Orchard Park, NY (WGR 550) -- It was just another average Monday in the locker room, speaking with Buffalo Bills players and their more thorough analysis of what happened in the previous game. That was, until Stevie Johnson dropped a bomb that changed the course of the day.
When asked about quarterback EJ Manuel returning to practice last week, the wideout described what the rookie was able to do and then added a little bit more at the end.
"He wasn't out there during a practice," Johnson revealed, saying Manuel only did the 'Routes vs. Air' drill with receivers before unleashing the news of the day. "We've got to take as much pressure off his legs due to the injury thing. But he said he'll be ready on Sunday, and after that there's no excuses."
Taken aback by the relatively unguarded offering, listening reporters waited until after the scrum broke to confirm with another. "He said this Sunday, right?"
Then running back Fred Jackson chimed in.
"Well I think that's what he's working for. He's working to get out there as soon as he can," he said. "We'll see what news we get from him. We haven't heard anything yet. I know he wants to come back, but as far as when, I have no idea."
Since suffering a sprained LCL in his right knee, Manuel has missed the past four games trying to rehab the injury. The original timetable provided by WGR550.com was a return anywhere from four-to-eight weeks, and if he is able to play against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, it would be at the earliest part of the timetable.
The Bills elected to "ramp up" Manuel's practice regimen last week, and now will likely look to have him make the next step towards a potential return. He might even get repetitions at practice this week.
For the first time since the injury, Manuel met with the media. He then confirmed that he has been cleared to both practice and play by the Bills' doctors.
"Definitely looking forward to get into the practice, full course, taking as many reps as the coach allows me to get and just moving forward from there," the first-round pick said. "It's his decision at the end of the day. I'm just gonna go out there and just continue to work hard to get back where I was."
Since he's been back on the field, Manuel has been throwing to receivers after practice in hopes to get back sooner than later. He was even on the field at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday, hours before the team's matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs, doing full-speed drop backs and rollouts with coaches.
Saying he feels fully comfortable on the knee and doesn't think about the injury while he's on the practice field, Manuel seems ready to take the next step. The young quarterback acknowledges, however, that he has a responsibility to protect himself from injury on runs like the one that set him back four weeks in Cleveland.
"Yeah, when you can get down. We call it the Peyton Manning rule," Manuel responded. "When you're in the pocket about to get crushed, try to just get down as soon as possible. Those veteran guys do a great job of that. Understanding they may not be able to take off, if you don't have anything just get down. Protect your body."
Since he's been out, Thad Lewis and Jeff Tuel combined for a 1-3 record. They completed 56-percent of their passes in four games, throwing for four touchdowns, four interceptions and fumbled the ball six times.
The lingering question for every fan of the team, who has had to endure the past four weeks of poor quarterback play, is will he be ready for Sunday?
"It's up to coach. I know I'm gonna be out there ready to go to practice and get back to work with the guys," Manuel said. "He knows where I'm at. I think it's more so on him and how we practice as a team moving forward into Sunday."
Head coach Doug Marrone met with reporters on Monday afternoon, and was hesitant to declare Manuel ready for this weekend's contest.
"We have to make a good decision," Marrone started off. "We have to get him out there and see how he's doing from a football movement standpoint."
"Mentally, obviously he's better than he's been because I think he's worked extremely hard in that phase of the game. And now it's just a matter of coming out there [in practice]," he said. "We've got to be careful though. Let's make sure, in the back of my mind, I'm thinking to make sure he's 110-percent and not putting a player out there that can jeopardize himself."