Around The AFC East 5/12

Bills still concerned about improving defense ... The Dolphins are shuffling their line around ... Patriots DB expects big things in 2007 and the Jets look to a lesser known prospect to help them protect Chad Pennington.

Division Report as of 5/12/07

Bills :: Jets :: Dolphins :: Patriots

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

The Bills got more than a veteran defensive tackle to help with their run stuffing and pass rush when they traded with the Philadelphia Eagles for Darwin Walker this off-season.

They also inherited a contract squabble.

Walker has yet to visit Buffalo since the March trade that sent him and a conditional 2008 pick to the Bills and linebacker Takeo Spikes and quarterback Kelly Holcomb to the Eagles.

Philadelphia had opened talks with Walker -- who is coming off a good season in which he notched 36 tackles and eight sacks counting playoffs -- about a re-negotiation of his contract that has two years remaining on it.

But after hitting an impasse, the Eagles chose instead to deal him, signing free agent Montae Reagor in his place.

Walker's agent said the Bills made the deal with the knowledge his client wanted new contract terms.

The Bills, who don't discuss player contracts, are hopeful that Walker will join his new teammates at a mandatory team mini-camp June 11-13. That would allow the coaches to start installing their system with everybody in attendance while a new contract can be worked out.

The Walker issue is one of those sideshows that irritate coaches, turns off fans and opens team management up to second-guessers.

Dealing away Spikes and Holcomb directly impacted Buffalo's draft strategy, as they spent second- and third-round picks on a linebacker (Paul Posluszny) and quarterback (Trent Edwards). After losing London Fletcher-Baker in free agency, the Bills would've drafted a linebacker high anyhow, but the Spikes move made it an even more urgent need.

The Bills want Walker as part of a deep rotation of defensive tackles that also includes Larry Tripplett, Kyle Williams, Tim Anderson and Jason Jefferson. But a protracted holdout that lasts through the summer will throw those plans aside.

--The Bills put rookies, undrafted free agents and players lacking pension-credited NFL seasons through a three-day camp May 12-14 at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

While most eyes were focused on the club's two top picks, running back Marshawn Lynch and linebacker Paul Posluszny, two rookies the team is counting on as starters, these get-together sessions are most critical to the lesser-known players trying to make the club.

It's those players that help depth and are critical to a team winning and losing during the grind of a 16-game regular season.

One player bright on the radar screen is running back Dwayne Wright, drafted in the fourth round out of Fresno State with the 111th overall pick. Considering they had Lynch and veteran Anthony Thomas in the fold, and that linebackers and cornerbacks were still in need, Buffalo didn't seem a candidate to add another running back on the second day of the draft.

But coach Dick Jauron clearly had improving his 30th-ranked offense on the brain taking Wright in the fourth and then H-back Derek Schouman in the seventh round.

"I thought it was very important," Jauron said about adding four offensive players overall to his roster in the draft. "Privately I've said many times that the brunt of the success this team will have certainly doesn't fall totally on (quarterback) J.P. (Losman) but the focus will. In order to help him succeed, we need to make ourselves as good as we can around him and give him every opportunity to improve and have success."

By adding Wright, a bruising 5-11, 228-pounder who was eighth in the nation in rushing last fall with 1,462 yards and 11 touchdowns to go with 29 catches, Buffalo greatly improved its depth at running back. Wright will compete with Thomas, Shaud Williams and Fred Jackson for the No. 2 job behind Lynch.

Wright has all the tools to surprise people.

After rushing for 1,038 yards in 2003, he was set to join college football's top runners, but he tore up his knee less than six quarters into the 2004 season. He sat out the rest of that season and all of 2005 rehabilitating his knee while adding 10 pounds of muscle to his frame.

In 2006, he completed his inspirational comeback, earning second-team All-WAC honors. His season included running for a school-record 295 yards against Louisiana Tech.

"The injury itself was a long road for me," Wright said. "I had never gotten injured in football. There were a lot of naysayers but I also had a lot of support from my family and Fresno State and I just worked hard. I'm a competitor."

Married with two children, Wright -- who turns 24 in June -- brings a maturity level not normally seen in a rookie.

"Dwayne was very impressive at the Combine," Bills running back coach Eric Studesville said. "I think he gives you a complete back. He's physical enough to run inside the tackles and he does good things on the edge, catches the ball and picks up pass protection. I was really impressed with how he went about his business and how serious he was."

Wright would love to be part of a young 1-2 punch with Lynch, something that Travis Henry and Willis McGahee never evolved into in Buffalo's recent past. Few teams in today's game win with just one heavy-duty ball carrier.

"I met Marshawn a couple of times at the Combine and he's a great guy," Wright said. "He's fun to be around. He kept me motivated. I think it's going to be a great situation."


--ESPN analyst, former NFL quarterback and Buffalo native Ron Jaworski praised his hometown team for selecting Stanford QB Trent Edwards in the third round: "That's a value pick. J.P. Losman came on but it creates healthy competition in Buffalo, a team on the rise."

--Rookie S John Wendling, the team's sixth-round pick out of Wyoming, is a freakish athlete that the Bills figure can help their special teams while backing up both safety spots. The 6-1, 222-pound Wendling once jumped over a high bar set at five feet, six inches taking just two running steps. The feat was recorded on video and drew scouts to campus. "He's big enough to play strong and fast enough to play free," coach Dick Jauron said. "We're excited about working with that skill level and he's played well enough at the college level to deserve a long look. In our secondary, the numbers aren't that deep." After releasing Matt Bowen, the Bills had just two backup safeties, Coy Wire and Jim Leonhard.

--What's it about leaving the Bills that makes so many players happy? Add LB Takeo Spikes, who hasn't appeared in one playoff game in nine NFL seasons to the list. Upon learning he had been traded to Philadelphia, a perennial playoff contender this decade, Spikes told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he asked his agent: "'Is it too good to be true? Are you for real?' ... I knew once Philly stepped up to the plate, I was like, 'I'll see you later.' This is a prime-time opportunity. It was just a good situation."

--The Bills reportedly signed C Christian Gaddis of Villanova to a free agent contract while inviting Texas Tech DTs Ken Scott and Chris Hudler to mini-camp.

THEY SAID IT: "I'm not going to downplay myself, but I'm not going to downplay Adrian (Peterson) either. He's a great back and I had a wonderful time working out with him and building a friendship with him. I love him, but I've got to go with myself." -- Bills rookie RB Marshawn Lynch, the 12th overall pick in the draft, when asked if he felt he was the best RB available. Oklahoma's Peterson went to Minnesota at No. 7.

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

Vernon Carey's starting position on the offensive line wasn't the only thing that was different during Miami's recent minicamp.

Carey's attitude toward being shifted to left tackle from right tackle also had changed after he initially expressed trepidation in April about the possibility of making the switch. Carey, though, said he is approaching the move as "another challenge I'm willing to take on."

"It's going to push me to be a better player," said Carey, a two-year starter at right tackle. "I had a bad attitude about it a year or two ago. But now I just look at it like people think I can't do it ... Some people feel like I can but I'm willing to prove (other) people wrong."

One of those people who believes that Carey is capable of successfully making the shift is new Dolphins head coach Cam Cameron, who broached the switch with Carey after an April minicamp in which Anthony Alabi struggled manning the starting spot that opened in March when incumbent Damion McIntosh left via free agency to Kansas City.

Alabi, a 2005 fifth-round draft pick who has barely played in his first two NFL seasons, underwent arthroscopic knee surgery after that camp and didn't participate in the team's recent practices. The Dolphins also failed to select a tackle in the draft, instead adding two interior linemen in Hawaii's Samson Satele (second round) and Central Michigan's Drew Mormino (sixth).

A 2004 first-round pick, Carey was tried at left tackle as a rookie but struggled early and was quickly shifted to right tackle. Carey became a full-time starter at that spot in 2005 and has shown great improvement under the tutelage of offensive line coach Hudson Houck.

"When I see (Carey), I say, 'There's a big guy. I think he's a good guy. I think he cares,'" Cameron said. "I think it's important to him. And in my mind, if our quarterback does what he is capable of doing, then that is a big guy to get around. We are going to play him some in a two-point stance and we'll see what happens."

Because of increased match-ups against speed rushers, Carey said he plans to drop a few more pounds to play at 335.

"Being four or five pounds lighter will help me and further my career," Carey said.

--The shift of Vernon Carey to left tackle was just one of the major changes for Miami's offensive line at the team's May minicamp.

L.J. Shelton has moved from right guard to fill Carey's spot at right tackle. Chris Liwienski is now starting at right guard. Dan Stevenson is at left guard. Backup Joe Toledo was shifted from guard to tackle.

And the shuffling might not be done yet. The Dolphins also tinkered with using center Rex Hadnot at guard. That could lead to a position switch if 2007 second-round draft choice Samson Satele proves he is ready to start and is better suited to play center than guard.

Fittingly, new Dolphins head coach Cam Cameron calls the unit "a work in progress," which is the same cliche he frequently uses to describe his entire offense.

"There aren't too many lines out there that get to play together for two, three, four years," said Shelton, who joins Carey and Hadnot as the returning starters from 2006 following the offseason departures of left tackle Damion McIntosh (Kansas City) and left guard Jeno James (released; unsigned).

"The game really now is who can handle the transition. You better be able to step in and play with somebody new next to you."

Shelton proved his versatility six games into last season when shifted from left tackle to right guard, which is a position he had never played before. While he did a solid job in that role, the Dolphins believe Carey can capably handle the right tackle spot.

"If it was something I couldn't do, I might not be here," said Shelton, who has lost roughly 20 pounds in the team's off-season workout program. "I think the fact that I can play more than one position is only going to help me."

The same can be said for Liwienski, who started at three different spots on Arizona's offensive line in 2006. Stevenson, an undrafted college free agent from Notre Dame who joined the Dolphins last November, hasn't played in a regular-season game. But he is still further ahead that Satele, who played in a run-and-shoot system at Hawaii.


--RB Ricky Williams tested positive for marijuana again last month, according to several published reports. Williams, who was seeking to end a one-year drug-related suspension, now reportedly will have his reinstatement delayed on the advice of clinicians to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

--Daunte Culpepper said he will be healthy enough to participate in Miami's June minicamp after not being medically cleared for the first two camps while recovering from last November's knee surgery.

But Culpepper's future with the Dolphins remains in doubt as the franchise tries to hammer out a trade with Kansas City for quarterback Trent Green. During a recent radio interview with Kansas City radio station WHB (810-AM), Green said he wouldn't be returning to the Chiefs and that he is prepared to join the Dolphins.

It appears highly unlikely that the Dolphins will carry Culpepper and Green on the same roster, especially with Miami drafting Brigham Young quarterback John Beck in the second round and Cleo Lemon being tendered a one-year, $1.3 million contract as a restricted free agent.

--Nose tackle Keith Traylor didn't participate in the May minicamp after undergoing arthroscopic ankle surgery. That led to 2007 fourth-round pick Paul Soliai receiving extra snaps rotating with backup Fred Evans.

--Cornerback Andre' Goodman, a 14-game starter in 2006, re-injured his surgically repaired left shoulder on the first day of minicamp and was in a sling for the remainder of the weekend. The severity of the injury wasn't immediately known but the Dolphins do have depth at the position after switching 2006 first-round choice Jason Allen to cornerback from safety.

THEY SAID IT: "That's how guys learn most of the time -- from guys who are around. We didn't get a lot of help from the older guys when we came in. That's why I try to teach the younger guys when they come in. That's how guys get better." -- Dolphins left tackle Vernon Carey, who is trying to prevent the team's younger linemen avoid the same growing pains that marred his poor rookie campaign in 2004.

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

Three-plus months removed from a second surgery to repair a broken wrist that limited him throughout last season, Patriots cornerback Ellis Hobbs is looking toward the 2007 campaign with high hopes after an up-and-down sophomore season.

Hobbs battled through the September injury, playing with a cast and missing just a single game after the surgery. He started nine of 15 games and finished the year with 46 tackles and two interceptions. He then started all three postseason contests and may have played his best game of the year in the AFC title loss to the Colts. Hoping to be fully healthy by training camp, Hobbs looks to continue that upward trend this fall.

"My goal, going into the third year, is to be better than I was my first two years," Hobbs said following a recent workout at Gillette Stadium. "The thing I want to do this year is to be more consistent than I was last year. What you saw in the playoffs is how I want to play in every game, where you're going to get plays out of me consistently, every down, every series, every game."

Hobbs and his coaches would probably like to see the 2005 third-round pick make the developmental jump that Asante Samuel made in New England last season, one that saw the fourth-year corner tie for the NFL lead with 10 interceptions. According to Hobbs, Samuel's 2006 campaign should have ended in Hawaii.

"Asante ... the only thing he didn't get was a Pro Bowl, and I think he got hosed on that," Hobbs said.When Samuel's contract expired this offseason, the Patriots immediately designated him their franchise player. He has yet to sign his one-year offer sheet or a long-term deal with New England. That makes Hobbs the lone veteran returning starter at cornerback. If Samuel doesn't return, is Hobbs ready to assume the role of a No. 1 NFL corner?

"That's how I look at it all the time. Regardless of what the stats say, or whatever, if I'm on the field and I'm starting, I'm looking (to be) the go-to-guy," Hobbs said. "And I think everybody should look at it like that on defense."

Regardless of how the Samuel situation plays out, the Patriots defense will have a new look with the addition of free-agent linebacker Adalius Thomas, the most coveted player on the market this offseason. And on offense, several prized players have joined the team since free agency began in March.

Hobbs, the confident corner, says he's excited about the moves, but cautions against becoming overconfident.

"I think we're putting out money and we're getting great players. Guys want to come in here and they want to win," Hobbs said. "Nobody's thinking a lot about (money). You're getting a lot of these veteran guys in here, and they just want to win. We're on a great path right now, but I don't want to be a paper champ, where we (just) look good on paper ... we need to win (the Super Bowl) this time around. I'm not saying that's going to happen, but that's the motivation."


--The Patriots officially announced the signing of seven undrafted free agents prior to the team's May 12-13 rookie minicamp at Gillette Stadium. Boston College defensive back Larry Anam, Alabama-Birmingham linebacker Kyle Bissinger, Idaho State quarterback Matt Gutierrez, Northern Illinois tight end Jake Nordin, Rice running back Quinton Smith, Texas A&M linebacker Justin Warren and Texas-El Paso defensive lineman Zach West will join New England's nine draft picks at the two-day camp. Former Air Force safety Denny Poland will also reportedly be given a tryout at the camp.

--Tom Brady unknowingly created a media stir in Boston last week by getting photographed in New York City wearing a Yankees hat. The Boston Herald and various New England media outlets ran with the story that many likened to provincial sports treason. While Brady hasn't commented on his cap choice, Patriots team spokesman Stacey James did feel the need to comment on the latest chapter of the Red Sox/Yankees rivalry.

"Do I think he put a lot of thought into wearing a Yankees cap that day? I don't think so," James told The Boston Globe.

Couldn't that flippant approach to fashion lead to the two-time MVP wearing an opponents' hat in the future?

"That wouldn't go over very well," James said. "I can't think of any (Patriots player) who has a Dolphins or Jets or Bills (hat). Never seen one wear the Colts."

--Patriots second-year kicker and former University of Memphis pitcher Stephen Gostkowski will take part in an interesting promotion June 24 on "New England Patriots Night" at a Lowell (Mass.) Spinners minor league baseball game. Gostkowski will kick autographed footballs into the stands from the outfield grass during between-innings breaks.

"While most fans feel lucky to leave the ballpark with a four ball, Spinners fans will play the role of (Patriots kick returners) Laurence Maroney and Kevin Faulk by catching a kickoff from one of the NFL's best place-kickers," said Lowell Vice President/General Manager Tim Bawmann in a release. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

"Stephen was a perfect 8-for-8 in the playoffs, and I don't think he'll have much trouble hitting his mark at LecLacheur Park."

--Count running back Kevin Faulk among those intrigued by the possibilities of the Patriots' restocked offense. The versatile playmaker thinks the team's Laurence Maroney-led ground game and Tom Brady-paced passing attack should work in productive concert this fall.

"I think it's just going to help overall," Faulk said of the team's new talent, specifically at wide receiver. "(Our opponents) are going to have to respect the passing game as well as the running game. So it's going to be a real good thing."

THEY SAID IT: "They named a catch after this man, you know? You got Mossed." -- Patriots cornerback Ellis Hobbs regarding new teammate Randy Moss while referencing any reception in which a wideout gets vertical over a corner and pulls the ball away from the defender.

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

Jacob Bender spent his entire college career as a left tackle, but to have a realistic shot at making the Jets' roster, the sixth-round draft pick likely will have to switch positions, or at least learn another one.

Consider that 2006 first-round pick D'Brickashaw Ferguson already is entrenched at left tackle, and even though he needs to put on some weight after an uneven rookie season, the Jets certainly aren't giving up on him.

That means the 6-foot-6, 315-pound Bender needs to show versatility, just the way the Jets expect him to be able to.

"He did show position flexibility," Jets coach Eric Mangini said of Bender, who played at Nicholls (La.) State. "He has very, very good toughness. ... We'll work him in different areas and try to see where he fits best and where his best opportunity is."

Bender didn't have any scholarships offers from Division I-A football teams, although Marshall offered him a chance to walk on.

"I'm just here to prove them wrong," Bender said of the colleges that passed him by. "It doesn't matter what school you went to as long as you make it to the NFL."

Nicholls did play a game against Nebraska last season, and although the Colonels lost, 56-7, Bender acquitted himself on a few occasions when he was matched up against the Cornhuskers' Adam Carriker, the 13th overall pick in this year's draft.

In fact, Bender didn't allow a sack the entire 2006 season.

"I'm not going to say it's going to be easy. I'm not going to say it's going to be tough," Bender said when asked about making the transition to a different position in the NFL. "I think I'm able to play left, right, it doesn't matter. I'm athletic enough to adjust to different techniques used on either side."

He added that he's been "working hard in the weight room, building muscle. I know that I will definitely work hard enough that I will definitely play in the NFL and I know my strength is not a problem and it's going to keep increasing."

--Chansi Stuckey came to Clemson as a quarterback, but moved to wide receiver in his sophomore season. Later in his college career, he was elected captain by his teammates.

So based on those facts, it's not hard to understand why the Jets drafted Stuckey in the seventh round. He had the versatility and the character that the team prizes.

He also has some injury baggage. He broke the fifth metatarsal of his right foot in practice last October. He had a left ankle injury that sidelined him for two games as a sophomore in 2004 and his season ended with a concussion in the 2005 Champs Sports Bowl against Colorado.

Originally projected by most draft experts to be a potential third-round selection, concerns about his health and his speed cause Stuckey to drop all the way to the 235th overall pick.

"I didn't think I was going to be drafted this late," Stuckey said, "but I guess there were some concerns about my (right) foot."

He indicated that perhaps his time in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine caused teams to shy away from him. Stuckey ran a 4.61 in Indianapolis, but subsequently improved to a 4.48 at Clemson's pro day.

"I just want to thank the Jets' owners, the general manager (Mike Tannenbaum) and coach (Eric) Mangini for taking a shot on me," said Stuckey, who moved to wideout in 2004 at the behest of the Clemson coaching staff, so that he wouldn't be stuck behind quarterback Charlie Whitehurst, now with the San Diego Chargers.

Stuckey returned a punt 47 yards for a touchdown against Texas A&M in his junior season and also caught two touchdowns apiece against Duke and Florida State, thus becoming only the third Clemson player all-time (and the first since the 1940s) to account for a touchdown in four different ways (passing, rushing, receiving, punt return) during his Tigers' career.

Stuckey had 64 receptions for 770 yards that season and was named All-ACC. He repeated the honor in his senior season when he had 50 receptions for 700 yards despite missing three games. He became the first Clemson receiver since Perry Tuttle in 1980-81 to make All-ACC twice.

"We're obviously aware of it," Jets' general manager Mike Tannenbaum said of Stuckey's injury history. "Based on all the information we had, we're comfortable with the selection where we we're in the seventh round."


--Published reports said that the Jets and Miami Dolphins talked about a potential trade for LG Pete Kendall, who is scheduled to make $1.7 million this season but is reportedly looking for a raise after seeing several other offensive linemen get big free-agent contracts during the off-season. But nothing has happened yet.

--Chad Pennington told reporters in early May that he suggested to Jets management that they trade for Oakland WR Randy Moss. No other Jets players have subsequently commented on the issue, and some insiders believe that Jets management advised players not to talk about the controversial wideout.

--The NFL's new access policies have one measure that definitely is directed at the Jets, who refused to produce realistic depth charts last preseason under Eric Mangini, instead listing players in alphabetical order.

The memo reads, in part, "Every team must produce a credible weekly depth chart for the media beginning no later than the week of its first preseason game and then weekly through the end of its season. The depth chart must list starters and backups at each position. Listing players at each position on the depth chart in alphabetical order is prohibited."

The NFL also wants teams to make offensive and defensive coordinators available at least once every two weeks. The Jets only made their coordinators available once during the 2006 season.

THEY SAID IT: "I still have a lot to prove. Just because I got picked doesn't mean I made the team." -- OL Jacob Bender, who was selected by the Jets in the sixth round.

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

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