Quarterback EJ Manuel returned to practice Sunday and the Bills are cautiously optimistic about his chances of starting the season opener.
Manuel returned after missing two weeks because of a left knee injury.
He participated in warm-ups and individual drills, where he moved well and did not show any ill effects from the injury. He was wearing a small brace on his left knee.
"He looked good," Bills coach Doug Marrone said. "I say that not knowing what can happen in the next couple days, but as far as today I think he looked good."
Manuel had been out since suffering a knee injury in Buffalo’s second preseason game on Aug. 16. He had what the team called a "minor procedure" on the knee on Aug. 18.
Manuel wasn’t the only Bills player to return on Sunday.
Safety Jairus Byrd, who missed all of the offseason after receiving the franchise tag, practiced on a limited basis after getting a second opinion on his injured foot. Byrd said that he is dealing with plantar fasciitis, an injury that affects the sole of the foot.
Running back C.J. Spiller returned to practice after spending a week with his family in his hometown of Lake Butler, Fla. Spiller’s step-grandfather, Hubert Allen, allegedly killed two people and shot two others before committing suicide on Aug. 24.
Manuel topped the list of returning players.
The Bills plan to give Manuel his first reps in team drills since the injury on Monday. Marrone had previously said that he would like the first-round pick to be fully practicing by Wednesday in order for him to have a chance of starting the season opener on Sunday against New England.
"If we can have him practicing on Wednesday and we feel that he’s good enough and mentally ready to play, then he’s going to play," Marrone said.
Manuel is encouraged by his quick progress.
"It’s very reassuring," Manuel said. "I just really want to see how it reacts tomorrow as far as the soreness or anything like that, which I don’t think I’ll have any soreness cause I didn’t have any after I ran around and threw the other day. I’m just looking forward to moving on tomorrow and getting more reps in practice."
Manuel’s return gives the Bills some good news at quarterback after a tumultuous preseason at the position.
Veteran Kevin Kolb, who was competing with Manuel for the starting quarterback job, was placed on injured reserve on Aug. 30. Kolb suffered a concussion against the Washington Redskins on Aug. 24. Kolb also missed time at training camp because of a left knee injury after tripping on a wet rubber mat between practice fields.
With Kolb and Manuel injured, the Bills briefly had only one healthy quarterback in undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel. Buffalo added free agent Matt Leinart and acquired Thad Lewis in a trade with Detroit prior to the team’s final preseason game, but both players were released on Saturday. Lewis has since rejoined the Bills as a member of the practice squad.
Byrd’s status for the season opener is less clear. Byrd traveled to North Carolina on Saturday to visit with foot specialist Robert Anderson before revealing the nature of his plantar fasciitis injury on Sunday. Byrd missed the entire offseason before signing his one-year, $6.9 million franchise tender on Aug. 20.
"He’s still working his way back in," Marrone said. "Doing a couple team things, but again, still working his way back in to get him in a position where he can help us."
Spiller did not participate in practice, but was glad to return to his teammates following the events in Florida.
"I understand that it is a tragic event that took place and it’s going to take a while to cope with it, but at the same time I can’t forget the task and the goal and the dreams that we have as a team and as an organization," Spiller said. "I want to be a part of that, and I’ll do everything I can to make sure that I’m ready to go."
NOTES:The Bills were awarded cornerback Brandon Burton off waivers Sunday. Burton was a fifth-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings in 2011. The 6-foot, 185-pound corner has played in 14 games with one start. He has eight tackles in his career. … The Bills added five players to their practice squad: G Mark Asper, DE Jamie Blatnick, DE Izaan Cross, QB Thad Lewis and WR Tommy Streeter.