ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Doug Marrone came to the conclusion that three was a crowd in the Buffalo Bills quarterback competition.
Though the rookie head coach was nowhere near naming a starter on Tuesday, Marrone said it'll be easier to evaluate who wins the job now that it's down to rookie first-round draft pick EJ Manuel and veteran free-agent addition Kevin Kolb.
"The more reps you give them, I think it's going to be easier to tell it apart," Marrone said, a day after the team released veteran backup Tarvaris Jackson. "I believe that we'll be able to see it at training camp. I think the players on the team are going to be able to see that separation. And that's the most important thing."
Marrone and the Bills got their first glimpse at the pared-down quarterback rotation in opening a three-day mandatory minicamp. It's the team's last spring session until training camp opens July 28.
On Tuesday, Kolb and Manuel evenly split the practice time, with undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel getting limited snaps at the end of each series of sessions. That's a significant switch from the Bills first 10 spring minicamp practices, when Kolb and Jackson split the starting duties ahead of Manuel and Tuel.
Manuel welcomed the added practice time.
"Your body continues to stay warm. You get a lot of continuity on offence, and you kind of get in a groove," he said. "So it's a lot better."
Manuel also understood he has to continue improving to show he's capable of making the immediate jump from college to NFL rookie starter.
"I don't think that's anything I have to remind myself of," said Manuel, selected 16th overall out of Florida State. "I'm still trying to learn, still trying to get a great feel for my teammates. I'm still trying to earn the respect of the veteran guys as well as the rookies."
Kolb said the additional practice time benefited him in building a better rapport with his teammates in running the newly installed game-plan.
"Nobody likes when stuff like that happens," Kolb said, referring to Jackson getting cut. "But sometimes you have to. And I can already see a difference today."
Jackson, a seventh-year player, was the odd-man out. He was acquired by Buffalo in a trade with Seattle in September, but spent all of last season as the team's third-stringer.
The quarterback competition is attracting the most interest in Buffalo on a team that's undergoing yet another top-to-bottom transition. Marrone was hired in January after Chan Gailey was fired following three consecutive losing seasons.
The Bills have gone 13 seasons without a playoff berth -- the NFL's longest active drought. And many of their troubles can be pinned on a quarterback position that's been mostly unsettled since Hall of Famer Jim Kelly retired following the 1996 season.
Manuel was the only quarterback selected in the first round of the draft.
At 6-foot-4, he's a strong-armed mobile player, who went 25-6 in four seasons with the Seminoles. Despite Manuel's success, questions were raised over his decision-making skills. He finished with 47 touchdowns and 28 interceptions, which were the result of him occasionally forcing throws.
Marrone is being careful to ease Manuel into the job.
"We just want to make sure that we're taking it at a natural progression," Marrone said. "He's not seeing the same type of things that Kevin's seeing out there right now. And we're' just working ahead and building him up."
Kolb has the edge in experience. He's entering his seventh NFL season after failing to secure the starting jobs in Philadelphia and, most recently Arizona.
He has a 9-12 record as a starter, but his career has been hampered by a series of injuries.
Kolb signed a two-year contract with Buffalo in April, eager for the shot to prove himself as a starter, even though he was aware the team was going to draft a quarterback.
Kolb can appreciate why Manuel can be considered the front-runner for the job because of where he was drafted. That doesn't mean Kolb has to accept it.
"I don't buy what's being sold, I guess," he said. "I just listen to what they tell me to do and roll along with it."
Kolb noted he was in a similar position in 2007 after being drafted in the second round by Philadelphia. Expected to eventually succeed Donovan McNabb as the Eagles starter, Kolb was injured in the 2009 opener and eventually lost the job to Michael Vick.
"I've seen it from a lot of different perspectives, so I have an open mind about it," Kolb said. "I've been through a lot of these, and I look forward to the challenge.
"Obviously, it started anew today."