The News will examine 10 questions facing the Buffalo Bills leading up to the start of training camp.
By Tyler Dunne
News Sports Reporter
The tone on the other end of the phone isn’t inspiring. Another quarterback derby awaits the Buffalo Bills this summer, this one between Matt Cassel, EJ Manuel, Tyrod Taylor and Matt Simms.
Asked to assess the Buffalo Bills’ current plight at the most important position in sports, one NFL personnel executive starts at the, um, top.
“Cassel’s Cassel,” the executive said. “He’s kind of proven he’s a No. 2 guy. Taylor, your guess is as good as anyone’s. He’s had some good moments in the preseason and some bad moments. Same with Simms, really. And I wasn’t overly impressed with Manuel when he was out there.
“It’s an interesting group because any of them could win it – which is rare.”
The Bills, by far, enter training camp with the most open quarterback competition in the NFL. And this one is different in that the team so unsettled under center harbors realistic playoff hopes. The Bills aren’t rebuilding. They landed Rex Ryan as head coach and shelled out millions of dollars for veterans.
Ryan takes over the NFL’s fourth-ranked defense. LeSean McCoy, widely considered a Top 3 running back, has arrived. And the Bills added more offensive firepower in tight end Charles Clay and slot receiver Percy Harvin. All that’s needed is a triggerman.
True, the Arizona Cardinals limped into the postseason with Ryan Lindley a year ago, but Carson Palmer gave the team a 6-0 headstart. Very rarely do NFL teams even make the playoffs with average quarterback play. This is a QB-driven game in every possible way.
In Buffalo’s best-case scenario, Cassel turns the clock back to 2008 or 2010, when he went 10-5 as the starter for two different teams. In 2008, he had 3,693 yards and 21 touchdowns in place of Tom Brady (torn ACL). In 2010, he took Kansas City to the playoffs with a 27-touchdown, seven-interception campaign.
Otherwise, he’s been a sloppy 13-28 starter. Cassel bottomed out badly in Kansas City, was so-so in Minnesota and was not sharp through Buffalo’s spring practices.
Asked if Cassel is finished as a starter, the executive said, “Sure, but he may be the best one they have. He’s had more success than the rest of them.”
Which was not General Manager Doug Whaley’s plan. By now, he surely expected the 2013 16th overall pick Manuel to have a firm hold on the job. Manuel was benched by head coach Doug Marrone after four games last season and is now starting all over with a new staff.
This personnel executive didn’t give Manuel a first-round grade, only saying they “had him on the draft board.” They liked some aspects of his game, but weren’t fans of his throwing motion.
For someone who is sculpted like a Greek Football God at 6-4, 237 pounds, the ball fluttered off his hand without much velocity.
“He’s not real accurate,” the executive said. “He has a weird, dart-throwing motion. For a big, strong-looking guy, he doesn’t throw the ball like one. … But sometimes it takes time. Sometimes, it’s tough when you’re thrown in there right away if you’re not Andrew Luck.”
Asked if Manuel’s problems were fixable, the exec wasn’t sure.
In camp, this new coaching staff will need to see if Manuel can make the anticipatory throws necessary to succeed in the NFL. He’ll certainly have the weapons.
Possibly the athletic Taylor shines in Greg Roman’s offense. He’s the closest there is to Colin Kaepernick, the one Roman had on the move often in San Francisco.
Buffalo’s challenge at the position is now two-fold – dividing reps amongst the four and then the four quarterbacks themselves gaining chemistry with receivers.
The more Buffalo shuffles, vacillates and shuffles some more, the more difficult it’ll be to get timing down.
The same question has lingered on since Buffalo moved camp from Fredonia to Pittsford in 2000: Is there enough at quarterback to reach the playoffs?
While he’s skeptical, this personnel executive believes so.
“I think they do,” he said. “They were playing with Kyle Orton last year, you know? Their defense is what’s going to do it for them and they’ve added some playmakers on offense. Sure, they have a good shot.”