FOXBOROUGH — First-year Bills coach Doug Marrone said he was confident in rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel — who missed two weeks of practice with an injured knee — going into Sunday’s season opener against the Patriots.
The former Syracuse coach has been prepping his top draft pick to take over since the spring, but those plans had been hobbled by Manuel’s injury. Marrone was shuffling between undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel and Manuel before deciding to name the latter his starter Wednesday.
Now Marrone, who also coached for the Saints and Jets, has to make sure Manuel is up to speed. The process of getting his young quarterback acclimated is well under way.
“The offseason helps quite a bit,” Marrone said. “You’re able to spend extra time and get acclimated to everything. And obviously we knew going into the draft that we would be going in this direction of taking a young quarterback. So we put a lot of time into how we would want to develop him and then how we were going to get him ready. So I don’t think it’s something that just popped up on us.”
Of course, Manuel had to compete with Tuel and veteran Kevin Kolb, who was placed on injured reserve with what could be career-ending concussion symptoms. Marrone said it is too difficult to say how a three-way competition would’ve gone, given Kolb’s and Manuel’s injuries.
“Kevin really had some hard luck,” Marrone said. “I mean, with the injuries that he had, wasn’t really able to participate, he missed some practice time. And then obviously he didn’t really play as much in the preseason. So it’s very difficult to say if he was healthy what would have happened.
“But I think it’s very easy to say that, based upon the preseason and practice, that E.J. Manuel has earned this.”
It helped that Manuel had a speedy recovery.
“I don’t think this shocks anyone about E.J. being our starting quarterback,” Marrone added.
For his part, Manuel is excited and feels ready to go.
“Mentally, physically, my mind feels good,” Manuel said. “I just tried to stay in everything when I wasn’t playing in those last two preseason games, and those practice reps I missed I made sure I made them up, still got mental reps. When I felt good enough with my knee, I just made sure I stuck around and got some extra work in so I’d be ready.”