Insiders: Around the AFC East

The AFC East is one of the more competitive divisions within the NFL with two of the teams making the playoffs in 2004. Buffalo, almost made that number three aside from a few late season foibles. Just how are these rivals of the Patriots doing in the offseason? NFL Scout takes a look at their camps in this Insiders report.


Debuts as NFL starting quarterbacks don't get tougher than facing the storied Green Bay Packers inside Lambeau Field. And even though it was just a scrimmage, it sure felt like a regular season game with 62,000-plus fans in attendance and the pad-popping hits.

With all eyes upon him, Bills new starter J.P. Losman passed this first test with flying colors during a controlled scrimmage on Friday, completing 6 of 11 passes for 69 yards. He didn't throw a touchdown pass during two nine-play series of regular down-and-distance play, but showed off quick decision making, an ability to deliver the ball on time, and the ability to move and buy time. He was sacked just once and didn't throw an interception.

All of these things are positive steps.

"We use the term 'doesn't flinch' and he really wasn't flinching," coach Mike Mularkey said. "He looked comfortable in there. I'm sure there are some things after we watch the tape that we'll say he should've or could've done, but for the most part, I was really pleased watching him."

On the very first play of the scrimmage, Losman ran downfield blocking for wide receiver Lee Evans on a reverse, helping produce a 40-yard gain. The play was nullified by a holding penalty on tight end Tim Euhus but Losman was unfazed. He came right back and converted third downs by throwing 11 yards to Eric Moulds and 10 to Roscoe Parrish. Another time, he rolled out and fired a 15-yard strike to tight end Mark Campbell on the run.

While Losman has the green light to run if he sees an opening, he also showed that he's not looking to run first and pass second. During a segment devoted to red zone play, he sprinted to his left and had an entire open sideline and probably could've scored on the first-and-goal-from-the-8 situation. Instead, Losman threw to Josh Reed in the end zone. The pass was high and incomplete but it showed where Losman's head is at.

"We came out smoking," he said. "It was like a basic practice but as far as execution goes, we did a good job."

His teammates were most impressed by his composure in the huddle despite the huge crowd. Early in camp, Mularkey had to talk to Losman about not hanging his head after bad passes or throws that weren't quite to his standards, fearing such a demeanor will bring down his teammates and inspire his opponents.

Losman had nothing but an upbeat attitude in Green Bay.

"He handled things well," running back Willis McGahee said. "I'm no expert on quarterbacks, but he sure looked good to me. He didn't seem nervous. That's a great sign. He's got his confidence and he knows we have his back."

Packers coach Mike Sherman left impressed.

Sherman liked Losman in the 2004 draft, and left no doubt he would've taken him with the 25th overall pick had Buffalo not swooped in and taken Losman 22nd overall after swinging a deal with Dallas.

Sherman had to wait until this year to get his heir apparent to Brett Favre, taking Cal's Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers looked good during joint practices with the Bills, but in the scrimmage, was a mere 1 of 7 for eight years with three sacks.

With a year under his belt watching Drew Bledsoe, along with being surrounded by a 1,000-yard running back in McGahee and the NFL's No. 2-ranked defense, Losman steps into a situation ripe for winning, much like what Ben Roethlisberger had in Pittsburgh last year as a rookie. The Steelers finished 15-1.

"We had very high interest (in him)," Sherman said of Losman. "We thought he was a very talented young man, and he is. He'll be one of those surprises, like a (Ben) Roethlisberger type surprise this year to a lot of people."


--After the Packers scrimmage, QB J.P. Losman arranged to have his picture taken with Green Bay legend Brett Favre inside Lambeau Field. Favre has long been one of Losman's favorite players and the two had met previously. Before his senior year at Tulane, Losman was invited to play golf in Mississippi with Favre by a mutual friend. "(Brett) invited me to the house to go pick him up, so I went to the house, and there he was with his tight little shorts, no shirt, his little red hat, and he was doing some farming or something, and he was covered in dirt," Losman said. "It was awesome, man. It was good to see that."

--Coach Mike Mularkey, who is calm 90 percent of the time, got animated while watching fourth-string quarterback Tory Woodbury botch several center exchanges during one practice last week. He told Woodbury, "That's the last one." Said Mularkey: "We have to do better with quarterback-center exchanges. First of all, we stress no turnovers. Second, it's sloppy and third, it's just inexcusable at this level that we can't get the ball from the center to the quarterback."

--Coach Mike Mularkey spoke with Josh Stamer after the linebacker got too close to QB L.P. Losman during one drill for the coach's comfort. What did he say: "I just mentioned to him that it wasn't a good idea."


The Bills had contract talks with unsigned rookie TE Kevin Everett's agent, Brian Overstreet, over the weekend. With Everett, who tore an ACL in mini- camp, rehabilitating his knee, there's no urgency to get the deal done but the Bills would like to have it finalized and off their plate.

GM Tom Donahoe, who has experience negotiating with injured players (RB Willis McGahee), said he wants to be fair with Everett, who still figures prominently in Buffalo's future plans. Everett, a third-round pick from Miami, is fast and athletic and when healthy will give the Bills something they now lack - a tight end who can stretch defenses. Their current crop of tight ends consists of blockers and medium-range receivers.

--OG Ross Tucker has been placed on the physically unable to perform list while he continue to recover form back surgery. Tucker's health was one reason behind the signing of free agent Bennie Anderson, who is now starting at Tucker's old LG position.

--CB Kevin Thomas has been placed on the physically unable to perform list after suffering a setback in his recovery from microfracture knee surgery. Thomas is one of the Bills' best backups and was the club's nickel corner last season.

--OT Dylan McFarland has been getting a lot of good reps at RT filling in for Mike Williams, who has been hobbled by a bad hamstring.

--RB Shaud Williams has added about 8 pounds to his 5-9 frame and is up to 199 pounds. The second year pro feels the added weight will help him hold up better during the long NFL season.

--OG Lawrence Smith was lost to an unspecified knee injury during a Friday morning practice in Green Bay and did not take part in the scrimmage.


The battle for the starting quarterback position was to begin in earnest Monday when the Dolphins opened their exhibition season against Chicago in Canton, Ohio.

Dolphins coach Nick Saban refused to publicly name his starter prior to kickoff. Saban even went so far as to separate the names of A.J. Feeley and Gus Frerotte with a slash as co-starters on the team's first depth chart.

"I am not naive enough to think it is important to both guys as competitors to become a starter at some point," Saban said. "We understand that, but we don't want that to be the focus right now."

Regardless of whether Frerotte or Feeley started, the other player will get the nod August 13 in Jacksonville.

"It really doesn't matter because whoever does it this time the other one will do it next time," Saban said before the game. "It's almost like the flip of a coin before the (game). If you win you can get the ball, but then you have to give it up in the next half."

Frerotte and Feeley have split snaps with the first- and second-team offenses throughout the first two weeks of training camp. Frerotte entered training camp with the advantage of having played in new offensive coordinator Scott Linehan's system the previous two years in Minnesota.

"Right now, you can't worry about what the other guy is doing," Feeley said. "I've said all along, with the quarterback competition, you almost approach the situation like a golf game. You take care of your own. You worry about what you can control. It's just being consistent, putting yourself into good situation and making the right throws and making the right reads. Getting to bond with the guys and hopefully they rally behind you.

"It's not one of those things where you're dueling back and forth. That's not how the game works. So there's nothing really uncomfortable about it right now. I'm trying to make the most of every snap and every opportunity whether it's with the ones or the twos."

Frerotte said he also is more worried about himself than anything Feeley is doing and pointed to the fact Miami may need two capable starters in 2005 because of the punishment that NFL quarterbacks take.

"Your chances of completing a 16-game season are pretty slim because it is a tough game," said Frerotte, who has served primarily as a backup for most of the past seven seasons. "You're going to get hit and take a pounding. The other guy has to know that he is going to get in there."

Feeley doesn't disagree.

"You hate to say that guys can get hurt during the year, but if you look at the tendencies and what's happened around the league over the past couple years, the likelihood of one guy getting hurt and not playing the whole season is kind of a true statement," said Feeley, who missed his final start last season because of a shoulder injury. "It happens all the time, so you've got to have a number-two guy or a guy that's behind him that can play."


-- Dolphins video director Dave Hack suffered a scare last Thursday when a lighting strike occurred right near the 38-foot tower where he films practice from at team headquarters.

An ionic lightning-protection system installed at team headquarters 10 years earlier helped prevent Hack's tower from being struck. Hack also responded to the situation like a veteran of 32 years in the Dolphins' video department should.

"He instinctively knew what to do when he knew lightning was close in the area," Dolphins Executive Vice President Bryan Wiedmeier said. "When he felt the air being electrified, he went down onto his platform and flipped the switch to bring the lift down."

Hack, 53, was attended to by emergency personnel but never went to the hospital and was back to work the following day.

Miami was unable to return to practice because the practice field was covered with water as the severe storm passed through. The situation reinforced Miami's desire to build an indoor practice facility. The team should soon begin construction on a facility that would cost between $5 million and $10 million and take roughly 18 months to complete.


Miami's offensive line experienced a shake-up last week when C Wade Smith suffered a fractured forearm and the Dolphins signed Frank Middleton, who could become the new starting right guard with Rex Hadnot receiving snaps with the first-team offense at center ahead of incumbent Seth McKinney.

Coach Nick Saban said he planned before the start of training camp for Hadnot to practice as the starting center 10 days into the preseason. A 2004 sixth-round draft choice, Hadnot did well starting at right guard in the second half of his rookie season but may be an even better fit at center.

"Center is pretty much the quarterback of the offensive line," said Hadnot, who played center at the University of Houston. Just having that control of being able to put guys in the right spot, having that pressure on your shoulders, to me, it's a thrill. And the satisfaction is when the people are doing everything that you call or things like that. Then you feel things are going well."

Middleton has played in just 17 games each of the past two seasons after tearing quadriceps muscles in each of his legs. Middleton, though, would be a valuable pickup if he could regain the form that earned him praise as one of the NFL's most aggressive guards in the early 2000s while with Oakland.

Smith, who was converted from left tackle to center in the off-season, is expected to miss eight to 10 weeks of practice. But Saban said he is optimistic Smith can return early in the regular season.

--G Eric Wilson returned to the Dolphins after going AWOL for four days while dealing with personal matters. Wilson then suffered a shoulder injury that forced him to miss practice time, which makes the odds of him making the regular-season roster even slimmer.

--CB Kris Richard was acquired in a trade with Seattle in exchange for DE Ronald Flemons. A 2002 third-round draft choice, Richard was never able to crack the starting lineup and will be competing for a roster spot as a reserve in Miami.

--DE Ronald Flemons was traded to Seattle for CB Kris Richard. Flemons, who spent most of last season splitting time between Miami's developmental squad and 53-man roster, was a long shot to make the team because of the Dolphins' depth at defensive end.

--G/C Alonzo Ephraim was signed after C Wade Smith suffered a fractured forearm and wrist during practice. Ephraim spent his first two NFL seasons with Philadelphia, starting two games last year at right guard, before being released in April.

--WR Ronald Bellamy was waived last week to clear a roster space for G Frank Middleton. Bellamy spent the past two seasons bouncing between the developmental squad and active roster and never played a prominent role on offense.


The Jets aren't surprised at seeing tight end Doug Jolley make catch after catch in training camp, but the 1,500 fans coming to watch practice every day might be surprised seeing a tight end do anything on offense other than block.

After all, the position was an afterthought for the Jets last season, producing just 31 catches for 282 yards and five touchdowns, driving former starter Anthony Becht to sign as a free agent with Tampa Bay.

That's supposed to change after the Jets traded their first round pick - 26th overall - to the Raiders for Jolley, 26, and brought in the more open-minded and creative Mike Heimerdinger to be the offensive coordinator.

"I like (the new offense). It's a good fit for me and the other tight ends so I'm real excited for it. I'm excited to come out here and see if I can hold my own out here. It's definitely encouraging," said Jolley, who played in Oakland for three years but found his role decreasing last season, making just seven catches for 78 yards over the final seven games. "Anytime a team trades for you that means they want you and they're looking forward to using you in their offense. To just be part of the offense ... is big for me."

Could be big for the Jets too.

Jolley's strength is breaking down zones, finding the open spot and running after the catch, something Becht never provided in four years with the Jets.

"This offense allows (the tight end) to work down the field," quarterback Chad Pennington said. "They're not just underneath decoys; they're not just underneath control receivers. They are going to get a chance to not only catch it and run, but also catch it down field. Doug does a great job of that."

Because he's more of a vertical threat than the average tight end, Jolley puts a strain on opposing linebackers. If the middle linebacker moves up to cover him, Jolley is physical enough to get by him or the Jets can bring in the bigger Baker for a better matchup. If the linebacker plays back, it's an automatic 10-yard cushion for Jolley to work with over the middle.

"The one thing about the tight end is that in any defense, the middle of the field is vulnerable between the line of scrimmage and 10 yards," coach Herman Edwards said. "It's always open. It's been open for 80 years."

Plus, being able to stretch the field with the tight end gives defenses another receiver to contend with and change their coverages, which will benefit Curtis Martin and the running game.

While Becht wasn't the pass-catcher the Jets had hoped for, he was an essential part of their run-blocking schemes, especially on the right side where Curtis Martin gained much of his NFL leading 1,697 yards last season.

With the running game driving the Jets offense again, Jolley's blocking can't take a back seat to his contributions as a receiver.

"We're going to run behind him. He's going to be in there so he better be able to do the honor," Heimerdinger said. "When we watched the film (of Jolley in Oakland), I was looking for his pass-catching ability and there were a lot of times that he was in pass protection against a defensive end and he held up pretty good. We'll see. He will find a way."


--RB Curtis Martin has already said he would rework his deal to make cap room to bring in Ty Law and judging by how excited he was to hear Law was coming, DE Shaun Ellis may do it as well. Still, the Jets may have to cut a veteran or a few younger players to make room.

--Special teams coach Mike Westhoff went to Canton this weekend as a guest of Dan Marino, who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame. The two are Pittsburgh products and became good friends while both were with the Dolphins.


--DE Bryan Thomas continues to take all the snaps at RDE that would be going to holdout John Abraham. Thomas has not become the pass-rusher the Jets had hoped for when they drafted him in 2002 but he's played well against the run and filled in well when Abraham missed several weeks last season with a knee injury.

--QB Chad Pennington practiced five straight days but got the next two off. He's not being babied by the Jets but they also don't want to fatigue his surgically repaired right should in the first week of camp either. After throwing short on some long passes early in camp, Pennington was showing better accuracy on deep balls later in camp, a sign the rust was coming off.

--K Xavier Beitia, a rookie from Florida State, was 3-for-3 from 50 yards out during a practice last week. Beitia won't beat out fellow rookie Mike Nugent for the job he could get noticed by other teams if he keeps it up.

--LB John Pickens was waived. He was a long shot to make the team.

--RB Curtis Martin is getting work during practices but the Jets want to save him during two-a-days and concentrate more on getting him carries in the preseason, which they think better prepares him for the season. It's what they did last year and Martin led the NFL with 1,697 yards rushing along with 12 touchdowns.

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