AFC East: News And Notes 5/27

Notes from around the AFC East. The Bills LB concerns may not be a thing of the past; The Miami Dolphins RB situation could be OK with just Ronnie Brown and the New York Jets QB woes eventually be solved by a new face. What are the Patriots doing?

Jets :: Dolphins :: Patriots

BUFFALO BILLS

Linebacker London Fletcher would have had good reason to be upset with the Bills front office for using the team's No. 8 overall pick in the draft on a strong safety and not a beefy defensive tackle.

After all, Fletcher would benefit more directly from a player that can keep blockers off of him, like Pat Williams and Sam Adams once did.

Williams left as a free agent after the 2004 season while Adams was benched last year and rendered ineffective as Buffalo's defense, ranked No. 2 in the league in 2004, crashed to 29th.

However, Fletcher had no problem with Buffalo passing on top-rated defensive tackles Brodrick Bunkley and Haloti Ngata and taking Ohio State's Donte Whitner. And it's not just because Whitner is a fellow Cleveland native and he knows him well.

"It's not hard to argue with," Fletcher said. "When you look at the Ohio State team -- and me being from Ohio and a fan, I watched Ohio State a lot -- (linebacker) A.J. Hawk received a lot of attention but Donte Whitner made as big of an impact on that defense.

"Turn on the tape and he was always around the football. He has a suddenness about him and he plays with an attitude. He's mean on that field. Yeah, we need defensive line help but I think the organization knows what they're doing. They felt they could get the defensive lineman they needed later in the draft and Donte was just too good to pass up here."

Buffalo did land a defensive tackle later on, moving up to get North Carolina State's John McCargo with the 26th pick in the first round, and added LSU's Kyle Williams in the fifth round, two players who fit the Tampa Bay-style Cover-2 defensive scheme Buffalo is adopting.

Add in the run-stuffing and playmaking ability of Whitner, and the Bills are instantly better on defense, Fletcher said.

"Having played in that Tampa Bay system, I know he's going to be that John Lynch type of hitter for us in the secondary against the run," Fletcher said. "He's a very focused, mature kid in the weight room. He's a guy you can ink in the starting lineup for the Bills for years to come."

Fletcher liked playing with veteran SS Lawyer Milloy the past three years, but he also had to concede that Milloy's dwindling speed hurt the Bills from a scheme standpoint. Having a strong safety that played mostly in the box, unable to get back in coverage, limited Buffalo's ability to disguise coverage.

That won't happen with Whitner, whose 40-yard dash times are consistently in the 4.4-second range.

"He has an attitude of a Lawyer Milloy, he plays with a mean streak, but he's faster," Fletcher said. "I know there was talk of him possibly playing corner, so you know he has the athleticism to cover tight ends or the slot receiver, depending on what we do with our blitz package. Donte is a tremendous addition to our defense, making plays in coverage or being that eighth man in the box, and I'm sure we'll use him on blitzing, because he's very adept at that, too."

NOTES

--The Bills were elated to land defensive backs Ashton Youboty in Round 3 and Ko Simpson in Round 4. Each could have been picked in the first or second round and critics wouldn't have raised an eyebrow. Why did they fall? "Maybe we're just smarter than everybody else," Bills scout Joe Haering said with laugh. "You look at our board, and we feel we have them in good order, and then someone falls. It's need and fit into a system. Some people play more zone, or two-deep, and are looking for a different player. When looking for a player, you grade him as an athlete and a college player but also how he fits your team."

--The Bills are eyeing RB Fred Jackson as a possible No. 2 back behind Willis McGahee. The 6-1, 210-pound Jackson enjoyed a strong year in NFL Europe for the Rhein Fire and was named Offensive Player of the Week for a 22-carry, 154-yard effort against Cologne. On Rhein's first play from scrimmage, Jackson raced down the field for an 80-yard touchdown, the third-longest rushing play in NFL Europe history. The Coe College product finished the season ranked second in the league with 731 rushing yards and was one of only two players with 1,000 yards from scrimmage (1,048 yards). He arrived from Europe this week to take part in organized team activities in Orchard Park.

--The Bills are conducting the first of three consecutive organized team activities this week. Rookie draft picks, per NFL rules, can't participate until after their schools' exams are finished. Top pick Donte Whitner and third-round pick Ashton Youboty of Ohio State likely won't participate until after June 8.

--Coach Dick Jauron on players participating in off-season programs: "It's critical, and I suspect everyone feels that way around their off-season program. I have a lot of faith about what our guys do (on their own), but we want our guys to be in our program, doing the things we do. We feel it benefits them."

--Bills Pro Bowl punter Brian Moorman, a three-time national champion and 10-time All-American in track at Pittsburg (Kan.) State, was inducted into the NCAA Division II Track and Field Hall of Fame this week.

--WR Kyle Smith, son of ex-Bills assistant GM A.J. Smith, now of the San Diego Chargers, has signed a free gent contract with the Minnesota Vikings. Kyle Smith starred at Youngstown State, catching a team-high 37 passes for 482 yards and five TDs as a senior. He's also a skilled punt return specialist.


MIAMI DOLPHINS

For the first time since high school, Dolphins running back Ronnie Brown will truly be the man in the spotlight.

Brown was sorry to hear about Ricky Williams' one-year suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse program for the fourth time, but excited about silencing detractors who have said he only flourishes in a two-back system.

"At the same time, I was excited about getting to do a few more

things," Brown said. "I think that it was helpful last year to have someone like Ricky that I could learn from and, at the same time, split carries with, ease into it and get the feel for it. It has made me more comfortable."

Williams gained 743 yards on 168 carries last year, while Brown had 907 yards on 207 carries with four touchdowns in his rookie season. While at Auburn, Brown mostly served as either Carnell Williams' backup or partner, starting 21 of 47 games.

Brown, who also is an outstanding receiver, had 32 catches for 232

yards last year. With Pro Bowl quarterback Daunte Culpepper behind center, Brown may finally prove that he can be a headliner, and not just a co-star.

The Dolphins may still be shopping for a backup for Brown, and apparently have shown interest in Saints tailback Michael Bennett, who isn't thrilled about backing up Deuce McAllister and rookie Reggie Bush. For now, the Dolphins have Sammy Morris, Travis Minor and Kay-Jay Harris as potential backups, as well as college free agent Gerald Riggs, Jr., son of former NFL star running back Gerald Riggs.

NOTES

--Coach Nick Saban said that it's too early to determine what position rookie free agent Marcus Vick would play, but the logjam at quarterback seems too rule out that role for Michael Vick's kid brother.

"He's got a lot of natural ability and a lot of natural instinct," Saban said. "Last Sunday where we played him almost exclusively at wide receiver at mini-camp, you would never know the guy had never played wide receiver before by the way he ran routes."

Saban plans to try Vick as a punt returner as well as under center for occasional shotgun runs, a la former Steelers quarterback Kordell 'Slash' Stewart.

--The Ricky Williams CFL watch continues, as the Dolphins still haven't given the Toronto Argonauts permission to sign the suspended tailback to play this season.

Apparently, the Argos are in the process of collecting signatures from the owners of other CFL teams that will assure the Dolphins that despite having Williams for an option year, no one in the CFL will take him, and that they'll return him to the Dolphins after the season.

Meanwhile the Argonauts have opened training camp without Williams, who turned 29 on Sunday. Clearly, the Dolphins, who own Williams' rights for near minimum wage in 2007 and '08, don't have much to gain by allowing him to play in the CFL. Injuries are a factor, but they may be risking upsetting the flaky Williams by not allowing him to alleviate some of his financial burden, which includes the $8.6 million still owed to the Dolphins for breaching his contract when he retired before the 2004 season, as well as money needed to support his soon-to-be four children.

--Oft-injured linebacker Eddie Moore has been sent to Birmingham, Ala., to consult with Dr. James Andrews after failing a physical last week that nullified a trade with the New Orleans Saints for linebacker Courtney Watson. Saban said he'd give Moore two more weeks to rehabilitate his surgically repaired knee before deciding on his status.


NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

NOTES

--Patriots owner Robert Kraft is one of the most well-respected and influential leaders in the NFL. As such, his opinions on all things league related carry a great deal of weight. Prior to last week's owners meetings in Denver, Kraft voiced his support for an NFL return to the Los Angeles market. That support includes backing a suggestion that was promoted by California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger that the region could actually support two franchises.

"Personally, I think the city of Los Angeles and Orange County could host two teams," Kraft told the Boston Globe. "By 2025, California will have one-sixth of the country's population. When we met with the mayors, I was very impressed by both of them. I do advocate for two teams in Los Angeles, one NFC and one AFC. Others disagree, but it's a different world out there now."

The NFL hasn't had a franchise in L.A. since the Raiders moved back to Oakland for the 1995 season, a move Kraft voted against at the time.

Kraft also believes getting back in the L.A. market for Super Bowls would be a huge positive for the league.

"Climate-wise, glitz-wise, L.A. should become the home base for the Super Bowl every three years," Kraft told the Globe. "There are tremendous possibilities for the league there. California is so important for us.

"You combine Super Bowls with owning a franchise in a city like L.A., and I can tell you, I'd be excited about being there. I don't think we can turn our backs on such a large portion of America. That area has such a multiracial mix. It's actually become the face of America."

--Speaking of Hollywood, former University of Miami football star and WWE wrestling champion Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson recently revealed that he's set to star in a Disney movie about the Patriots. In the movie The Rock would play the Patriots' worshipped quarterback (sound like Tom Brady?) who is quickly thrust into the role of father (that's where fiction deviates from reality).

"I'm embraced by the city," The Rock told the Boston Herald of his character in "Daddy's Girl." "I'm single and on top of the world. And on my doorstep arrives my 8-year-old daughter."

While the Patriots are on board with the project and would reportedly allow Disney to use the team's facilities for shooting in July, the NFL has yet to sign off on the deal.

"We're in advanced discussions with Disney," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told the Herald.

--Eugene Wilson's 2005 season ended very differently from his first two years in the NFL. In some ways the differences were good. In others they were very disappointing.

Wilson had the good fortune to win the Super Bowl in his first two NFL seasons, something very few people can claim. But in winning those Super Bowls, Wilson suffered severe injuries, a broken arm in Jacksonville in 2004 and a torn groin in Houston as a rookie.

So while his third season ended with a disappointing playoff loss in the divisional round in Denver, the upside is he headed into the longer than usual off-season healthy. That's left him, as the only returning starter in the New England secondary, energized and refocused looking forward to 2006.

"This year I was able to take a break, relax and get away from football," Wilson said of his first professional off-season that didn't involve surgery and rehab. "Then you come back to it after a while and you just feel more energetic, more enthused to get back to work and get back to shape. Whereas when you get hurt and you are just going straight through, it becomes draining."

But while Wilson is in the midst of most stable off-season as a pro, most of the rest of the New England secondary remains up in the air. Rodney Harrison is recovering from a serious knee injury that cost him most of 2005, veterans Tyrone Poole and Duane Starks were released, and the Patriots once again have defensive backs fighting for roster spots.

"We go through this every year," Wilson said. "We come into training camp with a whole bunch of corners and safeties and as the season goes on we are bringing guys in (off the street). You'd never think of that at the beginning of the season. Right now, we are feeling real good about the guys that we have. But you never know what could happen."

Based on rumors and confirmed discussions between free agent Ty Law and Patriots coach Bill Belichick, one thing that could happen is the Pro Bowl cornerback's return to New England. While still a long shot, it's a return Wilson would welcome with open arms.

"Of course. Ty is a great player," Wilson said. "He was a great teammate and player for us. It'd be great to have him back."

But that, like the rest of the backfield beyond Wilson, remains a work in progress.

--Belichick isn't the biggest believer in positive reinforcement, but according to a report out of Minnesota, the coach is very pleased with his first impressions of Patriots first-round pick Laurence Maroney. In fact Belichick called Golden Gophers offensive coordinator Mitch Browning to share his initial reactions about Browning's former star pupil.

"(Belichick) said it's been a long time since he's had a running back accelerate through the hole like Maroney," Browning told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "He also said Laurence has fit in well with the other players."


NEW YORK JETS

Like many people, rookie quarterback Kellen Clemens hopes to go into the family business once his playing days are over. Except his family's business is a little different, considering they own a cattle ranch in the tiny town of Burns, Ore. (population 4,000).

"I've built fences, found cows, moved cows. There's a lot of riding horses. And I can rope -- I love roping," Clemens said. "And I hope to do it again, when I get too old to be playing this."

Clemens has stepped into a crowded roundup on the other side of the country, as he has joined a Jets' quarterback derby that includes rehabbing Chad Pennington, Redskins import Patrick Ramsey, 2005 incumbent Brooks Bollinger and perhaps even Brad Smith, when the rookie from Missouri is not learning his new position of wide receiver.

Asked if he could see himself as the starting quarterback, Clemens sounded confident, but not too brash.

"Oh I'd love to be (the starter) someday," he said after his first rookie mini-camp practice. "I think that's every quarterback's goal -- to play and ultimately to compete. ... (But) right now I'm just trying to learn the system and get to know the coaches and players."

Still, the leadership qualities that the Jets noticed in Clemens while scouting him were quite evident during the mini-camp. Despite the fact that Clemens was trying to quickly process a new playbook just like everyone else, he was able to direct other players into the right spots when they weren't lined up correctly.

The 49th overall pick in the draft isn't expected to step in right away, but the Jets obviously believe he is a potential starter in the future. As for now, coach Eric Mangini was typically vague about how quickly he expects Clemens to develop.

"I really couldn't say what expectations are in terms of a quarterback, a rookie playing," Mangini said. "There's a lot of time to go here and there's a lot of things that we have to go through, and that's really good competition at the quarterback position. What I liked out of Kellen this weekend is his presence and his ability to run the operation, that's been really positive."

Clemens might have been taken in the first round along with Texas' Vince Young, USC's Matt Leinart and Vanderbilt's Jay Cutler had he not suffered a broken fibula that cut short his senior season. Yet Clemens refuses to play the what-if game.

Asked if it would be satisfying to eventually become the best of the 2006 quarterback class, Clemens shrugged it off in typical fashion.

"All of that stuff is really long-term," said Clemens, who said he is 100 percent physically. "You can't really judge that and you can't even think about it for the first few years. Right now my focus is trying to get into that playbook and compete and help the Jets as much as I can."

NOTES

--What was known for quite some time was made official by the Jets, as they officially announced the re-signing of P Ben Graham to a six-year contract extension. The total worth of the contract is believed to be between $5 million and $7 million.

Among the players who finished the 2005 season on the Jets' roster, Graham probably sweated the least about whether he would be back. That's because the former Australian-rules player was originally discovered by current coach Eric Mangini.

--It was kind of like the Bill Parcells era for the media at the Jets' rookie mini-camp, only worse. Media members were allowed to watch only 45 minutes of mini-camp each of the first two days, and there was no media availability at all on the third day. New coach Eric Mangini is a Parcells disciple, but even under Parcells, media were allowed to watch the entire mini-camp practices, not merely a 45-minute window.

--The Jets' upcoming mini-camp for quarterbacks is totally closed to the media, so it will be interesting to see how much information leaks out. Obviously, the biggest questions will be about the health of QB Chad Pennington as he attempts a second comeback from shoulder surgery. He has expressed nothing but confidence and satisfaction in how his rehab has been going, but coach Eric Mangini has been quite guarded in his comments about Pennington.

 

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

 


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