Thursday, August 16, 2007
Even-keeled Losman ready to deliver
By Jeffri Chadiha
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills quarterback J.P. Losman doesn't know when it happened, but he's thankful that a valuable lesson on quarterbacking has settled into his consciousness.
He understands he wouldn't be so excited for this season if he didn't have his current peace of mind. He's reaching a level of clarity that most quarterbacks, especially those who have struggled mightily, can appreciate. As he said after practice on Wednesday morning, "I've realized that football isn't life or death. I used to think it was that way, and I played like it. Now I've learned that I have other things to offer the world outside of this game."
That doesn't mean Losman gives football any less attention. If anything, he actually gives it more efficient attention now that he's a fourth-year veteran who's starting to come into his own. In fact, it's fair to say that Losman's growth is the biggest story at Bills camp this year, particularly because it seemed so unlikely a year ago. He's gone from being a kid so clueless that his career prospects were tenuous to a player resembling the prospect Buffalo selected as the 22nd overall pick in the 2004 draft.
It hasn't been a pretty process at times. It certainly isn't close to being a finished one, either, as Losman is quick to point out. But the Bills clearly see Losman's confidence blossoming, and that is one reason for their optimism this season.
"This really is an exciting year for me because I get to see how much I've improved at my job," Losman said. "I want to find out if I accomplished all the things I wanted to get better at. I want to know if all the time and work I've put in has paid off."
Losman also is eager for this season for another reason: He's finally accepted a new way to play the game. During the 2005 season, his first as a full-time starter, he eventually wound up benched because he couldn't handle the pressure. His emotions undermined him. His frustrations overwhelmed him. And if he made a mistake, he figured the best way to deal with it was to play faster, throw harder and take even more risks in the process. What he soon learned was that impatience, impulsiveness and obstinacy are some of the worst qualities a quarterback can possess.
Lee Evans is working hard and is close to becoming one of the best wide receivers in the game. Check out what else Jeffri Chadiha observed at Bills camp.
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Now Losman understands the importance of slowing his game down. It helps that he has enjoyed some success on the field, too. Last season he improved his completion percentage (from 49.6 to 62.5) while his passer rating vaulted from a miserable 64.9 to a respectable 84.9.
The biggest change in his play came in his footwork -- taking shorter steps while dropping back to see the field more clearly -- and his decision to stop trying to prove himself on every down.
"I learned that I didn't have to throw the perfect pass on every play," Losman said. "I only had to put the ball where it was supposed to be."
That is one sign of Losman's maturation. The other has come in the huddle, where teammates have noticed his composure and poise.
"He's grown as a leader because he's learned what it takes to be successful," said Bills wide receiver Lee Evans. "He used to really let things get to him. He'd make a mistake and then it would bother him for a long time after that play. Now he'll make a mistake and then he'll come back and make a great play. He's learned how to let things go."
The Bills have to be grateful that Losman finally is growing up. This team is so young that it needs as many veteran leaders as it can find. Losman is looking like he's capable of handling that role and providing some big plays, as well. Last year he produced 10 pass plays of 40 yards or more. If he can generate more of those completions while a revamped offensive line opens holes for a collection of runners, the Bills' offense could be a strength on a team that will endure its share of growing pains.
Something the Bills won't have to worry about, however, is the possibility that Losman will try to do too much to compensate for the team's weaknesses. He's learned how much trouble that can cause him and his teammates.
"You can see that J.P.'s comfort level with his position has certainly changed," said Bills coach Dick Jauron. "When he won the starting job last season, he became a lot more comfortable with his role. He really believes he can be successful now, and that makes a big difference."
So while the Bills are hoping that a young team grows up quickly, they at least know that one major project is coming together. Losman's development surely won't be enough to get this team into the playoffs, but it should make Buffalo's future a little brighter.
What's also encouraging is that Losman describes himself as "a work in progress." It's an indication that he's not just satisfied with overcoming the problems that nearly ruined his career before it started. It's also his way of saying that he understands how much work it's going to take for him to reach the level he covets.
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Jeffri Chadiha is a senior writer for ESPN.com.