Kyle Orton’s practice debut immediately brightened Bills coach Doug Marrone’s outlook on Monday.
In the span of a week, Marrone went from being concerned to expressing confidence in assessing the team’s backup quarterback spot behind starter EJ Manuel.
“Better,” Marrone said. “Kyle’s much better for us. He’s an experienced veteran. He’s what we were looking for. And we were fortunate to get him.”
Marrone revealed the Bills first targeted signing the nine-year NFL veteran “very early” into training camp. And Marrone acknowledged the need for the contingency plan emerged because of the lack of progress shown by former backups Thad Lewis and Jeff Tuel.
“I don’t know if I’d label it a setback, but obviously we wanted those guys to step up and play better,” Marrone said in his first comments since the Bills signed Orton to a one-year contract Saturday. “When they didn’t, we obviously had to go out and make some moves.”
Lewis, who went 2-3 filling in for an injured Manuel last season, was cut last week. Tuel was released on Saturday before being signed to the practice squad a day later.
The Bills even tried out fifth-year journeyman Jordan Palmer, whose four-day stint in Buffalo ended after he threw three interceptions in a preseason-ending 23-0 loss to Detroit on Thursday.
Orton has a 35-35 career record split among four teams since being selected by Chicago in the fourth round of the 2005 draft. Over that time, he has experience as a season-opening starter and backup, including his most recent two-year stint playing behind Tony Romo in Dallas.
The Cowboys cut Orton in mid-July after he failed to attend the team’s spring minicamp sessions amid reports he was considering retirement. Orton sidestepped questions about his recent past by saying he’s focusing on his immediate future, and particularly looking ahead to the Bills opener at Chicago on Sunday.
“We play the Bears and I play for the Bills, so I kind of stick with those two teams,” Orton said when asked about what happened in Dallas. “Six weeks ago seems like a long time.”
Orton referred to the Bills as being “the right fit,” and stressed that his job in Buffalo is providing a supporting role to Manuel, who is entering his second season.
Manuel, the 2013 first-round draft pick, can use all the mentoring he can get.
Manuel is coming off an inconsistent and injury-shortened rookie season in which he finished with a 4-6 record. The Bills’ offence has lacked finish this preseason in having combined for four field goals and two touchdowns on 23 possessions over five games.
The backup spot behind Manuel has been unsettled since journeyman Kevin Kolb sustained a season-ending concussion last preseason.
Orton quickly made a good impression on several players.
“I like his command of the quarterback room,” receiver Mike Williams.
Running back Fred Jackson believes Orton’s addition solidifies the position.
“Any time you get some veteran leadership at quarterback, it can’t hurt,” Jackson said. “He’s somebody that can definitely give EJ some knowledge of what he’s seen throughout the league.”
NOTES: Jackson, DT Kyle Williams, C Eric Wood, DE Mario Williams, LB Brandon Spikes and CB Corey Graham were chosen team captains following a vote of players. It’s a first for Mario Williams, entering his third season in Buffalo. Spikes and Graham were off-season free-agent additions. ... TE Tony Moeaki was released after reaching an injury settlement. The fourth-year player was sidelined during most of training camp and placed on the reserve/injured list on Friday. .. OG D.J. Morell and RB Lonnie Pryor were signed to the practice squad.