FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – There is always a danger of reading too much into preseason football, so this thought is passed along with that note of caution: If the New England Patriots play defense like they did Friday night against the Panthers, they will position themselves as the team to beat in the AFC.

Some might argue they are already there, but what stood out was the way they swarmed the Carolina Panthers and quarterback Cam Newton, who didn't score during their time on the field (into the third quarter).

Outside linebacker/defensive end Chandler Jones was one of the star performers, working against converted right tackle Byron Bell and picking up two sacks and another tackle for a loss. Meanwhile, the coverage in the secondary was generally up to par and there weren’t as many penalty flags for illegal contact and defensive holding as there were in the first two weeks of the preseason.

Here are some other thoughts on the game:
  • No. 2 quarterback Ryan Mallett came on for the third series of the game, before Tom Brady returned for the rest of the half and into the third quarter. We’ve seen Bill Belichick thrust his top backup into the early going of a preseason game unexpectedly in the past, with the message to always be ready. Belichick confirmed in a halftime television interview that was exactly what he was thinking when inserting Mallett into the game.
  • Brady was especially sharp (17-of-21, 204 yards, 2 touchdowns). He looks ready to go and there's probably no need to play him in the preseason finale Thursday on the road against the Giants.
  • When the Patriots put two versatile running backs in the game at the same time, how will defenses match them? That’s something to consider after watching Shane Vereen catch a short pass from Brady and race 40 yards up the right sideline for a touchdown in the second quarter. Vereen and running back James White were on the field at the same time on the play, as the Patriots used that “pony” grouping six times in the opening half.
  • Receiver Josh Boyce, the 2013 fourth-round draft choice from Texas Christian, didn’t play an offensive snap until there was 1:26 remaining in the third quarter. That reflects how he’s decisively behind Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Brandon LaFell on the receiver depth chart.
  • For the fantasy folks, Vereen’s 26 snaps in the first half of this “dress rehearsal” game were notable. That was easily a team-high among running backs.
  • No doubt that kicker Stephen Gostkowski is ready for the regular season. His 60-yard field goal to the closed end of the stadium with three seconds remaining in the second quarter was one of the more impressive plays of the night.
  • While not Patriots-specific, it was hard not to be impressed with Panthers rookie receiver Kelvin Benjamin, the first-round pick from Florida State. He had his hands full with Darrelle Revis and made some plays.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick added context to the absence of linebacker Jerod Mayo, who has not played this preseason, noting that it’s an injury-based situation.

“Jerod is doing well. He’s making good progress,” Belichick said during his weekly pre-game interview on 98.5 The Sports Hub, without getting into specifics on what is holding Mayo back.

Mayo dressed for Friday night’s preseason game against the Panthers, but Steve Beauharnais started in his place. Mayo hasn’t played in the first half Friday, and isn’t expected to see any action.

“He practiced last week. We’ll see how it goes out here in pre-game warmup today, with some of our players, and probably make a decision on them a little closer to game-time,” Belichick said in the pre-game interview. “Of course, during the regular season we don’t have the luxury of doing that, but in preseason we do.”

Jets-Giants: Players to watch

August, 22, 2014
Aug 22
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New York Jets players not named Geno Smith or Michael Vick that we'll be watching Friday night at MetLife Stadium:

Stephen Hill, wide receiver: Two games, one catch, two targets. It's hard to imagine the New York Jets giving up on a former second-round pick after only two years, but Hill needs a strong showing to make double sure.

Calvin Pryor, safety: Warning to Victor Cruz: Watch yourself on those slant routes. The Jets' No. 1 pick makes his first NFL start.

Antonio Allen, cornerback: Allen gets his second start at corner, which tells me the Jets are concerned about Dee Milliner (high-ankle sprain) and his availability for the season opener. If they felt confident Milliner would be back, they'd start Darrin Walls and Ellis Lankster at corner, putting Allen at his natural spot -- safety. Clearly, they're trying to formulate a contingency plan.

Eric Decker, wide receiver: He returns after missing a game with various leg ailments. Decker, who caught two passes for 12 yards in the opener, is in an important stage of his relationship with Geno Smith. A lot of Decker's bread-and-butter routes are based on timing with the quarterback, which means he and Smith need to get busy.

Chris Ivory, running back: It was the Chris Johnson show last week, so now it's Ivory's turn to chip off some rust. He missed last week with a rib-cartilage injury.

Oday Aboushi, offensive line: He got a surprise start last week at left guard, but he'll be with the backups in this game -- at right tackle. Because of his versatility, Aboushi is developing into an important "swing" player. Brian Winters will start at left guard, but he could get work at right guard with the backups.
The Miami Dolphins waived former 2012 third-round pick Michael Egnew on Friday. ESPN's Adam Schefter first reported the news, and the team later confirmed it.

Egnew
Egnew struggled to find a role in Bill Lazor's new, up-tempo offense. Egnew spent most of his snaps at fullback last season, and that role is not needed this season. Egnew failed to play consistently as a tight end in practices or games.

Cutting Egnew also should serve as a warning shot to draft picks of former general manager Jeff Ireland. New Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey has no ties and no bias to those draft picks. Recent draft busts such as running back Daniel Thomas and others must produce to make the 53-man roster.

In addition to cutting Michael Egnew, the Dolphins also waived/injured CB Jalil Brown and waived DL Michajah Reynolds. Miami will play its third preseason game Saturday night against the Dallas Cowboys at Sun Life Stadium.
David Nelson will play in his first New York Jets-New York Giants game Friday night, but he got a little taste of the rivalry a few months ago in a posh hotel ballroom, of all places.

He attended the United Way gridiron gala at the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan, where teammate Muhammad Wilkerson and Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz were honored. Several current and former players from both teams showed up in support. Nelson's radar detected something wasn't quite right in the big, fancy room.

"There was a weird vibe at the gala," he said. "It was like, the Jets were over here, the Giants were over there. Even with the alumni, there was a weird vibe. I mean, guys were friendly, but usually when you get a bunch of football players together, you're hanging out, having a good time. There was a different vibe that night."

Welcome to the most overhyped rivalry in sports.

Sure, there will be a little extra juice at MetLife Stadium, where the two teams will play for something called the Snoopy Trophy (LOL), but Jets-Giants isn't a true rivalry. It can't be a blood rivalry when you play a real game once every four years.

A little perspective, please: This is a preseason game. It doesn't count. Most of the players won't remember the score by next week. Be honest: If it weren't for Mark Sanchez's shoulder injury, the result of Rex Ryan's misguided desire to win at all costs, how many would remember the Jets won last year's game, 24-21, in overtime?

The Jets are approaching this game like it matters, but I don't think it's because there is genuine dislike for the Giants. I think it's because Ryan, master motivator, has manufactured a cause for his players, just like he did last week. Ryan wants the Jets to be the bully of the NFL, a team that intimidates. Giants rookie Andre Williams provided fodder for Ryan by saying the Giants are "the real New York team" -- a remark that has resonated in the Jets' locker room.

"All week long, guys have been talking about it," Nelson said. "This is a preseason game, but there's definitely a different feel. It's not just the third preseason game, it's the Giants. Rex and a couple of coaches have made it known this is a big game for us. Even though it doesn't count for anything, it's still for bragging rights. To have that trophy, or whatever you want to call it, guys play for stuff like that. It adds a little extra motivation."

Presumably, Ryan learned a lesson last year and won't put Geno Smith behind a backup line in garbage time. The goals for this game should be clear: Stay healthy, build some cohesion on both sides of the ball and evaluate "bubble" players.

If you happen to walk away the victor ... well, good for you. But, remember, the goal is the Lombardi, not the Snoopy.

Bills Camp Report: Day 33

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21
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PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Buffalo Bills training camp:
  • We've reached the end of training camp. The Bills held their final practice at St. John Fisher College on Thursday morning, moved up from the afternoon because of rain the forecast. It was closed to the public.
  • The practice was stopped early on after a few small scuffles broke out. Coach Doug Marrone had his players line up on the sideline, lit them up with some choice language, and then had players run sprints. Marrone and defensive end Jerry Hughes exchanged words at one point during the discipline session, with Marrone suggesting that Hughes and other players should head for the locker room if they wanted to fight.
  • Wide receiver Sammy Watkins upped his participation -- slightly. He took part in routes-versus-air and then headed for a side field to continue an individual workout. He did not participate in team drills and has not been cleared to play in Saturday's preseason game. At this point, his chances of suiting up before the regular season opener look slim.
  • Defensive tackle Kyle Williams (leg) sat out, although he was on the sidelines and spoke to Hughes at one point. Tight end Tony Moeaki (hamstring) continues to be sidelined and his time to make the roster may be running out.
  • The Bills will have a walk-through Friday -- closed to reporters -- before heading back to Ralph Wilson Stadium for Saturday's game, their first home contest of the preseason.

Jets camp report: Day 29

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21
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HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- A daily review of the hot topics from New York Jets training camp:
  • The Jets returned to their Long Island roots Thursday evening, drawing 11,000 fans for a "Family Night" practice at Hofstra Stadium. This was their way of throwing a bone to their Long Island fan base, which lost the team in 2009. Hofstra was the Jets' year-round home for four decades, but that changed when Woody Johnson decided to move the operation to Florham Park, N.J. They promised an annual visit to Hofstra, but those visits stopped in 2010. They finally made it back, and the atmosphere was terrific. Hey, they could be back next summer on Long Island. The Jets are considering SUNY-Farmingdale, about 20 minutes east of Hofstra, as their training-camp site. It would be a great way to reconnect with the loyal fans that feel abandoned.
  • With a game Friday night, the Jets dialed it down a few notches in terms of practice intensity, but we saw enough to realize the beleaguered secondary remains in flux. There will be two new starters when they face the New York Giants: Safety Calvin Pryor and cornerback Darrin Walls will replace Jaiquawn Jarrett and Ellis Lankster, respectively. Makes sense. Pryor is too talented to sit on the bench. Walls is a borderline starter, but at least he has experience on the boundary. Lankster played well last week, but his meal ticket is special teams. Basically, the Jets will be playing with three safeties -- Pryor, Dawan Landry and Antonio Allen, who remains at corner. You don't want to be in experimental mode for the third preseason game, but it's not as if the Jets have a lot of options.
  • It sure doesn't look like cornerback Dimitri Patterson (leg) will face the Giants; he didn't participate in any of the team drills. Tight end Jeff Cumberland (Achilles' tendon) was limited, so there's a chance he could play. It will probably be a game-time decision.
  • Thursday was a homecoming for guard Willie Colon, a Bronx native who played at Hofstra through the 2005 season. Upon arriving at the stadium by bus, Colon caught some flak from his teammates, many of them wondering why his old college number isn't retired and hanging with the other famous alums from Hofstra -- namely Wayne Chrebet, Marques Colston and John Schmitt, the starting center on the Jets' 1968 Super Bowl team. Said Colon: "It brought back memories. I keep getting heckled on why my name and number isn't up there, but Mr. Schmitt has (No. 77)." Hofstra disbanded its football program in 2009.
HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- It was only a matter of time, and that time is now.

First-round pick Calvin Pryor will start at safety Friday night when the New York Jets meet the New York Giants in their annual preseason game. Pryor worked with the first team Thursday evening in a special practice at Hofstra, with Rex Ryan confirming later the Louisville Slugger will replace Jaiquawn Jarrett in the lineup.

"You know he's ready for it," Ryan said. "You saw the game (last week), as well as I have. We've seen the practices."

Pryor came off the bench last Saturday night against the Cincinnati Bengals, but he got some time with the starting unit and made a handful of impact plays. He recovered a fumble, broke up two passes and recorded a tackle-for-loss in his NFL debut. He missed the first preseason game because of a concussion.

Promoting Pryor is the right move; it's the only move. He was drafted 18th overall for a reason, and he displayed those reasons last week, bringing an enforcer mentality to the secondary. It would've made no sense to keep him with the backups.

Pryor won't be the only new starter in the secondary. Continuing to experiment even as the preseason winds down, the Jets will give Darrin Walls a shot at cornerback, replacing Ellis Lankster. Walls played well last week, making a late interception, and followed that with a good week of practice.

It has to be disconcerting for Ryan, mixing and matching in the third preseason game, but what choice does he have? Converted safety Antonio Allen will remain at cornerback (this week, anyway), with Dawan Landry holding it all down at strong safety.

It doesn't appear that Dimitri Patterson (leg) will play. He was in uniform Thursday night, but he didn't participate in any positional or team drills. The Jets are counting on him to be ready for the season opener, but they're not sure about Dee Milliner (high-ankle sprain).

Key areas for Patriots vs. Panthers

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21
7:30
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When the New England Patriots host the Carolina Panthers in preseason action Friday night, here are some key areas for the team based on what has unfolded in the first two games:

Conditioning and possibly playing into third quarter. The overall conditioning of the team has been a high priority for head coach Bill Belichick in training camp, with an eye toward what figures to be a sweltering Sept. 7 season opener in Miami (1 p.m. ET kickoff). Quarterback Tom Brady said Belichick has told the players to expect a heavy workload, which could mean playing into the third quarter, which is often the case in the third preseason game. It's all tied to conditioning.

Good test for run defense. One of the themes of the week has been how facing an athletic quarterback such as Cam Newton, and a downhill power running team, presents a nice contrast to the spread-it-out Philadelphia Eagles offense from last week. So it's more good work for the starting front seven in the 3-4 alignment, which was solid against the run last week against LeSean McCoy & Co. Our eyes will be on linebacker Jerod Mayo and if he plays for the first time this preseason.

Following up with Stevan Ridley. The four-year veteran played 16 snaps last Friday as the Patriots focused heavily on the run game. Ridley's final snap was ruled a fumble, which was a close play but nonetheless brought a hot-button topic -- Ridley's ball security -- back to the forefront. In a game in which the starters are expected to play extensively, how Ridley responds bears monitoring.

Competitions on interior of O-line. Center and right guard are the spots to continue to monitor, with Dan Connolly (center) and Josh Kline (right guard) looking like the front-runners at this point. But incumbent center Ryan Wendell is still in the mix, and the coaching staff has also taken a long look at first-year blocker Jordan Devey, who has played every snap this preseason. Four-year veteran Marcus Cannon is also a possibility at right guard, although our feeling is that he looks more comfortable at tackle.

Malcolm Butler and sustaining his play. The undrafted free-agent cornerback from West Alabama has been one of the surprise stories of training camp, as he's not only practiced well, but has shown up in games with ball disruption and strong coverage. Can he sustain it?
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Some New York Jets have a lot on the line Friday night against the New York Giants in the third preseason game. Wide receiver Greg Salas, in particular, would like to take big step toward securing a roster spot after a long training camp.

"We'll see how much I get to play and how everything works [out], but every game is a big game," Salas said Wednesday. "Every time you step out on that field is huge. I can only do my best."

[+] EnlargeGreg Salas
AP Photo/Tony TribbleGreg Salas led the Jets with two catches for 31 yards last weekend in Cincinnati.
Salas, 25, has just 35 receptions since entering the NFL out of Hawaii in 2011. But Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg makes it clear that Salas is a valued member of the receiver corps.

"We don't care about [big] names," Mornhinweg said. "We only care about the play and the production and how a man can help our football team. I know that I trust Salas an awful lot."

In his Jets debut, Salas caught two passes for 57 yards in a 26-20 victory over New Orleans on Nov. 3.

"He came in and he was here a very brief time and helped us win a couple ballgames last year," Mornhinweg said. "[He] has performed at a high level and on a consistent basis as well, and so that's certainly what we're looking for. He has sure hands, he does everything right, typically, and he's a talented guy."

Eric Decker, Jeremy Kerley, Stephen Hill and David Nelson are the Jets' top wide receivers. Jacoby Ford is in the mix, and Salas and Clyde Gates are making a push to land coveted spots on the roster.

Salas is in a pretty good spot in advance of the first cut-down date. Two rookie wide receivers are out: Shaq Evans had shoulder surgery and Jalen Saunders has an undisclosed medical issue.

"I feel bad for the rookies," Salas said. "We had three rookies in the room and only [Quincy Enunwa] is left."

Jets coach Rex Ryan has lauded Salas for being consistent, and he also has been healthy. That can't be discounted.

"If you're on the field, then you can show what you can do," Salas said.
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PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- At some point, enough was enough.

Following an intense fight near the end of Wednesday's practice, a few small scuffles broke out early in the Buffalo Bills' morning practice Thursday. Coach Doug Marrone quickly put an end to it.

Marrone lined players up on one sideline and ripped into them for fighting. At one point, defensive end Jerry Hughes talked back to Marrone, leading to more shouting from Marrone in Hughes' direction, questioning him about whether he wanted to stay on the team.

Players then ran sprints across the field in an apparent act of discipline.

After practice, Marrone said the fire was directed at all players, not just Hughes.

"No, that was directed to anyone that doesn't want to be a part of the team," Marrone said.

Marrone spent time with the defensive line group immediately after practice ended. He said that any discipline would be handled in-house.

"I'm going to say it again, and I'm not going to answer another question on it: We're responsible for the integrity of the game," Marrone said, with an increasingly stern tone, following practice. "Can you figure it out? Figure it out. We're responsible for the integrity of the game.

"There is no use for fighting in the game of football. Period. End of discussion. Move on."
DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins completed their final practice in preparation for Saturday’s third preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys.

Here are some notes and observations on Thursday’s session:
  • Dolphins tight end Charles Clay completed a full week of practice and is optimistic about his chances of playing against Dallas. Clay missed the first two preseason games with a knee injury. But he returned to practice this week with no setbacks. Clay told me he feels ready, but the final decision probably won’t be made by the team until Friday. “I feel good,” Clay said. “It felt good to get back out there and get the timing and things back down with the quarterbacks. Mentally, I’ve been getting myself prepared. But just being able to get out there and physically being able to run through everything is a good feeling.”
  • Thursday’s practice was a light walk-through. The team stayed inside the entire time and practiced in shorts and no pads. There was virtually little contact and the practice took approximately one hour.
  • Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said they will game plan for the Cowboys more than any preseason opponent. Because it is a dress rehearsal, Miami also simulated a regular-season week where the team will put in a specific plan for an opponent. “The game plan is in, every part of it is in,” Philbin said after practice. “So guys get a chance to kind of let it sink in and get ready to perform on Saturday night.”
  • In terms of injuries, kickoff return specialist Marcus Thigpen (hamstring), running back Daniel Thomas (hamstring), cornerback Jalil Brown (thigh) and kicker Caleb Sturgis (groin) were the key players who didn’t practice Thursday. There is a good chance these players won’t suit up Saturday against Dallas.
  • The Dolphins will have a day off Friday before playing the Cowboys Saturday at 7 p.m. ET. Miami will wrap up its preseason on Aug. 28 against the St. Louis Rams.
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams sat out Thursday's practice with a leg injury.

Williams watched the practice from the sideline, so the injury does not appear to be serious. Williams, 31, is a team captain and periodically receives rest days.

In his place, the Bills used Corbin Bryant next to Marcell Dareus at defensive tackle with their first-team defense. Stefan Charles and Landon Cohen were the pairing on the second team.

Meanwhile, cornerback Leodis McKelvin sat out Thursday's practice after leaving Wednesday's session with a groin injury. Doctors have yet to clear McKelvin to play in Saturday's preseason game.

Tight end Tony Moeaki (hamstring), cornerback Mario Butler (ankle), cornerback Bobby Felder (groin), and safety Jonathan Meeks (neck) also sat out Thursday's practice.
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins (ribs) has not yet been cleared to play in Saturday's preseason game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Team doctors told coach Doug Marrone that if the game was Thursday, Watkins would not play. The Bills have an off day Friday before Saturday's game, giving doctors another chance to evaluate Watkins' ribs.

Watkins ramped up his participation slightly in Thursday's practice, taking part in routes versus air after sitting out that portion of practice Tuesday and Wednesday. When the Bills broke into full-team drills, Watkins moved to a side field for a workout.

If Watkins doesn't play Saturday, the Bills are expected to use Mike Williams, Chris Hogan and Robert Woods as their top three receivers with EJ Manuel and the first-team offense. T.J. Graham also could see time with that group.
IRVING, Texas – What to do with the fullback on the final roster will be among the Dallas Cowboys ’ toughest decisions.

The "who" right now is easy; the job would go to veteran Tyler Clutts. But it is far from a given that the Cowboys will keep a fullback heading into the regular season.

Clutts joined the Cowboys in the final four games of last season and DeMarco Murray had 424 yards in that span, although not all of it came behind the fullback. But to keep a fullback, the Cowboys might have to carry just three tailbacks or go lighter somewhere else on defense.

[+] EnlargeTyler Clutts
AP Photo/Ringo H.W. ChiuThe Cowboys must decide whether to keep a fullback on their final roster. It would most likely be Tyler Clutts.
“When you talk about the fullback, you talk about the second tight, you talk about the third receiver – those guys that are starters on your team in particular personnel groups,” coach Jason Garrett said. “You’re always kind of counting plays with those guys, you’re evaluating what their special teams role is and you’re evaluating simply their effectiveness and their value to your offense. You want to be a physical football team; having a fullback matters. You want to be a physical football team. That second back in the backfield sometimes provides that oomph that you’re looking for.”

Clutts averaged about 12 plays a game last season. There aren't a lot of short-yardage and goal-line plays to go around in a season, but if the Cowboys want to run more and kill the clock late in games, keeping a fullback could make some sense. Murray said he has no preference as to whether he runs in a one-back or two-back set.

“Typically in the NFL you might have 10, 12, 15 – at the most – goal-line plays over the course of a season,” Garrett said. “And you take every play as if it’s the last play you’ll ever play, but having said that, those goal-line plays matter. Having a guy in there who can do the job for you there and also in some short-yardage situations, that’s an important part of having success on offense.

“So we’ve done it different ways. Different teams have done it different ways, issuing the third tight end. Sometimes you use a defensive lineman or an offensive lineman to help those personnel groups out. But if you have a fullback who is worthy, you can throw him the ball, he can lead-block, he can do some other things and can contribute on special teams. All of a sudden you count up those plays and the importance of those plays and he becomes a valuable commodity.”

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