PITTSFORD – The people Tyrod Taylor needs to convince the most that he can be the top-flight quarterback for whom the Buffalo Bills have been endlessly searching aren’t the owners or the general manager or the coach.
Sure, the owners and the GM are going to determine how much money he’ll get in the long-term contract extension Taylor’s agent is negotiating. Sure, Rex Ryan and offensive coordinator Greg Roman are the ones who ultimately determine that Taylor is the starter and construct the offense he leads.
But it’s the other Bills players who need to know, need to believe, that Taylor is the man.
Their man. The guy they can trust. The guy who will guide them through the best, but especially the worst, that each game and season can offer.
“He’s a hard worker,” running back LeSean McCoy said. “I think the best thing about him is he wants to strive to be the best. He’s not relaxed, he has that attitude of he always wants to get better. You need that in this game, for sure, because so many players are up-and-down for years. So that’s one of the things he wants to get better at.
“He wants to get better at play-calling, maybe help out a little bit more with that. So, I’m confident in Tyrod, for sure. A lot of people are still asking, ‘Is he good?’ He’s real good. He throws the ball well, he controls the offense.”
One thing Taylor doesn’t do is project all that well with his voice. He speaks quietly when he’s in front of microphones. He isn’t a whole louder when he’s around his teammates, on the field as well as off.
At least, he wasn’t last season.
During offseason practices and through Saturday’s first practice of training camp at St. John Fisher College, Taylor made himself heard. In the huddle. At the line of scrimmage. After plays.
“That’s something I’ve picked up on, I’ve seen it; he’s actually been very vocal with the leadership,” McCoy said. “Demanding respect in the huddle, demanding respect as the offensive main guy. He’s the main guy. He’s the quarterback. He’s taking that approach now where before, it was like, ‘Alright, I’m just here.’ Now, he’s actually arrived and he’s our main guy so it makes a difference in confidence.”
A year ago, Taylor opened training camp as the third quarterback on the depth chart behind Matt Cassel and EJ Manuel. It didn’t take long for him to prove he was the best of the three. The Bills sent Cassel packing and Manuel opened camp as the No. 2 quarterback, while rookie Cardale Jones now occupies the third spot.
When he awoke Saturday morning, Taylor reflected on how far he has come in a year. He said he did so for a moment while in his dorm bed.
“That’s the only time,” Taylor said.
What went through his mind?
“Training camp’s here,” he said. “A year went by so fast. Learned a lot last year. Now that’s behind me. Everything up to this point has been a learning experience, and I’ve tried to use that to better myself as a quarterback moving forward and as a person.”
Taylor did most of his proving last summer with his dynamic running. Sometimes he ran and threw, but often he simply ran. He was effective, but the coaches wanted to see more. They wanted to see him make more plays from the pocket, especially to the middle of the field.
Through offseason workouts, Taylor was doing exactly that.
The biggest change he felt in his first training camp practice compared to the one in 2015 was his stronger grasp of Roman’s complex offense.
“Last year at this point we were still – I mean we had the spring under our belt – but I felt we were still learning the offense as an offensive unit,” Taylor said. “With a year under our belt and the full spring of me getting the starting reps, having a grasp on the offense definitely feels different. You feel more control out here, and you’re able to point people in different directions if things go wrong, something that maybe I wasn’t comfortable doing on the first day last year.
“Guys look to me as the leader now. I have to go there and prepare like it and have to go out there and show it on the field.”
By all indications, the work Taylor did through OTAs and minicamp has done plenty to move the needle on contract talks. Ryan, Roman, and General Manager Doug Whaley see a world of difference from what he showed a year ago, and the gap between Taylor and the other two quarterbacks is gargantuan.
But don’t ask Taylor to discuss his contract, which has a year left at the paltry (for a starting quarterback) sum of $3.1 million.
“If things happen, I’m all for it,” he said. “If things didn’t happen or play out, then and I’d be a free agent next year. (The contract’s) not the focus for me. That’s never been the focus for me. I’m out here to help the Bills, the organization, win football games. Help bring this community – put faith that they’ve been waiting for, for years now. That’s what my focus is.”
Meanwhile, Taylor seems to be taking care of everything else.
“It’s kind of like you’re sure of yourself,” McCoy said. “I think he came in here as one of the guys trying to be on the team and showcase that he’s a good player, but now he’s the main guy. So knowing that, it’s a whole new, different dimension when you talk about the leaders of the team, talk about the main guys of the offense.
“It goes through Tyrod. And he knows that. So that makes a difference.”