The Buffalo Bills went into training camp for the 2013 season feeling reasonably confident about their QB situation.
They had just used the 15th pick overall in the 2013 NFL draft to select Florida State QB E.J. Manuel to be the standard bearer of the franchise. They signed veteran Kevin Kolb to help along in the interim. The two were to battle it out during training camp to see who would start Week 1 against the New England Patriots.
Suddenly, the Bills find themselves without either man.
The only quarterback left on the roster is an undrafted rookie out of Washington State named Jeff Tuel. Tuel has had a good preseason, but he has played mostly against back-ups and wasn’t even the starting QB going into his senior season. When Tuel was pressed into action against the Washington Redskins‘ first team defense, he struggled, finishing the game going 10-of-17 for only 63 yards.
The pickings were slim on the free agent market as well, and the Bills settled on veteran Matt Leinart and traded for four-year pro Thaddeus Lewis from the Detroit Lions.
The Bills have held out hope that Manuel may be able to play in the season opener. While he may well be medically cleared to compete, the truth is that he will have gone the better part of three weeks without practicing. Leinart is a veteran and former starter in the league, but he will only have two weeks of practice in rookie OC Nathaniel Hackett‘s new system.
That leaves just the undrafted rookie Tuel. He’s been with the Bills throughout all of the mini camps and training camp. He’ll have a better grasp on the offense than Leinart or Lewis at that point. If Manuel can’t go, than Tuel makes the most sense. One guy who I know won’t be playing is Kolb, whose last concussion left him on the sidelines for two months. As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kolb was designated to the eight-game IR list so the Bills can carry three healthy quarterbacks while he recovers.
Of course, the Bills can go with Manuel on limited practice reps. Playing them at home with an offense that Bill Belichick has never seen on opening day will be the best chance that the Bills have to beat the perennial division winners, and the chances increase with Manuel in the lineup as compared to Tuel.
On the flip side, this would be the first game of the E.J. Manuel era that the Bills brass hopes will last for at least the next decade. Is it worth the risk of possible long-term damage to have a better shot in just one game? If you know that Manuel will be good to go for Week 2, why risk further injury?
For new head coach Doug Marrone, the best course of action may be to take his chances with Tuel and live to fight another day with Manuel.