COMMENTARY | One of the biggest storylines heading into the 2013 NFL regular season was the battle for the starting quarterback position for the Buffalo Bills.
The question on everyone's mind was whether the Bills and rookie coach Doug Marrone would go with the veteran Kevin Kolb or surprise first-round draft pick E.J. Manuel.
As with much of what's happened with the Bills in the last decade, the quarterback competition has not lived up to the expectations. In the span of about three preseason weeks, Kolb injured his knee slipping on a rubber mat, Manuel required knee surgery, and then Kolb returned, only to suffer a concussion that some fear will end his career. Now, less than two weeks away from the Bills' Week 1 opener against the New England Patriots, Buffalo may be left to choose between unproven quarterbacks Jeff Tuel, Matt Leinart and Thaddeus Lewis.
The current plan is that, if Manuel is not ready in time, Tuel will make his first career start. Undoubtedly, if Tuel were to make the start, he would be the least-known starting quarterback in the NFL in Week 1.
To help prevent this, here are some facts about Jeff Tuel that will allow you to gain some familiarity in advance of the game against the Patriots.
Jeff Tuel checks in at 6 feet 3 inches and 221 pounds. He went to Washington State and was not selected in the 2013 NFL draft. The Bills invited him to training camp to compete for a chance to make the roster as the third-string quarterback behind Manuel and Kolb.
Tuel played in parts of all four of his seasons with the Cougars. The team compiled a record of just 5-26 in games in which Tuel appeared. But it is not like Washington State has been known as a football powerhouse in recent years, so it would be difficult to blame the quarterback for that lack of success. Tuel's most impressive appearance came in a close losing effort to Stanford last season, as he brought the team within 7 points of the Cardinal and completed 42 of his 59 passes for 403 yards.
Although he did not do enough at Washington State to get drafted, he showed plenty to deserve a shot to come to camp with the Bills.
Although Tuel went to college on the complete other side of the country as Buffalo, he does have some connections to the Bills. After his senior season ended, Tuel trained for the draft with quarterback coach Bob Johnson, the father of former Bills quarterback Rob Johnson. Johnson is the last quarterback to start a playoff game for the Bills. At the same time, the last quarterback to lead the Bills to a winning record was Drew Bledsoe in 2004. Bledsoe, of course, also went to Washington State. Perhaps Tuel's connection to two of the only successful Bills quarterbacks in a generation is a good sign if he ends up taking the reins.
Due to Kolb's initial knee injury, Tuel received considerable time in the Bills' first preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts. Tuel made the most of that time and ended with an impressive stat line, going 19-for-23 for 212 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. The performance was enough to excite Bills fans, as it looked like Tuel was a good fit for the quick-strike passing game that Marrone is looking to establish.
After not getting much time in the Bills' second preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings, Tuel was forced to play all but two drives of the Bills' third game against the Washington Redskins due to the injuries to Manuel and Kolb. Tuel was not able to duplicate his success from the first game, as he finished just 10-for-17 for 63 yards. In doing so, Tuel struggled to get the ball down the field and had to rely essentially on a series of 5-yard passing plays. With an inability to even threaten big plays in the passing game, the Bills' offense predictably struggled and was only able to put up seven points in the losing effort.
What to ExpectAs impressive as Tuel has been at times, it seems unthinkable to suggest that he will be able to out-duel Tom Brady in Week 1. However, all hope should not immediately be abandoned if Tuel is under center when the Patriots come to Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Watching Tuel, it is easy to compare him to previous Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Like Fitzpatrick, Tuel does not have the strongest arm, but rather relies on decision-making and precise short passes. This formula was able to defeat the Patriots two years ago in Buffalo, when Fitzpatrick tore apart the New England secondary with a short passing game to the tune of 369 yards.
Perhaps this year Jeff Tuel can top Fitzpatrick and play the role of an even bigger David taking down the NFL's Goliath.
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Del Pearson is a lifelong Upstate New York resident and follower of the Buffalo Bills. He has been attending games since childhood and more recently writing about the team as a Yahoo! Contributor.
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