Bills QB Edwards: Consistency the key in his second full season as starter

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Practice is over, but Trent Edwards remains hard at work under a noon sun that's baking the grass field next to the Buffalo Bills' complex.

Taking snaps from a member of the team's equipment staff, the quarterback is working with Terrell Owens and Lee Evans in a continuing effort to become comfortable with his two main receivers as they run every route in the playbook -- outs, ins, hooks and crosses. Occasionally, the three review a play in a conversation punctuated with sweeping arm movements and fingers pointing to places on the field and ending with heads nodding in agreement.

Reversal of fortune

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Trent Edwards' first full season as the Bills' starting QB began red hot. But after he led the Bills to a 5-1 start, Edwards' numbers took a tumble in the last 10 games of the season. He missed two games in that stretch and Buffalo closed the year with a disappointing 2-8 finish.

First six games

  » Completion Pct.: 74.7

  » Passing Yards: 1,209

  » TD/INT: 5/2

Last eight games

  » Completion Pct.: 61.7

  » Passing Yards: 1,190

  » TD/INT: 6/8

It is only early June, three months before the start of the season, and yet there is no time to waste, particularly for Edwards.

He is preparing to enter his second full season as the Bills' starting quarterback -- third, including Edwards' rookie year when he won the job midseason -- while being asked to master a new offense that includes the prolific and sometimes volatile Owens and an added no-huddle dimension in which the quarterback calls plays at the line.

Then there's the added pressure of knowing that this might be the make-or-break year for Edwards to show he can be the bona fide starter that playoff-starved Bills fans have been waiting for since Hall of Famer Jim Kelly retired 13 years ago.

As if Edwards needs reminding of what's at stake.

"If you want to classify it like that, then I'm completely OK with that," Edwards said. "But I thought last year was a make-or-break year. We showed some glimpses, and I think we'll show more this year.

"I'm excited for it. I'm going to embrace it. And I'm hoping for a big year. And I think that's what we're doing right now, preparing for a big year."

The "glimpses" Edwards referred to have been evident.

He was 7-5 last season and has a 12-10 career record in games in which he played more than a half, including six games in which he engineered comebacks when the Bills trailed or were tied at the start of the fourth quarter. Edwards has completed more than 61 percent of his passes, with 18 touchdowns and 18 interceptions.

The questions are about his consistency. After helping the Bills to a 5-1 start last season, Edwards endured a terrible four-game skid in which he threw eight interceptions, lost two fumbles and surrendered a safety, contributing to a collapse in which Buffalo lost eight of its last 10 games.

Durability also has been a concern going back to Edwards' days at Stanford, when he was in and out the lineup with an assortment of injuries. With Buffalo, Edwards missed two-plus games last season with a groin injury. Shortly after receiving the starting job as a rookie, he missed four starts after spraining his right wrist.

The Bills' coaching staff maintains its trust in Edwards, who they view as still in the developmental stage of his career.

"I think we need to remember that Trent is a young quarterback. He is learning," Bills coach Dick Jauron said. "I have a lot of faith in him, and I believe rightly so because he's performed."

Bills offensive coordinator Turk Schonert said the pressure isn't solely on Edwards but on the entire offense.

"You just can't throw it on him, like, 'It's his third year, oh, he's got to,'" Schonert said. "I mean, it's not a make-or-break year for him. We've got to get it done as a team. ... It's all of us."

Schonert has spent the offseason devising new schemes -- three- and sometimes four-receiver sets and no-huddle attacks -- to take advantage of Owens' arrival and spur an offense that has finished 25th or worst in the NFL over the past six seasons.

Left tackle Langston Walker is impressed by how quickly Edwards has learned the offense, making adjustments even before the offensive linemen can see them.

"He's a smart guy," Walker said. "I know I trust him. I know the rest of the offensive staff trusts him. He's putting guys in positions to allow himself and the team to make plays."

Evidence of Edwards' keen focus is apparent when he's asked what might be his biggest test this season. His answer doesn't involve learning the offense, playing with Owens or his durability.

"I just want to be consistent for 17 straight weeks and lead this team into January and February," Edwards said. "I think that's really everyone's goal here. We need to make sure we're doing everything we can, and all of those other questions will take care of themselves."

Notes: The Bills signed free-agent RB Justise Hairston, who had taken part in the team's rookie minicamp last month. Selected by New England in the sixth round of the 2008 draft out of Central Connecticut State, Hairston spent time on the Patriots' and Indianapolis Colts' practice squads the past two years. ... CBs Terrence McGee (shoulder) and Ashton Youboty (foot) returned to practice Monday as the Bills held a final voluntary practice before opening a three-day mandatory minicamp Tuesday. ... DE Aaron Schobel returned after missing the past two weeks. ... Owens, WR Roscoe Parrish and TE Shawn Nelson were among those not present Monday.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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