Buffalo Bills: Full Position Breakdown and Depth Chart Analysis at Quarterback
For the Buffalo Bills to get over the hump and end their playoff drought in 2014, they will have to get better play from under center.
EJ Manuel's rookie season was marred by injury, and Thad Lewis and Jeff Tuel weren't able to keep the team afloat in Manuel's absence. General manager Doug Whaley could have looked to beef up the quarterback depth in the offseason, but he believes in the players he has in the fold already.
Whaley told Tim Graham of the The Buffalo News that he and the rest of the Bills brass are "very confident in the guys we have on campus," but to "never say never" because there's always the possibility someone can get hurt.
Besides Manuel, Lewis and Tuel, the Bills also have Dennis Dixon on the roster. Now that the first week of Bills organized team activities is in the books, let's break down the talent Buffalo has at QB. Who is the starter, and how will the rest of the depth chart shake out?
Starter: EJ Manuel
The Bills spent their 2013 first-round pick on EJ Manuel, and he is entrenched as the starting quarterback, barring further injury.
Whaley made as much clear to Marc Sessler of NFL.com when he discussed the option of bringing in a veteran in the offseason: "We wouldn't do it unless they knew they were coming in as a backup and a mentor to EJ, so it would have to be the right fit. And they would have to come in knowing their slot."
When Manuel was able to play, he had a fairly decent rookie season. Manuel threw for 1,972 yards and completed 58.8 percent of his passes. He tossed 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions, and he added two rushing touchdowns along the way.
More importantly, Manuel was putting his team in position to win. The Bills hung with the New England Patriots in Week 1, only to have Tom Brady do Tom Brady things and pull out a victory. Then Manuel led a game-winning drive against the Carolina Panthers in Week 2 and got wins over the New York Jets, Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars.
If it weren't for some untimely fumbles, Manuel also might have marched his team down the field for a win against the Atlanta Falcons, which would have made his record as a starter 5-5. A rookie quarterback who missed most of the preseason with an injury can do a lot worse than fight for a .500 record.
With his injury concerns behind him, Manuel is now focusing on finding a rhythm with his new receiving weapons. Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com said that Manuel made some good-looking throws during OTAs and that he is working on progressing through his reads quickly and effectively.
If he makes a jump in 2014, Manuel can help the talented Bills roster open some eyes in the coming season.
Backup: Thad Lewis
Thad Lewis will return as the Bills' backup signal-caller in 2014. Bills fans and coaches alike are hoping he sees less of the field this time around.
That isn't to say Lewis was horrendous when he was spelling Manuel. But the Bills want to see Manuel have an opportunity to play a full season to judge what he can do.
Whaley was impressed with Lewis' work in relief, telling Graham of The Buffalo News: "A backup should keep you .500. Thad came in and got us close, 2-3. We're excited about that."
Both of those two wins cam against the division rival Miami Dolphins, and the losses were to the Patriots, Cincinnati Bengals and New Orleans Saints, all of whom were playoff teams in 2013. While he was the starter, Lewis completed 59.2 percent of his passes for 1,092 yards, four touchdowns, three picks and a rushing score.
Should Lewis' services be needed again in 2014, he will be better prepared. He wasn't on the team until August last year, so he had to learn the offense on the fly. Lewis spoke to John Murphy of BuffaloBills.com about his preparation:
It's been great. Getting an opportunity to know what you're doing and going ahead and just running plays—being able to correct the things you see on film. Last year I was kind of iffy on that situation there. It's been good. It's been an easy transition, I wish I would have had this before I had to start that game in week six last year.
In Case of Emergency: Jeff Tuel
I think we are safe in assuming those at One Bills Drive are hoping it doesn't come to this.
If Manuel and Lewis end up unavailable, the Bills might be better off seeing if Doug Flutie has any Flutie Flakes magic left.
Tuel Time was not a show any Bills fan enjoyed watching in 2013. Jeff Tuel, who went undrafted in the 2013 draft, threw for 309 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions in relief of Manuel and Lewis. His total QBR, which is scored out of 100, was 9.6. Yeesh.
When discussing his quarterbacks with Graham, Whaley...well, he discussed Tuel: "Jeff Tuel came in and played against Kansas City, did some good things and made some mistakes. But we were cognizant of the fact he was an undrafted, college, free-agent rookie. So we expected him to make some mistakes."
Not exactly a ringing endorsement of what he and the coaching staff see in Tuel. But they must have seen something to sign him last year, and they must still see something since he is still on the roster heading toward training camp.
Tuel probably will never be anything more than the third quarterback for the Bills. But he better be on his game during camp, because he will still be in competition with another player for a roster spot.
Fighting to Make the Team: Dennis Dixon
Dennis Dixon doesn't have much, if any, meaningful NFL experience to speak of, but he can still give Tuel a run for his money in training camp.
Whaley told Graham that "Dennis Dixon's been in the league for a while, and he brings a skill set that will complement what we're trying to do offensively."
How much of a fight Dixon will put up in training camp remains to be seen. The third quarterback spot is Tuel's to lose, but Dixon could take it with a strong showing this summer.