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Bills hurting at more than just quarterback

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Posted: Tuesday, August 27, 2013 12:00 am

You know that old Ray Charles song, “If it wasn’t for bad luck ... I wouldn’t have any luck at all?”

Meet the Buffalo Bills.

In an NFL preseason when team-after-team lost key players, the Bills seemed to be tiptoeing through the proverbial minefield.

But, alas, in a span of one half of a single game, Buffalo got a bitter taste of NFL reality.

Bills’ fans assumed it was over when rookie first-round draft choice EJ Manuel, who had seemingly won the starting quarterback job, tweaked his knee in a preseason game against Minnesota.

But, after what we were told was a “minor” surgical procedure, chances appeared good that he’d be healthy for the season opener against New England at “The Ralph.”

Then came last Saturday.

IN THE FIRST quarter against the Redskins, veteran quarterback Kevin Kolb, given a chance to bid for the starter role, caught an inadvertent knee to the helmet, at the end of the run, that sent him to the lockerroom with concussion-like symptoms, an injury he has suffered several times before.

Some have suggested his proclivity for concussions could be career-ending, but what’s certain is that he’s out indefinitely and could be a candidate for short-, or long-term injured reserve.

Thus, unless Manuel returns by Monday, Buffalo’s starting QB against the Pats will be undrafted rookie free agent Jeff Tuel.

It got worse.

Later in the opening half, cornerback Stephon Gilmore, last year’s first-round draft pick, was lost “six to eight weeks” to a broken wrist.

It could be argued, with due respect to defensive linemen Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams and free safety Jairus Byrd, that Gilmore is Buffalo’s top defender.

He’s certainly the hardest to replace.

As bad as the Bills looked defensively against the Redskins, especially against the run, Buffalo has decent depth on the line.

At free safety, until Byrd signed his “franchise” tender late last week, the Bills’ were grooming DaNorris Searcy and rookie Duke Williams for the job.

But corner is different.

Suddenly, Buffalo’s top performer at that position, by default, is 2008 first-round draft choice Leodis McKelvin who didn’t play his way off the roster last year only because of his punt-return skills.

That leaves the Bills’ corners as Ron Brooks, he of the ill-timed penalty and uneven performances, Justin Rogers, coming off an injury, and young veterans Crezdon Butler and T.J. Heath, the former of whom has admittedly played well.

But with the pre-season finale set for Thursday night against the Lions, suddenly new coach Doug Marrone’s biggest worry is to escape the exhibition games without any more serious injuries.

AFTER PRACTICE on Monday, though, he maintained that he’s learned to accept personnel losses as part of the business.

“When it used to happen when I was younger,  I would say to myself ‘What did I do to deserve this,’” he admitted. “We all go through times like this. I go to church on Sunday, I’m a good father, a good husband. Why did this happen? We have to learn that in life ...it’s how do you deal with (adversity).

“One of the things we’ll talk (to the team) about is ‘There’s adversity and (it’s) time for other people to take advantage of it and step up.’”

Marrone added,  “You have to be careful. A lot of times, what will come out of the media or come out of fans or even sometimes management, is, ‘Here you’ve got this guy playing quarterback or you’ve got this guy playing corner. What are you going to do?’

“You talk to players and they’re like ‘We have to step it up to help.’ (But) that’s really not what they have to do. What they have to do is just their job and  what they’re supposed to do. A player will step up and be ready to go ... that’s the point of a 53-man roster. Everyone has a role and it’s important. I’m a firm believer that when you sit in that room and there are 53 guys there, everyone has to understand their role. That’s why they’re there.”

He concluded,  “If something happens with an injury, someone has to go in and be ready to play. That’s how you address it. Sometimes true character comes out whether it’s management, coaches or players, to see how we’re dealing with it. Right now it’s been good.”

Of course, the Bills have yet to play a game that counts.

(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at cpollock@oleantimesherald.com)

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