Bills: State of the QB Position

Right now, EJ Manuel is the only quarterback on Buffalo's roster. The quarterback, entering his third season, will get an opportunity to impress his new coaches. However, this very well could be Manuel's last chance to start for the Bills.

Buffalo Bills Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly retired on January 31, 1997. Since that time, 14 quarterbacks have started for the Bills. None have panned out as a long-term solution.

Heading into the 2015 season, Buffalo has one quarterback on their roster: E.J. Manuel. Manuel was the first quarterback selected in the 2013 NFL draft. The QB class from that draft has looked less than inspiring after two seasons. Besides Manuel, the class included Geno Smith, Mike Glennon, Matt Barkley, Ryan Nassib, Tyler Wilson, Landry Jones, Brad Sorensen, Zac Dysert, B.J. Daniels and Sean Renfree.

Here’s a snapshot of Manuel’s stats and seasons in review.

2013: 10 GP, 180 completions, 306 attempts, 58.8%, 1,972 passing yards, 11 TD/9 INT, 53 carries, 186 yards, 2 TD.

EJ Manuel was never expected to start the 2013 season for the Bills, but injuries changed things. Veteran Kevin Kolb tweaked his knee after slipping on a rubber mat and eventually suffered a serious concussion in the preseason. This left Manuel to compete with UDFA Jeff Tuel for the starting job. During the preseason, Manuel also suffered a left knee injury that led to a minor procedure, but he was back in time for the regular season.

The quarterback was back for Week 1 and played well against the New England Patriots. He followed that up with a strong effort against the Carolina Panthers. Manuel’s play plummeted in the next three weeks and after suffering a sprained right knee in Week 5 against the Cleveland Browns, the rookie QB missed four games. He returned for five games, playing very well against the Jets in Week 11 and Jaguars in Week 15. Manuel sprained his left knee against Jacksonville and sat out the final two weeks of the season. Manuel finished his rookie season 4-6.

2014: 5 GP (4 starts), 76 completions, 131 attempts, 58%, 838 yards, 5 TD/3 INT, 16 carries, 52 yards, 1 TD.

Manuel was expected to start in 2014 with Thad Lewis and Jeff Tuel serving as his backups. Lewis was released for Jordan Palmer (who was released rather quickly after one disastrous preseason game) and Tuel was released when Kyle Orton signed with the team following the preseason. The Orton signing didn’t bode well for Manuel, as the team paid Orton $5.5 million to join the roster.

Despite Orton’s addition, Manuel started off his sophomore season well. In a Week 1 victory over the Chicago Bears, Manuel completed 72.7 percent of his passes and scored two touchdowns (one passing, one rushing). In Week 2, Manuel completed 61.5 percent of his passes and threw one touchdown in Buffalo’s 29-10 victory. The Week two win moved Manuel’s career record to 6-6. Much like his rookie season, Manuel fell off statistically after Week 2. Manuel went 0-2 against the San Diego Chargers and Houston Texans. Against San Diego, Manuel struggled to move the ball down the field. Buffalo never really contested the Chargers in their 22-10 loss. In Week 4, Manuel was at his worst. He completed 47.7% of his passes while tossing two touchdowns and two interceptions on 21-of-44 passing. Manuel’s biggest error came when the Bills drove down the field at the start of the third quarter only for the QB to throw a pick-six to J.J. Watt. The momentum of the game changed at that point and the Bills lost a game they had no business losing. Doug Marrone pulled Manuel as starter after the game. Manuel was given mop-up duty in a 38-3 victory over the Jets, but he didn’t attempt any passes.

2015

When Rex Ryan came aboard as head coach, he said the following about Manuel:

“I feel like he has a lot of traits that you look for in a quarterback. He’s smart, he’s dedicated. I think he has movement skills. I’d like to see him use his legs more than he has. Sometimes, just like we mentioned through coaching and even playing quarterback, I think a little more experience the better you are going to be. The more comfortable you are going to be. He’ll certainly be given an opportunity here. That doesn’t mean we are set at the quarterback position.”

Offensive coordinator Greg Roman said the following about Manuel:

"I'm not going to get in to specifics," Roman said when asked where Manuel needs to improve. "I definitely think he's done some very good things and displayed some good traits. I'd say we just have to get his level of consistency a little bit greater.

"Really he and everybody else, once we get through this evaluation process, we're going to have a very clean slate," Roman continued. "What they might've been asked to do or done in the past is really not relevant to what we may or may not ask him to do. So to sit here and pontificate about this, that and the other is a little premature."

Manuel could certainly benefit from the new regime. Manuel wasn’t allowed to “air it out” much in his first two seasons. Many blamed offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett for this, but Fred Jackson revealed that it was Doug Marrone who preferred conservative play calling.

"He (Hackett) was an aggressive guy and has always been since I've known him," Jackson said. "When some of the things that were called that didn't kind of fit his mold, that is what it is. He couldn't do what he wanted to. 

Greg Roman will certainly look to give Manuel every opportunity to start this season and will work around his strengths if he’s named the starter in 2015. Manuel will also be given more opportunities to stretch the field. In 2013, Manuel attempted 41 passes of 20 yards or more. Twelve were completed and two were dropped. While his accuracy was inconsistent, Manuel was able to make those 12 completions go for 360 yards and five touchdowns.

Manuel’s biggest weakness has been his accuracy. His footwork and mechanics have played a big role in this problem, so Roman and David Lee, Buffalo’s QB coach, will be responsible to help Manuel in this aspect of his game.

If Manuel is named starter, it’s important that he makes the most of his opportunity. Quarterbacks only get so many opportunities to impress in the NFL. Luckily for Manuel, there aren’t any clear cut improvements hitting the free agent market in 2015. Unless a clear cut starter hits the market, Manuel will have a decent shot of starting this season. It all comes down to how he fares during training camp and the preseason against his competition.

Who could the Bills bring in to compete with Manuel? We’ll take a look at this tomorrow at Buffalo Football Report.


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