AFC East: A.J. Francis

Patriots-Dolphins connections, Part 2

December, 13, 2013
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We normally use this space to highlight members of the Patriots' upcoming opponent who have ties to the organization.

Those names were highlighted prior to the first time they played the Dolphins, so we'll audible a bit this week and look at current members of the Patriots who have ties to the Dolphins.

Defensive end Rob Ninkovich. Before he became a blue-chip defensive end and captain for the Patriots, Ninkovich had a winding path that took him from New Orleans to Miami (and eventually back to New Orleans). He played in five games for the Dolphins, posting two tackles.

Guard Chris Barker. Barker was signed by the Dolphins as an undrafted free agent in May after a productive career at Nevada. He was released by the team on Aug. 31 and subsequently claimed by the Patriots. He's a reserve interior lineman now.

Special-teams coach Scott O'Brien. When current Alabama coach Nick Saban was with the Dolphins in the same capacity, he brought O'Brien aboard to serve as the football operations coordinator/assistant to the head coach. The two had worked together previously in Cleveland. O'Brien spent two seasons (2005-06) in Miami.

And a bonus connection: Defensive tackle A.J. Francis was claimed by the Patriots after being waived by the Dolphins at the end of training camp, and eventually wound up on the practice squad. The Dolphins recently re-signed Francis to their own active roster, as he's now back with the team he began his NFL career with.

Guard Kline promoted; Francis waived

September, 7, 2013
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Rookie guard Josh Kline was promoted from the practice squad to the active roster, as projected earlier in the day, the Patriots announced on Saturday.

With Kline promoted to the 53-man roster, expect him to dress in Sunday's season-opener against the Buffalo Bills and serve in a backup role and potentially on the field-goal protection unit. That likely pushes rookie center/guard Chris Barker, who was claimed on waivers from the Miami Dolphins last Sunday, to the inactive list.

To make room for Kline, the Patriots waived defensive tackle A.J. Francis, who had been claimed on waivers from the Dolphins last Sunday. Francis is a candidate to return to the practice squad should he clear waivers and have a desire to remain in New England.

This leaves the Patriots with just a three-man rotation in terms of pure defensive tackles, with starters Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly along with undrafted free agent Joe Vellano.

In addition, the Patriots announced the signing of center Braxston Cave to the practice squad. Cave had been claimed on waivers from the Browns last Sunday. After spending five days on the 53-man roster was waived by the Patriots on Thursday.

The team also confirmed the previously reported signing of running back Leon Washington, and reached an injury settlement with defensive end Jermaine Cunningham (meaning he is now off the injured reserve list).

Projecting the Patriots' inactives

September, 7, 2013
9/07/13
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Every day before the New England Patriots play a game, we'll attempt to predict the team's inactive players.

The Patriots currently have 52 players on their roster. With 46 players allowed on the game-day roster, there are six players who won't be part of the season opener against the Buffalo Bills.

Our best guess on the list:

RB Brandon Bolden -- Has been limited in practice with a knee injury and was one of the only players not spotted in the preseason finale, so the hunch is that he might need more time.

WR Aaron Dobson -- Rookie was limited in practice with a hamstring injury and currently projects to a reserve role (and doesn't contribute on special teams).

DT A.J. Francis -- Claimed on waivers from the Dolphins on Sunday, the undrafted rookie is still getting up to speed in the system.

TE Rob Gronkowski -- Listed as doubtful as he recovers from forearm and back surgeries, he still seems to be a few weeks away.

OT/G Will Svitek -- Veteran who backs up multiple spots has already been declared out with a knee injury.

LB Chris White -- Claimed on waivers from the Lions on Sunday, he probably needs more time to get integrated into the system.

Extra point: The Patriots sometimes make roster moves the day of the game, and it wouldn't be a surprise if they fill their final roster spot Saturday. Guard Josh Kline would be an ideal candidate from this view, and if it happens, it could bump rookie guard/center Chris Barker to the inactive list.
Here are the most interesting Miami Dolphins stories Monday from around the web: Miami morning take: This is a big year for Ireland, who opened owner Stephen Ross' wallet and made a series of significant moves. Ireland needs the Dolphins to stay healthy and have a winning season in order to stay away from the hot seat.
Miami morning take: I really like this group, which should be faster and force more turnovers than last season. The only question I have is the overall depth at linebacker and in the secondary. Injuries could test those units.
  • ESPN.com's Matt Williamson tells the Finsiders that he likes the Dolphins' chances to compete.
Miami morning take: Williamson, a frequent contributor to this Dolphins page, is buying the stock of quarterback Ryan Tannehill. If Tannehill has a big year, Miami could be playoff-bound.
  • ESPN.com's New England Patriots reporter Mike Reiss takes a look at former Dolphins offensive lineman Chris Barker.
Miami morning take: Barker was one of two former Dolphins the Patriots claimed off waivers; defensive tackle A.J. Francis was the other. I’m not too high on Barker, based on what I've seen in training camp and the preseason. But New England obviously saw something.

Pats put in claims on Cooper, Jones

September, 1, 2013
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots put in waiver claims on rookie cornerback Marcus Cooper (49ers) and rookie defensive tackle Chris Jones (Texans), but were not awarded the players because they were claimed by other teams that had priority in the waiver order.

Cooper, a seventh-round draft choice (252nd out of 254 picks) out of Rutgers, ended up with the Chiefs. Jones, a sixth-round draft choice out of Bowling Green, ended up with the Buccaneers.

Between these two claims, plus the four players the Patriots were awarded on waivers (center/guard Braxston Cave, linebacker Chris White, guard Chris Barker and defensive tackle A.J. Francis), the team was more aggressive on the waiver wire than the norm in recent years.

Part of the reason the Patriots were so aggressive likely was to address areas on the roster where depth was thin.
The Miami Dolphins lost one of their top practice-squad candidates Sunday to an AFC East rival. The New England Patriots claimed former Dolphins defensive lineman A.J. Francis off the waiver wire, according to Francis’ Twitter account.

Francis was an up-and-coming defensive lineman for Miami, which had a lot of depth at the position. The Dolphins released both Francis and Kheeston Randall. It shouldn’t take long for Randall to also find work.

New England, the reigning AFC East champs, is looking for big bodies and more youth up front on defense. The Dolphins were the last team to announce their roster cuts, but that still didn’t stop a division rival from poaching at least one player.
The Patriots were awarded defensive tackle A.J. Francis off waivers on Sunday, according to a league source. Francis, an undrafted free agent out of Maryland in 2013, was waived by the Miami Dolphins on Saturday.

Francis, 6-foot-5 and 309 pounds, gives the Patriots additional depth at defensive tackle, where they had just three players after Saturday's roster cut down. The team had gone below the 53-player threshold to 51, leaving open two roster spots.

Francis will join fellow former Maryland defensive tackle Joe Vellano on the Patriots roster. Vellano also was an undrafted free agent this spring.

On his Twitter account, Francis wrote:

Miami Dolphins cut-down analysis

August, 31, 2013
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Most significant move: The Dolphins had several tough decisions to make at the bottom of their roster. Perhaps the biggest call was whether to keep three quarterbacks -- and Miami opted Saturday to keep third-stringer Pat Devlin. Devlin played nearly all of Miami’s fifth preseason game against the New Orleans Saints and threw for 259 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Devlin showed some good and some bad, and it was just enough.

Several other bubble players didn't make the team. Wide receiver Marvin McNutt and defensive linemen Kheeston Randall and A.J. Francis were all in the running for the 53-man roster; all three are strong candidates for Miami’s practice squad. There's also the chance that any of the players cut will be scooped up by other teams. That probably explains why the Dolphins were the last NFL team to release their list of cuts Saturday night -- there had to be some gamesmanship involved.

Close calls: Several Dolphins who made the 53-man roster won't be able to rest easy. Cornerback R.J. Stanford, defensive back Don Jones, tight end Michael Egnew and offensive tackle Will Yeatman are among several bubble players who still have jobs.

For Egnew and Stanford in particular, injuries during the course of training camp and the preseason helped their case. The Dolphins might not be finished adding players this weekend, however.

What’s next: Like most teams, Miami will examine the waiver wires closely. Miami spent $200 million in free agency this offseason but is far from a perfect team. The Dolphins can use additional depth at positions such as offensive line, tight end and now wide receiver. By cutting McNutt and Chad Bumphis, the Dolphins only have four receivers on their roster. That will change soon. Miami runs a lot of three-receiver sets and needs more players at the position.

It’s also time for Miami to set its sights on a Week 1 road game against the Cleveland Browns. The Dolphins have playoff aspirations this season, but they must win their first road game to set the tone in 2013.

Dolphins cuts: G Chris Barker, C Sam Brenner, WR Chad Bumphis, WR Keenan Davis, DT A.J. Francis, RB Jonas Gray, S Keelan Johnson, S Jordan Kovacs, T Andrew McDonald, WR Marvin McNutt, TE Kyle Miller, DE Tristin Okpalaugo, CB Julian Posey, CB De’Andre Presley, DT Kheeston Randall, DT Tracy Robertson, LB Lee Robinson, LB Austin Spitler, WR Brian Tyms, OT Jeff Adams (waived/injured), QB Aaron Corp (waived/injured), LB Antwan Applewhite (terminated contract).

What to Watch: Saints-Dolphins

August, 29, 2013
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MIAMI – The Miami Dolphins will play their fifth and final preseason game Thursday against the visiting New Orleans Saints.

Here are three things to watch for the Dolphins:

1. Players on the bubble: Miami must make 25 roster cuts by Saturday evening to get down to the 53-man limit. Several key players to watch are defensive tackle A.J. Francis, third-string quarterback Pat Devlin and receivers Marvin McNutt and Chad Bumphis. Look for the bottom portion of the roster to get plenty of playing time. Shameless plug alert: I will do my roster projection Friday after the final preseason game.

2. Progression of tight ends: It was not a strong outing for Miami’s tight ends following the season-ending knee injury to starting tight end Dustin Keller. The Dolphins got just three catches and 34 yards from the position. New starter Charles Clay had just one reception for five yards -- though he was targeted six times by starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill. This will be an important game for Miami’s tight ends to get reps in preparation for the regular season, even if Tannehill isn’t on the field. Let's see what more Clay, Michael Egnew, Kyle Miller and Dion Sims can do.

3. No injuries: To be blunt, there isn’t much for teams to gain in this final preseason game. The most important thing for the Dolphins is to exit without significant injuries. The real games start in about 10 days, when the Dolphins travel to face the Cleveland Browns. Miami head coach Joe Philbin has been coy about playing time for his starters. Some may play briefly, while others might not play at all. This is a game for backups and fringe players.

Links: Lamar Miller learns from Frank Gore

July, 12, 2013
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Buffalo Bills

Free safety Jairus Byrd and the Bills are still far from striking a deal before the July 15 deadline to sign the one-year franchise tender. "I would be completely and utterly shocked if there was a deal done by Monday," a league source told sports station WGR 550. "There are no talks going on. Someone would have to seriously cave."

Undrafted rookie Kendall Gaskins says he'll likely be used more as a running back instead of at fullback in the Bills' offense.

Veteran kicker Rian Lindell has been a mainstay for the Bills since 2003, but that doesn't mean rookie Dustin Hopkins isn't going to compete for the job.

Miami Dolphins

Second-year running back Lamar Miller is getting a summer education of his own, working out with 49ers back Frank Gore. “Since Lamar started gravitating toward Frank, his work ethic and mentality are unparalleled,” said Pete Bommarito, who runs the Bommarito Performance Systems, where Gore, Miller and many other NFL players train in the offseason, according to the Miami Herald.

Rookie first-round pick Dion Jordan joins Miami’s defensive line, the team's deepest unit.

A.J. Francis, a 309-pound rookie defensive tackle for the Dolphins, says via Twitter that ESPN the Magazine's Body Issue should include a variety of people.

Andy Behrens of Roto Arcade says the most important variable for Dolphins fantasy owners is quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

New England Patriots

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski held a book signing for "Growing up Gronk" on Thursday, and he said he's "in great spirits" about the upcoming season.

As the Aaron Hernandez case continues on, the Miami Herald's David J. Neal has a piece of advice for those looking to place responsibility and blame: "Leave Urban Meyer alone."

Continuing a month-long series analyzing players who are on the roster bubble and where they might potentially fit in 2013, ESPNBoston.com's Mike Rodak looks at tight end Daniel Fells.

Tight end is the position being most talked about around Foxborough, and ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss projects how the position might play out given all the question marks.

New York Jets

Jonathan Mael, new media coordinator for MLB.com, recently published a tweet in which he compared Jets' offensive lineman Oday Aboushi to former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez.

Geno Smith’s failure to show up at what is largely considered a team-building weekend doesn’t speak highly of the relationship between the rookie quarterback and veteran Mark Sanchez, writes Seth Walder of the New York Daily News.

NFL.com's Dan Hanzus digs up Jets coach Rex Ryan's autobiography, "Play Like You Mean It," only to find that "Ryan wanted to write a book about the beginning of a great future for the New York Jets. Instead, he accidentally managed to distill everything that's frustrating about being a fan of New York's other team."

Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg talks with Eric Allen, of the team's official website, about the changes in store for the Jets' offense this season.

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