Four key players returning from injuries

May, 25, 2012
5/25/12
1:00
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Here are four important players to keep an eye on who are returning from injuries suffered last season:

Williams
Buffalo Bills: Defensive end Mario Williams

Injury: Pectoral

Thoughts: Williams was on his way to a dominant 2011 after he recorded five sacks in his first five games. Then he tore his pectoral muscle and was sidelined for the rest of the season. That didn't scare Buffalo away from making Williams the richest player in franchise history. The Bills gave Williams a $100 million contract in free agency to improve their pass rush. Williams will join teammates Mark Anderson, Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams to make up one of the NFL's most formidable defensive lines. There's no reason to think Williams won't be successful with this group as long as he avoids injuries.

Long
Miami Dolphins: Left tackle Jake Long

Injury: Bicep

Thoughts: Long missed two of the final three games last season and was placed on injured reserve last December with a torn bicep. The perennial Pro Bowl left tackle went four straight years without missing a start but played hurt much of last season. Long is entering the final year of his contract, and the rebuilding Dolphins need a healthy season from their best player. Miami general manager Jeff Ireland says he wants to keep Long in a Dolphins uniform for a long time. The team may not extend Long's contract happen this summer, but look for the Dolphins to offer Long a huge extension by next year -- especially if he shows his durability in 2012.

Gronkowski
Gronkowski
New England Patriots: Tight end Rob Gronkowski

Injury: Ankle

Thoughts: Gronkowski didn't miss any games last season. But he suffered a major ankle injury in the AFC Championship Game against the Baltimore Ravens that hindered his effectiveness in New England's Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants. Gronkowski opted for surgery after the Super Bowl and is in the recovery phase. There is no reason to believe he won't be the same dominant player who set an NFL record for tight ends with 17 touchdown receptions in 2011. Gronkowski is 23 years old. But sometimes with youth comes the propensity to rush back on the field. It will be up to the Patriots' medical staff to make sure "Gronk" takes his time getting back to 100 percent.

Landry
New York Jets: Safety LaRon Landry

Injury: Achilles

Thoughts: The Jets signed Landry to a one-year, $3.5 million contract despite knowing he wasn't 100 percent. Landry has already missed organized team activities. The Jets hope his Achilles can be fully healthy by training camp. Landry, when healthy, is a big and physical safety who can blow people up. That would fit in well with New York's defense. But Landry can't help the Jets unless he's on the field. The former first-round pick missed 16 games the past two seasons with the Washington Redskins.

James Walker | email

ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter

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