The Buffalo Bills began training camp with a fairly consistent division of practice repetitions between AJ McCarron and Nathan Peterman, who alternated days with the first- and second-team offenses, and rookie Josh Allen, who spent most of his time with the third-team offense.
However, the team's past two practices at St. John Fisher College have shaken up the hierarchy at quarterback and muddled the outlook for which player could start Week 1 against the Baltimore Ravens.
In Sunday's practice, Peterman and Allen rotated first-team reps within the same drill, followed by McCarron and Allen splitting second-team reps and then all three quarterbacks seeing time with the third team. On Monday, McCarron was back with the first team, but Allen spent 11-on-11 drills with the second team for the first time in training camp. Peterman fell to the third team.
Instead of slowing down, the Bills' carousel at quarterback seems only to spin faster. Whether that is a sign of fierce competition or the product of no player consistently standing out from the pack is a matter of interpretation.
What also is unclear is how much of the head-spinning changes at quarterback have been part of the script for head coach Sean McDermott and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.
Before this week, McCarron and Peterman had split first-team reps since organized team activities in the spring. McDermott said during June minicamp that such shuffling was by design to acclimate quarterbacks with different receivers; but he added, "Once we get into the second, third, certainly the fourth week of training camp, then we’ll start to really try and build some continuity with the [first team] so that it carries forward into the season."
At the start of training camp, McDermott said the team would move forward and name a starter "when we feel the time is right," but added, "It would be nice to get a pretty good feel early on [in training camp]."
Through 19 days of training camp, the Bills have established little continuity with the first-team offense at quarterback, and further practices have brought more cloudiness than clarity.
That does not mean the Bills are in a bind at their most important position.
Statistically, there was little that separated the performance of Peterman (9-for-10 for 119 yards and one touchdown) and McCarron (7-for-10 for 116 yards) in Thursday's preseason-opening loss to the Carolina Panthers, other than an interception docked against Peterman for a pass that was thrown slightly behind running back Chris Ivory but bounced off his hands.
There also were some positive signs from Allen, who went 9-for-19 for 116 yards in the second half but led his inexperienced group on a touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter.
The Bills certainly do not have an embarrassment of riches at quarterback, but having three quarterbacks who performed relatively well in the first preseason game is a better problem than having three who did not.
However, there is a legitimate question about how long the Bills should wait before beginning to rally the team behind its probable opening-day starter.
Despite McDermott's desire to see separation early in training camp and to have continuity with the first-team offense late in training camp, a committee approach to quarterback has persisted.
It's not clear whether McDermott is truly deciding each day how he handles the position or concealing a more calculated, long-term plan. After McDermott publicly withheld his choice about the starting quarterback last Thursday until an hour before kickoff, he swatted away a question on Sunday about who will start on Friday against the Browns in Cleveland.
"I’m not going to go there for Friday," McDermott said. "I think you guys get the gist by now, right? We’re going to take it one day at a time."