EJ Manuel was drafted as the future of the Buffalo Bills, but after a strong preseason and struggles from veteran Kevin Kolb, it appears the future is now.
The rookie out of Florida State came into training camp in what coaches promised would be an open competition with Kolb. Now halfway through the preseason and just weeks before the season begins, Manuel has proven that he’s ready to be the team’s starter.
Manuel seized control of the quarterback race after a bizarre mishap took Kolb out of practice. The veteran who joined the Bills from the Arizona Cardinals was crossing a practice field when he slipped on a mat, hurting his knee. Kolb missed more time after a death in the family, and EJ Manuel took the opportunity to show off his strong arm and beyond-his-years pocket poise.
On Friday Manuel came off the bench, outshining Kolb in a 20-16 win over the Minnesota Vikings in the team’s second preseason game.
In the game, Manuel finished 10 for 12 for 92 yards in three series, leading the team on a 14-play, 80-yard touchdown drive on the opening possession of the first half.
“I just want to continue to show (offensive coordinator Nathaniel) Hackett that I can learn and continue to show what I can do out on the field to my teammates,” Manuel said. “I am satisfied and happy we won the game.”
When he was drafted in April, Manuel was considered a reach for the Buffalo Bills. He was the first quarterback off the board, taken before more highly regarded signal callers like Geno Smith, but new Bills coach Doug Marrone said in interviews that Manuel impressed more than any other.
EJ Manuel also seemed to pick it the team’s offense quickly, saying the scheme of offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett was similar to one he ran in college.
“The funny thing is it’s easier to learn than the offense I had at Florida State,” Manuel told SiriusXM NFL Radio. “It’s a true West Coast-type progression offense. That’s really what I wanted when I was coming through the pre-draft process. I wanted something that I could just go in and say 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, check it down and run it. That’s it, it’s that simple. I love it.”
Manuel has shown a lot of comfort in his first two preseason games, and would represent a low-risk gamble for Marrone. The fan base, having lacked a franchise quarterback since the departure of Jim Kelly, is anxious to find a long-term signal caller, and Marrone is not facing too much pressure in his first year.
The Bills fans seem to have already made up their minds. Kolb was booed several times in Friday’s win as he overthrew and missed open receivers.
Doug Marrone has yet to announce the starter for the season-opener against the New England Patriots, and likely won’t until after the final preseason game, but EJ Manuel has already proven it’s his job.