AFC East: Belichick Assistants On Right Path

Notes from around the AFC East. What are the Bills doing? They're in position to draft an impact player but will they? The Dolphins are emerging as the East's biggest challenger to the Patriots. Patriots' LB Bruschi says he feels a lot better than last year. Are the Jets targeting Matt Leinart? Maybe. Imagine what happens to their future outlook if they get him.

Jets :: Dolphins :: Patriots



--There's a growing belief that the Bills may not be eyeing Oregon DT Haloti Ngata after all with the No. 8 overall pick in the NFL draft. Ngata, who weighs 345 pounds, is a two-gap player whose strength is occupying space like a Sam Adams. But Buffalo's new defensive scheme under Dick Jauron is patterned after Tampa Bay's and requires the defensive linemen to be one-gap specialists, meaning they must penetrate and cause havoc in the backfield. The problem for Buffalo is that other than Ngata, no DT in this draft warrants Top 10 value, unless Florida State's 300-pound Broderick Bunkley continues to rise up the charts.

--After losing out on restricted free agent DE Israel Idonije, the Bills moved quickly to resign Ryan Denney, one of their unrestricted free agents. Denney, a second-round pick in 2002, saw extensive duty off the bench last year behind Aaron Schobel and Chris Kelsay, registering 26 tackles and four sacks. The 6-7, 275-pounder has worked hard to add strength and fill out his tall frame. Buffalo's new staff views him as someone with still very good potential as he enters his fifth NFL season.

--The Bills were awarded an extra pick in the NFL draft, a seventh-rounder, as compensation for free agent losses a year ago. The pick will be No. 248 overall, giving Buffalo nine picks overall, its most since 2002. Buffalo lost three free agents last year (OT Jonas Jennings, DT Pat Williams, FS Pierson Prioleau) and signed three (QB Kelly Holcomb, OT Mike Gandy, OG Bennie Anderson). The players lost were better than the players the Bills signed, giving them a compensatory pick under the league's formula. The Bills also have an extra pick in the third round (70th overall) as compensation for trading RB Travis Henry to Tennessee.

--The Bills preseason schedule will consist of road games at Carolina and Detroit and home contests against Cincinnati and Cleveland. Dates and times have yet to be finalized but Buffalo's first game will take place the weekend of Aug. 10-14.

--Denny Lynch, who worked for the Patriots, Browns and Bills during a 34-year front-office career in the NFL, has retired. Lynch, who joined the Bills in 1986, was the club's director of public and community relations and later its director of archives. "It has been an honor to work for Mr. Ralph Wilson for the last 20 years. He has been a friend and advisor and I thank him for his confidence in me over the years," said Lynch, who has been working tirelessly behind the scenes to launch a proposed Bills Hall of Fame and Museum. Lynch plans to remain active in several Bills-related endeavors including the Monday Morning Quarterback Club, Bills Booster Club and Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.


"The one that confronts us right away and almost on a daily basis is the quarterback issue. To be successful, we've got to solve that. We've got to find a quarterback who will perform at a high level, make plays and lead the team. I'm pretty certain that without that guy, you don't win a lot of games in our league. That's the No. 1 challenge for us." -- Coach Dick Jauron commenting at the NFL owner's meetings on finding a starting quarterback between J.P. Losman, Kelly Holcomb and Craig Nall.




--After being shut out in 2005, the Dolphins are once again being scheduled for nationally televised regular-season games. A September 7 game at Pittsburgh will be the first NFL contest played this season as the Steelers begin defense of their Super Bowl title.

Miami's other national television appearance will be November 23 at Detroit on Thanksgiving Day.

The Dolphins have one preseason game nationally televised August 24 in Charlotte. Miami makes its preseason debut at home between August 7 and 10 against Jacksonville, followed by a road game against Tampa Bay (August 17 to 21). The preseason finale will likely take place August 31 against St. Louis at Dolphins Stadium.

--Detroit quarterback Joey Harrington had a visit last week with the Dolphins, but it doesn't appear Miami is the frontrunner to acquire him via trade from the Lions. Harrington left to Cincinnati after meeting with the Dolphins and could soon have more visits awaiting as Detroit tries to deal the disgruntled four-year veteran.

Cincinnati Bengals tailback Kenny Watson and two Jacksonville players, safety Deke Cooper and tackle Mike Pearson, visited last week as free agents.


"I've looked at all of them. Just because you're on a diet doesn't mean you can't look at the menu, right?" -- Coach Nick Saban on whether he has scouted players who could be among the top five picks in April's draft.



--A year ago at this time Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi was just a month removed from a stroke that put his football future in jeopardy. The former Pro Bowler began 2005 on PUP and eventually played in the final nine games of the regular season and New England's two playoff games.

Thankfully, he suffered no lingering effects from the stroke and last week kicked off the team's offseason conditioning program feeling as good as he has in years.

"What a difference a year makes. Last year was tough for me but what I went through and the comeback, I thought I got to playing good football and coming into this offseason I feel pretty good. Actually, I feel like I am coming in to the start of the offseason in one of the better physical conditions that I've come in than before in previous offseason. I am looking forward to the program."

But that's not to say the 11th year veteran didn't have to revaluate his football future a number of times over the last year, including after New England's January playoff loss to the Broncos.

"I think when the season ended and we lost in Denver it was, 'How do I feel?' Because the stroke's behind me now but how do I feel physically now? I saw my doctors and talked to my wife about it and sort of just took inventory a little bit for a few weeks and I still feel good. Once you get into your 11th year, it's really that you have to see how you are at the end of the season. Not at the end of the season, but take a little while. Take a while to recoup and recover and see how you feel about it and [if] you are still fired up about football. I discovered that I am still fired up about football. I'm ready to play a lot more."

--The Patriots received an extra pair of sixth-round picks, the 205th and 206th choices overall, last week when the NFL awarded its compensatory selections for the April 29 draft. New England now has a total of 11 picks in the draft, including multiple selections in the third, fourth and sixth rounds. While the compensatory selections cannot be traded, the overall abundance in picks gives the always-active Bill Belichick the ammunition he needs to be an aggressive participant in the trade game on draft weekend, possibly even in the first round if the team wants to move up from its slot at 21.

"You can move up a little bit higher," Belichick said. "There is no doubt about that. We have enough picks that we probably have some flexibility to move in the draft."

--Despite the fact that he has had to have two procedures to deal with circulation issues since breaking his leg last Sept. 25 in Pittsburgh, Patriots left tackle Matt Light said recently that he's recovered and looking forward to being an active participant with the team, something he missed out on for the bulk of last season.

"You're the scum of the earth when you're injured," Light told the Dayton Daily News. "You're in the trainer's room 24 hours a day. It's the lowest point in your life. You're a window washer, unfortunately. There's no other way to describe it. If anything, it's a great motivator because you want to come back. I'm feeling great now."

--Count Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi among those who get more entertainment out of touchdown celebrations than aggravation. The Pro Bowl linebacker admits he actually likes most celebrations he sees, including the ones that are organized and premeditated, despite the fact that the league is now cracking down on such expressions of exuberance.

"I'm all for freedom of expression," Bruschi said. "I believe there is a fine line when you cross it. But the organized celebrations, they can be fun to watch. I sort of watch it too and sort of laugh at them. Say there's five of them. I'll laugh at about four of them and the fifth one I'm like, 'Man they need to stop that.' But [the league] took it away. We'll see how players respect that, but I hope they do now because it can cost the team 15 yards."

--A trio of Patriots players got a nice bonus check recently when the NFL dispersed its annual Performance Based Pay. While no New England player cracked the top 25 of PBP earners, a list led by Cowboys tackle Rob Petitti and his $271,287 check, the three did add nice and somewhat unexpected chunks of money to their checking accounts. Nick Kaczur ($168,654), Ellis Hobbs ($159,713) and Asante Samuel ($129,932) were reportedly the Patriots' three biggest earners in the program, and the only players on the team to earn six-figure PBP checks.


"No. It's the same because you develop such special relationships with people that it hurts to see them go. I mean when Drew [Bledsoe] left, when Lawyer [Milloy] left, when Marty Moore's the same with me because you develop such special relationships. So to see them go, it's discouraging whenever you see that." -- LB Tedy Bruschi when asked if he reacts differently now that he's older to the business side of the NFL that sees teammates move on to a new team.



--The Jets received a third-round pick (97th overall) as compensation for their free-agent losses from last season which included RB LaMont Jordan, RT Kareem McKenzie, NT Jason Ferguson and TE Anthony Becht, all starters. This gives the Jets five picks among the first 97.

--After watching RB Curtis Martin be so good for so long, it's hard for many to accept that age and his latest set of injuries may finally be slowing the future Hall of Famer down. Limited to just 12 games, his 735 yards rushing last season marked the first time in 11 years the classy Martin has failed to gain 1,000 yards.

The Jets do have Cedric Houston and Derrick Blaylock on the roster and each could be looking at more carries this season. The Jets are also looking at the draft as a way to find a new running back as well as Martin nears the end.

"He understands that it's about competition. He's never shied away from that," coach Eric Mangini said. "That's what makes him so special. Don't underestimate him. Whenever you underestimate him, he kills you. I think Curtis is going to be as competitive as he always has been."

--Unable to convince OT Jon Runyan to join them, the Jets will probably be looking at the draft as a way of finding their newest tackle. The Jets were able to draft former tackle Jason Fabini in the lower rounds many years ago and took current left tackle Adrian Jones in the fourth round two years ago. Of course, D'Brickashaw Ferguson of Virginia seems a definite possibility at No. 4.


"He may be hurt by the same things that helped (Jay) Cutler. People may look at him and say: Would he have been as successful at Vanderbilt? And would Cutler have been more successful at USC?" -- Jets coach on Trojan QB Matt Leinart, whom the Jets may be looking to trade up from the fourth pick to get.

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