LAKE TAHOE, Nev. -- It's been more than 14 years since a hit by Jacksonville Jaguars safety Chris Hudson knocked Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly into retirement. In the time since, the Bills have tried the old, the new, the mobile and the immobile in attempt to fill that void left by their Hall of Fame passer.
They're still looking.
Maybe Trent Edwards, one of the 10 quarterbacks who has started a game since Kelly left, summed the situation up best.
|Trent Edwards is one of 10 Bills quarterbacks who has started a game since Jim Kelly retired. (Getty Images)|
The Bills open training camp in two weeks and there is no definitive starter at quarterback. Instead, there's an open competition, according to first-year coach Chan Gailey.
Translation: They still don't have that guy.
Edwards, who was here taking part in the American Century Celebrity Golf Tournament, is considered the favorite in the competition heading to camp. The others are Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Brohm, none of those names exactly the type to conjure images of Kelly running that old K-Gun offense.
That offense under Kelly helped the Bills go to four Super Bowls, losing all four. Since he retired, the Bills haven't won a playoff game and haven't been since 1999.
They've tried like heck to fill the hole. They traded a high first-round pick for Rob Johnson, and he flopped. They tried Doug Flutie late in his career and while he had his moments, he simply wasn't good enough in the pocket. Drew Bledsoe had one good year, but that didn't last. They drafted J.P. Losman in the first round, and he bombed.
Last season, the Bills started Edwards, Fitzpatrick and Brohm, but all three struggled. It didn't help they played in a bad offensive system and the offensive line wasn't good -- and that's being nice.
Edwards opened the season as a starter, struggled early, and then was knocked out for a couple of games with a concussion. He lost his job to Fitzpatrick, and he finished with seven starts. Fitzpatrick had eight and Brohm had one.
It really didn't matter who played -- Buffalo finished 30th in the league in passing. They had just 31 pass plays of 20 yards or more, third lowest total in the league. For comparison sake, the New Orleans Saints won a Super Bowl with 58 passing plays of 20 or more yards.
In this era of the pass, you can't win without consistent quarterback play and big-chunk yards in the passing game.
"Not to use a cliché, but this is a quarterback-driven league," Edwards said.
In 2008, it looked like Edwards would be the long-term quarterback, the guy to end carousel of passers. After starting nine games as a rookie in 2007, he had 14 starts in 2008. He completed 65.5 percent of his passes, sixth best in the NFL.
That season Edwards took a violent hit from Arizona Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson which led to a concussion that kept him out of two games. Some have said he hasn't been the same player since, but Edwards said he's fine now and ready for the challenge ahead.
"I have to look at it as an open competition, because that's what it is," Edwards said. "I have to use it to make me better."
I asked Edwards if he thought he would be the starter in the opener against the Miami Dolphins. He smiled, and then answered.
"I do," he said. "That's my mindset. I would expect the other guys in the competition to say the same thing. You're not going to answer that question saying, 'I hope I'm the backup.'"
Gailey likes his quarterbacks mobile. Fitzpatrick and Edwards both can move, but Edwards has the better arm. That had led to the talk that he's the leader going to camp, even if Gailey won't say.
Because of the uncertainty at quarterback, the Bills are considered a lock for the bottom of the AFC East. It is a division with three other teams that don't have quarterback issues. The New England Patriots have Tom Brady, the New York Jets have Mark Sanchez and the Miami Dolphins have Chad Henne.
Brady is established as a star, and the thinking is that Sanchez and Henne are ready to take the next step.
But you might find interesting: Edwards' 2008 season was significantly better stat-wise than the seasons Sanchez and Henne had in 2009. Yet the latter two are considered rising quarterbacks and Edwards is fighting for his job.
Looking around the division, it's no wonder Bills fans might be tiring of the parade of passers going through Orchard Park.
"They really haven't had an established guy there," Edwards said. "Bledsoe went to the Pro Bowl, but aside from him, there really haven't been a ton of guys that have supplanted Jim as the next great quarterback in that city. That city is waiting for a winning season, a playoff season and a playoff-style quarterback."
It's been that way for 14 years. And if Edwards can't regain his early form, they'll probably be waiting at least one more.