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Rookie QB Manuel has ties to Bills famed past

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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP)

Having Bruce Smith for a godfather and with Jim Kelly already offering his support, quarterback EJ Manuel has well-established connections to the Buffalo Bills' Hall-of-Fame past.

On Friday, Manuel began looking ahead to a hopeful future. Arriving in Buffalo a day after being selected with the 16th pick in the NFL draft, he accepted the challenge of helping usher in a new and improved chapter for what's been a win-starved franchise.

''I think there is always pressure whenever you're the quarterback coming into a situation like this. Obviously, there's a lot of expectations,'' Manuel said. ''But I expect greatness for myself. When I went to Florida State, it was the same way. So now, moving forward to the next step, the highest level of football, I'm ready to go.''

Manuel was the only quarterback selected in the first round of the draft. At 6-foot-4, he's a strong-armed and mobile player who the Bills deemed to have the most potential out of what was regarded as a below-average draft-eligible quarterback class.

He joins a team that's not made the playoffs in 13 seasons, and is rebuilding under rookie head coach Doug Marrone. And Manuel's being given the opportunity to immediately compete with newly signed six-year veteran Kevin Kolb for a starting job that's been unsettled since Kelly retired following the 1996 season.

''I think I'm a winner,'' said Manuel, who played a role in the Seminoles winning four consecutive Bowl games. ''To me, the biggest thing is to come in and earn the respect of my teammates. I think the best way to do that is not do a lot of talking. Just come in and try to learn as fast as possible.''

Kelly's on board with the selection.

''I think I'm as hopeful as every fan in Buffalo,'' said Kelly, who attended Manuel's inaugural news conference. ''You get tired of people always referring back to when I played. I don't want to do that. I want to refer to somebody that has taken us to the next level.''

With a little patience, Kelly believes Manuel can be that player.

''I just hope EJ's the guy that he is,'' he said. ''I'll put it this way, we're starting out on the right foot.''

Manuel still refers to Kelly as ''Mr. Kelly. The two first met two years ago, when Kelly joined his nephew, Chad, on a recruiting visit to Florida State.

Then there's Smith, who has known Manuel since he was born. Smith and Manuel's father, Erik, remain friends after growing up together in the Virginia Beach, Va., area.

Little did anyone realize EJ would wind up following in his godfather's footsteps to Buffalo.

''It's crazy,'' EJ Manuel said. ''I met Bruce when I was a small kid. I remember looking up and staring at him.''

Now, they have a chance to be on a more equal NFL footing.

''I'm optimistic,'' Smith said, during a telephone conference call. ''I think with the right components, the right system, the right head coach, the right quarterback coach, the right teammates, that he can be the one who's the face of this franchise.''

Manuel went 25-6 in four years with the Seminoles, and completed nearly 67 percent of his attempts to finish as the school's most accurate passer.

Questions remain about his decision making. He finished with 47 touchdowns and 28 interceptions, which were the result of him occasionally forcing throws.

NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock referred to Manuel as ''a piece of clay: Raw, but you can mold him into something special.''

ESPN analyst Todd McShay knocked the Bills for selecting Manuel.

''EJ Manuel is not a first-round draft pick at the quarterback position,'' McShay said. ''I think it's going to be a big mistake for this organization.''

The criticism didn't bother Manuel.

''I think it only takes one team to fall in love with you,'' Manuel said. ''And I'm happy the Buffalo Bills fell in love with me.''

Tagged: Bills

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