Niagara Gazette

July 29, 2013

Football's Back! Bills open training camp

By JOHN WAWROW
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette —

PITTSFORD — Rookie first-round draft pick EJ Manuel has the raw potential. Veteran free-agent addition Kevin Kolb has the benefit of six seasons of NFL experience.

None of that will factor into Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone’s approach in determining which quarterback will win the starting job over the next six weeks.

”What I look at is it’s really which players can we put on the field to win now,” Marrone said, after being asked if the Manuel has the edge because he’s regarded as the team’s future. “A lot of people talk about the future. And really the future for us as coaches and as a team is now.”

Without preconceptions, Marrone will base his decision on what happens on the field in an offseason-long competition that began last night with the first practice of the Bills’ training camp on the campus of St. John Fisher College in suburban Rochester.

The plan is to have Manuel and Kolb evenly split practice time for the indefinite future before Marrone said it will become apparent to him and the entire team which one has earned the job.

”You can’t succumb to speculation of down the road this person will be a better player,” said Marrone, the first-time head coach who replaced Chan Gailey in January. “I’m looking for who is the best player now.”

Manuel has been excited for the opportunity ever since the Bills selected him with the 16th pick, making the Florida State product the only quarterback chosen in the first round of the draft in April.

”I think it’s a huge opportunity,” Manuel said. “Obviously, I want to come out and make everybody happy, all the people in the front office.”

At 6-foot-4 and 237 pounds, Manuel has the size and showed off his arm-strength during spring practices. And yet, the Florida State product still has much to improve after Marrone noted that Manuel lacked “polish.”

Upon arriving at camp Friday, Manuel said he’s not taken a day off since the Bills last practice on June 13. He’s worked on his footwork and mechanics, while also poring over the playbook to become comfortable with the up-tempo style of offense Marrone is introducing.

”I think I made a lot of progress,” said Manuel, who went 25-6 as a college starter. “So I’m looking forward to seeing how I go out there and do.”

Manuel has already moved up the depth chart after the Bills cut veteran Tarvaris Jackson early last month.

Center Eric Wood liked what he saw from Manuel during spring minicamps.

”He’s got some leadership skills, he’s got a great arm, athletic: A lot of things you look for in a quarterback,” Wood said. “Now comes time to make some plays when the pads are on.”

For Kolb, competing for a starting job has become a familiar offseason exercise in his latest attempt to kick start a career hampered by injuries.

”I could probably just pull out a tape recorder from the last three years and hit play. It’s nothing new,” Kolb said. “It’s always been a competition. I’ve always had something to prove. And there’s no better way to go about it.”

Staying healthy has been a key issue for Kolb, who has 28 touchdowns, 25 interceptions and a 9-12 record as a starter in 34 games split between Philadelphia and Arizona.

Selected by the Eagles in the second round of the 2007 draft, Kolb was supposed to be Donovan McNabb’s successor. Kolb barely got the chance. He was injured in the 2009 opener and eventually lost the starting job to Michael Vick.

Kolb got a chance for a fresh start in 2011, when he was traded to the Cardinals and signed a five-year, $63 million contract. He went 5-6 as a starter in Arizona, with injuries ending both his seasons.

Kolb respects Marrone’s approach to the competition.

”Everywhere I’ve been, whenever the starter is named, most of the team feels the same way,” Kolb said. “So hopefully there’s a drastic separation, and we can move forward and there’s no question about who it should be. Of course, I’m here to compete, and hopefully that’s me.”

WILLIAMS MISSES FIRST WORKOUT

Mario Williams was held out of the Bills’ first training camp practice Sunday night after complaining of a sore foot.

Coach Doug Marrone provided few details regarding the nature of the injury. He wouldn’t say which foot Williams had hurt or how and when it happened.

“Mario reported to our athletic training staff that he had a sore foot,” Marrone said. “So what we wanted to do was hold him out of practice and let our medical staff evaluate him.”

Marrone couldn’t say how much time Williams might miss because the injury is still being evaluated. The Bills are back on the field this afternoon.

Williams declined comment after practice, and deferred all questions to Marrone.

After acknowledging he was disappointed to miss the opening session, Williams then apologized that he couldn’t say anything more.

Williams did not appear to be walking with a limp. He did not participate in any individual or team drills, and spent much of practice watching from the sideline with his helmet on. On several occasions, he was spotted bending over frontward to stretch out his back.

The foot injury came as a surprise after Williams did not indicate he was experiencing any health issues upon reporting to camp on Friday.

Williams was motivated upon arriving at camp, saying he wanted to put behind his inconsistent first season in Buffalo.

BILLS SIGN CALDWELL, HILLS

Just hours before the first workout began at St. John Fisher, the Bills signed offensive linemen Antoine Caldwell and Tony Hills.

Caldwell is listed at 6-foot-3 and 315 pounds and was chosen by Houston in the third round of the 2009 draft out of Alabama. He had 19 starts in 39 games in four seasons with the Texans.

Hills is a tackle, who was selected by Pittsburgh in the fourth round of the 2008 draft. He’s appeared in 11 games during a career split between the Steelers, Denver and Indianapolis.

The additions come a day after Buffalo cut offensive lineman Chris Scott. The Bills opened camp with injured tackle Chris Hairston on the physically unable to perform list.