Why the Buffalo Bills back-up quarterbacks play the most vital role in Josh Allen’s development.
On November 11th, 2018 Matt Barkley strolled onto the field as a starting quarterback for the first time since 2016.
More than 1,000 miles from his last start, Barkley took the first snap of the game and faked a handoff to LeSean McCoy. He spun his shoulders toward the right sidelines, and hit a streaking Robert Foster for a 47-yard pass.
As Barkley jogged down the field, the sun blazed onto his face and the 28-year old cracked a smile. The next play, McCoy took a handoff and raced 28 yards into the end zone. The drive gave the Bills a lead they wouldn’t surrender in a 41-10 Week 10 win against the New York Jets.
In last year’s 2018 NFL Draft, the Bills drafted their anticipated quarterback of the future: Josh Allen.
However, the success of a starter, especially a rookie, often hinges on the depth chart behind him.
At this point in the offseason, the two quarterbacks behind Allen were Barkley and 35-year old Derek Anderson. The importance of a seasoned backup behind Allen is significant to his development; their knowledge to reinforce a coaching staff’s teachings is irreplaceable.
It’s a recipe that’s paid off for other quarterbacks and teams in the past, one that Buffalo needs to work for Allen too.
In 2013, the Bills traded down from the eighth pick and drafted quarterback EJ Manuel from Florida State 16th overall.
Manuel was the first quarterback taken that year, and immediately talks surfaced that he was the franchise quarterback the organization lacked since Jim Kelly retired.
Instead, Manuel was rushed into the lineup, and behind him was Jeff Tuel, an undrafted free agent. Head coach Doug Marrone was in his first season coaching an NFL team, and Manuel never developed.
When Manuel injured his knee in Week 5 against the Cleveland Browns, he was never the same.
The next year, Manuel went 2-2 before Marrone benched him.
Then, Marrone left the Bills, Rex Ryan was hired, and Tyrod Taylor won the starting job which was the beginning of the end of Manuel’s time in Buffalo.
Behind a quarterback’s success lies the impact of a backup quarterback.
Not necessarily the most talented, but the one who has the most knowledge to pass on. The one who pushes the younger in practice, mentors on the sidelines during games and eases the transition from college to the NFL.
Allen opened his Buffalo career competing against Nathan Peterman and AJ McCarron for the starting job.
McCarron won back-to-back BCS national championships at Alabama, (the only quarterback to do so).
However, he only started three games during his NFL carer. All the starts came as a member of the Cincinnati Bengals which included an AFC Wild Card playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers after starter Andy Dalton fractured his thumb late in the regular season.
It was knowledge and experience McCarron passed on to Allen before his eventual release, not talent.
Entering 2019 the Bills have two veterans, career-long backup quarterbacks who have bounced around the league in Anderson and Barkley.
For seven years, Anderson was Cam Newton’s backup with the Carolina Panthers. During his rookie season, Newton topped 4000 yards and 20 touchdowns and was selected to the Pro Bowl.
Before his time in Carolina, Anderson was a starter with the Cleveland Browns for four seasons and started 34 games over that time.
In 2007, his second season in the NFL, he appeared in all 16 games, starting in 15 of them.
Anderson was selected to the only Pro Bowl appearance of his career.
Barkley was drafted the same year that Manuel was, taken in the fourth round by the Philadelphia Eagles.
Throughout his career with the Eagles, Arizona Cardinals, and Chicago Bears, Barkley observed quarterbacks such as Nick Foles, Michael Vick, Carson Palmer, and Jay Cutler.
He made periodic appearances in games when injuries or blowouts occurred as he became a knowledgeable quarterback himself.
Now, the Bills hope Barkley and Anderson can provide the same veteran knowledge for Allen.
Buffalo locked up Barkley through the 2020 season and Anderson through the 2019 campaign.
In a year Buffalo looks to return back to the playoffs for just the second time this century, significant strides by its intended “franchise quarterback” is vital and it all starts with those behind him.