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Mailbag / By Vic Carucci Manuel will have chance to start opener

You’ve got Bills questions/comments that you submit to me via Twitter, @viccarucci, and email, at I have answers.

Here’s what I have to say about what you have to say:

@0NickyFlash0: “You think Matt Cassel will start Week One, and if so what does that say about how they see EJ Manuel and his chance to get cut/traded etc.?”

I say: I’m not seeing Cassel as the Week One starter right now.

I wouldn’t rule it out, but I believe he was acquired mainly to provide the veteran backup quarterback the Bills lost when Kyle Orton suddenly retired the day after last season. After 10 years in the NFL, Cassel has reached the point of his career where his best contributions are made in spot duty, as someone who can finish a game or make a couple of starts here and there when the No. 1 quarterback is injured. He should not be counted on to handle the job for a prolonged stretch.

Cassel’s former team, the Minnesota Vikings, relegated him to that role behind Teddy Bridgewater, their first-round pick in 2014.

I think coach Rex Ryan and offensive coordinator Greg Roman are open-minded about Manuel. I think they’re being sincere when they say they aren’t ready to give up on him, as the previous coaching staff did four games into last season, and are giving him a legitimate opportunity to compete for the starting job.

Granted, the new coaching staff inherited Manuel, while Cassel and Tyrod Taylor are quarterbacks they brought into the fold. How much support Manuel will receive from General Manager Doug Whaley, who was a large part of making him a first-round draft pick in 2013, remains to be seen. So far, all of Whaley’s moves have been made in accordance with Ryan’s vision.

Now, it is up to Manuel to seize the chance to prove, perhaps once and for all, that he isn’t a bust. He must invest the considerable time and energy needed to understand the complexities and nuances of a new offensive scheme. He must fully buy in to the tutelage of quarterbacks coach David Lee, who has warned Manuel that he can’t afford to put anything – including his social life – ahead of studying the playbook.

If Cassel, or even Taylor, wins the starting job, I would expect the Bills to attempt to trade Manuel before cutting him. Either way, if he isn’t starting, I don’t expect him to be here this season.

@greggiemchabfan says: “What’s Fred Jackson’s future in light of addition of another RB through the draft? Training camp cut?”

I say: There’s no doubt that Jackson’s challenge to hang onto a roster spot became greater when the Bills made Karlos Williams a fifth-round choice from Florida State.

Running back wasn’t perceived as a glaring need for the Bills, on the assumption that they were pretty well set at the position with LeSean McCoy, Jackson, Anthony Dixon and Bryce Brown. The prevailing theory has been that the Bills wouldn’t have bothered to retain the 34-year-old Jackson – whose future with the team was at least momentarily in doubt in March – if they didn’t have a spot for him, and perhaps that’s still true.

But Williams’ presence could very well mean that Jackson is no different than Dixon and Brown in needing to make a convincing case through training camp and the preseason that he’s still worth keeping. The Bills’ brass likes the contributions Williams can make on special teams, and rookie running backs with fresh legs have a tendency to make a strong immediate impression in camp practices and exhibition games.

If there’s a chance of Jackson not ending up on the final 53-man roster, my sense is that he would be informed fairly early in camp so as to give him the optimum chance to go elsewhere (which seems unlikely) or retire (which is quite possible).

@lophus89 says: “Do you think the Bills will be more aggressive about running kickoffs out of the end zone this year?”

I say: Absolutely.

For one thing, that’s what their new return ace, Percy Harvin, does. And with good reason. He has incredible speed and elusiveness. He is more than capable of going the distance each time he touches the ball.

For another, Harvin is going to have the benefit of running behind some of the best blocking a kick returner can get as part of what last year ranked as one of the best special teams units in the NFL.

For yet another, Harvin is going to have a virtual constant green light to make returns from the end zone, because Ryan is willing to take those risks when he believes they have a good chance of paying off. And he has that sort of belief in Harvin.

Tony Blasio says: “I get that Rex Ryan and Dennis Thurman will be running multiple, hybrid fronts, and people get too caught up in whether it’s called a 4-3, 3-4, over/under, etc. But there still needs to be seven guys up front and I only count six starters: Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus, Jerry Hughes, Nigel Bradham and Preston Brown. So who’s the seventh guy? Jarius Wynn? Stefan Charles?”

I say: Those are solid candidates. Let’s throw Corbin Bryant in there as well.

The Bills will be using a 3-4 base defense, as they have since the beginning of offseason workouts. Given that Dareus will anchor the line at nose tackle and Kyle Williams will be at one of the end positions, that leaves Bryant, Wynn, and Charles competing to fill the other end spot. All are worthy candidates, bringing the proper combination of power and quickness that are vital for a 3-4 end.

The only question at linebacker – where former 4-3 ends Mario Williams and Hughes are working outside and Bradham and Brown are inside – is who will provide depth? Ty Powell, a standout on special teams, has caught the eye of the coaches and figures to be the leading candidate for a primary backup role. Sixth-round draft pick Tony Steward – whom Ryan knows well from watching him play at Clemson as a teammate of Ryan’s son, Seth – is also very much in the mix.

Brandon Spikes, who did a decent job with the Bills last season, is still available in free agency, but there’s no indication he will be coming back any time soon. It’s looking more and more as if any call he gets, whether from the Bills or another team, will be as an emergency fill-in because of injury.


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