ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – Passed over in the NFL draft in April, quarterback Jeff Tuel settled on signing with the Buffalo Bills a few days later with the sole objective of cracking the team’s roster.
As of Monday, the raw rookie out of Washington State is in line to start in the Bills’ season opener against New England Sept. 8.
“I came here to play football, and that’s what I’m doing,” Tuel said. “It just explains, you can never expect. You never know what’s going to happen in this league.
“It’s why you’ve got to be ready.”
Tuel is in this position because of a string of injuries that have hit the Bills’ quarterback position.
Veteran Kevin Kolb is out indefinitely after sustaining a concussion – the third of his seven-year career – in a 30-7 loss to Washington on Saturday. Then there’s rookie first-round pick EJ Manuel, who might not be ready to play because he’s still recovering from a left knee injury he endured in a 20-16 win over Minnesota a week earlier.
The Bills did sign free agent Matt Leinart on Sunday, but the 2004 Heisman Trophy winner needs time to become familiar with the offense.
Should Tuel start against New England, he would be the first undrafted rookie directly out of college to start in Week 1 for any team since the NFL merger in 1970, according to STATS LLC.
This is not exactly what rookie coach Doug Marrone envisioned when he intended to have his starter in place within 10 days of the season.
“Well, I don’t know if I’d use the word crazy,” Marrone said. “But I would say a little bit of adversity, for sure.”
Running back C.J. Spiller has been excused to be with his family near Jacksonville, Fla., where his step-grandfather Hubert Allen Jr. allegedly killed two people and shot two others before killing himself on Saturday.
Buffalo has some reinforcements at quarterback, with Leinart and Thaddeus Lewis each making their practice debuts. Lewis was acquired Sunday in a trade that sent LB Chris White to Detroit.
Tuel, 22, found it strange providing offensive tips to a 30-year-old Leinart.
“It was odd,” Tuel said. “The last time I saw Matt, I was watching him in the Rose Bowl in the national championship play Texas, and I was in the stands. I was like in eighth grade.”
The injuries to Manuel and Kolb have at least provided Tuel additional practice and playing time than most third-stringers usually get. In three preseason games, he’s a combined 31-of-43 for 299 yards passing, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Leinart is happy to get one more chance to prove himself after spending the entire offseason looking for a job. After spending his first four seasons in Arizona, he’s on his third team in as many years.
“I’m just excited just to be here obviously and humbled and just thankful for the opportunity,” said Leinart, who is expected to play Thursday. “Obviously, I know nothing is guaranteed ever. But I’m excited to be playing football.”