Head coach Doug Marrone walked into the team meeting room Wednesday morning and made the situation at quarterback for Sunday’s game clear. The line delivered to his players?
“It could be anybody this week, we don't know.”
Buffalo’s quarterback carousel began spinning early in training camp due to injury and it hasn’t stopped since. Entering a big Week 9 contest against the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs, the possibility exists for Buffalo to start their third different quarterback this season.
Thad Lewis was unable to practice Wednesday due to sore ribs and a bout with the stomach flu. Head coach Doug Marrone said Lewis’ injured ribs were a result of the cumulative effects of several hard hits, the most notable being the one on the first play from scrimmage against New Orleans last Sunday that left him down on the field for several minutes. Lewis, to his credit, fininshed the game.
“The X-rays came back negative so it’s just more where the doctors call it a contusion and in layman’s terms I call it sore,” said Marrone.
Marrone said that Lewis’ chances of practicing Thursday are “50-50.”
Taking reps in Lewis’ absence Wednesday were both Tuel and Flynn, who each saw some first team snaps in practice. Tuel has served as the backup to Lewis each of the past three games.
Ideally Marrone and his offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett would prefer to focus on getting one signal caller ready to play, but at this point the staff is trying to get a handle on every available option they have.
“We’re working them rep by rep, just trying to figure it out,” said Marrone. “It’s challenging. It’s difficult.”
EJ Manuel returned to practice for the first time in three weeks, but has not been medically cleared to play so he is not part of the decision making process for Sunday. Marrone would prefer to start Lewis, but his status is very much up in the air at this point.
Lewis’ situation has given way to what is essentially a two-man competition between Tuel and Flynn. Marrone’s familiarity with Tuel could be the deciding factor.
“I don’t know right now,” admitted Marrone. “I want to see where Thad is first. I’ve got (Thursday) to really look at that. That’s the way I’m looking at it. I feel better about Jeff right now because I know Jeff. That’s not to say that Matt’s not good enough. I just haven’t seen enough of Matt to really say it’s a competition yet.”
Still, knowing Flynn got some of the first team reps Wednesday is indication that Marrone is at least considering Flynn for the starting job if Lewis is unable to go Sunday.
“Those were my first (team) reps since I’ve been here,” said Flynn. “It was good to get out there and be able to call the play and go through the mechanics of everything. The plays we’re running are the same stuff you’ve done everywhere. Everyone has the same concepts. It’s just a matter of getting the operation down, getting the communication down with the line, letting them hear your voice and things like that.”
More than once this season Tuel has been in this situation where he could possibly make his first NFL start. The first instance was leading up to the regular season opener when it was unclear if Manuel would recover from a preseason knee injury in time to play. Manuel did recover in time to play against New England.
After Manuel suffered another knee injury in Week 5, it was thought that Tuel could again be the next man in, but the Bills promoted Thad Lewis from the practice squad and he’s started the last three games. None of those events however, have affected Tuel’s approach.
"I've been going through the process since training camp with Kevin (Kolb) going down and EJ's a little dinged. So honestly I've been thrown into situations even if it wasn't in a game since I got here. So I'm not going to change anything. I'm going to prepare the same way,” Tuel said. “If I was the number four quarterback I'm going to prepare like I'm the number one. I've got nothing to change so I'm going to prepare like I'm the number one."
Outside observers might think that Marrone’s confidence in Tuel may not be high knowing he leapfrogged a practice squad quarterback over him to start. However, Buffalo’s head coach sounded impressed with the improvements that Tuel has made in his game since the start of the regular season.
“I feel better I really thought last week that he had an outstanding week of practice,” said Marrone. “He really did. He threw the ball better than I’ve ever seen him throw the ball. He was really on target accuracy-wise. I was very pleased with the way he was practicing last week.
“Really Matt I can’t speak a lot about Matt because (Wednesday) was really the first time I saw a couple of plays and I’ve got to see more.”
Whether there's enough time or enough reps to do so remains to be seen this week.