When quarterback Kevin Kolb injured himself in a freak accident during Saturday’s training camp practice, most people assumed rookie quarterback EJ Manuel’s road to becoming the starting quarterback became much shorter. However, that isn’t necessarily a good thing, which is why the Bills and the fans should hope that Kolb heals quickly and returns to the practice field as soon as possible.
I’m not advocating that Kolb needs to return quickly so he can start Week One. I’ve been a proponent of the best man starting against the New England Patriots. That’s the point of this quarterback competition. Either player going down for an extended period of time due to injury throws the process of selecting a starter into jeopardy.
On one hand, one quarterback getting extended repetitions with the rest of the first-team offense isn’t a bad thing in itself. It leads to the quarterback improving his timing with the receivers and the offensive line getting used to his cadence more. In fact, a head coach would love for his quarterback to have the timing of the offense down pat and all eleven players on the same page.
On the other hand, with Kolb going down with injury, head coach Doug Marrone and offensive coordinator Nate Hackett need to keep Manuel focused and sharp. Manuel needs to take advantage of the opportunity to get all of the first-team reps. If he shows any sign of losing the mental edge created by the competition, the Bills will be in trouble. In fact, on Sunday, the first full practice after Kolb’s injury, Manuel had his worst day of practice at camp.
That, by far, is the biggest problem with Kolb getting hurt. The potential for a lapse in concentration. Competition should bring out the best in both quarterbacks. With one getting hurt and facing any sort of absence, some of the pressure is lifted from the other player’s shoulders. This situation could be as big a test as Manuel could face this early into training camp. Will he be able to keep the pressure up on himself? Will he maintain the competitive edge without seeing Kolb take reps on the field?
Football is all about competition. You compete against the other team to win a game. You compete against players on your own team to either rise up the depth chart or to keep from falling down it. In training camp, there is no other team to compete against to win a game. The only competition is your fellow teammates at that same position. Manuel has lost that competition, even if only for a few days until Kolb’s knee feels better. Manuel needs to keep the pressure on himself to prove to the rest of the team that he deserves to be the starting quarterback, rather than assuming that title by default.
In the long run, the best-case scenario for the Buffalo Bills is that EJ Manuel is that franchise quarterback that turns this team around. At this junction, he needs to prove to the other players and the coaching staff that he is indeed a cornerstone for the Bills. Having a healthy Kevin Kolb to push Manuel can only help that process. So let’s hope that Kolb’s knee is only tweaked and he will be returning to the fields at St John Fisher shortly to keep that process on track. Otherwise everyone will find out shortly just how mentally focused and strong Manuel is.