It's EJ's Job To Lose

-  It’s very, very early and we’ll know a lot more once they start playing exhibition games, but from what I can see, rookie EJ Manuel is a few steps ahead of journeyman veteran Kevin Kolb in the race for starting quarterback job. And that’s a good thing. To me, the best case scenario is for Buffalo’s first-round pick to start from the get-go. Let’s face it, the Bills aren’t going to the playoffs this year - unless, of course, EJ makes like RGIII or Andrew Luck or Russell Wilson. So, let him get his training on the job. In the long run, it should only benefit him and a franchise that hasn’t been in the playoffs this century.

Accuracy was occasionally a problem for EJ at Florida State, but he’s worked hard with Nathaniel Hackett in the offseason to improve his footwork and throwing technique and the progress has been evident so far in camp. Hackett, the kid wonder offensive coordinator, worked similar magic with Ryan Nassib at Syracuse.

This is not to say that Manuel is close to being a finished product. He’s still a work in progress, and there will be growing pains along the way that will result in foolish interceptions and sacks and fumbles. But I’d rather see the kid get out there and learn the ropes in real time than go through another season of watching a retread playing QB.

I applauded the Bills decision to hire Doug Marrone as coach based on his contributions to football reclamation projects in Syracuse and New Orleans. And I still think it’s a move that could pan out. But I also cautioned, upon his hiring, that it would be interesting to see how he handled the media because some good friends of mine who covered him at SU said he had a tendency to be thin-skinned.

Clearly, Marrone dropped the ball the other day when he became agitated over questions about Mario Williams’ inactivity because of a sore foot. When your $100-million defensive end can’t practice and leaves camp for a second medical opinion, inquiring minds have a right to ask what gives.

Marrone is a bright guy who has worked hard to get to this position and one of his strengths has been his meticulous attention to detail. These weren’t “gotcha” questions. They were honest inquiries. And Marrone should have come prepared to provide more information about what ailed his star defensive end and why he was being held out of practice. By becoming defensive, he made what should have been a mole hill into a mountain.

Marrone has to realize that he isn’t in Syracuse any more. The NFL is a totally different ballgame from a college town where coaches can manage the message with an iron fist. If he’s this thin-skinned over a seemingly small story, how’s he going to react when he gets grilled following a tough loss? Again, he’s a bright guy. Let’s hope he’s learned from this rookie mistake.

Award-winning columnist and best-selling author Scott Pitoniak has followed the Bills since the late 1960s and covered them since 1985. He has written six books about the team’s history, including “My Life on a Special Team,” with Bills special teams great Steve Tasker that will be in the bookstores this month.

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