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Time for Bills' QB Josh Allen to show he's ready to make big year two jump

Make no mistake about what's resting on Josh Allen's shoulder pads as he begins his second season as the Buffalo Bills' quarterback.

"He's going to be the biggest reason for our offensive numbers to trend in the right direction," Bills General Manager Brandon Beane said.

It was a succinct, matter-of-fact delivery, sounding more like expectation than hope. And that's how it should be for a seventh overall draft pick.

For Allen, Sunday's opener against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium marks the beginning of the biggest step an NFL player, and especially a quarterback, is supposed to make.

Year one to year two.

"I almost don't go by anybody's rookie season, period," CBS lead NFL game analyst and former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo said. "If you have a ton of success, a lot of times you can come into a great system. A lot of (rookie) quarterbacks who don't have success, (it's because) they could be in a really difficult position with a system that's not very good or an offensive line that struggles.

"It's always that second year that the real good players come out and you see that real improvement. With Josh, I think we're going to find out really quickly."

Sunday will serve as a strong indicator. Although it's only one game, it carries added weight because of the divisional rivalry. The Bills and Jets are widely seen as having the best chance to finally leapfrog the New England Patriots for the AFC East crown. It's more likely, of course, that they're playing for second place and a wild-card spot. Either way, the outcome will prove significant.

Equally important is that Allen will, for the second time as a pro, be sharing the same stage as 2018 third overall choice Sam Darnold. Later in the schedule, Allen is due to face two of the other first-round quarterbacks from his draft class: Cleveland's Baker Mayfield, the top choice, and Baltimore's Lamar Jackson, the 32nd pick. Josh Rosen, selected 10th by Arizona, is backing up Ryan Fitzpatrick in Miami, but with the Bills getting two cracks at the Dolphins, Allen could easily end up facing Rosen as well.

For now, though, it's all about Sunday. It's all about Allen vs. Darnold.

This is what new Jets coach Adam Gase, who faced Allen twice in '18 as Miami's coach, told reporters about what he saw from Allen before last year's draft and what he sees now: "Evaluating him, the arm strength was very impressive, the guy can throw the ball a mile. His mobility, too, for a guy that size is impressive. Unfortunately, we found that out the hard way last year. I feel like he ran for about 400 yards on us. He can extend the drive because he's mobile and he's big and he's tough to get down and he's not afraid. It's almost one of those things where, as a coordinator, if you're calling plays for him, you almost want him to get down. But sometimes, you're all right with what he does."

Four reasons Josh Allen succeeds and four reasons he struggles

This is what Bills coach Sean McDermott had to say to reporters about what he sees from Darnold now compared to a year ago: "He looks like he's composed. I don't think that's different. I think we're seeing a good, solid quarterback that's young but progressing and developing. We'll have our work cut out for us defensively, because of what he does and what he does in between plays and with the no huddle that they run and things like that. They've got a good offense with weapons. They went out and got some weapons this offseason with Le’veon [Bell] and obviously [Jamison] Crowder and everything, in addition to Robby Anderson, who we have a lot of respect for. So they're a very formidable offense."

Conclusions will be drawn about how Allen and Darnold are transitioning from what they did as rookies.

As second-year quarterbacks cross this figurative bridge, they must show clear signs of growth and development. If the Bills don't get that from Allen, their passing game has zero chance of climbing from its '18 ranking of next-to-last in the NFL to respectability ... and higher.

There needs to be obvious indications that he grasps what's necessary to not only make plays, but also help his blockers keep him upright and in one piece. That will be particularly difficult against the blitz-happy scheme new Jets defensive coordinator and former Bills coach Gregg Williams undoubtedly will unleash.

Williams isn't merely satisfied with getting sacks and pressures. He also wants his players to deliver what he has sinisterly described as "Remember Me" shots.

"I've got to make sure that the protections are right and I know where my answers are," Allen told reporters Wednesday. "Odds are, they're going to come out and show us something that we haven't seen from them, and we're going to have to make adjustments in the game. As long as we're sticking to our base rules, I know what our answers are, I think we'll be OK in that aspect.

"But we've got to be consistent with that, take care of the football. That's something that Gregg is known for, being able to take away the football with his defenses. It's no easy task playing against a defense coached by him, so I'm trying to prepare as much as we can."

Allen's game has to elevate above the cannon for an arm and those fleet feet. The guy has to demonstrate that he can do as much with his brain as he can with his physical skills.

“I don’t mind him running, but it’s pick and choose," CBS studio analyst and former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher said. "Go through your progressions, dump the ball off, take a sack. It’s OK, every now and then, to take a sack. Don’t try to do too much. I love the fact, when you want to run over people and high hurdle people, what you’re doing is you’re getting some cred in the locker room. And I get that and I like that. But at the same time, now that you’ve done that, we know what you’re about.

“Take the next step. Understand what you have, understand the offense a little bit better. ‘I can go through that read quicker, I know what to check into. How much latitude am I going to start to get within this offense? OK, maybe I don’t have to scramble as much as I did a year ago because there’s a little more stability here. I can lean on my running game, I can lean on my defense, I understand where I’m at. I can check the ball down right now. And you know what? I can throw a ball away, and I’m OK with that.’"

The biggest question hovering over Allen is whether he can do something about his accuracy. Completing 52.8 percent of his passes, as he did as a rookie, won't cut it.

Rich Gannon, for one, doesn't buy the argument that an inaccurate passer can't become more accurate.

“There’s no question he can become more accurate by understanding protections, having a better understanding of the concepts, why the play is being called," said Gannon, the former NFL quarterback who will be CBS' analyst the Bills-Jets game. "Are we looking for two-deep coverage? Are we looking for three-deep coverage? Where am I going if it’s press? If it’s off?' It helps you kind of eliminate certain things pre-snap and then at that point, if you’re able to cut the field in half, he’d be a whole lot more accurate with his throws.

“I think through the timing, the rhythm of the passing game, making sure his feet are underneath him, working on the mechanics and those type of things, he can become a more accurate passer in year two in the offense. And by just certainly having a better understanding of the why. Why are we calling (certain) plays? What are we looking for? What are we anticipating? And having some of those answers pre-snap can really help a young quarterback make better decisions.”

From February through April, Allen and Darnold worked out together in Southern California under the tutelage of QB guru Jordan Palmer, who had also worked with them in their draft preparation.

"It's a complete switch of what you do in draft prep," Allen told The Buffalo News late in the preseason. "Obviously, you want to stay in good shape and work out, but it's just a different type of workout. I was more relaxed, more at ease with my situation. And I felt comfortable. Obviously, having a good relationship with (offensive coordinator Brian) Daboll, I was able to go out on the field and, in my mind, call plays and drop backs that coincide with the stuff that we do here."

Allen and the Bills are putting a great deal of faith in all that he learned in his first NFL season and where he left off as a rookie.

During the offseason, the Bills did a detailed study of all of Allen's 11 starts as a rookie last year. They also did a separate breakdown of his six starts after he returned from an elbow injury that sidelined him for four games. They are placing plenty of stock in what Allen did in the Bills' 42-17 blowout victory against the Dolphins, who were on the verge of a major shakeup that made Gase available to the Jets. Allen completed 65.4 percent of his passes for 224 yards and three touchdowns, and also ran for two scores.

"We saw some improvements there, but (he must be) continuing to trend in the right direction," Beane said. "Obviously, taking decision-making in the sense of taking what's there, what the defense is doing, (to another level). If they're playing everything deep and they're not giving it to you, don't force it. We don't have to make a big play every time, every series because sometimes it's about possessing the ball and keeping our defense fresh.

"And even if it ends up in three (points), we wore their defense down where the next time, we're going to attack them. That just comes with maturity."

If it's to be as large as the Bills and many others expect, Allen's year-one-to-year-two jump depends on him being more mature and smarter than he was as a rookie. Sunday will be telling.

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