In the weeks leading up to the start of Buffalo Bills training camp, Buffalo Rumblings will be taking a look at the ten most intriguing positional battles set to take place at St. John Fisher this summer. Previous entries in this series can be found in our training camp section.
When the Buffalo Bills open training camp next week, the team will be splitting its second-team quarterback reps between veterans Vince Young and Tyler Thigpen, according to head coach Chan Gailey - who also mentions that one or both of the Ryan Fitzpatrick understudies could see first-team work this summer.
"That's what our plan is, is to try to equalize the reps as much as possible between those two," Gailey told BuffaloBills.com. "And you have to work them with the ones at some point, just so they are able to function in that role should it come up."
In July of 2011, the Bills signed Thigpen to a three-year contract worth a reported $9 million, giving the team a significant upgrade over Brian Brohm in the backup quarterback position. Yet even when Fitzpatrick reportedly cracked two ribs mid-way through the 2011 season, the Bills were not comfortable enough turning to Thigpen during a playoff push - or even well after those playoffs dreams died a brutal death - to let him see any significant playing time.
Most are already aware that Thigpen, 28, had his best pro season (2,608 yards, 18 touchdowns, three rushing touchdowns and 12 interceptions) when he and Gailey were the starting quarterback and offensive coordinator, respectively, for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2008. Gailey famously designed a spread offense featuring an abundance of Pistol formations to leech productivity out of the little-known Coastal Carolina product.
Since then, however, Thigpen has proven little to nothing in brief playing appearances, and the Bills did not seem ready to rely on Thigpen in 2011 knowing that he came into Gailey's system - one designed specifically around Fitzpatrick's skill set - later than anyone would have liked.
Thigpen still has a system experience edge on Young, the former No. 3 overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft who enters his second season as a full-time backup after leading the Tennessee Titans to one playoff berth and earning two Pro Bowl selections in Nashville, then spending a year backing up Michael Vick in Philadelphia. Now 31-19 for his career as a starter, Young brings a certain amount of baggage, a great deal of physical talent and a lot of unfulfilled expectations to this competition.
Young, 29, signed a one-year deal worth just south of $2 million that contains another $1 million in incentives should he ever get playing time. That makes his contract significantly less risky than the investment made in Thigpen a year ago, and gives Young an advantage in the competition that is somehow routinely glossed over despite its glaring significance.
Gailey has admitted that both players have advantages in this battle: Thigpen with his experience in this specific offense, and Young with his experience playing live football at the NFL level. Knowing that the team plans to keep jack-of-all-trades athlete Brad Smith on the active roster as the third quarterback, one of Young and Thigpen likely won't be on the team, while the other will be Fitzpatrick's primary backup. This will be one of the higher-stakes battles of the summer despite it involving a backup role, and the high-profile nature of one of the participants will make this one of the most intriguing battles to monitor during camp.