ej-manuel-king-story

Meet the Thrill-a-Minute Bills

Buffalo's offense under Doug Marrone will be hard to predict, but we know this—it will be awfully fun to watch

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PITTSFORD, N.Y. — Twice on Monday at Bills camp, E.J. Manuel dropped back and launched deep, soft throws high in the air. Twice they nestled easily into receivers’ hands, including a 53-yard strike to fellow rookie Da’Rick Rogers.

Beautiful throws. Just the right touch, and Manuel threw both balls only when his man had a step on the cornerback. That’s the essence of a good lofted deep ball: You throw it deep enough where only your guy can get it, and high enough so the receiver can adjust his speed to the flight path of the ball.

It’s impossible when you watch one practice, or two, max—the way I do on these trips to training camps—to make any definitive conclusions on players. And I’d never seen Manuel up close and personal until I watched him for two hours on the field at St. John Fisher College Monday. So I’m not qualified to say he’s leading Kevin Kolb in the battle to be opening-day starter (though common sense says if it’s close, with both in their first months with this offense, Manuel will be the choice) for Buffalo. But Manuel looked comfortable, confident, strong-armed and accurate Monday. The Bills invested a first-round pick in him, and it would be surprising if Kolb can hold him off for very long—if he holds him off at all.

***

Two hours after practice, offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett comes bounding out of the locker room, wearing a Bills helmet with no facemask. “I needed a hat, and this was all I could find!’’ he said, laughing.

You get the feeling around the Bills that whatever they do on offense—and no one knows yet, because they’ve been doing a bit of everything at practice—it’s going to be fun, and it’s going to be fast. Coach Doug Marrone brought a hybrid system, and Hackett, with him from Syracuse. Before the 2012 season, Marrone and Hackett studied fast-twitch offenses (Oregon, Missouri, Toledo) and another very interesting one: the Jim Kelly Bills of a generation ago. “We wanted more explosive plays, and we looked wherever we could to find them,’’ Marrone told me. “We would have watched the Bengals, with Boomer Esiason at quarterback, because they did a lot of innovative things, but we couldn’t find that film. What we did was keep the playbook but changed the tempo to go faster.’’

“In our offense,’’ said Hackett, “it was exciting, and a lot of guys wanted to touch the ball. How do you do that? You have to increase the number of plays, and that’s what we did.”

On the Road

After an overnight drive from Foxboro, a 7 a.m. coffee with new GM Doug Whaley and president Russ Brandon came early at the Starbucks in Pittsford. (We share the area on this day with Tiger Woods, playing a practice round at nearby Oak Hill for next week’s PGA.) The Bills practiced for two hours in the morning, followed by media stuff and the important part of the day: two glasses of Guinness at Thirsty’s, the best bar in the world with no name on it. True. It’s a plain white house in the middle of Pittsford. You’d have to know it, though, to know it’s there.


On Wednesday, The MMQB made the two-hour drive to Cortland, N.Y., where we're watching Jets practice. Look for Jenny Vrentas’ story on the Jets on Thursday. Speaking of, we'll spend Thursday with the Browns in Berea, Ohio, followed by a stop Thursday night in Canton to see people at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.—PK

“We wanted teams to have to defend everyone,’’ said Marrone. “You hear defenses all the time talking about getting an edge and having an extra man for the offense to worry about. If you have to defend everyone, that eliminates the extra man [on defense].’’ What this means: If all five offensive skill players are threats to touch the ball on any play, and Hackett calls each man’s number consistently, defenses won’t be able to, say, have an extra man consistently concentrating on C.J. Spiller.

Those are your clues for this team. Look for a lot of shotgun, but this shotgun will look like a pistol. “I have to correct you on something,’’ Manuel said when I told him I noticed him using the pPistol. “Coach doesn’t run the pistol. It’s a shotgun.” As Hackett explained, the back in this formation will never be behind the quarterback, but rather offset as a sidecar to the quarterback.

Talking to both men, it’s clear they’re going to subscribe to the Bill Belichick gameplan philosophy. Every gameplan’s a snowflake; no two exactly alike. Greg Roman has done the same thing with the San Francisco offense, throwing weekly changeups at defenses. One week the Bills are likely to be Spiller- and Fred Jackson-heavy, another week pass-happy. “We want to attack, and that’ll be how we operate,’’ said Hackett.

“One thing I liked about coach [Marrone] when we first interviewed him,’’ said new GM Doug Whaley. “I asked for his offensive philosophy, and he said, ‘I believe you throw to score and run to win.’ ‘’

***

When the Bills went to Florida State to scout Manuel, Whaley and president Russ Brandon went for a jog before they were scheduled to meet with the young quarterback. Brandon’s a big baseball fan, and when they passed by the baseball stadium, they saw FSU playing Georgia Tech, and they stopped to watch a couple of innings. “We meet a security guard,’’ said Brandon, “and he asked what we’re doing there, and he asked if we were there to see E.J. I said we were. He said, ‘I’ve been here 37 years, and he’s the best kid we’ve ever had.”

Manuel’s been good in all regards so far a week into camp. That’s too early to draw any conclusions on anything, except this: You get a good feel that the future of the offense, and the quarterback, is in good hands here.

The MMQB crew has hit the road for training camps. Check out all our coverage.

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34 comments
jpark40
jpark40

Love the insight on the less talked about teams in the league. Manuel was so inconsistent at FSU. . . seemed nothing but an athlete playing the position. Not very accurate on his throws, and not a ton of poise in the pocket. If he gets the nod, it will be very interesting to see how he reacts if his first couple games go poorly.

RonnieDickens
RonnieDickens

There are none as blind as those who will not see. Kevin Kolb starts the Cardinals out 4-0, beats New England (something some of you have necer seen the Bills do), gets hit because of BAD PROTECTION, he goes out with ribs broken loose from the sternum! You act like it was his fault, yet he WAS 4-0 and would have won more. He came back from a painful rehab that NONE of you would have done. He has money- the boy wants to play!!! You will want him too if he does what he can. The SAME "fans" will be saying EJ who? Tired of responding to "mule-headed posts"  Go Bills!


Fifilo
Fifilo

Magic 8 ball says... Doubtful. Unpredictable QB play makes for last place team. Let's see what Jets and Dolphins ante up with.

PaulKawalerski
PaulKawalerski

Peter, Great article. You gave us insights into EJ that we never heard of before. We love what we see in EJ so far. Very mature, polite, intelligent and humble. Great combination. We are also very excited with our new young coaching staff and coach Pettine on defense. I believe this team will improve very quickly. We had talent last year that was simply underutilized. Love the fact that they looked at the K-Gun offense for play ideas. SHould be fun indeed.

RonnieDickens
RonnieDickens

Thank you Peter King or Peter Manuel or whoever you are. I have not read that you know a damn thing about football, but for sure you know nothing about Kevin Kolb. An average Florida QB, without a SINGLE THROW in "game-time NFL" is what you think will lead the Bills to greatness? What a slanted, irresponsible and goofy Love Fest story. This is not fair to the Bills, Kolb and it damn sure is not fair to EJ. Mark Sanchez was TWICE what EJ is now, had played better competition in college and had even done well in the NFL. Now, he is struggling. You can either keep writing this crap or you can wait and see what the COACHES decide. EJ will be great, given time, and it is a good thing that you have nothing to do with that decision! Go Bills!

Blank33
Blank33

Where did all of the ESPN ppl go?

KristianColasacco
KristianColasacco

Manuel was easily the best QB in this draft.  The only people that should have been surprised by him being the only one taken in the first round haven't been paying attention. 

davidhcraft
davidhcraft

Am I crazy to think that the Bills might actually be decent this year? Many people thought they would be playoff bound last year with a revamped D and more consistent QB play. Obviously the D ended up being horrifically bad (largely due to scheme) and Fitz reverted back to mediocrity. With a new D coordinator for 2013 and the emergence of Manuel, I really think they could win 8 games. 

nipsgolf
nipsgolf

Miss the old postcards where we got more of a feel of what each camp was like, right down to the lunch menu. This reads like any other preview i could find anywhere else on the web.  Hope the bugs get worked out with the site as well.  It's a mess.  Give us the option of getting rid of the horrific toolbar. Sorry to be a negative Nancy.

JoshuaDwyer
JoshuaDwyer

I have a good feeling about E.J. Smart, composed, accurate. Let's put it all together and get this train moving in the right direction! 

vanonymous
vanonymous

@RonnieDickens Seriously, I've no dog in this hunt.  But reading through these comments, you've got a serious man-crush on KK.

Here's hoping you catch him at some late night restaurant in Buffalo.  Or better yet, get snowed in with him.  You deserve it for the effort you've put into this thread.

Mr. B
Mr. B

@RonnieDickens

" . . . Kevin Kolb starts the Cardinals out 4-0, beats New England (something some of you have necer seen the Bills do) . . ."

I saw Ryan Fitzpatrick do it in 2010.  Shows us how long you've been watching Bills football.

And Kolb didn't "beat" the Pats (not by going 15 for 27 with 140 yards and no passing TD's); that was Pats K Stephen Gastkowski, who missed the game-winning FG with five seconds left.

"Tired of responding to 'mule-headed posts'"

So am I.  You should stop making them.

.

Ciscos
Ciscos

@RonnieDickens Obviously you're frustrated.  Two of those wins (of the 4) were against quality opponents in the Seahawks and the Patriots.  The other two turned out to be against less than stellar teams.

The knock against Kolb is consistency - and in some cases a lack of fearlessness.  Sure he took that shot and got injured, but Kolb has been jumpy since he left the Eagles.  His jumpiness, almost equivalent to having "Jim Everrett" syndrome, affects his ability to throw accurately.  Don't get me wrong, he's had some good games, but Kolb is anything BUT the benchmark for the Bills.  Unfortunately, he's little more than a seat warmer now - even if he does win the starting job.


Mr. B
Mr. B

@Fifilo

"Magic 8 ball says... Doubtful."

Right -- because, using something first seen in a Three Stooges short is ALWAYS accurate . . .

RonnieDickens
RonnieDickens

@PaulKawalerski Gee Coach Kawalerski, you know everything, only if you can respond to what someone else wrote. Have an original thought! I never said that I expected the Bills to be in the cellar and I never thought twice about them until they started trying to get better with Kolb. I hope you can suck it up and enjoy the wins, when Kolb gets them started, and not be bitter about your goals for EJ. I am impressed with the Bills, with EJ and this new Coach. You are not the only Bills fan in the World and I hope that they tear up the Patriots in game one. You will be impressed with Kevin Kolb, who has paid his dues- just like EJ will have to.

Mr. B
Mr. B

@RonnieDickens  

Hey, Kevin -- stop spamming message boards and get back to practice . . .

.

PaulKawalerski
PaulKawalerski

@RonnieDickens Ronnie, you seem like a bitter man with little football insight. Very sad you expect the Bills to continue to be in the cellar. They are moving on without you.

Ciscos
Ciscos

@KristianColasacco Uh... I'd disagree with that "best QB" in the draft 365 days out of the year.  EJ was in the top 5, but by far, "not the best."

EJ's bugaboo has always been his accuracy with underneath routes.  Certainly he's going to fair better with a higher grade of WR, but anyone can throw a long ball with even 50% decency.  What wins the day for EJ is his 1. mobility, 2. arm strength 3. familiarity with the styled offense, 4. leadership.  

There were other "better" QBs in the draft - which explains why everyone was shocked the bills took him.  But just to let you know I'm not hating on EJ.  I had him ranked higher than Geno Smith - if that's any consolation.  1. Barkley, Accuracy, 2. Nassib, Arm Strength, 3. Manuel, Arm Strength, 4. Smith, Accuracy 5. Mike Glennon, big arm.

Tommy K
Tommy K

@nipsgolf 100% agree on all your points. generic write up. but with them writing 10 articles a day, I imagine most will be vanilla 

Mr. B
Mr. B

@RonnieDickens  "You will be impressed with Kevin Kolb, who has paid his dues"

What will we be impressed by, Ronnie?

Kolb's 9-12 record as a  starter?

The fact he has yet to play more than 9 games or throw for double digit TD's in a season?

Arizona spending $25 million and a draft pick to get him, only to release him in favor of  . . . Carson Palmer?

Impressive, indeed . . .

.


PaulKawalerski
PaulKawalerski

@RonnieDickens @PaulKawalerski Kolb is no very impressive so far in camp. And I'm not a Kolb basher, I'm just stating what he is showing so far in camp. Underthrows, overthrows, and does not look comfortable back there. As far as EJ no having thrown a single NFL pass, better not tell the three rookies last year that made the pro-bowl and led their teams to the playoffs. This isn't the NFL of 20 years ago. Rookies can excel in this league.

RonnieDickens
RonnieDickens

@SteveStevens1 @RonnieDickens If you are that ignorant, maybe you deserve a team that has not made the playoffs in 13 years. I am a fan of the Kevin Kolb, since high school, and I am now a fan of the Bills. I would rather see them have success than debate the qualifications of unproven talents. Go Bills!

PaulKawalerski
PaulKawalerski

@pandah462 @KristianColasacco Fact - EJ only the second QB in college history to go 4-0 in bowl games. The Bills did their homework on this guy. He's looking great in camp and is quickly validating the Bill's pick. We don't need any bar to tell us we made the right choice in this draft. 

NWBill
NWBill

@pandah462 @KristianColasacco    Really? Anybody been reading about Geno Smith lately? A PERFECT head case QB for the dysfunctional Jets, but his selection would have caused a riot in Buffalo! The Bills picked their Colin Kapernick; just wait and see.

nipsgolf
nipsgolf

@Tommy K @nipsgolf  it's like the higher-ups told Peter to move to the middle and be like everyone else.  We love Peter because he offered a unique perspective.  This article is not a unique perspective.  Peter, resist the move to the land of ordinary! 

Ciscos
Ciscos

@RonnieDickens @PaulKawalerski Ronnie... no one drafts a QB in the first round, with the 5th pick, for them to sit on the bench.  I'm not being difficult.  I'm just stating a league fact.  First round picks are "supposed" to be "plug and play" players.

RonnieDickens
RonnieDickens

@PaulKawalerski @RonnieDickens I agree but those three rookies were taken at the top of a good QB year- one was the Heisman Trophy winner and they are were all highly successful in college. If you have played the game, you know that camp always tears you down and builds you back up- that's what it's for. Our friend Coach Art Briles at Baylor does not "run" players to get in shape- he lets them "play into shape". Just curious, because we do have much cold weather and/or play indoors in Texas, Why are the Bills working out in cool 70 degree weather. We are used to two a days in 100 degrees. By the way, I really like the attitude and work ethics of EJ and your new Coach. He is the perfect man for Western New York- a home guy- and his coaching should be exciting. I would like to come up to a Bills game. I just get tired of umpteen writers already dissing Kolb, putting rookie EJ on the front of everything, putting him in 8 of 21 pictures on slide show for the TEAM, paraphrasing and twisting one sentence of the Coach's interview, etc. This is not over and a lot of things can happen- hopefully all good for the Bills.. May the best man win.

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