The Buffalo Bills have said goodbye to one quarterback and might be getting ready to say hello again to another.
The team released veteran Matt Flynn on Monday, a sure sign that the health of other players at the position – namely first-round draft pick EJ Manuel – is improving.
Manuel, in fact, revealed that he has been cleared by team doctors to play, but coach Doug Marrone is taking a wait-and-see approach before deciding if that will happen Sunday in Pittsburgh.
“We have to make a good decision. We have to get him out there and see how he’s doing from a football-movement standpoint,” the coach said. “We’ve had him out there throwing, which is something that we amped up quite a bit after the individual sessions that he was allowed to do last week. We’ll get him out there and put him in the mix and see how he’s doing.”
Manuel isn’t the only quarterback on the mend. Backup Thad Lewis, who started three games but missed Sunday’s 23-13 loss to Kansas City at Ralph Wilson Stadium because of bruised ribs, went through a throwing session Monday.
“We expect him to be back,” Marrone said. “He’s getting better each day.”
That made Flynn, who was signed three weeks ago, expendable. He ended his brief Bills career without appearing in a game.
Manuel met with reporters Monday for the first time since he sprained the lateral collateral ligament in his right knee during a Week Five loss at Cleveland on Oct. 3. He has missed the Bills’ past four games, during which time the team has gone 1-3.
The quarterback said he’ll be ready for as many practice reps as Marrone will give him beginning Wednesday when the team starts preparations for its Week 10 game at the Steelers.
“I’m just going to go out there and just continue to work hard and get back where I was,” he said.
Manuel said he hasn’t felt “anything bad” in his knee since resuming on-field workouts, including Sunday before the game against the Chiefs.
“It was good to get out there in the cold. To move around in that, see how it felt and reacted after, so it was feeling good,” he said. “If you’re going to be out there trying to play, thinking about an injury, you can’t play, so I don’t really think about it.”
Marrone, though, indicated it’s still a concern for him.
“In the back of my mind, I’m thinking to make sure he’s 100 percent and not putting a player out there that can jeopardize himself,” the coach said.
With Manuel and Lewis injured last week, the Bills split practice reps between rookie undrafted free agent Jeff Tuel and Flynn. Marrone would like to avoid a similar situation this week between Marrone, Lewis and Tuel, but acknowledged that may not be possible until he sees them practice.
“Once the doctor clears a player and says he can go and play, then it comes on us, whether he can go out there and do that or not. From an injury standpoint, yes, the player may be at a position where he’s not going to reinjure himself or do greater harm to himself, but then it comes for us as coaches,” he said, speaking about Manuel. “We have to sit down and see, what’s the mind-set of the player? How does he feel about it? Is he ready to go? Does he have enough reps to be accountable for what we’re asking him to do? So then it really comes on us, and that’s what you look forward to.”
The possibility of Manuel’s return was first brought up Monday morning by receiver Stevie Johnson, who was asked how much he worked with the quarterback during practice last week.
“He wasn’t out there during the practice. We’ve got to take as much pressure off his legs, you know, due to the injury thing, but he said he’ll be ready on Sunday,” Johnson said. “After that, it’s no excuses.”
Manuel was 85 of 150 for 985 yards, five touchdowns, three interceptions and a passer rating of 79.4 before being hurt. He spent the first two games he missed watching from the coaches’ box upstairs, but has been on the field the past two weeks.
“I still took the mental reps. People can say that’s a cliché thing, but I really took it to heart, trying to make sure I was still getting those reps that I would have got if I wasn’t hurt,” he said. “Mentally just making sure I was prepared and trying to be a smarter player than I was before.”
“We think mentally he’s in great shape,” Marrone said Monday.
Manuel also gave his view of the play on which he was hurt against the Browns. After scrambling from the pocket, he raced down the left sideline. He had picked up the first down by a full 5 yards before he was hit by Browns safety Tashaun Gipson.
“That’s just a part of playing football. That could have happened playing basketball, too. I’m not going to play scared or anything like that. I’m going to continue to try to get as many yards as I can, but at the same time just slide or get out of bounds or throw it away when you get out of the pocket,” he said. “It happens. It’s over with now, and I’m just moving forward now.”
As for whether he has a responsibility as the franchise quarterback to avoid taking hits like the one on which he was hurt, Manuel said: “Yeah, when you can, get down. We call it the ‘Peyton Manning rule.’ If you’re in the pocket and about to get crushed, try to just get down as soon as possible. Those veteran guys do a great job of that. They may not be able to take off, but if you don’t have anything just get down. You know, protect the body.”