AFC East: QB Concerns For Everyone

Notes from around the AFC East. The Bills have concerns at QB and now RB... again. The Miami Dolphins QB situation is improving as Dante Culpepper looks to be on track for a possible September return. The New York Jets QB situation is also reportedly improving as Chad Pennington's recovery is progressing, that is if you believe the team's comments on the matter. Get inside for the full report.

    BUFFALO BILLS     Bills :: Jets :: Dolphins :: Patriots

Another organized team activity and still no Willis McGahee.

The Bills completed their second consecutive week of organized training activities at Ralph Wilson Stadium with several veteran no-shows, but McGahee kept his streak alive of being the only player not to have attended at least one off-season practice under the club's new coaching staff.

McGahee skipped two voluntary mini-camps in March and April. There is one more voluntary four-day organized training activity next week, followed by a three-day camp June 12-14 that is mandatory.

Coach Dick Jauron has expressed disappointment with McGahee's refusal to participate in his off-season drills but said he's not angry at the mercurial fourth-year running back who is a key cog in his rebuilding plans for Buffalo.

"You know what? If he's here, we'll coach him and if he's not we won't," Jauron said. "It's voluntary time. I'm not too worried about it to be honest. We wish he were here. We've called him, we've talked to him, but he's not here. He's chosen not to be here."

In fairness to McGahee, he's not the only veteran electing to enjoy his time off. London Fletcher, Nate Clements and Chris Villarrial are among others who also skipped the first two organized training activities. A total of 11 vets missed the first OTA week.

But nobody's stayed completely away like McGahee, whose appearance as a guest host for three days last week on the NFL Network while his teammates were working in Buffalo did potentially ruffle some feathers.

"Once they choose not to be here ... I have nothing to say about what they choose to do," said Jauron, careful not to make more out of the McGahee issue.

Certainly, were McGahee to skip the mandatory June camp, warning flares will be set off about an impending training camp holdout. McGahee is still playing under the terms of an incentive-laden deal he signed coming out of the University of Miami with a major knee injury. A first-round pick in 2003, McGahee has rushed for consecutive 1,100-yard seasons but his production tailed off badly last season (one 100-yard game in his last eight) and it's generally felt he and agent Drew Rosenhaus don't have a strong case for a re-negotiation.

Eight other running backs or fullbacks have been in attendance at Buffalo's OTAs and taking advantage of the extra repetitions with McGahee absent.

Veteran Joe Burns said coordinator Steve Fairchild's new offense is loaded with new terminology and McGahee is missing valuable time. But he feels McGahee will pick things up fast when he does decide to arrive.

"If it were the same offense as last year, I'd say he'd be fine, but anytime you can get together as a team it's a benefit," Burns said. "You've got to get things down to even have a chance to be successful. That's why we're using this time to learn the offense, get it down to a 'T.' But Willis is a very productive player. Once we get him and other guys in here, it will make our team that much better."

NOTES

--The issue of off-season practices remains a hot button with the player's union. Teams would like all sessions mandatory. "I'm not a big advocate of a whole month of voluntary/mandatory camps this time of year, but I do understand the importance of it," said Bills safety Troy Vincent, president of the player's association who was in attendance this week. "To each his own. It's voluntary. ... But this is what we talked about in the CBA extension. It will still be addressed. You have coaches and players that with all the OTAs, there is no longer an off-season. Coaches want rest, too. How many camps do you need? We have passing camps, running camps, fumbling camps ... start naming them. We all need rest and time away from the game and when you do come back, you're here and totally committed to the season."

--The Bills have selected Sunday, Oct. 1 as the game for Andre Reed's Wall of Fame induction at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Bills host the Minnesota Vikings that day. Reed was recently voted the 23rd member of the Wall. He's the team's career leader in receptions, yards and TDs.

--The Bills have signed well-traveled DB LaShaun Ward, who can also return kicks and punts. He spent the majority of the 2003 season with Kansas City on the Chiefs practice squad and 2004 on Oakland's practice squad.

--LB London Fletcher, always a snappy dresser, is celebrating one year in business for his retail fashion store in Shaker Heights, Ohio, a high-end suburb of Cleveland. The store specializes in hip-hop clothing for men and women.

--Former Bills LB Mark Maddox recently competed in the U.S. Open bowling championship of the United States Bowling Congress. Maddox, 38, appeared in three Super Bowls for Buffalo.


    MIAMI DOLPHINS     Bills :: Jets :: Dolphins :: Patriots

After months of anticipation, quarterback Daunte Culpepper will make his first public appearance at a Dolphins practice when the team holds its 2006 minicamp June 9 through 11 at team headquarters in Davie, Fla.

Because the Dolphins have closed their OTA practices to the media and public, the only update on Culpepper's recovery from three torn knee ligaments have come from teammates and coach Nick Saban. Culpepper isn't likely to participate in every passing drill, but all signs seemingly point toward his being ready for the September 7 regular-season opener against Pittsburgh.

The minicamp also will provide the first public glance at quarterback Joey Harrington, who was acquired last month in a trade with Detroit. Harrington is expected to start against the Steelers if Culpepper needs more recovery time.

But quarterback isn't the only position of interest at this minicamp. The Dolphins will take another step toward formulating their first-team offensive line, which could have a significant overhaul from last season even though all five starters are returning. Free-agent signing L.J. Shelton is slated as the new starting left tackle, but former starter Damion McIntosh could have a chance to unseat RT Vernon Carey for a first-team spot. The Dolphins may explore moving Carey to right guard and keeping Rex Hadnot at center, where he started the final three games last season in place of the injured Seth McKinney.

The Dolphins also need to solidify a secondary that will probably have three new starters from 2005 alongside returning CB Travis Daniels. Two free-agent acquisitions -- cornerback Will Allen (New York Giants) and strong safety Renaldo Hill (Oakland) -- are likely to start, while 2006 first-round pick Jason Allen should have the opportunity to start at free safety. Allen was very impressive during the team's rookie minicamp.

"I think at this point, everybody knows jobs are open," said Hill, who is likely to face strong competition for a starting spot from incumbent Travares Tillman. "But I think the biggest thing is everybody going out there and learning the different positions and just focusing on that. It's a teaching session for all of us. We know when (training) camp comes, the teaching gloves are off and we've got to go and fight for our positions."

NOTES

--Running back Ricky Williams finally became a member of the Toronto Argonauts, although the Dolphins don't seem thrilled about it.

It appeared Miami coach Nick Saban has strong reservations about allowing Williams to play in the Canadian Football League in 2006 as he serves a one-year NFL drug suspension. But Saban ultimately gave his blessing in light of Williams' desire to address some of his financial problems by playing for the Argonauts.

"We expressed to Ricky our concerns about playing in Toronto in 2006," Saban said in a team-released statement. "We are relying on assurances made by Ricky, his agent, the Toronto Argonauts, and the commissioner of the Canadian Football League that Ricky will return to the Dolphins in 2007."

The earliest Williams can be reinstated by the NFL is April 2007, agent Leigh Steinberg said. Williams has agreed to remain in the NFL's substance-abuse program during his suspension, which means he is subject to 10 random drug tests a month.

--Former Dolphins general manager Rick Spielman has returned to an executive role by becoming Minnesota's new vice president of player personnel.

Spielman was with the Dolphins from 2000 to 2005, being promoted to the general manager's position in 2004. Working hand in hand with coach Dave Wannstedt, Spielman came under fire as the Dolphins posted a 4-12 record in 2004. Spielman's decision to send a second-round draft choice to Philadelphia for quarterback A.J. Feeley was heavily criticized.

Spielman was stripped of much of his authority when Nick Saban was hired as Dolphins head coach in late 2004. Spielman and the Dolphins then parted ways last June, leading to him becoming an ESPN analyst.


 NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS     Bills :: Jets :: Dolphins :: Patriots

Building Depth Behind Brady

NOTES

--In an interview on WEEI radio in Boston, Patriots owner Bob Kraft evaded the question when asked about the status and length of coach Bill Belichick's contract. The last update came in 2003 when the team announced that Belichick had signed an extension taking him through the 2006 season.

"I think we've created a certain sense of stability here," Kraft said. "I think if you want to be successful in the NFL, having stability in an era of free agency -- whether it be coaches, players, organization -- (is essential because) when you're fortunate to do well, people are after you every way they can. The brilliance of this league is that it's geared to try to make everyone mediocre, 8-8. Those organizations that can manage a little bit better have a chance to do better.

"It doesn't guarantee anything because we know the toll that injuries can have on the business. (But) as a hopefully prudent manager, I try to do the best I can to create a sense of stability here. Bill is going into his seventh year. I think it's worked pretty well all around."

--Rookie kicker Stephen Gostkowski has a leg up on veteran Martin Gramatica in one important category -- he's a Red Sox fan.

"I was a big Bills and Sabres fan," said Gostkowski, who lived in Buffalo between the ages of 3 and 10. "We moved down to Mississippi and there's no sports down there. Some people were (New Orleans) Saints fans and that was about it. My dad always rooted for the Red Sox, so I was like, 'I like the Red Sox, too.'

"I always loved Roger Clemens. I followed him wherever he went. I've always liked him and he started out with the Red Sox. That kind of put two and two together. I've always loved Manny Ramirez. I love David Ortiz. Tim Wakefield ... I think he's one of the greatest pitchers there is. It's amazing watching him pitch. I just like (the Red Sox's) attitude and the way they go about things."

--Offensive lineman Randy Hand had one of the longest commutes to the team's rookie minicamp. Hand, a non-drafted free agent from Florida, slid behind the wheel of his Dodge pickup to get from Gainesville to Foxboro.

"I drove up to my grandparents' house in North Carolina," Hand said. "That took about seven hours. I stayed there for a day. Then Thursday I drove up to my agent's house in Connecticut. That took about 12 and a half to 13 hours. Then it was two hours from there to here."

Was it boring without any passengers?

I had a couple (of CDs)," Hand said. "It's definitely a long ride. I listened to the radio. I called my friends. I was trying to kill time."

--Jonathan Kraft, the team's vice chairman and president as well as the son of owner Bob Kraft, was recently given the prestigious Warner Award at Pop Warner's 46th annual All-American Scholar banquet in Orlando, Fla.

The younger Kraft has coached his 9-year-old son Harry's Pop Warner football team for the past two years. Jonathan Kraft told the Boston Herald that the diverse makeup of his son's team, which draws players from both the wealthy Brookline and the blue-collar Jamaica Plain suburbs of Boston makes coaching rewarding.

"It's more than just football," Kraft said. "(The players) form a bond around the game, and that's pretty special."

The Patriots were also named Pop Warner's NFL Team of the Year. Bob Kraft was on hand to accept that award.


 NEW YORK JETS     Bills :: Jets :: Dolphins :: Patriots

Chad Pennington's Shoulder Rehab, The Sequel, is proceeding as planned. At least that's what the Jets say.

Pennington took snaps and threw in both seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 portions of a voluntary practice, also known as an organized team activity, the Jets announced. The non-contact practice session was closed to the media.

While the flow of information from the Jets during the fledgling Eric Mangini regime has thus far resembled that of the Soviet Union during the Cold War, the Herm Edwards regime didn't release very many details last year, either, pertaining to Pennington's first comeback attempt from shoulder surgery.

The only comment that was released this time was a statement from Mangini in which he didn't address Pennington specifically.

Running back Curtis Martin, who turned 33 in May, also participated in the sessions. He, too, is attempting to make it back from an injury after having surgery on his left knee last December.

The Jets did not say how much Pennington, who had shoulder surgery last October, threw during the sessions.

Pennington wasn't made available to the media, but he had said two weeks earlier that he was "throwing every route we have in the playbook."

Reporters will finally get a chance to see Pennington throw on June 15, when the team begins a three-day mini-camp for both veterans and rookies. Also in attendance, of course, will be former Redskin Patrick Ramsey. Mangini has said there will be an open competition for the starting quarterback job, and for all starting positions.

The quarterback depth chart got a little less crowded as the Jets waived Kliff Kingsbury, who appeared in one game and completed one pass last season. Kingsbury played in NFL Europe during the spring.

NOTES

--No. 24 is back. No, not Ty Law, but Ray Mickens, who wore that number for the Jets for nine seasons before being released to make room for Law last August. Law was then given Mickens' old number.

The 5-foot-8 Mickens, who spent last season with Cleveland, figures to compete for time at nickel back and has always been a good stopgap starter for the Jets when asked to fill that role. He also is a good presence in the locker room.

--RB Leon Washington, a fourth-round draft choice by the Jets, admits to being 5-foot-7. Yet the 202-pounder still considers himself to be a physical player.

"Most guys my size have to play that way," the former Florida State standout said at the Jets' recent rookie mini-camp. "I just use my God-given abilities to the best of my ability and go out there and play tough, physical and fast. I'll do whatever I can to help the team out."

--WR Wayne Chrebet finally made it official, announcing his retirement after a storybook 11-year career because of the effects of numerous concussions. Chrebet, who was signed for three more years, was a team player until the end. Because he didn't officially announce and sign the papers until June, he avoided the Jets being hit with all of the cap value of his remaining contract this year.

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

 


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