When the Buffalo Bills reconvene at St. John Fisher College for training camp, all eyes will be on the quarterbacks.
The veteran Matt Cassel. The 2013 first-rounder EJ Manuel. The mobile pick-up Tyrod Taylor. Heck, even Matt Simms.
Buffalo has the most-wide open quarterback competition in the league. And Taylor—a dual-threat option—is the wild card of the bunch. The former Virginia Tech standout has thrown a whopping 35 passes in four years. So how has he developed behind the scenes? What kind of quarterback is he? Baltimore safety Terrence Brooks faced Taylor all of last season in practice, in addition to the quarterback’s banner 2010 season in college.
Brooks believes Taylor is ready to run the show as a No. 1.
“He’s a very versatile quarterback,” said Brooks. “The kid can run. He can definitely sling the ball around. He’s one of my favorite quarterbacks — I loved playing with Tyrod. He always gave us a good look. Whenever we faced a good running quarterback, he always got us prepared. Most of the time, he was doing it better than they did.”
Running the Ravens’ scout team through the 2014 season, Taylor mimicked the likes of Cam Newton, Andrew Luck and everyone in the AFC North.
Brooks is quick to say Taylor is more than a running quarterback.
Buffalo has been there, done that. J.P. Losman was the athletic, mobile, anti-Bledsoe out of Tulane and then struggled keeping his poise from the pocket.
“You can’t just limit him to that,” Brooks said. “Even passing, he’s got it all.
“He was definitely a guy who could’ve been a starter. But he was behind Joe Flacco, a really good guy, too. If we ever needed Tyrod, I was pretty sure he could step up to the job and do it.”
The Bills’ options this past off-season at quarterback were limited. They traded for Matt Cassel (due $4.15 million in 2015) and signed Taylor (three years, $3.35 million) to compete with Manuel. Unlike Taylor, Cassel does have game experience, albeit a 33-38 career record as a starter with only two solid seasons (2008 in New England and 2010 in Kansas City).
That being said, Cassel struggled through spring practices.
Is Taylor ready to elevate from handy scout-team quarterback to NFL starter?
“No one will really know until they give him a shot,” Brooks said. “That’s what he’s been working for — for a while — just to get that shot, to show everybody what he can do. What I remember from playing against him in college and the ACC Championship Game is he tore it up. I’m pretty sure he could do the same still.”
Brooks was on the field for that 2010 ACC Championship Game, a 44-33 Virginia Tech win over his Florida State team.
That game, Taylor completed 18 of 28 passes for 263 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions and another rushing touchdown. And that game, really, is the most recent extensive game footage there is of Taylor. He threw 24 touchdowns to only five picks his final year with the Hokies and was drafted in the sixth round by Baltimore.
Be it at Virginia Tech or Baltimore, Brooks says what makes Taylor different from other quarterbacks is that he “creates plays.”
“When things are broken down,” Brooks said, “he can move around with his feet and make things happen. And even if he can’t get anybody open, he’s still going to make a play with his feet. So he’s a guy you really have to watch out for and I’m pretty sure they’ll be happy to have him.”
Asked if he can still read a defense, Brooks adds “He’s a NFL quarterback so I’m pretty sure he’s got it in there somewhere.”
Head coach Rex Ryan and offensive coordinator Greg Roman have decided to bring a quarterback competition into camp, rather than declare one player The Guy. They'll be watching how Cassel, Taylor and Manuel can all read a defense closely, if they can make the necessary anticipatory throws.
Practices will resemble the stock market with the Bills simply hoping all four don’t crash.
After facing Taylor each day in Baltimore through 2014 — Taylor’s fourth season of waiting as a back-up — Brooks believes his former teammate will respond.
“Competition is what the league is made of,” Brooks said. “You have to go through that in whatever you do. He sees the opportunity in front of him, so I’m pretty sure he’s not going to let it go.”