Bills QB EJ Manuel cleared to return

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel has been cleared by doctors to return from a knee injury that has sidelined the rookie for more than a month.

Manuel will practice this week but the decision to play Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers remains up to coach Doug Marrone, the quarterback said.

"Definitely looking forward to getting [back to] practice full course, getting as many reps as Coach allows me to get," Manuel said Monday. "It's his decision at the end of the day."

Manuel suffered a sprained LCL in his right knee in an Oct. 3 loss to the Cleveland Browns. On Oct. 16, Marrone said Manuel would be out of practice an additional four to six weeks, so Manuel's return Wednesday would put him ahead of schedule in his recovery.

Thad Lewis started three games in Manuel's place before suffering bruised ribs in a loss to the New Orleans Saints. Undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel started Sunday's loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, completing 18 of 39 passes for 229 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, including one returned 100 yards for a touchdown.

"[Manuel] said he'll be ready on Sunday," wide receiver Stevie Johnson said. "After that, there's no excuses."

Marrone said the Bills want to make sure Manuel is capable of playing at a high level before naming him as the starter against Pittsburgh.

"EJ has been cleared," Marrone said. "We have to make a good decision. We have to get him out there and see how he's doing from a football movement standpoint. We've had him out there throwing, which was something that we amped up quite a bit after individual sessions that he was allowed to do last week. But we'll put him out there and put him in the mix and see how he's doing. We'll obviously do that early in the week.

"We feel really good. We have to be careful though. In the back of my mind, I'm thinking 'Let's make sure he's 110 percent.' And not putting a player out there that can jeopardize himself."

Starting the first five games of the season, Manuel completed 56.7 percent of his passes, threw for five touchdowns and had three interceptions. But on a third-quarter scramble against the Browns, Manuel was hit on his right knee, the second time he had been injured since being drafted 16th overall in April.

"I think that's just a part of playing football. That could have happened playing basketball too. I'm not going to play scared or anything like that," Manuel said Monday. "I'm going to continue to try to get as many yards as I can. But at the same time, slide or get out of bounds, throw it away, whatever, when you get out of the pocket."

Manuel acknowledged, however, the need to protect himself from injury.

"Get the first down. Get down and get out of bounds. But it happens. It's over with now and I'm just moving forward now," he said.

The Bills have endured several injuries at quarterback this season, with the coaching staff emphasizing to quarterbacks that they need to avoid injuries when possible.

"We call it the 'Peyton Manning rule,'" Manuel said. "When you're in the pocket and about to get crushed, try to get down as fast as possible. Those veteran guys do a great job of that. If you don't have anything, just get down and protect your body."

Last month, Marrone said he "would be wrong to say" that Manuel's latest knee injury hasn't hurt his development. But on Monday, Manuel deflected those concerns.

"I don't really look at it that way," Manuel said. "When I wasn't playing, I still took mental reps. People can say that's a cliche thing, but I took it to heart."