Bills head coach Rex Ryan has stated more than once that the starting quarterback role will be determined by an open competition. At this point he's not whittling his list of candidates down at all meaning he has to find a way for four quarterbacks to get a fair shot at the job. Ryan laid out some of his plans at the league's owners meetings in Arizona.
Photos of Buffalo Bills QB EJ Manuel.
"It's probably not an ideal situation right now," Ryan admitted. "You've got four guys competing instead of just going in with a clear cut number one, but nobody has established themselves yet. We'll probably try to speed up that competition."
One way of doing that, which Ryan is strongly considering, is to run practice on two fields to give the quartet of signal callers enough snaps to make an accurate assessment of each player's abilities.
"We're looking at having two fields going at one time for reps and putting young quarterbacks on one field and more (Matt) Cassel and EJ (Manuel) on one," Ryan said. "We've got to find ways to develop EJ, but we've got to also give everybody the reps where you can make an accurate evaluation of them."
Buffalo's offensive staff is almost completely new so aside from film review there is no hard working knowledge for coaches to use as a foundation in their evaluations.
The general assumption outside the organization is that the pool will eventually be narrowed to Cassel and Manuel, but for now the coaches want to get a feel for each of the quarterbacks when non-padded practices commence in the spring.
"Each guy has their set of talents and things like that, but let's see how they fit in this system," Ryan said. "They'll all get opportunities and the most important thing is that you've got the right guy under center when the season starts."
The acquisition of Cassel via trade with Minnesota earlier this month was done to provide a veteran presence to the roster at the position. His long NFL resume, which includes a division title and a Pro Bowl will garner instant respect in Buffalo's locker room.
Ryan also sees it benefiting EJ Manuel, who is entering his third season in the league.
"I think Matt Cassel being a veteran quarterback and having been through the league will help EJ," said Ryan. "Both of them are similar in that they both have gym rat mentalities. They love the game. They're prepared and being prepared is a big part of what you do. Anytime you have a veteran presence like that it'll always help a younger player."
Ryan was asked if he felt Manuel regressed last season based on his film study of the 2014 season. Manuel was relegated to backup quarterback duty after just four starts last year following a Week 4 loss in Houston.
"I never saw a regression in EJ," said Ryan. "I think basically the decision was made to go with (Kyle) Orton because they thought Kyle gave them the best opportunity to win. I never saw that. In fact he looked pretty darn good when they played Miami (in Week 2). There are some games where he looked really good. We'll see what happens. I'm excited about seeing EJ compete. I know he's excited about it as well."
In fact Ryan said he still has a good recollection of his former Jets team getting embarrassed in Buffalo in Week 11 of the 2013 season when Manuel went 20-28 passing for 245 yards including a pair of long touchdowns to beat New York 37-14.
What Ryan likes most about Manuel are his physical skills, which will keep his game from being impacted by Western New York weather late in the season.
"You have to have that kind of arm talent to play in our stadium in December in particular," said Ryan. "It's hard to spin the football in bad conditions if you have small hands. He's got giant hands so the weather doesn't affect him like it does for other quarterbacks so he has some things working in his favor."
Ryan knows he's a long way from a definitive answer at quarterback for his offense. What he does know at this point is with the talent now assembled on that side of the ball the quarterback doesn't have to be a world beater all by himself.
"He just has to be part of the solution," said Ryan. "He doesn't have to be the solution. Hit the guy that's open. We don't need to force the issue. Somebody is going to be open with the talent we have. Be accurate with the football and protect the football. Yeah it's about scoring, but it's also about scoring points by protecting the football as well."
A former seventh-round pick of the New England Patriots in 2005, Cassel's career took off when he stepped in as the starter for the Patriots in the wake of a season-ending injury to Tom Brady in Week 1 of the 2008 season.