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Vic Carucci: Making Derek Anderson Bills’ starter not quite as easy as it looked

Vic Carucci

Sean McDermott might very well have done the obvious by naming Derek Anderson the Bills’ starting quarterback Wednesday.

A no-brainer? That might be a bit of an overstatement.

After all, the guy has been on the team for a little more than a week. He was enjoying an offseason vacation with his wife and their children when the Bills called to ask not if he would be their quarterback, but rather serve as a mentor for their rookie starter. Between last January and the time Anderson showed up at One Bills Drive, his most intense physical activity was chasing around his three little kids while contemplating retirement.

That’s pretty much how it is with a 35-year-old journeyman who has spent the better part of his previous 13 seasons as a backup and would otherwise have no business being in the No. 1 spot in the overtime portion of his career.

That’s also how it is when you’re a coach who has been put in a corner by a series of quarterbacking events that have quite possibly made this rebuilding season more difficult than it needed to be.

Never mind McDermott’s emotional attachment to Nathan Peterman and its potential to cloud the coach’s judgement. McDermott clearly got over that after watching those two killer interceptions Peterman threw at Houston Sunday and coming to the same realization as every other Bills observer that bad things keep happening whenever Peterman’s behind center.

Still, McDermott found himself in an extremely difficult spot after learning Josh Allen’s sprained elbow would sideline him indefinitely, because he had no attractive options to replace him. He had no attractive options to replace him because, thanks to that aforementioned series of events, the Bills didn’t leave themselves with any.

Josh Allen viewing elbow injury as 'a blessing in disguise'

Remember when they signed AJ McCarron as a free agent to hold the QB fort until whoever they drafted to be their long-term answer at the position was ready to play? Somewhere along the line, McDermott and the rest of the team’s brain trust arrived at the conclusion that Peterman would be the better choice to start presumably through the first quarter of the schedule — if not longer — while Allen watched and learned. That was Event No. 1.

Event No. 2 was the Bills fearing McCarron would struggle with the concept of going from projected starter to third-stringer. After all, he had been a No. 2 in Cincinnati and didn't leave for a demotion.

Event No. 3 was the Bills concluding that the best move for all parties was to avoid possibly having a disgruntled veteran negatively influencing two younger teammates, so they shipped McCarron to Oakland for a fifth-round draft pick.

Event No. 4 was Peterman’s disastrous performance in the season-opener at Baltimore, forcing him to be replaced by Allen early in the third quarter — and for the rest of the year.

With Peterman demonstrating he was no closer to being an NFL starter (or even a backup) than he was after his five-interception debut against the Chargers last season, the Bills found themselves in a quandary. If at any point Allen no longer could continue to start, either through performance or injury, the Bills had nowhere else to turn.

Peterman confirmed as much against the Texans.

Now, the Bills are left to turn to what, at best, is a long-shot, though perhaps not as long as sticking with Peterman.

“It’s not exactly how I saw it happening, I’m not going to lie to you,” Anderson told reporters after Wednesday’s practice in preparation for Sunday’s game at Indianapolis. “But I talk with my friends, my wife. Everybody was just kind of like, ‘Do you want to do this, do you really want to do this?’ I told Coach, ‘If I’m going to do this, I’m fully committed to it. That’s why I came here.’ ”

Ideal, it’s not.

But it’s the best the Bills can do for now.

Derek Anderson takes over as Bills' third starting quarterback in first seven weeks

“It’ll take a minute to get used to it,” Anderson said of getting ready to handle NFL game speed again. “But we’ll have a good plan and I feel good about the things we got in (Wednesday), just getting out there and … just talking and playing. Football is football to me. You’re out there with your guys. My comfort level with those guys will be good by Sunday.”

Anderson’s supporting cast is working through the same process with their third starting quarterback in seven weeks. There’s no denying that having someone who only joined the team a week earlier in that role is far from business as usual.

“You know, it’s different,” offensive tackle Jordan Mills acknowledged. “But our job as an offensive line is to protect whoever’s back there. Unfortunately, Josh got hurt last game and now DA’s in and we’ve got to treat it the same way, we’ve got to give him as much time as possible.

“And he’s going to get that ball out. He ripped one across my face (in Wednesday’s practice) and I was like, ‘Whoa!’ You heard that thing whistle. I didn’t expect the ball to go across my face like that, but even though he’s 35, he has some power behind it.”

The Bills are counting on that strong arm attached to Anderson’s 6-foot-6, 235-pound frame to still possess the sort of velocity that has helped him stick around for as long as he has. They’re also banking heavily on the one season, 2009, Anderson spent with offensive coordinator Brian Daboll in Cleveland when Daboll was in the same role with the Browns. Despite some tweaking of the scheme in the past nine years, Anderson said he still has a reasonably good grasp of it.

Despite the fact Anderson spent the past seven seasons mentoring Cam Newton in Carolina, after one year in Arizona, the Bills already were convinced Anderson remembered enough of Daboll’s playbook to help with Allen’s understanding of it.

“I’m not a rocket scientist, but I’m pretty smart,” Anderson said. “The biggest thing for me is being able to talk to the guys, terminology-wise, right? The terminology that we had with Brian the first time has changed a bit, but I’ve been studying like crazy since I got here last week. Initially, it was just so I could talk to Josh during games and he knows what I was talking about. Obviously, all the work I put in last week, that helps this week.

“I told (Daboll), ‘If I can’t see the picture in my brain when I say (a play), it’s not in.’ By Sunday, I see a picture of an overlay on the field, that visual. If I can’t see that picture, I don’t feel comfortable with it, I’m just going to (tell him), ‘I don’t feel comfortable on that,’ and he’s OK with that. Obviously, we’re going to have to work through that as we go.”

McDermott acknowledged Anderson’s exposure to Daboll’s offense was “part of what factored into the decision in terms of making sure he was able to get up to speed” quickly enough. “Every situation is different, but if he was a quarterback who hadn’t been around the system, it would’ve been awfully hard to get him up to speed in the short amount of time,” the coach said.

It might not be much, but McDermott has to hang his hat on something.

It’s also fair to say that maintaining the confidence of the rest of his players that the man leading them hasn’t lost his grip on reality is another. McDermott could very well have jeopardized that by going with Peterman.

Asked if the fear of “losing the locker room” persuaded him to go with Anderson, McDermott said, “No, I’m always going to do what I feel is right for this football team. I certainly trust and have a heck of a lot of respect for our locker room, so with that, I’m always going to do what I feel is right for this football team. That’s what we do.”

In this case, there really was no other choice.

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