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Behind enemy lines: Mark Sanchez and EJ Manuel emerging as starters in different ways

Posted by Erik Frenz  August 15, 2013 05:25 PM

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Tom Brady returned to practice on Thursday, putting Patriots fans at ease with regard to his status for the coming weeks as we head into the regular season.

A couple of other teams in the AFC East, on the other hand, are getting a little bit closer to clarity in their own quarterback controversies, but in different ways.

Buffalo Bills head coach Doug Marrone decided to give both his quarterbacks an equal opportunity to earn the starting job.

EJ Manuel was the starter in last week's preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts, and while his stat line was impressive (16-of-21, 107 yards, touchdown; 3 rushes, 28 yards), his play on the field was hardly earth-shattering.

ej manuel route tree.png

Red routes were thrown twice.

He threw a lot of timing routes, mainly timing routes without going through his progressions. That was one of his perceived problems heading into the draft.

His perceived strength was his powerful arm, but he didn't attempt a pass deeper than 17 yards in his first preseason game, and only two passes traveled deeper than 10 yards.

What's more, a majority of his strongest success — including a 93-yard touchdown drive in which Manuel went 9-of-9 for 67 yards — came against the Colts' second-team defense.

It wasn't a great start, but if Manuel is the front-runner for the top job, as is being speculated by both The Buffalo News and ESPN, he should be getting as many first-team reps as possible to get him used to the speed of the game and to give him an opportunity to test out that arm strength.

That being said, perhaps starting Kolb is a way to prove to themselves once and for all that they're making the right decision. After all, the decision sets up Manuel to start in the all-important third preseason game, often regarded as a "dress rehearsal" for the regular season.

The Jets, on the other hand...

The logic behind this one is a lot clearer. Rookie quarterback Geno Smith came in as the second quarterback behind Sanchez in the Jets preseason opener against the Lions, but Smith twisted his ankle while trying to scramble and did not return to the game.

Sanchez was the starter in that game, and he threw a pick-six to defensive end Ezekiel Ansah on his third pass attempt of the game.

He was able to bounce back a couple of drive later by leading an 80-yard touchdown drive, capping it off with a nice 26-yard pass to tight end Jeff Cumberland down the seam, but the Jets saw in the first four minutes of their first preseason game what they had hoped to see far less frequently in 2013: a turnover.

The Jets might be looking to get Smith back into the competition sooner than later, and could give him the start in the third preseason game if he's ready, but all things being equal, the more reps he loses, the less likely he is to win the job.

Meanwhile, for the first time in 12 offseasons, the Dolphins don't have a glaring question mark at quarterback — or, at least, they hope not.

Now, their question marks are at left tackle and running back. As it turns out, head coach Joe Philbin has been pleased with what he's seen in camp at both positions.

Left tackle Jonathan Martin and running back Lamar Miller were regarded as two players that needed to step up with the respective departures of left tackle Jake Long and running back Reggie Bush.

Martin appeared to struggle in his first preseason game, but that was quickly rebuked by Omar Kelly of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and James Walker of ESPN.

Stats website Pro Football Focus agrees, and has not charted Martin with a single quarterback pressure in his 19 total snaps in pass protection this preseason. That's a good start, but most of his action has come against second-team defenders. We'll get a better gauge of where he's at when the Dolphins play their third preseason game next week.

As for the running backs, Joe Philbin may be pleased with Lamar Miller, but Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland isn't ready to crown him the lead back just yet.

"I don’t think it’s just going to be Lamar’s position," Ireland said. "We’ve got a good running back in Daniel Thomas that’s certainly making some noise."

The only noise Thomas has made to this point in his career is a low rumbling with his career average of 3.5 yards per carry, the lowest for any back with 250 or more carries in the past two seasons.

The Dolphins have a young, explosive back in Miller who has a similar skill set to Bush's and who averaged just shy of five yards per carry in 2012. Daniel Thomas has his uses as a short-yardage back, but beyond that, the Dolphins would be better off giving Miller opportunities to make big plays for their offense.



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Erik Frenz delivers analysis of the biggest news with the Patriots, including insight into the AFC East and New England's biggest rivals from a Patriots perspective. Erik is an interactive writer who engages his audience in his posts’ comments sections and on Twitter. Readers are encouraged to share their thoughts and ask questions. More »

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