EJ Manuel expressed confidence Monday in his ability to establish himself as a quality NFL quarterback and shrugged off concerns about his knee injuries.
“I think a lot of my injuries … have just been misfortunate occurrences in a football game,” Manuel said as he and his Buffalo Bills teammates cleaned out their lockers.
“You’re playing a tough sport, and I know I’m a tough guy. And obviously if I could have got out there to play, I would have, there’s no question about it. But it happens and that’s really all I can say about the injuries. It’s behind me now. Get healthy and come back ready to go.”
A sprained left knee forced Manuel to sit out Sunday’s season-ending loss to New England as well as the second-last game, against Miami.
The injury put a damper on what had been a somewhat promising rookie season for the Bills’ first-round draft choice. He finished 4-6 as a starter. But he also missed six regular-season games and two exhibitions due to three different knee sprains.
The last one occurred just before halftime of the 27-20 win at Jacksonville on Dec. 15.
“When I felt my leg not feel good during the first half of the Jacksonville game, in the back of my mind I was saying, ‘You got to kidding me,’ ” Manuel said.
“But there’s no reason I was going to come out of that game. I wanted to finish it, and I was doing well and we were on a roll. So I finished the game. But like I said, it’s just misfortunate. It’s unfortunate and it happens. All I can do is just control what I can control, and that’s just strengthen everything up.”
Manuel’s injury is to the lateral collateral ligament. He said it’s possible he might need a minor surgical procedure on the left knee.
“When you have the injuries I’ve had, there’s always surgical things you can do to repair it, and then there’s also ways if you just get rest and certain things like that, it might repair itself,” he said. “So I just have to make that decision.”
Manuel stressed even if he needs surgery it would not be major.
“No, no, no, no, no, no,” he said. “Even if it is, it wouldn’t be a long procedure, no sir.”
He also said he would be playing if the Bills had a game on Sunday.
“I think it will probably take another week or two and I’ll be fine,” he said. “If we had another game this week, I’d definitely be playing. That’s where I’m at right now. … When I had the right LCL, it was the same thing. Now that one feels fine. And now I have it in my left again and I have to go through the same process as far as getting the strength back up.”
Manuel said 10 games of NFL experience have increased his confidence in his ability to become a winning QB.
“I’m very certain,” he said. “I’ve had some good games, and like I said there’s a lot I can take and build from. … I’m just going to hone in and focus in on this offseason and get better.”
He said he got more comfortable as the season progressed.
“Even though … my record as a starter from start to finish is 4-6, I think there is at least two or three more games that we could have won,” he said, referring to games he started and lost. “We put ourselves in position to win and we didn’t. The record is what it is, but … there’s a lot of things to really take from it. I’m always going to be positive with myself. I’m still a young guy, so, I know there’s a lot more room for improvement and I expect to improve.
“The ins and outs of the weekly preparation going into games, I felt a lot more comfortable going into them,” he said.
Manuel stressed the biggest thing he needs is experience.
“As I continue to grow and have more maturity in the offense, more maturity as a professional at quarterback, I think all of those things will come full circle,” he said. “For me, I’m just looking forward to the 2014 season. Really just honing in on all the things I did well and just trying to fix the things I did not do well.”
The Bills signed seven young players to contracts. They were defensive back Mario Butler, tackles Edawn Coughman and Jamaal Johnson-Webb, quarterback Dennis Dixon, receiver Brandon Kaufman, defensive end Ikponmwosa Igbinosun and linebacker Jacques Smith. All seven were members of the Bills’ practice squad.