The Bills held the first two of their nine “voluntary” organized team activities this week at One Bills Drive. It marked the unofficial start of the competition to determine which of the quarterbacks is best suited to pose as a real NFL starter.
It’s only late May, of course, more than 100 days before the regular season opener here against the Colts on Sept. 13. There’s little that qualifies as actual news at these OTAs. LeSean McCoy tweaked his neck. Marquise Goodwin was delayed by the storms in Texas. Corey Graham will play some safety this year.
Having conducted my usual penetrating analysis of the proceedings, there was only one thing I could determine about the quarterback race: Jeff Tuel has settled in as the clear No. 4.
The other three are rotating No. 1’s at the moment. On Tuesday, EJ Manuel and Matt Cassel shared No. 1 repetitions. On Wednesday, it was Manuel and Tyrod Taylor. Rex Ryan has them running “two-spot” drills, with separate offenses working at the same time. That gives more reps for the QBs.
All three quarterbacks were brought out for mass interview sessions on Wednesday, accentuating the fact that everyone is equal and this will be a truly open battle for the No. 1 job. There’s an old saying that if you have two starting quarterbacks, you really have none. I’m not sure what it says when three QBs are on equal footing, though I can’t imagine it’s terribly encouraging for Bills fans.
The most interesting development is that Tyrod Taylor, who hasn’t started a game in his four-year NFL career and completed a grand total of one pass the last two seasons as a backup with the Ravens, is in the thick of the battle.
Taylor is the flavor of the month. Granted, the month is May, but there’s a lot of buzz around the league that Taylor has a real chance to win the Bills’ starting job, that he might be a hidden gem who shines when he gets a fair shot at a starting job.
“I know what I’m capable of,” said Taylor, who turns 26 in August. “It’s my job to prove it to the coaches. I think that they are aware, but as long as I continue to work and continue to impress them each and every day ... it’s not my job to call it. I’ll let the coaches decide.”
Ryan has high regard for Taylor. He tried to acquire him when he coached the Jets. He recruited Taylor to Buffalo as a free agent. Taylor told The Sporting News this “opportunity was the best for an open competition.”
One can only surmise that Ryan gave Taylor the impression that he could actually win the job. On Wednesday, a reporter jokingly accused Ryan of having a “man crush” on Taylor.
“Let’s see how he does in training camp before we go there,” Ryan said, “and we’ll see. But the ability is hard to ignore, some of the things he has.”
Taylor has a big arm and blazing speed. He was considered the nation’s top dual-threat quarterback coming out of high school in Hampton, Va., nine years ago. He ran a 4.51 in the 40 at the 2011 NFL Combine, the fastest for any quarterback.
He lasted until the sixth round of the draft. There were questions about his throwing skills and his height. Taylor is listed at 6-1. Scouts said he had sloppy footwork and had too many passes batted at the line. In fact, most NFL teams figured he would play receiver in the league, not quarterback.
Still, Ryan is intrigued by the idea of a true dual-threat quarterback in his run-oriented attack. Greg Roman, the offensive coordinator, built an offense around Colin Kaepernick with the 49ers. Despite Kaepernick’s shortcomings as a passer, they got to a Super Bowl.
Taylor said he has always prepared himself as if he were a starter. He seems a bit sensitive at being narrowly labeled as a running quarterback.
“Got to move the chains,” Taylor said with a smile. “Whatever it takes to move the chains. I’m not a running quarterback. I’m a quarterback who can run. The only stat that really matters is wins and losses. So whatever you have to do to win the game.
“You just have to be good at what the game makes you do that day.”
Taylor has done plenty of winning over the years. He won 34 games as a starter in high school and 34 at Virginia Tech, the most ever by a Hokies’ starting quarterback. Ryan had to see the competitive edge and leadership qualities he wants in his players.
“I would say that’s one thing that does stand out,” Taylor said. “I’ve always had leadership skills, and I love being around the guys. It just comes natural, from the quarterback position and just natural in my personality.”
Perhaps the Bills are excited about Taylor because he’s not Manuel or Cassel, two known commodities who haven’t distinguished themselves as starters. Taylor is the great unknown, a captivating idea. Whether he can actually play in the NFL is another matter.
“I don’t think anyone would be more critical of myself than me,” Taylor said. “I want to be perfect. I know perfect isn’t always going to happen, but that’s what I strive for. I try to coach myself up every day when I watch film, to try to get better and better and chase perfection.”
No one is asking for perfection at this point. Sheer competence and efficiency will do. Maybe Taylor will be a real find, the best sixth-round quarterback since Tom Brady.
But this three-ring battle has a whiff of desperation about it. Really, if Taylor is their secret hope, what does that say about their faith in the other two guys?