In an echo of preseason, the Buffalo Bills once again need to go about replacing EJ Manuel in their lineup.
How they do it this time, however, could be much different.
Manuel – the Bills’ franchise quarterback – will miss at least “a few weeks,” according to coach Doug Marrone, after suffering a sprained lateral collateral ligament in his right knee during the 37-24 loss to the Cleveland Browns on Thursday night.
The injury will not require surgery, according to Marrone, and the team expects him back sometime this season.
In the meantime, the Bills have undergone a clear shift in their organizational assessment of the quarterback position.
“We will be looking to bring in another quarterback,” Marrone said Friday. “We’re in the process of that right now, you know, going through the names, going through the tape.”
Marrone indicated he planned to join Bills General Manager Doug Whaley in that search as soon as his news conference was finished Friday afternoon.
When Manuel injured his left knee in the preseason and his status for the season opener was in question, Marrone announced well in advance that the team was preparing to start undrafted rookie free agent Jeff Tuel against New England.
The coach made no such declarations Friday about Tuel heading into the Bills’ Week Six game against Cincinnati.
“You know, Jeff’s working extremely hard, doing everything he possibly can do, and he’s getting better and better each week,” Marrone said. “We like him, we really do. But we just want to make sure that we’re doing our due process. Is there someone else out there that’s available to help us? Is there someone out there who’s better?
“That’s what we do with all the pieces of the puzzle, because that’s our responsibility. Not only for the people that are right here, but for the fans and the organization. So we’re just going through that process.”
Tuel’s performance in relief of Manuel on Thursday night seems to have had a dramatic effect on the Bills’ thinking. He went 8 of 20 for just 80 yards in more than a quarter of work and threw the game-deciding pick-six to Browns safety T.J. Ward late in the fourth quarter with the Bills down by six points.
“There’s obviously some plays I want back and some things I want to do better,” said Tuel, who planned to meet with offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett to go over the game film. “Any little thing I can do to get better, I’m going to do it.”
Tuel expressed confidence in his ability to execute the offense.
“I know the playbook, I know the system, I feel comfortable with it. It’s a matter of going in and executing it,” he said. “We’ll have answers. We’ve been pressured a lot all year just because EJ’s a rookie as well, they want to test the rookies, obviously myself coming in in that situation I’ll get pressured as well. So we’ll have answers. Get the ball out of my hands quickly, runs, whatever we’ve got to do, we’ll have an answer.”
Tuel’s teammates also stood behind him despite Thursday’s result.
“I didn’t see that he was scared or anything,” tight end Scott Chandler said. “I think he just didn’t see the safety on the pick. I don’t know that it’s very easy to come in toward the end of the game after not having any real game NFL regular-season experience. We needed to go win it and we weren’t able to get it done.”
Marrone indicated that the team will look outside the organization for help at quarterback – and does not currently plan to promote Thad Lewis from the practice squad. Asked whether it was reasonable to think a free agent could realistically come in over the weekend and be capable of starting a week later, Marrone said it was.
“That’s not a stretch,” he said. “I think it all depends on who it is, and what we get, and what their background is in their system. I would say it’s possible in what we do, only because we’re going through the process right now. I think that by the end of the weekend, I’ll have a lot better feel of what we’re trying to accomplish, seeing who we bring in.
“If there’s someone out there that’s not, or we don’t think is better, you know, then we’ll play with Jeff or bring up Thaddeus.”
As for Manuel, Marrone did not put a more specific timetable on the injury other than to say it will be a “few weeks.”
The recovery time is hard to predict, the coach said, because players who have had the injury – including Bills running back Fred Jackson and linebacker Arthur Moats – have differed in how quickly they’ve been able to get back.
“What we need right now is for it to calm down, see where he’s at probably in a week, see how it’s progressing,” Marrone said about Manuel’s recovery, “and then get it down into a little bit more of a window.”