Orchard Park, NY (WGR 550) -- Less than 24 hours before the start of mandatory mini-camp, the Buffalo Bills announced the competition for the starting quarterback job had one name removed. On Monday night the Bills released Tarvaris Jackson, allowing first-round pick EJ Manuel and veteran Kevin Kolb to battle it out for the top spot on the depth chart.
After going through three weeks of Organized Team Activities in which the repetitions were diced up in a specific way, it became clear to Head Coach Doug Marrone and the rest of the staff that something needed to change.
"I think it's very difficult in what we're trying to accomplish when we're trying to get a starting quarterback in that competition. When you look at it from a standpoint of reps, there's just not enough reps to really do a good job evaluating," Marrone said. "We made a decision to go with the three quarterbacks and the competition out there right now, I think it will be a lot clearer for all of us -- or especially for myself as a coach -- obviously with the amount of reps now that Kevin and EJ will get."
Even in the first day of practice at mini-camp, the way practice time was divvied up was completely different from what Kolb and Manuel had been dealing with throughout May. In a much higher tempo session, Kolb got 51 reps, Manuel received 41 and third-string quarterback Jeff Tuel had 7.
By comparison, during OTAs where it was more about installing offensive packages and plays, Kolb had 20, Jackson had 19 and Manuel had just 13 on the final day of the voluntary sessions.
"The flow," Kolb replied when asked about the biggest difference without Jackson. "Having a lot more reps like that, just communication coming off the sidelines going 'Hey, did you see this?' 'Yeah, I liked the way you handled this.' 'Okay, well do it like that next time.' So there's already three or four things that we've picked up that maybe we didn't before."
With Jackson now out of the picture, the focus of many fans of the team will be on just how quickly rookie EJ Manuel can come along and pick up the playbook. At least now, he'll be able to make his mistakes on the field rather than just having to think about what he would have done along the sidelines when it wasn't his turn.
"When I heard the news it was tough, but it's the business of the game," Manuel said of Jackson's release. "But I knew once it happened, hey, now I get a chance to make more plays, get more reps. Your body gets to stay warm. You don't take three reps and then you're done, so that's a great opportunity."
"With EJ, we just want to make sure that we're taking it in a natural progression," Marrone remarked. "He's not seeing the same type of things that Kevin's seeing out there right now, and we're just working ahead and building him up, and you'll see his reps increase as we get ready for training camp."
The team has two more days of work on the field for mandatory mini-camp, but at the very least they'll have a good base of knowledge on their quarterbacks with only two players getting the majority of repetitions.
"I think I need to concentrate on having a lot of reps with those two quarterbacks, because I think the more reps you give them I think it's going to be easier to tell it apart," the head coach said. "Whereas if you're going around and you're giving three players reps, I think it's tough to keep track of that. Honestly, it is.
"We keep track of everything but, when you go in there with two and two people are competing, I think it's going to be something we're all going to see not just the decision that's made. And when I say we're all going to see it, I believe that we'll be able to see it at training camp."
All 88 of the team's players that are currently under contract were in attendance for the opening day of mandatory mini-camp. Free agent acquisitions Manny Lawson and Alan Branch, who each missed a large portion of OTAs, were back to work on Tuesday. According to the Buffalo News, both were away for the birth of their children.
Only four players did not participate in the the individual portion of practice due to injury. That group included defensive lineman Kyle Williams, offensive tackle Chris Hairston, tight end Lee Smith and guard Keith Williams. Once the Bills started team drills, cornerback Leodis McKelvin and tight end Scott Chandler went to the sidelines to work with a trainer.
Franchised free safety Jairus Byrd, who still has yet to sign his tender, was not in attendance as expected. Because he is technically not under contract with the Bills, he is not subject to any fines for missing the mandatory session.
The team resumes practice Wednesday at 2:45 at One Bills Drive.