ORCHARD PARK — It could well be a glimpse of the NFL’s future this afternoon at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
It’s the era of the big, mobile quarterback who can run the gimmick du jour, the “read-option,” can throw effectively on the run and is as comfortable outside the pocket as in it.
And those traits will be on display today at “The Ralph,” when 6-foot-5, 245-pound Cam Newton, the 24-year-old QB of the Carolina Panthers, squares off against his Bills’ counterpart, EJ Manuel, a 6-4, 237-pound rookie.
Both have extremely strong arms and share similar physical dimensions.
The big difference is that Newton is in his third NFL season while Manuel has played one game as a pro.
However, they’re used similarly by their teams as the National Football League begins a slow shift from pocket passers to mobile throwers.
The success of young quarterbacks such as Newton, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick and veteran Michael Vick have encouraged teams like the Bills and Jets to adopt that style with Manuel and Geno Smith respectively.
WHEN MANUEL was asked whether he and Newton represent a new wave of QBs in the league, the former Florida State star said, “Yeah, definitely. We’re both big, athletic quarterbacks. Guys that can throw the ball down the field and also take off and get yardage by running.”
In fact, Manuel found a model in Newton.
“When I was in college, I watched him when he was a rookie,” said Buffalo’s first round draft choice. “I saw his success. I obviously watched him when he was at Auburn and saw him tear up the SEC at the college level, so I’m definitely a fan.”
But they’re also not the same.
“As a quarterback, you want to just be remembered as a winner,” Manuel said. “I know (the Panthers) haven’t had tremendous seasons (7-9, 6-10 with Newton) but I think Cam’s had an outstanding career thus far. He did great as a rookie and had a good season last year.
“Whatever your affect is: RG III is a guy who can run down the field, but (pocket QB) Andrew Luck and those kind of guys, can still make plays with their feet, so I don’t think it’s just necessarily me, Cam, RG III, Russell Wilson, all the guys that can run. There are a lot of other quarterbacks that can make plays with their feet.”
Manuel isn’t sure about the differences from Newton, but he admitted, “I think we’re both good quarterbacks.”
HOWEVER, Carolina doesn’t try to run its offense as rapidly as Buffalo wants to, and the Bills aren’t nearly as quick as the Eagles, under former Oregon coach Chip Kelly, who got off 53 snaps in the first half of Monday’s 33-27 win over Washington.
Even Manuel was impressed with the speed of Philadelphia’s offense.
“Just seeing those guys get those big chunk plays as far as the runs, LeSean McCoy, getting 15 yards here, 12 yards there, that helps out your offense tremendously,” Manuel conceded. “Then, obviously, when you’re running the ball great, that pretty much opens up all the passing lanes ... the seams that Mike (Vick) was hitting. Those guys jumped down the Redskins very early and I think that’s what kind of tired their defense out.”
But he sees a similarity with what the Bills are trying to do, though they totaled only 61 plays against the Pats — albeit run quickly — because of three-and-outs.
Some felt that new Bills’ offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett employed a simplified game plan to help Manuel in his first start.
“I don’t feel that way,” he said. “That was our game plan going into it based off what we saw and all the film that we studied.”
Manuel finished 18-of-27 for 150 yards with touchdown passes of 18 yards each to rookie Robert Woods and veteran Stevie Johnson, no interceptions and a solid 105.5 passer rating.
“ I think we have a very quick, up-tempo offense as well,” Manuel said. “I think it’s very comparable (to the Eagles). The Redskins might have been doing something differently on defense than what New England was doing. Both offenses do the zone-read, the vertical routes. I can’t really say it was something that we did versus what the Eagles did to allow them to have extended drives like that. Personally, I don’t do a lot of comparing.
“We just had a separate game plan for New England and this week I think we’ll be out there using some speed.”
(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at email@example.com)