INSIDERS: Around the AFC East

The AFC East is changing. The New York Jets, Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins have made significant upgrades to key areas on their teams in an attempt to be more competitive with the New England Patriots. Get inside for news and notes around the division including strategy and personnel moves.

By NFL staff



--It didn't take long for reserve OL Ross Tucker to stir things up, getting into two shoving matches with veteran DT Sam Adams during a night practice. It was Tucker's third day back after coming off the physically unable to perform list. Tucker underwent back surgery in the off-season. "I'm not even focusing on the starting job thing right now, I'm must happy to be out here," said Tucker, who was still walking gingerly when camp began. "I'm definitely ready to go ... but I wouldn't say I'm 100 percent quite yet."

--Do NFL players, who work out year-round, really need four preseason games to get ready for the regular season? "I'd like to see two myself," said nine-year veteran Kelly Holcomb, 32. "Obviously, the owners are making money with four preseason games, but I think pretty much the coaches (already) know whom they want and what they need to do with the depth chart. I can understand where some guys need four, but four, along with 16 regular season games, that's a lot on the body especially when you get to be my age."


Bills second-round draft pick WR Roscoe Parrish underwent what the club is describing as successful wrist surgery last Friday, and will be out indefinitely. The club refuses to say exactly what type of injury Parrish suffered when he fell hard to the ground leaping for a pass with CB Jabari Greer in practice, and braced his fall. Parrish got up and immediately began supporting his limp right arm.

"He had successful surgery," coach Mike Mularkey said. "He will be back this season. There's no time frame. A lot of that is how he heels but things went well."

Parrish was drafted to jump start Buffalo's No. 25 offense and had been impressive thus far. His injury opens the door for veteran Josh Reed to re-establish himself as the club's slot receiver.

--OG Ross Tucker came off PUP last week and began practicing at center and guard. Tucker, a versatile reserve, had off-season back surgery.

--CB Kevin Thomas remains 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.

--OG Lawrence Smith has been placed on injured reserve after injuring his right leg in a practice against Green Bay. Smith suffered a torn quadriceps tendon and is scheduled to have surgery. He'll be out eight to 12 weeks before he can start rehabbing.

--LG Bennie Anderson had a rough debut, getting whistled for two penalties against the Colts.

--QB Kelly Holcomb continues to play steady football in the No. 2 role. He went 3 of 5 for 15 yards against the Colts and clearly has a commanding presence in the huddle.



-- ESPN reported that O.J. Simpson has recently spoken with Dolphins tailback Ricky Williams. Simpson told the network that Williams "got a raw deal" from those who criticized his decision to retire just before the start of the 2004 season.

"I understood that it was certainly unfortunate when he decided to leave, but he was struggling and his heart wasn't in it," Simpson said. "I thought it was the right move at the time. If you're not ready to play, you shouldn't go to camp, and he wasn't ready to play. I didn't tell him that, but I agreed with his opinion on that and I thought people should have understood it.

"The timing was unfortunate. Football had ceased to be fun for him the previous few years. I think in three years, he went over 1,000 carries, you know. The offense didn't have much imagination. I do believe if they had made a coaching change that year, Ricky would have never left. He would have stayed around. Unfortunately, it became as much of a financial issue as anything else for him."


Finishing with the NFL's second-worst record in 2004 will pay dividends for the Dolphins in one respect -- the team will be assured of being able to land most players they claim off waivers.

Miami needs the help, as its reserve units, especially on defense, have struggled in the team's first two preseason games.

"We have some issues in terms of depth on our team," Saban said.

--LB Junior Seau returned to practice Wednesday but was scratched for the Jacksonville game. Seau had missed the first two weeks of training camp with a strained calf.

--G Damion Cook was moved back inside after spending the first two weeks at tackle. Cook is trying to make the roster as a reserve lineman.

--C Alonzo Ephraim worked with the second-team offense against the Jaguars. Ephraim was signed earlier in the preseason when C Wade Smith suffered a fractured forearm/wrist.

--S Chris Akins was placed on injured reserve with a hamstring injury suffered in Miami's 27-24 preseason-opening loss to Chicago. Akins also spent last season on injured reserve with a knee injury.

--TE Jason Rader has caught touchdown passes in each of Miami's first two exhibition games. Rader is a candidate for Miami's developmental squad.



-- Bill Belichick has failed to acknowledge who, specifically, will handle the offensive play-calling duties vacated by former offensive coordinator Charlie Weis since no new coordinator was officially named.

But Belichick did not appear to be holding an offensive play sheet in the preseason opener against Cincinnati. Instead, veteran assistant Dante Scarnecchia and young assistants Josh McDaniels and Brian Daboll looked to have the laminated pre-prepared offensive calls.

McDaniels, the quarterback coach, was the person communicating the call to the quarterback through the in-helmet communication system. But it's unclear how the process worked on the sideline. The two young assistants were close to Belichick throughout the game while Scarnecchia was not.

Belichick has consistently said that he is accountable for all the play calls, but that doesn't mean he's the one making them. While he's likely to be heavily involved in the plays selected for the play sheet through game planning, he may not be the one who ultimately makes the calls, although he's not saying. Either way, the calls will be made with Belichick's blessing. He merely discussed the process when asked about the situation, but would not get specific. There remains a good chance Belichick makes the calls himself, but of not, he is protecting the young assistants from sure scrutiny by not naming one of them as the official play caller.

"I think for the coaches, and it's like this every year, it doesn't make any difference who the coaches are, we haven't coached a game in quite a while. We've done situational things in practice and part of that is the communication between the players and coaches. I think that, starting with me, we all have to sharpen our coaching and game management and decision-making skills to make them the best we can, make decisions quickly and make the right one. That is part of what the preseason is about for coaches. We all need to do that."


It was a quiet week on the personnel front for New England after two weeks of tweaking the roster regularly. The inside linebacker watch continues, especially since Mike Vrabel injured his ankle in the first quarter of the preseason opener and did not return.

The Patriots may need another veteran body at the position and, depending on how the run defense fares against the Saints in the second preseason game, that search could be hastened.

Roman Phifer remains unsigned, his locker reportedly remains intact in the Patriots locker room and no other player has been assigned his number 95.

Vrabel's injury didn't appear serious and he is in the category that Belichick has placed all of his injured players - day-to-day, which is about as vague as the coach could be. Asked if there is a chance Phifer might return, Belichick said, "I don't know."

Beyond that spot, the Patriots aren't in need of reinforcements at any other position beyond maybe nose tackle. After releasing Ethan Kelley early in camp, the team signed 342-pound lineman Mario Monds, who did not play in the preseason opener and then was cut two days later.

The only way the Patriots would likely land an impact player at either of those two positions is via a trade. But since the Patriots struggled somewhat against the run vs. Cincinnati, the linebacker spot remains the one to watch.

--TE Andy Stokes was cut by the team after a sluggish start to camp. The 2005 seventh round pick and Mr. Irrelevant was inconsistent catching the ball and did not match up as a blocker trying to make the jump from NAIA William Penn to the NFL.

--TE Matt Brandt signed to replace Stokes and lasted just one day before also being released. The Patriots have good competition at tight end with Daniel Graham, Benjamin Watson, Christian Fauria and Jed Weaver all in the fold.

--DL Mario Monds was released after signing a few days into camp. The 342-pound defensive tackle missed the preseason opener with an unknown injury and was let go despite the fact that New England has no true backup nose tackle.



--After the Detroit game, the frustration was evident on the face of QB Chad Pennington, who sat out the game as he and the team continue to take it easy with his rehab from right shoulder surgery. Pennington, who has been limited to practicing once per day, if that, said he wanted to get back to working both practice sessions some days.

Coach Herman Edwards replied the next day to reporters that Pennington would remain on his current schedule, saying, "He'll be on 'ones' until the end of camp."

The coach did add that Pennington "is ready to go, he wants to play. I just think he also knows there's a process he has to go through." Still, Edwards wouldn't commit to Pennington playing against Minnesota on Friday.


--For all the talk of new coordinator Mike Heimerdinger's new, more aggressive offense, the Jets didn't take many shots downfield in the passing game against Detroit, especially when Jay Fiedler was in the game. However, the 98-yard touchdown drive was not reminiscent of former coordinator Paul Hackett's offense, as the Jets often bogged down in the red zone and settled for field goals with Hackett doing the play-calling.

--Oliver Celestin has had an excellent camp at SS, which may be one of the biggest reasons why the Jets finally decided they could no longer exercise patience with Jon McGraw, who was traded to the Lions last week for a 2006 conditional draft choice next year. McGraw is obviously talented, but missed 15 games over three seasons because of various injuries.

--DE Bryan Thomas had an 11-yard sack of Joey Harrington on the Lions' first drive, helping to force Detroit out of field-goal range. Thomas has benefited from the holdout of John Abraham and has gotten the most practice snaps of his three-year career.

--CB Pete Hunter was waived two days after the Jets signed Ty Law. He had been acquired from Dallas for a 2006 conditional draft pick in July, but it quickly became evident in practice that his cover skills were lacking.

Read more about the AFC East Teams:
Buffalo Bills :: Miami Dolphins :: New England Patriots :: New York Jets

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