By Jay Skurski
EJ Manuel's return to the Buffalo Bills' lineup could come as soon as Sunday in Pittsburgh. "Could" being the key word in that sentence.
Manuel, the team's rookie franchise quarterback, met with reporters this morning for the first time since he was injured a month ago during a Week Five loss at Cleveland.
Manuel said he's been cleared to return from the sprained LCL in his right knee, and that the decision on when he will play is now in the hands of Doug Marrone and the team's coaching staff.
"It's up to coach. I know I'm going to be out there ready to go to practice and get back to work with the guys," Manuel said.
Marrone seemed to pump the brakes on Manuel's possible return to the lineup when he met with reporters this afternoon, using the same "we've got to make a good decision" line that he used before sitting running back C.J. Spiller for a week.
"We have to get him out there and see how he’s doing from a football-movement standpoint," the coach said of Manuel. "You know, we'll get him out there and put him in the mix and see how he's doing. We'll do that obviously early in the week."
Marrone said that the doctors clearing Manuel means they believe he can play in a game. The decision then goes to the coaching staff.
"Once the doctor clears a player and says he can go and play, then it comes on us, whether he can go out there and do that or not," Marrone said. "From an injury standpoint, yes, the player may be at a position where he's not going to reinjure himself or do greater harm to himself, but then it comes for us as coaches. We have to sit down and see, what’s the mindset of the player? How does he feel about it? Is he ready to go? Does he have enough reps to be accountable for what we’re asking him to do? So then it really comes on us, and that’s what you look forward to. You look forward to making the decision on us, because other than that, you really can’t even do anything."
The first-round draft pick out of Florida State has missed Buffalo's past four games, during which the team went 1-3. Manuel appeared to moving well in a pre-game workout on the field at Ralph Wilson Stadium prior to Sunday's 23-13 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
"It was good to get out there in the cold," he said. "To move around in that, see how it felt and reacted after, so it was feeling good."
Manuel said he'll be ready for as many practice reps as Marrone will give him starting Wednesday when the Bills begin preparations for their Week 10 game at Pittsburgh.
"I'm just going to go out there and just continue to work hard and get back where I was," he said.
Manuel said he hasn't felt "anything bad" in his knee since resuming on-field workouts.
"If you're going to be out there trying to play, thinking about an injury, you can't play, so I don't really think about it," he said.
The possibility of Manuel's return was first brought up this morning by receiver Stevie Johnson, who was asked how much he worked with the quarterback during practice last week.
"He wasn't out there during the practice. We've got to take as much pressure off his legs, you know, due to the injury thing, but he said he'll be ready on Sunday," Johnson said. "After that, it's no excuses."
Manuel spent the first two games he missed watching from the coaches' box upstairs, but has been on the field the past two weeks.
"I still took the mental reps. People can say that's a cliche thing, but I really took it to heart, trying to make sure I was still getting, you know, those reps that I would have got if I wasn't hurt," he said. "Mentally just making sure I was prepared and trying to be a smarter player than I was before."
"We think mentally he's in great shape," Marrone said.
Manuel was asked his view of the play on which he was hurt against the Browns. After scrambling from the pocket, he raced down the left sideline. He had picked up a first down by a full 5 yards before he was hit by Browns safety Tashaun Gipson.
"Get the first down, get down and get out of bounds. It happens. It's over with now, and I'm just moving forward now," he said.
As for whether he has a responsibility as the franchise quarterback to avoid taking hits like the one on which he was hurt, Manuel said: "Yeah, when you can, get down. We call it the 'Peyton Manning rule.' If you're in the pocket and about to get crushed, try to just get down as soon as possible. Those veteran guys do a great job of that, you know, understanding. They may not be able to take off, but if you don't have anything just get down. You know, protect the body."
taggedDoug Marrone | EJ Manuel