Marrone cautious in assessing Bills QB Manuel
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP)
Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone is keeping his expectations in check when it comes to assessing rookie quarterback EJ Manuel.
Marrone wasn't in a position to award Manuel the starting job when the Bills drafted him in the first round out of Florida State two weeks ago. And the coach certainly didn't have a change of heart after keeping a close eye on the quarterback Friday, when the team opened a three-day rookie minicamp.
''It's what I expected,'' Marrone said. ''I didn't think he'd come in here and be the polished guy.''
After crediting Manuel for making some ''nice throws,'' Marrone also noted the quarterback needs help with his footwork and mechanics
That didn't mean the coach was disappointed in what he saw in saying: ''I thought EJ did well.''
The first-year coach's intention was to make clear that he's not going to jump to any quick conclusions regarding quarterback.
''As a coach, I know I've had this problem that if I create expectations in my mind of players I've never coached before, I can find myself getting into trouble,'' Marrone said. ''So I try to go in there open-minded. ... But I was very happy with EJ.''
Manuel has captured the attention of a win-starved fan-base and on a team that's once again in the process of rebuilding from scratch.
Drafted 16th overall, Manuel was the only quarterback selected in the first round. And he's the latest prospect being asked to fill a position that's been unsettled since Jim Kelly retired following the 1996 season.
The first step, is winning the starting job.
Marrone has already announced that Manuel will spend the offseason competing with Kevin Kolb, a six-year veteran whom the Bills signed in free agency last month, and returning backup Tarvaris Jackson.
And that made Friday's practice important for Manuel to start making a good first impression before he and his fellow rookies join the veterans for a series of voluntary and mandatory minicamps that open on Monday.
All eyes were on EJ from the start of the 90-minute session.
Aside from the dozen TV cameras turned Manuel's way from the sideline, the Bills had an assistant on the field filming every move the quarterback made.
And then, of course, there was coach Marrone, who was among the most interested observers.
The coach was at Manuel's side once the stretching period ended. And though he made the rounds to every position on the field, Marrone's attention was usually drawn back toward the east end of the indoor facility where Manuel and undrafted rookie quarterback Jeff Tuel worked.
''It wasn't a conscious thing if that was the case,'' said Marrone, explaining that he also spent time looking in the offense's direction to get a glimpse of the Bills' young group of receivers. ''But I do agree with your statement that people are going to be looking at (Manuel). I don't doubt that.''
Manuel struggled with his consistency during seven-on-seven drills.
During one four-play stretch, he hit tight end Chris Gragg in stride 20 yards up the right hash mark. A play later, Manuel zipped a pass over the middle to Robert Woods.
After overthrowing Brandon Kaufman on a slant, he followed up by hitting Kaufman on a deep post route.
Manuel closed practice by throwing an interception deep over the middle after it appeared receiver Kevin Norrell pulled up limping.
''No nerves. I was just excited to be out there,'' Manuel said. ''Strap it up with cleats, and a helmet back on, it was a great feeling.''
To his credit, Manuel endured what had already been a long day once practice ended at 4:15. He and the rest of the rookies first arrived at the Bills facility at 6 a.m. to take physicals and attend team meetings.
Woods had a solid debut, making numerous catches. He was selected with the first of Buffalo's two second-round picks out of Southern California. Receiver Marquise Goodwin, a third-round pick out of Texas, displayed his speed by out-running several defenders on deep routes.
Goodwin was one of four rookie draft picks to sign with the Bills before practice began.
The team also signed fourth-round pick, defensive back Duke Williams; fifth-round pick, defensive back Jonathan Meeks; and sixth-round pick, kicker Dustin Hopkins.
The Bills have now signed five of their eight draft picks. They only players unsigned are Manuel, Woods and second-round pick, linebacker Kiko Alonso.