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Posted: Wednesday, 06 November 2013 3:54PM

EJ Manuel closing in on return for Bills

Orchard Park, NY (WGR 550)  -- After the past four games without their first-round pick and rookie quarterback EJ Manuel, it seems more and more like the Buffalo Bills will have their franchise signal caller back on the field this Sunday.

On Monday, Manuel told reporters that he had been cleared to play but the decision was up to head coach Doug Marrone. On Wednesday morning, team president and CEO Russ Brandon took it a step further during his weekly appearance on WGR Sports Radio 550.

"We're cautious with all the guys that are nicked-up, certainly," he said. "But unless he has any type of setback throughout the week of practice, he should be ready to go on Sunday."

Manuel returned to practice in full on Wednesday, just a week removed from getting back to the practice field for the first time. The rookie suffered a sprained LCL in his right knee during the team's Thursday night game against Cleveland on October 3.

"I definitely feel like I can go," Manuel said Wednesday. "It's still up to Coach Marrone as far as what we want to do as a team. But I definitely feel confident going into Sunday."

While signs continue to point to Manuel getting this weekend's start on the road in Pittsburgh, Marrone wasn't hesitant to go all in just yet. Both the rookie and backup Thad Lewis received first-team reps at practice Wednesday.

"EJ is obviously taking more reps than Thad right now," the coach said. "I just want to make sure I feel comfortable before I come out with a statement. But right now we're working with both those guys."

Although fans will likely be clamoring for Manuel to get back into the starting lineup, especially with a five-game stretch on the horizon against teams that have a combined record of 9-32 in 2013. Marrone said on Monday that the team has to make a smart decision on Manuel, and reaffirmed that line of thinking Wednesday.

"What we have to be able to understand is, here's a rookie quarterback that missed some time in the preseason and obviously now he's missed another four weeks," he said. "So we have do the best job we can to make sure that he's ready. But our expectation is if we put him out there, obviously we're putting him out there to win."

From his on-field work to start off the practice week, Manuel didn't seem to have any early-week setbacks that could prohibit him from a potential return. The one thing a player coming back from an injury can't do is be hesitant to use the injured part of his body the same way he always would. Manuel said it hasn't been a problem.

"[I'm] very confident," he said. "Pushing off it fine, running around and making plays on it fine."

In a public forum, Marrone really seems to be the only member of the organization that hasn't gone totally all in on Manuel starting this Sunday. He did concede, however, that the comments from Russ Brandon weren't out of line.

"Yes, it is a very fair assessment," Marrone remarked. "I just want to make sure in my mind that once the plan's in and he's doing all the things that we need to do win. Then you can say hey, go ahead and do it."

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

All photos courtesy of AP
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