Bills QBs offer mixed results under Monday night lights

PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- Just how unpredictable is the Buffalo Bills' quarterback competition?

Consider this sequence of plays from EJ Manuel in the second 11-on-11 period of Monday night's practice, held under the lights for the first time this summer:

First down: Marquise Goodwin creates separation on deep crossing pattern but Manuel's pass falls 5 or 10 yards short for an incompletion.

Second down: Bryce Brown run.

Third down: Manuel telegraphs a pass on an inside route to safety Bacarri Rambo, who would have returned it for a pick-six if he could hang onto the ball.

First down: Karlos Williams run.

Second down: Fred Jackson run.

Third down: Sammy Watkins beats first-year cornerback Rod Sweeting down the left sideline and Manuel lofts a pass for a completion and potential touchdown.

Add that to Manuel's lone dropback in the first 11-on-11 drill -- a check-down to Williams off the play action -- and how would you evaluate Manuel's performance for the night?

Take the first two plays, and Manuel looked as poor as the quarterback who was benched last season -- if not worse. Add in the third play, and perhaps there's progress. Or do you discount that play because of the mismatch between Watkins and Sweeting?

Such is the challenge of evaluating the Bills' uncertain and ever-fluid quarterback competition, a battle that Rex Ryan says will heat up when the offense begins game-planning periods of practices following Tuesday's day off.

The difficult exercise isn't limited to Manuel. On Monday night, Tyrod Taylor spun, scrambled and weaved his way around the pocket -- as he's done through the first four days of training camp -- avoiding potential sacks and heaving passes that he might not get off in live games.

At one point Monday night, it worked. Taylor scrambled into daylight, drawing cornerback Stephon Gilmore off Watkins enough for Taylor to lob a pass over Gilmore and into Watkins' hands for a touchdown.

Later, when Taylor and Matt Cassel broke off with the first-team offense for an 11-on-11 red zone drill, Taylor held the ball for far too long and was sacked by Mario Williams on his first rep. His second rep? A well-placed pass and a leaping grab by Percy Harvin for a touchdown.

Cassel didn't have the same flashy plays as Taylor on Monday night, but he also didn't make the mistake that Manuel did on his near-interception. It was another shaky practice from the veteran, who overthrew Harvin on his only pass in the first 11-on-11 period and went 1-for-4 in the second 11-on-11 period, checking down to Fred Jackson for his only completion.

The Bills will take Tuesday off to catch their breath, but through four days of practices, the Bills' quarterback competition is still a jumbled mess with few clues as to which quarterback might eventually pull ahead -- if one does.

Here are some other notes from Monday night's practice:

  • After a heavy workload in the first three practices, it seemed to be a rest night for LeSean McCoy. In his place, Fred Jackson took first-team reps after a light load the first three days.

  • Running back Boobie Dixon left practice early with an apparent lower body injury and did not return. Bryce Brown and Karlos Williams split time in his place, with Brown fumbling in a 9-on-7 run game drill.

  • Seantrel Henderson saw more time with the first team at right tackle in 11-on-11 action. That competition is ongoing.