He didn't deny that he was pleased about getting the starting nod for the Bills all-important third preseason game against Pittsburgh Saturday from head coach Rex Ryan. When asked about the added pressure or what he has to accomplish in this weekend's last dress rehearsal for the starters however, EJ Manuel kept it simple.
"I'm just excited to get the chance to go out there with the ones and start off the game however long I play," Manuel said. "I just want to do a solid job like I've been doing the last couple of weeks and just run our offense. That's what I want to do."
To Manuel's credit, as well as Matt Cassel and Tyrod Taylor, they've operated in this uncommon three-man quarterback competition with nothing but class showing mutual respect for the other candidates. They've assumed nothing and expected nothing and it has benefited all three signal callers.
As strange as it sounds the biggest beneficiary might be Manuel.
That benefit certainly has not been in terms of snaps in practice. It's been widely and accurately reported that the third-year QB has not had as many reps with the first team offense through the course of training camp as Cassel or Taylor.
The veteran Cassel was viewed as the favorite to win the job at the outset based on experience, and had a solid outing in the preseason opener. Taylor was a true dual threat quarterback with a rocket arm and legs to match and has played admirably through the first two preseason games.
What all the attention paid to Cassel and Taylor did was take all the pressure off of Manuel, who has experienced nothing but pressure since the Bills made him a first-round pick in 2013. As a result Manuel's greatest asset, his physical ability, has been able to emerge on the field.
Nowhere was it more apparent than at the end of the Cleveland game when he capped a 12-play 86-yard scoring drive with a 14-yard touchdown pass to undrafted rookie Andre Davis, and then followed with a strike to undrafted rookie RB Bronson Hill for a successful two-point conversion, which delivered the game-winning points with 1:31 left on the clock.
"I know for me it just gave me more confidence knowing I can go out here and make plays," said Manuel of the finish against the Browns. "I've led two minute drives before. I've been a part of them before. I was just excited to have the opportunity. We had a great drive. A bunch of guys did some great things and we were able to get our team the victory."
Ryan admitted that Manuel's performance in the Cleveland game influenced his decision to start him against Pittsburgh along with his belief that Manuel's start in the scrimmage wasn't a true starting opportunity.
"EJ has always gotten reps with the threes and twos and now it's his shot to get reps with the ones as well," said Ryan. "I feel good about that."
Cassel and Taylor will also get time with the first team offense and Ryan said the starters will play the first half and probably just one series to start the second half. So in reality Manuel's time with the first unit could be just a few series.
Manuel hasn't concerned himself with the time that he gets since training camp opened. That's out of his control. Instead he's concentrated on the same thing since day one of the competition.
"My focus is just to go out there and do my best," said Manuel. "I think if I thought about anything else I'd be adding pressure on myself and I don't want to do that. So just go out there and play the game however I long I play. Just do my best and just let it fly like I've been doing these past couple of weeks."