PITTSFORD — The Buffalo Bills’ quarterback competition is officially on hold.
While his team took the practice field here at St. John Fisher College at 8 a.m. Sunday, rookie first-round draft pick EJ Manuel underwent surgery on his left knee with team physicians in Buffalo. The team deemed the procedure “minor” and Manuel was back with his teammates by the afternoon.
“I really view this procedure as minor. I don’t view it as something that, ‘Hey, we’re not sure.’ This is a very, very minor procedure so I’m not really concerned about it,” coach Doug Marrone said, without revealing the exact nature of the injury. “I have the information of exactly what it is, but at this time, the consensus of what we’ve talked about was to just say that it’s been a minor surgery, so I just want to tell everyone the truth there.”
Manuel will miss the Bills’ final two preseason games. Marrone said he would be classified as “day to day” after that, and that he could be back in time for the Sept. 8 season opener against New England.
“He could,” the coach said. “There is a good chance of that.”
Whether Manuel would start that game, however, is very much in question. While he had seemed to take the lead in the competition with seven-year veteran Kevin Kolb through the first two preseason games, that battle is now on the back burner for at least the next two weeks.
“There’s a lot of variables that will go into that,” Marrone said, when asked if the competition will resume when Manuel is healthy. “How Kevin’s doing, how he’s playing, how EJ comes back from the time off. There’s a lot of speculation on that. I think I’ll be able to answer that question once we get to the day to day and he’s out here practicing.”
Exactly how Manuel was hurt Friday night against the Minnesota Vikings remains a mystery. Marrone said the news of it caught him off-guard, just as it did the team’s fans Saturday.
“During the course of the game, obviously, we did not get anything communicated from him or anyone else as far as what might have occurred,” Marrone said. “After the game was over, it was ‘I felt a little bump.’ Checked stability, it was good. And really that night, that’s all we were going on.
“The next day I think is the most important thing to focus on. There was a little bit of swelling. Obviously, then you get a concern. Our staff checked him out with an MRI, you know, saw something, went through a minor procedure.”
Manuel told Marrone he thought the injury could have happened on his sixth play, when he picked up 5 yards on a scramble to the right side and was tackled by Vikings safety Robert Blanton (the play was wiped out by a Buffalo penalty).
“I went back again and looked at it. I tried to see something, you know, and really it was hard to tell,” Marrone said. “He didn’t even know if that was the play that he was hurt on.”
Manuel finished that drive, which covered 14 plays and 80 yards and ended when he threw a touchdown pass to Brad Smith, then played two more series. In two preseason games, he’s gone 26 of 33 for 199 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 112.
Kolb suspected something might be wrong.
“You can tell when you’re around a guy a lot and the way he runs and the way he acts and the way he grimaces and stuff like that. It just looked like something was a little wrong,” Kolb said. “When he came to the sideline, he really wasn’t talking to anybody that much, so I could tell something was on his mind and I just left him alone. So it wasn’t a complete shock. … I think the guys around him on the sideline could kind of tell something was bothering him just a little bit.”
Kolb took the first-team reps Sunday, and he will be under center with the starters Saturday when the Bills play their third preseason game at Washington.
Kolb knows well that it can take some time to adjust after missing practice. He was out for eight days earlier in camp because of a freak left knee injury and an excused absence for personal reasons.
“The frustrating thing is whenever you’re progressing the way you want to progress, and then you have this setback. I feel like that happened to me a little bit. I’m sure he feels like that’s happening to him a little bit because he had two good games under his belt,” Kolb said. “I can’t put words in his mouth, but that can be a little bit frustrating. But just being around him, the little time that I have with his competitive nature and the way he approaches things, he won’t have a problem jumping back in.”
Kolb completed 13 of 21 against the Vikings for 111 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. He said he got more comfortable as the game went on — as evidenced by the fact he completed 10 of his last 13 passes. The increased workload he’ll see over the next two weeks should help him get even more comfortable.
“There was a little bit of rust for me to knock off, so this will just help continue to do that and be prepared for everything down the road in the future,” he said.