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Friday, September 5, 2008
Preseason All-AFC East defense

Posted by's Tim Graham

On Thursday, I posted my inaugural preseason All-AFC East offense.

Here's the defensive unit. Since the Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots and New York Jets run 3-4 schemes, that's the lineup I filled out.

Special teams will be unveiled Saturday.

LEFT DEFENSIVE END: Ty Warren, Patriots.

The only member of the Patriots' D-line that hasn't been to the Pro Bowl might be its best. Teams actually have started to run away from Warren because they prefer to try Richard Seymour instead. That's saying something.

NOSE TACKLE: Vince Wilfork, Patriots.

This AFC East position is more loaded than any other. Every team has a stud, and three of them are new: Marcus Stroud (Bills), Kris Jenkins (Jets) and Jason Ferguson (Dolphins). So have fun with them, centers.

Wilfork remains the scariest. Jets C Nick Mangold and Dolphins C Samson Satele call Wilfork the best they've faced. Mangold admits he gets nervous when he faces Wilfork. Satele says Wilfork "can handle himself with three guys blocking him. If you have two 300-pound guys running after you and you can stone them in that hole, there's nothing more I can say. He's so quick, it's unbelievable."

RIGHT DEFENSIVE END: Aaron Schobel, Bills.

Seymour is everybody's default selection, but New England's five-time Pro Bowler played in only eight games last year. Besides, Schobel has done more with less. His 52 sacks since 2003 are second only to Jason Taylor's 59. Schobel went to his second Pro Bowl last year despite recording only 6.5 sacks because he often was double-teamed. He tied for fifth in the NFL with five forced fumbles (more than Seymour has in his career).

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS: Mike Vrabel, Patriots, and Adalius Thomas, Patriots.

The AFC East's most experienced position is led by Vrabel, who is coming off the finest campaign of his career. He recorded 12.5 sacks and forced four fumbles. His bookend is coming off a disappointing overall first season for the Patriots, but Thomas came on strong down the homestretch and in the postseason, reminding the Patriots why they signed him after a stellar run in Baltimore. Calvin Pace? He's on the verge of becoming special. Joey Porter? He looks ragged.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS: David Harris, Jets, and Channing Crowder, Dolphins.

Here's a position that's skewing young. Based on reputation, Tedy Bruschi would be named above, but he's on the downside. Harris last year led the Jets with 117 tackles as a rookie. Crowder served with distinction as Zach Thomas' understudy for three years. Now the Dolphins defense is Crowder's to take over. Look out for Bills sophomore Paul Posluszny. The former Butkus Award winner sometimes is forgotten because he suffered a broken forearm in his third NFL game.

LEFT CORNERBACK: Darrelle Revis, Jets.

Bills veteran Terrence McGee, also a Pro Bowl KR, makes this a close call. But Revis is on his way to greatness. Revis made an impact his rookie season. The 14th overall pick had a team-high 77 solo tackles (91 total), three interceptions and 13 passes defensed.

FREE SAFETY: Ko Simpson, Bills.

I stewed on this position the most because no one is convincing. James Sanders started 15 games last year, but the Patriots brought in aged warrior John Lynch late in camp -- not the greatest vote of confidence. Chris Crocker (Dolphins) was a mild surprise to win the job despite three seasons as a starter in Cleveland and Atlanta. Eric Smith (Jets) has four starts to his name in two seasons.

So we're going strictly on upside here, and Ko Simpson has more than the others. He had a sensational rookie season in 2006, but a leg injury in Week 1 prevented him from following up last year.

STRONG SAFETY: Kerry Rhodes, Jets.

There's heavy-duty talent at strong safety. Fifteen-year vet Rodney Harrison remains a fearsome hitter. Donte Whitner, entering his third year, is emerging as a total package. But Rhodes already has established himself as a stalwart by his fourth season. Rhodes has started all 48 games of his career, and many observers insist he should have played in at least one Pro Bowl by now. He has nine interceptions over the past two seasons.

RIGHT CORNERBACK: Ellis Hobbs, Patriots.

The competition looks scarce for Hobbs, who turned in a decent season last year opposite Pro Bowler Asante Samuel. Jabari Greer took over the starter's job last year and performed well, but the Bills felt compelled to draft three CBs and sign another through free agency.