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Should the Bills Roll the Dice With a Rookie QB Despite Putting Him in a Suboptimal Situation?

Josh Allen has flashed promise in the preseason, but is it the smart move for the Bills to start him right away given the current situation of their offensive line?

Maybe there’s a soul at 1 Bills Drive watching tape of Sunday’s preseason drubbing merciful enough to offer rookie quarterback Josh Allen a one-year escape hatch.

Amid all the analysis on the Bills’ projected Week 1 starter and 2018 first-round draft pick, how can the main takeaway not be that their massively depleted offensive line is going to seriously impact the trajectory of a player that is already undergoing some critical mechanical adjustments at warp speed?  

They can pick apart a glaring underthrow of Charles Clay, who had a step on Dre Kirkpatrick early in the game. They can mention that right after, he uncorked a Rick Ankiel fastball to make up for the previous misjudgment in velocity. They can convince themselves that the 6-of-12 afternoon (34 yards, no touchdowns, no INT) really should have been eight completions after a Clay drop and a mistimed jump on a back-shoulder fade from Kelvin Benjamin. They could compliment his grit for diving headfirst into the sideline on an otherwise-meaningless August third-and-4.  

For sure, there will be more minutiae about foot placement and shoulder squaring and decision-making time (snap to throw), which varied between a crisp 2.03 seconds on that first drop by Clay to almost 5.5 seconds on his last passing snap, which ended with his head bouncing off the turf hard enough to warrant an inspection from the concussion spotter. Allen himself said he held on to balls too much, which was true on average, though how many times did he have a good place to throw it?

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But if there is not a serious, permeating suspicion that Allen might be better off taking a redshirt year while the front office puts some building blocks in place for 2019, is the team really doing what’s best for a player that has needed some polishing to begin with? 

Coaches always have to wrestle with their ability to elevate talent and the limits of what is possible from their assembled roster. And maybe over time, OL coach Juan Castillo can take this unit and make it formidable. Surely, in 24 seasons he has seen worse. The Bills have allowed the fourth-most sacks in the preseason thus far (11), though that number does not adequately encapsulate what Allen was dealing with this week, and the similar terror A.J. McCarron felt a week prior against the always-blitzing Cleveland Browns

McCarron has been around long enough to develop some emergency solutions. He was chucking trust passes to his wide receivers off one-step drops. He’s seen the same version of the same route enough that he can get away with an early release. He had the luxury of learning much of this over a four-year internship behind Andy Dalton.  

Allen does not, and probably will not if the Bills don’t make some serious changes. 

It’s an easy enough situation to sidestep for head coach Sean McDermott. Once McCarron is healthy, declare him the winner of the competition and give Allen the chance to work his way in once the road is clear. It goes against every instinct that they can fix this, that if a player can’t operate in a hailstorm then what good is he anyway? Maybe they know Allen better, and are gambling on his ability to be a kinesthetic learner. Maybe the adjustments they saw him make on tape at Wyoming lead them to believe that the best thing for him is to take a few on the chin and climb back under center next week. 

There’s also a chance that some irreparable damage gets done by having Allen pinball through 16 games this season, if he makes it that long.