32 Questions in 32 Days: Buffalo Bills

Kevin Kolb and EJ Manuel

Jul 28, 2013; Pittsford, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills quarterback Kevin Kolb (4) and quarterback EJ Manuel (3) pass the ball during training camp at St. John Fisher College. Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

As we count down to the NFL season, Sports Jerks will be bringing you 32 questions in 32 days. Each day, we’ll feature one of the most important questions for a different NFL team heading into the opening weekend of the league.

Today’s feature team and question?

The Buffalo Bills – Who will start at quarterback?

For the past few years, Ryan Fitzpatrick had been the starting quarterback for the Buffalo Bills. Fitzpatrick was never an elite player, but he was a reasonable option under center. Over the past three seasons, Fitzpatrick has thrown for at least 3,000 yards and had a total of 71 touchdowns. The problem for the quarterback was always inconsistent play and turnovers. During those three seasons, Fitzpatrick also had 54 interceptions and 14 fumbles making him an oft-criticized target among fans.

Fitzpatrick appeared to be getting better after having been anointed the starter. In 2011, he threw for a career-high 3,832 yards – significantly more than the 3,000 he accumulated in 2010. Last year, he passed for only 3,400, but cut back on his interceptions, going from 23 in 2011 to only 16. 2012 was arguably Fitzpatrick’s best season as a starter, but it wasn’t enough to save his job as the Bills cut him in the offseason.

With Fitzpatrick now out of the running, who will start in Buffalo this year? The Bills’ two primary options are veteran Kevin Kolb and rookie EJ Manuel.

Kolb came in from Arizona after starting part-time there along with John Skelton. He never quite lived up to the high hopes the Cardinals had when they acquired him from Philadelphia after the Eagles were intent on keeping Michael Vick. Kolb posted modest stats in two highly disappointing, injury-plagued seasons in Arizona. After sitting out the preseason opener, the quarterback will get the chance to display his skills in the other exhibition games.

Manuel, a rookie out of Florida State, was Buffalo’s first-round pick in this year’s NFL Draft. He was impressive in the team’s preseason opener, going 16-21 for 107 passing yards and a touchdown, while adding 28 rushing yards. Some may have had questions about if the rookie could start out of the gate, but is a legitimate option – and part of it has to do with Kolb’s misfortune. Kolb injured his knee then missed time in camp when he had a death in the family and those could factor in when it’s time to name a starter.

The question is, who gets the start?

Right now it’s too early to tell, but Manuel likely has a slight edge. Still, don’t be surprised if both guys start at some point this season. Even without an injury, there’s no guarantee that either quarterback holds onto the starting job. Kolb has shown flashes of brilliance, but isn’t a slam dunk starter in the league at this point. Manuel is clearly the guy Buffalo is planning its future around, but he’s still just a rookie and, as a botched handoff in the opener proved, will make rookie mistakes.

One factor in all of this is that the team also has a rookie head coach in Doug Marrone. Marrone, who came to the franchise by way of his NCAA job at Syracuse, is one of the new head coaches this season. Will he plan for the future with the rookie or look to go with experience to try to squeeze out as many wins as possible in his first season?

The interesting thing about Marrone is that he actually has some experience in using two quarterbacks. Over his last three years with the Orange, he had Ryan Nassib at the helm. However, in 2009, his first season at Syracuse, things weren’t as cut and dry. Marrone played both senior Greg Paulus and Nassib the freshman. That’s not to suggest Marrone will do the same thing in his first year in the NFL, but if the starting quarterback struggles, you can expect a change.

In the end, the Bills have two viable options. Unfortunately, neither may be all that impressive.

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Anson Whaley is a freelance writer with more than 16 years of experience. He is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and a current member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and the U.S. Basketball Writers Association (USBWA). Mr. Whaley has also been a credentialed member of the media for various events.
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