Tonawanda News — It’s a tad early for me to make my annual Bills prediction — the one where I dramatically overestimate either their potential or underestimate their ability to disappoint. But let me say this: I’m excited for Bills season.
I wasn’t excited a week ago. Headed into training camp I figured they’re still going to be a pretty bad football team. I was hopeful they’d at least be bad but interesting.
I’ll stop short of saying I think they’ll be good — I’d like at least a couple useless preseason games to watch before I make that determination, thank you — but it’s looking more and more like they’ll be interesting.
I’ve found myself fairly glued to training camp updates in any form available. News articles, radio chatter, Twitter — you name it, I’m ingesting it. Devouring it, really.
Reading Saturday’s piece by Mark Gaughn in The Buffalo News about EJ Manuel’s pretty deep toss to rookie speedster Marquis Goodwin got my heart racing a little faster than my usual morning coffee can muster.
And here’s the reason: For the first time in a long time there’s a guy lining up under center who gives us long suffering Bills fans some hope. Manuel is tall, fast, has a cannon for an arm and he was the first quarterback taken in the NFL draft.
As much as the nerd in me wants to break down the teams wacky new defensive scheme to figure out if its genius or bluster, as much as I want to see if CJ Spiller can follow up his breakout season, as much as I wonder whether Mario Williams will ever live up to all that money — none of that really matters in the end. The Bills will never be good until they find a guy to replace Jim Kelly. They’ve been looking for a generation with little success. There have been spurts of success — Drew Bledsoe’s first six games, Doug Flutie when he wasn’t being an arrogant jerk, Ryan Fitzpatrick for half a season. But none of it was ever sustainable.
Like everything at One Bills Drive, the success was short-lived because the players were playing well above their talent. When the success comes like that it can work for a while but it can’t last.
Manuel represents what every Bills fan has sought for nearly two decades: A legitimate franchise quarterback.
Even when Fitz was going gangbusters for that hot minute — and after the Bills gave him a big contract extension — no one really thought he was a franchise guy. At best he was a bridge to a better, long-term replacement.
He turned out not even to be that. They went out and got another journeyman, Kevin Kolb, to play that role.
And as training camp has unfolded thus far — just a half-dozen practices, really — Manuel has looked the better of the two, by all accounts.
That alone isn’t enough to merit true excitement. Six practices does not a franchise quarterback make.
But it is enough to force a skeptic such as myself to consider whether the Bills really should start Manuel right away.
Coming in to camp I was content thinking the Bills would roll with Kolb for at least the start of the season. Standard thinking held the injury-prone Kolb would get hurt at some point and Manuel would see the snaps. That, or the team would be so bad there was literally nothing left to lose by seeing what Manuel could pull off.
If Manuel continues to impress in camp — and he will have to for this next part to be worth considering — it has me wondering something: Where’s the ceiling on this team?
Rookie quarterback. Rookie coaching staff. New, more dynamic coaching schemes on both sides of the ball. Young players everywhere.
There are a lot of parts in motion. Probably too many to hope they get everything right on the first try. Manuel, if he plays, will inevitably suffer rookie setbacks.
But it’s looking like at some point this season — maybe as soon as the start of it against the Patriots — we’ll start to see where this most recent reboot has landed the Bills.
For now, hope springs eternal.
Eric DuVall is the managing editor of the Tonawanda News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter, @EricRDuVall.