BBD Editor: Dan Hope
The Buffalo Bills have prepared for and anticipated a two-way quarterback competition in training camp ever since they signed veteran free agent Kevin Kolb and drafted EJ Manuel with their first-round pick. A wrench was thrown into that competition Saturday, however, when Kolb slipped on a wet rubber mat and injured his left knee.
While the freak injury may seem laughable for the oft-injured quarterback, it is no laughing matter for Kolb and the Buffalo Bills.
Although Bills head coach Doug Marrone said the knee injury is not significant, he said Saturday that Kolb’s status is “day to day,” according to Mark Gaughan of the Buffalo News. Kolb was not on the field with his team at the beginning of practice Sunday, according to WGR’s Joe Buscaglia and others.
In a quarterback competition where every day and every repetition can make a difference, every day Kolb has to sit out is a significant day.
Unfortunately for Kolb, his injury could play a big role in deciding the quarterback competition. With undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel being the only other quarterback in training camp, Manuel will see a significant majority of practice repetitions every day that Kolb misses.
This gives Manuel a golden opportunity to seize the starting job.
Although the quarterback repetitions were being split evenly during the first week of training camp, that could quickly change if Manuel continues to impress while Kolb is injured. By most accounts, including that of BBD’s own Glenn Gifford, Manuel has been the more impressive of the two quarterbacks thus far in training camp.
“As if on cue, rookie quarterback EJ Manuel stepped in with the first-team offense and did not disappoint,” Gifford wrote Saturday. “Manuel seized the opportunity that he was given and made several impressive runs and throws in the face of increased defensive pressure.
“Manuel was able to run the read option with success and made some real heads-up plays,” Gifford continued.
The Bills didn’t draft Manuel in the first round to stay on the bench for long; 10 of the last 15 quarterbacks selected in the first round of an NFL draft have been Week 1 starters for their teams. The Bills have a bright future, but that future can only begin when Manuel has taken over the offense, as Kolb is nothing more than a temporary option.
The Bills were already going to give Manuel every opportunity to win the starting job, but now they might have to do so by default. At the very least, Kolb is likely to be limited in practice over the course of the next week.
Manuel should see most if not all of the work with the first-team offense in the next few practices, and if Kolb is still recovering, he could end up getting all of the snaps with the first-team offense in the Bills’ preseason opener next Sunday versus the Indianapolis Colts.
All of this puts Manuel in the driver’s seat to win the quarterback competition. He brings youth, huge upside, a strong arm and running ability to the Bills’ offense. He is considered to be the future franchise quarterback in Buffalo. He has an opportunity to seize the job, and if he can continue to impress in practice and the preseason, he should be on the field when the Bills play the New England Patriots in Week 1.
Kolb’s injury, however, also puts pressure on Manuel, both literally and figuratively.
In the Bills’ early practices, Kolb was working with the first-team offense, and he saw more blitzes and pressure from the Bills’ first-team defense as a result, according to Gifford’s report from July 30.
As Manuel ascends to the first-team offense with Kolb on the sidelines, he will be tested by that same pressure. He performed up to the task Saturday, according to Gifford. Gifford wrote that Manuel “remained poised under increased amounts of pressure Saturday,” making plays with both his arm and feet.
Manuel must also remain poised, however, under the mental pressure of the job now being his to lose. While an increase in repetitions with the first-team offense gives Manuel the chance to prove his readiness and seize the starting job, it also puts him in a position to lose the job should he struggle and prove that he is not yet ready.
The first outcome, however, seems more likely. While Manuel is certainly still developing and will likely have many growing pains as a rookie quarterback, he has better physical tools and far more upside than Kolb.
Kolb’s two-year stint as the starting quarterback of the Arizona Cardinals was ravaged by injuries, and another injury setback may be enough to keep him from ever being the starting quarterback in Buffalo.
As long as Manuel can seize the opportunity and continue to impress, chances are good that Manuel will remain with the first-team offense and Kolb’s healthy return will come working with the second-team unit.