The lone bit of intrigue left with the Buffalo Bills’ quarterback competition is what happens with Tyrod Taylor.
Is it really possible that the one contender for the starting job with no career NFL starts could come out on top against Matt Cassel, an 11th-year veteran who has started 71 games, and EJ Manuel, a third-year veteran who has started 14?
Is it really possible that Rex Ryan, riding atop a tidal wave of high expectations in his first season at the Bills’ helm, is going to toss the keys to the offense to someone who has thrown 35 passes in the last four years (including 29 in 2012) with no touchdowns and two interceptions?
Yes, but that has less to do with how well Taylor has performed than it does with the fact none of the three succeeded in gaining an edge during offseason practices.
Ryan acknowledged as much when he said “there’s not going to be any separation until the pads come on … until we get to playing real football.”
That will happen at some point after the Bills open training camp on July 31 at St. John Fisher College.
For now, judgements are limited to how all three quarterbacks performed during non-contact workouts in helmets, jerseys, and shorts – the NFL’s version of faux football – and in the meeting room, and in how they generally carried themselves through the past few months of offseason training.
How did they lead? How did the other players on offense respond to each of them?
It would be easy to assume that the Bills’ No. 1 quarterback job is actually a two-man battle between Cassel and Manuel because they have the starting experience Taylor lacks.
It would also be incorrect.
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman “has done a good job of splitting reps, giving us all equal reps and giving us all opportunities to work with the ones, twos, threes,” Taylor said during the Bills’ May 16-18 mandatory minicamp. “All of us have worked with each group an equal amount of time. That’s all I could ask for.”
Taylor has something else going for him. He was Ryan’s hand-picked addition to the team. Ryan certainly had a say in the Bills’ acquisition of Cassel via a trade with the Minnesota Vikings.
But Ryan had been tracking Taylor much longer and with greater enthusiasm. When Taylor was Joe Flacco’s backup on the Baltimore Ravens and Ryan was coach of the New York Jets, Ryan wanted to add him to the Jets’ quarterback mix that remains unsettled. Ryan loves Taylor’s speed, calling him the fastest quarterback in the NFL. He also thinks Taylor’s passing skills make him a worthy contender.
Taylor has a mixed review of his work through the offseason. At times, he was happy with his decision-making and passing and ability to move the offense. At times, he wasn’t, noting there were areas that he and the entire offense could improve.
But there is a steep learning curve for all of the quarterbacks, as well as for the supporting cast, and progress will likely be incremental.
“I think it comes with just building trust in the receivers, knowing the type of guys you have around you, just knowing the type of playmakers that you have around you,” Taylor said. “It’s my job to get the ball to them. We have a bunch of speed on the outside, a bunch of guys that can get the ball and do very well in the space, so it’s my job to get the ball to them as quickly as possible. And that’s mainly what I’m trusting when I go out there.”
Still, Taylor said it was reasonable to think that, through the mandatory minicamp, the veteran players on offense should have had decent grasp on what they were doing.
“The little things and the details,” the coaches “shouldn’t have to keep reminding us,” he said. “There’s definitely a certain expectation of the things they want us to know and things that we should have covered. We shouldn’t be back to Day One as if we first walked in. We’ve been getting a bunch of reps in this offense now. And some of this stuff, we should be able to go out there and correct on our own.”
Even if Taylor doesn’t win the starting job, there is reason to believe he would have a decent chance to stick as a backup because his exceptional mobility sets him apart from all of the Bills’ other quarterbacks – including fourth-stringer Matt Simms – and provides a change-up that opponents might not be readily able to handle.
Taylor doesn’t concern himself with speculation about what role he might fill. That’s for someone else to determine.
His focus is on maximizing every chance he gets to impress Ryan, Roman, and quarterbacks coach David Lee.
“We’re out there pushing each other,” Taylor said. “We’re looking to get better each and every day, and that’s all the coaches are asking for right now.”