Nobody should ever accuse EJ Manuel of being a pessimist.
Despite some up-and-down performances during training camp and the Buffalo Bills' first preseason game, the second-year quarterback's glass-half-full attitude has never wavered.
"I don’t really have any concerns. I’m just going along with training camp and how it’s going. I’m happy with the development of our offense and the defense is doing a great job as well," Manuel said this week. "They’re continuing to get better and develop every day. I don’t really have any concerns as far as negativity."
Whether Manuel wants to admit it, though, the starting offense has had its issues. The offensive line is unsettled, with rookie seventh-round draft pick Seantrel Henderson at left tackle in place of Cordy Glenn, who's out with a mystery illness. Second-round draft pick Cyrus Kouandjio has never mounted a serious challenge to unseat right tackle Erik Pears. The team has tried just about everyone at right guard, a sign they're less than enthused with the performance of Kraig Urbik.
Manuel, though, is the one player who is under the brightest spotlight. There have been issues with accuracy during camp, and his tendency to tuck the ball and run -- even in 7-on-7 drills -- has not been encouraging.
To hear him say the starters on offense did a good job in the preseason opener against the Giants after producing 27 yards in 12 plays and just three points despite starting a drive at the New York 22-yard line is nonsensical.
That's why the Bills need to play Manuel more tonight -- as in, into the second quarter at a minimum. The offense could use some confidence -- even if Manuel insists everything is going well.
"I just want to score, that’s the big thing for me. I just want to go out there and get our first touchdown under our belt, not just a field goal," he said. "I know it’s not going to be very long that we’re playing, but obviously we still want to go out there and win as a team. So that’s my biggest goal for the offense. We want to go out there and score and if we can get a couple more series in, that’s great, but I definitely want to go out there and score before we’re done."
Manuel said he's anxious to play more, but will understand the decision if the starters exit early again.
"I think the more at bats you get, especially in live action, is always good," he said. "At the same time, you can’t allow your competitive spirit to overtake you because you still have to be smart. It’s still the preseason and things like that.
"You want to especially be ready for when those regular season games count. Not that we’re taking these games lightly. We still want to win the game. If they’re going to take the score, we want to win. I would love to have more than 10 plays in a series or two series but sometimes that’s how it plays out and that’s how it played out last weekend. So, we’ll see how it goes."
The only argument against playing Manuel is protecting him from the risk of injury. But that risk is the same on every single snap.
For an established quarterback, it makes sense to limit their snaps in the preseason. Manuel isn't there yet.
Here's what Marrone had to say this week in terms of what he'd like to see from the starting offense:
"I think the thing I’m looking for is not to turn the ball over. I look at penalties, I look at making sure we score when we have the opportunities and to score more points than the opposing team, no matter who is in there. ... The goal is if you’re going to play a game, your goal is to win the game. There are other things that are coming into play with the schematics. Obviously, we’re not game planning quite a bit, but we have enough in to win. For me, I want to make sure we know what we’re doing, we’re lining up and then we’re watching guys to go out there and play. We’re making sure, at the end of the day, that we can figure out and come to a conclusion of who the best players are to make this roster."