After two preseason games, it’s obvious that rookie E.J. Manuel should be the starting quarterback for the Buffalo Bills when the regular season begins. But after the news Saturday that Manuel will have minor knee surgery, his status for the season opener could be in jeopardy, which could not only force the Bills to start Kevin Kolb to begin the season, but it could have a lasting impact on Manuel’s ability to play, even after he’s declared healthy and ready to return to the field.
It was difficult to know what to expect from Manuel heading into the preseason and whether or not he’d be ready to start as a rookie, despite being a first round draft pick. But he quickly made it obvious that he’s the best quarterback on Buffalo’s roster. With Kolb on the shelf with his embarrassing knee injury, Manuel played the entire first half of Buffalo’s first preseason game, putting in a performance that was solid but unspectacular. He did even better in the Bills’ second preseason game, leading the offense on an 80-yard touchdown drive on the first series he played. After Manuel completed 10 of 12 passes against the Minnesota Vikings, and more importantly, avoided turning the ball over for the second straight game, the quarterback competition in Buffalo should have been all but over.
But with the news that Manuel will have surgery and miss the rest of the preseason, there’s no guarantee he will be ready to start the regular season opener. Head coach Doug Marrone has said the procedure is minor, so there is every chance for Manuel to be healthy enough to play the regular season opener, but whether he’ll be ready to play after being away from the field at such an important time of year, especially for a rookie, is a different story. If Manuel is going to start the regular season as the Bills’ quarterback, he’s going to need as many reps as possible, especially in the kind of fast-paced offense the Bills are planning to run, which requires the quarterback to have complete command over the offense. At this point, the question for the Bills may not be whether Kolb will be able to use the final two pre-season games to pass Manuel in the quarterback competition, but whether or not Manuel will still be ready to start week 1 of the regular season after his absence.
The silver lining to Manuel’s injury, and it’s as thin as a silver lining can be, is that the Bills have two preseason games left to get Kolb ready to face the New England Patriots the first week of the regular season just in case Manuel isn’t ready. If his inability to stay on his two feet when walking on a rubber mat didn’t do so, then his play against the Vikings Friday night proved that Kolb is far from ready to lead a team to victory in a regular season game. The Bills may also want to adjust their offensive game plan if they’re forced to start Kolb against the Patriots, as running a hurry-up offense and trying to run as many offensive plays as possible may not be advantageous for them with Kolb at quarterback.
Although it’s apparently just a minor surgery, Manuel’s absence for the remainder of the preseason is a major setback in what has otherwise been a successful and promising preseason for the Bills. He may be an unproven rookie, but Manuel should be one of the most important players on Buffalo’s roster this season, especially if the alternative is Kolb, and they need to hope that he’s healthy and prepared to play by the time the regular season starts.