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Bills’ celebrated QB battle begins with a whimper

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PITTSFORD, N.Y. — As legendary Buffalo Bills broadcaster Van Miller used to say, “Fasten your seatbelts.” The inference was that the ride was about to begin, and you could almost hear the late Miller uttering those words Friday morning when Bills training camp kicked off and thousands of eyes were fixated on the quarterback competition.

It has been the talk of the offseason as the Bills addressed the sudden retirement of Kyle Orton by trading for Matt Cassel and signing Tyrod Taylor as a free agent to compete with holdover and 2013 first-round draft pick EJ Manuel.

So, after months of learning the offense and going through OTAs and minicamp practices, the competition began in earnest at St. John Fisher College on a perfect, sunny morning.

Not surprisingly, none of the quarterbacks — including fourth-stringer Matt Simms — looked sharp. The timing with the receivers is absent, and the strong Buffalo defense appears light years ahead of an offense that is still seeking an identity.

“However you rank them,” Bills coach Rex Ryan said with a laugh when he was asked how the depth chart looks early on. “That’s pretty much it. We’ve got a long way to go. This obviously is just the start of everything, every day you’re evaluating, but I’m not ready to say this guy’s in this spot or whatever.”

Ryan made it clear throughout the offseason that when the Bills came to training camp, the quarterback job would be wide open — and may the best man win. To that end, he has adopted offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s two-spot system where team drills are going on simultaneously at both ends of the practice field in order to give not only the quarterbacks, but everyone else, more reps. However, it is specifically helpful to the quarterbacks who need all the time they can get.

“That’s something Greg Roman has brought to us,” Ryan said. “He did that at Stanford, he did it also with San Francisco. I think it’s a great idea. It’s not necessarily that you double the reps, but you’re getting more reps for your guys. I think it gives us an opportunity to be able to look at all three guys.”

Ryan gave Cassel the first chance with the first string, but that was likely because of seniority. His goal is to give Cassel, Manuel and Taylor equal reps with the first unit, both in practice and the preseason games, to provide the fairest evaluation possible. One thing he won’t do is make any preemptive judgments based on one practice, or even many practices.

“I don’t think that’s what we’re going to do — ‘Hey, look, this guy moved ahead, he had a great throw here, he’s going to move ahead,'” Ryan said. “I don’t think it’s going to be like that, but at the same time, every day’s important and I think that’s something that we’re certainly looking at.”

Beyond the quarterback conundrum, Ryan reveled in his first day at training camp with his new team.

“I thought it would be tough finding something to top jumping out of a plane, but as a football coach, I think this topped it,” said Ryan, who made his much-publicized skydiving debut a couple weeks ago during a regional air show in Niagara Falls.

“This day was a long time coming, you can’t wait to get out here, itching and ready to go, you experience the fans, great weather, on the grass and all that stuff, man, it’s tremendous. I’m glad I’m getting paid what I get paid, but when you look at this you’d do it for a heck of a lot less; way, way, way less. My agent wouldn’t be happy with it, but I’m telling you it doesn’t get much better.”

NOTES: DE Mario Williams was added to the active roster Friday after being on the active/non-football injury list for one day. In 2014, the 30-year-old Williams had 14.5 sacks in his third season with the Bills.


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