PITTSFORD – Terry Pegula had never set foot in an NFL training camp before Friday. “Not even as a fan,” he said.
But as owner of the Buffalo Bills, he was among the more interested observers of the first practice of their 16th camp at St. John Fisher College.
Standing on the sidelines at midfield, Pegula took in pretty much all of the action, although like the majority of fans and media in attendance, he paid particularly close attention to the performance of the three quarterbacks vying for the starting job: Matt Cassel, EJ Manuel, and Tyrod Taylor.
Unlike the rest of us, however, Pegula is not fretting over the mostly poor showings they had during six offseason practices that were open to the media or, for that matter, their continued struggles on Friday.
“Without telling any secrets, which I’m not going to, I think there’s a lot better feeling about our quarterback situation in the locker room than there is in the general public,” Pegula said. “You’ll have to figure out who they are, but it’s not a distressed situation. I mean, there’s a good feeling about the guys we’ve got throwing the ball.”
For Pegula and others on the inside, perhaps. However, to the naked eye, it has been hard to see on the field.
On Friday, Cassel, Manuel and Taylor took turns with various levels of shakiness. Manuel had trouble hanging onto a snap and with his footwork. He also seemed to have huge accuracy issues.
Cassel threw an interception on his only long throw, while Taylor connected for a touchdown, but was generally forced to do a whole lot of running and would have been sacked twice had defenders been able to hit.
Coach Rex Ryan laughed at a reporter’s question about how the quarterbacks stood after one practice.
“However you rank them,” he said. “Because that’s pretty much it. I mean, we’ve got a long way to go. This obviously is just the start of everything. Every day you’re evaluating and things like that, but I’m not ready to say, ‘This guy’s in this spot or whatever.’ ”
The quarterbacks seem fine with that, at least outwardly.
They all say the right things when it comes to having a legitimate opportunity to win the job and not feeling tremendous pressure, even though they are being highly scrutinized on every throw.
“Well, of course, you have to have a sense of urgency, especially at our position,” Cassel said. “I think every time you go out there, you’re trying to prove that you’re the guy and also that you’re prepared, you’re ready to go. But I think at the same time, you have to go out with an understanding that you can’t put too much pressure on yourself or you’ll take away from what you’re trying to get done.”
All three also insist they aren’t bothered by the criticism of their offseason work and the widely held notion that none of them has come close to separating himself from the rest.
“You know, it doesn’t really bother me,” Cassel said. “At the same time, I think that, if you use it as motivation to go out there and try to prove that you are the guy, and it starts now, I think that’s a good way to go about it. Everybody has an opinion and I’ve been around long enough to understand that there are going to be good opinions, bad opinions. From one week to the next, those opinions might change, so it’s our job to go out there as quarterbacks and focus on the task at hand and not buy in too much to all the noise that’s going on the outside as it surrounds this team and go out and play football.”
Said Taylor, “At the end of the day, the coaches make the decisions. People can watch practice, but they’re not at every practice and they don’t see every play, so it’s up to the coaches. We have conversations with the coaches. They gave us their feedback, but what people say never really turns me one way or another. It’s more so what my coach thinks and how he feels.”