- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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A look at key players for each AFC East team who are coming back from injuries:
New England Patriots: There is no bigger injury concern in the AFC East this offseason than Rob Gronkowski. The Pro Bowl tight end has had three surgeries within the past year to fix his broken arm, and he is scheduled to have a fourth surgery next week. The timeline for Gronkowski’s return is approximately 10 weeks. That will put Gronkowski on pace for training camp if there are no setbacks. Gronkowski is arguably the best tight end in the NFL when healthy, and he’s certainly New England’s best red zone threat. After losing starting receivers Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd this offseason, the Patriots really need a healthy and productive Gronkowski to thrive on offense this year.
New York Jets: It’s easy to forget about Santonio Holmes. Due to a serious foot injury, the former Super Bowl MVP was virtually nonexistent last season after playing just four games. The Jets’ passing game was in shambles as a result. But Holmes returns this season as New York’s No. 1 receiver and has a lot of responsibility on his shoulders. The Jets are rebuilding and don't have much talent on offense. There will also be a four-way quarterback competition between Mark Sanchez, rookie Geno Smith, Greg McElroy and Matt Simms. Holmes is one of the few players the Jets have on offense who has consistently produced throughout his career. It’s unknown if Holmes will return to his pre-injury form, but he should be better than any receiving threat the Jets have.
Miami Dolphins: One year ago, cornerback Brent Grimes was coming off a Pro Bowl season and viewed as one of the up-and-coming stars at his position. But a season-ending Achilles injury in 2012 dropped his stock, and now Grimes is trying to get back to his Pro Bowl form in Miami. The Dolphins signed Grimes to a one-year “show me” contract this offseason. No team was willing to make a multiyear commitment while Grimes still recovers from his torn Achilles. The Dolphins are taking a risk that Grimes will be 100 percent before the start of the regular season. He’s projected to be Miami’s No. 1 cornerback. The Dolphins were ranked 27th against the pass in 2012 and desperately need him. He also will provide veteran leadership to Miami’s two rookie corners: Jamar Taylor and Will Davis.
Buffalo Bills: Mark Anderson has become the forgotten defensive player in Buffalo. Just one year ago, the Bills made Anderson one of their big free-agent signings. But a knee injury forced Anderson to miss 11 games, and he recorded just 12 tackles and one sack. The Bills brought in Anderson to add a pass rush. He had 10 sacks with the Patriots in 2011 and aims to get healthy and return to form under new Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. Buffalo needs as many pass-rushers as possible to assist Mario Williams, who led the Bills with 10.5 sacks last season.