Buffalo Bills camp report: Day 6

July, 25, 2014
Jul 25
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Buffalo Bills training camp:
  • The Bills didn't waste time inserting Marcell Dareus back into the lineup. After passing his conditioning test and being removed from the active/non-football injury list Thursday, Dareus received a healthy dose of reps with the first-team defense in team drills Friday night. He didn't have any noticeable hiccups, and proved a load to block for the Bills' offensive line. In the second play of a 9-on-9 drill, Dareus fought through two blockers for a "sack" of quarterback EJ Manuel. While Darus excelled in Mike Pettine's three-man front last season, he could be an even better fit in Jim Schwartz's four-man line this season. Dareus' issue is with staying disciplined and out of trouble off the field.
  • Running back Fred Jackson left practice early with a lower leg injury. It didn't appear to be serious but is obviously something worth monitoring as camp wears on. I don't have an exact count, but the general feeling from looking over my notes is that we've seen more of Bryce Brown and Anthony Dixon than Jackson in team drills through the first week of camp. That's expected. At 33, Jackson is the oldest running back in the league and just one of seven running backs over 30 currently on an NFL roster. There won't be much reason to rush back Jackson from this injury. We're still in July. He's a veteran who knows the offense and, if fresh, can give the team quality carries in November and December.
  • This wasn't the best night for Bills quarterbacks. I walked over to the far practice field early in the session for a routes-versus-air drill with receivers. It wasn't crisp, especially on deep patterns. Thad Lewis has shown the best arm for deep balls and continued with that Friday night. Manuel and Jeff Tuel both were off the mark more than once. When the quarterbacks re-convened for team drills, Manuel and Sammy Watkins had trouble connecting on their first two deep balls. There was also a pass later on where Manuel hit Watkins in the chest on a slant but Watkins had a rare drop. The best two throws of the night came in Manuel's final two third downs of 11-on-11's, when he hit Robert Woods in stride on crossing patterns for first downs. Third downs have been an issue for the Bills, so that was a positive sign.
  • After struggling in their first red zone work Wednesday, the Bills' first-team offense stepped it up Friday night. The final period of practice featured a total of eight plays -- four from Manuel and four from Tuel -- from inside the five-yard line. Manuel hit Mike Williams and Chis Hogan for touchdowns, while Hogan was stopped short of the end zone on a good tackle by cornerback Ross Cockrell on another play. Tuel, meanwhile, targeted Kevin Elliott three times in the end zone but failed to connect.
  • The Bills shuffled around their linebackers Friday night. There was one 11-on-11 drill where the top unit consisted of Nigel Bradham, Preston Brown, and Stevenson Sylvester -- with veterans Brandon Spikes and Keith Rivers watching from the sidelines. We also saw different combinations of nickel linebacker packages, which has been the case throughout camp. With the loss of Alonso, it's a position that will see a complete overhaul this season, so it's not surprising to see the Bills tinkering with their personnel at this point in camp.
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills running back Fred Jackson left Friday night's practice early with a lower leg injury.

Jackson walked off the field under his own power during a team drill late in the session. He did not return.

Tight end Tony Moeaki and safety Kenny Ladler both left practice with hamstring injuries and did not return.

Friday night's practice also saw the return of defensive tackle Marcell Dareus. After passing his conditioning test Thursday, Dareus was in full pads and participated in team drills Friday, recording a "sack" of quarterback EJ Manuel early in practice.

Dareus was joined in practice by defensive tackle Alan Branch, who also passed his conditioning test Thursday.

Tight end Chris Gragg, who was released from the hospital after being treated for heat-related issues, was on the sidelines but did not participate. Linebacker Randell Johnson, who was activated from the physically unable to perform list, also did not participate.

Fullback Evan Rodriguez returned to practice after being released from the hospital earlier week.

Jets Camp Report: Day 2

July, 25, 2014
Jul 25
CORTLAND, N.Y. -- A review of Friday's developments at New York Jets training camp:
  1. Babin makes debut: Two days after agreeing to terms, veteran pass-rusher Jason Babin found his way to training camp and participated in his first practice, providing a glimpse of how he might help the defense. Working primarily with the second team, Babin moved around, playing left and right end, standing up in a two-point stance and even dropping into coverage. Officially, he's listed as a linebacker, but we all know he'll be a situational pass-rusher. His versatility makes him a nice fit in coach Rex Ryan's defense. Ryan called Babin a "proven commodity," saying he never would've been available if he had been a few years younger. Ryan, no doubt, recalls how Babin abused right tackle Wayne Hunter in 2011, when the Jets were embarrassed by the Philadelphia Eagles.

  2. Two-dreaded monster: Encouraging news in the backfield: Chris Johnson, who is seven months removed from knee surgery, practiced for the second straight day. That might not sound like much, but there was talk before camp about him being on a modified practice schedule. That still could happen; it'll be interesting to see if he takes a rest Saturday, the first day in pads. Chris Ivory, who tweaked a hamstring during an offseason workout (sound familiar?), made it through practice without any complications one day after sitting out with his cranky hammy. With Johnson and Ivory, it's all about staying healthy.

  3. Special K: Wide receiver Jeremy Kerley, whose importance was highlighted last season when the Jets went 0-4 without him, is off to a fast start in camp. On Friday, he led all pass-catchers with three receptions, including a long touchdown. He took a short pass from Geno Smith, found a seam in the defense and raced up for the sideline. Kerley tends to get overlooked when pundits discuss the wide receiver situation, but the dude can play. It was the play of the day. Later, Smith tainted an otherwise solid day by the offense by throwing an interception, his first turnover in camp.

  4. GM speak: John Idzik, addressing reporters in one of his periodic state-of-the-team chats, was bombarded with questions about the pseudo- quarterback competition. He refused to give any edge between Smith and Michael Vick, even though it's obvious to everyone in Cortland that Smith is the presumed starter. Even the customers at the iconic Doug Fish Fry know it's Smith's job to lose. Nevertheless, Idzik insisted, "I don't think it's tilted at all." He probably thinks the Tower of Pisa is straight.

  5. Q's time to shine: This is a huge season for linebacker Quinton Coples, who jumped out early in practice by blowing past the right tackle and sacking Smith. Later, Ryan defended Coples to a certain degree, disagreeing with Joe Klecko's harsh assessment of the former No. 1 pick. In the offseason, the Jets legend said in a radio interview that Coples "looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane." Ryan noted that Coples recorded a team-high 50 quarterback hits last season. That's fine, but he had only 4.5 sacks. He has to be better than that.

  6. Should Wilkerson get "Mo" money? Ryan was uncomfortable when asked if defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson deserves a contract extension. He called Wilkerson an "ascending player," but he didn't go full gush, as he used to do with Darrelle Revis. Wilkerson told the New York Daily News that he feels underpaid ($1.2 million this season), but he said he won't squawk about wanting a new deal. Here's the bottom line: Yes, he's underpaid, but he's signed through 2015. There's no sense of urgency to lock him up. If they do it now, they would set a precedent that could come back to bite them in 2016, when Sheldon Richardson is in the same boat.

Patriots camp report: Day 2

July, 25, 2014
Jul 25
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A daily review of hot topics coming out of the New England Patriots training camp:
  • Tight end Rob Gronkowski confirmed the obvious -- while he might have been cleared to play from a medical perspective, he's still not 100 percent and is being managed from a football standpoint. That's why he's only taking part in individual drills at this point, while also putting in some extra time after practice with quarterback Tom Brady. Gronkowski, in his own unique way, also explained how he doesn't plan to change his style of play by saying, "I'm going to keep smashing and dashing everything I do."
  • A big part of football is seizing opportunity and second-year receiver Kenbrell Thompkins is doing just that. He's taking repetitions that likely would have been Aaron Dobson's and making plays that catch the eye. For the second day in a row, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Thompkins made a diving touchdown catch and he appears to be practicing with a lot of confidence. He runs precise routes, and most importantly, Brady has developed trust in him. That's not easy to do. They don't give out gold stars after two days of training camp, but Thompkins would be close to the front of the line if they did.
  • The Patriots scored 36 touchdowns in 65 red zone trips last season, a 55.4 percent success rate. Compare that to the Broncos, who scored 51 touchdowns in 67 red zone possessions in 2013 for a 76.1 percent success rate. Maybe that is part of the reason why the Patriots have spent a significant portion of their first two training camp practices with red zone work.
  • One of the nice parts of the day was witnessing the admiration that owner Robert Kraft, head coach Bill Belichick and Brady retain for former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi. With Bruschi at practice as part of a live ESPN set with Hannah Storm, all three made time to visit the set, and other players stopped by as well. At one point, Belichick and Bruschi watched practice together, the "perfect Patriot" back with his coach again.
  • The Patriots announced an official attendance of 11,012. With 7,822 showing up for the first practice Thursday, that's a two-day total of 18,834. Think the locals are excited to have football back? With full-pads practices scheduled for Saturday and Sunday morning, and a promosing Saturday weather forecast, the fields behind Gillette Stadium should once again be overflowing with fans.

Dolphins camp report: Day 1

July, 25, 2014
Jul 25
DAVIE, Fla. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Miami Dolphins training camp:
  • It was a shaky day for the Dolphins' first-team offense. The first two plays in team drills were a timeout and fumbled snap by quarterback Ryan Tannehill and new center Shelley Smith, who is filling in for injured Pro Bowler Mike Pouncey. There also were drops by receivers, two near picks by Tannehill to cornerbacks Cortland Finnegan and Jamar Taylor and not much going in the running game. Miami's defense definitely won on Friday. “It's the first day, it's not going to be the prettiest practice we have,” Tannehill said afterwards. “Obviously, I don't think today is the practice we wanted to have with the balls on the ground and the sacks. But we have to have something to build off of. The quicker we can get those corrections made, the better we will be.”
  • The first-team offensive line had three changes from the final day of minicamp. Smith moved from left guard to center in place of the injured Pouncey (hip). Free-agent pickup Daryn Colledge was put in at left guard and Dallas Thomas moved from left guard to right guard. Miami head coach Joe Philbin said nothing is set in stone. “I will tell you that we will be looking at a number of different combinations,” Philbin explained. “This is practice No. 1. This is the way we want to look at it today."
  • Dolphins fans in attendance Friday got to see something they rarely saw last season. Tannehill and No. 1 receiver Mike Wallace connected on a deep ball in what was easily the play of the day. Wallace beat second-year cornerback Jamar Taylor by a couple steps and Tannehill hit Wallace in stride for an approximately 40-yard gain. Tannehill and Wallace struggled with deep-ball connections last season.
  • Here is more good news for the Dolphins: Everyone passed their conditioning tests. There had been issues with other teams around the NFL with players failing conditioning drills and missing the start of training camp.
  • The Dolphins have an interesting balance this summer with second-year defensive end Dion Jordan. He was suspended four games for violating the NFL's conduct on performance enhancing substances but can participate in training camp and the preseason. Jordan's role as the third defensive end didn't appear different Friday from what we've seen in minicamp and organized team activities. The Dolphins must balance getting Jordan reps to get him ready for later and reps for players behind him who will fill in during the first four weeks of the regular season. “We're disappointed in that, but Dion's going to be out there,” Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey explained. “He's going to be out there competing. He's going to be out there growing.”
DAVIE, Fla. -- Miami Dolphins Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey walked up to the media Friday and was all smiles. He shook hands with several media members, including myself, and spoke about the excitement of new beginnings for his 2014 team.

It's been a whirlwind month for Miami's Pro Bowl center. First, it was major hip surgery following minicamp. Reports have varied that Pouncey could miss anywhere between four to eight games. Then, there was an alleged incident at Pouncey's birthday party in South Beach in which a person claimed he was attacked by Pouncey's entourage. Pouncey's lawyers quickly denied those claims in a statement.

Pouncey didn't shed much light on the off-the-field issue other than refer to his lawyer's statement. But he is optimistic about his rehab and trying to get back in the Dolphins' starting lineup as soon as possible.

"I'm very confident; I feel I'm already ahead of schedule," Pouncey explained. "My goal is not to miss any [regular-season games]. But I've just got to be smart about it so I won't have any relapses when I come back. I'm just going to listen to the team doctors and Coach Philbin. Whenever they tell me I'm ready to go, then I'm going."

It's always tricky when a player talks about returning to good health -- especially a player as tough as Pouncey. It appears Pouncey has a high threshold for pain and wants to return earlier than expected. But it will be a balancing act with team doctors to make sure Pouncey doesn't extend himself to rush back on the field. He's currently on the physically unable to perform list.

Pouncey said he first "felt something" during the spring in his hip and got it evaluated. The situation wasn't getting better. Therefore, Pouncey and the Dolphins decided it was best to get the hip surgery before the season.

Although nothing is set in stone, Shelley Smith started at centerin place of Pouncey during Friday's first practice. The Dolphins are expected to have five new offensive linemen in Week 1 when they host the New England Patriots at Sun Life Stadium.

Despite the injury, Pouncey believes the Dolphins have the makings of ending their five-year postseason drought.

"That's our only expectation -- to make it to the playoffs," said Pouncey, who is on the physically unable to perform list. "We were so close last year. I know that's in the back of a lot of guys' heads."
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Through two training camp practices with the New England Patriots, veteran cornerback Darrelle Revis admits he is still adapting to his new surroundings. At the same time, he has never felt better.

“It’s been awesome, but it’s been kind of weird in a way,” he said Friday. “But I’m a Patriot now and that’s how things go -- you have to roll with it, [fans] accepted me, and I’m happy to be here and play ball.”

The Patriots had 7,822 fans at their opening practice Thursday and appeared to top that number rather comfortably Friday, when Revis was among the players signing autographs after the two-hour workout.

Why so weird for him?

[+] EnlargeDarrelle Revis
AP Photo/Stephan SavoiaDarrelle Revis on playing for New England after starting his career with the rival Jets: "Right now I'm a Patriot and I'm excited to be here."
“We all know that,” he said with a laugh. “I was on the other side, with another team, a rival, [but] I’m here now and I’m just so excited. I’ve been in the best shape in my career.”

Revis said he “worked his butt off” to get his weight down this offseason (he is listed at 198 pounds), which included spending about a month in Arizona before training camp, where he was joined for a few weeks by new teammates Devin McCourty, Logan Ryan and Tavon Wilson.

While the training has helped him from a team chemistry perspective, and he is two years removed from his time with the New York Jets (2007-2012), Revis still can’t fully escape the New York spotlight. On Thursday, the New York Post and New York Daily News had reporters at Patriots camp, with the Daily News sticking around a second day and speaking with him one-on-one after practice.

“That’s rivalries,” Revis said when asked about bitterness between the Patriots and Jets. “There are college rivalries, high school rivalries, and there are rivalries in the pros as well. I was on that side, and you’re not supposed to like your rival no matter where you play. Like I said, I’m here now, all that’s in the past, and all I can focus on is what I can do now. Right now I’m a Patriot and I’m excited to be here. It’s great. I’m excited about camp, the whole team is, and we’re looking forward [to the season].”

Part of Revis’ excitement is also tied to his health. He admitted that last season coming off a torn ACL was a struggle for him.

“I finished all 16 games last year but I still wasn’t where I wanted to be physically as a player,” he said. “This is my first offseason where I could really focus on working out. They say it takes a year and a half, or two [to get back to full strength]. I think I’m at a point now, I’m there.

“I’m back to where I can move around a little better. Last year was really tough coming off the injury, I wasn’t where I needed to be. Now I’m a little bit more excited, I feel the butterflies a little bit more, and I’m just ready to play and get ready for the season.”

As for where he falls in the debate on the NFL’s best cornerback, Revis expressed indifference.

“I don’t need to prove nothing to anybody. Ws is what matters -- more wins than losses. That’s what we want to do as a team,” he said. "Everybody is great. Everybody performs well at the professional level. Those are for you guys to rate who’s this and that. It really doesn’t matter to me.”
DAVIE, Fla. -- All eyes were on the center position as the Miami Dolphins opened their 2014 training camp Friday. The Dolphins revealed the player they initially think can replace injured Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey -- and it's starting right guard Shelley Smith.

In fact, Miami reshuffled three positions on its first-team offensive line Friday compared to organized team activities and minicamp. Smith moved from right guard to center, Dallas Thomas moved from left guard to right guard and recent free-agent pickup Daryn Colledge was plugged in at left guard.

Although nothing is set in stone in July, it's an interesting starting five for the Dolphins, who will have five new offensive linemen play in Week 1 of the regular season against the New England Patriots.

"I think we have a lot of potential and we've got a good group of guys in the room," Smith said of the offensive line. "We have a good coaching staff and I feel like we're working our butts off to fulfill our potential."

Pouncey could miss as many as eight weeks of the regular season. Therefore, Miami's coaching staff must get this decision right if the Dolphins plan to improve last year's shaky performance on offense. Miami was ranked No. 27th in total offense and set a franchise record with 58 sacks allowed.

The good news is Miami has about six weeks and four preseason games before the start of the regular season to figure out this quandary on the offensive line.

"We're always attempting to get the five best players that we possibly can out on the field at one time," Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said. "I will tell you that we will be looking at a number of different combinations. This is practice No. 1. This is the way we want to look at it today."

The Dolphins invested a lot of many and resources to improve their offensive line. Miami spent $47 million to solidify the left tackle spot with Albert, used a first-round pick on starting right tackle Ja'Waun James and signed Smith in free agency to a two-year, $5.5 million contract.

The offense was shaky Friday. For example, the first two plays involved a timeout and fumbled snap. In fact, Smith and Dolphins starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill had two fumbled exchanges during team drills. That must be fixed if Smith aims to replace Pouncey long term.

"I put it on me, that's always my responsibility," Smith said of the poor snaps. "That's something we have to keep working on and getting better. Turnovers and ball security are big emphasis."

Kraft on another title: 'We want it real bad'

July, 25, 2014
Jul 25
video New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft appeared on the ESPN "SportsCenter" set this morning in Foxborough, Massachusetts, and spoke with anchor Hannah Storm and analyst Tedy Bruschi about a number of topics.

On the start of training camp. "You feel reborn. ... It's great to see football back."

On the team's upgraded football facilities. "We've invested over $25 million to try to get our facilities top-notch. In this business, if you aren't always pushing -- whether it's in the area of developing software or getting the right free agents or doing all the little things that can help, hopefully, put you in a good position to try to win. It's so hard, as you know.

"I probably speak for every owner in the league that this time of year we're all excited. We think the sky's the limit. We've made our offseason moves. We've had our draft. It's 0-0 wins and losses. So optimistic."

It's going on 10 years now since the Patriots last won a Super Bowl. Does he get impatient? "Absolutely. Especially as the years start creeping up and you realize how delicate everything is. Look at last year: We thought we had a great team and then Vince [Wilfork] goes down in Week 4 and Tommy Kelly in Week 5 and Jerod Mayo in Week 6. So that solid defense … that's the beauty of this game, no one knows what's going to happen.

"We want it real bad. In the end, like everything in life, it is about execution. You have to make it happen, and you also need good fortune not to have injuries and then have the ball bounce right."

On the importance of the NFL putting a team (or teams) in Los Angeles. "I think we've gone almost a generation, almost 20 years I think, without a team in L.A. … It isn't good for the NFL. We have a generation of young people growing up not really branded or tied to a team. I think that kind of passion only comes when you have a team you can root for. I think it's very important. I'd like to see us get two teams in L.A., personally ... then we have the AFC and the NFC."

Kraft talks more about Los Angeles in the video above, saying he would love to see a team come to the city within the next two to three years.

Mike Pouncey, Moreno on PUP

July, 25, 2014
Jul 25
DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins opened training camp Friday by placing Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey and running back Knowshon Moreno on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.

Pouncey had major hip surgery this summer and reportedly could miss as much as eight weeks of the regular season. Moreno had a cleanup procedure on his knee and should return before the end of the preseason.

Both players are expected to eventually be key members of Miami's offense. Pouncey is arguably the Dolphins’ best offensive player. Moreno, who started last year for the Denver Broncos, signed a one-year contract to compete with incumbent starting tailback Lamar Miller.

The Dolphins opened training camp on Friday. Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey also said everyone passed their conditioning tests.

Live at Dolphins training camp

July, 25, 2014
Jul 25
DAVIE, Fla. -- The time has finally arrived for the Miami Dolphins.

Following an 8-8 season, the Dolphins will begin their 2014 journey Friday at 8 a.m. ET when they open training camp. We will be there for every practice this summer to bring you all the latest.

We will have a full report from Dolphins camp later Friday. But for football fans who cannot wait and need instant information, I recommend you follow my Twitter account @JamesWalkerNFL. That is where I will provide live updates from Dolphins practice as it happens.

The Dolphins enter training camp with optimism and a lot of questions. It should be an interesting journey that begins today.

Patriots camp report: Day 1

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A daily review of hot topics coming out of training camp:
  • The team's first practice provided a snapshot of how the team plans to manage tight end Rob Gronkowski as he works his way back from surgery on his torn right ACL on Jan. 9. Gronkowski participated in individual drills, but not in any of the 7-on-7 or 11-on-11 drills. Gronkowski had a brace over the knee, and is still wearing a protective cover over his previously injured left forearm. He didn't seem reluctant running, cutting and planting, and at the end of practice spent some extra time on the field catching passes from quarterback Tom Brady. At the same time, it's clear that this is going to be a gradual process in bringing Gronkowski along.
  • Receiver Aaron Dobson, the 2013 second-round draft choice who the Patriots hope can provide a downfield thread and size (6-foot-3) on the perimeter, has opened camp on the active/physically unable to perform list after undergoing surgery March 10 for a stress fracture in his left foot. Dobson spent the practice working with strength coaches Harold Nash and Moses Cabrera, at one point doing some pretty aggressive running. This is supposed to be a big year for Dobson after a full year in the system, yet in his absence, second-year receiver Kenbrell Thompkins stepped in and made a few notable catches. One of them -- a diving grab in the back right-hand corner of the end zone, had quarterback Tom Brady heaping praise on him after the practice.
  • While Dobson is among a small handful of players not yet cleared for practice, it is significant that defensive tackle and captain Vince Wilfork was a full participant as he is coming off a ruptured Achilles on Sept. 29, 2013. Wilfork looks like he might have shed some weight.
  • Quarterback Tom Brady, Mayo and Wilfork drew huge media crowds on a day that NFL.com, the New York Daily News, the New York Post and the Toronto Sun were on hand to cover the team from more of a national perspective. One of the more notable comments came from running backs coach Ivan Fears, who touched on how rookie James White (fourth round, 130th overall) has made a strong first impression. "I like his running style," Fears said, via the Boston Herald. "He runs like a big guy for a little guy (5-10, 205). He plays big. He works hard. Right now, he's doing everything right. It's hard not to be in love with him."
  • By the time players and coaches arrived on the field for the 9:45 a.m. ET practice, the bleachers surrounding the two practice fields were filled. The team announced an official attendance of 7,822. This was an increase from last year, when 6,390 fans showed up in a heavy rainstorm. The Patriots' single-session record for a training camp practice is 12,163, set in 2012.

Jets camp report: Day 1

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
CORTLAND, N.Y. -- A review of the hot topics from Thursday at the New York Jets:

1. Sunglasses needed: Rex Ryan was fired up after the first practice, radiating enough sunshine to raise the tanning index to a 10. The coach said the Jets are "a zillion miles ahead of where we were last year" at this time, claiming this team is further along than any of his previous teams. He raved about Geno Smith, Michael Vick, Chris Johnson, Calvin Pryor, Antonio Allen and Kyle Wilson. Even rookie quarterback Tajh Boyd got some love. Said Ryan: "He's got a little magic in him." Sitting in the news conference, I thought for a moment that I was covering the '85 Bears. But you know what? This is who Ryan is. He's the enternal optimist, and it's one of the reasons why the players still like playing for him after five years.

2. Geno wins the day: On Day 1 of the pseudo quarterback competition, Smith outplayed Michael Vick, who threw an interception that wasn't entirely his fault. (Rookie wide receiver Jalen Saunders ran the wrong route.) There will be more days like this, especially if Smith continues to receive three-quarters of the first-team reps. Vick is working with an inexperienced cast of characters, and that's bound to impact his performance. You'll be reading a day-by-day analysis of the quarterback situation (hey, it's what we do), but know this: To nail down the job, Smith needs to show up in the preseason games. In other words, he can't throw a pick-six on a screen pass on his first attempt. (See: Mark Sanchez, 2013).

3. Three-headed safety: Dawan Landry, Antonio Allen and rookie Calvin Pryor rotated with the starting unit at safety. It's not hard to read the handwriting on the wall: The Jets prefer a Allen-Pryor tandem, but they're not ready to abandon Landry, the wise head of the secondary. Ryan said he wants to keep Allen "really humming because I think he's really stepped up, and I'll try to put him out there with the 1s as much as possible." The same could be said for Pryor. Unfortanately, you can't play with 12 players.

4. Early glimpse at the receivers: Eric Decker, Jeremy Kerley and David Nelson were the best receivers on the field. The others had drops at various points in practice, with rookie Quincy Enunwa (hip) taking an early seat because of an injury. No reason to reach for the panic button. Just stating the facts. Obviously, the Jets need one or two receivers to emerge from the pack.

5. Rex rocks the house: Several players, especially the rookies, were still buzzing about Ryan's speech to the team Wednesday night. Ryan knows how to bring it, especially on the eve of training camp. According to several players, he spoke about the playoffs, how the drought has lasted long enough. This is how Boyd described it: "I'm sitting in there and I don't know what to expect. He gets up there and he's very modest and he's talking, 'It's going to be a great camp, I'm excited.' Then he just flipped the switch five minutes into the talk. You could just feel the fire burning inside the guys. He made me want to run through a brick wall. I think he's got an opportunity to be a legendary coach one of these days."
CORTLAND, N.Y. -- For five years, ever since Brett Favre left town and Rex Ryan arrived, the New York Jets have been a defensive-minded team. That probably will never change as long as Ryan is the coach, but it has to be closer to a 50-50 balance for them to challenge for a championship. Maybe this will be the year it changes. Maybe, with the additions of Chris Johnson and Eric Decker and fewer growing pains from Geno Smith, the offense will have a ball instead of being the ball and chain.

"We've got weapons, man," said linebacker Calvin Pace, who has endured plenty of mediocre offense in his six seasons with the Jets. "The pieces are in place."

[+] EnlargeEric Decker
AP Photo/Julio CortezEric Decker has impressed his new Jets teammates with his route-running ability.
After a pause, Pace deadpanned, "I've seen worse here."

On Thursday, the key parts were together on the field for the first time, something that rarely happened last season. Johnson, who sat out the offseason as he recovered from knee surgery, was in the backfield, chipping off the rust at full speed. Decker, seven months removed from Peyton Manning, was on the outside, showing the young cornerbacks how a precise route-runner gets open. Smith ran the show, spreading the ball around.

For a change, the Jets actually have hope on offense.

"It's night and day for our offense," defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson said.

The Jets finished 25th in total offense last season, and they're talking like they expect to take a Bob Beamon jump into the top 10. Is that even possible? Can a team improve that much in one season? Actually, yes.

Since 2000, there have been seven instances in which a team improved its ranking by at least 20 spots, according to ESPN Stats & Information. In fact, three occurred last season: The San Diego Chargers (31st to fifth), the Chicago Bears (28th to eighth) and the Arizona Cardinals (32nd to 12th). So there's hope for the Jets, right? Well, take a closer look at those teams. Each one had an experienced quarterback -- Philip Rivers, Jay Cutler/Josh McCown and Carson Palmer, respectively.

The Jets don't have a seasoned quarterback, so it's probably a stretch to predict a top-five or top-10 offense. They're better on offense than a year ago, but this isn't an elite group -- not yet anyway. But they don't have to be. With Ryan's defense, all they need on offense is a middle-of-the-road ranking. That would be good enough to get them into the playoffs. The Seattle Seahawks finished 17th in total offense, and they did well for themselves.

A significant improvement will hinge on at three factors:

Fewer turnovers by Smith, a healthy season for Johnson and the emergence of a legitimate No. 2 option in the passing game -- i.e. someone to take the pressure off Decker, who was targeted on every other pass in practice. Or so it seemed. Maybe rookie tight end Jace Amaro can be that guy. Maybe it will be David Nelson. Maybe Stephen Hill finally will show up. That will be one of the stories in training camp, hoping someone separates from the pack.

No matter happens, the Jets can't be worse than last season, when they managed only 20 points during a three-game losing streak that wrecked their playoff chances. Decker and Johnson will help, no doubt. In the first practice, they made an impact, if only in subtle ways. Decker was constantly open, frustrating the defensive backs with his precise routes.

"I mean, the top of his routes are unbelievable," quarterback Michael Vick said. "He knows how to create space. You can just tell that him working with Peyton over the last couple of years has helped him blossom as a receiver."

Johnson, too, made an impact in the passing game, splitting out wide and catching balls in space -- a new dimension for the Jets' offense. He's so fast that linebackers will have to cover the flat routes, which will create room in the middle of the field. For a change, the Jets can attack all areas of the field. It's not a phone-booth offense anymore.

"The offense can be extremely good," Vick said, "as good as we want to be."
CORTLAND, N.Y. -- Jason Babin may have agreed to a two-year deal with the Jets on Wednesday, but the defensive end didn't sign on the dotted line until Thursday afternoon. What that meant was the former Jaguar missed the first day of the Jets training camp.

"He's supposed to report today," Jets coach Rex Ryan said. "Hopefully we'll see him on the field [Friday]."

The Jets have needed a pass-rusher like Babin, and they won't need to wait much longer.

Tight end Jeff Cumberland, who has been excused from the start of camp for personal reasons, was also absent Thursday.

Pryor restraint: Part of rookie safety Calvin Pryor's game is his ability tackle with meaning. Both he and his coaches realize that what they see before he puts on the pads is just a shadow of his true abilities.

"From a physical standpoint we won't recognize him until we put a live drill out there," Ryan said. "Then we'll hear him play. I mean that's what happens, but he's a special guy that way. I think (Dawan) Landry has been a mentor to all of them, but he's certainly taken him under his wing as well. We expect huge things out of Calvin."

Asked if he was ready to hit, Pryor said yes, but he didn't want to hurt his teammates. He'd save that for actual games.

Decker <3's NY: Jets wide receiver Eric Decker was asked what he liked about New York, and the former Denver resident had nothing but good things to say about the food and the shows on Broadway.

"This is one of the best cities, if not the best city in our country," Decker said.

Now there's a man who knows how to win over the locals.

Ryan's job security: The Jets coach appears to have a little more job security this year than he did last, when new general manager John Idzik came in and agreed to keep him for the time being.

There's optimism around the team, and Ryan seems as secure as a coach in the NFL can be.

"I know you guys had that question for me, still working? Yeah, still here! I am still here. I don't know if there was a whole lot of confidence in that last year at this time, but still here."

Roommates: Michael Vick was asked about his first night with running back Chris Johnson and he said it went well, but they didn't get much sleep.

"We sat up and talked maybe a little too long last night," Vick said. "I'm kind of tired right now, but I think I let him get some rest. I was doing all of the talking."

Just like college.