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PITTSFORD — The starting quarterback race for the Buffalo Bills has most commonly been thought of as a two-man race between rookie EJ Manuel and veteran Kevin Kolb.

But with Manuel out for the rest of the preseason following knee surgery Sunday and Kolb having dealt with an injury of his own and inconsistent play, a dark horse in the race can’t be completely ruled out.

Undrafted free agent Jeff Tuel has played a pair of solid preseason games in his role as the third quarterback. He is 21 of 26 for 236 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a quarterback rating of 130.1.

“I think at first what happens, it was interesting, when you draft, what we’ve seen publicly is a lot of the emphasis on obviously EJ and Kevin,” coach Doug Marrone said after Sunday’s practice at St. John Fisher College. “Whether I miscommunicated that or that’s what we wanted to see, I think if you go back and you look in the beginning, I said ‘Hey, I really like this kid we took from Washington State who’s really done a good job.’ Everyone was like, ‘Ehh, what’s he talking about?’ I think that we’ve seen that he’s gone in there and he’s really done a nice job.”

Of course, Marrone wouldn’t have much to gain by saying Tuel wasn’t part of the competition.

“I want all of our players, not just Jeff, to understand that no matter where they may stand on the depth chart, they’re fighting for the position to be a starter,” the coach said. “I don’t want our players to think ‘Hey, I’m fighting for this position, he’s the starter, maybe I could be No. 2 or 3.’ My mind says once the player has limited himself to that he’s not going to develop as far as he can.

“Yes, I want him to compete to be the starting quarterback. That’s what is going to make him the best and then we’ll evaluate if it’s good enough for us to win with and where he ranks among that position, not just at the quarterback position, but also the roster.”

Earlier in camp, Tuel got to work as the No. 2 quarterback behind Manuel because Kolb was out due to an injury and an excused absence. He’ll do that again with Manuel out now.

“You hate to see a guy go down, but if you’re doing anything in life, the more you do it, the better you’re going to get at it. It’s just a fact,” Tuel said. “I was really blessed with the opportunity to run with the twos and get those extra snaps in. I think it helped my game tremendously.

“I’ve said this from the beginning of the day I got here: I’m going to prepare like I’m the No. 1, whether I’m the three, two or No. 1 guy. I think that’s the best way to approach the game. If the time comes and the opportunity presents itself, I’m going to be prepared.”

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The Bills began trimming their roster Sunday by releasing four players and placing another on injured reserve.

Cut were offensive tackle Tony Hills, receiver Terrell Sinkfield and defensive backs Mark LeGree and Don Unamba. All four were signed after the start of training camp, and failed to move up the depth chart.

The Bills placed wide receiver Kevin Elliott on injured reserve. He suffered a torn ACL in his left knee on a non-contact play Friday against the Minnesota Vikings.

The Bills currently have 83 players on their active roster. They need to trim to 75 by 4 p.m. Aug. 27. The final cut to 53 players needs to be done by 6 p.m. Aug. 31.

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Missing practice Sunday were cornerback Crezdon Butler, running back Kendall Gaskins, defensive end Kourtnei Brown, offensive tackle Thomas Welch and guard Keith Williams. Marrone said Butler and Welch are day to day.

Receivers Stevie Johnson and T.J. Graham, each has a hamstring injury, took part in the individual portion of practice. Graham was held out of the team portion of practice, while Johnson took only a few reps. Both are trying to get ready for Saturday’s preseason game at Washington.

email: jskurski@buffnews.com