AFC East: 2012 NFL training camp

Dolphins have tough decisions at QB

August, 24, 2012
The Miami Dolphins' quarterback picture was crystal clear two weeks ago. Veteran David Garrard was clearly winning the quarterback derby, Matt Moore was the incumbent pushing Garrard, and rookie Ryan Tannehill was a late arrival to training camp trying to catch up.

It's amazing how much has changed.

Two weeks later, Tannehill is the Week 1 starter, Garrard is recovering from knee surgery and little-known quarterback Pat Devlin is pushing for a roster spot. The Dolphins now have some big decisions to make at quarterback, and it won't be easy.

David Garrard
Steve Mitchell/US PresswireThe Dolphins might have to cut David Garrard, who was the team's best QB before suffering an injury.
The Dolphins will keep three quarterbacks. But there are plenty of ways they can go with this decision.

Let's examine the possibilities.

Option No. 1: Keep Tannehill, Garrard and Moore

Analysis: Miami could keep Garrard and Moore on the roster to backup Tannehill. These are the three best quarterbacks on the roster, although sometimes that doesn't always matter in the decision. This trio would give the Dolphins a steady group of quarterbacks. If Tannehill gets injured, the drop off to Garrard or Moore wouldn't be much. It might actually improve, due to experience. But money and contracts will weigh on this decision, which makes it possible that Garrard or Moore might not make the cut.

Option No. 2: Keep Tannehill, Moore and Devlin

Analysis: Devlin is much improved and getting better each week. His improvement is opening some options for the Dolphins. One of those options is to cut Garrard or work out an injury settlement if he's not healthy before the regular season. The tough part about this decision is Garrard was clearly the best quarterback in training camp before his knee injury. The Dolphins might be letting go of the best quarterback on the team. But the decision already has been made to start Tannehill in Week 1. Garrard is still rehabbing. So Miami might think it's best to keep a healthy Moore as the backup and Devlin at No. 3 in case he develops into something.

Option No. 3: Keep Tannehill, Garrard and Devlin

Analysis: The final option is to work out a trade for Moore. But several factors have to be involved for this to work. First, the Dolphins must be confident Garrard will be healthy enough to backup Tannehill in Week 1. Second, there has to be a market for Moore, which could require a quarterback injury or two this preseason. Moore has 25 career starts and went 6-3 in his final nine starts for Miami last season. He could have value to a team desperate to replace an injured quarterback on the fly.

The Dolphins have one week (Aug. 31) to make their final roster cuts.

Which option do you like best for Miami?
It's "dress rehearsal" week in the NFL. This is the third and most important preseason game for most teams in preparation for the regular season.

Here are four questions for the third games in the AFC East:

No. 1: Can the New York Jets get in the end zone?

Thoughts: It’s a simple question. But the fact is New York remains the only NFL team yet to score a touchdown this preseason. The Jets are not showing everything, but leaks are springing up everywhere in their execution and fundamentals. Receivers are dropping passes, the pass protection has been horrendous and it's impacting quarterbacks Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow. The potential return Sunday of No. 1 receiver Santonio Holmes should provide a boost to the passing game. Benching right tackle Wayne Hunter is another move to get this offense going in the right direction.

No. 2: Is it rest or rust for the New England Patriots?

Thoughts: Patriots head coach Bill Belichick made an interesting move on Monday when he sat out many of his big-name starters in the second preseason game. For Belichick, it was a chance to rest virtually all of his star players, but also get a good look at younger players like backup quarterback Ryan Mallett. The flip side is many of New England’s important players have just one quarter of work this entire preseason. Belichick plans to play his starters about three quarters to tonight against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Next week is a meaningless game. So tonight is New England’s last chance to shake of the rust before the regular season.

No. 3: Will the Buffalo Bills start fast?

Thoughts: Buffalo does not want to make a habit of starting games slowly. That's one of the quickest ways to fall out of playoff contention. But the Bills’ starters have been lethargic this preseason. Buffalo has been outscored 23-10 in the first half the past two weeks. The Bills need to get a fast start in this dress rehearsal game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. It should be a good test of two teams expected to contend for a playoff spot in the AFC. If the Bills’ starters look lackadaisical for the third week in a row, you have to wonder if they are a little complacent and buying into their hype.

No. 4: Can the Miami Dolphins' defense step up?

Thoughts: Miami’s starting defense has allowed 24 first-quarter points the past two preseason games. Even with injuries, the fact that this group can’t get off the field should be a concern. Miami was without three key starters last week -- Karlos Dansby, Kevin Burnett and Cameron Wake -- so the defense gets a bit of a pass. But there will be no excuses in two weeks when the regular season begins. It's time for Miami's defense to build momentum. This is the strength of the team. If the defense doesn't play well, it's going to be a long season for the Dolphins.

Can the Jets fix their offense?

August, 21, 2012
Sanchez & Tebow & Holmes US PresswireMark Sanchez, left, Santonio Holmes, middle, Tim Tebow and the Jets have no TDs this preseason.
The New York Jets' offense can't run, can't pass, can't protect the quarterback and cannot get into the end zone.

Other than that, things are going pretty well.

The Jets are putting on a "Bad News Bears" type of performance offensively this preseason. Granted, these games don't count in the standings. But we haven't seen anything from the Jets to inspire confidence that they will improve on last season's No. 25 ranking in total offense during the regular season.

A full slate of organized team activities, minicamp and training camp have produced only three field goals in eight quarters. The Jets currently hold the embarrassing distinction as the only NFL team yet to score a preseason touchdown.

The much-hyped and much-anticipated quarterback battle between Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow has fizzled. Sanchez is 13-of-17 for 80 yards, with one pick-six and five sacks. Tebow is 9-of-22 for 96 yards, one interception and four sacks. The Jets' offense this preseason is best measured in inches, not yards.

At some point, confidence might become an issue. This is a group that struggled all last season under former offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. But with "Schotty" gone, there is no scapegoat left to point the finger at besides the players failing to execute.

"Obviously like anything else, you want touchdowns because you want to see kids smile," Jets first-year offensive coordinator Tony Sparano told reporters this week. "You want to see the smile on their face. You want to see some validation on what it is that we’ve been doing and how hard they’ve been working."

There weren't many smiles from the Jets' offense in last weekend's 26-3 loss to the New York Giants. The Jets looked very frustrated for only a second preseason game.

Jets starting tailback Shonn Greene voiced his frustration after a failed fourth-down conversion in the first half. Tebow also was vocal and upset with his teammates for missed assignments. Tebow was sacked four times by the Giants' backups.

There are so many issues with personnel and execution that you wonder if the Jets can fix their offense in time for their Week 1 showdown in the AFC East against the Buffalo Bills.

Starting with the offensive line, the Jets must figure out what to do with starting right tackle Wayne Hunter. In his first preseason game last weekend, Hunter allowed three sacks and had a fourth called back because of a Giants penalty. Hunter was a major problem last season and has shown no signs of improvement.

"That stuff happens to everybody," Sanchez said of Hunter's bad game. "I don't care who you are."

Sanchez also spoke of building up Hunter's confidence and continuing to have faith in the struggling right tackle. New York's coaches say Hunter's problems are correctable. But the truth is he's just not a good player. If the Jets had a viable replacement, they would have benched Hunter by now. The problem is New York's options are very thin.

The Jets might have to turn to third-year tackle Austin Howard. I don't know if he's any good, but he can't play much worse than Hunter did in the last preseason game. New York should start Howard on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers. If Howard doesn't give up four sacks in the first half, consider it progress. Another option would be to move draft bust Vladimir Ducasse from guard back to right tackle.

Whether it's Hunter, Howard or Ducasse, it's clear the Jets must give their right tackle help this season by consistently leaving in an extra tight end or running back. That takes away options in the passing game, but it is better than having Sanchez or Tebow laying on his back.

It's also time for the Jets to use their Wildcat offense. New York has been holding this formation close to the vest, but this wrinkle might be the best thing the Jets' offense has going for it. Tebow has proven he can move the chains with his legs, both with the Denver Broncos and the Jets in the preseason. I understand the Jets not wanting to show too much before they play the Bills on Sept. 9. But they should at least do a few basic, Wildcat plays to jumpstart the offense, get some work in and build the group's confidence.

My final preseason suggestion is for New York to play rookie receiver Stephen Hill as much as possible with the starters. The second-round pick has four receptions in two games. He is a raw talent in need of playing time. Hill has the size and speed to be an asset for the Jets, and this is the perfect time to develop him.

If Hill is more seasoned by the regular season when No. 1 receiver Santonio Holmes returns from his rib injury, the Jets' receivers will be in much better shape than they are now. Hill also is a solid run blocker who will contribute to New York's ground-and-pound offense.

The Jets have a lot of problems offensively. But benching Hunter, using the Wildcat and developing Hill as much as possible this preseason should patch a few holes.

With a strong defense, the Jets don't need their offense to be world-beaters to win games. New York just needs its leaky ship on offense to stay afloat and keep its head above water.
The Buffalo Bills spent more than $100 million in free agency on defensive ends Mario Williams and Mark Anderson. They also had a former starter and veteran holdover -- Chris Kelsay -- as the first player off the bench.

That made it much easier for Buffalo to turn the lights out on defensive end Shawne Merriman.

The Bills cut the former Pro Bowler on Monday. The move isn't a surprise. Merriman was never the same player after back-to-back, season-ending Achilles injuries. He lost the explosive burst that made him a once-dominant player with the San Diego Chargers.

Buffalo took a risk that Merriman could get healthy and become the "Lights Out" player he was several years ago -- or at least close to it. That never came to fruition, and the Bills decided to cut ties.

Buffalo's pass rush was horrendous last season, in part, because the Bills relied on an injured Merriman with few pass-rushers behind him. Merriman, if healthy, can still be an asset to an NFL team. But he was no longer a needed commodity in Buffalo.
The New York Jets are making it no secret they want to "ground and pound" opponents this year. That is why every time a running back is available, you have to consider the Jets as potential suitors.

It turns out New York has shown interest in Olympic silver medalist Jeff Demps, according to Jenny Vrentas of the Newark Star-Ledger. Demps was a former running back for the University of Florida and former college teammate of Tim Tebow. Demps rushed for 2,470 yards and 23 touchdowns with the Gators.

The Jets do not have much proven talent behind 1,000-yard rusher Shonn Greene. Backups Joe McKnight and Bilal Powell are expected to spell Greene this year. A speedy running back like Demps could be another tailback to add to the pile.

Dolphins training camp notes

August, 13, 2012
DAVIE, Fla. -- Obviously the most talked-about player at Miami Dolphins practice was no longer on the team. Receiver Chad Johnson was discussed at length Monday, but he wasn’t the only player worth noting at Dolphins training camp.

Here are some other notes and observations from Dolphins practice:
  • Miami rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw the football well and got some reps with the first team. You can see the improvement in Tannehill from minicamp and even the start of training camp. Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said he’s undecided on who will start Friday’s preseason game against the Carolina Panthers but didn’t rule out the rookie. It’s clear that Tannehill is certainly pushing incumbent starter Matt Moore and perhaps closing the gap.
  • The injuries are piling up for Miami. In addition to quarterback David Garrard (knee), the Dolphins also were without key players like receiver Brian Hartline, defensive lineman Tony McDaniel and linebackers Kevin Burnett and Karlos Dansby. The status of all four players is up in the air for Friday’s preseason game.
  • For those curious, Dolphins receiver Marlon Moore and Roberto Wallace were getting reps with the first team Monday in Johnson’s spot. Miami needs one of their young, unproven receivers to step up and Moore is getting the first chance. Wallace also made some nice plays but suffered a drop.
  • Miami veteran receiver Davone Bess had a great day of practice. He caught two red zone touchdowns and made several nice receptions from the slot. Bess’ route running has been crisp this summer.
  • Dolphins safety Jimmy Wilson continues to impress with a nice interception off Tannehill. Wilson is making a good adjustment from cornerback to safety and is showing his versatility.
DAVIE, Fla. – The Miami Dolphins took the practice field Monday for the first time since cutting six-time Pro Bowl receiver Chad Johnson over the weekend. There were various reactions from the Dolphins, including linebacker Karlos Dansby, who felt the team reacted too quickly.

Miami head coach Joe Philbin provided his explanation for cutting Johnson following charges of misdemeanor domestic abuse. According to Philbin, the decision was not "reactive" or based on one incident.

"It was more of a body of evidence from June 11 forward," Philbin explained. "When he came in on June 11, we sat down and we talked. I was very clear the expectations of the program, and it just didn’t work out. It’s more about the fit. In my gut, I didn’t feel the fit was going to be benificial for either party in the short-term or long-term."

The feeling around the Dolphins is Philbin played a huge role in cutting Johnson so swiftly. Philbin is a first-year head coach trying to establish his program in Miami. His personality is very different from Johnson, and the two already butted heads (no pun intended) over Johnson's offensive language during a news conference. The Dolphins and Philbin sent a stern message that the new head coach won't tolerate off-the-field distractions.

Besides, Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland has put up with off-the-field issues in the past, particularly with Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall. Ireland never acted so swift with Marshall, leading many to believe Philbin's fingerprints are all over cutting Johnson. It is also not a coincidence Miami traded Marshall after hiring Philbin, who is putting a ton of focus on character, regardless of what teammates think.

"I hate that we didn't stand behind him," Dansby said on WMEN-AM in Florida Monday morning. "I know the guys in the locker room would. But the organization felt a totally different way about the situation, and they probably had more information than we know. And they had to do what they had to do.

"It's going to be an even bigger distraction right now, I think, because of the simple fact we let him go. I think if we were going to be with the guy, if he was going to be our guy, we have to stand behind him -- even though the situation came about. He didn't get that third strike."

Dansby stood behind his comments after practice, but didn't want to elaborate. Philbin shrugged off Dansby's comments.

“Let’s be honest: You have a boss, I have a boss and I don’t always agree with what the boss says every single time,” Philbin said. “I’m of the opinion that you should keep things in-house in that regard.”

An interesting development was Johnson's agent -- Drew Rosenhaus -- attending Monday's practice. Rosenhaus even had a chat brief chat with Ireland after practice, although it's not known if they were discussing Johnson. Rosenhaus also represents other Dolphins such as defensive lineman Jared Odrick, receiver Brian Hartline and rookies Lamar Miller and Olivier Vernon.

It's also worth pointing out Rosenhaus represents free-agent receiver Plaxico Burress. Philbin didn't rule out the Dolphins looking outside the organization to bolster the receiving corps. Burress worked out for the New England Patriots on Sunday.

But whether the Dolphins sign another player or stick with the group they have, it's clear the Philbin regime wants a clean locker room void of distractions.

"I think we have a strong locker room," Philbin said. "I believe in the character of these individuals, and the men we have on this football team. We’re going to move forward."

'Walker Awards' for training camp

August, 9, 2012
MIAMI -- The AFC East blog is back in its South Florida headquarters after an 11-day road trip visiting training camps around the division.

I have now visited all four camps in the past two weeks. You can check out our "Camp Confidential" segments for three AFC East teams here, here and here. The New England Patriots' report is coming up later on Thursday.

With tons of notes still left in my pad, I decided to do the first annual "Walker Awards" for 2012 training camp.


Most impressive team: Patriots

Analysis: To be frank, you can just see the difference in talent between the Patriots and everyone else in the division. No other team has a quarterback like Tom Brady. No other team has Rob Gronkowski at tight end or a receiver like Wes Welker. No teams' practices are as crisp and workmanlike as coach Bill Belichick's. The football culture in New England is just better, and you can see it and feel it in its training camp. The Patriots are confident. They know what success feels like and prepare for it every day. It would be shocking if New England doesn't win another division title based on what I've seen in camp. It’s clear the Patriots deserve to be the favorites.

Most impressive quarterback: Tom Brady, Patriots

Analysis: No surprise here. Brady is the only legit franchise quarterback in the division. Even though he struggled in practice on Tuesday, the other two practices were what I expected. There is a big difference when you watch other AFC East quarterbacks like Matt Moore, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Mark Sanchez practice compared to Brady. It's the biggest reason New England sits comfortably at the top of the division.

Most impressive running back: C.J. Spiller, Buffalo Bills

Analysis: I was really impressed by what I saw from Spiller during my visit to Pittsford, N.Y., last week. Spiller looks like a player who is demanding more carries with his play. He has to wait his turn behind starter Fred Jackson, but Buffalo's coaching staff would be silly to let Spiller rot on the bench this year and not put the ball in his hands. If Jackson proves to be 100 percent healthy, the Bills could have one of the best one-two punches at running back in the league. The question is, how do you keep both players happy?

Most impressive rookie: Stephon Gilmore, CB, Bills

Analysis: This was a close race between Gilmore and Patriots rookie linebacker Dont'a Hightower. I was really impressed with both rookies in training camp. But Gilmore made fewer mistakes than Hightower during my time at both camps. Gilmore is playing like a five-year veteran. He is challenging No. 1 Bills receiver Steve Johnson nearly every day in practice, and that can only speed up his development. Gilmore is physical, he moves well and he's fearless. He may already be Buffalo's No. 1 corner and he hasn't played a game in the NFL.

Most disappointing player: Vontae Davis, CB, Dolphins

Analysis: While we're on the subject of corners, the most disappointing player during my tour of training camp has been Davis. He has the physical tools to be a No. 1 corner. Davis was heading in that direction toward the end of the 2011 season. But Davis, as outline by HBO's "Hard Knocks," showed up to camp out of shape. The former first-round pick has been getting beat too much and Miami's coaching staff moved him out of the starting lineup for Richard Marshall. Davis has always been plagued by immaturity. With a new coaching staff, he needs to grow up fast or it is going to be a long year.

Most comeback potential: Chad Johnson, WR, Dolphins

Analysis: Johnson looks like a man on a mission. The receiver is showing flashes of the old Johnson we saw with the Cincinnati Bengals. He is coming off his career-worst season with just 15 receptions last year in New England. Johnson admits he was humbled and exposed, but now he's motivated. That's a good thing for Miami, which needs all the help at receiver it can get.

Most baffling player: Antonio Cromartie, CB, New York Jets

Analysis: It's been a bizarre training camp for New York's starting cornerback. First, Cromartie causes controversy by saying he's the second-best receiver on the team. Then, Cromartie injuries No. 1 receiver Santonio Holmes' ribs with a big hit in a scrimmage, forcing Holmes to miss at least one preseason game. Finally, Cromartie gets into it with tight end Dustin Keller this week and causes head coach Rex Ryan to stop practice. It's only August and Cromartie has a string of incidents piling up. He just needs to concentrate on playing his best football from here on out.

Most overhyped player: Tim Tebow, QB, Jets

Analysis: Yes, Tebow is polarizing. Fans either love him or hate him. But strictly from a football standpoint, Tebow was not impressive enough in practices to merit the immense coverage he gets in the media. Tebow is far from lighting it up in training camp. Sanchez is outplaying Tebow and erasing any doubts that Tebow should be the starter in Week 1. In last week's scrimmage that I attended, Tebow was 0-for-3 with two fumbled snaps. The offense looks shaky with him under center. Tebow will be able to help the Jets' ground-and-pound offense with his running ability and contribute on special teams. But the huge hype of outplaying Sanchez and making a strong push for the starting quarterback job in training camp hasn't materialized.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- What was the biggest lesson New England Patriots tailback Stevan Ridley learned in his rookie year?

"The ball can't be on the ground," Ridley said bluntly Wednesday. "That's no secret. Fumbles will have you on the bench."

[+] EnlargeStevan Ridley
AP Photo/Michael DwyerBall security is something running back Stevan Ridley is working on during training camp.
Ridley admits last season's playoff run still stings. A solid rookie year was otherwise overshadowed by fumbling twice in his last two games, including a fumble in a crucial playoff win against the Denver Broncos. That was enough for New England coach Bill Belichick to put Ridley on ice for the remainder of the team's Super Bowl run. Ridley was inactive in both the AFC title game and the Super Bowl.

Ridley is using that cruel ending to his rookie season as motivation to come back a better player in Year 2. As a result, Ridley is running well in training camp and has taken the lead as New England's projected No. 1 tailback. The Patriots have not released a firm depth chart, but Ridley is expected to start in Thursday's preseason opener against the New Orleans Saints. It will be Ridley's first game action since his postseason fumble against Denver.

"I'm a little bit more comfortable out there," Ridley said of his second season. "Am I perfect? Not by any means. I still have a lot of work to do. Over time, my carries and my reps on the field have increased, but it’s still a long way to go and there’s still a lot of work to be done."

Ridley is outshining his training camp roommate, Shane Vereen, so far in camp. Both were high draft picks in 2011. Their potential is the reason New England was comfortable not re-signing BenJarvus Green-Ellis and cut fellow veteran Joseph Addai in the summer.

Ridley's game experience last year is showing through in his running. He’s hitting the holes well and showing good vision in New England’s pass-first system. Ridley rushed for 441 yards and averaged 5.1 yards per carry last season. That kind of average will make New England’s offense extremely dangerous. Ridley just needs to continue to gain the trust of the coaching staff by holding onto the football.

"This year I'm going to go and do the best that I can to keep the ball high and tight," Ridley said. "I know that if I can keep the ball in my hands, I'm going to be on the field. So my work is cut out for me."

Ridley knows he must grow up fast in his second season. The Patriots, favorites in the AFC, will be relying on a young running back this year, whether it's Ridley or Vereen. So far Ridley's performance in camp gives him the inside track.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski? Take your pick.

One is a 6-foot-7 former basketball player who can go up and catch the highest of passes. The other is a 6-foot-6, 265-pound beast with very strong hands and a knack for running through defenders. Both are elite and it's hard to go wrong with either player.

The NFL's two best tight ends shared the practice field Tuesday, as the New England Patriots hosted the New Orleans Saints for a joint scrimmage. There has been a ton of debate this offseason over who is better. According to a recent player survey by the NFL Network, Graham edged Gronkowski in the voting.

[+] EnlargeNew England's Rob Gronkowski
Stew Milne/US PRESSWIRERob Gronkowski, above, is sharing the practice field with the Saints Jimmy Graham this week.
But both tight ends showed in Tuesday's practice why they can make a strong case for the No. 1 spot. Gronkowski caught two red zone touchdowns in 7-on-7 drills, and Graham also caught a touchdown in the same drill and did his trademark slam dunk between the goalposts.

Graham was asked the highly-debatable question after the joint practice, and, naturally, picked himself.

“Of course I would,” said a confident Graham, who caught 99 passes for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. “I’m young and the thing about me is I’ve been playing three years and I know I’m getting better. I’m focused on getting better. I know my weaknesses and I know where I need to improve."

Gronkowski said he wasn’t thinking about a one-on-one competition with Graham this week. The Patriots will practice against the Saints twice before playing in Thursday's preseason game at Gillette Stadium.

“There’s really no competition [going on],” said Gronkowski, who caught 90 passes for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2011. “He’s a great player, and that’s why every team has a position of tight end. He’s a great guy that you can put the film on and seeing what he’s doing to get open. He’s doing a great job at it and you can learn from other tight ends in the league.”

Gronkowski said he trained with Graham two years ago in Florida before the NFL combine. At the time, both players had major question marks that hurt their draft stock. Gronkowski had a back injury that dropped him to the second round to New England. Graham was a basketball player at the University of Miami with just one year of collegiate football experience. He dropped to the third round. Drafting these tight ends turned out to be the smartest moves each team has made in recent years.

Both tight ends are very close by comparison. The Graham supporters would say he's more athletic and can get vertical better than Gronkowski. The Gronkowski supporters would say he's a significantly better run-blocker than Graham and a more complete tight end. "Gronk" also catches more touchdowns.

Even watching both players practice up close together on Tuesday, it's a really difficult choice.

"It's two totally different animals. I hate to call them animals, but it is what it is,” Saints safety Roman Harper said laughing.

Harper continued to break down each player.

“I think Jimmy is just more of a strider, he's going to be faster than Gronk, but he's more of a strider and he comes out of the break and he's just like, 'Drew throw it up It's more of a rebound, I'm going to get it.' So he's going to be more athletic,” Harper said. “Then you've got Gronk, who is just a big guy and he's a big target, and he's going [to give] a little body action, and of course Tom [Brady] was putting it right on him. Gronk makes his money after the catch. If you look at him, that's where he makes all of his money.”

Don’t forget about the Patriots’ second tight end: Aaron Hernandez. He's also a top-five player at the position. Hernandez caught 79 receptions for 910 yards and seven touchdowns.

The offensive talent in Foxborough this week is immense, especially when you have three of the top five tight ends sharing the same practice field. Graham said he surely will pick up a few pointers from his tight-end peers before leaving Foxborough.

“I watch a lot of film on Hernandez and Gronkowski,” Graham said. “The way [Gronkowski] uses his body, and the way Hernandez is a technician in his routes. I try to take as much as I can from the both of them and apply it to my game.”

Video: On Tim Tebow's reaction to Esiason

August, 7, 2012
Rob Parker and Skip Bayless discuss how Tim Tebow responded to Boomer Esiason's comments that the Jets should cut Tebow.

Check out this quote from New York Jets coach Rex Ryan after Monday's 20-player brawl at training camp.

"I think we've had enough fights for camp," Ryan said. "So I don’t expect too many more after this one."

Well, Ryan was wrong. The very next day, they were at it again.

The Jets continue to duke it out with each other. On Tuesday, another scuffle ensued, forcing Ryan to stop practice. He ripped into his players and ordered them to stop the fighting. But's Rich Cimini reports that cornerback Antonio Cromartie began yelling at the offense soon after, and Ryan stopped practice again, this time making the team run sprints.

It's early, but the Jets continue to look like a team out of control. Ryan traditionally runs a loose ship. All was well when the Jets were winning. But coming off an underachieving 8-8 season, all of the brawls, silliness and shenanigans are adding up and being magnified.

Ryan said after Monday's brawl that he wouldn't address the team directly about it. That was a mistake. It sends the message that it's no big thing and it's acceptable in training camp. The next day there was more fighting, because nothing was done to stop it the first time.

Ryan is a players' coach and wants all of his guys to be loose. But at some point Ryan also must be a disciplinarian. That is perhaps the toughest balance for an NFL coach. Ryan lost control of his locker room at the end of last season. He needs to put his foot down now to regain control before it's too late.

Jets keep sending wrong message

August, 6, 2012

New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan says there will be no chemistry issues in his locker room this year. But the team keeps sending the wrong message in that regard.

Things got ugly Monday in Cortland, N.Y., when a huge brawl broke out at Jets camp. According to media members in attendance, about 20 players were involved. It reportedly started when Jets backup running back Joe McKnight was pushed out of bounds by defensive back D’Anton Lynn, and it took off from there.

This is another bad sign for a team that imploded at the end of last season. Yes, fights happen in training camp. The New England Patriots just had a couple scuffles last week. But the Jets need to prove more than any other team that things are fine in their locker room.

In addition to Monday's fight, there was cornerback Antonio Cromartie's controversial comments about being the second-best receiver on the Jets. New York’s receivers didn’t take the comment lightly and it sparked more tension between the offense and the defense.

Ryan is on the spot this year and responsible for keeping his locker room in order. He admittedly dropped the ball in that regard last season and says it won't happen again. It's time for Ryan to fix these issues right now, before it gets worse.
The Miami Dolphins' first depth chart is out, and veteran quarterback David Garrard is first on the chart.

In fact, it would've been a surprise if Garrard weren't first string at this stage of training camp. It's good to know the coaches see in practices what everyone else sees.

Garrard is taking control of Miami's three-way quarterback race. He looks the most in control of the offense. He has played in a West Coast system before, and so far Garrard has proven that he has recovered from a back injury that kept him out all of last season.

Incumbent Matt Moore has looked inconsistent in training camp. Often known as a "gamer," Moore is at his best when the lights are on, but isn't really a practice player. There is good and bad to that. The good is Moore can perform when it counts. The bad is it's hard to win a quarterback battle when your competitor (Garrard) is regularly outperforming you in practice.

Miami rookie head coach Joe Philbin said he wants to make a decision on his starting quarterback by the end of the third preseason game. The games are what matters most. But so far Garrard has the inside track, leaving Moore and rookie Ryan Tannehill playing catch-up with a few weeks to go.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Offensive linemen are dropping like flies around New England Patriots left tackle Nate Solder.

Veteran free agent Robert Gallery retired over the weekend. So did Matt Light. Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins (knee) is on the physically unable to perform list, and fellow guard Brian Waters' playing status is still to be determined. Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer also is dealing with a back injury, leaving Solder as one of the few starting and healthy linemen from February's Super Bowl team.

[+] EnlargeNate Solder
AP Photo/Stephan SavoiaNate Solder is being counted on to take a bigger role this season.
"I think it's a team effort, and I’m just one of the parts to that," Solder said Monday after practice. "It takes all five of the O-lineman. It takes all of the wide receivers and everyone working together. We’re going to play whoever is here, and whatever happens, we’re going to be here working hard."

Solder entered the offseason as a young, budding left tackle. Now, he's being relied upon in training camp as though he's one of the veterans.

Solder has one of the most important responsibilities on the team protecting quarterback Tom Brady's blind side. But you wouldn’t know it from Solder's mentality. He is calm and low key. Solder says he's taken this important second season day by day, which is exactly how the Patriots like their players to think.

All indications are that Solder has been the most consistent lineman in training camp. Part of it is due to injuries to veterans. But the second-year tackle also is meeting -- and perhaps exceeding -- expectations as a 2011 first-round pick.

"We thought Nate was a good football player when we drafted him,” Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said. "He’s come in and had a decent first year. And the most important thing with any player is you try to improve on a day-to-day basis and become a more consistent player."

Solder isn't backing down in training camp. He got into a big scuffle in practice last week with Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes. When we asked about it Monday, Solder chuckled and said, "We're moving on."

Solder has a lot to look forward to. It began the day Light announced his retirement. That catapulted Solder into the starting left tackle role full time in just his second season. The Patriots are legitimate Super Bowl contenders and Solder has a big responsibility in that.

"My reaction [to Light retiring] was it's time for me to get better and work harder," Solder said. "I want to contribute to this team anyway I can. I feel blessed with my opportunities here and it’s worked out phenomenally. But it's up to me to really step up and play well."