As the players returned to One Bills Drive this week to begin their offseason conditioning program, there was no work on the field for the team in terms of real football. But what QB EJ Manuel has done this offseason on his own however, has the entire offensive unit convinced he's going to be markedly improved this coming season.
"I didn't really have a true offseason necessarily. I might have took one week after I left Buffalo to hang out with my family but after that it was pretty much just getting myself back healthy and also still getting smarter," Manuel said.
Manuel has also been able to get together with a few of his teammates in California and Miami in order to stay familiar with each other and continue to improve. One of those teammates, WR Stevie Johnson, has noted Manuel's improvement just based on those workouts during the offseason.
"The ball was on point," Johnson said. "The thing that got me was the attitude, the mindset. He was more talkative with what he wanted done. And it felt good because that's what you want out of your quarterback. And I appreciate that out of him, telling me what he wanted."
The commitment to improving has not gone unnoticed by head coach Doug Marrone and the rest of the coaching staff either.
"I think it's good. I give them credit, the players for getting together and trying to get better. I think it shows the commitment they have to getting us back to where we want to be," Marrone said.
But the most important part of improving for Manuel has taken place in the film room and in front of his playbook. After a rookie season having to pick up offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett's system on-the-fly, Manuel has now been able to dedicate a full four months and counting to mastering the offense since.
"Because I've been doing so much studying, I feel like I can pretty much go out and call whatever I want to call," Manuel said. "We were playing around with audibles and changing up some of our verbiage and stuff like that to work on in the OTA's when we get back out on the practice field."
Running back C.J. Spiller was one of the players who got together with Manuel in California, and has also seen improvements in his game. Spiller and fellow RB Fred Jackson combined to carry most of the offensive load during Manuel's rookie campaign, but with more experience combined with the addition of Mike Williams at wide receiver Manuel will likely see an expanded role in the passing game in 2014.
"You could see he had more zip on the ball," Spiller said. "You could definitely tell he was ready to take that next step in becoming a leader with this team and I'm looking forward to it. Injuries played a big part in lessening his development, but he is past that now and ready to get back to work."
To continue to improve on his mechanics and reads, Manuel also went to work out with Steve Calhoun, a quarterbacks coach in California. He has actually been working with Calhoun since his junior year at Florida State, and has continued that relationship through this offseason.
"He's helped me out a lot, especially with the footwork. After my knees healed up you had to kind of get back in to the actual movements you would do in a game so he helped me out a lot."
One of the most crucial transitions a player in the NFL can make during a quarterback's second year in the league. Because of the promise Manuel has shown in his rookie year combined with the apparent dedication to his craft, there is no reason to think that he will not be able to make the leap forward that his teammates and coaches expect him to make in 2014.