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Nathaniel Hackett? Come on down! Bills coordinator leaves press box

By Tim Graham

When I asked Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone in the preseason who would keep EJ Manuel calm on the sideline during games, Marrone indicated that wouldn't be a problem.

At the time we discussed it, the Bills' backup quarterback was undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel, while Thad Lewis (one NFL start) was on the practice squad. Nathaniel Hackett, the Bills' offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, called plays from the press box.

Who would be Manuel's soothing voice of reason when a game got squally? Marrone said if that ever became an issue he'd handle it himself -- even while overseeing his team's game plan.

The Bills apparently discovered this shortcoming last Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Manuel struggled at Heinz Field in his first game back from a knee injury.

So for the first time, Hackett called plays from the sideline this afternoon instead of the press box. The Bills beat the Jets, 37-14, and Manuel played his best game.

"We thought it would be better for the quarterback to have Nate down there," Marrone said. "With a young quarterback, trying to get him back ... it's a different sense."

Marrone conceded it's easier to call plays from the higher perch, but the Bills plan to keep Hackett on the sideline for the rest of the year.

Manuel's performance certainly validated that plan. He rebounded with only eight incomplete passes, 245 yards, two touchdowns and zero turnovers. Manuel's 121.9 passer rating is his best through seven pro games.

"Just being able to look him in the eye," Manuel said of the benefit. "I haven't had face-to-face communication. Instead of being on a mike or a telephone or things like that, it was really good having him down there.

"He's not going back up. He'll be down there for the rest of my career."


Doug Marrone | EJ Manuel | Jeff Tuel | Nathaniel Hackett | Thad Lewis
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About Press Coverage

Tim Graham

Tim Graham

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

@ByTimGraham |

Mark Gaughan

Mark Gaughan

Buffalo native Mark Gaughan started working at The News in 1980 and has been covering the Bills exclusively since 1992. He is a former president of the Pro Football Writers of America, and he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee.

@gggaughan |

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida. He writes a weekly Fantasy column in addition to his beat writing duties.

@JaySkurski |