PITTSFORD (Rochester D&C)- The Buffalo Bills' first full-contact scrimmage of training camp opened up with the fans serenading C.J. Spiller on his birthday.
However, it was Leodis McKelvin who was given the first present - a gift-wrapped interception of rookie quarterback EJ Manuel that he returned nearly 40 yards for a touchdown.
Manuel had plenty more opportunities Monday night at St. John Fisher College's Growney Stadium, taking all his snaps with the first-team offense and against the first-team defense. Veteran Kevin Kolb, who is competing for the starting job against the No. 16 overall pick in April's NFL draft, was excused from practice after learning of a death in his family.
"I spoke with Kevin this morning and he said he was ready to go if the doctor said it was OK," said first-year head coach Doug Marrone of Kolb, who missed several practices after slipping on a rubber mat and injuring his knee. "He was walking around fine."
So, this was Manuel's show. For his first few series, it was not a sight to see -overthrown passes, several would-be coverage sacks, miscommunications with receivers and running backs and then another interception, this time on a deflection.
"I certainly didn't start the way I wanted to, but I'm telling you I'm sure that won't be my only interception," said the 23-year-old Manuel, out of Florida State. "I'm not always going to be perfect. What I liked about my effort was I didn't lose confidence."
That itself was quite an accomplishment. Manuel had to watch as free-agent rookie quarterback Jeff Tuel (Washington State) took reps with the second team and dialed up a 53-yard strike to rookie receiver Marquise Goodwin, followed that with a 54-yard bomb to Da'Rick Rogers and finished his third series with a 40-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Easley. Three series, three scores.
"This was a blast," Tuel said. "My receivers made great plays, I got great protection. We're getting to know each other. We're still learning, but this was great for my confidence."
As the scrimmage went on, Manuel, too, looked more comfortable. By his seventh series his well-placed throw drew a pass interference penalty on a fly pattern. Manuel scored on a keeper the next play. On his next series, he read through his progressions, finding his third receiver for a 20-yard gain and then tossed a touch pass to T.J. Graham in the corner of the end zone. He finished running a near-flawless two-minute drill in which he completed two passes and got some help from veteran running back Fred Jackson.
"What I like about EJ is he doesn't make the same mistake twice," Marrone said. "That's encouraging and we're happy to see that. I was pleased how he bounced back from the interception early on and his demeanor in coming back each series. The defense was getting after him and he showed me he can handle it. He looked good in that two-minute drill."
Manuel's assessment of his night: "I have to work on my thought process and decision-making, but I finished strong. That is important moving forward."