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EJ Manuel: ‘I think we can win the game if we don’t turn it over’

09.05.13 at 12:19 am ET
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E.J. Manuel fires a pass during Bills training camp. (AP)

EJ Manuel fires a pass during Bills training camp. (AP)

Say this much for EJ Manuel: He has a fair amount of confidence going into his first NFL game and making his first NFL start.

Perhaps that comes from playing in the football crazy state of Florida during his college years and playing at Florida State under Jimbo Fisher, who himself replaced the legendary Bobby Bowden.

Manuel’s job is not nearly as daunting. He is not replacing Jim Kelly but rather Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Maybe Manuel is confident because he was considered by many experts as the quarterback with the most upside coming into this spring’s draft.

Whatever the reason, Manuel is not intimidated by facing the Patriots this Sunday in the 2013 opener.

“Obviously these guys are professionals, so that’s the biggest difference,” Manuel said. “But other than that it’s still football at the end of the day. You’ve still got to execute what you do on offense and I think that’s what it’s going to boil down to. Whoever doesn’t turn the ball over the most, I think it can win that differential. As far as that, I think we can win the game if we don’t turn it over.”

To Manuel’s point, there is precedent for rookie quarterbacks beating Bill Belichick. It happened in 2010 when Colt McCoy took care of the ball in a 34-14 Browns win in Cleveland. Last year, Russell Wilson pulled off a miracle comeback and beat the Patriots, 24-23.

Both quarterbacks had something in common: They didn’t throw an interception.

Manuel is coming off a scope of his left knee after his second preseason start. Still, he has the speed to throw a scare into the Patriots defense. Manuel is confident his knee won’t be an issue.

“Yeah, I definitely feel ready,” he told reporters Wednesday. “Mentally, physically my mind feels good. I just tried to stay in everything when I wasn’t playing in those last two preseason games and those practice reps I missed I made sure I made them up, still got mental reps. When I felt good enough with my knee I just made sure I stuck around and got some extra work in so I’d be ready.”

One of his targets, Stevie Johnson, popped off this week that no one in the Patriots secondary can cover him. What does Manuel think?

“We’ll see. Stevie doesn’t think so, but I know he’s definitely a hard guy to cover for our own defense,” Manuel said. “I’m looking forward to the chance to see how he plays and how I go out there and play on Sunday.”

Here is the rest of Manuel’s conference call from Wednesday.

Q: How excited are you?
A: I’m very excited. I’m looking forward to the opportunity, very excited to get the season kicked off going against a great opponent, so it’s a great opportunity to show what we have.

Q: When did you find out you were getting the start?
A: Pretty much last night. I did another workout and Coach felt, and obviously I felt I was ready to go. But I just wanted to show him I was able to run and protect myself when things break down in the pocket and I think he was able to make that decision.

Q: What’s that conversation like?
A: It was a simple one. I think since I moved around so much better than I did on previous ones and my knee truly does feel better. I think as a teammate to the rest of the guys on the team, I wouldn’t go out there if I didn’t feel like I could go 100-percent. I don’t want to go out there making excuses, this and that, ‘Oh my knee was hurting.’ I’m not going to do that, I feel like I’m good to go. My mind feels good, I’m ready to go.

Q: Are you 100-percent?
A: I definitely feel 100-percent. My knee feels fine. If I wasn’t ready to go out and play, I wouldn’t do it.

Q: Do you consider yourself a scrambling quarterback who can run some read option plays or are you more of a traditional pocket quarterback?
A: I don’t really know. I think that’s up to everyone’s opinion. I just see myself as a quarterback at the end of the day.

Q: What was the draft process like for you and were you surprised when you landed in Buffalo?
A: I really wasn’t. When I did my pre-draft visit I felt like Coach (Nathaniel) Hackett and I had a really good rapport as far as when we had our conversations and went over the plays he wanted me to learn in that short period of time and come back to him. I did well with all of that, so I think everybody around the whole franchise, they liked me and I liked them. When I got the call on draft day I was just elated and very happy to get started.

Q: Football is obviously a team game, but there’s a tremendous amount of focus on the quarterback. How have you been able to handle that so far?
A: I think it was the same way in college. Any time you play football at a high level, a lot of the pressure or the eyes are going to be on the passer and things like that. In order for your offense to function, as a quarterback you need to be responsible for everyone around you. If you do your job first, allow those other guys to make plays, that’s what they’re out there for. That’s why they get paid to do. I think that takes pretty much all the pressure off. If you just do your job and don’t try to force things you’ll be fine.

Q: Was it overwhelming when you first started there, with some of the older guys maybe telling you to give them the ball?
A: They don’t try to take advantage of me at all. Those guys are all good guys at the end of the day. Obviously they want the ball, but they don’t try to take advantage of myself or Jeff (Tuel) even because we’re rookies, they don’t do that.

Q: What challenges does the Patriots’ defense present you?
A: I think they’re a very physical defense. They have a lot of good speed, very instinctual guys who get to the ball very fast as far as when you’re running it. When you’re dropping back to pass, those guys will just add to the box and make your running backs try to chip and block for you, so you have to get the ball out on time.

Q: What are your impressions of the secondary?
A: They’re very good. I think they’re all veteran guys. I think a few of them are high picks, so I know they have great talent and things like that. They get to the ball, try to get a lot of man pressure and they try to rely on that pressure to kind of force you and make bad decisions and throw the ball to guys that aren’t open, they’re covering them very well. As far as that, you just have to be on time with everything.

Q: With so much pressure on C.J. (Spiller) in the backfield, do you think that gives you more of an ability to succeed?
A: Definitely. When you have a guy who can run the ball like C.J. (Spiller), a great guy who has been in this situation before, I know they have my back back there.

Q: How many people are you going to have at the game?
A: My Dad and my Mom.

Q: Not a huge crowd?
A: No sir.

Q: Have you talked to anyone about your first NFL start?
A: No I haven’t. I’ve been able to handle big games before, so I don’t think I’ll need (to). I’m sure my Dad will want to give me the normal pep talk, father son talk but I think I’ll be fine either way.

Q: Did your Dad and Mom go to all your games in college?
A: My Mom had breast cancer so she wasn’t able to make a lot of them last year, but they made the ones they could make.

Q: How’s your Mom doing this year?
A: She’s doing a lot better. She’s been in remission for about two months now and she’s back to her normal lifestyle, moving around, going to work and things like that, so I’m really happy for her.

Q: I’m guessing she’s inspired you in some way?
A: Most definitely. Beyond football, my parents are my heroes in my life. I think a lot of the places I’ve gotten in my life is because of them and the sacrifices they made. I’m just really happy that I’m able to do things for them now.

Q: How special is it to have her in the crowd on Sunday?
A: It’s really special. To have her there and times when, obviously anytime you have someone in your family deal with cancer, any type of cancer, it’s hard to deal with, especially when it’s your last year in college and you have a lot of pressure on you. The fact that she’s doing well now and she’ll be in the stands to watch me play against the New England Patriots, man nothing could be better than that.

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