FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Between Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck and Ryan Tannehill, New England’s defense last season had its hands full trying to defend rookie quarterbacks.

It doesn’t have to wait very long to see if that experience will pay off.

The Patriots will again be tested by a first-year quarterback Sunday when Buffalo’s E.J. Manuel makes his debut.

Studying Manuel hasn’t been easy. The 16th overall pick out of Florida State completed 26 of 33 passes for 199 yards and a touchdown without an interception in his first two preseason games.

That’s all the film the Patriots have on him, though.

The clear-cut favorite to start the season, Manuel underwent a minor procedure on his left knee Aug. 18 and missed the Bills’ final two preseason games.

Undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel was in line to start Sunday until Manuel returned to practice.

“We know he’s a real athletic guy. Good passer, had a lot of production in college, played well in the Indianapolis game, scrambled well,” Patriots Coach Bill Belichick said of Manuel.

Last season, against a sampling of four first-year starters — Colin Kaepernick was a second-year player for San Francisco, while Wilson, Luck, and Tannehill were rookies — New England struggled. Those quarterbacks averaged 253.8 yards per game with better than a 54 percent completion rate.

“Quarterbacks that can run, you’ve got to keep them in the pocket,” defensive end Rob Ninkovich said.

Manuel certainly fits the mold of a runner — he averaged nearly 75 carries a season at Florida State. But the Patriots don’t expect to see him on the move that often.

“He runs a little bit but he tries to stay in that pocket. He tries to get that ball out of his hands,” Tommy Kelly of the Patriots said. “He’ll run when it’s necessary, but to say he’s like Michael Vick? Nah. But he’ll run. He’s definitely a threat, though.”


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