By Sal Maiorana - Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
Training camp began Sunday night for the Bills at St. John Fisher College, and quarterback Kevin Kolb was doing what he has always done since entering the NFL in 2007.
The former second-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles was out there slinging passes, handing off to running backs, and leading his teammates. In other words, he was fighting hard to win a starting job - a continuing trend in his NFL odyssey.
"I could probably just pull out a tape recorder from the last three years and hit play; it's nothing new," Kolb said, the inference being that he has always had to battle for everything, just like this season when he has to compete against first-round rookie EJ Manuel. "But it's obviously a new offense and a new place. Whatever happens, of course, I'm here for the team and I'll do whatever it takes."
Kolb spent his first three years in the NFL serving as Donovan McNabb's backup in Philadelphia, listening to Eagles fans chant his name in the hope that coach Andy Reid would give up on the fading McNabb.
Kolb finally got the nod in 2010 when McNabb left for Washington, but there was a guy named Michael Vick, freshly signed out of prison, sitting on the bench looking over his shoulder. And when Kolb got hurt in the first game that year, it gave Vick the chance he needed to show he still had some of the crazy athletic ability from his days in Atlanta.
Although Kolb was given the job back when he was healthy and returned to start three games in October, he played poorly in that stretch, and Reid turned it over to Vick, pretty much spelling the end for Kolb in Philly before it ever really began.
Desperate to replace Kurt Warner who retired following the 2009 season, Arizona acquired Kolb in a trade, but in two years with the Cardinals, injuries - including one inflicted by the Bills last season - limited him to 14 starts, and he was released in March.
He signed with the Bills in early April, but he did so knowing that the starting job wasn't going to be just handed to him.
"They told me straightforward right from the beginning that they were probably going to draft a guy," Kolb said. "They didn't know where or when, but I told them I didn't care. I'm here not only because I have a chance to compete for the starting job, but because I believe in what they're doing. I met with them. I saw what they were doing offensively and structurally as a team, and I wanted to be a part of it."
Of course, Manuel's status as a first-rounder - the only quarterback taken in the first round - will likely hurt Kolb's chances of winning the job. It's a new era in Buffalo; new coach, new GM, new coordinator, and it makes sense that they would want to start with their shiny new rookie quarterback, and Kolb understands this.
"Given the past, I haven't known anything different," he said. "The intensity has always been there for me. I've never been able to come in and say 'look, this is mine.' It has always been a competition, and I've always had something to prove. There's no better way to go about it."
Marrone has said repeatedly that it's going to be an open competition, may the best man win. He plans to give both players equal reps with the first team, and though he hasn't decided on his plan for usage in the preseason games, it's a good bet that each will get a start before he makes any decisions.
"The future for us as coaches and as a team is now," said Marrone. "What I look at is what players can we put on the field to win now. Who gives us the best opportunity to win?"
You can make a strong case in that regard for Kolb, who has 21 NFL starts under his belt (9-12 record).
"You can't succumb to speculation of down the road this player will be better here or there," said Marrone. "I'm looking for who is the best player now."
So there's Kolb, working hard on a summer Sunday night in front of a big and enthusiastic crowd at Growney Stadium, putting his previous NFL experience to use in the hope that he can delay the start of Manuel's destiny as the Bills' quarterback of the future.
"He (Marrone) has told us (that it would become evident to the team who is the right choice)," said Kolb. "That's what I like about him. He shoots you straight no matter what it is. I think he's right. Everywhere I have ever been, whenever the starter is named, most of the team feels the same way. Hopefully, there is a drastic separation and we can move forward and there won't be any questions about who it should be. Of course, I am here to compete and hopefully it's me."