Bills get boost with QB Manuel's return vs. Steelers
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The Bills' monthlong shuffle at quarterback is coming to an end after rookie starter EJ Manuel returned to practice Wednesday.
Manuel's presence on the field, and the expectation that he'll be ready to step in immediately and start against the Steelers (2-6) on Sunday, has provided the Bills a much-needed lift.
“Yeah, we're excited to get EJ back,” center Eric Wood said. “Hopefully, it gives us a boost offensively.”
And don't underestimate the importance of Manuel re-establishing stability at a position that was mostly unsettled in the four weeks since the first-round draft pick out of Florida State sprained his right knee.
“He's the guy that we wanted to be back there, and we've got him back there now,” running back Fred Jackson said.
The Bills (3-6) were going nowhere in losing three of four without Manuel, who was hurt in a 37-24 loss at Cleveland on Oct. 3.
The injury prompted a scramble by the team to find a capable replacement at a position where Buffalo lacked experienced depth.
Journeyman Thad Lewis was promoted from the practice squad to take over as interim starter after undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel struggled filling in for Manuel against the Browns.
Lewis went 1-2 before he was sidelined by bruised ribs, which led to Tuel making his first career start in a 23-13 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs last weekend.
Manuel was cleared to play earlier this week after spending most of last week working out individually.
On Wednesday, Manuel showed no signs of a limp while dropping back to pass, and he completed several throws into gusty winds during a 20-minute portion of practice open to the media.
“Yeah, very confident. Pushing off it fine. Running around and making plays,” Manuel said. “It's still up to coach as far as what we want to do as a team, but I definitely feel confident going into Sunday.”
Coach Doug Marrone liked what he saw, and acknowledged that Manuel is expected to start barring any setbacks.
“From a standpoint of being healthy, he's fine,” Marrone said. “Now it's just to the point of really trying to get him back.”
Plan B would be starting Lewis, who also returned to practice Wednesday.
In four-plus games, Manuel went 85 of 150 for 985 yards passing with five touchdowns with three interceptions and a lost fumble.
At 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds, Manuel has a strong arm and provides an element of mobility to the Bills' up-tempo attack.
Manuel added it hasn't been yet determined whether he'll play with a protective brace.