AFC East: Andre Goodman
DENVER -- The New York Jets got Tebow-ed, falling to the Denver Broncos, 17-13, in a stunning, last-minute collapse Thursday night. Broncos QB Tim Tebow led a 95-yard drive, scoring on a 20-yard run with 58 seconds left.
What it means: The Jets fell to 5-5 in the most unimaginable fashion, blowing leads of 10-3 and 13-10 in the fourth quarter. The Jets have serious issues -- a mistake-prone Mark Sanchez, injuries to their running backs and an offense that doesn’t have a clue.
Tebowmania: With only three full days to prepare for Tebow and the Broncos’ college-style offense, the Jets’ defense was stellar for 56 minutes. Then came an utter collapse. Tebow came to life, leading a 12-play, 95-yard drive. In Denver, they will call it The Drive II. He made plays with his feet, and occasionally with his arm. The Jets fell asleep on the game-winning plays, allowing Tebow to scramble -- untouched -- into the end zone.
It may have been the death knell for the Jets’ season.
Bad Mark -- again: Sanchez did it again. For the second straight week, he threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown. This was a momentum-changing killer, a forced throw to Plaxico Burress that was picked by cornerback Andre Goodman. It made it 10-10. It was Sanchez’s third pick-six of the season.
It was another maddeningly inconsistent performance by Sanchez. He completed 11 straight passes at one point, but he missed a wide-open Dustin Keller in the end zone and made two clock-management errors -- one week after getting ripped by Rex Ryan for a botched timeout.
But say this for Sanchez: He’s one tough hombre. He took a beating in the second half, drilled twice by Denver pass rushers, but he managed to lead a 42-yard field goal drive for a 13-10 lead. Nevertheless, the Jets have to be concerned as they look forward.
Brutal special teams: This is supposed to be a strength, but the special teams were awful all night. Joe McKnight fumbled on a third-quarter kickoff return (his second lost fumble in five days), Nick Folk missed two field goal attempts (52 and 61 yards) and punter T.J. Conley shanked a 13-yarder. Give Folk credit; he rebounded to make a 45-yard field goal that could have been the game winner.
Painful injury: The Jets, already without the injured LaDainian Tomlinson (sprained knee), lost starting running back Shonn Greene (ribs) in the first quarter. Greene caught a 4-yard screen pass and landed on the ball as he hit the ground, grimacing in pain. It’s a familiar injury for Greene, who suffered a severe rib injury in the 2009 AFC Championship Game.
Makeshift backfield: Without Greene and Tomlinson, the backfield consisted of special-teams star Joe McKnight and rookie Bilal Powell, who made his NFL debut. That hurt the Jets’ pass protection because neither McKnight nor Powell is a good blocker.
Powell actually made the best bad play of the game -- yes, you read that correctly. On a second down from the Broncos’ 1, Powell fumbled in a crowd. It squirted across the goal line and left guard Matt Slauson pounced on it for the touchdown to give the Jets a 10-3 lead.
McKnight is an undisciplined runner, but he ran hard between the tackles and was effective on screen passes. The Jets aren’t a big screen offense, but they exploited the Broncos’ rush with well-timed screen passes.
Rare score: How fitting that the first touchdown in the ugliest of games was scored by a 325-pound guard from Nebraska. The way the Jets’ offense was playing, it wasn’t going to come from one of their skill-position players. Get this: Slauson’s TD was the first by a Jets offensive lineman since guard Randy Rasmussen in 1972.
All quiet on Revis Island: Just as he expected, Darrelle Revis didn’t get much action against the run-heavy Broncos. Best we can tell, he didn’t fall asleep.
What’s ahead: The Jets get a 10-day break before resuming against the Buffalo Bills in a home game. The Jets dominated the first meeting, 27-11.
"Tough," Goodman said of his ex-teammate. "I think it's easier to think of a weakness for Brandon Marshall than to name all the strengths. He's a big guy, uses his body well, a guy that can get behind you, and if he doesn't get behind you he can go on top of you. He's a strong guy.
"He can run every route in the book. You have to be leery of the go route as well as the intermediate stuff. When I think of a 230 pound guy that's 6-4 and a guy that can run after the catch, it's pretty dangerous. Definitely one of the top five receivers in the league."
Marshall is known for his ability to run with the ball. Statistical-analysis site ProFootballFocus.com listed Marshall fourth in the league with 510 yards after catches. For the record, the AFC East now has three of the top five YACkers from last year. New England Patriots slot receiver Wes Welker led with 730 yards, while New York Jets receiver Santonio Holmes had 500 yards.
Goodman noted it wasn't just breaking tackles, that part of Marshall's production comes from "guys not wanting to tackle him, too. It's obvious on film, whether it's the secondary guys or the guys in the middle. He's a guy that is willing to go across the middle, 230 pounds, and linebackers have to think twice about tackling him. He's a difference-maker."
Then Football Outsiders editor in chief Aaron Schatz produced a piece for ESPN Insider that reminded me about addition by subtraction.
The Dolphins' defense should be substantially better simply because linebacker Akin Ayodele and safety Gibril Wilson aren't on it anymore.
Schatz compiled data on the defenders who allowed the most broken tackles, defining them this way:
Either the ball carrier escapes from the grasp of the defender, or the defender is in good position for a tackle but the ball carrier jukes him out of his shoes. If the ball carrier sped by a slow defender who dived and missed, that didn't count as a broken tackle.
Ayodele was the worst among all linebackers, with 17 percent of his attempted tackles ending up broken. Wilson surprisingly didn't make the top 10 among defensive backs, but former Dolphins Andre Goodman (third at 20 percent) and Renaldo Hill (10th at 17 percent) were there.
Elsewhere in the AFC East, Bills linebacker Paul Posluszny and new Dolphins linebacker Karlos Dansby tied for sixth among the most efficient tacklers at their position, getting their tackles broken a mere 3.3 percent of the time last year.
In the secondary, Dolphins backup Jason Allen rated tops with no broken tackles, while safety Dolphins safety Yeremiah Bell was sixth best at 3.7 percent.
Schatz shared the team data, breaking it down both offensively and defensively at FootballOutsiders.com.
On offense, the New England Patriots were tied for fifth, breaking tackles on 6.3 percent of their plays. The Bills were tied for eighth at 6.2 percent. The Dolphins were tied for 15th at 5.6 percent. You'd think a run-dominant team like the New York Jets would be higher than 24th, making opponents miss on 4.9 percent of their plays.
Defensively, the Jets were the most efficient AFC East club, with opponents breaking tackles on 5.2 percent of their plays.
The rest of the division was below average. The Dolphins were tied for 18th at 6.1 percent. The Patriots were 22nd at 6.2 percent. The Bills were tied for 24th at 6.7 percent.
The Miami Dolphins received one. The Buffalo Bills and New York Jets didn't get any.
All the picks were revealed Monday night at the NFL owners meetings at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes.
Compensatory picks are awarded to clubs based on a secret formula more guarded than Colonel Sanders' recipe. We know the formula involves the number of free agents gained and lost the previous offseason and how well those players performed the ensuing season. We think the formula factors in the players' salaries, playing time and awards.
New England lost five qualifying free agents (running back LaMont Jordan, fullback Heath Evans, receiver Jabar Gaffney, linebacker Larry Izzo and long-snapper Lonie Paxton) and signed only one (safety Brandon McGowan).
The NFL compensated the Patriots with one sixth-round pick and three seventh-round picks. The selections are Nos. 205, 247, 248 and 250.
Miami lost two qualifying free agents (cornerback Andre Goodman and safety Renaldo Hill) and signed two (center Jake Grove and center Joe Berger).
The Dolphins were given a seventh-round pick, No. 252.
The unanswerable question I'm referring to: "How does the NFL determine compensatory picks?"
Nobody knows because the league refuses to provide detailed insight into the formula. We know it depends on the number of free agents gained and lost the previous offseason and how well those players performed that year. Factors include the player's salary, playing time and awards -- we think.
But there's a compensatory vigilante out there who goes by the handle AdamJT13. He seems to have darn near cracked the code and has been giving accurate forecasts for 10 years.
My personal policy is not to link to people who write anonymously, but AdamJT13 has a track record and provides a unique service. With that in mind, here are his compensatory projections for AFC East clubs. The NFL will announce the official rundown in a couple weeks.
Buffalo Bills: None. They signed two qualifying free agents (quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, center Geoff Hangartner) and lost two (cornerback Jabari Greer, linebacker Angelo Crowell). AdamJT13 adds the Bills could get a compensatory pick at the end of the seventh round based on net value of the players lost, depending on the evaluations.
Miami Dolphins: Sixth-round pick. AdamJT13 notes it might be a seventh-rounder, or depending on how the NFL views guard Joe Berger, nothing at all. They signed one definite qualifying free agent (center Jake Grove) and lost two definites (cornerback Andre' Goodman and safety Renaldo Hill).
New England Patriots: Four seventh-round picks for losing receiver Jabar Gaffney, long-snapper Lonie Paxton, fullback Heath Evans and running back LaMont Jordan, but not signing any definite qualifying free agents. Gaffney could be good enough for a sixth-rounder.
New York Jets: None. They signed at least as many qualifying free agents (linebacker Bart Scott, safety Jim Leonhard, cornerback Donald Strickland and maybe linebacker Larry Izzo) as they lost (receiver Laveranues Coles, linebacker Eric Barton, defensive end C.J. Mosley and maybe cornerback Hank Poteat).
It's not unheard of for a team to start rookies at both cornerback spots.
But it's usually not a harbinger of success.
Miami Dolphins rookies Vontae Davis and Sean Smith are expected to start at cornerback Sunday when they play the New York Jets at the Meadowlands.
The Dolphins aren't inserting rookies at such critical defensive positions by choice. Top cornerback Will Allen went down with a knee injury in Sunday's loss to the New Orleans Saints and is done for the season.
Miami coach Tony Sparano was asked Wednesday if he could recall ever going into a game with two first-year starting cornerbacks.
"I can't recall," Sparano replied. "I really can't. Thanks. You just cost me a couple of hours of sleep."
Miami, however, isn't turning over the jobs to a couple of greenhorns. Both are top draft choices with bright futures. Smith, a second-round pick, has started all year. Davis, a first-rounder, has seen considerable action in sub packages and special teams.
"I don't recall being in this situation with two young corners," Sparano said, "but I will say this: I really like their makeup, what they are all about and what they bring to the table for our team.
"I have said all along that there would be growing pains and bumps in the road. We have been putting them right out there. So this isn't new. ... I wouldn't expect that they would be big eyed or any of those things."
It's difficult to compile a definitive list of teams that have started rookies at both cornerback positions for an extended period. As Elias Sports Bureau points out, records aren't always detailed enough to be sure. For instance, a player might be listed vaguely as a defensive back in the starting lineup as opposed to a safety, cornerback or nickel back.
But I have put together a quick list of rookie cornerback tandems. To jog my memory, I used a subscription service that searches archives of major newspapers and magazines.
I didn't include duos such as Jason McCourty and Ryan Mouton, who've started two games together for the Tennessee Titans this year, including that 59-0 loss to the New England Patriots. I looked for combos that lasted a little longer.
You'll notice the records aren't always disastrous, but it helps to have Joe Montana.
2008 Kansas City Chiefs (2-14): left corner Brandon Carr, 16 starts; right corner Brandon Flowers, 13 starts.
2005 Tennessee Titans (4-12): left corner Reynaldo Hill, 10 starts; right corner Pacman Jones, 13 starts.
2002 Detroit Lions (3-13): left corner Andre Goodman, six starts; right corner Chris Cash, 12 starts.
2001 New York Giants (7-9): left corner Will Allen, 12 starts; right cornerback Will Peterson, five starts.
2000 San Francisco 49ers (6-10): left corner Ahmed Plummer, 14 starts; right corner Jason Webster, 10 starts.
1997 Lions (9-7, wild card): left corner Bryant Westbrook, 14 starts; right corner Kevin Abrams, four starts. A quote from Lions coach Bobby Ross before Westbrook and Abrams started against Dan Marino: "I could sit and think about it and not sleep at night, but I'm not going to do that. I've got to sleep."
1986 49ers (10-5-1, first in NFC West): left corner Tim McKyer, 16 starts; right corner Don Griffin, 15 starts.
1981 49ers (13-3, Super Bowl champs): left corner Ronnie Lott, 16 starts; right corner Eric Wright, 16 starts.
Training camp site: St. John Fisher College in Pittsford, N.Y.
Campfires: All eyes will be on Terrell Owens, but he's not the most significant storyline at St. John Fisher. The Bills' offensive line is a jumbled unit and needs to emerge from camp with proficiency. None of the projected starting five will play the same position as last year. Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters is gone. Right tackle Langston Walker is flipping over to the other side. Right guard Brad Butler is replacing Walker. Geoff Hangartner is the new center. Rookies are expected to play guard.
|AP Photo/David Duprey|
|All eyes will be on Terrell Owens during the Bills' training camp.|
A lot of parts must come together, but if they do, then the Bills' offense could be dangerous. They're adopting a no-huddle approach that will be fun to watch with a cast that includes Owens, Lee Evans and Marshawn Lynch. The Bills have been installing the offense for months, but the coaching staff's confidence in it will be dictated by how well Trent Edwards commands the no-huddle in camp and preseason games.
On defense, Buffalo's success may hinge on the defensive line. Pro Bowl defensive end Aaron Schobel is coming off a foot injury that rendered him essentially useless last year. The Bills drafted Penn State pass-rusher Aaron Maybin 11th overall. They also are hoping to get some production finally out of fourth-year defensive tackle John McCargo, who the Bills traded up to draft in the first round but so far has been a slug.
Camp will be a downer if ... the offensive line suffers an injury that prevents chemistry from forming. The main question about the Bills' front five is not that it's incapable. While there are doubts about Walker and Butler, many believe first-day draft picks Eric Wood and Andy Levitre have bright futures, and all of them can play multiple positions.
But nobody can dispute the value of cohesion and consistency along the offensive line. The sooner they learn to play their positions at a high level together, the less harassed Edwards will be. Any preseason volatility here would be harmful.
Camp will be a success if ... the defensive front shows signs it can be a positive influence. Buffalo defensive linemen recorded 12.5 sacks last year. Right end Ryan Denney led the way with four. Buffalo ranked 22nd in rushing yards allowed per game and 21st in yards per carry.
Buffalo is the only AFC East team that runs a 4-3 defense. If the Bills don't stop the run and can't sack quarterbacks, what's the point?
Project to monitor: Some Bills fans are enamored with the possibilities of sophomore tackle Demetrius Bell, a seventh-round draft pick from Northwestern State who didn't play a game last year. Bell has a good frame (6-foot-5, 307 pounds) and is the son of former NBA star Karl Malone.
Bell is viewed as a potential discovery in the making, the second coming of Peters, who the Bills signed as a rookie free-agent tight end and converted into a Pro Bowl left tackle. Bell spent the offseason getting reps as the second-team left tackle.
Training camp site: team facility in Davie, Fla.
Campfires: Dolfans are eager to see how old friend Jason Taylor fits into defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni's 3-4 scheme, and a substantial factor is whether Cameron Wake will resemble the player who dominated in Canada the past two years. Joey Porter, the reigning AFC sack leader, will remain on the right side. That leaves Taylor (who has played almost his entire career on the right side), Wake and incumbent Matt Roth to divvy up the snaps at left outside linebacker. That battle will be interesting to monitor.
|Jamie Mullen/US Presswire|
|Jason Taylor (99) returns to Miami after spending last season with the Washington Redskins.|
Second-round draft pick Pat White has generated plenty of excitement for what he could provide the Wildcat offense. Training camp will be the West Virginia quarterback's proving ground. He looked raggedy as a passer in minicamp. Chad Henne certainly will remain the No. 2 quarterback behind Chad Pennington, but White's value will be as a threat to throw out of the trendy direct-snap offense.
One of the Dolphins' big areas of need heading into the offseason was at receiver. They don't have a clear-cut, go-to target. Rather than obtain one, they tweaked. They drafted Southern California's Patrick Turner as a third-down and red zone option and Ohio State's Brian Hartline as another possession receiver. Ted Ginn is entering his third year and needs to show he was worth the ninth overall pick Miami used to draft him.
Camp will be a downer if ... Taylor's homecoming doesn't pan out. Despite fan enthusiasm for his return after a bitter, one-year exile, there are no guarantees. Taylor probably won't hold down an every-down role. He will be playing on the side opposite of his career success.
Acid reflux will be a common ailment for Dolfans if injury-prone center Jake Grove can't stay healthy. Grove, a free agent from the Oakland Raiders, was the Dolphins' top offseason acquisition after the staff identified stout blocking at center as their greatest need. It's the only major offensive upgrade the Dolphins made, but he has missed 26 games since he was drafted in 2004.
It takes a while for rookie cornerbacks to gain the coaches' trust, but the Dolphins lost last year's starter, Andre' Goodman, to free agency. They signed Eric Green, but he lost his starting job with the Arizona Cardinals last year. What a boon it would be if Davis or Smith show he's ready right away.
Newcomer to watch: Even his new teammates are keen on finding out whether Wake is the real deal. He dominated Canadian Football League offensive linemen, piling up 39 sacks in two seasons.
But he hasn't worn full pads in the NFL. The former Penn State captain went undrafted. The New York Giants signed him in 2005 but cut him before training camp began. Many Dolphins players have been impressed with Wake's raw athleticism but haven't been able to definitively state what they think of his chances until they see him in full-contact situations.
New England Patriots
Training camp site: Gillette Stadium complex in Foxborough, Mass.
Campfires: Tom Brady's left knee not only is the top story of Patriots camp, but perhaps the NFL preseason, too. How Brady responds from having two ligaments reattached will determine whether the Patriots return to their familiar status as Super Bowl contenders. He looked impressive during minicamp, but what everybody wants to see is Brady against a live pass rush. One of his biggest assets is his pocket presence. We'll see if oncoming defenders affect him.
|AP Photo/Stephan Savoia|
|Tom Brady has looked solid during offseason workouts as he recovers from knee surgery.|
Vince Wilfork's contract situation could be a problem. The Patriots drafted Boston College defensive tackle Ron Brace, but he's no Wilfork, the behemoth who anchors Bill Belichick's 3-4 defense. Wilfork is entering the final year of his contract and wants security. He skipped offseason workouts and his displeasure could impact his participation in training camp.
A couple of intriguing positions to watch will be outside linebacker and running back. The Patriots didn't bring in anybody to replace respected veteran Mike Vrabel, a Pro Bowler two seasons ago. Pierre Woods, Shawn Crable and Tully Banta-Cain don't make quarterbacks quake in their cleats, but maybe somebody will emerge. In the offensive backfield, Laurence Maroney is coming off a shoulder injury and, entering his fourth season, needs to produce. The Patriots also signed free agent Fred Taylor.
Camp will be a downer if ... Brady suffers a setback in his recovery. The Patriots won 11 games with unheralded reserve Matt Cassel last year, but does second-year backup Kevin O'Connell (without offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, no less) engender enough confidence to withstand Brady tweaking his knee?
If Brady encounters some turbulence, it's foreseeable the Patriots still could pull through as they did last year. But any Brady struggles will make Patriot Nation squirm.
Camp will be a success if ... somebody emerges as Vrabel's replacement and the Patriots come away pleased with their cornerbacks. New England's defense has some uncertainties, but finding reliable help at these spots will be huge.
The Patriots emerged from last year's camp unstable at cornerback. They cut Fernando Bryant just before the season and signed Deltha O'Neal, who was lackluster. This offseason they welcomed veterans Shawn Springs and Leigh Bodden and second-rounder Darius Butler. They traded right-side starter Ellis Hobbs.
Tough cuts to come? The Patriots will have some decisions to make at running back. Maroney is a first-round pick entering just his fourth season. They identified Taylor as somebody they needed. Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk are old dependables. BenJarvus Green-Ellis showed he could play in the NFL when given the chance. It will be interesting to see how this position sorts out.
New York Jets
Training camp site: State University of New York in Cortland, N.Y.
Campfires: As much as rookie coach Rex Ryan's revamped defense will shape the Jets' season, quarterback battles always steal the headlines. When one of the candidates is the highest-paid player in franchise history and the highest-drafted quarterback since Joe Namath, you know it will be a molten topic. The Jets traded up to draft Mark Sanchez fifth overall. He's getting paid $28 million in guarantees. Unless he flops or veteran Kellen Clemens is brilliant, the rookie should start.
|Rich Kane/Icon SMI|
|Vernon Gholston had a disappointing rookie season.|
The Jets, however, likely will go as far as their defense takes them. It's difficult to tell how an aggressive, blitz-oriented defense is coming together when nobody's wearing pads or hitting. Training camp conditions will be the first real sense we'll get about how Ryan's methods will translate from Baltimore.
Ryan's defense will be aided substantially if he can get pass-rusher Vernon Gholston to contribute. Last year's sixth overall pick from Ohio State had an undetectable rookie campaign. The Jets need to get some kind of return on their investment, but the urgency is greater with outside linebacker Calvin Pace's four-game suspension at the start of the season. Gholston's opportunity couldn't be more obvious. He must have a terrific camp.
Camp will be a downer if ... Ryan's much-ballyhooed defense doesn't hum by the end of preseason. With all of the bluster, the signings of Bart Scott and Jim Leonhard and the Lito Sheppard trade, the Jets better be good on defense.
Purely from an entertainment perspective, camp will be a bummer if Ryan doesn't keep yapping like he did during OTAs and minicamp.
Camp will be a success if ... either Sanchez or Gholston emerges as a credible player. They don't have to be Pro Bowlers, but if one or the other demonstrates a level of competence to build from, then fans -- and general manager Mike Tannenbaum -- can breathe a little easier about the immediate future.
Sanchez, of course, is who the Jets need to come into his own more than any other player. They have the most invested in him. He might be the franchise's front man for the next decade. But if Sanchez sputters in camp and Gholston's game materializes, organizational confidence still would be buoyed.
Catch and release: The Jets haven't made the move fans hoped. They haven't landed an experienced receiver to play with Jerricho Cotchery. They lost Laveranues Coles but have opted to find a starter among last year's reserves and by turning over the bottom of the roster.
Chansi Stuckey and speedster David Clowney look like the best bets to emerge from this crew. Brad Smith and Wallace Wright also could end up with bigger roles, but the auditions will last right up until the regular season begins.
Trey Wingo, Darren Woodson and Tim Hasselbeck preview the AFC East.
|Andy Lyons, Paul Jasienski and Marc Serota/Getty Images|
|With the prevalence of wideouts over 6 feet tall, teams are seeking similar-size cornerbacks such as Nnamdi Asomugha, Darrelle Revis and Sean Smith to match up.|
DAVIE, Fla. -- In a land of munchkins, Randy Moss and Terrell Owens -- already giants in their field -- stand even taller.
Towering receivers make it seem so easy when they leap into the air and come down with the ball for a touchdown. They're tall. They can sky. They're often unchallenged.
The NFL has enough short cornerbacks to fill a forest of Keebler trees. That's the way it has been for years. By football standards, the cornerbacks are uncommonly good for men standing 5 foot 8 or 5 foot 9. You won't see quarterbacks or linebackers that size. Or punters, for that matter.
Cornerbacks are wiry bundles of fast-twitch muscles. What they give up in physicality they compensate with zippiness and vertical leaps.
But cornerback size has become an issue in some front offices.
Teams, including the Miami Dolphins, have made an effort to grow. There's a greater emphasis being placed on matching up physically, whether it be on jump balls in the end zone or press coverage at the line of scrimmage.
"When you have 6-5 against 5-8, you have some discrepancies there," Dolphins secondary coach Todd Bowles said.
Cornerbacks have experienced an acute growth spurt in recent years.
The Elias Sports Bureau found that 31 percent of cornerbacks who started at least eight games in 2004 were listed at 6 feet or taller.
|Tom Hauck/Getty Images|
|Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was one of four 6-foot-2 starting cornerbacks last season.|
Last year, the number was 41 percent.
No regular starter was taller than 6 foot 2 last year, but the four listed at that height were Nnamdi Asomugha, Antonio Cromartie, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Ike Taylor. So that's the best in the business (Asomugha), the 2007 interception leader (Cromartie), a top rookie last year (Rodgers-Cromartie) and two Super Bowl starters (Rodgers-Cromartie, Taylor).
In previewing the 2006 draft, ESPN's John Clayton noted there also were four 6-foot-2 starting cornerbacks the year before. That quartet was considerably less impressive: Julian Battle, Gary Baxter, Mike Rumph and Andre Woolfolk.
Apparently, finer tall athletes are playing the position now.
"The receivers are getting a lot bigger, the Calvin Johnsons, Randy Mosses and Terrell Owenses of the world," said Bowles, who played eight seasons at safety for the Washington Redskins and San Francisco 49ers. "You can get a 5-8, 180-pound corner with all the quickness and skill in the world, but you get third-and-2, third-and-3, the [receivers are] running slants and pushing them out of the way and bodying them out in the red zone."
In Clayton's story from 2006, he quoted then-Tennessee Titans general manager Floyd Reese as saying the "optimum height [for a cornerback] is about 5-11." Reese cited a 10-year study that suggested taller cornerbacks don't last as long because they tend to be more physical.
Reese, now a senior football adviser with the New England Patriots, has watched his new club grow at cornerback. This offseason, the Patriots traded 5-foot-9 starter Ellis Hobbs and picked up 6-foot Shawn Springs and 6-foot-1 Leigh Bodden.
Elsewhere in the AFC East, the New York Jets have 6-foot Pro Bowler Darrelle Revis and 5-foot-10 Lito Sheppard. The Buffalo Bills have the shortest projected starters. Terrence McGee is listed at 5 foot 9, and Leodis McKelvin at 5 foot 10. But free-agent acquisition Drayton Florence is 6 feet tall.
The Dolphins were concerned with their size at cornerback even before the Bills welcomed Owens to the AFC East.
The Dolphins sometimes felt overmatched last year against a series of big receivers: Moss, Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson, Brandon Marshall and Dwayne Bowe.
Miami kept Marshall and Bowe in check, but surrendered 153 yards to Fitzgerald, 178 yards to Johnson and 125 yards and three touchdowns to Moss.
"You better have some big, strong people that can compete against these guys," Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano said, "because they're big, strong, physical receivers that can take over a game in those situations. I think that you need to be prepared when you're playing against them."
Miami's starting cornerbacks last year were
Will Allen and Andre' Goodman. Both are listed at 5 foot 10, an inch below the league average for an NFL starter.
|Gene Lower/Getty Images|
|The Dolphins got bigger at CB this offseason through the draft and by signing 5-foot-11 Eric Green.|
Goodman departed via free agency. The Dolphins signed Eric Green, a 5-foot-11 former Arizona Cardinal, and selected two more corners early in the draft. They chose Vontae Davis (5 foot 11) of Illinois in the first round and Sean Smith (6 foot 3) of Utah in the second round.
"We like big corners," Sparano said. "In fact, we'll take smaller corners in some situations off the [draft] board, and they might just be good players for other people, just maybe not for us."
Smith received first-team reps at right corner during organized team activities.
"It definitely makes it more difficult for receivers to catch the ball and ball placement for quarterbacks," Smith said. "With my reach and size, you definitely have to keep the ball away from me. With that in my mind, my size helps me out a lot."
Sparano's former team, the Dallas Cowboys, is among those not motivated to get taller at cornerback.
The Cowboys, in fact, have gotten shorter. They traded Anthony Henry and moved Alan Ball to safety. Each is listed at 6-foot-1.
"Our top three corners right now are 5-10 or less, and we're pretty satisfied with that because they all can run," Cowboys assistant secondary coach Brett Maxie said. "They all can play the ball down the field, and they're physical."
Maxie noted the NFC East doesn't have the same physical receivers to worry about as other divisions, especially now that the New York Giants have ejected Plaxico Burress.
"We face faster, smaller guys," said Maxie, who played safety for 13 years in the NFL. "You've got to be able to match up with those guys. You can't sit there and press all day. You've got to be able to play off, react quickly, change it up.
"Some teams would rather go after a tougher 5-foot-9 corner that can play Cover 2 and jam and tackle and be physical at the point of attack rather than go out and get a 6-foot corner who's a cover guy and not real physical."
Maxie also explained the taller a cornerback is, the more difficulty he will have recovering when beat at the line. Once the receiver gets a step, it's tougher for a defender with size to quickly change direction and cover him.
"If you go out and get that bigger corner, he better be able to press at the line of scrimmage," Maxie said. "Secondly, he's got to be able to run."
Those players are difficult to find, but they're out there. One team has two of them. Green Bay Packers cornerbacks Al Harris and Charles Woodson are 6 foot 1 each and made the Pro Bowl last year.
The Dolphins are confident bigger will be better for them.
"You probably lose a little bit of niftiness, but speed and physicalness makes up for that," Bowles said. "With the receivers as big as they are nowadays, you don't see the niftiness in them anymore anyways. That's why we thought it was important."
The three most important positions in football are quarterback, left tackle and cornerback.
|Rick Stewart/Getty Images|
|Will Allen recorded three INTs for Miami last season.|
They have their left tackle of the present and future. Jake Long was a Pro Bowler as a rookie last year.
And they have solidified their future at cornerback. A month after they selected cornerbacks Vontae Davis and Sean Smith within in the first 61 picks of last month's draft, the Dolphins have signed left corner Will Allen to a two-year contract extension, agent Drew Rosenhaus announced Tuesday afternoon.
Rosenhaus tweeted Allen's deal includes $10 million in guarantees.
Because cornerback is a position that requires considerable grooming and youngsters rarely earn their coach's trust right away, Allen will help bridge the gap between now and later. Allen will turn 31 in August and will be 33 when the deal is up.
Allen recorded 50 tackles, three interceptions, 15 pass defenses and a forced fumble in 2008.
Since signing Allen in 2006, the Dolphins have started the likes Andre Goodman, Michael Lehan, and Travis Daniels on the right side.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
Sun-Sentinel reporter Zach Buchanan quotes Mitchell Butler III as saying "The Dolphins gave him a promise that they'll take him if he's around."
Miami hasn't had promising youth at cornerback for years, churning through a series of free agents to man the position.
The last time the Dolphins had a top cornerback prospects to groom were Patrick Surtain and Sam Madison in the late 1990s.
While much of the pre-draft focus for the Miami Dolphins has been on their need for a No. 1 receiver, there's no disputing they also crave help at cornerback.
The Dolphins need a young cornerback they can groom and rely upon rather than cycle through retread veterans as they have over the past few years.
The presumption is that the hole's on the right side, where the Dolphins lost Andre Goodman to free agency and signed Eric Green, the former Arizona Cardinal. Green hasn't exactly been a lockdown performer and lost his starting job in the second half of last season.
Conventional wisdom maintains left cornerback Will Allen is just fine, but ESPN Stats & Information has some numbers that indicate the Dolphins could stand to upgrade there, too.
The Dolphins allowed an NFL-high 1,719 yards on passes to the right side of the field -- the defense's left side. Part of this could be attributed to the Dolphins trusting Allen in single coverage and rolling help to Goodman, but they surrendered 572 fewer yards to the other side of the field.
Here are the most passing yards allowed to a defense's left side:
- Dolphins: 1,719
- Detroit Lions: 1,635
- San Francisco 49ers: 1,599
- Buffalo Bills: 1,552
- St. Louis Rams: 1,544
In a previous blog, I wrote that KC Joyner thought the Dolphins' secondary suffered a blow when it lost Goodman.
Among corners who faced 30 or more passes last year, Green ranked ninth-worst at 9.3 yards allowed per attempt. Goodman gave up 6.7 yards per attempt, Miami's stingiest average.
"The best secondary in the league," Wilson said.
That probably sounds odd to draft analysts and fans who think the Dolphins have a glaring need at cornerback.
Wilson sat down with former Dolphins linebacker Kim Bokamper, the host of "Dolphins Tonight" on local radio station WQAM, and discussed the new-look defensive backfield.
"I think we're going to be a very tight-knit group," Wilson said, "and I think we can be the best secondary in the league if we all just put our heads together and putt he talent together and make it happen."
Wilson has been Miami's top signing this offseason. The Oakland Raiders junked him as a cost-cutting measure. He finished second on the Raiders with 129 tackles one year after they plucked him from the New York Giants' championship starting lineup.
"We've got to bond as a team," Wilson said. "We've got to work hard. Everybody's got to trust each other. I've got to be able to look to my left and look to my right and make sure these guys have the same passion, the same intensity that I bring to the field."
Bokamper asked Wilson to give the listeners a scouting report on what he brings to the Dolphins.
"A guy that goes 110 percent, a guy that's going to fly around and make plays, a guy that's going to go out and just hit somebody," Wilson said. "That's what I bring. I bring a lot of passion to the game, and I want to be the best. That's how I am, and that's how I'm going to play."
He has played free safety in only one of his five NFL season, but that's the position he played when he won his Super Bowl ring.
"I get to roam a little more," Wilson said. "I get to blitz some. That's what I'm most comfortable with."
Bell, who led Miami with 120 tackles last year, will remain at strong safety. But Wilson noted their interchangeable roles will make the defense more dangerous. Wilson said he and Bell have been working out together every day.
Both of them are known as hard hitters. Wilson recorded 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble. Bell had one sack and three forced fumbles.
"We'll be able to move around a little more because me and the strong safety, we're basically vice-versa," Wilson said. "We'll be able to do a lot more disguising, a lot more different looks. I think this is a perfect fit for me, and I'm excited to get started."
I love reading KC Joyner's work. He appeals to the baseball fan in me, breaking down football with the types of stats I used to immerse myself in by not only memorizing the backs of my baseball cards, but also applying those figures when I'd watch the games.
Joyner is known as The Football Scientist for his innovative analysis. He examines film and evaluates what he sees into numerical form.
Whereas essentially every baseball trait can be measured by data, football stats aren't always available for consumption. Check the back of an offensive lineman's football card. It's boring. How did I, as an 8-year-old in Ohio, know John Hannah was great? Because the Topps Company said so.
Joyner tries to change that. He recently became a contributor to the "The Fifth Down" blog for the New York Times and has been writing a lot about the AFC East.
"Maybe I'm wrong on all of this and [Dolphins vice president of football operations Bill] Parcells will once again prove to be a genius, but I can't help thinking having a weak secondary will be especially difficult in the AFC East in 2009. Not only will Miami have to face New England and Buffalo, but it will also have Houston, Indianapolis and New Orleans on its schedule. That means seven of their games will be against teams with high-powered passing attacks. That does not seem to bode well for the Dolphins' chances of repeating as division champs."
Joyner has no problem with the Dolphins not retaining free safety Renaldo Hill or starting right cornerback Andre' Goodman because they're going to be 31 this year, but the players replacing them don't grade out well.
The Dolphins signed Gibril Wilson to be their new free safety. Wilson has played only one year at that position. Although Wilson won a Super Bowl with the New York Giants that season, Joyner graded him among the worst in the "deep assist metric," or how many yards allowed in over-the-top coverage help. Wilson allowed the third-most yards that year and 12th-most yards per pass attempt.
To replace Goodman, the Dolphins signed former Arizona Cardinal Eric Green. Among corners who faced 30 or more passes last year, Green ranked ninth-worst at 9.3 yards allowed per attempt. Goodman gave up 6.7 yards per attempt.
Now let's see Joyner come up with some stats for checking-line forwards and shutdown defensemen.
Mark in Champaign, Ill., writes: Tim -- With the compensatory picks now allotted, the Pats have 12 picks. In my view, there is no way BB exercises all of those picks. To do so would be tantamount to throwing assets to the wind, simply because there are not 12 openings on this, still a very deep and talented roster. My prediction: The Pats will trade some picks to move up in one or more rounds to acquire a player or players of interest, and will also trade a pick or two for (higher value) choices in future drafts. Bottom Line: Don't be surprised if the Pats acquire only 7 or 8 new players on draft day. Your thoughts?
Tim Graham: The Patriots actually own 11 draft picks at the moment. Some rundowns floating around in cyberspace haven't deducted the fifth-round selection they sent to the Eagles for Greg Lewis.
Eleven draft picks still are a lot, and the Patriots simply won't have enough room on their roster to add that many players. To use them all would be wasting assets. That's why I do agree the Patriots likely will package multiple picks to acquire a player or make trades to push some of those picks into 2010.
Tim in Goodlettsville, Tenn., writes: Tim, As a Vandy follower during the Cutler years I never saw evidence of the player criticisms being leveled. I'd be the one of the first to say to JC, "Shut up and play the game," if it were merited. I also believe that due to his college experience, Jay was better suited to early NFL success than either Young or Leinart. The Hunchback of ND could have won under center at TX and SC. Are you hearing any any positive words floating around about the issue? Thanks, Tim
Tim Graham: You probably won't like my answer, but while I was at the NFL owners' meeting last week in Dana Point, Calif., Jay Cutler might have been the most popular topic of discussion. I spoke with several owners, general managers and coaches. Nobody I talked to came to Cutler's defense. They raved about Cutler's physical ability, but the general perception was that he needed to man up and get over his wounded feelings.
Eric in New York writes: what are the odds of jay cutler reaching the jets? What would be better, to draft a qb or go after cutler?
Tim Graham: If the Jets can go into the draft certain they can land one of the top three quarterbacks -- Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman -- then they should jump on one of them. The more we learn about Cutler, the more toxic he seems. Jets safety Kerry Rhodes this week spoke out against Cutler. Rhodes doesn't respect Cutler and insisted he's not alone in his feelings.
Leroy in Atlanta writes: Do you think that Ted Ginn Jr. can ever live up to the expectations of the Miami fans and Media? I think that because of where he was drafted and because of us passing up Brady Quinn,nothing he ever does, short of being a perinial Pro bowler, will ever validate him.
Tim Graham: Any criticism of the Dolphins' decision to draft Ted Ginn ninth overall is warranted. He doesn't need to be a perennial Pro Bowler. Not even close. Lee Evans hasn't been to one Pro Bowl, yet he's a bona fide No. 1 receiver for the Bills. But Ginn does need to be significantly more productive. He had one more reception than Greg Camarillo, who played only 11 games, and two more than Davone Bess. Neither Camarillo nor Bess was drafted.
Steve in York, Pa., writes: LT Peters - I don't see how giving him more money will help with his production. He gave up 11 sacks last year in only 13 starts. His best year was in 2006, so please, as a Bills fan move on.
Tim Graham: You're not alone, Steve. A lot of Bills fans are fed up with Peters. But he still is a valuable player despite his disappointing season. If the Bills were to move on, replacing a player at such a critical position would be difficult. If I were a Bills fan, I wouldn't be so eager to see Peters split.
Team needs: Receiver, cornerback, interior line
|Joe Robbins/Getty Images|
|Rutgers wideout Kenny Britt would fill a need for the Dolphins and should be available when Miami picks.|
Dream scenario: The Dolphins hold the No. 25, 44 and 56 selections in the draft. They won't have their pick of the litter by the time they go on the clock, but they should be able to acquire prospects who can fill significant needs at receiver and cornerback.
Receiver looks like the more pressing need of the two. The Dolphins lost their starting right cornerback when Andre Goodman departed via free agency, but they replaced him with Eric Green, formerly on the Arizona Cardinals. While the Dolphins still require some youthful promise at cornerback -- they can't keep turning to retread veterans every year -- they have done nothing to shore up a mediocre receiving corps.
The Dolphins didn't have a go-to threat last year, but they can find help at No. 25. Maryland speedster Darrius Heyward-Bey still might be on the board. If not, Kenny Britt from Rutgers should be around. He doesn't have elite speed, but he's one of the bigger receivers in the draft.
The Dolphins then could come back for a cornerback with the 44th selection, obtained in the trade that sent Jason Taylor to the Washington Redskins. Louis Delmas from Western Michigan or Darius Butler from Connecticut could fall to the Dolphins there.
Plan B: Miami football operations boss Bill Parcells loves heart-and-soul players, and there will be a few available late in the first round. If Parcells can't bring himself to select a skill player and wants to stick with something a little closer to bedrock, he might find Southern California linebacker Clay Matthews still on the board. Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis and Boston College defensive tackle Ron Brace should still be around, too.
Scouts Inc. take: "It's un-Parcells-like, but I think they need to find smaller people this time around. They need to find a No. 1 corner. I don't know who that player is, but Vontae Davis is someone they'll have to consider there. The second round also makes sense for corners. Ideally, the plan would be to get a No. 1 wideout. Ted Ginn is a specialty player, and they have the slot guys. But they need the No. 1, all-around, big, fast, strong receiver. They might not be able to get him, so they might have to live life without that player." -- Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc.
Who has final say: Parcells makes the calls but pretends he's merely an interested observer. General manger Jeff Ireland is his right-hand man.
Now on the clock: Atlanta Falcons, March 23.