AFC East: News and Notes
Division Report as of 6/17/07
Coach Dick Jauron admitted that optimism runs amok this time of year in the NFL.
But the Bills second-year boss honestly believes he'll field a team capable of surpassing the seven wins it achieved in his first season and challenge for a playoff spot.
"In terms of ability, we're significantly better," Jauron said.
New Buffalo Bill Darwin Wslker (R)
"We're bigger, faster and stronger, but it's got to translate to wins."
The Bills may indeed be bigger, faster and stronger but Jauron failed to mention they are also younger and hurting for proven leadership after jettisoning veterans like Nate Clements, Takeo Spikes, London Fletcher and Kelly Holcomb.
That made the time the team spent together during three weeks of organized team activities, followed by a three-day mini-camp, critical in terms of developing chemistry and feeling out who is going to step up and lead the locker room.
Offensively, quarterback J.P. Losman and wide receiver Lee Evans, who came into the league together in 2004, have put their stamp down. Defensively, fifth-year linebacker Angelo Crowell was outspoken about his readiness to step into the void left by Spikes and Fletcher. Even strong safety Donte Whitner, in just his second season, expressed a desire to take on a leadership role.
"Being in the starting lineup, you have to assume a leadership role and being here a while, it's automatically assumed," Evans said. "The guys expect you to be a leader for the new guys coming in and for yourself."
With Losman entrenched at quarterback and coordinator Steve Fairchild back, the Bills were able to install most of their offense and can hit the ground running when training camp begins in late July. Fairchild plans a much more expanded attack, showing off plenty of five-wide formations that included running back Marshawn Lynch, the team's No. 1 pick. With the additions of free agent linemen Derrick Dockery, Langston Walker and Jason Whittle, Buffalo hopes to be able to release its tight end into the pattern more and is hoping injury-plague Kevin Everett can emerge.
On defense, the Bills experimented with lots of personnel combinations at linebacker and cornerback. Second-year dark horse John DiGiorgio ran with the first unit over second-round pick Paul Posluszny but he's likely just keeping the seat warm.
Rookie to watch: Marshawn Lynch -- Cal's career leading rusher has a golden opportunity in Buffalo, stepping into the starting job made available when running back Willis McGahee was dealt to Baltimore. In drills, he clearly outclasses McGahee in terms of speed, hitting the hole, and catching the ball. Now it's up to the coaches to know how to use him.
Sudden impact: Jason Webster -- After an impressive spring, the eight-year veteran cornerback enters training camp as the favorite to win the starting right corner job vacated by Nate Clements (49ers). Webster, 30, has battled injuries and was released by Atlanta in May. Always a sure tackler, he was also impressive in coverage during drills, causing some talk that the Bills lucked into an answer for a glaring need.
--The Bills mandatory minicamp concluded without a Darwin Walker sighting.
With both sides dug in over a contract dispute, it's quite apparent that the former Philadelphia Eagles starter may never wear a Buffalo uniform.
"We'll just have to see where that one goes," coach Dick Jauron said at the conclusion of mini-camp. "I'm disappointed that he wasn't here. He's on our squad, but I'm going to be optimistic that he reports to us and plays, because he's a good football player."
The Bills traded for Walker and a seventh-round draft pick in exchange for linebacker Takeo Spikes and backup quarterback Kelly Holcomb.
Walker was in talks with the Eagles about a re-worked deal -- he's unwilling to play under terms of his existing agreement that is schedule to pay him $1.3 million this year and $1.4 million in 2008.
Perhaps sensing that talks would be dicey, Bills general manager Marv Levy and chief negotiator Jim Overdorf inserted language into the trade deal that said if Walker doesn't report by Aug. 5, they can return his rights to the Eagles for a sixth-round draft pick in 2008.
--The Bills announced training camp at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, N.Y. opens Thursday, July 26 with an 8:30 a.m. practice. There will be seven night practices this year.
--WR Lee Evans on QB J.P. Losman, who had a very impressive spring: "(Last year) was just a scratch. That was his first year playing a full season as the starting quarterback. As he gets more confident, more poised and knowing what he's seeing a lot quicker, you'll see a lot more from him."
--DT John McCargo, one of Buffalo's first-round picks in 2006, will spend the rest of the summer getting his left foot in shape in hopes of being able to practice when training camp opens at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, N.Y., in late July. McCargo, who broke his foot and missed the final 11 games of his rookie year, got to the point of taking part in some non-contact work with teammates by the time minicamp ended. "I do believe he will be (ready)," coach Dick Jauron said. "He's at least on schedule. I'm not certain that I will have him on the field all the time (at the start of camp). I'll just have to see how I feel about that because we're counting on John. We think he's going to be an outstanding player. But we'll be cautious."
--The Bills continue to leave no stone unturned trying to find tight end help, working out Siena College basketball player Michael Haddix. The 6-6, 255-pound Haddix, 22, led Siena in scoring last season and has some raw football skills. Many NFL tight ends, including San Diego star Antonio Gates, have basketball backgrounds. Haddix's dad, Michael, was a fullback for eight seasons for Philadelphia.
--Nobody misses RB Willis McGahee, who was traded to Baltimore, more than WR Roscoe Parrish, his teammate at the University of Miami. Said Parrish: "He welcomed me in when I first got here. Willis is my man; I played college ball with him but it's a business and you never know what's going to happen. You just have to come out and do what you have to do."
--The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that former Bills president and GM Tom Donahoe was a visitor during the Rams' minicamp doing consultant work. The paper said Donahoe isn't auditioning for a front-office job, which has been long rumored.
THEY SAID IT: "It went really well. We got a lot of teaching done. We got to look at a lot of the younger players that we didn't know. We took a long look at them. We like what we see. But I'm pretty certain you could go to 32 teams and you're going to hear the same thing." -- Coach Dick Jauron summing up his team's off-season workouts.
It will be an upset if rookie Paul Posluszny, the team's second-round pick out of Penn State and the two-time Bednarik Award winner as college football's top defensive player, doesn't open the season at starting middle linebacker.
But he's not being handed the job and John DiGiorgio, an impressive second-year pro who is used to beating the odds, isn't going down without a fight.
During OTAs and minicamp, DiGiorgio ran most of the time with the first unit, with Posluszny waiting his turn. DiGiorgio, 6-2, 225, made the Bills roster last year the hard way -- as an undrafted rookie out of Division II Saginaw Valley State. He tutored under London Fletcher and stood out on special teams, recording 12 tackles.
DiGiorgio's coaches and teammates rave how he's always where the ball is. That makes him a very live prospect to win the job vacated by Fletcher (Redskins) and means Posluszny will have to make the most of every repetition he gets in camp to earn more time with the first unit.
The massive facelift given to Miami's offense by new coach Cam Cameron and general manager Randy Mueller was completed in early June when quarterback Trent Green was acquired via trade from Kansas City.
Green became the fifth different projected starter added by the Dolphins this off-season. And with left tackle Vernon Carey, right tackle L.J. Shelton and right guard Rex Hadnot playing different positions on the offensive line than in 2006, the only returning starters at the same positions from last season are running back Ronnie Brown and wide receivers Chris Chambers and Marty Booker.
While such turnover will inevitably lead to growing pains once training camp begins, Miami's defense has remained largely intact with nine starters returning. The Dolphins also made Joey Porter their biggest off-season signing when they inked the ex-Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker to a five-year, $32 million contract that includes $20 million in guaranteed money. Although a sub-par 2006 season contributed to his Steelers release, the Dolphins are optimistic Porter can regain his form as one of the NFL's top pass rushers to help make reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Jason Taylor even more effective.
Rookie to watch: Abraham Wright -- The Dolphins selected Wright in the seventh round of April's draft in hopes he could make the conversion from defensive end at the University of Colorado to outside linebacker in Miami's 3-4 defensive scheme. The 6-foot-3, 240-pound Wright, who had 11.5 sacks as a senior, has shown promise in his new role during minicamps.
"When the pads come on, we'll have a better feel for him," Cameron said. "But his strength right now is pass-rush ability, and that is what we need from him this year. Anytime you take a guy that's had his hand on the ground and ask him to stand up and he has some coverage responsibilities, it is going to take a year or two to grow into that. But he is the right kind of guy.
"He's an extremely hard worker. Not only can he play fast physically, but mentally he picks things up extremely quickly. That combination usually leads to good things."
--The Dolphins were given a scary reminder last week of why continuing to carry a player on the roster that isn't in their future plans could be costly when quarterback Daunte Culpepper was involved in a car accident.
Culpepper wasn't seriously injured, suffering only a bruise to his left (non-throwing) hand. But if he were, the Dolphins would have ultimately been on the hook for at least a portion of his $5.5 million salary in 2007.
Even with new projected starter Trent Green now in the fold, the Dolphins remain unwilling to release Culpepper and are instead trying to trade him. The situation has gotten ugly, with Culpepper saying he will block any potential trade scenario that comes his way by refusing to restructure his big-money contract.
Complicating matters further is the fact Culpepper is serving as his own agent.
Culpepper also has filed a grievance through the NFL Players Association claiming the Dolphins have refused to let him practice with the rest of the team during minicamps and Organized Team Activity sessions since he received medical clearance to participate earlier this month from sports surgeon Dr. James Andrews, who has performed two significant operations on the quarterback's right knee since November 2005.
Dolphins coach Cam Cameron has refused to comment about the Culpepper situation but did allude to the fact Miami general manager Randy Mueller would like to get something in return for a player who cost the franchise a 2006 second-round draft pick from Minnesota for his services. Culpepper also received $7 million in bonus money last season despite only playing four games because of ongoing knee problems.
--The Dolphins were prepared to hold joint preseason practices with Tennessee before the Titans decided to cancel.
"They had asked us to come, and then as we worked together, they just let us know it wasn't going to work out," Dolphins coach Cam Cameron said.
Cameron said the Dolphins wouldn't practice with any other team during the preseason for the third consecutive year.
--Cameron is impressed by the toughness of rookie center Samson Satele, who didn't miss any practice time at last week's minicamp despite undergoing extensive root canal surgery.
"He never flinched, never said a word," said Cameron, who has installed Satele as his starting center while shifting incumbent Rex Hadnot to guard. "I have never been around a guy yet that really practiced a whole practice with one root canal and he's had five. ... We're very pleased with his progress."
--Defensive end Jason Taylor and Cameron are two of the members of the Dolphins headed to London next week for promotional work regarding Miami's game against the New York Giants on October 28 at Wembley Stadium.
--The Dolphins have completed their minicamp and OTA practices and won't work together again as a team until training camp opens in late July at club headquarters in Davie, Fla.
THEY SAID IT: "It's tough to do both. Some people think agents are overpaid but it's tough to play both. You don't see many guys do it, but it is a difficult position to be in. The best thing for him is to have this thing end for him quickly and figure out what he's going to do and make the best decision for he and his family." -- Taylor on Dolphins quarterback Daunte Culpepper serving as his own agent.
--This year's sixth-round pick Drew Mormino and veteran Chris Liwienski split time with the first-team offense at left guard during the minicamp. But the Dolphins could still make a run at New York Jets guard Pete Kendall, who is angling for his release because of a contract dispute.
MEDICAL WATCH: Offensive tackle Joe Toledo could be headed to injured reserve for a second consecutive season. A 2006 fourth-round draft pick, Toledo needed surgery last week to repair a fractured foot.
Toledo spent all of his rookie season on injured reserve because of a sprain suffered in the preseason, then injured his foot in December when slipping while stepping out of a hot tub.
--Miami's top three defensive players -- defensive end Jason Taylor and linebackers Joey Porter and Zach Thomas -- didn't participate in team drills during last week's minicamp. Taylor and Thomas were rested, while Porter was held out for precautionary reasons because of back spasms.
In recent years, the Patriots have primarily been known for their short passing game. But with the additions of Randy Moss and Donte' Stallworth, Tom Brady's arm may need extra ice this season due to all the deep balls he'll be unleashing.
New England receivers caught just four passes of 40 yards or more last season -- with three of those coming from Reche Caldwell. Caldwell topped the Patriots with a 12.5 yards per catch average but that ranked among the NFL's worst when it came to receivers who led their team in that department. With Moss and Stallworth in town, that number should jump considerably.
Stallworth averaged an impressive 19.1 yards per catch with Philadelphia last year, while hauling in 38 passes for 725 yards. One of the most explosive receivers in the league, 15 of Stallworth's 28 career touchdown receptions have gone for 25 yards or longer. He only has two seasons with more than 50 receptions, but Stallworth is always a threat to score from anywhere on the field.
"That's what they want to do. It's just a matter of us putting everything together," Stallworth said about the Patriots being a big-play offense. "We want to get down the field and keep defenses honest. We have a lot of different things in this offense, so it will be interesting to see how it all pans out."
Some have questioned whether or not Moss still has the same physical skills that once made him the most feared receiver in all of football. Moss, on the other hand, doesn't share the same concerns. After he was acquired by New England on draft day, the confident receiver told reporters to expect the old Randy Moss. He reiterated those sentiments again at minicamp.
"I just think as far as me getting back to making plays and showing my versatility and that's what I meant about the old Randy Moss," he said. "Earlier in my career, I was showing a lot of that and late in my career it sort of got away. Now that I'm sort of enthused and energetic to be in a position that I'm in, I want to bring the old Randy Moss and that's going and getting it deep and making plays and one-handed catches, all of the above."
After playing with below average quarterbacks in Oakland, Moss now gets a chance to play with one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. He's looking forward to being on the receiving end of Brady's passes.
"I've always been a big fan of his and now that I'm here playing alongside him, I don't want anything to change," Moss said about Brady. "I'm not going to even try to get in his way in anything that he does and hopefully it doesn't get in the way of anything that I do. I'm just basically talking on the field, because that's one thing that I came here for was to be with this group of guys, the organization as a whole and just try to come out here and help what I can do to win some games."
The combination of Moss and Stallworth gives Brady his most talented tandem of receivers since he became the starting quarterback in New England. At times last year, Brady looked to be frustrated with his receiver and could be seen giving them instructions after an incompletion. Jabar Gaffney and Doug Gabriel were brought in after training camp ended, while rookie Chad Jackson battled injuries throughout the summer.
Heading into this season, Brady is like a kid in a candy store with all the new weapons he has at his disposal.
"Everyone has come in and worked really hard and I think everyone's pleased with the work we've put in and I'm excited for the season to really get started," Brady said. "You wish that it all comes together and I think the thing about it is everybody's got to find a spot and we've got to figure out what Randy (Moss) is good at, what Donte (Stallworth) is good at, and what Wes (Welker) is good at and try to adapt our offense to their style as well. I think we've learned a lot already in six days of practice. I think we've learned about the work ethic of these guys and the attitude and I think we're a very unselfish group. I've had a great time thus far with those players."
Rookie to watch: Linebacker Oscar Lua -- Lua took a lot of reps at inside linebacker during mini-camp, even calling out the defensive signals at one point. The Patriots are desperately looking for a young inside linebacker to stand out and assert himself. Lua led Southern Cal in tackles as a junior, before getting injured and losing his starting job to highly touted Rey Maualuga early on in his senior season. Lua is a smart, instinctive linebacker who plays with a tremendous amount of heart. He has all the characteristics the Patriots look for in a player and if Lua continues to impress in training camp, the seventh round draft pick could make his way onto the final roster.
--New England Patriots Hall of Famer and Pro Football Hall of Fame finalist Andre Tippett will be inducted into the National Iowa Varsity Club Athletics Hall of Fame at the University of Iowa on Sept. 8, 2007, when the Hawkeyes host Syracuse.
Tippett was named a consensus First Team All-American his senior season and was a two-time First Team All-Big Ten selection. He currently holds the Iowa records for most tackles for loss in a season and career. Tippett led the Big Ten in sacks with 20 as a junior and was a member of Iowa's 1981 Rose Bowl Team as a senior.
--The Patriots released long snapper Tony Case. The move came the same day the team signed Rashad Moore and Kenny Smith. With Lonie Paxton entrenched as the Patriots' deep snapper, Case was a long shot to make the team's final roster. The Patriots signed Case as an unrestricted free agent on April 25.
--Boston's WBZ-TV announced an agreement with the New England Patriots and Kraft Sports Productions on a three-year renewal of "New England Patriots 5th Quarter."
The renewal secures the exclusive relationship between WBZ-TV and the New England Patriots to exclusively carry live post-game press conferences after every regular season and playoff game. The "New England Patriots Fifth Quarter" is the only instant access program to Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the rest of the Patriots immediately following the game.
--The New England Patriots Alumni Club (NEPAC), the Patriots Charitable Foundation and the Boston Centers for Youth and Families are teaming up to give over 100 pre-registered 12- to 14-year-olds some hands-on football training. The second annual clinic will be held Saturday, June 23, 2007 from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. at Boston English High School in Jamaica Plain.
"Football For You" is an initiative presented by NEPAC to the City of Boston and the Patriots Charitable Foundation to help teach kids more about football from Patriots alumni who excelled at the sport. Andre Tippett, Pete Brock, Roland James, Garin Veris and Ronnie Lippett are among the 16 past Patriot greats who will serve as instructors during the skills sessions.
THEY SAID IT: "He's a character, a real down-to-earth guy, a real fun guy. I like being around him. People do change. What he's shown to this program so far is no signs of arrogance, and no signs of being a problem. He's out here working hard like everyone else, trying to get better." -- Patriots RB Laurence Maroney on his new teammate, Randy Moss.
The Patriots added defensive linemen Rashad Moore and Kenny Smith to their roster shortly after minicamp. The signings create some more competition along the defensive line for New England, as the team prepares for training camp at the end of July.
Moore, 28, is entering his fourth NFL season and has played in 48 career games with 18 starts for the Seattle Seahawks (2003-04) and New York Jets (2006). The 6-foot-3, 325-pound defensive lineman has recorded 87 career tackles (62 solo), 3.0 sacks, two passes defensed, one forced fumble and four fumble recoveries during his career. Last season, Moore played in 13 games with the Jets, recording 11 tackles and a forced fumble. The University of Tennessee product was originally drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in the sixth round (183rd overall) of the 2003 NFL Draft.
Smith, 29, is entering his sixth NFL season after spending five seasons with the New Orleans Saints (2001-04) and Oakland Raiders (2005). The 6-foot-4, 303-pound defensive lineman has played in 30 career games with 10 starts and has recorded 69 career tackles (56 solo), 4.5 sacks, two passes defensed and two fumble recoveries. A big part of a dominant Alabama defense in college, Smith was originally drafted by the Saints in the third round (81st overall) of the 2001 NFL Draft.
The Patriots are still looking to add some depth to the interior of their defensive line and while both Moore and Smith are long shots to make the team, one of them could surprise with a strong outing at training camp.
The Jets have some question marks heading into training camp, but there aren't nearly as many as there were last season at this time, particularly on offense.
A year ago, they had a quarterback returning from a shoulder rehab and didn't have a featured running back on the roster. In 2007, Chad Pennington has been able to concentrate on becoming more proficient in the offensive system, rather than worrying about strengthening his shoulder.
New Jets RB Thomas Jones
The Jets also have ex-Bear Thomas Jones, giving them a running back who can carry the load for the offense. Having a more viable running game should help Pennington and the passing attack.
Defensively, the Jets were a little old up front last season, but the addition of 28-year-old defensive end Kenyon Coleman, a free agent from Dallas, should provide a boost to that unit. They also hope former Dolphin David Bowens, who will be 30 by opening day, can help with the pass rush.
The players seem more confident on both sides of the ball now that they all have had a year in the Jets' systems, so they're far ahead of where they were entering the 2006 training camp.
Rookie to watch: Chansi Stuckey -- As advertised, Stuckey has excellent hands and looks like he could be a terrific slot receiver in third-down situations. But veteran Justin McCareins, thought to be a potential salary-cap casualty, also has looked good this spring. This should shape up as an interesting position battle in training camp.
Sudden impact: Thomas Jones -- He gives the Jets a running back who can carry the ball 20-25 times a game and wear down a defense. That's something they lacked last season, which forced Pennington to carry the load much too often.
Jones' presence also will free up second-year player Leon Washington to become more of a change-of-pace back, allowing the Jets to get him the ball in space for a larger proportion of his touches.
--Pete Kendall, as expected, reported to the Jets' mandatory minicamp, but he made it clear that he is very unhappy with the contract impasse between him and the Jets. He is seeking to renegotiate from $1.7 million to $2.7 million -- but the Jets are holding firm. Their position is that they don't renegotiate deals with three years left, but insiders say they did give Laveranues Coles a $1 million raise last November.
Kendall wants to be traded or released. He said the Jets told his agent, Neil Schwartz, the day before the draft that if they could find a team willing to part with a fourth-round pick, the Jets would be willing to trade him. There were rumors that Miami was interested, because general manager Randy Mueller drafted Kendall back in 1996 with the Seahawks. However, it's believed the Jets were reluctant to trade Kendall within the AFC East.
Kendall also pointed out that he restructured his deal before last season, when it had three years remaining. According to a source with knowledge of the situation, the Jets were thinking of releasing Kendall in early 2006 and told him and Schwartz they could shop around, but Kendall and Schwartz both denied that. In fact, Kendall refuted it without even being asked about it.
He said, "there was no way if the Jets had released me last year they were going to pay me 1.9 (million) not to play for them." That's how much money he was owed as deferred compensation from 2004, his first season with the Jets. They picked him up in training camp that year after the Cardinals had released him. However, Kendall did admit that then-rookie coach Eric Mangini had "serious reservations" about re-signing him in March 2006.
--SS Kerry Rhodes missed the first two days of the Jets' minicamp. Coach Eric Mangini said he was excused for "personal reasons." He was the only Jet on the roster not participating, other than RB Curtis Martin, who is expected to retire soon. Martin was there Friday, however, lending encouragement to the running backs.
"I don't think he's headed into coaching anytime soon," Mangini said of Martin, "but I appreciate his insight."
--QB Kellen Clemens has had problems connecting on his passes during both voluntary and mandatory workouts, while QB Marques Tuiasosopo, picked off the scrap heap from Oakland, has looked more impressive. Clemens and Tuiasosopo could have an interesting battle for the No. 2 position behind Chad Pennington once training camp begins.
--The Jets invited several soldiers from Fort Bragg in North Carolina to watch practice during mini-camp. Mangini said that many have served multiple tours in Iraq, Kosovo and Afghanistan. "They're really the reason we get to do what we do," Mangini said.
The Jets' current coaching staff includes first-year defensive quality control assistant Ben Kotwica, a former Army linebacker who spent eight years in the Army after his playing days and received the Bronze Star for his service in Iraq.
--C Nick Mangold returned to practice on a full-time basis in minicamp after either missing practice or being severely limited during voluntary workouts because of an undisclosed injury, most likely a back problem. WR-PR Tim Dwight (foot) and Matt Chatham (undisclosed, possibly ankle) were unable to practice in mini-camp.
THEY SAID IT: "You can always pay somebody off. I made a few coins. I might need to get a few favors from those guys. You never know." -- WR Laveranues Coles, when asked if it's intimidating that coach Eric Mangini appeared on "The Sopranos."
With both sides apparently dug in quite deeply in the Pete Kendall contract impasse, it's obvious the Jets will almost certainly be moving in a different direction at left guard. Third-year player Adrien Clarke has been sharing reps with Kendall, and the Jets seem to believe he has the potential to be a starter.
On defense, it will be interesting to see how the Jets divide up all the reps for the linemen during training camp. Coach Eric Mangini said he didn't yet have a plan for that, and he was probably being honest.