Assessing Bills QBs after spring practices

Kolb

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – The Buffalo Bills concluded spring practices on Thursday still undecided as to who will start at quarterback.

Veteran Kevin Kolb or rookie EJ Manuel. (My photo, above.)

I asked offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett when he and head coach Doug Marrone ideally would like to choose.

“Everything’s open,” Hackett said after Wednesday’s second of three mandatory minicamp practices this week. “To be able to put anything down on paper would be — I’d be lying to you.

“I think right now it’s just about getting them reps and getting them better every day. And I think with those extra reps (with Tarvaris Jackson now gone), that’s going to dramatically help them both … At some point, some way, (one) will separate.”

KolbKolb, a 28-year-old from Texas, is a veteran of six NFL seasons — for four years in Philadelphia, and for the past (disastrous) two in Arizona.

The 6-foot-3, 218-pounder always took the first snaps in 7-on-7, 9-on-9 and 11-on-11 reps throughout the spring, and he worked most often with first-string offensive teammates.

Manuel, a 23-year-old from Virginia, was taken 16th overall by the Bills in April’s draft — the only signal-caller selected on Day 1. This week, after journeyman Jackson’s release, Manuel took almost as many practice snaps as Kolb.

Both QBs remain works in progress.

I watched all of Wednesday’s and Thursday’s high-paced practices, and that old chestnut about when you have co-No. 1s you really have no No. 1 at all, might hold true with the Bills in 2013, at least at the get-go.

On Wednesday, Kolb missed woefully on almost every deep pass he threw. He seems to feather all his deep passes too high, and they fluttered.

What’s more, there’s a reason Kolb got the hell beat out of him in Arizona, and the Cardinals’ horrible offensive line wasn’t entirely to blame. At times it appeared his internal clock locked up when his first option either wasn’t available or breaking open yet.

On one play near the goal line on Thursday, Kolb took eons in the pocket before deciding where to throw. He’d have been tattooed in a real game long before he got the pass away. It made me recall what NFL Films analyst Greg Cosell told me about Kolb at the end of March:

“I think he’s always struggled in a muddied pocket. He has a very difficult time when there are bodies around him, which was GREATLY exacerbated in Arizona … There will always be plays in which that’s an issue. But hopefully in Buffalo they can control that better, and it won’t become the kind of problem that prevents him from playing.”

I don’t mean to be too harsh. Kolb completed some beautiful passes on Thursday — far more than on Wednesday, including a couple of perfect cross-field fades for touchdowns from the red zone.

EJAs for Manuel, he struggled mightily at times but also showed off his strong arm and pocket savvy.

Near the end of Thursday’s 11-on-11s in the red zone, he was picked off twice — by third-year corner/safety Aaron Williams, and by undrafted free-agent rookie corner Nickell Robey from Southern Cal, who at times this week showed impressive man-press coverage skills.

“Those things are going to happen,” Manuel told me after practice about the ugly interceptions. “You don’t want them to happen, but I’d rather they happen out here, on the practice field, than in a game.  So we’ve just got to iron those things out, and we still have time to work on it.”

Just six weeks, actually. Manuel said he is going to remain in Buffalo during that time to prepare for the July 28 start of training camp at St. John Fisher College outside Rochester, N.Y.

Kolb is heading home to central Texas, where he’ll continue fine-tuning his game.

Manuel praised Kolb for his “great job” of mentoring him at times. Kolb, for his part, chuckled at the thought of his new role as a sage old veteran so soon in his career.

“It’s crazy,” he said. “I don’t have all the answers, there’s no doubt about that. But if there’s ever something that E.J. needs, I would never, ever hesitate to give him help — even if it pertains to our own competition. I’d still help him out. I’m a teammate first and foremost.”

Hackett’s attack appears to be a nouveau, high-tempo incarnation of the West Coast offence. He intends to rely heavily not on Kolb or Manuel, but rather on C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson — one of the NFL’s most dangerous duos at running back.

“For anything that we’re doing, we always want to hand the ball off to a back,” Hackett said. “We want to have the running backs carry the load. That’s always the case. We’re very lucky because we have both of those guys, and we want to make sure that they’re both touching the ball a lot.

“‘When in doubt, give it to a back’ — that’s our motto.”

Good plan.

 

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PettineKILL ‘EM OR HURT ‘EM! BILLS ‘D’ MORE MENACING NOW

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – Buffalo Bills pass-rusher Mario Williams said he really like new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s hybrid, multi-layered defence.

Especially the aggressive attitude Pettine has brought to Buffalo.

Asked by a reporter Thursday if Pettine uses the word “menacing” to his players as he did to that reporter to describe what he wants them to be toward offences, Williams said no.

“He usually says, ‘Kill ’em or hurt ’em,’” Williams said. That’s what I always hear, ‘Kill ’em or hurt ’em.’ So either way, that’s not a good thing for the (offensive player).”

Before you go looking up Roger Goodell’s phone number, Pettine surely did not mean that literally. But after bountygate last year, one suspects someone soon will suggest to Pettine that he stick with just ‘menacing.’

Williams sounded more upbeat and far more excited about his Bills defensive playbook than at any time last year. He didn’t sound like someone who was going to be lounging around until training camp.

He said Bills players need to be “eating right, continuing that, working out extremely hard and just getting after it. This is not the vacation time. You can take a trip or whatever, that’s fine. But this six weeks that everybody has, it’s not just, ‘Go home and eat Doritos.’”

 

 

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