EJ Manuel got off to a sloppy start in the Buffalo Bills' 90-minute scrimmage Monday night. He made up for it with a big finish.
Then again, the Bills' new-look, aggressive defense had something to do with the early problems for the rookie quarterback. And they played without defensive end Mario Williams, who was held out to rest a sore left foot.
Manuel threw two interceptions on his first eight attempts, before closing with two touchdowns, and scoring another on a 1-yard run.
"I felt like I didn't start out how I wanted to, obviously," said Manuel, whose first throw was intercepted and returned for a touchdown by cornerback Leodis McKelvin. "The biggest thing for me was just to show that I could fight back, move past it. Obviously, it's not going to be the last interception I throw in my career."
The scrimmage was held 10 days into training camp in suburban Rochester, and in advance of the Bills' preseason opener at Indianapolis on Sunday.
By unofficial count, because the team did not release statistics, Manuel completed 9 of 17 attempts for 113 yards. He threw a perfectly placed 27-yard fade to T.J. Graham in the left corner of the end zone for his first touchdown. Manuel then hit Drew Smith on a 10-yard fade in just about the same spot for his second score.
The downside came on the interceptions. Manuel misread which way receiver Robert Woods was going to cut, allowing McKelvin to jump the route. On his next interception, Manuel's pass was batted at the line, and the ball fell into the hands of linebacker Arthur Moats.
Manuel appeared flustered at times by the various pass-rushing formations in new coordinator Mike Pettine's scheme. Rookie linebacker Kiko Alonso stopped Manuel for what would've been a loss, while tackles Marcell Dareus and Jay Ross were effective in stuffing the run in goal-line situations.
"I'm pleased with it," coach Doug Marrone said, assessing Manuel's performance and progress. "I was really looking to see how he bounced back from that because early on, you want to see that. I thought he bounced back well."
Marrone was most impressed with how Manuel handled himself during a 2-minute session. He orchestrated a seven-play, 75-yard drive capped by Tashard Choice's 1-yard plunge with 20 seconds remaining. Manuel hit 2 of 3 attempts, including a perfectly placed 15-yard strike to Woods' back shoulder.
Selected 16th overall out of Florida State, Manuel was the only quarterback to go in the first round of this year's draft. He is competing with veteran free-agent addition Kevin Kolb to win the starting job out of training camp.
Manuel had the benefit of working exclusively with the first-team offense after Kolb was excused earlier in the day following a death in his family.
Kolb also missed practice on Sunday after he hurt his left knee slipping on a wet mat during practice a day earlier. Marrone said there was a chance Kolb would've been cleared for the scrimmage.
For Manuel, it was an inconsistent performance that served as a reminder of how much work is still ahead of him.
"I think overall, just continue to get better every day," Manuel said. "Even though you face some adversity, sometimes I feel like you could still learn from those things and still get better from them."
On the upside, McKelvin's interception continued what's been a solid camp for the sixth-year player competing for a starting job.
"Hey, it's great to have the first touchdown of the day," McKelvin said. "It is important. I'm very confident in myself, and I'm ready to go out there and make plays, and confident in myself to win this job."
Receiver Marquise Goodwin, a rookie third-round pick, made several acrobatic catches. His first came on a 45-yard pass from Jeff Tuel, when he showed off his speed to beat cornerback T.J. Heath.
Tuel, an undrafted rookie, had a solid outing against Buffalo's second- and third-string defenses. He also made a great throw across his body to hit a wide-open Da'Rick Rogers for a 48-yard catch.
NOTES: WR Stevie Johnson (left hamstring) did not scrimmage. DT Kyle Williams, coming off offseason foot surgery, was held out as a precaution. ... Undrafted rookie DT Aaron Tipoti did not return after hurting his right ankle in a goal-line drill. ... Marrone reintroduced the scrimmage to training camp after his two most recent predecessors — Chan Gailey and Dick Jauron — were against lengthy full-contact sessions.
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