PITTSFORD – Thad Lewis thinks he has upgraded his play in the past week.
Locked in a tight battle with Jeff Tuel for the Buffalo Bills’ No. 2 quarterback job, Lewis knows the time to respond is now.
“I think I’ve gotten better,” Lewis said after Sunday’s practice at St. John Fisher College. “At the beginning, I thought I was kind of slow, kind of sluggish. But I’ve picked it up. I actually picked it up this week in the game. So now it’s just to continue to get better every time you get the opportunity to step on the field.”
Neither Tuel nor Lewis has “lit it up” so far this training camp, raising concerns about the Bills’ security at quarterback behind starter EJ Manuel.
It appears Tuel has a slight edge on Lewis, based on the fact Tuel served as the No. 2 for the exhibition opener against the New York Giants. Lewis took his turn as No. 2 in Friday’s game at Carolina.
In Sunday’s practice, Tuel was back in the No. 2 spot.
“That’s a battle that’s open,” said coach Doug Marrone. “It’s been up and down. I don’t think you can say that someone has really gone ahead of everyone. It’s kind of been back and forth, so we’re just going to keep looking at the situation.”
Lewis, who went 2-3 as a starter in relief of Manuel last season, says he embraces the challenge.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “That’s how you better this team. If there’s no competition, guys tend to get complacent. Your team is only as good as your backups. If we’re able to push each other into becoming the best players we can become, the team will be better if the backups can step in and we don’t miss a beat.”
Both Lewis and Tuel are NFL underdogs, entering the league as undrafted free agents. Lewis spent most of his first three years on NFL practice squads. He played reasonably well last year, given the fact he didn’t even join the Bills’ roster until Aug. 25. Tuel, starting his second season, lost his only start, against Kansas City, last season.
Given his humble NFL beginnings, Lewis was not about to take offense to Tuel jumping ahead of him for the exhibition opener.
“At the end of the day, you just want a chance to play,” he said. “When I look at my situation, man, and where I’ve come from. I’ve never gotten to play as much as I’ve played so far. So just getting in the game and getting the opportunity is key. It doesn’t matter who you go out with, you try to make the guys around you better. That’s what the quarterback is supposed to do.”
Lewis graduated in 3½ years from Duke University and picked up the offense quickly last season. He said it’s a lot easier in his second year.
“You’re swimming,” he said of his first few starts last year. “My comfort is way up, way up. It’s 10 times easier. I can honestly say the last two games I played in, it was a lot better than the first three.”
Lewis does not have classic size, at 6-foot, œ-inches. He has not shown great accuracy in camp this summer.
One of his best attributes is he’s a gamer. He showed tremendous toughness in his five starts last year, especially in taking some wicked hits at New Orleans. He doesn’t flinch under pressure in the pocket.
In the exhibition win at Carolina on Friday, Lewis made a nice step-up in the pocket, under duress, to deliver an 11-yard pass to Chris Hogan. It got the Bills in range to kick a field goal to end the half.
“Sometimes you’ve just got to go out there and be a player and make plays,” Lewis said of the Hogan completion. “That’s what this position’s all about. That’s what you have to show in the preseason.”
Lewis also had a sharp slant pass to Marquise Goodwin for an 18-yard gain. It was a proper read of the defense by the QB.
“In the NFL you get the ball to your playmakers,” Lewis said. “They make plays for you. That’s the whole key. When they stack the box, you don’t want your running back running his head into a bunch of guys. Too many guys in the box, take the guy on the outside.”
For the game, Lewis was 6 of 11 for 63 yards.
Through two exhibitions, Lewis is 16 of 27 for 150 yards with one interception. Tuel is 16 of 22 for 98 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.