The Buffalo Bills' less-than-epic, three-way quarterback battle will remain wide open to enter training camp.
Bills coach Chan Gailey made that clear as the team ended its minicamp Friday in Orchard Park.
Gailey said he has a pecking order in mind for who will be the No. 1 among Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Brohm when camp starts July 29 at St. John Fisher College. But Gailey said he does not plan to tell the players until they come back to town for camp. And he said it won't matter too much who starts out No. 1, anyway.
Said Gailey: "We have three guys. They got pretty much equal reps during (organized team activities) and minicamps. We'll go to camp. We'll have a pecking order but nothing's in concrete. Everybody's still gonna have a chance to win the job."
Asked why he plans to wait until camp to tell the players his decision, Gailey said: "Well, it's still open. Don't read too much into who takes the first snap and who takes the second snap and who takes the third snap [in training camp]. Don't read too much into that. It's close."
Edwards-Fitzpatrick-Brohm doesn't exactly have Bills fans on the edge of their seats, like the Flutie-Johnson debate of a decade ago. Part of the reason is expectations are so low heading into 2010. Part is because all three of this year's contenders have yet to grab the quarterback position by the lapels to this point in their careers.
Edwards arguably is the favorite to win the job because he is the biggest, has the best arm and has the most wins in his career (he's 14-16 as a starter). However, he hasn't stayed healthy enough and was supplanted as the starter by Fitzpatrick last year. Fitzpatrick, 8-14 as a starter, has played on three teams in six years. His best strength is knowing quickly where to go with the ball. Brohm was discarded by Green Bay despite being a second-round draft pick. His arm can't match that of Edwards but he has uncommon accuracy and had the best college success of the three.
All three have shown enough thus far to lead the Bills' brass to conclude at least one of them might be able to thrive in Gailey's new offense.
For the record, Edwards took the first snap of full-squad practices in May and the first snap at the three-day mandatory minicamp this week. Over the past three days of mandatory practices, there essentially were 17 distinct "periods." Edwards took the first series of plays in eight, Fitzpatrick seven and Brohm two. (Rookie Levi Brown got limited snaps as the fourth man in the rotation.)
Gailey pooh-poohed any significance. "He [Edwards] must have needed to make up some, numbers-wise, from a few days before then," Gailey said.
Media were allowed to watch eight of 20 practice days this spring. Brohm didn't seem to start off great but looked like he improved as workouts went along. His accuracy in the red zone was good the past week.
"You know the last two weeks, he's made a jump in my opinion," Gailey agreed. "I thought he practiced well. We'll have to see how it progresses once we get pads on and all that."
The Bills have a tough early schedule, a very young offensive line and an entirely new offensive system, which doesn't usually translate into a fast start. Whoever wins the No. 1 job to open the season may have a tough time hanging onto it.
Here are other observations on the Bills as spring work concluded:
The good news on the offensive line is the health of two key starters. Guard Eric Wood, coming off a broken leg, practiced two of the final three days. Left tackle Demetrius Bell was held out of practice but looks good.
"I think he's ahead of schedule," Gailey said of Bell. "At one time it was a question of whether he would make the first of training camp. I think now there's no question he'll make the first of training camp."
* The left tackle position is extremely green and remains a big worry. Bell has eight starts. Behind him are Jamon Meredith (four starts), rookie Ed Wang and Nick Hennessey, who spent last year on the practice squad.
"If they can play it doesn't bother me," Gailey said. "If they can't play it bothers me. The bottom line is can they play or can they not play? There's a bunch of good rookies and first-year and second-year guys playing today. Age doesn't bother me. We'll play the best guys."
* The receiving corps is wide open as well, behind No. 1 man Lee Evans. It seems clear Roscoe Parrish will get a much better chance to contribute than he did last year, especially from the slot. But beyond that?
James Hardy's snaps this spring were limited due to an offseason procedure on his groin. "He told me he felt a lot better these last two weeks than he had the first few practices," Gailey said.
Steve Johnson got a lot of work with the starters Wednesday and Thursday and looked pretty good. Fourth-round draft pick Marcus Easley had a good spring and showed deceptive speed. Those two should give Hardy tough competition for prime repetitions with the starters in camp. Undrafted rookie David Nelson, the 6-foot-5 wideout from Florida, got quality snaps this spring and brings size to the slot. We'll see if fleet veteran Chad Jackson can make an impact in preseason. Local favorite Naaman Roosevelt and rookie David Jones, a good blocker, didn't look out of place. Roosevelt showed good hands. If he keeps it up, he's got a good shot at the practice squad, at least.
"It's really wide open," Gailey said. "I hate to put numbers on 'em. Y'all put numbers on 'em. I hate to put numbers on 'em. We're going to probably have five that we keep [active] on game day. And all five have gotta be a big part of what we're doing."
Marshawn Lynch was third in the running back rotation, which was no surprise since he skipped most of the voluntary workouts. But he looked explosive when he got the ball. "I don't think he's caught up," Gailey said. "You can't miss that much and be caught up. But he seems to be a fairly quick study."
* Newly acquired linebacker Reggie Torbor shared snaps with the first team at outside linebacker. His presence should serve to push Aaron Maybin in camp.
* The Bills are a lot bigger in the defensive front seven than at any time the past four seasons. The defensive secondary is the strength of the team. The cornerback crop is deep, and the safeties are versatile.
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The Bills released rookie safety Brett Johnson.