Does EJ Manuel, Tyrod Taylor or Matt Cassel Win Mental Battle At Buffalo Bills QB Position?

If you haven’t read Rob Quinn’s primer for comparing and contrasting the Buffalo Bills top three quarterback prospects, it’s a great read in preparation for what is likely to be the most interesting contest at training camp this year.

As Rob goes through his progressions evaluating various position groups for fans leading up to training camp, I will respond with my ‘wyobabble’ side of the equation. As you can see from Rob’s great Vines, there are strengths and limitations in terms of physical skills with each of the three quarterbacks vying for the starting job.

What sets EJ Manuel, Matt Cassel, and Tyrod Taylor apart in terms of personality, leadership style, and other behavioral factors critical to their success? These gentlemen may share some similar traits, but on the surface they appear to be quite different.

9Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports)
9Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports)

In terms of the mental aspect of the game, and specifically the role and function of an NFL quarterback, EJ Manuel might have the most difficult road ahead of the three candidates. While Manuel admitted that his game was too tentative in the past, and that he plans to just “rip it” when he gets his next opportunity, his demeanor doesn’t necessarily suggest he’s evolved much in that direction. Yet.

Huh? Under Doug Marrone’s regime, we all saw how EJ’s personal shine seemed to diminish as time went on. Along with ruining an adequately performing offensive line, Marrone’s abrasive personality was obviously a poor fit for a tadpole quarterback that needed more reassurance and less harsh criticism.

In retrospect, it appears Nate Hackett must have stood in the shadows while Marrone took a machine gun to what little swag the Bills offense had after Chan Gailey departed. It seems obvious that EJ was asked to be something he was not in terms of his style of game.

While it’s rarely productive to whine about the past, in this situation I will take the liberty to do so because helping young quarterbacks become productive in the NFL is tricky business if you’re not a “people person”. Perhaps we should have taken Marrone more at his word when he kept railing in press conferences that he knew he was “unlikeable” by many people.

Regardless, what we have now in EJ Manuel is an extremely talented young man with a strong desire to be successful. Things didn’t go well during his rookie and second year. Now he has a last shot at redemption with the Bills. How will he fare?

From a behavioral viewpoint, it’s very difficult to alter one’s basic ‘persona’. It will be a challenge for EJ Manuel to shed the ‘people pleasing’ side of himself and establish himself as a strong leader. EJ displays a strong desire for consensus when he interacts with others, as evidenced by his soft spoken approach to keeping things ‘chill’ with the media. He seems to be extremely wary of wanting to offend anyone.

johnnyCompare that tendency, with say… Johnny Football. Manziel is another QB in search of a rehabilitated image, arguably the flip side of EJ. Johnny didn’t seem to care enough about what other people think. Time will tell if his stint in rehab will help him learn to play well with others.

The point is, it’s tough to break a stereotype once it’s been made. Further, stereotypes do exist for a reason. It’s because there is data to support them, or they wouldn’t become stereotypes in the first place!

Both EJ Manuel and Johnny Manziel are going to have an uphill battle to convince people that they are more than what image has been cast of them to this point in their respective NFL careers. Can either or both do it? Of course. Will it happen? They are mostly in control of that outcome.

I’m significantly less familiar to observing much about Matt Cassel or Tyrod Taylor from watching them in interviews. Matt is a quarterback in the second tier of NFL starters, much like Ryan Fitzpatrick.

He is a polished professional, has moved around, and always seems to land on his feet. He is calm, steady and not a fire and brimstone kind of guy. At the same time, he has developed a very nice demeanor that fits in and out of various programs in terms being a starter, a mentor, and a role model for developing young quarterbacks.

While his ceiling has likely already been established, he certainly holds the ability to be at least as effective as Kyle Orton was last season with the Bills. Frankly, in my opinion this team has enough talent to succeed with a ‘second tier’ quarterback anyway.

From a mental perspective, Matt Cassel has more to offer the Bills than meets the eye. He has the ability to be a guardian of the position until the Bills next franchise quarterback is identified. However, it’s obvious the Bills would love for the real fight for the position to be between EJ Manuel and Tyrod Taylor.

Tyrod Taylor, now there’s our real mystery man. He blew into Buffalo piquing the curiosity of a fan base desperate for a marquee quarterback. Is he the next Aaron Rodgers after sitting behind Flacco for several years? Or, is he just another guy that will put on a Bills uniform and end up tossed in the ever-increasing pile of quarterbacks that ended up being a bust in Buffalo?

Despite my limited ability to get face time watching him, I find Tyrod to be the most intriguing of these three Bills quarterbacks. He presents himself with an aura that is a mixture of confidence with just a hint of swag. He maintains control of any conversation with the media through the use of intense eye contact.

It’s not hard to see this man has a burning passion to succeed, quietly powerful and quite impressive. He is the quarterback with the most upside potential in terms of leadership skills of the three from my vantage point.

To be fair, Tyrod comes in with a lot of potential and very little baggage. EJ has to regain the confidence of his teammates that he can push through his rocky start with the team. That may prove to be much more difficult than working on his mechanics.

In summary, each of these guys has something special to bring to the table. Each also has their own challenges that will require major work on their part to break free from the stereotypes that have been made about them. Tyrod Taylor brings the least amount of exposure, which arguably puts him in a position of piquing our curiosity the most right now.

About Robyn Mundy

Robyn Mundy is Editor-in-Chief of the BillsMafia blog at BillsMafia.com. She's a retired oncology nurse & psychotherapist who loves to write about her life-long passion for the Buffalo Bills, and occasionally something of clinical or social relevance. Robyn lives with her husband Gary and their dogs in the foothills of the glorious Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming. Robyn is also a proud founding sponsor. Follow her on Twitter at @robynmundyWYO.

2 Replies to “Does EJ Manuel, Tyrod Taylor or Matt Cassel Win Mental Battle At Buffalo Bills QB Position?”

  1. EJ Manuel is a standup guy with a good head on his shoulders and a strong work ethic to go with all the physical traits you look for in a franchise QB. How could it go so wrong? Going back to his draft selection and on through two training camps, he played 10 of 16 games in 2013 and 4 games last year before Kyle Orton finally provided the veteran presence missing since Kevin Kolb’s career-ending concussion during 2013 training camp.

    It’s off the charts that the organization fumbled so badly in not signing a veteran replacement. Brady was an understudy to Bledsoe, Rodgers was an understudy to Favre, and Cassel was an understudy to Brady and a mentor for Bridgewater. EJ was hung out to dry.

    After missing two vital weeks of rookie training camp and two preseason games, when he debuted against the Patriots in 2013 he walked off the field with his team ahead until there was a spoiler two-minute drill by Brady against a depleted secondary — the two best pass defenders at the time, Gilmore and Byrd were both out with injuries.

    It’s nice to get off on the right foot and maybe a little more confidence could offset his inexperience. However, the fact of the matter is that a young NFL QB without a mentor doesn’t need and can hardly be prepared for a very weak interior offensive line. I’m assuming that EJ was too physical to be worried about the pass rush in high school, and that he was well-protected at FSU. With doubts about the ability of the interior line to form or sustain a passing pocket, it’s not surprising to me that EJ would show happy feet, sometimes throw off his back foot, and frequently not have time to go through his progressions to find the best target.

    When he was benched last year (a continuation of his rookie season in my book; still with only 14 starts), finally with the arrival of Kyle Orton, he could finally begin to learn from a veteran teammate.

    In the same way Cassel was opening day QB for the Vikings last year with Bridgewater looking on, as an EJ backer I have no problem with Cassel leading off and yielding to Manuel down the line. While EJ may win the starter competition, I think being anxious to silence critics could weigh heavy on him and with little margin for error.

    Marrone, the weak offensive line, his injuries, the media, and plenty of casual fans have done him no favors and I think he’ll blossom with the new regime.

  2. Thanks so much for your commentary here. I wish more people would engage in these types of discussions because that’s what I’m trying to inspire here, more dialogue.

    Completely agree w/your assessment regarding what went down for EJ after he was drafted. Like you, I’m optimistic that he can pull it all together. Will he? That’s what will be fun to watch as this competition intensifies at training camp.

    Thanks again for your insightful commentary :) Go Bills!