Wednesday was the first day that Bills head coach Doug Marrone watched his starting quarterback in the full practice setting since he sustained an LCL knee injury in Week 5. Though EJ Manuel was able to practice fully, Marrone wants to see more before cementing him as the starting quarterback Sunday.
"We had both quarterbacks taking snaps," said Marrone in reference to Manuel and Thad Lewis, who also returned from injury Wednesday. "I feel good. Both guys have been out for a while so there's a little bit of rust that they're working through. I'm just going to keep it going during the week and I think that we'll see where we go as far as who the starter is.
"EJ is obviously taking more reps than Thad right now. I just want to make sure I feel comfortable before I come out with a statement. But right now we're working with both of those guys."
Lewis did not practice at all last week after suffering badly bruised ribs in Week 8 at New Orleans, but he too was a full participant in practice and worked through as the backup quarterback behind Manuel in the rotation.
Manuel maintained that he was not restricted in any way in practice coming off the injury.
"It felt pretty good," he said. "I was able to get out there and get with the ones on a lot of reps. It felt good overall. I definitely feel like I can go. That's still up to coach Marrone as far as what we do as a team, but I definitely feel confident going into Sunday."
"He wasn't limping or anything," said Marrone. "From a standpoint of being healthy he's fine, now it's just a point of trying to get him back. Last week we did a good job of getting him out there and working, same with Thad."
If Manuel does in fact get the go ahead to start Sunday he will have returned ahead of schedule for the second time this season. Initially it was thought that the team's Week 11 game against the Jets would be the first realistic shot to return to the lineup. Manuel returned from a left knee injury in the preseason in time to play in the season opener. While Marrone credited Manuel's hard work in returning to the practice field, the quarterback credited the athletic training staff.
"They try to make it as close as it would be in the real game," said Marrone of his rehab regimen. "So I feel very confident on my knee moving around. Obviously I wouldn't do anything if I didn't. So that's the biggest thing feeling confident on it and making plays and throws."
Marrone doesn't have any doubt that Manuel is capable of making things happen offensively, but knowing he's missed time on the field he wants to be certain his rookie signal caller is as sharp as he needs to be going against a Pittsburgh defense that can make life difficult for inexperienced quarterbacks.
"Obviously the expectation if he's out there is for us to win," Marrone said. "I think that what we have to be able to understand is here is a rookie quarterback that missed some time in the preseason and then has missed another four weeks. So we have to do the best job we can to make sure that he's ready. But our expectation is if we put him out there, we're putting him out there to win.
"I just want to make sure that in my mind that once the plan is in and he's doing all the things that we need to do to win, then you can say, 'Yep, go ahead and do it.'"
For Manuel there is zero doubt, despite the layoff, that he'll be able to execute on Sunday.
"I definitely expect to just go back in and make plays," he said. "That's it."