We're just a week into OTA practices so the on field evaluation portion of the Bills quarterback competition has only just begun. Assessing decision making, accuracy and command of the offense with a live defense on the field will prove easier for the offensive staff. With two offensive units being run simultaneously there will also be a lot more reps for the coaches to review. So here's a closer look at the candidates and what Rex Ryan thinks of their progress.
Matt Cassel (6-4, 228) – age 32 – 11 years in NFL
Cassel's greatest asset in this competition is his decade of experience in the NFL. Having played for three other NFL clubs, he's used to adapting to new schemes and offensive concepts. That has been evident on the field in the early going here in Buffalo.
"The thing I notice with Cassel, the ball comes out in rhythm," said Ryan. "It's here, boom, boom, boom, hitting it. Even in drills. You're running out routes, bam, the ball is out there on time."
Cassel has appeared confident in his decision making and his accuracy has been good. Up to this point there haven't been many deep shots down the field to assess his overall aggressiveness.
"For me as a player I think my best football is ahead of me," Cassel said. "I'm excited about the opportunity, but I've got to go out and earn it. I've got to go out and prove to the coaches and everybody else that I deserve the opportunity to play. In this league nothing is given to you and I know that better than anybody else. So it's one day at a time. It's learning the offense and then going out and performing."
EJ Manuel (6-4, 237) – age 25 – 3 years in NFL
Manuel's overall physical skill set is probably the best in the competition. Blessed with prototype size, giant hands, a strong arm and the ability to make plays with his legs, Manuel has all the physical traits one could want in a starting quarterback. He also has the advantage of previous work experience with most of the skill position players on the roster.
The new scheme is a first for Manuel at the NFL level, but his work ethic has given him a firm grasp of Greg Roman's system.
"I was impressed—for instance, he saw a guy, he looked over the field and made a great throw down the field," said Ryan. "Clearly, to me, it shows he can see the field. That's impressive to me. There was no question about it mentally. He was sharp. That part I was impressed with, with EJ."
Manuel has made it a point to be aggressive as he vowed to do after being demoted last year to a backup role. The atmosphere Rex Ryan promotes in practice has only encouraged that approach.
"I think it just really allows us to go out there and be ourselves," said Manuel. "There's not a lot of pressure or anything like that. What I mean is we can just go out there and make plays, instead of trying to force things to happen and what not. If it's a bad play let's move on to the next one. I think that's the kind of mindset we need to have as a team."
Tyrod Taylor (6-1, 215) – age 25 – 5 years in NFL
Taylor's foot speed (4.4 40-time) has given most the perception that the Virginia Tech product is a running quarterback. Rex Ryan feels the fifth-year QB has a lot more to offer than that, but doesn't dismiss the threat Taylor poses on the move.
"He gives you athleticism at that position that as a defensive coach, you're nervous about," said Ryan. "For a guy that cannot just do things with his arm, but with his legs as well, whether that's organized runs, or when things break down, he can still make plays. He throws a deep ball extremely well. You put him on the move he's a dangerous weapon out there. I think the ability is hard to ignore, so we'll see if he can put it all together."
Taylor doesn't mind that the primary focus is on his speed. He sees his mobility as an advantage when it comes to lengthening the play, not running for yardage on the ground. He's also plenty confident in his ability as a passer.
"Maybe guys don't know about the throwing ability, but that's something to prove, and that's a challenge that I take on," Taylor said. "If it's about throwing I know I can throw with anyone, so I look forward to those opportunities to show my arm off. But running is also a plus because in this league the defenses are getting faster and you have to be able to string the play out. It's not necessarily running 50 yards or trying to make a big play. It's about keeping the chains moving so whatever you have to do."
At this early stage no quarterback has separated himself from the other two. Truthfully Ryan doesn't expect that to happen until a couple of weeks into camp and perhaps a preseason game or two. No one can predict at this point how the competition will play out, but Ryan is confident in the process they have in place.
"Competition will bring out the best in everybody," said Ryan. "That old saying—the cream will rise to the top. When you put that thing out there in live scrimmage situations, the cream will rise to the top and I'm confident in that. But you also have to have a legitimate competition, and I think that's what we have here."