This is the first in a series previewing each position on the Buffalo Bills before the July 25 start of training camp.
There was no mistaking the focus of the Buffalo Bills' offseason: Do everything possible to help quarterback Josh Allen make major strides in his second season and beyond.
That was the thinking behind the reconstruction of the offensive line and at wide receiver and tight end.
Of course, none of the many offensive moves the Bills made – including key additions at running back – will matter if Allen doesn't elevate his performance and consistently resemble the player the Bills had in mind when they made him the seventh overall choice of last year's draft.
That requires Allen thoroughly understanding the areas of his game – especially accuracy – that need to improve and investing the considerable time and energy needed on and off the field to take those big steps forward. Nothing else about the Bills' quarterback position, or the rest of the offense for that matter, matches the significance.
Matt Barkley is a solid backup, yet even though he performed well in the one start he was forced to make last season, the Bills don't want to rely on him for anything more than spot duty. Rookie Tyree Jackson, a former University at Buffalo standout, is extremely raw and is, at best, destined for a place on the practice squad. Derek Anderson's offseason retirement took away a great deal of experience in the quarterback meeting room, but he wasn't likely to climb above No. 3 on the depth chart.
Coach Sean McDermott is convinced the Bills have made up for Anderson's absence by hiring Ken Dorsey to replace David Culley as the Bills' quarterbacks coach. During five seasons in the same capacity with the Carolina Panthers (2013-17), Dorsey helped Cam Newton throw for 17,154 yards and 118 touchdowns. In 2015, Newton was the NFL's most valuable player.
"I think I would be a little more concerned about it had we not added Dorsey to the mix this offseason," McDermott told reporters during offseason workouts. "With some of the experience that Matt brings to the table, too, this isn’t his first go-around. So that piece, along with the influence that (offensive coordinator) Brian (Daboll) has in the room, at this point I feel comfortable with what we’ve got."
Returnees: Josh Allen, Matt Barkley.
Newcomer: Tyree Jackson (undrafted).
Departure: Derek Anderson (retirement).
Key numbers: The Bills ranked next-to-last in the NFL in 2018 with an average of 174.6 yards passing per game. ... Allen led the league with eight rushing touchdowns last season. ... Allen is the only player in NFL history to throw for 200-plus yards and run for 100-plus yards in consecutive games.
What to expect: The most significant difference from last year's training camp is that Allen is the clear-cut starter from the beginning and will receive the majority of snaps.
In 2018, he began at No. 3 on the depth chart and took turns with Nathan Peterman and AJ McCarron, getting snaps with the first- and second-string offense. That made it difficult, if not impossible, for Allen to develop any continuity with his surrounding cast or traction with his development.
The mission will be much clearer this summer. Every practice will be devoted to allowing Allen to develop continuity, chemistry and comfort with everyone around him. That will be a big chore. Most are new teammates with whom Allen has worked for only a few months in drills that are somewhat less intense than those the Bills will conduct at St. John Fisher College and during their two joint practice sessions with the Carolina Panthers.
Daboll gave Allen a good taste of what's ahead by allowing him to take control of the offense and call plays in hurry-up situations. Daboll also is able to trust Allen with more of the playbook, as the Bills look to evolve into a scheme that is increasingly similar to that of the New England Patriots, with whom Daboll spent most of his career as an assistant coach. The signature of the Pats' offense is attacking wide swaths of the field with short and intermediate throws, something the Bills feel Allen is ready to do to a greater extent, especially with the addition of slot receiver Cole Beasley.
Dorsey's experience with Newton figures to have prepared him well for the task of guiding another big, mobile quarterback with an exceptionally strong passing arm.
Even with the emphasis on preparing Allen to the fullest, Barkley and Jackson likely will see extended action during the preseason to help minimize the starter's exposure to injury.