First year Buffalo Bills head coach Doug Marrone admitted after the win against the Jacksonville Jaguars that he considered benching rookie quarterback EJ Manuel after the first two series. Marrone thought better of it and the Bills and their fans are better because of it.
Quarterbacks in today’s NFL aren’t manufactured; they are built like metal frames. They have to go through the heat and be pounded into shape before they can become solid and sturdy. Some quarterbacks go through different types of fire, a draft snub or high expectations are examples, but most learn through game experience and build off of that. That’s what EJ Manuel is doing right now with Marrone as his blacksmith.
If Marrone had decided that EJ needed to sit in that situation then you might as well have called the Manuel experiment a failure, and pegged the Bills to draft another first round rookie quarterback. By letting Manuel figure things out Marrone saw something his quarterback had yet to do, rise to a challenge on the road.
Many fans will point out that Manuel was a three-year starter at Florida State and that he has plenty of experience as a starting quarterback. Though this is true, the other side of the coin is that he is now playing against the best of the best. The playing speed of the NFL is so much faster than college football It’s laughable to compare the speed of the game, especially for quarterbacks. It appears that Manuel is starting to adjust to the speed, and thus his ability to make quicker decisions and throws will improve.
Marrone knew this and had to trust that his quarterback could get back on track, because whether he likes to admit it or not, the success he has as head coach is directly tied to Manuel. For as much as Marrone has had to protect his rookie quarterback, much like a father watching a son grow up, in this instance he has allowed Manuel to grow from the pains of his mistakes.
People forget that Manuel lost three weeks of practice in the preseason and now six games during the regular season. That lost time has been critical for Manuel as he lost practice time to learn the offense early, and was just now hitting these growing pains rather than earlier in the season.
There is always room for improvement for Manuel or any player on the Bills, but it will be especially telling how much improvement Manuel can make in his first professional off-season. If he shows significant signs of improvement in his second year, then the Bills and Marrone’s faith could be handsomely rewarded. No improvement will only give further evidence that Manuel was the wrong choice.