the AFC East
By Scout.com Staff
--A 2,000-yard season for Willis McGahee?
Nobody around the Buffalo Bills has made that bold prediction yet, but privately everyone is thinking it.
After spending 2003 rehabilitating a devastating college knee injury, McGahee cracked the starting lineup six games into last season and gained 1,128 yards in 11 starts overall. He had seven 100-yard games, 13 rushing touchdowns and registered a run of at least 15 yards long in 10 of the final 12 games of the year.
Erasing all debate, McGahee was the catalyst behind Buffalo's 9-3 finish after starting the year 0-4.
"He performed better than most thought he would, even us," coach Mike Mularkey said. "He got stronger. I still think he has a chance, as he gets more experience, more looks (at defenses), and let's things unfold, he'll get even better from just that alone."
Of course, McGahee should be better from a health standpoint as well. Players who have had major reconstructive knee surgeries often say it takes two or three years to come all the way back.
"It's the feeling of the coaches and our medical people that Willis still has some room to improve, get stronger, and obviously get more comfortable in our offense," general manager Tom Donahoe said after last season.
Donahoe spun the will on McGahee, selecting him in the first round of the 2003 draft.
"The encouraging thing with Willis is that each time he got on the field, he got better. I think next year we'll see the real Willis McGahee."
That has to put the scare into opponents. McGahee averaged 22.6 carries as a starter and likely will see that workload increase, particularly with a new starting quarterback (J.P. Losman) to break in.
McGahee, taking part in the Bills' organized team activity practices, has had a solid off-season with no setbacks with his knee, he said.
"I'm feeling good, I've been working hard," he told buffalobills.com. "I haven't been down in Miami partying. I've been working and then having some free time."
Asked his goals for 2005, the playful McGahee simply responded: "Having fun, baby. I don't talk about it, you know what I mean?"
--Alex Van Pelt, the Bills' former backup quarterback and current radio analyst, is back home after a coaching stint in NFL Europe with the Frankfurt Galaxy. Van Pelt, who hopes to coach in the NFL someday, said the experience was invaluable. He coached Frankfurt QBs Akili Smith and B.J. Symons, but also had coordinator-like duties, calling plays and breaking down film. "I definitely learned a lot more about football by doing all of this," Van Pelt told Bills Digest. "I wasn't aware of how much I didn't know about football before I went over and worked on the coaching side."
--Former Bills FS Izell Reese, an unrestricted free agent, has re-signed with his old team, the Dallas Cowboys. Reese was a sixth-round pick of the Cowboys in 1998 and played for them four seasons. He played for Denver in 2002 and Buffalo the past two seasons. Reese, who has 48 starts in 93 career games, is a steady player but he lost his starting job in Buffalo to promising rookie free agent Rashad Baker last year. When veteran CB Troy Vincent was shifted to free, there was no room left for Reese.
--WR Matt Cutaia, who caught 44 passes at the University of Connecticut last year, was scheduled for a tryout with the Bills. He earlier worked out for Hamilton of the CFL. The Bills are also poking around with DT Jermaine Haley, a veteran of the NFL and CFL.
--Coach Mike Mularkey on Friday said he hasn't discussed yet the possibility of signing LT Ross Verba, cut this week by Cleveland, with management. He left open the possibility Verba will be discussed.
--Here's the list of players entering the final year of their contracts: cornerback Nate Clements, center Trey Teague and fullback Daimon Shelton, all starters, and backups Ron Edwards, Josh Reed, Ryan Denney, Kevin Thomas, Justin Bannan, Joe Burns, Jon Dorenbos and Lawrence Smith. In limbo running back Travis Henry also has a year to go.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think it's evident the way that they have prepared mentally and practiced physically and from everything they are doing in these meetings, that they're on a mission. Whether it's a result from the loss to Pittsburgh that kept us out of the playoffs, or what, but there is something about them." - Coach Mike Mularkey, talking about his team's all-business attitude during recent team organized activities.
Coming off a 4-12 season, defensive end Jason Taylor admitted it was a little hard to get excited about recently being named the 2004 Dolphins Most Player in a vote of fans and media.
"I'm really trying to muster up some enthusiasm for you," Taylor said to the media. "Things happen in life. You're going to enjoy the good times and the bad times. We dealt with a lot of adversity last year and I'm proud of the way a lot of guys handled it. We fought to the end.
"I know we were 4-12. We lost a lot of games we should've won and the fashion in which we lost games was disappointing sometimes. But if you talk to any team we played or anybody around the league, they always said we were tough to play against. We fought the whole way through. We could've packed it in early but guys didn't do that. That's what I'm most proud of last year."
Taylor, though, can take pride in being Miami's only first-ballot Pro Bowl selection. Taylor led Miami in sacks (9.5), quarterback hurries (42) and fumble recoveries (three) in a 90-tackle season.
Taylor has now won the team's MVP award on three occasions.
Linebacker Junior Seau was a repeat award-winner, being honored with the franchise's leadership award for a second consecutive season in a vote by teammates. The honoring of Seau speaks volumes about how well respected he is inside the locker room, as he wasn't even around for the final two months of the season after tearing a pectoral muscle against the New York Jets.
"The best thing that I can say about that is you're not voted for what you do on the field. It's what you do every day," said Seau, who commanded similar respect during his 13 seasons in San Diego. "To be consistent at what you do, whether it's in the film room, on the field, in the weight room, these players in this locker room, they
hear, they see and they could feel what you do.
"So therefore me being gone half of the year, the impact was obviously made before then. And I'm sitting here today to tell you that I'm thankful that I have the opportunity to be back with these guys and to do it again."
The other major player award for community service was presented to cornerback Sam Madison, who is now a three-time winner of that honor.
--Tim Bowens always thought it would be his knees that gave out first. But it was the defensive tackle's back that caused him to end an 11-year NFL career.
Bowens was terminated/failed physical last Wednesday (June 8) after he told coach Nick Saban that he planned to retire. Bowens was never able to recover from a herniated disc that forced him to spend almost all of last season on injured reserve.
"The main thing is being healthy because I have kids," Bowens said to a South Florida radio station (790-AM). "That was my No. 1 goal. I could have probably tried to play but end up injuring myself more. Then once the game is over, what do I have left?"
Bowens will be remembered as one of the best defensive tackles in franchise history. Bowens was selected for the Pro Bowl twice in an 11-year career that began when he was Miami's first-round draft pick (20th overall) in 1994.
The only remaining member of the roster to play under former coaches Don Shula, Jimmy Johnson and Dave Wannstedt, Bowens ranks sixth in franchise history in consecutive games played with 104.
In anticipation of Bowens' retirement, the Dolphins signed free-agent defensive tackle Keith Traylor to a two-year contract last month.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Over the last few years, I can say he is one of the true leaders of this football team. Guys have disputes in the locker room and whatever. Tim, once he got on that football field he was all football. But when we got in that locker room, he was the guy who keeps the peace and keeps things fun and lively. He always laughing and joking. To not see him out here running around and joking, cracking jokes ... He has been a positive shining star in our locker room." -- Dolphins cornerback Sam Madison on the retirement of Tim Bowens. The two were teammates from 1997 to 2004.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
The Patriots defense had a different look at last weekend's mandatory mini-camp than the one that took the field in Super Bowl XXXIX last February.
Tedy Bruschi was absent, as expected, while he continues to work his way back from a mid-February stroke. Richard Seymour blew off the camp in what Bill Belichick termed and "unexcused" absence. Ted Johnson stood on the sideline with an undisclosed injury.
On the other hand, defensive lineman Rodney Bailey was back on the field after missing all of last season with a torn Achilles, and defensive backs Tyrone Poole and Guss Scott also returned from injured reserve to battle in what will be a competitive secondary.
Newcomers Chad Brown and Monty Beisel worked at inside linebacker in the Patriots base 3-4 looks while Jarvis Green took over for Seymour beside Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren on the defensive line. Belichick cautioned, though, not to look too much into personnel groupings during the camp.
"We are working a number of different people in different positions," Belichick said. "We're moving guys around some. Again, that is always an attempt to try to give them the teaching early in the program rather than later on when we reach a crisis. We try to get them working on that now so that when those situations come up later on, the players have a foundation to build from. I wouldn't read too much into who is lining up where or who is lining up with who."
Beisel is facing a mental challenge after signing with the Patriots. He was a college defensive end who moved to linebacker while playing in Kansas City the last four years. Now he is learning to play the position in a 3-4 front. He said the position change he underwent as a Chief was more difficult than the scheme change he is currently enduring.
"It's definitely not as tough as moving from defensive end to linebacker, which is probably the toughest thing I ever did in football," he said. "Just moving from a 4-3 to a 3-4, it's subtle changes. I had the opportunity to watch some film of the guys playing it last year and see how they play different schemes."
Those players, including Bruschi, are in the meeting rooms helping Beisel with the transition. Bruschi has firsthand knowledge of the change from a college lineman to an inside linebacker having made a similar move.
"There is a trend here in New England of guys moving from defensive end to linebacker," Beisel said. "That was something that was interesting to me when I came here. You look at the veteran experience across the board on the linebacking corps here and you'd be silly not to use the knowledge that they have."
With Bruschi's future uncertain and Johnson's injury history, Beisel will need all the help he can get to build up to speed and feel comfortable at inside linebacker in the Pats flexible 3-4 front.
To do that physically, he has bulked up some, adding about five pounds to his frame and reporting at about 245 pounds, up from the 240 he played at in Kansas City.
--There was nothing new to report about Tedy Bruschi's health and playing future following the Patriots mini-camp. Head coach Bill Belichick has consistently deflected questions on the matter to Bruschi, who has not addressed the media regarding his immediate or long-term playing prospects. Bruschi has been working out in Foxborough, but is not yet ready to resume playing football.
"I think if he has something to add, I'm sure he'll do it," Belichick said. "We all know Tedy. We know that he is a very honest and forthright person. If he has something to say, he'll say it. I don't think it's my place or anybody else's place to comment or speak for him so I wouldn't attempt to do that."
--The absence of Charlie Weis' booming voice was noticeable, but the organization of the offense during practice seemed to fall to assistant head coach/offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia and tight ends coach Pete Mangurian, who has offensive coordinator experience from his days under Dan Reeves. Wideout Deion Branch didn't seem to notice much difference in the way things were run.
"I think everything is flowing pretty much the same as if Charlie were here. His presence isn't here, but the flow is still the same," Branch said.
Quarterback Tom Brady withheld judgment. "I don't know yet," he said. "It's going to evolve. There's no question he'll be missed. Everyone else is picking up the responsibilities he had, and he took on full responsibility for things himself. So when a guy like that goes, a lot is lacking. I don't think it's one guy taking over. I think it's a group."
--The New England Patriots cheerleaders are performing several shows this week in the Central Command/Fifth Fleet area of operations. Their tour began June 9 and will continue through June 18. The entertainment tour made in support of U.S. military personnel is made possible through the Navy's Morale, Welfare and Recreation program. It is the sixth tour in which the Patriots cheerleaders have participated since the Sept. 11 attacks against America in 2001.
--The Patriots gathered at owner Robert Kraft's Brookline, Mass., home Sunday evening to receive their Super Bowl XXXIX championship rings. They then participated in the Patriots Charitable Foundation golf tournament Monday at Belmont Country Club.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We are so far away from that. I wouldn't even consider thinking about it. I just hope we can go out there on a consistent basis and get lined up and run the plays somewhat close to the way they are supposed to be executed as we've done in the past." - Bill Belichick when asked if he will the possibility of winning four Super Bowls in five years as motivation.
NEW YORK JETS
The Jets saw their dream of having their own stadium on the West Side of Manhattan all but die last week when $300 million of funding was voted down by state officials.
The Jets had hoped to open the new stadium in time for when their lease with Giants Stadium expires after the 2008 season, but now it looks like they could be sharing their home with the Giants for the next several years. And that may not be such a bad thing.
The Jets' new structure would have cost a reported $2.2 billion while the Giants are building their new stadium - right across from the current stadium - for $750 million. The Giants have offered the Jets share in the ownership of the new building - an 80,000-seat stadium expected to be ready for the 2009 season.
"If the teams are competing in different buildings, you're fighting for that money," said John Mara, chief operating officer of the Giants.
While the Jets and their fans have craved the idea of having their own stadium for decades, the idea of two football stadiums in the New York City just isn't a feasible idea considering the cramped nature of the area and the costs involved with building in Manhattan.
Most fans realize this, which is why a majority of the West Side project's support came from politicians and labor unions.
--The Jets have shown interest in veteran RT Scott Gragg, cut by the 49ers last week. As of now, second-year player Adrian Jones is slated to start at RT but the Jets would be wise in acquiring some more veteran insurance. They already signed Ethan Brooks last month.
--Rookie FS Kerry Rhodes was a revelation during recent OTAs, impressing coaches with his athleticism and range. The fourth round pick could be competing for a starting job in training camp if he can show the physical toughness needed at the position. Second-year player Erik Coleman has one starting safety spot but the other side is a question because Jon McGraw has been brittle and Reggie Tongue often makes costly errors.
--The Jets signed the first of their eight draft picks this week, inking sixth-round pick RB Cedric Houston to a four-year deal and giving him a signing bonus close to $100,000. Because Houston has a thyroid condition that caused him to miss the Scouting Combine and the Jets April minicamp while getting treated for it, Houston stock slipped on Draft Day. That's why the Jets think they may have gotten a bit of steal with the 6-0, 220-pound Houston, whose bruising style could have him competing with Derrick Blaylock for carries as the backups behind Curtis Martin.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "One thing about Chad, he's always been a quick healer." - Jets coach Herman Edwards about QB Chad Pennington, who may finally be throwing roughly four months after rotator cuff surgery.