Bills QB Competition is Open, But Not Even

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Updated: June 18, 2013
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Since the coronation as franchise savior drafting of QB EJ Manuel by the Buffalo Bills, one of the most talked about stories heading into camp has been whether Manuel will start week 1, or if Head Coach Doug Marrone (HCDM, for short) will turn to grizzled vet Kevin Kolb to minimize his own growing pains as a brand new head football coach. And shoot if you thought Buddy Nixon didn’t have a HOT TAKE on the subject.

According to Marrone, the competition is open. HCDM enlightened:

“Once we see one person pull away from the others, then I think you make that decision. To put a timeline or anything on it, I think, is very difficult, It’s up to the players to do that.”

Simply put, Marrone isn’t giving out roses any time soon.

However, just because the QB job is up for grabs does not mean that both competitors are on equal footing. As alluded to earlier, EJ Manuel’s status as a first round rookie quarterback means that the fate of the franchise in at least the next 3-5 years, and perhaps longer, rides on how quickly Manuel develops and to what extent. This may sound like hyperbole, but EJ Manuel has an opportunity to go down as one of the greatest players in NFL history because he is a talented prospect at the game’s most important position. Please note that I don’t necessarily think this is the case, he could turn out worse than Losman.

Neither outcome is reasonable to expect from Kevin Kolb. We’ve seen enough of the player to know roughly what the range of his play is. He can be an effective, high volume quarterback in the right circumstances, or a slobber stained chew toy for defenses in the wrong ones. But the best possible out come for a player like Kolb in Buffalo is a Rich Gannon type player.

And the Bills are keen to all of this. THE DECISION 2013 is all about EJ Manuel, even if Kevin Kolb wins the starting job. If that is the case, it is almost certainly because the coaching staff believes that Manuel is so raw and unprepared that throwing him to the mercy of NFL defenses would do undue damage to his confidence.

Recent quotes from Marrone would indicate that this is not the case. Additionally, HCDM, like most coaches, gets a free ride his first year, meaning a poor record is excusable. With that in mind, Marrone knows he can take a slightly longer view than most coaches who are a losing season away from getting the boot.

None of this is to assume Kolb gives the Bills a better chance to win right now. While Kolb has experience and a feel for the speed of the pro game, Manuel possesses athletic gifts that Kolb lacks and may allow him to succeed early. Unlike Kolb, Manuel figures to be an extremely difficult person to tackle based on nothing more than size. And should the Bills choose to run it, Manuel could find success with zone read concepts early in his career, much like RGIII and Russell Wilson.

So, while we must take Marrone at his word that the quarterback competition is open, that doesn’t mean that both players are on even ground. Simply put, EJ Manuel will have to do much, much less than Kevin Kolb to convince the coaching staff that he should be the Buffalo Bills starting quarterback.