Around the AFC East: News & Notes 5/10

Notes from around the AFC East. Bills DB Nate Clements may have to return to the team, in spite of his desire to head elsewhere. The Miami Dolphins can't be serious about adding Marcus Vick to their roster, can they? Patriots notes include a look at some of the team's draft picks. The Jets went into the Draft to find talented player who have high character, according to their GM. Get inside to find out more from each of the AFC East teams.

Jets :: Dolphins :: Patriots

BUFFALO BILLS

Buffalo Bills coach Dick Jauron had only one winning season in five years as coach of the Chicago Bears.

But the former NFL cornerback and longtime defensive assistant had a hand in building a Bears defense that ranked among the very best in the NFL last season, a touch that Buffalo fans hope rubs off on the Bills, who had one of the league's worst defensive units.

Nine of the Bears' 11 defensive starters in 2005 were drafted players, six taken when Jauron was still coaching -- Brian Urlacher, Mike Brown, Ian Scott, Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman, Alex Brown. Linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer was a free-agent pickup from Green Bay in 2003, Jauron's last season in the Windy City.

Last season under coach Lovie Smith, Chicago ranked No. 1 in scoring defense, No. 2 in yards allowed and No. 4 in interceptions as the Bears finished 11-5.

Bills general manager Marv Levy, who did broadcast work for the Bears and watched them play on a weekly basis, said "I was enamored with their approach to defense."

That was a big reason he hired Jauron, who hired Smith's secondary coach, Perry Fewell, to be his defensive coordinator. Fewell has brought with him the Tampa Bay-style defense used by Smith and popularized by Tony Dungy to Buffalo. He learned it under Smith in St. Louis, then in Chicago.

In last weekend's draft, the Bills took a major leap toward constructing a defense that can mirror what the Bears have, spending six of nine picks on defenders.

That contrasted to Buffalo's last two drafts under former coach Mike Mularkey, a former offensive coordinator. During the Mularkey years, Buffalo spent 10 of 12 picks on offense.

While it would appear Jauron's first draft reflects his vision of what it takes to win in the NFL -- defense first -- Jauron said that's not exactly accurate. He believes one unit isn't more important than the next. It just so happened that he inherited a Bills team that slumped to 29th in total defense last year and was hurting badly for reinforcements.

"I would say no because my vision is that you've got to be really good everywhere in the NFL to compete for a world championship," said Jauron, who coached a 13-3 Bears team in 2001 that allowed the fewest points in the NFL but was suspect offensively.

"You can't have a weakness and think you're going to challenge for a title. That's in the kicking game, that's on both sides of the ball, you need a lot of good players. You've got to be organized, disciplined and coach them well, all of those things, then you've got to be a little bit lucky on top of all that."

Jauron, who welcomed his draft picks during a mini-camp over the weekend, feels he laid a good foundation with this draft, but he's not predicting every player will be a star or a starter.

"I've never heard somebody come out after the draft and say they just had a lousy draft," he said. "You only draft the guys you like. But I really feel strongly that our personnel staff did a tremendous job in preparation, our coaches did, and we put it together with our best ideas and choices at the time and picked the best people we could. We're excited about getting it going. Some of them will show quicker than others, some will be more down the line, so we won't know for a while about the success of this class. It does take time to play itself out."

NOTES

--Aware that he stands to cash in on an even richer contract as an unrestricted free agent in 2007 thanks to the NFL's new labor deal, CB Nate Clements signed a one-year deal worth $7.2 million on Friday as Buffalo's franchise player. Clements, arriving from Orlando, Fla., signed the contract and was on the field for the start of a three-day mini-camp.

"Everybody understands how the franchise tag works, a player doesn't have to show up until training camp," he said. "But I wanted to get out here and show my face, see the guys. I definitely felt it was important."

After two months of lukewarm contract talks, Clements accepted the franchise tender after receiving what's believed to be verbal assurances that Buffalo won't slap him with the franchise tag next season. Under the new collective bargaining agreement, a player can be tagged twice.

Asked if he has that promise, Clements smiled and said, "Well, we'll see. We'll see what's happening."

Clements said he'd like to sign a long-term deal with the Bills, and it's in the club's best interest to lower that $7 million-plus salary-cap figure for this season. The Bills have until July 15 to sign him and still retain their franchise tag so that it can be used on a future player. But while he'd like the security of a long-term deal, Clements - if he can stay healthy and post another good year - could hit a mother lode of cash next year.

Player salaries are now linked to a percentage of total NFL revenues and will be soaring in future years. He could easily top Champ Bailey's cornerback-record deal with Denver (seven years, $63 million, $18 million guaranteed). The franchise tender for Clements rose by $1.3 million when the new CBA was struck.

"At first I had mixed feelings about it, but I tried to put myself in their shoes and see how I would manage a player of that caliber, and I take it as a compliment," Clements said of being tagged in February. "I'm definitely excited to be back."

Clements, the Bills' first-round pick in 2001, has 20 career interceptions and six returns for touchdowns. New Bills coach Dick Jauron is glad to have him, even if it's just for one year. "I was pleasantly surprised. It happened in the last couple of days and it's really good for Nate and it's a good thing for us to have him in here working," Jauron said.

--New general manager Marv Levy said that in every instance a consensus was reached among himself, assistant GM Tom Modrak, coach Dick Jauron and owner Ralph Wilson before a player was selected in last week's draft. But like Bill Polian, John Butler and Tom Donahoe and other Bills GMs before him, Levy is finding out the hard way that at the end of the day, he's the one who will get credit or blame for how the draft turns out. Analysts were giving Levy Cs and Ds for his first go-around even though the draft could yield a batch of defensive starters.

"This isn't my draft," Levy said. "Everybody had input. We reach a consensus and you can see the sentiment heavily in a direction. When I sense that, and even if it's a little (hesitancy), I say, 'Let's go with that.' That's always the way I've been used to operating and that's what we do now. But it's not my draft, it's the draft of the Buffalo Bills."

--When he was coach of the Chicago Bears, Dick Jauron's defense led the NFL in fewest points allowed in 2001. The Bears repeated the feat last year under Lovie Smith. Jauron's 2000 draft brought in Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Urlacher and Pro Bowl safety Mike Brown with his first two picks, a daily double he'd love to see repeated for Buffalo with the Donte Whitner and John McCargo as his first two picks last weekend. Urlacher was the ninth overall choice; Whitner the eighth overall. Urlacher, a freakish athlete who played outside linebacker, safety and wide receiver at New Mexico, is a five-time Pro Bowler.

"We thought there'd be a good chance Brian would be there (with the ninth pick)," Jauron recalled for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. "We knew that if he were, there'd be no doubt he'd be our pick. It turned out pretty good. He's unbelievable, but he's a rare player. Great skill ... a great-effort guy ... a great person. That was a no-brainer for us."

--The Bills may have wound up with one of the steals of the 2006 draft in South Carolina FS Ko Simpson. Buffalo acquired the consensus all-SEC pick and All-American in the fourth round with the 105th overall pick despite the fact many scouts had him with first- or second-round grades. Simpson, 6-1, 201, has the potential to eventually replace Troy Vincent as Buffalo's starter in center field. So why did he slide to the fourth round? His lack of experience was a factor. Simpson played just two seasons of college football after sitting out the 2003 season because South Carolina ran out of scholarships and the Rock Hill, S.C. native had his heart set on playing for the school. With just two seasons of college football experience, he's technically a redshirt sophomore. Another concern for NFL teams was his 40-yard dash time (4.47 seconds) and his reserved personality. Some scouts wonder if he can take command of a huddle like a free safety needs to. Simpson wasn't shy about saying he's ready to prove his critics wrong.

"I think it prepared me well," he said of playing in the SEC. "I played in one of the best conferences for college football and we practiced every day against good players. I hope that transfers to the next level. I really feel I made the right decision and I'm going to prove it."

--Bills veteran OL line coach Jim McNally had a hand in Buffalo selecting Virginia T Brad Butler. Call it a tip from an old friend. The 6-7, 309-pound Butler is represented by Integrity Financial Management. The company's president is Pro Football Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz. Munoz, a tackle, was coached during his All-Pro days with the Cincinnati Bengals by McNally. All the dots connected when the Bills took Butler with their fifth-round pick.

--Keith Ellison, Buffalo's sixth-round pick, started his career as a 195-pound SS at San Diego State and finished it as a 230-pound OLB at Oregon State. He'll probably bulk up to about 240 pounds after a year in Buffalo's strength and conditioning program. Ellison was incredibly productive in college, finishing his two-school career with 315 tackles, five fumble recoveries, nine interceptions, 25 1/2 tackles for losses, 10 pass breakups and nine sacks. Perhaps his most impressive statistic is his score of 36 on the Wonderlic intelligence test. "It wasn't easy but I've always done well on tests," Ellison said. "Every team is looking for intelligent players. There is a lot to know and to learn."


MIAMI DOLPHINS

Though he was only given a tryout, former Virginia Tech quarterback Marcus Vick was the main attraction at last weekend's Dolphins rookie mini-camp.

After not being selected in the NFL draft, the Dolphins invited Vick to participate in the three-day camp despite the ample baggage he carries from Virginia Tech.

Vick was kicked off his college team in January for what the university called "a cumulative effect of legal infractions and unsportsmanlike play." Vick, who was suspended for the 2004 season, stomped an opposing player during the 2006 Gator Bowl and was found guilty of marijuana possession and serving alcohol to minors during his time at Virginia Tech.

Dolphins coach Nick Saban said he is well aware of Vick's previous problems but was willing to give him a chance to participate in the mini-camp.

"I've always been concerned about any player that has any issues and how that will affect his ability to get on the field," Saban said. "The bottom line is that if a player has issues that affect him getting on the field, that's pretty significant because those things kept him from being able to perform. If football is important to him and being a good player is important to him, that's certainly a factor in making a decision as to whether you want him on the team or not.

"We're looking for numbers of guys to look at in this camp. It's really about us trying to give people opportunities. That's not to say we don't continue to evaluate all their issues. Maybe that's why we bring certain people in to evaluate in this camp, to be around them for three days to find out what we think of them at people and what kind of ability they truly have and whether their upside is worth the investment you have to make to see if they can contribute to their team."

The younger brother of Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick, Marcus Vick did show flashes of talent while at Virginia Tech, completing 61.2 percent of his passes for 2,393 yards with 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions on a team that reached the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.

Saban received an endorsement of Vick from Hokies coach Frank Beamer before the mini-camp.

"I think Marcus Vick, and I think anyone at Virginia Tech will tell you this, is a tremendous competitor," Saban said. "Maybe sometimes he hasn't channeled his emotions in the right direction as a competitor. That's probably a maturity issue and something he obviously needs to work on because there are consequences for that. Making good choices and decisions about what you do on and off the field is really important in being a part of an organization.

"I haven't had a sit-down with him because we want to see and evaluate what he does in this camp before we make any decisions about what we'll do. But that will be part of the process in evaluating him."

Even if Vick is signed by the Dolphins, there is seemingly a chance that he may not play exclusively at quarterback.

"We certainly thought he had the potential to contribute at some position," Saban said. "We just don't bring people here to practice coaching them. They have to have something to offer. Some have a lot to offer athletically and some other issues create some concerns about whether they're people you want on your team and how they affect the team chemistry and represent this organization."

NOTES

--Regardless of whether he plays in the Canadian Football League this year, Dolphins coach Nick Saban has made it clear that suspended tailback Ricky Williams is in the team's plans for the 2007.

"We want Ricky back on our team," Saban said. "Ricky doesn't need to go to Canada to prove anything to us. It's something that I'd certainly consider discussing with him and give him the opportunity to do it if it's something that he needed to do or really wanted to do.

"He doesn't need to do it for us. If we just wanted to trade him it would probably be a good thing for us to say, 'Go up there and gain 2,000 yards and we'll get rid of you.' But that's not our philosophy on it, that's not how we feel about it and that's not what we want to do."

Williams is being heavily courted by the Toronto Argonauts for a one-season stint while he serves a yearlong drug suspension in the NFL. Agent Leigh Steinberg said last week that Williams had an interest but wanted Saban's blessing before pursuing any opportunities. The Dolphins also would have to give Williams a waiver to play in the CFL.

--DE Jason Taylor escaped serious injury last week in a road-rage incident with another motorist near his home in Davie, Fla.

Taylor suffered a small stab wound after allegedly being assaulted by Redmond Charles Burns. The 25-year-old Burns was arrested on three charges, including aggravated battery/hate crime for allegedly spewing racial slurs at Taylor during the assault.

"My wife and I were the victims of an unfortunate incident last night but we are both fine," Taylor said in a statement released by his charity foundation. "I truly appreciate everyone's concern."

--The Dolphins waived Alex Holmes, who was the team's third-string tight end for eight games in 2005.

--Saban said the Dolphins hope to have a definitive diagnosis of Texas defensive tackle Rodrique Wright by the end of the mini-camp. A seventh-round draft choice, Wright has a torn rotator cuff that will likely require surgery.

--Dolphins first-round draft choice Jason Allen worked at safety and nickel cornerback during the mini-camp. Fourth-round choice Joe Toledo, who played tackle at Washington, was used at guard.


NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

NOTES

--Nearly four months later, the bad throw still bugs Tom Brady.

Flipping channels in bed recently, the Patriots' quarterback happened to come upon his news conference previewing the divisional-round playoff game in Denver. "The last thing I say, to the last question about (Broncos CB) Champ Bailey, I think I said, 'Yeah, I'm really going to make sure I'm careful when I throw in his direction,' and I walked off," Brady recalled. "I'm sitting there, lying in bed, thinking, 'Of all the things to say.' Sure enough, Champ took one 103 yards."

Trailing 10-6 late in the third quarter, Brady was intercepted in the end zone by Bailey on a third-and-goal from the Denver 5. Bailey brought it back 100 yards, all the way to the Patriots' 1 before being blasted out of bounds by tight end Benjamin Watson. Mike Anderson scored on the next play, and the Broncos went on to a 27-13 win, handing Brady his first career playoff loss after 10 wins.

"It was a tough way to end the year," Brady said. "I think we were really playing at a much higher level than we were earlier in the season. We were a very confident team. We just ... laid an egg out there, and I was a huge part of that."

--Laurence Maroney was indisposed, but not completely unavailable.

Turns out the Minnesota running back was tending to some business on draft day when the Patriots called his cell phone to tell him that he was their guy with the 21st overall pick.

"My sister had my phone, and one of the little kids ran into the bathroom and said, 'The phone is for you' and I picked up the phone and the guy was like, 'We're on the clock right now. We're thinking about drafting you. How do you feel about that?" Maroney recalled. "It caught me off guard."

Maroney eventually made it back out to the TV.

"I was on hold for a minute and I was just looking at the TV screen and there were a lot of commercials on, so they must have been talking about it. Then (coach Bill Belichick) came on and was just breaking it down to me, you know, 'We drafted for you to come in and compete and help the team out.' And he was like, 'How do you feel about being a Patriot?' And I said, 'I feel good about it.' Then it came across the TV that New England drafted me and it was a great feeling."

--Fifth-round pick Ryan O'Callaghan, a 6-7, 344-pound offensive tackle from California lasted longer than he thought he should have in the draft. While waiting for his phone to ring he commiserated with a former teammate who knew exactly how he felt.

Former Cal QB Aaron Rodgers was invited to New York for the draft last year because he was expected to be one of the top selections. Instead, he slid all the way down to No. 24, where the Green Bay Packers tabbed him to be Brett Favre's backup.

"That's a big wait, especially when you're supposed to go in the first round like him," said O'Callaghan, who said he and Rodgers spoke several times by phone over the weekend. "It was a little longer wait for me, but it's still rough. He was on national TV and everyone was sitting there staring at him. He was the only one left (in the Green Room, where the top prospects wait). It's a little rough because I was talking to him while he was sitting there last year in the same position. I feel what he was feeling; I feel the same thing now."

--Raised in Alabama and schooled in Gainesville, Fla., second-round pick Chad Jackson will have to learn to bundle up when the New England winter sets in. The Florida receiver said that won't be a problem. In fact, he's had exposure to the elements in Foxboro, Mass., before.

"I can play in any type of weather," he said. "I've played in cold weather before. I was up here when they played the Colts couple of years ago in the playoffs. I was up here in the cold watching the game with a couple of friends of mine."

The Patriots hosted the Colts in the AFC championship game following the 2003 season and again in the divisional round after the 2004 season; it was unclear which game Jackson attended.

"It's something I could get used to," he added. "It's a lot of fun, to go out there score a couple of touchdowns and makes some snow angels or something like that."

Playing in the Big Ten, top pick Lawrence Maroney has more experience with snow games, at least on the road. Although Minnesota plays its home games indoors at the Metrodome, Maroney pointed out, "I had to go to class in this cold weather."


NEW YORK JETS

When the new Jets' management reviewed draft prospects, they didn't merely look at 40 times and combine grades.

"It's not a coincidence," general manager Mike Tannenbaum said when asked about the overriding trend of the Jets' 2006 draft class, the fact that all are considered to be very solid citizens.

"Toughness, competitiveness and leadership are all attributes that we want as many of our players to have as possible," Tannenbaum said. "We're going to keep looking at those attributes into undrafted free agency. Going back to February with our veteran free agents, those attributes are consistent. Eric (Mangini) and I are (committed) in that position. We think it's a common thread in successful organizations, not only professional football but other sports as well. It's something we're committed to."

While other teams and organizations do look at that sort of thing, they don't always put such a premium on it. The bottom line is this: don't expect the Jets to sign another player such as Quincy Carter anytime soon. Instead, they are going to look for hard-working types who are just as solid off the field as they are between the hash marks.

Though neither Mangini nor Tannenbaum has talked about it, this probably is why they chose not to retain standout defensive end John Abraham, who once had a DUI arrest and is known for being outspoken.

"One of the things we did early on," Mangini noted, "is put up the intangibles we are looking at in the pro personnel room and in the draft room. We said, 'There are the types of people we're looking for: smart, tough, hard-working, competitive, selfless, and football was important.' So those things are on the board, so that every time we look at a player they need to fill out that part of the questionnaire to see if those characteristics match up.

"I think it's something that is really important and when games and seasons get tough, that is when guys with character usually win out," Mangini said. "If you can combine character with talent you go from the good player to the great player."

Not surprisingly, Mangini's philosophy was formed at New England.

"I've seen it with David Givens and Tom Brady, who are two guys that weren't very good their rookie year," Mangini said. "But they had all those other things plus ability and their work ethic was unparalleled. They turned themselves into the great players they are today and after witnessing that, to me that is what wins out in the end. It's good people, ability, structure and planning."

That may be true, but there also needs to be talent. The Jets and everyone else will find out in the coming years whether the first Tannenbaum-Mangini draft class has enough of that tangible quality, and whether an abundance of good character can make up for the 53 1/2 career sacks that were traded to Atlanta in March.

NOTES

--The drafting of both Oregon's Kellen Clemens in the second round and projected "slash" player Brad Smith of Missouri in the fourth round doesn't bode well for Brooks Bollinger, who finished last season as the Jets' starting quarterback but already had likely been pushed to third on the depth chart after the acquisition of Patrick Ramsey from the Redskins.

"Stockpiling quarterbacks is good business," general manager Mike Tannenbaum said. "We have four quarterbacks on our active roster, and this is not to say any one of them is on the block or we're going to cut anyone. We now have better depth at the position."

--The Jets continued to keep QB Chad Pennington's medical progress from rotator-cuff surgery a closely-guarded secret. "We're going to have to see where we are once we get going," coach Eric Mangini said. "He's progressing and to say whether he will play in (the June) mini-camp wouldn't be fair at this point."

General manager Mike Tannenbaum said, "he may do some things, but the medical staff will have a say in what he can do."

It is believed that Pennington will attempt to increase his amount of throwing during a voluntary passing camp in late May, but it's not known how much he will throw.

--Florida State RB Leon Washington has been listed as 5-foot-9 and 5-8 in various places. After being drafted by the Jets, the fourth-round pick admitted being smaller than that.

"Well, I played at Florida State University as a 5-7 guy with 5-9 guys," Washington said. "If you think about some of the great running backs in the league, most of them are not taller than 5-11. When it gets down to it, I want to let my game speak for itself."

"Usually smaller guys don't block good," coach Eric Mangini said, "but when we saw his tape, he is incredibly tough for his size, explosive (and) catches the ball out of the backfield. We talked to the people at Florida State and they loved his leadership and what he brought to the table."

Related: Bills Report | Jets Confidential | Dolphin Digest | Patriots Insider

 


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