Bills head coach Rex Ryan said in the early stages of offseason field work the rotation at quarterback would be as equal as they could make it. On day one of the veteran voluntary minicamp that proved to be the case for the most part.
"They all got reps," said Ryan. "(Jeff) Tuel is probably the only one, he probably got a little bit shortchanged, but he did get a number of reps as well. But the top three were getting the exact same number of reps. Jeff (Tuel), he got plenty of reps, but it wasn't the exact number those guys had.
"We're definitely trying to get everybody in there, all the reps, everybody treated similarly. We want to see what everybody can do, not just one or two guys. That's not just for the quarterbacks that's for every position."
For free agent signee Tyrod Taylor this is the best opportunity to compete for the starting job in his career having been behind Baltimore starter Joe Flacco on the depth chart the last few years.
"Just trying to come in and compete," Taylor said. "Everyone is splitting reps. It's our job to go out there and control the offense and show that we can be a leader and let the coaches decide who is the best man for the job. For me my job is to go out there and control the team and take command every time I'm under center and move the ball up and down the field."
It's a new beginning for EJ Manuel with a new staff and a new scheme. He and the other quarterbacks have been hard at work in the classroom mastering offensive coordinator Greg Roman's system so they're ready to execute it now that they're on the practice field with their teammates.
"I'm very excited mainly because it's a fresh start as far as learning a new offense and we can hit the ground running," said Manuel. "(Quarterbacks) coach David Lee has done a great job making sure we know what we're doing and knowing our protections and all that stuff. Coach Roman is doing a great job and today was basic install day one, but as we go forward we're catching on to it pretty fast."
Ryan wasn't shy in sharing who left a good first impression in day one of what will be three days of practice sessions this week leading up to the draft.
"The thing I noticed with (Matt) Cassel, the ball comes out in rhythm, it's here, boom, boom, boom, hitting it," said Ryan. "EJ was impressive to me today. I'd still like to see it speed up just a tad, but he was impressive. Tyrod made some huge plays today. He throws a deep ball extremely well. You put him on the move he's a dangerous weapon out there. Tuel wasn't as impressive. There are a couple of things he's got to get a little better at, but overall, I was impressed with the group."
There's little question that with all that Cassel has seen in his 10 seasons in the NFL that he has a leg up going in with no quarterback having any prior experience with Roman's offensive system. Ryan admitted he saw that experience on display Tuesday.
"With Cassel you see it," said Ryan. "Even in drills. You're running out routes, bam, the ball is out there on time. It's one of those things. When EJ sees it, he thinks, 'OK, let me deliver it right here, before he hits that break.' That's when the ball needs to come out. I was impressed through, especially mentally, I was impressed with all of them."
What left Ryan most encouraged about Manuel's play was his ability to scan the whole field. He referenced a specific play in practice Tuesday when he saw one receiver open, but still scanned the whole field and found a better option on a "great throw" down the field.
"Clearly, to me, it shows he can see the field. That's impressive to me," Ryan said. "There was no question about it mentally. He was sharp. That part I was impressed with with EJ."
Though the playing part of the quarterback competition began Tuesday, Manuel felt the competition began when the signal callers picked up their playbooks. He believes it's almost a race to learn the offense as well as their offensive coordinator.
And for Manuel now entering his third NFL season he knows it's a pivotal year in charting the direction his career takes from this point.
"I know this is a huge year for myself because we have a new head coach and it's an open competition," he said. "So obviously the third year is where a lot of the NFL quarterbacks, who are starters, really show that they can be a long-time starter for this team, or that the team can invest in this person for a long time for their franchise. I wouldn't say it's a make or break year, but I would say it's a very important spring right now, which is most important."
Even though the top three quarterbacks were told the reps would be evenly split before practice, Taylor wasn't bothering to count reps. He was more focused on his execution in his time running the offense.
"I think the main key regardless of how many reps you get that you take the ones that you get seriously and make the best of them," he said. "That's what I tried to do today. Walking into practice I knew it was kind of going to be an even split, but you never know. The feel of practice can change things, so just try to make the best of the reps you get."
Ryan freely admits in an ideal world he'd prefer to have an entrenched starter for his offense. At the same time he believes what his offense has are capable NFL options.
"I'm excited about the competition. I really am," said Ryan. "I think all the guys, and you can throw Tuel in there, but I'm being realistic—the three top guys, in my opinion, you don't know how it's going to shake out. There's not anybody who knows how it's going to shake out. So I think it's going to be interesting.
"The great thing is we're going to give them a platform that will showcase what they can all do, and let's see what happens. I feel good about the three guys. Is it a perfect situation? No, I'm not saying it is. But we have three guys, who in my opinion could be NFL quarterbacks. And we'll see about the options as it goes forward. I think by the time we end it there will be a clear number one guy—that's in an ideal world."