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NFL camp preview: Starting QB is top priority for Marrone

The SportsXchange

PITTSFORD, N. Y. -- Head coach Dough Marrone beings his tenure with the Buffalo Bills this weekend looking for that critical component for a successful NFL team -- a franchise quarterback.

But as the team reports Saturday and begins full-squad workouts Sunday, Marrone would at least like to identify a starting quarterback as his top choices are veteran Kevin Kolb and first-round draft pick EJ Manuel.

The fact that the new coach used his first-round pick -- 16th overall -- to pick Manuel should indicate that is his choice as starter, eventually. But, although Manuel has looked pretty good in offseason workouts, he arrives in the NFL with a history of erratic play and perhaps some maturity issues.

That, and the fact Kolb looked very good in the offseason, means there is no clear-cut starting quarterback as the Bills begin camp seeking to make the playoffs for the first time in 13 years.

Not helping the Bills achieve that goal is the fact that safety Jairus Byrd is in a contract standoff and says he will not report to the team's camp at St. John Fisher College until he has a deal he likes. The Bills franchised him, which would pay him $6.916 for the season if he signs the tender. But he wants much more.

Since missing the July 15 deadline for long-term agreements for franchised players, Byrd can only play under the terms of that one-year deal. The market for safeties went up when former San Francisco 49ers safety Dashon Goldson signed a $41.5 million, five-year deal ($22 million guaranteed) with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency.

Byrd can be fined for missing training camp workouts.

Buffalo has cause for concern, and not just because Byrd is losing valuable reps in new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine's system. Without Byrd, the Bills' struggles against the pass could be more profound.

A second-round draft pick in 2009, Byrd played his entire career with the Bills. He started all 16 games last season and had five interceptions and four fumble recoveries. In starting 57 of 62 career games, Byrd is second in the league since 2009 with 18 interceptions and has been selected to a pair of Pro Bowls.

With a change at head coach comes new offensive and defensive schemes to learn but the long, intense offseason gave ample opportunity for the heavy lifting. Coordinators Nate Hackett and Pettine will focus on fine-tuning and picking their starting units, no easy task, but not the mountain it would have been without offseason drills.

Meanwhile, there will be intense training camp battles at several positions, including wide receiver and linebacker.

The team spent two high picks on receivers in Robert Woods (41st overall) and Marquise Goodwin (78th). At linebacker, Oregon product Kiko Alonso (46th) looked excellent in offseason workouts and could be the kind of playmaker the team has lacked for years.

Cornerback Leodis McKelvin, a first-round draft pick five years ago, has established himself as one of the NFL's best return specialists, but he has been an unreliable starting defensive back. While the Bills value his return skills, they didn't re-sign the former Troy University star to a four-year, $20 million deal to return punts and kickoffs.

They are counting on him to nail down the starting left corner job after the release of veteran Terrence McGee.

Veteran tight end Scott Chandler made an encouraging recovery from late-season ACL surgery and was doing some light route-running in minicamp. But this is an injury that generally can take a year for a player to fully recover from and until Chandler can cut hard and take contact, this is a problem position.

That key battle for the starting quarterback job will be made even more interesting by the fact that of the 13 wide receivers on the roster, nine are rookies.

Stevie Johnson in his sixth NFL season, is the seasoned veteran, along with Brad Smith, who doubles as a kickoff return specialist. It's a promising opportunity for a young receiver and the Bills believe they have two good ones in Woods and Goodwin.

Woods, a nifty receiver from USC, is the better known of the two. But Goodwin just may be the fastest player in the NFL. At the Indianapolis combine he was clocked in the 40-yard dash at 4.21 seconds, not once but twice. That ties the previous best by Trindon Holliday (2010, LSU, Broncos), and better than the 4.22 by receiver Jacoby Ford (2010, Clemson, Raiders) and 4.24 seconds by running back Chris Johnson (2008, East Carolina, Titans).

Both Manuel and Kolb remarked during offseason workouts that Goodwin is the fastest receiver they have seen, so it should be interesting to see how often they target him in training camp as they battle for the starting quarterback job.

--Team correspondents for The Sports Xchange contributed material for this story.
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