PITTSFORD, N.Y. - Doug Marrone is a rookie head coach in the NFL, and he has plenty of rookie players who showed they may be part of the foundation for the future after the Buffalo Bills rolled up a franchise preseason-record 44 points against Indianapolis on Sunday.
Rookies accounted for all but six points against the Colts, with quarterbacks EJ Manuel and Jeff Tuel combining for three touchdown passes - Tuel hitting rookie wide receivers Da'Rick Rogers and Brandon Kaufman for scores. The defense contributed a score by undrafted cornerback Jumal Rolle, and special teams got into the fun with rookie wide receiver Marquise Goodwin scoring on a 107-yard kickoff return and place-kicker Dustin Hopkins adding two field goals.
For good measure, rookie linebacker Kiko Alonso saved a touchdown with a nice coverage play in the back of the end zone.
The Bills, who last made the playoffs in 1999, do not have a glorious record of drafting players over the past decade. So to have contributions from newcomers is encouraging, even if it was just a preseason game.
"I told the guys before leaving the field, as a unit, we did really well," Goodwin said. "We got a lot of things that we can work on, but the rookie class, we came in and we did what we were supposed to do. We did our job and as well as the vets. Everybody did their job and they made the Buffalo Bills organization look good out there."
Marrone, naturally, could not have been more pleased with the start.
With new schemes in place, Buffalo's offense rolled up 451 yards and 27 first downs. The defense limited the Colts, a playoff team a season ago, to 288 yards and 3 of 13 on third-down conversions.
"One of the questions was, 'How do you feel going into this thing? Like I said before with the style of practices that we have, we're able to get a lot of reps for both the older and younger guys," Marrone said. "I think that's what shows you that the younger guys have the ability to make plays like that. I was excited about that. I think that we all are when we are making plays out there."
Of course, Manuel, the 16th overall pick in the draft and the only quarterback taken in the first round, was under the most scrutiny.
Drawing the start over veteran Kevin Kolb, who dressed as the third quarterback after missing a week of practice with a knee injury and a death in the family, Manuel started slowly but came on strong while playing the entire first half. After handing the ball off a lot early and working to find his passing rhythm, Manuel got into a real flow during a two-minute drill to end the half. In that drive, he completed 8 of 9 passes for 95 yards, capping it off with a pretty 17-yard touchdown pass to fullback Dorin Dickerson. He was 16 of 21 for 171 yards for the day with no interceptions.
"The two-minute drill was impressive," said Marrone, who didn't hide his excitement about Manuel. "To do that it's very impressive no matter who you are so I was excited about that."
Manuel's success came against the Colts' second- and third-teamers. But he made good decisions, delivered the ball quickly and ran only when necessary, including a 24-yard scramble earlier in the half to set up a field goal. He'll likely get the start again Friday against Minnesota at Ralph Wilson Stadium, with Kolb playing the second half.
"It's all about relaxing," Manuel said. "Obviously it was my first time out there. I wanted to do great, but I thought as a team we played well. The main thing is just relax and take your time."
Manuel's teammates were happy to watch him produce his first NFL touchdown pass.
"A lot of the guys congratulated me, getting that first touchdown and then also having a successful two-minute drive," he said. "It's always good to have guys that you grew up watching on TV and things like that, now my teammates, give you some props. I just want to continue to get better and build upon that."
Said Goodwin: "I commend him just for handling the situations well today and for being the starting quarterback, and him being a rookie, it's a lot of weight on his shoulders. I was glad to see that he did well."
Tuel (19 of 23, 212 yards, two touchdowns) also did well. The rookie out of Washington State isn't likely to supplant Manuel or Kolb, but he's locked down the No. 3 job.
Defensively, end Mario Williams (foot) and defensive tackle Kyle Williams (Achilles) both started and played two series. Mario Williams, who missed a good chunk of camp early and has been under criticism, had a sack of Colts quarterback Andrew Luck.
"When you play the first game, preseason game, you don't want to get too far ahead of yourself from a positive standpoint or a negative standpoint," Marrone said. "But there's no doubt that's a good thing for Mario, coming back from the injury. He wanted to stay in there and keep playing. I took him out of the game."
--Team correspondents for The Sports Xchange contributed material for this story.