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Ken Dorsey, Bills face ‘potential pitfalls’ as rookie play caller learns the job


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Kevin Gilbride felt pretty good about himself when the Houston Oilers made him an NFLplay caller for the first time.

More than three decades later, he remembers what head coach Jerry Glanville told him, and Gilbride can apply that message to what new Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey is about to experience.

“You got this job because of your reputation, and we saw that you were a good coach,” Gilbride recalled Glanville saying. “You can explain your plays very effectively.

“But I won’t consider you a good coach until game day, when everything you’ve put together for the game plan goes to hell.”

I reached out to Gilbride for this week’s story about Dorsey calling plays for the first time at any level, breaking into the high-pressure role with the 2022 Super Bowl favorites, no less. Gilbride wasn’t able to chat until Wednesday, and he made several points that didn’t arise in conversations I had with three other former NFL coordinators who also were head coaches.

June Jones, Dirk Koetter and Scott Linehan concurred that continuity was preferable to incorporating a more experienced voice into a Bills organization that has broken franchise records for offensive explosiveness. All thought head coach Sean McDermott’s judgment and Josh Allen’s supreme talent would pull Dorsey through any growing pains.

Gilbride agreed Dorsey was the best choice but applied significantly heavier scrutiny regarding Dorsey’s greenish tint.

“Continuity is a very real and very important component,” Gilbride said. “If you can stay with the same system for your quarterback, that’s the way to go. If there’s somebody qualified, which they obviously think Ken Dorsey is, and I’ve heard nothing but great things, then that’s a wise choice.

“There are just some potential pitfalls. He hasn’t done it, and it takes time to master.”

Gilbride emphasized the ability not only for Dorsey to adjust to what defenses present but also more importantly to anticipate in-game corrections before the opening kickoff.

For example, as seemingly unsolvable as Sean McVay was when he took over the Los Angeles Rams in 2017, his incandescent offense managed only a field goal against Bill Belichick in Super Bowl 53.

Gilbride said McVay wasn’t prepared to make the proper corrections because he lacked a reservoir of knowledge to match wits with Belichick’s defensive mind at the time.

“I see these young guys when they come out and are highly touted for a style of offense, which is great, but they’re young,” Gilbride said. “They’ve mastered that slice of the pie. You need command of the entire pie by going through it. If you haven’t thought through ways to spin off your base stuff, you’re in trouble.

“It’s not the young guy’s fault; he just hasn’t gone through it. Until you do it a few times, things will keep coming up that you didn’t expect.”

Jones, Koetter and Linehan expressed confidence Dorsey would be able to replicate game situations adequately in training camp and preseason games.

Gilbride wasn’t as optimistic.

“You’ve got 33 seconds, one timeout and you’re on the 3-yard line,” Gilbride said. “Am I going to do my normal, tight red-zone plays? Or do I want to take advantage of the fact I want access to all four downs, which means I have to throw on three of them?

“You have to have gone through all the eventualities so many times to know how to win the game.”

Gilbride acknowledged he was lucky his first season calling plays for Houston’s revolutionizing run-and-shoot offense. He had future Hall of Famers in quarterback Warren Moon and guards Bruce Matthews and Mike Munchak. Receivers Haywood Jeffires, Ernest Givins and Drew Hill each went to at least two Pro Bowls.

Despite the firepower, Gilbride laments his inexperience. He had many moments of panic, often guessing more than dictating.

“We should have been more effective than we were,” Gilbride said. “Sometimes, I was just pulling plays out of my butt instead of very specifically, surgically going after what I thought they were doing, and there’s a difference.”

Even with five NFL seasons on his resume, Gilbride fumbled a glorious opportunity. In 1992, the Oilers ranked sixth in points, third in yards and first in passing.

Then he helped the Bills create perhaps the greatest performance in club history. The Oilers built a 35-3 lead early in the third quarter, but an inability to switch out of their run-and-shoot ways helped maximize the clock for Buffalo to score 38 more points and win in overtime.

Gilbride had hundreds more games’ worth of experience by his last NFL play-calling job and won two Super Bowl rings with the Eli Manning and the New York Giants.

In between, Gilbride worked with a variety of quarterback styles as offensive coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars (Mark Brunell), Pittsburgh Steelers (Kordell Stewart) and Bills (Drew Bledsoe). Gilbride was San Diego Chargers head coach in 1997 and six games into 1998, transitioning from aged-out Super Bowl quarterback Stan Humphries to rookie Ryan Leaf.

Over the years, Gilbride’s weekly approach went something like this: install first-and-10 plays Wednesday, third-down plays Thursday, red-zone and two-minute-offense plays Friday. He then would conduct a meeting for 20 to 30 minutes on Saturday, when he would explain the plan of attack.

Within that game plan, Gilbride would factor all the ways he foresaw the defense would adjust and how his offense would counterattack — time after time after time, if necessary.

“I’ve already played out the game the way I see it unfolding in my mind before the game ever happens,” Gilbride said.

“I’ve seen a lot of guys struggle their first couple years because they haven’t gone through the problems before they present themselves. When you’re thinking the problem through on game day, that’s too late. You don’t have that kind of time.

“You better have the answers before they ask the questions. A lot of guys don’t.”

Although a rookie at delivering plays into the quarterback’s headset, Dorsey does have a lot of related familiarity with the job.

Dorsey was a record-setting quarterback with the Miami Hurricanes, winning the 2001 national championship. He spent six NFL seasons primarily as a backup with the San Francisco 49ers and Cleveland Browns but started 13 games.

He was the Carolina Panthers’ quarterbacks coach for five seasons before joining the Bills three years ago in the same role. The Bills made him passing game coordinator last year, although Brian Daboll called the plays.

Dorsey became the 2022 play caller with Allen’s recommendation. McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane have said a substantial reason for Dorsey’s promotion was to keep Allen happy after losing Daboll, assistant quarterbacks coach Shea Tierney and trusted backup Davis Webb to the Giants.

Dorsey’s presence will let Buffalo use the same terminology and protections Allen is used to.

“It’s important the quarterback has confidence and believes in what they’re doing,” Gilbride said. “But I guess that, to me, is the essence of a successful, viable quarterback-coach relationship more than anything.”

How much input Allen will have on Dorsey’s game plan is uncertain, but the superduperstar quarterback probably could have more influence with a first-time coordinator than a grizzled veteran.

Should the Bills give Allen say in what plays are called?

“I’m not sure how involved Tom Brady was after four or five years in terms of calling plays,” Gilbride laughed. “I’ve been around programs where they’ll have the quarterback list maybe 10 plays in order of preference. Not that they had input in choosing the plays, but after practicing the plays and hearing the discussions during the week, the coach at least has an idea of how the quarterback feels.

“But I’ve never been in a situation in all my years of doing it where the quarterback had much say in terms of ‘I want this play.’ I had some pretty good quarterbacks in Warren Moon, Eli Manning, Kurt Warner and Mark Brunell, and they never did it. I called it.”

Dorsey, of course, will need to rely on Allen’s judgment to make the right decision after the play is called.

Gilbride cited Eli Manning’s intellect at deciphering defenses at the line of scrimmage, which underscores the need for a coordinator to get the play called as quickly as possible. Swiftness allows for motion and other tactics to make the defense, trying to remain camouflaged for as long as possible before the snap, divulge its intentions.

“I always felt it was my responsibility,” Gilbride said, “to come up with the plays and provide some options. I expect you to be able to get us into these plays based on what you see. Call the play quickly, get it in, let the quarterback see what he needs to see, expecting to see a concept defensively but it’s not there, then switch to another option.

“But some guys, I swear to God, I have no idea what they’re seeing on the field.”

Gilbride compared an offensive coordinator’s emerging comfort level to that of the quarterback who finally gets confident enough in what he’s seeing to look off a defender and then complete a pass to the opposite side of the field.

That vision — borderline clairvoyance — comes with the experience of having called plays in real games with real consequences.

“Do you have the knowledge and the ability to make the adjustment or don’t you?” Gilbride asked. “A guy can work his ass off for what he thinks he’s going to see, but guess what: Game day comes and you might not have all the answers anymore.”

“There he goes. One of God's own prototypes.

A high-powered mutant of some kind, never even considered for mass production.

Too weird to live, and too rare to die.”

 

Twitter: @HKTheResistance

 

HipKat, on *** other h***, is genuine, unapoli***tically nasty, and w**** his hea** on his ******. jc856

I’ll just forward them to Bridgett. comssvet11

Seek help. soflabillsfan

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3 hours ago, Victor7 said:

Lol at Kevin Gilbride

 

Dude was clueless when he was here. Screw him. 

Was he clueless or was it the system, the coaches and the players? Because he does have two Super Bowl rings and he got them beating the goat with a mediocre quarterback

“There he goes. One of God's own prototypes.

A high-powered mutant of some kind, never even considered for mass production.

Too weird to live, and too rare to die.”

 

Twitter: @HKTheResistance

 

HipKat, on *** other h***, is genuine, unapoli***tically nasty, and w**** his hea** on his ******. jc856

I’ll just forward them to Bridgett. comssvet11

Seek help. soflabillsfan

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6 hours ago, Victor7 said:

Lol at Kevin Gilbride

 

Dude was clueless when he was here. Screw him. 

He was clueless once people figured out the Run and Shoot.  He basically ran a variant, or tried to run a variant of the Run and Shoot, everywhere he went.  As UrinatingTree -in his Oiler Crisis- video said, there was but one problem with the Run and Shoot, it had no off switch.  I mean don't get me wrong, in the regular season, especially early on, it was an outright airshow.  In the playoffs? Not one team that ran it went very far into the dance.

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Just now, VolsBillsMagic said:

That’s why Allen needs to essentially take over the offense and call a good chunk of plays at the line. He’s developed enough mentally to know what looks he gets and can put our guys into positive positions to make plays 

That could work.  You know I remember this one guy who had this amazing playoff game in Cleveland in 1989 (his fourth year) and then in 1990 he unleashed the K-Gun, named for his TE Keith Killer McKeller, which was his fifth.  Yeah, its time for a Bills Superbowl run again.

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18 hours ago, HipKat said:

Was he clueless or was it the system, the coaches and the players? Because he does have two Super Bowl rings and he got them beating the goat with a mediocre quarterback

From what I gather, Coughlin haaaated him and gave him a very short leash.  Also, I credit the Giants defense a lot more for those Superbowl wins over the Cheaties than I do Killdrive.  They held Brady and co to 14 points in 2007 which is unbelievably impressive and Manning made a very good throw.  

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