About an hour prior to veteran QB Kyle Orton announcing his retirement, EJ Manuel was asked what he feels his role is on Buffalo's roster moving forward. His answer was succinct and proved to be prophetic in light of Orton's decision later that morning.
"I still think I'm a major factor on this team as far as the offense and as far as leadership so we'll see," Manuel said.
Bills GM Doug Whaley did confirm that with Orton no longer in the picture the club will add one, maybe two quarterbacks to the roster. Right now however, Manuel is the best option the Bills have at the quarterback position.
Yes, Manuel was relegated to backup duty in Week 5 after the production on the field was not putting the Bills in a position to win. What we've learned is it may have very well been the best thing that could've happened for Manuel's development as a quarterback.
For the better part of the last three months Manuel has been allowed to focus more on his personal game within the scope of Buffalo's offense without having to be in charge of all the responsibilities of running the offense at a high rate of efficiency. That job fell to Kyle Orton.
That also allowed Manuel to learn from a veteran how to study an opponent and master a game plan during the week in preparation to play at one's best on Sunday.
"Just the film study during the week, compartmentalizing the thing and not wasting any time in the film room," Manuel said. "A lot of times you get caught up watching things in the film room that may not necessarily be important to your game plan. I think that's one of the things I learned from him."
Working on his game on the practice field, and spending additional time after practice with quarterbacks coach Todd Downing and some receivers has also helped him improve in some needed areas.
"I think that his accuracy has gotten better. I thought his decision making on where to go with the ball has gotten better from a standpoint of where he was in practice and what we were looking for him to do and taking reps against our defense," said Doug Marrone. "In saying that, you can see improvement in that part of the game, you still have to be able to do that when you get on the field. Having that now and having the off season to prepare himself to compete, I think we'll know more (about how far he could take us) when that time comes."
"In my opinion, talking to EJ, it's been a beneficial step in his career because he was able to take a deep breath, decompress, and see how someone else does it. A guy that's been in the league for a while and has some success," said Whaley. "I think he picked up some nuances that he can incorporate into his game and hopefully get him to where we want him to be, where he wants him to be and that's a starting quarterback that can produce at a high level in this league. We can see progress, but until the lights go on next year and (we) have him play, like coach says, you really won't know for sure."
Buffalo's offensive staff made sure to get Manuel more reps in the practice setting by having him run the scout team exclusively the last few weeks of the season. Facing the Bills' highly ranked defense only served as quality competition for Manuel to keep his game sharp despite being in a backup role.
"For me being that I've been doing scout team the past couple of weeks that really allowed me to just be myself and go out and play and not worry about footwork or worry about being robotic," said Manuel. "Just playing football and truly enjoying it and having fun and being ready for the opportunity."
Knowing the greatest asset to Manuel's game is his rare physical ability, his looser and freer approach to the game should benefit his development. It's certainly helped his confidence.
"I think the work that I've put in during practice and after practice, during the weeks the past 12 weeks have definitely been something I've taken advantage of," he said. "I'm looking forward to getting to the offseason and moving forward that way."
Where Manuel appears to have gained the most respect among his teammates was in his professional handling of his demotion to the backup quarterback role after four games.
"I think my teammates in the long run will respect how I handled that situation," he said. "Guys have told me that they've seen improvements in my game. Anytime I'm hearing that from my teammates it goes a long way for me."
With Orton no longer a part of the equation the road map for Buffalo's plans at quarterback are sure to have some twists and turns in the offseason. Manuel, much like he did beginning in Week 5, is choosing to focus on his game. Whoever joins the roster and enters the competition between now and OTAs in May, is immaterial as far as he's concerned.
That's why his goals this offseason are simple.
"Just be ready to compete. I'm not sure how it's going to play out as far as the offseason," he said. "Whatever quarterbacks they bring in or whatever quarterbacks we have here, just be ready to compete and try to help make this team better."
A look at QB EJ Manuel's arrival at One Bills Drive in Orchard Park, NY, as the Buffalo Bills first round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.