ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) Ralph Wilson often lamented the one obstacle standing in the way of the Bills’ success during their current 14-season playoff drought was a failure to identify a franchise quarterback.
From Alex Van Pelt to Drew Bledsoe and now EJ Manuel, none of the eight quarterbacks who started at least eight games for Buffalo since 2000 has held the job beyond three seasons. And only one, Bledsoe in 2004, led the team to a winning record.
With the Bills up for sale after Wilson, the franchise founder and Hall of Fame owner, died in March, the quarterback position remains a question mark under Manuel, the latest heir apparent.
The big leap in development the Bills were seeking has yet to materialize from the first-round draft pick entering his second year following an inconsistent and injury-plagued rookie season.
”With EJ, obviously we’re looking for him to progress and to keep coming along,” coach Doug Marrone said. ”We’re going to stick with him. I’m going to support him 110 percent. And we’re going to get him better.”
Marrone added he’s looking for more production from everyone on offense in preparing to open the season at Chicago on Sept. 7.
Though the defense under new coordinator Jim Schwartz remains Buffalo’s strength, the offense continues to be a work in progress. And a cause for frustration on a team that has not won more than six games since 2008.
Those frustrations boiled over during a 27-14 preseason loss to Tampa Bay on Saturday, when the Bills were booed off the field trailing 24-0 at halftime.
Marrone said the boos were deserved.
Running back Fred Jackson said the offense can’t let itself be defined by yet another poor performance. And second-year receiver Marquise Goodwin took to Twitter in questioning Bills fans’ loyalties by writing: ”Looks like we will have to play against our own `fans’ this year.”
Goodwin stood by his comments Monday.
”It’s just something that I felt at the time, I felt like it needed to be said,” Goodwin said. ”Obviously, everybody knows what happened. We didn’t come out. We didn’t have a good first half and whatnot for whatever reason.”
It wasn’t the first time. The starters went 18 straight preseason possessions without scoring a touchdown until Manuel hit receiver Mike Williams on Buffalo’s first drive of the third quarter against the Buccaneers’ second-stringers.
Here are some more things to look out for from the Bills:
STOPPING THE RUN: Schwartz has quickly transformed the defense into a run-stuffing unit. Buffalo’s starters have allowed 80 yards rushing on 40 carries through their first four preseason games. That’s a marked improvement after the Bills allowed 150-plus yards rushing seven times last season.
Schwartz is the former Lions head coach who took over in Buffalo after Mike Pettine left for Cleveland.
The Bills also added run-stuffing middle linebacker Brandon Spikes in free agency.
”I don’t want to get ahead of that stuff but, hey, the proof’s in the pudding,” Spikes said, praising Schwartz. ”He wants us getting vertical, getting disruptive, causing havoc.”
WATKINS WATCH: Rookie receiver Sammy Watkins made numerous highlight-reel catches, including a one-handed grab after stumbling while making his cut, in the first three weeks of camp before being sidelined by bruised ribs.
Watkins is expected to be ready for the opener, and has been lining up across from Williams, acquired in an offseason trade with Tampa Bay. The Bills invested plenty in Watkins by trading next year’s first-round pick to move up five spots and take him fourth overall.
O-LINE SHUFFLE: The offensive line was in flux until Marrone settled on his starting five last week. Center Eric Wood and left tackle Cordy Glenn are the only returning starters.
Rookie Seantrel Henderson takes over at right tackle, replacing Erik Pears, who shifts to right guard. Free agent Chris Williams will start at left guard.
MARRONE ON EDGE: Whether it’s providing terse answers to reporters, or blowing up at his players during practice, Marrone’s emotions have shown through entering his second season.
Marrone, most notably, lit into his players on the final day of camp following a series of fights and post-whistle shoves.
”This year, it’s critical to get us over the top,” Marrone said, referring to his edgier demeanor. ”I’m doing everything I possibly can to get us over the top. And if intensity is the answer, yeah, I’m intense.”
FOR SALE: One reason Marrone might be upping his intensity level is that his future is uncertain with new ownership expected to be identified by as early as October.
Buffalo Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula are considered the front-runners to buy the team among a short list of prospective finalists that includes New York City real estate mogul Donald Trump, and a Toronto-based group led by rocker Jon Bon Jovi.
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