Kyle Orton didn’t want to spend much time talking about the past Monday, which is good because time is something the newest Buffalo Bills quarterback doesn’t have a lot of to waste these days.
Orton spent his Labor Day going through his first practice with the Bills after officially joining the team Saturday. He’ll serve as EJ Manuel’s backup Sunday when Buffalo opens the 2014 season at Chicago.
“In the NFL you never know where you’re going to end up and things come up,” Orton said. “I’ve been grinding and trying to catch up with these guys.”
A week of practice is all Orton feels he needs to be up to speed with the Bills’ offense – which is good because it’s all the time he’s got.
“I think you’d be surprised of what he can do. I think we’ll go work during the week and see how much he feels comfortable with handling,” Bills coach Doug Marrone said. “Probably more than what most people think because of his experience.”
Marrone said the Bills’ backup quarterback position is “better” with Orton on the roster.
“Kyle is much better for us,” the coach said. “He’s an experienced veteran. He’s what we were looking for and we were fortunate to get him.”
The Cowboys released Orton on July 16, after the quarterback skipped all of the team’s offseason workouts and mandatory minicamp in June. That led some to believe Orton planned to retire. Doing so, however, meant the Cowboys could have tried to recoup $3.4 million in bonus money he received over the last two years.
Orton informed the team he planned to report to training camp in July – but the Cowboys elected to cut him.
Asked to comment on his departure, Orton quickly audibled.
“We play the Bears and I play for the Bills. I kind of stick with those two teams for now and not worry about that,” he said.
In the end, things turned out pretty well for the 31-year-old. He got to keep his signing bonus from Dallas and will make $5 million on a one-year deal with the Bills.
“Just enjoying family time,” Orton said of what he did for most of August. “We’ve got a 3-year-old, so it was a good time to be with her, and to be honest, I needed it. The past is the past and I’m excited to be here.”
Marrone indicated the Bills were targeting Orton “early” in the summer, which would seem to mean shortly after his release.
“I think that when you start seeing things unfolding, you have to have contingency plans,” he said. “Doug Whaley and I have always discussed things just in case: ‘What about if this doesn’t happen or what about if that doesn’t happen?’ No different than when we discuss, ‘What happens if this player is injured when we play on Sunday. What are we doing? Oh, this player is injured.’ I don’t think that’s abnormal for teams to discuss that if someone’s not playing well, what options they are going to have.”
The Bills gave Thad Lewis, Jeff Tuel and Dennis Dixon all of training camp to prove they were worthy of the No. 2 job, but none of them pleased Marrone and Co.
All three players were cut, with Tuel later being added to the practice squad.
“I don’t know if I’d label it a setback, but we wanted those guys to step up and play better,” Marrone said. “When they didn’t, we had to go out and make some moves.”
Orton said he “didn’t really think about many other places” when choosing which team to play for.
“This was the right team for me,” he said. “The more you’re around you just get that feeling that you’ve got the right fit. … When this opportunity arose, I jumped at it.”
A 10-year veteran, Orton has played for four different NFL teams, starting 70 of 75 career games. His best two years came in 2009 and 2010 with Denver, when he made 28 starts and passed for 7,455 yards and 41 touchdowns.
The Broncos, however, replaced Orton with Tim Tebow after a 1-4 start to 2011. Orton was eventually released and signed with the Kansas City Chiefs.
He believes that experience of picking up an offense on the fly will benefit him with the Bills.
“You’re kind of in it right away,” he said. “Mentally, I’m going to be fine. I got some good work in today physically and we’ve got six days to go. … I’ll be ready to go on Sunday.”
The toughest part of fitting into a new team this late in the process, Orton said, is getting comfortable with new teammates.
“Just being yourself – don’t try to be anything that you don’t want to be – and just be a veteran presence,” he said. “I’ve been around for a while now, so I’ve been in every situation that you can be in.”
Orton was asked whether he was in Buffalo to compete for a starting job.
“My role on the team is a backup and to be ready to play whenever I need to be,” he said. “Job No. 1 is to help EJ and that’s what I plan to do.”
So how does he go about that?
“Like him, I started as a rookie and know how tough that is. But also, I know how great your second year can be, just learning wise. I didn’t get a chance to start my second year. I was back on the bench, but the growth curve from Year One to Year Two was great,” Orton said. “Your confidence grows. I’m just here as a sounding board for him. I don’t think I know everything, but I’ve seen a lot of looks, been around a lot of different offenses and played a lot of defenses. Any questions that he has, I hope I can help him.”