Buffalo Bills Quarterback Battle: Should EJ Manuel Be the Week 1 Starter?

EJ Manuel could come to the forefront of the Buffalo Bills quarterback competition in training camp. (Photo: USA Today Sports Images)

BBD Staff Writer: Glenn Gifford

During an interview Monday with the John Murphy Show, Buffalo Bills head coach Doug Marrone was asked about the ongoing battle to start at quarterback for the Bills between Kevin Kolb and EJ Manuel. Asked by Murphy if the race for the starting quarterback job was a “dead heat,” Marrone replied “yeah, I look at it that way.”

If the battle is truly a “dead heat,” many fans will want Manuel to be the Week 1 starting quarterback versus the New England Patriots. Let’s take a brief look at the possible reasons Coach Marrone would refer to this quarterback race as a “dead heat,” and examine some of the potential advantages and disadvantages of having Manuel start on week one.

Competition = Motivation

I personally believe Kolb and Manuel should be nowhere near a “dead heat” at this point in the off season. Given his experience, Kolb should clearly be seen as the “clubhouse leader” for this competition. That said, it would seem strange for any new head coach to anoint a starting quarterback after only a few weeks of OTAs and minicamp.

Regardless of the status of the quarterback competition, Marrone chose to agree with Murphy’s statement about the competition being a dead heat. If anything, this will keep both quarterbacks motivated to do their best throughout the upcoming minicamp and preseason.

Kolb’s opportunity in Buffalo, in all likelihood, is his last chance to be a starting NFL quarterback. This will be his third “kick at the can” and if unsuccessful, probably his last. He has to show well in training camp.

The even competition should motivate Manuel as well. Drafted No. 16 overall by the Bills in April’s NFL draft, Manuel has the pressure of being the first quarterback selected. In today’s NFL, a quarterback taken this high is expected to come in and start. Manuel, according to his coach, is close to achieving this goal.

This motivation is refreshing because in the past, while there was talk of competition, many Bills fans didn’t think much real competition was happening for the starting quarterback job. Kudos to Doug Marrone for keeping both of his quarterbacks motivated.

While the comment could just be to motivate and inspire competition, it could also be completely true. If Manuel and Kolb are equal at this point in time, why not start Manuel? Let’s look at some of the advantages and disadvantages.


Many feel Manuel should be the starting quarterback in Buffalo because of his draft status. Starting Manuel can confirm to those who follow the Bills that they are ready to start a new era in Buffalo.

Manuel will bring a more diverse attack to the Bills than Kolb. His athleticism and ability to make plays with his legs will help Buffalo’s offense out when things go awry.

Manuel has been a winner at all levels he has competed at. If one believes the best indicator of future performance is past performance, he should perform well.

From all accounts thus far, Manuel is a very coachable player and an incredibly fast learner. He should be able to pick up and learn offensive coordinator Nathanial Hackett’s offense with little difficulty. In fact, he commented in an interview with SB Nation’s Dan Rubenstein that the Bills’ offense is “more simple” than the offense he played in at Florida State.

He displays a charisma and ability to lead that exceeds his age. Should Buffalo harness this quarterback’s abundant upside and let him play right away?

Rookie quarterbacks have had recent success in the NFL. Why should E.J. Manuel be any different? Let’s take a look at some of the drawbacks that could come from starting Manuel.


NFL Network’s Mike Mayock referred to Manuel as “a piece of clay where you can take him and you can turn him to what you want.” Manuel has the talent to excel, but needs work and refinement.

Just because Manuel was drafted No. 16 overall does not mean he has to start. It was a recipe that has not worked well thus far for Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert in two seasons. Potentially, Manuel starting in Week 1 could be just as disastrous.

Kolb is the better quarterback right now and gives Buffalo a better chance to win. Winning has been in short supply in Buffalo; starting Week 1 and having a very long season will not help Manuel’s confidence.

Kolb’s experience will help him in the short term. He will avoid many of the rookie pitfalls Manuel will inevitably suffer. Remember that Kolb actually beat the New England Patriots on the road last season before missing most of the season due to injury.

Manuel’s accuracy has come under question. In a game where one’s accuracy is important, Manuel should work on his skills before being thrown into the fire. Turnovers may be quite high in Manuel’s first year.

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers studied under Brett Favre for a few years. Manuel might not be afforded the time to do the same, but failure to allow him time to develop could result in premature talk of him being a bust.

Who Should Start in Week 1?

The fan in me wants E.J. Manuel to start Week 1 versus the Patriots. He brings a youthful excitement and upside that makes him immediately intriguing. What child would not want to open up their new present on Christmas day? I wouldn’t want to leave E.J. under the tree for a year, regardless of how good he may be.

The coach in me feels it may be more prudent to wait and let Manuel learn the ropes. It is difficult to balance reason and emotion when you are emotionally invested. The logical, calculating side of me feels Kolb gives the Bills a better chance of winning in the short term.

Some fans have tweeted that we may get the best of both worlds this year. If Kolb begins the season as a starter but suffers another injury, Manuel will have had time to acclimate himself to the NFL and will be fine.

While Marrone’s agreement to the dead heat statement serves each player well in the area of motivation, the picture should become more clear throughout training camp and preseason. Regardless of how this quarterback competition shakes out, I feel this is one of the few years where the Buffalo Bills actually have a competition.

Who do you think should be the week one starter, and why? Comment below to let us know your thoughts!

Tags: EJ Manuel, Kevin Kolb, Quarterback Competition, Training Camp

One Response to “Buffalo Bills Quarterback Battle: Should EJ Manuel Be the Week 1 Starter?”

  1. JoAnne Pautler says:

    Really nice article, well written and researched. Fun to read. Fan

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