When the Buffalo Bills agreed to terms with undrafted free agent quarterback Jeff Tuel, it appeared that he was nothing more than a camp arm. However, over the past three months, Tuel has been improving with each snap and is now in the race to not only make the team, but to possibly be the starter on opening day if fellow rookie signal caller EJ Manuel isn’t ready to go.
Tuel burst onto the scene in his first preseason action against the Indianapolis Colts, completing 19-of-23 passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns, while failing to throw an interception. He showed poise in the pocket and displaying great touch and accuracy on his intermediate passes.
Tuel was a 26-game starter at Washington State, where he completed 61.4% of his passes for 5,936 yards and 33 touchdowns. His collegiate career was filled with turmoil, as he dealt with two devastating injuries (dislocated knee cap, broken clavicle), endured coaching changes, and was even demoted to backup quarterback.
However, Tuel overcame the odds and was invited to the NFLPA All-Star game, where he put on a clinic, completing 8-of-8 passes for 64 yards and a touchdown, and once again, zero interceptions.
Tuel has gained the trust and respect of the coaching staff, especially head coach Doug Marrone, who had this to say about the rookie:
“I think at first what happens, it was interesting, when you draft, what we’ve seen publicly is a lot of the emphasis on obviously EJ and Kevin,” said Marrone. “I think if you go back and you look in the beginning, I said ‘Hey I really like this kid we took from Washington State who’s really done a good job.'”
It’s also clear that Tuel isn’t taking anything for granted and he’s making the most out of his increased reps. Throughout training camp, Tuel has been the most accurate Bills’ quarterback on deep passes, utilizing his uncanny ability to drop passes in where only his receiver can make a play. He’s shown that he’s quick on his feet and even quicker to go through his progressions and get the ball out of his hand.
Now, Tuel is in a one-on-one battle with veteran passer Kevin Kolb, following a minor procedure to EJ Manuel’s knee that will sideline him for the remainder of preseason.
Once an afterthought, Tuel is now engrained in a real competition for a job, not just one made up by coaching staff to bring out the best in their players. Coaches Doug Marrone and Nathaniel Hackett know that this is a young team that underwent a lot of turnover, so very few jobs on the field are guaranteed.
Marrone elaborated on this to BuffaloBills.com, stating,
“At the end of the day, do I really want to say he’s in competition with that? Obviously I do because I want all of our players, not just Jeff, to understand that no matter where they may stand on the depth chart they’re fighting for the position to be a starter. I don’t want our players to think ‘Hey I’m fighting for this position, he’s the starter, maybe I could be number two or three.”
While Kolb is obviously the front-runner at this point, his only real advantage over Tuel is in-game experience. If Tuel can continue to do what he’s done to this point, which is to learn the plays, gain the trust of his teammates and coaches, and put good throws on tape, Kevin Kolb could be just another obstacle that the young quarterback has shown he can overcome.