ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) Having lost rookie starter EJ Manuel to injury twice already since August, Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone doesn't want to make it a third time.
That's why Marrone, on Thursday, re-emphasized the importance of Manuel avoiding taking unnecessary hits with the quarterback preparing to return from a sprained right knee.
"There's a fine line between very, very competitive and for someone in that position to be smart. So I think he'll be better," Marrone said.
After pausing for emphasis, Marrone added: "Well, he had better be better, right?"
The words of caution came after the rookie first-round pick took most of the snaps in practice for a second straight day, putting him on track to start Sunday against Pittsburgh (2-6).
Manuel has missed four games since being hurt in a 37-24 loss to Cleveland on Oct. 3.
The injury occurred at the end of a 14-yard run and after Manuel had already picked up a first down along the left sideline at the Browns 13 yard-line.
Rather than slide or jumping out of bounds, Manuel kept running when he was struck in the knee by safety Tashaun Gipson.
Manuel's absence not only set back his development, but also that of the Bills (3-6), who lacked experienced depth at quarterback.
Thad Lewis was promoted off the practice squad and went 1-2 before being sidelined by bruised ribs. The Bills then turned to undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel, who struggled in a 23-13 loss to Kansas City last weekend.
This marked the second time Manuel has been sidelined by a knee injury. He missed the final two preseason games after hurting his left knee during a scramble in a 20-16 win over Minnesota. And Manuel acknowledged he continued playing against the Vikings despite feeling soreness in his knee.
Manuel has on several occasions said he understands the importance of avoiding contact.
And yet, he's also been dismissive toward questions about his decisions to take off and run.
On Wednesday, Manuel referred to his latest injury as a "freak accident," saying it could have been avoided had he lifted his knee a half-inch higher.
Marrone would prefer Manuel not put himself in that position in the first place.
"I think what you have is a young player that's obviously still learning," Marrone said. "And I think what you'll see next time, obviously, is someone who is going to be a lot smarter in making the right decisions of when to go down and when to go out of bounds without jeopardizing the team to win."
Rookie receiver Marquise Goodwin is expected to play Sunday after he returned to practice after missing one day with a sore hamstring.
Rookie receiver Robert Woods (left ankle) remains doubtful to play after missing his second day of practice after being hurt on Sunday. Woods was injured tumbling out of bounds while attempting to make a catch.
Woods said he felt something "pop" in his ankle before the ball got to him.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org