Insiders: A look around the AFC East

While the Patriots are busy fortifying their defense with free agents and draft picks, one wonders what's going on around the rest of the AFC East. Will the Dolphins return to a contender in 2005? Will Chad Pennington be healthy for the regular season? The Bills have the talent, but have they done enough in the offseason to compete with the Patriots for the AFC East crown?Get inside for a look around the AFC East to see what New England's division rivals have been up to.

INSIDERS REPORT: Around the AFC East
By NFL Scout.com staff

BUFFALO BILLS

Last season, the revolving door was at left guard. This year, it could be at left tackle, unless free agent Mike Gandy rises to the challenge that has presented itself.

The Bills are scrambling to shore up the most important hole on their line after the departure of Jonas Jennings to San Francisco, and have started what could be a long evaluation process by giving Gandy first crack at the job.

Gandy, looking for a fresh start after being let go by the Chicago Bears late last season, took all the repetitions with the first unit during Buffalo's recent mini-camp, a move made strictly based on his experience at the position.

Of Gandy's 30 NFL starts, 20 have come at left tackle. That's 20 more than second-year pro Jason Peters, who is attempting to convert from tight end, has under his belt. Peters is an intriguing prospect but purely a project at this stage, leaving line coach Jim McNally with few options.

It's why McNally would love to see the 6-4, 310-pound Gandy nail down the left tackle job so that he's not forced to make the bolder move of shifting center Trey Teague.

That would allow three positions to remain intact from a year ago -- center (Teague), right guard (Chris Villarrial) and right tackle (Mike Williams). That would leave left tackle and left guard open for exploration.

With Ravens free agent Bennie Anderson and incumbent Ross Tucker, two very good players, competing at left guard, that spot is a lot less cloudy than left tackle.

"If he (Teague) was going to go there, we'd give him a few reps but we'd rather not disrupt the continuity that we do have," McNally said. "That's at least three and we develop the next two. I worked for Paul Brown a number of years and he said that when you have to make personnel changes, the least guys to move the better."

McNally likes Gandy's size and his smarts and likes the fact he's hungry after being let go by another team. Gandy's career seemed to be going well until the Bears shifted him inside. After starting five games last year, the Bears cut him in November.

"Being an experienced player, the league is all about ups and downs and overcoming adversity," Gandy said. "I knew what kind of player I was last year and I know what kind of player I am this year. I have a lot of confidence in myself and my abilities and I just want to try and improve on them."

If Gandy doesn't work out, the Bills won't hesitate to make the move with Teague, who started 20 games for Denver before coming to Buffalo three seasons ago. Tucker, who has played well at center, could easily slide into the role full time. Meanwhile, it's not inconceivable that fourth-round pick Ray Preston could handle the job as a rookie. Preston (6-5, 311) has great size and played in a pro-style offense at Illinois.

McNally admitted that he wouldn't know his starting five for certain until the hitting starts in summer camp at St. John Fisher College in Rochester.

That's what happened last year at left guard. Marques Sullivan was No. 1 in mini-camp but heading into training camp, Mike Pucillo sat atop the depth chart. Once the hitting began, it wasn't long before first-year free agent Lawrence Smith took over the job. Smith started eight games then gave way to Tucker.

It's up to Gandy to prevent that kind of musical chairs at left tackle.

NOTES

--As expected, running back Travis Henry, upset that the Bills haven't been able to trade him, made good on his threat not to attend the team's three-day mandatory mini-camp. Coach Mike Mularkey said Henry would be disciplined. Henry, who lost his starting job to Willis McGahee, is under contract for one more year. "I know he made the statement he wasn't going to show," Mularkey said. "I still held out a glimmer of hope and it didn't happen. But he's under contract and he should be here."

--Buffalo's rookie free agent class consists of 10 defensive and six offensive players. Overall, 13 had been listed in various pre-draft scouting guides; the top signings are Wisconsin free safety Jim Leonhard, South Carolina defensive end George Gause, and Purdue fullback Jon Goldsberry. Leonhard, who had 21 career interceptions in college, had one in mini-camp that he returned for a touchdown. Last year, the Bills hit the jackpot with five college free agents making the roster and contributing. Coach Mike Mularkey likes the new crop, to. "I've been in some camps where you go, 'I'm not sure this guy can play at this level, it's too big for him.' I didn't feel that way with any of these guys, just watching them in the individual drills and even the team work," he said. "Again, I think our scouts did a good job of getting us some competitive players, just as they did last year."

--With coach Mike Mularkey in his second season, his staff returning intact, and about 60 players on the roster who were with the team in some capacity last year, the Bills were able to practice at a very high tempo in mini-camp. There was no walk-through of half-speed feel to anything the team did. "I told them ... you're going to hear, 'We want faster.' Because the faster it is, the better the picture," he said. "These guys, especially the vets, they know the tempo that's expected. We get a lot of reps in a short amount of time. I don't have to get on them now, it's natural."

--University of Albany offensive tackle Geir Gudmundsen guarded a lot of doors working as a security guard at the New York Giants training camp. Little did he know that summer job would help open a door to play in the NFL. Gudmundsen, one of 16 college free agents to sign with the Bills, was able to meet Buffalo offensive line coach Jim McNally, an assistant with the Giants at the time. McNally remembered the 6-6, 315-pounder and on a scouting trip, took Gudmundsen out to dinner on Easter Sunday, and less than an hour after the draft had him on the phone. "He's a legend in his field," Gudmundsen told the Albany Times-Union. "I told him I'd be playing for him someday."

--Rookie WR Roscoe Parrish, who had a strong mini-camp, only had to look around to feel like he was back in Miami. Teammate Kevin Everett, a TE, was a third-round pick of the Bills and third-year RB Willis McGahee of the Hurricanes is a close friend and off-season workout partner. "(Willis) is a veteran guy and he talked to us and told us a lot of things he's up on around here. It's nice to have guys I can talk to," Parrish said.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

If first impressions count for anything, rookie WR Roscoe Parrish has already nailed down the No. 3 receiving job over incumbent Josh Reed and third-year pro Sam Aiken. Simply put, Parrish could not have been more impressive in mini-camp, making every kind of catch to the delight of the coaching staff and top brass.

The Bills picked up the lightning-quick University of Miami star in the second round of the draft with the 55th overall pick, deciding to add another speed target for young QB J.P. Losman when they had more pressing needs. The move could pay off in a big way, however, if Parrish -- working from the slot -- can take double teams off of both Eric Moulds and Lee Evans.

Parrish's first step is off the charts. He left unaware defensive backs in his dust on crossing routes. He took short curls and turned them into would-be TDs. He out-jumped taller defenders on deep throws.

"That's what we saw on tape when watching him at Miami, he does have good hands and he had very good hands in this camp," coach Mike Mularkey said. "But he's got quickness, too, which you need as an inside receiver. He came in here and, I really felt like the level of competition didn't affect him, now it's just a matter of getting comfortable with the scheme."

The Bills were so impressed with Parrish they scripted plays for him on third downs and in the red zone. The Bills had the fourth-worst red zone production in the NFL last year.

Watching helplessly was Reed, himself a second-round pick (2002), whose once-promising career took a nosedive last year with injuries and poor play. He finished with just 16 catches. He was unable to participate in mini-camp due to back problems.

Mularkey warned that no jobs have been decided at this early juncture.

"He had the injury last year and obviously this injury (slowed) him down in this mini-camp, but again, no jobs are won on the draft and no jobs are going to be won in (a) mini-camp," Mularkey said of Reed. "When he gets healthy and we get back to the OTAs (organized team activities), he'll have his chance and he'll have to respond like any player has to."

MEDICAL WATCH:

Rookie TE Kevin Everett tore his left ACL in last Friday's mini-camp and could miss the season. He was scheduled for surgery by mid-week. With nine months to go before the end of the NFL season, club officials haven't ruled out the possibility of Everett playing in 2005, but it's a stretch. ACL repairs can take up to a year to heal fully. As is their policy, the Bills won't put a timetable on Everett.

--Four players who underwent off-season knee surgeries weren't able to participate in mini-camp. TEs Mark Campbell and Tim Euhus and CB Kevin Thomas had knee surgeries while OG Ross Tucker had a back procedure just prior to mini-camp.

Sitting out for precautionary reasons with less severe ailments were TE Ryan Neufeld (groin), WR Josh Reed (back) and DT Lavale Sape (calf).

FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.

TRANSITION PLAYER: None.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

--LS Bradford Banta was a quality veteran fill-in for the final three games after Jon Dorenbos injured his knee; Dorenbos' health will determine if Bills bring Banta back.
--OT Marcus Price is a high-quality reserve, logging three more emergency starts last season. He's a priority to re-sign.
--OL Mike Pucillo (not tendered as RFA) went from starter to backup to not dressing for games. Could return as a depth player but not at the top price.
--FS Izell Reese, a former starter, lost his job to rookie Rashad Baker (who in turn lost it to Troy Vincent) and won't likely return.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED

--RB Dante Brown: ERFA; $380,000/1 yr.
--RB/FB Joe Burns: Not tendered as RFA; $455,000/1 yr.
--LS Jon Dorenbos: ERFA; $380,000/1 yr.
--QB Shane Matthews: UFA; terms unknown.
--TE Ryan Neufeld: UFA; terms unknown.
--LB Josh Stamer: ERFA; $380,000/1 yr.
--CB Kevin Thomas: RFA; $656,000/1 yr.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED

--OG Bennie Anderson: UFA Ravens; $5.1M/3 yrs $1.5M SB.
--OG Mike Gandy: FA; terms unknown.
--QB Kelly Holcomb: UFA Browns; $6.6M/4 yrs, $2M SB.

PLAYERS LOST

--QB Drew Bledsoe (released).
--OT Jonas Jennings: UFA 49ers; $36M/7 yrs, $12M SB.
--S Pierson Prioleau (released).
--DT Pat Williams: UFA Vikings; $13M/3 yrs, $2M SB/$4M RB '06.


MIAMI DOLPHINS

Future Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau doesn't have plans to retire yet, but when the 16-year veteran calls it a career, he will be doing so as a member of the Miami Dolphins.

"I didn't want to do that Jerry Rice kick where I'm floating," said Seau, referring to the future Hall of Fame wide receiver who has played for Oakland and Seattle since leaving San Francisco. "This is going to be my last stop."

Seau had the option of returning to the Dolphins, as the team wouldn't carry him at his original base salary of $3 million with a $500,000 roster bonus. But Seau decided to restructure his contract and will now earn $1.15 in base salary with a $500,000 roster bonus.

Seau had received feelers from other teams, including some like Kansas City who are seemingly closer to being a Super Bowl contender than the Dolphins. But Seau has established a comfort level in South Florida since being traded from San Diego in 2003.

"There were talks with other teams wanting the old man," said Seau, 36. "It was nice to hear. But I didn't want to go to another place and start over in the locker room. I wanted to go with the whole atmosphere of knowing where I was going. They know me here as a player, as a person."

Seau also said a February phone call from first-year coach Nick Saban also weighed into his decision to return.

"I know we're going through an adjustment here and after the record we had last year, there had to be some big changes," Seau said. "So going into my 16th year, you're part of that change. But anytime you have the captain of the ship call you up and say we want you to be part of the change, it give you another thought to think about."

Seau was having a solid season for the Dolphins before tearing his pectoral muscle last November against the New York Jets. Seau admits to contemplating retirement before he decided to continue playing.

"Golfing in San Diego, it's pretty hard to leave that," Seau said. "Everyday I think about retirement. This game of football is not meant for human beings to play a certain amount of years. I'm in my 16th years and I've had a great, great career and whatever happens after that, we'll pray about it. But right now, I'm a Miami Dolphin and I look forward to that."

Dolphins middle linebacker Zach Thomas is happy Seau returned.

"His love of the game just rubs off on you," Thomas said. "Who are they going to bring in that would be an upgrade over Junior? I don't see anybody. I thought it was a great move.

"I'm just glad he's back. We've got a lot of young guys in that room and we need to keep it together."

NOTES

-- Dolphins tight end Randy McMichael said he won't stage a holdout in hopes of landing a new contract even though he is entering the final year of a deal that will pay him $455,000 in 2005.

"What is that going to prove to anybody by holding out?" McMichael said. "I love playing this game. I don't want to be away from it. That's not even in the back of my mind at all."

-- Dolphins tackle Vernon Carey was asked about former University of Miami teammate Kellen Winslow, who was involved in a motorcycle accident that threatens the tight end's NFL future with the Cleveland Browns.

"I haven't seen him since he went up to camp," Carey said. "I (last) saw him down here riding a Moped on South Beach."

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.

TRANSITION PLAYER: None.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

--CB Jimmy Wyrick finished second on the Dolphins in special teams tackles and could be re-signed as a reserve with a minimum-salary contract.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED

--C Seth McKinney: RFA; $656,000/1 yr.
--RB Travis Minor: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--TE/LS Ed Perry: UFA; $4.1M/5 yrs, $300,000 SB.
--DT Dario Romero: RFA; $656,000/1 yr.
--QB Sage Rosenfels: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED

--DE Kevin Carter: FA Titans; $30M/5 yrs, $5M SB/$3M OB '06; $1M base guarantee '05-06.
--OG Damion Cook: UFA Browns; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--CB Mario Edwards: FA Buccaneers; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--FB Heath Evans: UFA Seahawks; $540,000/1 yr; 2005 cap: $455,000.
--QB Gus Frerotte: UFA Vikings; $3M/2 yrs, $500,000 SB.
--DE Vonnie Holliday: FA Chiefs; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--S Tebucky Jones: FA Saints; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--OT Stockar McDougle: UFA Lions; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--LB Donnie Spragan: UFA Broncos; $1.9M/2 yrs, $500,000 SB.
--S Travares Tillman: UFA Panthers; $1.7M/2 yrs, $600,000 SB; 2005 cap: $840,000.

PLAYERS LOST

--WR David Boston (released/failed physical).
--QB Jay Fiedler (released).
--S Arturo Freeman (released).
--QB Jason Garrett (retired).
--LB Morlon Greenwood: UFA Texans; $22.5M/5 yrs, $7M SB.
--S Sammy Knight: UFA Chiefs; $11M/5 yrs, $1.5M SB/$1.2M other bonuses.
--FB Rob Konrad (released).
--DT Bryan Robinson: UFA Bengals: $6M/3 yrs, $1.7M SB.
--CB Patrick Surtain (traded Chiefs).
--DE Jay Williams (released).


NEW YORK JETS

The Jets went from allowing 143.4 yards per game rushing in 2003 to 97.9 yards last season and the play of their defensive tackles under new coordinator Donnie Henderson was a key reason why.

Dewayne Robertson, now in his third year, made a huge jump last season and while he hasn't racked up big sack numbers yet, he's been able to use his massive size and strength to absorb constant double teams and open things up for the rest of the line.

But the loss of nose tackle Jason Ferguson -- who signed with Dallas as a free agent -- will hurt those efforts against the run. The group took a further hit when veteran Josh Evans retired two weeks into the team's offseason conditioning program when his surgically repaired back couldn't take the stress.

The Jets will use a rotation of tackles -- much like they did last season -- and the group includes Lance Legree, signed as a free agent from the Giants, and James Reed, who the Jets didn't want to bring back but were forced to re-sign after Evans' retirement.

The loss of Evans and Ferguson, however, could force third round pick Sione Pouha into a starting role quicker than expected. The Jets like Pouha's size (6-feet-3 and 325 pounds) and strength and feel he could be a real force as a run-stuffer.

But there are knocks against Pouha, who comes in as a 26-year-old rookie (he served a three-year Mormon mission after high school). There are also questions about his inconsistent play while at Utah and whether he has a killer instinct.

Legree should fit in quickly -- he's being re-united with defensive line coach Denny Marcin, formerly of the Giants. He and Robertson with play Pouha as the main parts of the rotation.

NOTES

--QB Chad Pennington said he will be starting the season opener Sept. 11 against Kansas City even though he's still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and won't even begin throwing until June.
--K Mike Nugent has a shaky start in his first minicamp practice with the Jets, missing his first field-goal attempt (43 yards but with a high snap) and then missing a 41-yard attempt later -- making 4-of-6 altogether. The second round pick rebounded by making 6-of-6 field goals on the second day (all indoors).
"I can miss a kick," Nugent said. "Things are going to happen."
--Rookie RB Cedric Houston was limited in the team's minicamp while undergoing treatment for a thyroid condition.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

MEDICAL WATCH: QB Chad Pennington is continuing his rehab process in order to build strength and mobility in this surgically repaired right shoulder and should resume throwing in June. He will likely be limited at the start of training camp but expects to start the regular season opener.

FRANCHISE PLAYER

--DE John Abraham (tendered at $6.666M).

TRANSITION PLAYER: None.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

--CB Terrell Buckley showed little at nickel back late in the season and won't be back.
--QB Quincy Carter went 2-1 as the starter when Chad Pennington went down. His offseason problems and struggles will likely preclude him from coming back.
--LB Jason Glenn has been solid when the Jets go to the nickel but his true worth is on special teams. He'll likely be brought back.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS

--RG Brandon Moore (tendered at $380,000) has developed quickly in just his second year after being switched from the defensive line.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED

--TE Chris Baker: RFA; $656,000/1 yr.
--WR Jonathan Carter: RFA: $656,000/1 yr.
--S Oliver Celestin: ERFA; $305,000/1 yr.
--G/C Jonathan Goodwin: RFA: $656,000/1 yr.
--DT Alan Harper (not tendered as RFA; terms unknown).
--DT James Reed: UFA; terms unknown.
--LB Kenyatta Wright: UFA; terms unknown.
--OG Dave Yovanovits: ERFA; $380,000/1 yr.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED

--RB Derrick Blaylock: UFA Chiefs; $11.1M/5 yrs, $3.2M SB.
--WR Laveranues Coles (trade Redskins).
--QB Jay Fiedler: FA Dolphins; 5 yrs, $500,000 SB; other terms unknown.
--LB Barry Gardner: UFA Browns; terms unknown.
--TE Doug Jolley (trade Raiders).
--RB Delvin Joyce: FA; terms unknown.
--DL Lance Legree: UFA Giants; $7.3M/5 yrs, $500,000 SB.
--QB Ricky Ray (released).

PLAYERS LOST

--TE Anthony Becht: UFA Buccaneers; terms unknown.
--PK Doug Brien (released).
--LB Sam Cowart (traded Vikings).
--DT Josh Evans (retired).
--NT Jason Ferguson: UFA Cowboys; $21.5M/5 yrs, $9M SB.
--P Toby Gowin: UFA Falcons; $665,000/1 yr.
--RB LaMont Jordan: UFA Raiders; $27.5M/5 yrs, $7M SB.
--OT Kareem McKenzie: UFA Giants; $36M/7 yrs, $12.5M SB.
--WR Santana Moss (traded Redskins).


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