ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – Passed over in the NFL draft in April, quarterback Jeff Tuel settled on signing with the Buffalo Bills a few days later with the sole objective of cracking the team's roster.
As of Monday, the raw rookie out of Washington State is in line to start in the Bills' season opener against New England Sept. 8.
"I came here to play football, and that's what I'm doing," Tuel said. "It just explains, you can never expect. You never know what's going to happen in this league.
"It's why you've got to be ready."
Tuel is in this position because of a string of injuries that have hit the Bills' quarterback position.
Veteran Kevin Kolb is out indefinitely after sustaining a concussion — the third of his seven-year career — in a 30-7 loss to Washington on Saturday. Then there's rookie first-round pick EJ Manuel, who might not be ready to play because he's still recovering from a left knee injury he hurt in a 20-16 win over Minnesota a week earlier.
The Bills did sign free agent Matt Leinart on Sunday, but the 2004 Heisman Trophy winner needs time to become familiar with the offense.
Should Tuel start against New England, he would be the first undrafted rookie directly out of college to start in Week 1 for any team since the NFL merger in 1970, according to STATS LLC.
This is not exactly what rookie coach Doug Marrone envisioned when he intended to have his starter in place within 10 days of the season.
"Well, I don't know if I'd use the word crazy," Marrone said. "But I would say a little bit of adversity, for sure."
And that wasn't the only unsettling news to greet the Bills, who returned to practice in preparing for their preseason finale against Detroit Thursday.
Top cornerback Stephon Gilmore will miss between six and eight weeks after breaking his left wrist against Washington. It's an injury that further depletes a cornerback position that already lacks experienced depth behind Leodis McKelvin.
Running back C.J. Spiller has been excused to be with his family near Jacksonville, Fla., where his step-grandfather Hubert Allen Jr. allegedly killed two people and shot two others before killing himself on Saturday. Marrone said the team has been in contact with Spiller, but there's no timetable as to when he'll return.
Chris Hairston, who was supposed to compete for the starting right tackle job, was placed on the season-ending reserve/non-football illness list. Hairston has not practiced after opening training camp on the physically-unable-to-perform list.
And two-time Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd didn't sound entirely thrilled to be back in Buffalo after practicing with the team for the first time since signing his one-year, $6.9 million franchise tender last week.
Byrd said he didn't want to be a distraction, but acknowledged being "disappointed" when Buffalo applied the franchise tag in March to prevent him from testing free agency.
Byrd declined to say whether he's asked to be traded. He wouldn't directly answer a question regarding his chances of playing in Buffalo next season. Byrd only noted that the Bills have the option to place the franchise tag on him again next year.
The two sides failed to negotiate a long-term deal before a July 15 deadline. That left Byrd the option of accepting the tender or losing pay once he began missing regular season games.
Byrd's not sure how ready he'll be to open the season after having missed the entire offseason of practice
"Only time will tell," he said.
The problem is the Bills are quickly running out of time, and healthy bodies.
At the least, Buffalo has some reinforcements at quarterback, with Leinart and Thaddeus Lewis each making their practice debuts. Lewis was acquired Sunday in a trade that sent linebacker Chris White to Detroit.
Tuel, 22, found it strange providing offensive tips to a 30-year-old Leinart, a 2006 first-round pick.
"It was odd," Tuel said. "The last time I saw Matt, I was watching him in the Rose Bowl in the national championship play Texas, and I was in the stands. I was like in eighth grade."
The injuries to Manuel and Kolb have at least provided Tuel additional practice and playing time than most third-stringers usually get. In three preseason games, he's combined for 31 of 43 for 299 yards passing, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Leinart is happy to get one more chance to prove himself after spending the entire offseason looking for a job. After spending his first four seasons in Arizona, he's on his third team in as many years.
"I'm just excited just to be here obviously and humbled and just thankful for the opportunity," said Leinart, who is expected to play Thursday. "Obviously, I know nothing is guaranteed ever. But I'm excited to be playing football.
"I was getting bored."
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org