AFC East: News and Notes
Division Report as of 6/25/07
The Bills open their eighth training camp at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, N.Y. on Thursday, July 26.
This year's camp runs 21 days and will feature seven night practices and just three true two-a-day sessions.
Like previous coaches, Dick Jauron favors the night workouts to beat the summer heat and put some pep in the step of players as they work out before thousands of fans.
The club's marketing department likes the nightlife because it provides fans a better opportunity to make a practice so they don't have to skip work. More fans means more money in merchandise and ticket sales.
Many NFL teams have chosen to conduct training camps at their normal facilities rather than travel to distant venues, like the old days.
The Bills, a small-market team, don't have that option if they want to stay in business. They began seriously regionalizing the franchise as "Western New York's team" when they moved their camp from rural Fredonia, N.Y. to metropolitan Rochester in 2000.
During a news conference, Bills executive vice president of business operations Russ Brandon called Rochester the "linchpin" to the regionalization of the franchise. Rochester accounts for up to 30 percent of club seat and luxury box sales at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
About 18 percent of the fans in the stands are from Monroe County, where Rochester is located, and new season ticket sales in Rochester are up 50 percent, Brandon said.
The Bills could train at their stadium facility but fans would have very restricted access to players, just by the mere physical set up of the grounds. At St. John Fisher, fans literally rub elbows with players and coaches.
"The campus layout is perfect for us," Brandon told reporters. "Really, the players don't have to walk more than 100 yards to be anywhere."
Once again, the Bills won't scrimmage another NFL team. Jauron feels he gets more out of concentrating on his own club rather than hosting a team or traveling somewhere else.
He likes the look of his 2007 edition.
"I love our team attitude," he said. "As we said all last year, they're a group of guys that are not afraid to work, they like to work, they appear to like each other, they work hard together and they want to be a good team."
The Bills have never made the playoffs using Rochester as their launching pad. Maybe this is the year.
--Nobody can accuse QB J.P. Losman of getting special treatment. During spring drills, quarterback coach Turk Schonert picked up right where he left off last season, coming down hard on the second-year starter whenever he saw something Losman could do better. To his credit, Losman takes the tough-love approach well. "I really don't get bothered or rattled too much," he said. "My coach is tough on me, extremely tough, and the guys can vouch for me on this. I don't think anyone gets it harder than me out here. That's what his job is -- to get the most out of me with whatever it takes. ... We're not supposed to be friends."
--Ex-RB Thurman Thomas, who will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Aug. 4, has good things to say about No. 1 pick Marshawn Lynch. "I love his running style," Thomas told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. "I didn't realize how fast and big he was. I know they are talking about spotting him at first, but I think he has the ability to play every down, and I think he'll prove that to the coaching staff."
--Progress on installing the new Diamond Vision Scoreboard at Ralph Wilson Stadium in time for this season is on schedule. The scoreboard has a LED display measuring nearly 34 feet by 83 feet. The new system replaces a 14-year old scoreboard that had seen its day.
--LB Mario Haggan and ex-Bills LB Takeo Spikes (Philadelphia Eagles) were among 22 current and former players that took part in the first NFL Broadcast Bootcamp, an initiative that's part of the league's ongoing player development program. Each off-season, more than 200 players enroll in college courses to complete their work toward degrees or take part in post-career internships. The Broadcast Bootcamp was a four-day hands-on experience covering the gamut of television and radio production.
They Said It: "You can't please everybody. There may be some reasons that guys just don't like the position that Gene is in. You can't please everybody like I said and Gene is trying to do the best that he can and we try to do the best that we can to please everybody but unfortunately it never happens like that." -- Bills player representative Robert Royal, commenting on grumblings by some NFL players that union head Gene Upshaw should be replaced.
The Bills are keeping their fingers crossed that third-year pro Kevin Everett comes into his own and provides the down field presence at tight end their offense desperately needs. Everett, who had a nice college career at the University of Miami, is a superb athlete who at 6-4, 240 can run like a large wide receiver. But the 2005 third-round pick lost his rookie year to knee surgery and his depth chart standing to free agent Brad Cieslak, a superior blocker, last season. That makes this summer's training camp a crossroads for Everett, who must show he can catch the ball with consistency down field or across the middle. He had a good spring. One day, he caught three TD passes during red zone work. Now can he do it when the pads go on?
But shortly after Dolphins coach Cam Cameron and general manager Randy Mueller return to the U.S., the duo will have to deal with a grievance filed against the franchise by quarterback Daunte Culpepper through the NFL Players Association.
An arbitrator is expected to decide whether to support Culpepper's claim that the Dolphins broke NFL rules by not allowing him to practice in team drills during a minicamp earlier this month. The Dolphins have publicly said that wasn't the case, although the franchise doesn't deny having told Culpepper they were seeking to trade him in light of the recent acquisition of quarterback Trent Green from Kansas City.
The arbitrator's decision could come within a week after the June 29 hearing in New York City.
If the arbitrator rules in Culpepper's favor, his release would seemingly be imminent. Otherwise, the Dolphins could continue trying to trade Culpepper before the start of training camp even though he has said he would refuse to restructure his contract, which would likely scuttle any deal.
Culpepper is set to earn $5.5 million in base salary this season as part of a lucrative contract that runs through 2013. It's highly unlikely that any interested suitor would agree to pay such a lofty salary, especially considering it remains uncertain whether Culpepper will be ready to play at the start of the regular season. Culpepper is continuing to recover from two knee surgeries that prevented him from practicing earlier this offseason and ended his 2006 campaign after just four games.
Jacksonville has emerged as a potential suitor for Culpepper, but he isn't a lock to sign there. Culpepper could have other options, which is reflected by the fact Dolphins owner H. Wayne Huizenga told British media on the team's tour that several franchises have expressed interest in a trade.
Oakland could be an intriguing destination because of an uncertain backup situation behind rookie JaMarcus Russell and Raiders owner Al Davis' love of strong-armed quarterbacks. Green Bay doesn't have a set heir apparent behind Brett Favre, who could be entering his last season with the Packers. St. Louis also would be an interesting fit because of Rams coach Scott Linehan, who was offensive coordinator in Minnesota during Culpepper's standout 2004 season.
Regardless, one thing is certain: Culpepper won't be with the Dolphins in 2007.
--The Dolphins have made several changes in their front office, with the most notable being the promotion of Chris Grier to director of college scouting. He replaces Ron Labadie, who will now assume Grier's former role of national college scout. Rick Thompson was hired away from the Saints to become college scouting coordinator.
The Dolphins have not named a replacement for former director of pro personnel George Paton, who left for a promotion in Minnesota working under former Miami general manager Rick Spielman. The Dolphins did promote Dwayne Joseph to assistant director of pro personnel and Chris Burkey to national scout.
--Amid high demand, the Dolphins are attempting to prevent the re-sale of seats for the Miami-New York Giants game October 28 in London. Season-ticket holders who purchase seats have to pick up their tickets in person at the Wembley Stadium box office.
--The Dolphins finally cut ties with Dan Wilkinson by terminating the defensive tackle's contract. The Dolphins traded Wilkinson to Denver in early March for a 2006 sixth-round draft choice but the deal was canceled when he failed to report. Wilkinson then refused to report to any of Miami's off-season workouts or practices.
It's unknown whether Wilkinson, who has yet to speak with the media since the end of the 2006 season, plans to continue playing in 2007. The first overall pick of the 1994 NFL draft, Wilkinson served as a backup for the Dolphins last season.
--After previous forays into Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League, Dolphins owner H. Wayne Huizenga is reportedly set to acquire a small stake in an English soccer team. Several media outlets in the United Kingdom have reported that Huizenga is joining South African billionaire Johann Rupert in bidding for the Blackburn Rovers.
The Glazer family (Tampa Bay Buccaneers/Manchester United) and Randy Lerner (Cleveland Browns/Aston Villa) are two NFL franchise owners that have made significant investments in English soccer teams. Huizenga, though, doesn't appear to have the same kind of interest.
They Said It: "If we play the way we're capable, you can gain added home games at the end of the season. That's our challenge." -- Dolphins coach Cam Cameron on the possibility of Miami compensating for the loss of one of its eight home games by making the playoffs.
New England's first mandatory full-squad activities for 2007 passed during the first week of June as veteran mini-camp converged on Gillette Stadium. Not surprisingly one player notably absent from the three-days of practice action was franchise cornerback Asante Samuel.
Yet to sign his $7.79 million franchise tender and unhappy with the status of nearly non-existent negotiations on a long-term contract in New England, Samuel made it known on the eve of the camp that he would not attend and at this point is prepared and willing to sit out the first 10 weeks of the regular season.
Not only did Samuel leave a hole in the secondary during mini-camp practice, it's a hole that could remain for the foreseeable future. Candidates to fill that hole began making their respective cases in minicamp. That list includes versatile returning veteran Chad Scott, 12th-year veteran free agent addition Tory James, oft-injured fourth-year player Randall Gay and possibly even free safeties Eugene Wilson or rookie first-round pick Brandon Meriweather.
All but Meriweather were in action at minicamp, but it was the returning veteran Scott who took the bulk of the reps opposite Ellis Hobbs and alongside safeties Wilson and Rodney Harrison. The 32-year-old Scott actually started nine games in New England last season filling in for both Samuel and Hobbs and has started 97 of 108 games played over the course of his 10-year NFL career. It's not surprising, then, that regardless of Samuel's status Scott's always taken a starter's approach to his work.
"I am just here to just go out there and play," said Scott, whose resume includes 21 career picks. "I view myself as a starter. I'm happy with any opportunity I get."
Like Scott, the newcomer James also has plenty of starting experience. In his 11 previous seasons in Denver, Oakland and Cincinnati the 2004 Pro Bowler started 86 of 158 games played, including every game over the last four seasons with the Bengals. The 33-year-old ranks fourth among active players with 39 career interceptions, including at least four picks in each of the last six seasons.
Similar to what Scott expressed, James knows he has no real say in the decision of who might fill-in for Samuel in an extended absence. To steal a phrase Belichick has used often over the years -- coaches coach and players play.
"I don't have anything to do with that," James said of the open spot left with Samuel's AWOL status. "All I have to do is come in here and pick up the defense as fast as I can and work hard and just try to get out on the field and help the team win. That's all I can think about at this point. I just want to be the best player I can be. Work as hard as I can and not leave anything out there. I just want to help this team get to where we want to be. That's my expectation -- just be the best player I can be."
Wilson would appear to be the longest shot to fill the potential open slot at corner. While he was drafted as a corner, he's played virtually his entire career at safety save for some practice action and sub package work. He's suffered a number of leg injuries in his time in New England, including a hamstring issue last fall that landed him on injured reserve on Dec. 4 and limited him to just four games played for the season.
Similarly, Gay has battled his share of injuries in his three seasons in New England. After serving as a surprise contributor and injury fill-in as a rookie free agent in 2004, he's played in just eight games over the last two seasons. The Patriots gave him a $1.3 million restricted free agent tender this spring, perhaps an indication of the team's desire to retain his services as any other team looking to sign Gay would have had to surrender a second-round pick as compensation. Gay once seemed to have a promising future in New England after starting nine of 15 games played in 2004, and all three postseason games on the way to a Super Bowl ring, but much like his career at Louisiana State, injuries have hindered his development.
Whether it's Scott, James, Wilson, Gay, another player or even Hobbs' development into more of a No. 1 type corner in Samuel's absence, don't expect the remaining members of the New England secondary to sit around and feel sorry for themselves. With or without the guy who tied for the NFL lead in interceptions a year ago, life will go on in the Patriots defensive backfield.
"All of us go out there ready to step it up," Hobbs said. "We don't look at it as lets jump on one guys' shoulders, especially in the back end in the secondary where you are always out there by yourself anyway. You always have to feel like you're the guy to make that play. I think that with everybody having that mentality that's how we do make plays as a team."
If the team does have to play regular season games without Samuel, do the players feel that would leave a hole in the secondary?
"No. We just regroup and keep going," Hobbs responded quickly. "We've already regrouped. It's the same way with any of us. If one's missing...it's just like if Asante is hurt. We still have to go out there and play.
"That's what we do here for the Patriots, we're going to go out there and put the best 11 out there. God didn't break the mold since Zant isn't here. That's no disrespect to him at all. He understands what I mean by that. But we can't worry about those things because Asante is not here right now. We have to continue to play and continue to develop as a team because the season will move on without him."
--After an up-and-down 2006 campaign that ended on injured reserve with a shoulder injury, Patriots veteran punter Josh Miller feels on track to return to form this fall. While working back to full health, the former Steeler is also tweaking his form.
"For a year there I got into a bad habit of punting ball -- jamming myself instead of getting it out there. So I'm just trying to break that off. I'm fine. I like where I'm at. I feel good. My shoulder is fine. Luckily I have a couple months here to get it going before camp. I'm fine. I'm excited."
With Todd Sauerbrun's re-signing with the Patriots having been voided by an arbitrator, landing the All-Pro back with the Broncos, Miller will be the only veteran punter in New England camp this summer. While he'll technically be competing with NFL Europa allocates Danny Baugher and Tom Malone, Miller is only worried about himself at this point.
"I look at it like, there's only 32 jobs in the league so if you have one of them you should be happy," the 36-year-old Miller said, "So when I'm healthy I know I'll have one of them. So whatever they decide to do, cap-wise, age-wise, I could care less. As long as I can play in the league and be one of the top guys I'm fine with that. So it's out of my hands."
--Junior Seau is excited to be back in New England after his 2006 season with the Patriots was cut short with a broken arm. The future Hall of Famer started 10 games in his first season in New England, recording 70 tackles and one sack before landing on injured reserve on Nov. 27.
"This was definitely the only team that I would come back to, for many reasons," Seau said at the team's veteran mini-camp. "Having a year under my belt (in the Patriots defense) just makes me want to come back even more."
Seau wore a cast on his arm at mini-camp and says he'll protect the injury as best he can and "roll the dice. This is football."
While the former six-time All-Pro said he didn't know for sure that he'd be back in a Patriots uniform until he actually hopped a flight from San Diego and took a physical, he did say New England and a few other teams had been in contact with him earlier this offseason.
"Belichick called up and said he loved me," Seau said with a sly smile.
--S Eugene Wilson is one of a number of Patriots expected to bounce back from injury to hold down key roles in 2007. Wilson played in just four games last season while battling a hamstring injury that ended his season on injured reserve on Dec. 4. Wilson took part in June mini-camp and is prepared to return to his starting free safety slot.
"I feel like I am moving well. I'm knowing my responsibilities and I feel like I'm right back into the groove," Wilson said. "You love to be out there with your teammates and back out there playing going hard. Now that I'm back out there everything is good. I'm just going to keep on working hard and trying to help the team get better."
--Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi, along with Patriot Reign author Michael Holley, joined forces on the soon-to-be-released Never Give Up: My stroke, My recovery & My return to the NFL. As the title suggests the book, due in book stores Aug. 17, details Bruschi recovery from a Feb. 2005 stroke and improbable return to the football field later that season.
They Said It: "It was tough for us not to get that win. But that's in the past and we are moving forward and we are just going to try to get it done this year." -- Eugene Wilson on the lingering feelings following New England's AFC title game loss to the Colts in Indianapolis.
Eric Mangini canceled the Jets' final practice of mini-camp and replaced it with what a Jets' spokesman characterized as a "team-building activity" away from the team's Hofstra University training site. The undisclosed exercise also involved several Army Rangers and Special Forces troops from Fort Bragg, N.C., who had been on hand for Friday's practices.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the cancellation is it means the hard-to-please Mangini likely was satisfied with what his team accomplished at minicamp and in the voluntary workouts, also known as Organized Team Activities, that preceded it.
"I was really pleased with the work we've gotten done in the OTAs," Mangini said during mandatory mini-camp. "I thought we covered a lot of ground in the OTAs and made a lot of progress with the things that we had done last year, some of the new things that we will be doing, and (with) all of us working together."
Really, it makes sense that a team would be ahead of schedule in the second year of a coaching regime.
"Anytime you're in (a system) for a year, you kind of have an understanding of what's going to be expected from you," wideout Laveranues Coles said recently. "... And I think anytime you have the same offense for two years in a row, which I hadn't (had) for a long time, I think it has its advantages because now I can learn the little intricacies of the offense itself."
Quarterback Chad Pennington should benefit most from having a year in the system, especially because he has been able to fully concentrate on the system itself this off-season, rather than having to once again rehab his shoulder.
"Sometimes in the last few years, you knew exactly where the ball needed to go, but you weren't sure if it was going to go there," he admitted. "Sometimes it would and sometimes it wouldn't. That's just the kinks you have to work out after you have been through an injury, trying to get your body back in sync."
He added that now, "I have all of the confidence in the world I can make all the throws."
Pennington missed 23 starts over three seasons from 2003-05 because of various injuries, and didn't play all 16 regular-season games in one year until doing that while guiding the Jets to the playoffs in 2006. He won Comeback Player of the Year, yet had a career-high 16 interceptions to go with 17 touchdown passes. That was the worst ratio of his career, and something he needs to improve upon this year.
A healthy Pennington also has been able to do more work in the weight room this off-season, although coach Eric Mangini said he hasn't necessarily put on that much more weight.
"His primary focus (has been) getting his body more flexible (and) stronger," Mangini said, "all the things that you'd normally do in a typical off-season."
"The goal is always to continue to work hard and progress and never feel satisfied," Pennington said.
--No progress has been made in the contract impasse with LG Pete Kendall, who is seeking to renegotiate his 2007 contract from $1.7 million to $2.7 million--but the Jets are holding firm. Their position is that they don't renegotiate deals with three years left, but insiders say they did give Laveranues Coles a $1 million raise last November.
Kendall wants to be traded or released and the Jets seem willing to accommodate him, although they probably will take their time doing so. Kendall shared first-team reps at left guard with third-year player Adrien Clarke during mini-camp.
--The Jets' dispute with Kendall could create a sticky situation. Schwartz also represents cornerback Darrelle Revis, the Jets' first-round draft pick.
"My agent is very professional," Kendall said. "It's in his best interests to deal with Revis fairly and I think they'll be able to easily separate the two."
General manager Mike Tannenbaum agreed. "Darrelle Revis is the 14th pick in the draft," he said, "and I've negotiated these contacts long enough to know that Darrelle Revis is going to get less than (selection No.) 13 and more than (No.) 15. And it doesn't matter if Scott Boras, Arn Tellem or Neil Schwartz has him."
--LB Jonathan Vilma said that his comments about dog fighting on New York radio station WFAN were "misinterpreted."
Vilma said on the radio, "Dog fighting is much more extreme, but you can equate it to horse racing. ... Everyone has heard about dog fighting. Whether you choose to participate or not, that's your decision. I'm not here to condone or accept it. It's been there for awhile."
One day later, Vilma said, "I wasn't for or against dog fighting. I wasn't for or against Michael Vick. ... I wasn't comparing (horse racing and dog fighting). I was simply stating that you're going to have activists that are against both of them, because they're both harmful to animals. They both put a lot of stress on the animals. And, of course, dog fighting is extreme. You have fatalities and things of that nature."
"We completely don't condone cruelty to animals on any level," coach Eric Mangini said when asked about Vilma's comments. "At some point, we probably will talk to him about that."
They Said It: "I enjoy playing in games 100 times more than I do practicing. There's nothing like it." -- WR Justin McCareins
With both sides apparently dug in quite deeply in the Pete Kendall contract impasse, it seems obvious the Jets will be moving in a different direction at left guard. Third-year player Adrien Clarke has been sharing reps with Kendall, and the Jets seem to believe he has the potential to be a starter, although if he doesn't pan out they certainly could look to make a trade during the summer.
On defense, it will be interesting to see how the Jets divide up all the reps for the linemen during training camp. Coach Eric Mangini said he didn't yet have a plan for that, and he was probably being honest.