The Buffalo Bills will hold five full practices between now and their season opener Sept. 8 against the New England Patriots.
For rookie quarterback EJ Manuel to start in that game, it’s likely he’ll need to participate fully in a minimum of three of those.
On Tuesday, coach Doug Marrone mapped out a realistic timetable that would give Manuel a chance of being under center in Week One.
“I think there’s two things that you look at: A. The number of times he needs to go play, and then B. The number of days for that preparation,” Marrone said. “If the doctor said ‘you’re not going to get him on that field until Thursday and then he’ll be ready to play on Sunday,’ I would be concerned about doing that. If they said, ‘we can get him on that field Monday or Wednesday.’ I would see how he played and then make the decision.”
Marrone said he expects to learn a lot about Manuel’s chances to play in the opener from his first practice.
“We’ll see how, for lack of a better term, rusty he may be,” the coach said.
Manuel has begun working out, but hasn’t started throwing. The team has not yet determined when he will do so.
“Right now, he’s telling me he’s ready to go, but obviously he’s not,” Marrone said. “That’s the mentality of EJ. I’m excited about it; I’ve watched him do footwork drills and cones. I’ve watched him ride a bike. You talk to the kid and you’d think he’s starting on Thursday” in the preseason finale against the Detroit Lions.
Marrone said he does not have a firm rule on a player practicing a certain number of times before he will play him in a game, choosing instead to make the decision on a case-by-case basis.
“It really comes down to the player and the responsibility of the coaches, that if we do put him out there then we have to be able to hold him accountable for what we’re asking him to do. Meaning that what you can’t do as a coach is say that if a player gets beat, you can’t sit there and go, ‘Well he was injured, he didn’t practice and that’s going to happen.’ That’s not fair to the club nor is it fair to the team,” Marrone said.
Erik Pears was supposed to be pushed for his starting right tackle job this season.
But with Chris Hairston unable to practice during training camp, that never happened. Whatever chance there was for the competition ended Monday when Hairston was put on the reserve/non-football illness list, ending his season.
The good news for the Bills is that Marrone has been pleased with Pears’ performance.
“Outstanding. He really has. I’ve seen him really make a jump, especially recent days,” Marrone said. “He gets a lot of great work. Obviously going against Mario and the defensive ends on our team, I think that he’s really upped his production from what you’ve seen when he’s played here in the past. I really think he’s going about it as a pro, he works extremely hard.”
Pears started all 16 games for the Bills in 2011, but played in just seven last year before going on injured reserve. Marrone, a former offensive lineman himself, said he sees a player in Pears who has untapped potential.
“I work with that group, and I really see him. The funny thing is people look and they’ll say ‘gosh, this guy has been here six years or eight years and he is what he is.’ A lot of times, those players, they can continue to get better,” the coach said.
“I see him as a guy, even though he’s a veteran, he’s really got a lot better, especially in these past couple of days.”
Marrone said running back C.J. Spiller will rejoin the team Sunday. Spiller is back in his home state of Florida dealing with a family matter.
Additionally, cornerback Stephon Gilmore had successful surgery on his fractured wrist. The timetable for his return remains 6-8 weeks.
With Gilmore out, Crezdon Butler lined up with the starters on defense during the portion of practice open to the media Tuesday.
Spiller, Manuel, Gilmore and quarterback Kevin Kolb did not participate Tuesday in any capacity. Linebacker Marcus Dowtin, who has an ankle injury, worked out on his own off to the side. Marrone said Dowtin should be able to play Thursday.