AFC East: 2011 back to work FYI AFC

Patriots back-to-work FYI

July, 25, 2011
7/25/11
1:57
PM ET
NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Unrestricted FAs

Readiness factor: The Patriots' organization might have the NFL's most established infrastructure. Players dutifully follow Bill Belichick's scripted, proven routines. Leadership from players such as Tom Brady, Wes Welker, Logan Mankins, Matt Light (if he returns) and Vince Wilfork will help the Patriots galvanize more speedily than most clubs.

Biggest challenge: The Patriots need to manufacture a pass rush. It will be interesting to see whether Belichick pursues assistance through free agency or sticks with the youngsters on his roster. The Patriots tied for 14th in sacks last season with 36. Starting outside linebackers Tully Banta-Cain, Rob Ninkovich and Jermaine Cunningham combined for just 10 sacks and 26 quarterback hits.

Backfield in motion: The Patriots had an entertaining tandem with BenJarvus Green-Ellis pounding out the carries (1,008 yards and 13 touchdowns) and Danny Woodhead electrifying fans as a combo runner-receiver (926 yards from scrimmage and six TDs) last season. But the rest of the backfield depth chart could be erased (see below), and the DanJarvus Green-Woodhead attack probably won't handle as much responsibility. The Patriots drafted running backs Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley back-to-back in the second round.

Key players without contracts for 2011: Mankins' contract has expired, but the Patriots placed the franchise tag on him. Light, running backs Kevin Faulk, Sammy Morris and Fred Taylor and safety Brandon McGowan are up in the air.

Jets back-to-work FYI

July, 25, 2011
7/25/11
1:57
PM ET
NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Unrestricted FAs

Readiness factor: The Jets' coaching staff and much of the roster will remain intact, which reduces the learning curve. But the Jets won't have training-camp bonding time at SUNY Cortland, an enhancement Rex Ryan and his players prized the past two seasons. They already pulled the plug on their upstate training camp and will convene at team headquarters in Florham Park, N.J.

Biggest challenge: All their free agents. The Jets have some biggies, most notably at wide receiver. They must keep young quarterback Mark Sanchez's support staff stocked with weapons, and receivers Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith are about to hit the market. So are cornerback Antonio Cromartie and safeties Brodney Pool, Eric Smith and James Ihedigbo.

What a rush: The Jets quietly tied for eighth in the NFL in sacks last season but didn't have a fearsome presence in an overall defense designed to create mayhem. Of the 40 sacks they recorded last season, more than a quarter of them belonged to defensive backs and almost half were rung up by players who aren't under contract. The Jets released outside linebacker Jason Taylor (5 sacks). Defensive end Shaun Ellis (4.5 sacks) also has an expired contract.

Key players without contracts for 2011: In addition to the above, fullback Tony Richardson, cornerback Drew Coleman, top special-teams tackler Lance Laury, kicker Nick Folk, punter Steve Weatherford.

Dolphins back-to-work FYI

July, 25, 2011
7/25/11
1:56
PM ET
NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Unrestricted FAs

Readiness factor: The Dolphins might be the most prepared team in the NFL based on offseason workouts. Because so many players make South Florida their year-round homes, getting them together wasn't difficult. The Dolphins gathered early and frequently during the lockout.

Biggest challenge: Miami must overcome multiple institutional issues that have placed key people on the hot seat. Head coach Tony Sparano is back for a fourth season after owner Stephen Ross publicly flirted with Jim Harbaugh, and the team's hopes appear to be pinned on unproven quarterback Chad Henne, likely an unproven-but-still-unnamed running back and new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, who was less than inspiring with Cleveland.

Defense in focus: While the offense is in doubt, defensive coordinator Mike Nolan's group is in solid shape. The whole crew essentially is back, a young group that now has another year of experience. The Dolphins ranked sixth in total defense, seventh in run defense and eighth in pass defense. If you're looking for an area that must improve, then turnovers would be the place. Ball hawking is a core Nolan belief, but the Dolphins notched only 11 interceptions and recovered eight fumbles last season.

Key players without contracts for 2011: Running backs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams are the most prominent. Backup quarterback Tyler Thigpen also is on the list.

Bills back-to-work FYI

July, 25, 2011
7/25/11
1:54
PM ET
NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Unrestricted FAs

Readiness factor: The Bills will need every moment they can find to prepare for the season. Their offensive skill players gathered at quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick's home in April. A larger contingent convened in Western New York for casual workouts in May.

Biggest challenge: Buffalo must find a defensive identity quickly. The Bills switched from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 with bad results last year. As it became obvious they had the NFL's worst run defense, they mixed their fronts. Head coach Chan Gailey has said that they will be a hybrid defense leaning toward a 3-4 base. Then he hired longtime 4-3 mastermind Dave Wannstedt -- not to replace defensive coordinator George Edwards, but as assistant head coach and linebackers coach.

Line in the sand: The Bills have a tenuous offensive line, although all the late-season starters are back. The line mostly has been mediocre and often riddled with injuries. Demetrius Bell has been a bargain at left tackle, but far from dominant. Right guard Eric Wood could eventually shift to center.

Key players without contracts for 2011: Inside linebacker Paul Posluszny and safety Donte Whitner have been two of the Bills' most prolific tacklers. Cornerback Drayton Florence is an overlooked free agent who could be popular on the open market. Disappointing former first-round pick John McCargo is a goner.

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