The Buffalo Bills are one play, one decision away from EJ Manuel taking over as quarterback again.
With Matt Cassel traded to the Dallas Cowboys on Tuesday, the 2013 first-round pick is now the No. 2 quarterback behind Tyrod Taylor. It’s been a wild swing of emotions for Manuel from competing for the No. 1 job, to getting the scraps at training camp to seeing Cassel cut, Cassel signed and Cassel traded.
All along, Manuel’s tone publicly hasn’t changed at all. So it didn’t Wednesday, either.
“Obviously, I’m in the second position now,” Manuel said on Wednesday, “so I know I’m one play away from getting back on the field. I’ll obviously do my job as a backup right now and be prepared and ready to go if my number gets called any of these Sundays.”
Much of August, it appeared Manuel’s time in Buffalo was running out. Coaches gave Taylor and Cassel the majority of the first-team reps as Manuel struggled. But when the lights came on in the exhibition games, Manuel excelled. He had a game-winning drive in Cleveland and then got extensive action in the Bills’ third exhibition game. Against Pittsburgh, he completed 7 of 8 passes for 170 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Of course, Manuel has also had the steadfast support of General Manager Doug Whaley.
So when the Cowboys contacted Buffalo about Cassel, the Bills listened.
This despite the fact that Cassel seemed to have the support of coaches. Quarterbacks coach David Lee called Cassel the “glue” of the quarterback room two weeks ago, adding “I’ve never been around one that good. Chad Pennington was really good with the other quarterbacks, but this guy is really, really good.”
The veteran presence behind Taylor is now gone, replaced by a familiar face. Manuel has completed 58.6 percent of his passes for 2,810 yards, 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in his career.
He said he learned a lot from Cassel and that he’d be missed in the room.
Coach Rex Ryan says trading Cassel is directly related to Manuel’s progress. So now, he’s next in line.
“It feels great,” Manuel said. “Like I have been saying since the preseason, I felt like I did what I was supposed to do as far as showing what I can do, and showing my growth as a quarterback.
“They believe in me and that is all I need to hear from management. As long as those guys have confidence in me, I have confidence in myself, and Tyrod is still starting, he is still going to be out there on Sundays. My job is just to be ready to go if something happens to him.”
Taking Cassel’s spot on the 53-man roster is safety Jonathan Meeks, promoted from the practice squad. With Aaron Williams (neck) still sore and recovering, Meeks provides more depth to the secondary.
Corey Graham and Bacarri Rambo would presumably start. And Meeks could make the active roster. In the team’s 40-32 loss to New England, Duke Williams was in the wrong position on a 2-yard touchdown strike to Rob Gronkowski.
The Bills also have a new No. 3 quarterback, signing former West Texas A&M record-setter Dustin Vaughan to the practice squad. The 6-foot-5, 220-pounder spent his 2014 season the Cowboys’ 53-man roster but didn’t see any action on the field.
At Division-II West Texas A&M, Vaughan had a DII-record 5,401 passing yards and 53 touchdowns as a senior.
Meanwhile, at practice, both wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (ribs) and linebacker Tony Steward (knee) returned. The two suffered their injuries against Pittsburgh in August.
Williams (neck) was out and not seen at practice. Meanwhile, the team rested both Percy Harvin (hip) and LeSean McCoy (hamstring).