Insiders: Around the AFC East 6/19/05

A look around the AFC East. The Bills get rewarded by breaking camp early, The Dolphins are again facing a quarterback controversy, and the Jets have their own quarterback issues. Will Pennington be fully recovered in time for camp, and if not who's plan B? Get Inside for more on the Patriots division rivals.

Around the AFC East
By Staff


Summer vacation has officially started for the Buffalo Bills. And the teacher sent them off with a nice present.

When the team's players and coaches assembled for the final organized team activity practice, head coach Mike Mularkey blew his whistle, announced practice was canceled due to too much diligence and effort, and sent them home on a high note.

"I decided to reward these guys for their commitment and time with a day off," Mularkey said. "They were ready to go, as well as the coaches with scripts and everything, so I think I may have ticked off a couple of the coaches that maybe spent a little time putting them together. But they all deserve it, coaches as well."

This was Mularkey's second off-season in charge and unlike a year ago, he wasn't starting from scratch. His entire staff is back intact, along with 18 starting players.

With that kind of continuity, Mularkey was able to pick up where last season left off, with the Bills riding a huge wave of momentum with nine wins in their final 12 games. Only a loss to Pittsburgh in the regular-season finale kept Buffalo out of the playoffs.

He has said often that his team is on a mission this year to take that next step.

"I think it's been evident," Mularkey said, referring to the strong attendance at the various voluntary practice sessions and workout programs.

Camp opens for the Bills on July 29 when they report to St. John Fisher College in Rochester, N.Y.

"We felt we accomplished what we had to set out to do (this offseason) and we don't want any setbacks at this point," Mularkey said. "We want to pick up where we left off in mini-camp and the OTAs and on July 29, keep this thing rolling."

The biggest task of the off-season was getting new starting quarterback J.P. Losman up to speed. He was named as the starter in February after veteran Drew Bledsoe was released, and he has spent nearly every day since in Buffalo, even weekends, working with quarterback coach Sam Wyche.

Asked if he was ready to take some time off, Losman said: "I think they're going to make me."

Mularkey's instructions for his players is to stay in shape, stay out of trouble, and keep their noses in their playbooks for the next six weeks.

"We've given them a workout program and it's really designed for more than six weeks so they can get away a couple weeks (in there)," he said. "The hardest part really is keeping focused on football and keeping up with the studying. They brought all their notes home and hopefully they'll be looking at their notebooks."


--QB J.P. Losman did a lot of team bonding with his new teammates this off-season, and it wasn't limited to football-related activities. He said players spent time away from the stadium attending barbecues, bowling and playing laser tag. "I didn't know how the players would react to this whole (QB) switch...but the team unity, I feel, has gotten better and better," he said.

--Current Bills Brian Moorman, Josh Stamer, Rod Trafford and Ryan Neufeld were discovered through open tryouts the club's personnel department conducts on a regular basis to keep its database up to date. The Bills recently held an open tryout for about 150 mostly undrafted rookie free agents. Pro personnel assistant Rob Hanrahan told that open tryouts are a way for NFL teams to cover all their bases. "For whatever reason, sometimes everyone in the league misses a player, and we try to do everything possible to not miss anyone," he said.


It appears the Bills are satisfied to go into training camp with free agent Mike Gandy as their No. 1 left tackle.

Left tackle is the biggest question mark on the line after the departure of steady four-year starter Jonas Jennings (San Francisco 49ers).

It's believed the Bills have had casual discussion about Ross Verba, released by the Cleveland Browns, but have not been quick to act on the brooding veteran. Verba had been promised a reworked contract by former Browns coach Butch Davis but the team's new leadership wasn't on board with that.

After Cleveland signed ex-Arizona Cardinal L.J. Shelton - a player the Bills passed on acquiring in a trade for Travis Henry - Verba was granted his release after repaying a $465,000 roster bonus.

At this late juncture, the Bills aren't thrilled about bringing in any new bodies for a significant starting role. Gandy, the one-time Chicago Bears starter, has been a constant presence at all off-season workouts and has a huge head start on getting a feel for his new teammates.

Depth at tackle, however, remains a huge issue. Converted TE Jason Peters, former OG Lawrence Smith and second-year man Dylan McFarland are untested at the position.

MEDICAL WATCH: TEs Mark Campbell and Tim Euhus, coming off ACL surgeries, practiced two days with the team during the final week of OTAs, their first on-field work since late last season.

"We wanted to give them a chance to get a little confident in the knees so we don't have to wait until training camp to ease them into drills," coach Mike Mularkey said.

Rookie Kevin Everett, the Bills third-round pick who tore a ligament in his left knee during a minicamp in April, continues his rehab after surgery but no timetable has been given for his return.


Indications are that Gus Frerotte is poised to become Miami's starting quarterback for the 2005 season, but offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said the position is far from being settled after the team's offseason program concluded.

Frerotte worked with the first-team offense at a three-day minicamp June 10 through 12 as A.J. Feeley, who started eight games last season, handled second-team duties. Dolphins coach Nick Saban said Frerotte was ahead of Feeley and Sage Rosenfels during earlier practices because of his familiarity with Linehan's system stemming from the two spending the previous two seasons together in Minnesota.

Feeley, though, appears to have a legitimate opportunity to unseat Frerotte once training camp begins.

"There's no edge," Linehan said when asked whether Frerotte had a leg-up in the competition. "Gus has familiarity with a lot of things, but the reps were split such that he wasn't necessarily working on things that he was as comfortable with as maybe he would be had I worked a lot of the concepts that we worked at Minnesota. He got a lot of work in areas that were new to him as well.

"Between the two of them, I thought they did a great job of handling the situation well, learning the system, how they fit into it as a quarterback. And really, that is what the training camp is used for -- establishing who that person is going to be."

To avoid any appearance of favoritism because of his close relationship with Frerotte, Linehan said he has intentionally spent more time this offseason focused on other areas of the offense while quarterbacks coach Jason Garrett handles his position group.

"There are no favorites in coaching," Linehan said. "You're going to play who is going to go out and play and execute."

Neither quarterback looked particularly effective during the first full-squad minicamp open to the public and media. At times, third-string quarterback Sage Rosenfels looked sharper than Frerotte and Feeley.

"I think right now we're all still learning," said Frerotte, who said his biggest adjustment is adjusting to changes made in Linehan's play-calling terminology. "Obviously, if (Feeley) has questions for me and he asks me, I'm going to help him We're all doing pretty well and communicating and talking and learning the offense together."


-- Dolphins tailback Ricky Williams began his return to South Florida last week by starting a cross-country drive from Northern California. Agent Leigh Steinberg said Williams was granted permission to re-enter the NFL's substance-abuse program, which would serve as a show of good faith to Dolphins officials that he is serious about a comeback.

Once reinstated to the program, Williams will be subject to 10 random drug tests a month for the remainder of his NFL career. Because of his standing as a three-time offender, a failed or missed test would result in Williams being suspended for a full year.

Steinberg said Williams is roughly 205 pounds, which is 10 more than what Sports Illustrated said he weighed after returning from a lengthy trip to India. Williams is working with a nutritionist and received a copy of Miami's offseason workout program to add more bulk before training camp.


The Jets remain mysterious regarding the condition of quarterback Chad Pennington but have confirmed he did begin light tossing at the beginning of June as the team wrapped up three weeks of practices.

The work - entailing about 80 throws every other day - is Pennington's first since February surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff sustained in the middle of last season.

"Chad has diligently followed his rehab program under the close watch of our medical and training staff," coach Herman Edwards said in a statement. "Most recently during the latter portion of OTA's, he worked on hand offs with our running backs. While he did not throw during on-field OTA practices, Chad was given clearance and a schedule to throw the football, and will continue to be evaluated as to the amount of throws he will make leading up to training camp."

Edwards and the Jets expect Pennington to be ready for the start of training camp at the end of July but it's very curious why the Jets have been so secretive about Pennington's progress. Practices have been closed to the media and the Jets have refused to make Pennington available to the media. The Jets public relations staff even said that Pennington wasn't throwing when it fact he had already started lobbing the ball days earlier.

Edwards has been trying to take a page out of the playbook of New England coach Bill Belichick - telling as little as possible in order to create a competitive advantage - but the secrecy here seems to make the situation worse.

In an interview with ESPN radio - with whom the Jets have a fiduciary relationship - General Manager Terry Bradway declared Pennington "ahead of schedule" and that he was throwing long balls.

The Jets will take it easy on Pennington in training camp and will likely limit him to just one practice session a day. But the whole situation seems to cast some doubt on whether Pennington will be at full strength come the season opener at Kansas City Sept. 11, or even available.


--Many in the Jets organization seem hopeful that DE John Abraham will sign his $6.67 million one-year tender as the team's franchise player and show up on time for training camp at the end of July.

--The Jets will use a rotation of players to fill in on the defensive line for NT Jason Ferguson, who left the team as a free agent for Dallas. The lead in that group will be played by Lance Legree, signed as a free agent from the Giants. Jets defensive line coach Denny Marcin, coached Legree on the Giants and is familiar with his play. He's also a favorite of Marcin's so he'll get a chance to shine.

MEDICAL WATCH: QB Chad Pennington began throwing in early June for the first time since undergoing surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff. Pennington's workouts will be likely be scaled back in training camp anyway - camp tentatively starts July 28 - and both he and the Jets have predicted he'll be ready to play by the season opener.

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