EJ Manuel returns to Buffalo, knowing his Raiders role

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- No, EJ Manuel does not have an identity crisis.

Going back and forth with Derek Carr this week over who the “real FSU” is in college football -- Carr insisting it is his beloved Fresno State, while Manuel was true to his school at Florida State -- was not enough mental gymnastics.

Manuel also played the part of Tyrod Taylor in practice for the Oakland Raiders. Of course, Manuel began his NFL career with the Buffalo Bills as their first-round draft pick in 2013 -- he was the only QB taken in the first round, at No. 16 overall, that year -- and it was Taylor who took the starting gig from him.

So while there may be a score, or three, to settle for Manuel in his return to Western New York, there’s only so much a backup QB can do, right? Besides, Manuel gives the impression he is above such tit-for-tat things.

“Yeah, you just want to go out there and win,” Manuel said this week.

Then how does he compartmentalize any lingering feelings?

“Easy, just focus on them as another opponent,” Manuel said this past week. “Obviously, I spent four years there, have a great appreciation for the fans, the organization, what they did for me, my family. But, obviously, I’m not on that team anymore, so my biggest goal is to help this team win.”

With so much turnover year to year in the NFL, coaches picking players’ brains the week they face a former team is nothing new. But when it is a quarterback, who was just there a year earlier?

Yeah, that scouting report would be a tad fresher.

“It’s awesome because you take a guy that was a starting quarterback in the NFL, you add another starter in the room, that’s one more mind of experience,” Carr said. “One more mind. Same thing with Connor [Cook]. I haven’t played in a playoff game and Connor has. Even if it’s 1 percent [of knowledge] they can add, which, they help more than that, it’s a benefit.

“Having EJ, who’s a starter and seen a lot of football and played against tough defenses, in our room is something that I don’t take for granted.”

Manuel replaced Carr when he suffered a broken bone in his back late in the third quarter at the Denver Broncos on Oct. 1 and started the next week against the Baltimore Ravens at home.

The Raiders lost both games, but Manuel was serviceable in completing 55.8 percent of his passes for 265 yards with a TD and an INT and a passer rating of 72.3.

The book on Manuel is that he has rediscovered his joy for the game in Oakland.

“When he showed up here, I could tell there was something on his heart,” Carr said. “I could tell that there was something there. In my head, it was my goal to show him how much we care about him, how much we love him, how much we wanted him and needed him to be here. To let him know that he’s important, to let him know that he’s one of the most talented quarterbacks in the NFL.

“To be that big, that fast, have that kind of arm and be that smart, to remind him of who he is. That was the joy that I had when he got here, is I’m going to make sure that he knows every day what I think about him.”

So Manuel went about his business this week, serving the Raiders as a backup QB with intimate knowledge of the upcoming opponent, while keeping himself ready, knowing that he is one injury away from taking over for Carr again.

And in the past 11 months, Carr has suffered broken bones in his hand, leg and back. Yes, it’s a violent game.

“I mean, whatever I can do to help our defense,” Manuel said. “Especially since I’m doing scout team and things like that to emulate what Tyrod does on the field, I think, will be very advantageous for us.”

Identity crisis? Manuel knows his role perfectly.