of the evaluation to determine a starter. The process is expected to play out through the balance of the offseason and into training camp.
“And then, whoever rises to the top, eventually will do those things that he should really execute well, that he’s comfortable with, that he likes, and it becomes your game plan,” Lee said.
As a veteran who has made 71 starts in 10 NFL seasons, Cassel has an obvious edge in experience over his main competitor for the No. 1 spot, Manuel, who has made only 14 starts the last two seasons
Yet, Lee said, there is still plenty for Cassel to learn.
“A guy like Matt has seen so many pass concepts that he can see those concepts and say, ‘Yeah, I did that at Minnesota,’ or, ‘Yeah, I did that in Kansas City,’ and, ‘Oh, yeah, we did that over in New England,’ ” the coach said. “The reads and the timing of the footwork, the depth of the route, all those things will come really fast to him. Whereas the defensive structure is totally new to him. He was in my office the other day and said that. And I said, ‘Well, you’re still in Bill Parcells’ system’ mentally. That’s New England, that’s Kansas City. You’ve got to flush all that, man, and use our defensive structure.’
“I had to do the same thing.”
Now, Lee is able to fully concentrate on helping Cassel, Manuel, Taylor and Tuel improve their performance … from the bottom up.
“My job is to get them better every day,” he said. “I told each of them, ‘If you guys will just get better, then the offensive team will get better. If the offensive team gets better, the team gets better. The team gets better, we’ll win more games.’ ”