The Buffalo Bills are on to Plan F at quarterback.
Thaddeus Lewis has been promoted from the team’s practice squad and will start Sunday when the Cincinnati Bengals visit Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Coach Doug Marrone spent nearly 8 minutes at the start of his press conference Monday afternoon explaining just how it is that his team has gotten to this point.
Marrone retraced the organization’s steps going all the way back to the draft, when the team chose EJ Manuel in the first round. Let’s call him Plan A.
He then went through the benefits of signing a veteran quarterback, which the team did with Kevin Kolb. He’s Plan B.
Marrone next talked about the decision to keep undrafted free agent Jeff Tuel on the 53-man roster as Manuel’s backup at the end of the preseason. He’d be Plan C.
He even addressed the team’s failed signing of veteran Matt Leinart (Plan D) after Kolb was lost for the season to a concussion and Manuel was hurt in the preseason, and its failed attempt to acquire free agent Josh Freeman (Plan E) over the weekend.
After all those options were exhausted, Marrone woke up Monday morning and determined Lewis gives his team the best chance to win in place of Manuel, who is out indefinitely after suffering a sprained lateral collateral ligament in his right knee in a Week Five loss to Cleveland.
“When you look around the league, it’s difficult when you get down to your third or fourth quarterback. The thing with Thad is he’s been in a game before,” Marrone said.
Lewis has one regular-season start on his resume. That came in Week 17 last year for the Cleveland Browns, against the Pittsburgh Steelers in a game that did not have playoff implications for either team. He went 22 of 32 for 204 yards, one touchdown and one interception in his only regular-season action to date.
“He can run and he can extend plays. He can run the read option. He can throw the ball extremely well,” Marrone said. “He’s made some great gains because he knows the whole system. Now we just have to fit and game plan what we think he does best. … One of the questions people normally ask is ‘does he know the system?’ He does. He knows everything. He’s bright as hell. Now it’s the point of making sure we give him a plan that he can be successful with.”
In promoting Lewis and giving him the start, the Bills leapfrogged Tuel on the quarterback depth chart. Marrone was asked whether that meant the team misjudged his ability to play in the NFL at this point in his career. Tuel went 8 of 20 for 80 yards and threw the game-clinching interception that was returned for a touchdown against the Browns in relief of Manuel.
“I don’t doubt when people look at it and they say, ‘Well, wait a minute now, this guy was here behind your starter and this guy was on the practice squad.’ That’s why I tried to really explain myself well. People would be like, ‘That doesn’t make sense. Why wouldn’t you go with the other guy and bring him up?” Marrone said. “Jeff, in my opinion, is going to be a very good player. He can do a lot of good things and is a great young talent that works hard.”
It’s clear, however, that the Bills do not feel Tuel is ready yet.
Marrone said Tuel’s strong play in the preseason — he completed 31-of-43 passes for 299 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions — forced the team to keep him on the 53-man roster.
“The way he played in the preseason and you look at his numbers, really outside of EJ probably played as well as any young quarterback in the league,” Marrone said. “What we didn’t want to have happen is someone go ahead and take away our young developing quarterback from under us. So we made a decision to go with two on the roster.
“Our judgment on him and our belief is that he can do it, yes. Now, am I going to be wrong down the road? Could I? Yeah, I could do that with everyone.”
The Bills acquired Lewis before the final preseason game against the Detroit Lions in a trade for linebacker Chris White. Because he had practice-squad eligibility, and because injuries at other positions created roster needs, the team decided it couldn’t afford to keep three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster at the start of the season.
“We had injuries at kicker and we had injuries in the defensive backfield. We were going in with two knowing that we had Thad, but in a perfect world it would’ve been EJ, a veteran and Jeff Tuel is a perfect practice-squad candidate, until he started to play so well in the preseason that we needed to —– in our opinion, right, wrong or indifferent — protect him.”
Marrone said he will make his decision on the quarterback week to week, but that “the skillset of Thad with the ability to run and extend gives us a better chance.”
Lewis is on his fourth team in his fourth professional season. He originally came into the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the St. Louis Rams in 2010 out of Duke, then spent the next two years mostly on the Browns’ practice squad.
“Different situations, different scenarios. I’m still here today, so I’m hanging around, and I’m happy to have a job, to be honest,” he said Monday, when asked why he’s had trouble sticking with a team.
Lewis is Duke’s all-time leader in career passing yardage with 10,065, touchdowns (67) and passing attempts (1,510) and is second in career completions (877).
“I have a great sense of the game plan, a great grasp of it. Like every week, you don’t just sit there on practice squad and not prepare as if you’re a starter because that’s your job, this is what you’re supposed to do. You have to learn, you have to know the things that you have to do. I’ve been doing that every week, so this will just be a regular week for me; I just get the chance to start,” he said. “My total focus is just going out there and making sure I do the things I can to do to help my team win on Sunday.”
Marrone informed Lewis of his decision Monday morning.
That came after the team worked into the night Sunday in an effort to sign Freeman, the former first-round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who was released last week.
“We had discussions not only with his people, but with other people,” Marrone said. “I think when these situations come up that’s always going to happen.”
The Bills also worked out free agents Pat White and Dennis Dixon on Sunday.
“We thought it was best to move on and play with Thaddeus,” Marrone said.