Bills brass gives Manuel vote of confidence

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- After Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone informed quarterback EJ Manuel that he would remain the starter for next season, the organization's top decision makers continued to show support for the rookie quarterback at Monday's season-ending news conference.

"We're certainly behind him," CEO Russ Brandon said. "We're going to put everything behind him and try to see some marked improvement moving forward."

"We had transition with the quarterback position, which is very difficult in this league," Marrone said, reflecting on the season. "One of the things that we're looking forward to as we worked going towards the future is stability there, and availability -- obviously with EJ."

The hot topic was EJ Manuel's three knee injuries, which limited the 16th overall pick to 10 games this season. It's that small sample size that general manager Doug Whaley said muddles how they're evaluating their rookie signal-caller.

"I think you have to go case-by-case basis. You would like to have a guy at least have 16 games under his belt, in one year of continuity with receivers and practice time to get a baseline," he said. "That's going to tough to do with EJ right now."

The problem for the Bills since August has been keeping Manuel healthy enough to form an opinion on his long-term future. But in continuing to throw his support behind Manuel, Whaley added that he believes recent trends in the NFL have changed the perception of young quarterbacks.

"Quarterbacks are going to be the victims of the success of the young guys, like the Andrew Luck's and the RGIII's -- well he's had an up and down season -- but you guys have a quick hook on these guys," he said. "Unfortunately, we don't have that quick of a hook but we do want to see progress and step forward."

Just how long will it take, then, until the Bills know where they're at with Manuel?

"I can't give you a specific timeline, but you know when you know," Whaley said. "That's hard to put in words, but after so many games, you get a feeling that 'this guy's got it' or 'this guy needs some more time to develop' or 'this guy doesn't have it.'"

Both Marrone and Whaley stressed the need for Manuel to develop this offseason, which will be his first full offseason since being drafted last April. When Manuel's sophomore campaign begins in the fall, the Bills must see more consistency.

"With youth comes inconsistency. I think another year, I always believe the best step for a player is between his first and his second year," Whaley said. "So all of those young guys that contributed this year, we expect them to make a bigger step next year, play more consistent and be more productive."

Still, the Bills don't seem content with putting all of their chips behind Manuel for next season. The odds could be against Kevin Kolb returning as a veteran backup, while Whaley called backup Thad Lewis "serviceable" but left the door open for a better option.

"We look forward for his further development," Whaley said of Lewis. "But again, we will not hold ourselves back from picking a person that would help us take a winning step."

That insurance option at quarterback could come through the draft. Although he gave Manuel a vote of confidence Monday, Whaley did not rule out of the possibility of drafting another quarterback.

"We're going to develop our board like we always do, and research every position top to bottom, and not only during the draft process but also the free agency process," he said. "If we feel a player is out there that can help us get past the 6-10 mark, we will not be beholden to taking someone that we think doesn't help us as much as another player."