Around the AFC East: w/e 5/18

A tour of the AFC East shows that the Bills draft pick James Hardy might pay dividends down the road, Dolphins running back Ricky Williams deals with his new dynamic and the Jets continue with their quarterback musical char routine.

BUFFALO BILLS

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On draft day, the Buffalo Bills claimed to have no concerns over Indiana wide receiver James Hardy's character.

Less than three weeks later, however, the team has already performed public relations damage control after a gun incident involving their second-round draft pick.

"We have spoken to law enforcement officials and they have informed us that they looked into this and have no plans to pursue the matter any further," the Bills said in a statement released after Hardy allegedly pulled a registered gun on his father during an argument in a person's backyard in Fort Wayne, Ind., on May 11.

"We also spoke to James last night and will continue to speak with him, but indications are that this matter has been resolved."

Resolved to the point that Hardy won't be going to jail. As for his reputation, well, that obviously is open to scrutiny and may even have an impact on his rookie contract negotiations.

According to the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, Hardy, 21, pulled a gun on James W. Hardy II during an argument but no one was hurt and the player left before police arrived.

As is policy with suspects, the younger Hardy's name was blacked out of the police report but the player was identified in dispatch logs and the city police chief later confirmed that it was the former Indiana University star that was involved.
Because the father showed no signs of injury, and no charges were pressed, there was no reason to purse the matter further, police told the paper. James Hardy has a permit to carry the firearm.

Hardy also released a statement: "I realize what the public perception could be pertaining to this incident, however that was not the reality of the situation. This situation that has been blown out of proportion has been very hurtful and frustrating for me and my father. There was a misunderstanding and a misinterpretation of the situation.

"I would like to first apologize to the fans of Buffalo and the Bills organization for any distractions this may have caused. I would also like to apologize to my fans in Indiana and the children who look up to me because it has been hard on me and I know it's been equally hard on them to hear something of this nature. I do understand that this opportunity with me being drafted by the Buffalo Bills is a blessing and a privilege and not a right. So I ask that my fans just continue to keep me in your prayers and I will continue to strive to be the best I can be on and off the field."

The police report said Hardy's father acknowledged that he and his son did have an argument and that his son is frequently angry with him for not being around when he was a boy. The elder Hardy was in prison when his son was a boy.

In 2006 while at Indiana University, the junior Hardy was arrested and charged with domestic battery and interfering with reporting of a crime when he allegedly attacked his girlfriend and infant son. Police said the girlfriend had a torn shirt and marks on the side and back of her neck. Charges were dropped after Hardy took part in a pretrial diversion program.

Hardy was also suspended briefly for violating team rules.

Bills chief operating officer Russ Brandon claimed character counts with him.

"It's very important but we feel comfortable with James," Brandon said on draft day. "The issue he had was dismissed. We talked to him at length and we feel very good about James Hardy."

Coach Dick Jauron echoed those sentiments but clearly concerns have been renewed in and outside the team.

"You probably know a good deal about his background," Jauron said of Hardy. "He's done a good job to survive. He's a very strong person. We're comfortable with it and obviously, we'll watch it and he'll watch it, too."


 

MIAMI DOLPHINS

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Even Dolphins running back Ricky Williams was surprised that Dolphins czar Bill Parcells didn't whack him when he took over the team last December. Considering in his opening speech to the team Parcells stressed having players with no off-field baggage, and Williams was stressed by the notion.

"(Parcells) was describing the kind of player he wanted," Williams told the Austin American-Statesman this week. "Honestly, I had doubts if I was going to be that type of player.

"I was expecting him not to talk to me at all. I was expecting to get a letter in the mail saying I was going to be a free agent."

Instead, Parcells told Williams he'd be backing up starter Ronnie Brown. Logic says that if Brown's rehabilitation of a torn ACL hits a snag, then Williams will be the season-opening starter against the Jets with rookie Jalen Parmele the backup.

Williams has never had a serious knee injury, the Kryptonite to a running back's career. He's coming off a chest tear. Before that, in the CFL he had a broken forearm and a cut heel. He'll be 31 this month and now that he has traded in marijuana for a healthier holistic lifestyle, he's in tip-top shape. Plus, this is the final year of his contract that pays him the minimal $730,000, and he is a devoted father and family man, so if he wants one more decent paycheck, he will be busting it on every carry.

Williams is fresh, having played just 13 NFL games since 2003, when he gained 1,372 yards. Also, he'll be running behind a revamped offensive line that features top pick Jake Long, a tenacious run blocker at left tackle, as well as a double tight-end set that should also benefit the tailbacks' production. Parcells loves the power-running game, and that's Ricky's specialty.

"I like (Parcells) more than I thought I would," Williams told the American-Statesman. "He's really different than I expected. It seems to me his greatest joy is developing true friendships with his players, being a mentor and trying to help people, not just in football but in life."

Unless Williams drops the ball -- literally or figuratively -- it appears the relationship between the player and the czar is on more solid ground than the one Parcells has with Jason Taylor.

Williams said he has finally realized that he'd like to leave a respectful legacy to his four children, rather than one that must include his drug-related suspensions.

"I never wrestled if whether I liked football. I wrestled with the fact that I'm more than just a football player," he said. "One of the things I was always afraid of was that people would only see me as being a football player."

This year, that's what the Dolphins are hoping for.


NEW YORK JETS

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Two years after winning a four-way competition for the starting quarterback job, Chad Pennington again finds himself battling for the right to lead the Jets' offense. And while he is saying all the right things, it's clear what he thinks the outcome should be.

When Pennington was asked which quarterback would give the Jets the best chance to win in 2008, he said, "I believe in myself. I believe that when I play quarterback, our team has an excellent chance to win. That's not me making it up. That's proven. That's on the record, and I believe that strongly. I believe in how I approach the game and how I prepare and execute."

Pennington, who lost his starting job to Kellen Clemens midway through the 2007 season, will compete with Clemens to be the starter in 2008. Pennington's record as a starter with the Jets is 32-29, although those numbers are skewed somewhat by a 1-7 mark as a starter last season.

Some observers believe that Clemens will be graded on a curve in this competition, because of his stronger arm and bigger upside. Pennington will turn 32 in June and Clemens will turn 25 that same month.

"I think that coach (Eric Mangini) is interested in one thing, and that's winning, period," Pennington said after a voluntary minicamp practice. "After you come off a 4-12 season, that's all you can think about. That's what's going to dictate his decision. ... Regardless of what I think or what anybody thinks, it boils down to decisions that he has to make as head coach and what direction they want to go in."

Pennington beat out Clemens, who was then a rookie, and Patrick Ramsey and Brooks Bollinger in 2006, and went on to lead the Jets to the playoffs for the third time in his career. He struggled in 2007, however, throwing 10 touchdown passes and nine interceptions. The Jets were 1-7 in his eight starts.

Clemens went 3-5 as a starter, and finished the season with five TD passes and 10 picks. He failed to give the Jets' offense the jump-start Mangini was hoping for, which is why the coach decided to re-open the job in the off-season.

Mangini said this eventual decision "will come down to the same sort of evaluation of who manages the game the best, and then also who gives us the best chance to win."

Pennington acknowledged that he and his agent talked to the Jets about a possible trade in February, but nothing happened.

"Everyone knows there were discussions at the Combine," he said. "After everything is said and done, this is the best place for me to be. Looking at the situation, I feel good about it. I feel really good about how I prepared this offseason. I really tried to take a look at some things, physically and mentally, to get better and to become a better quarterback so I can take new steps."

When asked if he was hoping to be traded, he said, "Not necessarily. As a player, you always want to know where you stand. As long as you get a truthful answer, you can deal with it. Whether you agree or disagree, it doesn't matter. That's what you always look for as a player, just let me know where I stand and we'll take it from there."

As for Clemens, he said, "I don't think there is any lack of confidence on either side. Chad has obviously been there, done that, and he's a good quarterback. I also have the confidence in myself that I can do it. It's a great thing. We're two very competitive guys, and this entire competition for as long as it goes is going to make both he and I better, which in turn, is going to make the Jets better."

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