With Josh Allen, Bills hope all turbulence is behind them

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills’ top decision-makers liked what they had seen from quarterback prospect Josh Allen in the pre-draft process, but for a few brief moments, they were unsure if they would survive to watch him play in the NFL.

Ahead of the draft this spring, when the Bills' private plane descended into Laramie, Wyoming, for a visit with Allen at the University of Wyoming, the aircraft hit a patch of violent turbulence in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains.

"Literally your head was going off the ceiling," general manager Brandon Beane recalled in June.

Owner Terry Pegula, who was next to Beane and watching film of Allen, desperately gripped his seat. Beane sunk into his chair, while offensive coordinator Brian Daboll connected with his wife on FaceTime.

"It was like [television sitcom character] Fred Sanford," Beane said. "'I'm coming!'"

The Bills' traveling party also included coach Sean McDermott, who was characteristically calm during the midair tumult, and assistant general manager Joe Schoen, who was documenting the commotion on video.

"When we landed, we found out from the pilots it’s called a mountain wave," Beane said. "So then we Googled 'mountain wave' and saw some bad history of mountain waves. So, I think after that, we were a little distracted about how we were getting out of there. Like, 'Where do we drive to have the plane meet us?'"

In contrast with the anxiety of their trip, the Bills seem relatively comfortable with their decision to have made Allen the No. 7 overall pick in April's draft and the franchise quarterback in waiting.

Allen has obvious upside. At 6-foot-5 and 237 pounds, he has the prototypical frame of an NFL quarterback. His 10⅛-inch hands were the largest among quarterbacks at this year's NFL combine, and he has experience playing in poor weather in Wyoming. Allen also has undeniable arm strength, having launched 80-yard passes at his pro day this spring.

There is also glaring downside to Allen as a top-10 draft pick. After his junior season in 2017, he was an honorable mention all-conference selection -- not named to the first or second team -- in the Mountain West. In his two seasons as starter, Wyoming had a 16-11 record against mostly mid-level college competition. Allen also completed passes at an alarmingly low rate of 56 percent.

As the Bills prepare to begin training camp July 26, they are expected to continue to divide quarterback repetitions among three quarterbacks, as they did during their June minicamp. That means Allen will practice with the first-team offense only for occasional plays as AJ McCarron and Nathan Peterman also split time with that group.

Whether Allen will be a viable candidate to start in Week 1 of the season -- or during the season at all -- remains up in the air.

McDermott was a young assistant for former Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid when Donovan McNabb, the No. 2 pick in the 1999 draft, did not start until Nov. 14 of his rookie season. Meanwhile, Beane was part of the Carolina Panthers front office that made Cam Newton the No. 1 pick of the 2011 draft and started him immediately.

"There’s a lot of different ways to do it," McDermott said in June. "It’s about bringing him along the right way. You go back and look at all the failed ways. 'They waited' [or] 'They didn’t wait.' So, it's all about where he is in his development. We're not going to put him out there unless we feel like he’s ready, and that’s the important part of this, that we develop a nice foundation of strong fundamentals and football knowledge so that he can go out there and execute. Doesn't mean he’s not going to have growing pains -- he will."

Added Beane: "But I think, too, whether [Allen] plays zero games or 16 games, we’re going to put out the guy that gives us the best chance to win each Sunday."

Beane has offered rebuttal for each pre-draft criticism of Allen. In examining each of Allen's throws, Beane and his staff took into account Wyoming's pro-style offense, which Beane said resulted in more vertical passing and "no gimme throws" for the quarterback. When Allen did misfire, the Bills believed his footwork was at fault -- something private quarterback coach Jordan Palmer addressed with Allen after the season.

"The most positive thing I saw [was] when he was at the Senior Bowl, his feet were in a much better position that week," Beane said. "He was much more accurate, not only during the week but even in the game."

Daboll scripted 42 plays for each quarterback prospect the Bills hosted in private workouts but did not inform the quarterbacks of the script. Beane and his staff were impressed with Allen's ability to process the plays quickly without practice, and they left the workout "very confident" in Allen.

As for Allen's failure to statistically dominate mid-level college competition, Beane has been vocal since selecting Allen about the lack of NFL talent around him at Wyoming. He also noted in June that when Allen missed two games last November with a shoulder injury, his team lost both, to Fresno State and San Jose State.

The Bills also liked what they saw in Allen's personality and work ethic, which Beane credited this spring to Allen not receiving any Division I scholarship offers out of high school in Firebaugh, California. He played the 2014 season at Reedley College before receiving interest from Wyoming.

Beane and Schoen observed how Allen interacted with his teammates when they watched him play last season. When they met with Allen at the Senior Bowl, Beane was impressed with Allen's intelligence in handling questions from Daboll.

However, on the eve of the first round of the draft in April, racially insensitive tweets made by Allen in high school emerged, which prompted Beane to summon team ownership and hold a conference call with Allen to address the issue.

"You could hear the frustration in himself, the embarrassment, all those words," Beane said in June. "But he never made an excuse. He could have said, 'Hey, I was 14 or 15.' He never said it. He just basically explained each situation, kids being kids, or quoting lyrics and stuff like that. I found him very honest. I think that's who he is. I think it was natural. You can try and tell somebody not to do this or make this. He didn't have a script. That was the most impressive thing to me. He didn't walk up there and read a statement, which sometimes you have to."

Added McDermott: "It shook us a little bit, but it didn't really rattle us. ... What Brandon said was true. [Allen] manned up to it."

Allen still had to earn the respect of his teammates. Bills linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, while stressing that he would keep an open mind about Allen, told the team's official radio program after the selection in April that Allen was "gonna have to have a good answer" to teammates about the tweets and would have to "work a little bit harder to get respect from certain people in the locker room."

Alexander told SiriusXM NFL Radio earlier this month that Allen had been an "awesome dude" in his initial months with the team and was "definitely open and willing" to address the tweets with the team.

"I think we might have discussed it the first couple of days, just hanging out, kind of talking," Alexander said. "But it hasn't grown much from there. I think guys heard what he said and accepted his apology for what it was. I think you could tell he was really embarrassed and ashamed of what he had put out there. And that's all you can do. Now that they interact with him, obviously I think certain guys are going to probably monitor him a little bit closely until they say, 'OK, this dude is good.'"

Whether Allen starts as a rookie or the Bills turn to McCarron (four career starts, including postseason) or Peterman (two career starts) in the short-term, Alexander believes Buffalo must lean on its defense to return to the playoffs after losing in the AFC wild-card round in January.

"This is going to be a team that, in my mind, is led by the defense and will live and die by that until our offense can really find that rhythm," Alexander said in the July 5 radio interview.

"If we go out there, take the ball away, give it back to our offense, give them advantageous field position, we can be great as far as scoring points and being right back in the thick of things, like I said, until we have that maturation at the quarterback position. ... You don't have to be Tom Brady to get to the playoffs, to get to the divisional game, which we've seen throughout history. If you have a strong defense, great running game, and your quarterback is efficient and doesn't turn the ball over, you'll give yourself a chance to win some close games and make a run at the playoffs."