AFC East: Anthony Fasano

In one week, the Miami Dolphins went from one of the least threatening passing offenses in the NFL to one of the league’s deepest and most formidable.

The Dolphins spent a lot of resources at receiver and tight end in free agency. They signed receivers Mike Wallace, Brandon Gibson and tight end Dustin Keller to boost their air attack.

Miami’s receivers were last in the NFL with three touchdowns in 2012. Wallace and Gibson combined for 13 touchdowns last season and will bring those talents to Miami. Keller also added two touchdowns at tight end. Second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill has to be smiling this week.

Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland said he would get Tannehill upgrades at the skill positions and he delivered. Perhaps the only unknown is the future of receiver Davone Bess.

Gibson signed a three-year contract, but Bess is the only true slot receiver on the roster. If Bess isn’t traded or released, either Bess or Gibson will get little playing time as a fourth receiver next season.

But this is a good problem to have. Last year, Miami had too few receivers. This year, the Dolphins have too many.

» NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Welcome to Eight in the Box, an NFL Nation feature that will appear each Friday during the offseason. This week's topic: Who should be the primary target (including trades) for each team when free agency begins?

Buffalo Bills: Buffalo has quite a bit of money to spend in free agency and few of its own players should be top priorities, with the exception of franchised safety Jairus Byrd and guard Andy Levitre, who should be the most sought-after free agent at his position. Bringing Levitre back should be a focus, and Buffalo could use more pieces on defense, but the Bills really need to add offensive weapons (especially if they plan to select a quarterback early in the 2013 draft). There are a lot of tight ends on the market and in the upcoming draft class, but free-agent wideout Greg Jennings would be my No. 1 target. Jennings is an established receiver who could legitimize the passing attack. The presence of Jennings would also allow Steve Johnson to see more favorable coverage matchups.

Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins have a lot of money to work with and should be one of the most active teams in free agency. On defense, cornerback and an edge pass-rusher are areas of need, but this offseason needs to be all about building around second-year franchise quarterback Ryan Tannehill. That would put Jennings in play here, too, but Steelers wideout Mike Wallace is younger and his fantastic speed would complement Davone Bess and Brian Hartline, who has reportedly agreed to a five-year contract to stay in Miami. Wallace also would allow Tannehill to show off his big arm downfield and help create room for Miami’s running game. And with Anthony Fasano also a free agent, Miami needs to address the tight end spot as well.

New England Patriots: The Patriots have plenty of cap room to be aggressive in free agency and improve an already-stacked roster, but they also have major contributors of their own whose contracts are up. The Tom Brady/Bill Belichick window could be closing in the near future, so expect the Pats to go all-in to upgrade their roster, which could possibly include trading backup quarterback Ryan Mallett for more draft picks that could further improve New England’s young core. The Pats’ roster could look much different next season, but former New England standout defensive lineman Richard Seymour would be a great guy to pursue. Seymour is familiar with how Belichick does things and the defense as a whole. He is getting on in age, but maybe the Patriots can get him at a slight discount. Because of the defensive tackles they presently have on the roster, New England would not have to play Seymour a high number of snaps, which could appeal to the veteran and allow him to stay fresh throughout the season. Seymour’s interior pass-rush skills would help a defense that lacks consistent interior push.

New York Jets: Considering their salary-cap situation, it is possible the Jets will be without cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie next season, which opens up yet another hole on a roster that needs a lot of work. On offense, the Jets needs to improve at the skill positions, and bringing back stalwart guard Brandon Moore also would be wise for this run-first team. Quarterback is a massive need, but there isn't an obvious name to meet that need right now. However, Rex Ryan's brother, Rob, coached outside linebacker Victor Butler in Dallas. Although Butler was a backup to DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer in Dallas' 3-4 scheme, he was very productive when called upon. Butler is young, the arrow is pointing up and the Jets' pass rush desperately needs a boost from the outside linebacker position. With the Jets' cap constraints, Butler would be the perfect option to fill that need at a reasonable price.
The Miami Dolphins have five draft picks in the first three rounds and more than $40 million of salary-cap room this offseason. If this were a poker game, Miami would hold the most chips at the NFL table.

But the person holding all the cards in Miami often makes Dolphins fans nervous. Embattled general manager Jeff Ireland will be calling the shots for the Dolphins during their most important offseason in recent memory. For better or worse, Ireland's decisions over the next few months will significantly impact Miami's franchise for the next three to five years.

[+] EnlargeJeff Ireland
Steve Mitchell/USA Today SportsGeneral manager Jeff Ireland has the resources this offseason to help make Miami a playoff contender in the near future.
Ireland is a polarizing figure in Miami. He is 20-28 since taking over full time for former Dolphins president Bill Parcells in 2010. Ireland's track record the past three years has been inconsistent, and many Miami fans wanted him out before the start of the 2012 season.

Ireland's free-agent signings have been littered with misses. Last year alone, quarterback David Garrard, cornerback Richard Marshall and receiver Chad Johnson were all free-agent busts. Ireland also has been hit-and-miss in the draft. Some of his good picks include rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill and center Mike Pouncey. But Ireland's misses also include tailback Daniel Thomas, receiver Clyde Gates and rookie tight end Michael Egnew. The Koa Misi pick over New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski in 2010 also is hard to forget. That poor decision by Ireland only furthered the gap between Miami and its biggest rival.

So is Ireland the right person to manage more than $40 million and 10 total draft picks? His track record proves the Dolphins are taking a risk.

This is a make-or-break year for Ireland, who still has a lot to prove as Miami's general manager. The good news is Ireland is coming off his best draft in Miami. His 2012 picks included Tannehill, starting offensive tackle Jonathan Martin and contributing reserves Olivier Vernon and Lamar Miller. This group helped lead Miami to a respectable 7-9 record and provided optimism for the future.

"I was impressed with Ireland this past offseason and they are loaded with picks going forward," said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. "I would target 2014 to be highly competitive for Miami. It's very achievable."

Of course, all of that is contingent on Ireland making the right calls in 2013.

Ireland's first order of business is taking care of his in-house free agents. The Dolphins have plenty of cap room because many key players are coming off the books. Starters like left tackle Jake Long, leading rusher Reggie Bush, leading receiver Brian Hartline, No. 1 corner Sean Smith and defensive tackle Randy Starks will look to cash in this offseason. These are all tough calls. Miami cannot pay all of them.

It will be up to Ireland, with some input from rookie head coach Joe Philbin, to determine who stays and who goes. Ireland must walk a fine line of paying enough money to keep his own key contributors but still leave enough cap room to chase outside free agents. It will take some shrewd decisions and masterful self-scouting by Ireland. He cannot overrate or overpay his own players, which is a mistake general managers often make.

One of the most important things Ireland must accomplish is getting the right skill players around Tannehill. The rookie quarterback showed a lot of potential in his first year but was hamstrung by limited receivers and tight ends. Tannehill still managed to throw for 3,294 yards, 12 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in his first season.

The good news is the wide receiver position is very strong in free agency this year. Free-agent receivers Greg Jennings, Dwayne Bowe and Mike Wallace are possibilities for the Dolphins, who have the money to spend. Jennings played under Philbin for several years in Green Bay and knows the West Coast offense. Bowe is a Miami native who could return home, and Wallace has the deep speed Miami needs. Each player has the potential to fit well in Miami's offense and provide a boost for Tannehill.

"Wallace's speed would be ideal for Miami, but I trust him the least," Williamson said of this year's free-agent receivers. "Jennings is the most familiar but I worry that he might be on a slight decline. Bowe is really solid and from Miami. I would sign one and still draft a receiver high."

Tannehill also needs a better receiving tight end. This was a staple in Philbin's offenses in Green Bay, but Miami was limited with that position last year. Aging tight end Anthony Fasano could not stretch the field and is a free agent who may not return.

Following free agency, the Dolphins will enter the draft with a first-round pick (No. 12 overall), two second-round picks and two third-round picks. Miami picked up an additional second-rounder last summer from the Indianapolis Colts via the Vontae Davis trade. The Dolphins also got an extra third-rounder from the Chicago Bears for trading receiver Brandon Marshall. These key picks will be used to plug additional holes on the roster.

These are exciting and promising times for Miami. The Dolphins are in prime position to close the gap with the Patriots in the AFC East and perhaps make a playoff run in 2013. But it will be up to Ireland to wisely spend Miami's immense offseason resources.
Here are the most interesting stories Wednesday in the AFC East: Morning take: The Bills haven't been consistent this preseason, but no one has in the AFC East. Buffalo will get an accurate gauge of where it stands immediately when it plays the New York Jets in Week 1.
  • Is free-agent tight end Chris Cooley a possibility for the Miami Dolphins?
Morning take: Any time a pass-catcher becomes available, you have to consider Miami. Starting tight end Anthony Fasano and rookie Michael Egnew have struggled in the preseason. But Cooley will have his choice of several options, and the rebuilding Dolphins might not be at the top.
Morning take: This should provide ample playing time for rookie running back Jeff Demps, who missed all of training camp and half of the preseason. The Patriots need to find out what the Olympic speedster can contribute to the team this season.
Morning take: The Jets have the right not to show their entire offense in the preseason. But it's curious because nothing else worked and New York couldn't score a touchdown. Will Tim Tebow and the Wildcat be enough to save the Jets' offense?

AFC East preseason Stock Watch

August, 27, 2012
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Dress rehearsal week is officially over in the AFC East. All four teams have completed their third and most important preseason game.

Here is a look at whose stock is rising and falling in the division:

Falling

1. Jets offense: The touchdown drought has now reached three full games and 12 quarters for the New York Jets. New York’s first- and second-team offense put on another shoddy display in Sunday night’s 17-12 loss to the Carolina Panthers. Jets starting quarterback Mark Sanchez (123 yards, one interception) played decent football but couldn’t get it done in the red zone. The Jets got inside the 20 three times and settled for field goals. One time in the second quarter, New York’s defense forced a big fumble at Carolina’s 12 yard-line and the Jets went three-and-out and settled for the field goal. Backup quarterback Tim Tebow didn’t do much better in his final preseason game. He went 4-of-14 for 55 yards and an interception. This was New York’s final tune-up for its starters before its big Week 1 showdown with the Buffalo Bills. It appears the Jets’ best chance to win this game is with good defense.

[+] EnlargeMario Williams
Kevin Hoffman/US PresswireBuffalo's Mario Williams produced 10.5 sacks last season despite battling a wrist injury.
2. Dolphins receivers: Miami’s pass catchers have had the dropsies since spring workouts. So it’s no surprise that trend is continuing up until two weeks before the regular season. The Dolphins are making rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s job much more difficult by not catching the football. Starting tight end Anthony Fasano had three drops in the first half alone. The fact is Miami simply does not have the receivers and tight ends to run a successful West Coast offense. It’s going to be a rough year trying to score points in Miami.

3. Patriots offensive line: Brady has played in limited snaps, but he is taking a pounding this preseason when he’s under center. Brady took several more shots in New England’s 30-28 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Friday. He was sacked twice and fumbled for the second time this preseason (it was recovered). Injuries have hurt New England’s offensive line, but the players in the lineup need to improve. For example, Marcus Cannon is not the answer at right tackle and New England needs Sebastian Vollmer back ASAP. Brady only has so many big hits left in his 35-year-old body. It is imperative he stays upright and productive this year.

Rising

1. Stevan Ridley, Patriots tailback: The starting running back job appears to be locked up for Ridley, who has been the most consistent Patriots tailback in training camp and the preseason. Ridley is running well and put together another solid effort Friday night against Tampa Bay. Ridley rushed for 87 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. These kind of performances is exactly what the Patriots want out of Ridley, who took advantage of his limited opportunities.

2. Mario Williams, Bills defensive end: Williams showed flashes of why the Bills invested $100 million into him this offseason. He is a defensive game-changer who dominated the first half against the Pittsburgh Steelers with two sacks. Buffalo’s defense was energized by Williams and played its best half of football in the preseason. The Bills will need more multi-sack performances from Williams in the regular season.

3. Dolphins’ defense: Miami’s defense was underachieving this preseason, allowing 24 first-quarter points in the first two games. But the Dolphins played closer to the level we saw the past two years against Atlanta. Miami held a good Falcons offense to just three field goals in the first half. The pass rush looked much better with the return of defensive end Cameron Wake (1.5 sacks). The pass defense needs some improvement, but overall it was a solid effort for the strength of Miami’s team.

Camp Confidential: Miami Dolphins

July, 31, 2012
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DAVIE, Fla. -- Don't tell linebacker Karlos Dansby and defensive end Cameron Wake the Miami Dolphins aren't contenders in 2012.

"We can be great," Dansby said at the opening of training camp.

Added Wake, "We have the talent [to make a run]."

There is a feeling of newness in Miami. The Dolphins believe a revival is coming this year, sooner than most expect.

Dolphins rookie head coach Joe Philbin has instilled a calm, quiet confidence in this team, which finished 6-10 last season. The change also includes new offensive and defensive schemes. First-year defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle is switching Miami to a 4-3 defense, while new offensive coordinator Mike Sherman is implementing a West Coast offense.

Miami's practices are faster and better organized. Even owner Stephen Ross has been impressed with the way the new-look Dolphins have operated since the spring.

"[Changes] are pretty evident and you can feel it," Ross said. "People can talk the talk, but you can see that we’re walking the walk and I think that’s what’s important. If fans feel that and see that, I think they’re going to be very excited about that."

There are plenty of new faces. With just three weeks of training camp, will Miami and its new coaching staff have enough time to sort everything out? It also adds an extra challenge that HBO's "Hard Knocks" is there to document Miami's every move until the start of the regular season.

Most outsiders project 2012 to be a rebuilding year for the Dolphins. But it's clear the Dolphins have higher expectations internally.

THREE HOT ISSUES

David Garrard
Steve Mitchell/US PresswireVeteran David Garrard looks to have the early lead to become the Dolphins' starting quarterback.
1. Which quarterback will prevail? Miami's quarterback competition between Matt Moore, David Garrard and rookie Ryan Tannehill is in full swing. Every play is being watched closely by the Dolphins' coaches and the media.

But who is Miami’s best option? Grading the first several practices, I give the edge to Garrard.

The nine-year veteran, who missed all of 2011 with a back injury, looks the most poised and in control of the offense. Garrard played in a West Coast system before. He knows the reads, progressions and what's expected.

"I think my chances are pretty good," Garrard said of winning the starting job. "I don't think they would have me here or even say that it was open competition if my chances weren't good. I know I can still play. I've just got to continue to prove it on the field."

Moore is the incumbent, but you wouldn't know it from his early practices. Moore has not looked consistent dating back to spring workouts. The tricky part is Moore has never been a great practice player. He performs best when the lights are on in an actual game. Moore proved that last year by going 6-3 in his final nine starts.

Moore's best chance to win this job is to outperform Garrard in preseason games. Tannehill arrived to camp two days late and is a long shot to get in the race.

2. What is the plan at receiver? Miami has a hodgepodge group of mostly unproven receivers who need to settle in. Currently, Miami has 12 receivers on its roster and zero defined roles at the position. The Dolphins do not know their No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3 receiver after several practices.

Philbin, a former offensive coordinator of the Green Bay Packers, said he doesn't believe in putting numbers on his receivers. But Philbin does need receivers who can get open and make tough catches. There have been tons of drops dating to organized team activities. In the first two training camp practices alone, I counted five drops.

For what it's worth, Miami began camp with Chad Johnson and Legedu Naanee as its two starting receivers and Davone Bess in the slot. Brian Hartline, Roberto Wallace, Julius Pruitt and Clyde Gates also are in the mix.

But Johnson has been particularly impressive. This is the first time in a while that expectations are not high for the 34-year-old receiver. Johnson was a bust for the New England Patriots, catching just 15 passes last season. But he is making some eye-opening plays in Miami's training camp.

"He's very serious. I think he's very passionate about what he does," Philbin said. "He’s been impressive. We like his work ethic, the energy, the enthusiasm that he brings. He wants to do well. He certainly wants to let the quarterback know when he’s open."

If Johnson turns out to be a No. 1 receiver again -- or close to it -- that would take a lot of pressure off the rest of the group. It would at least give Miami's quarterback someone reliable to throw to on a weekly basis.

3. Defense wants to be elite. There has been so much talk about Miami's quarterbacks and offense during the offseason that it's easy to forget about the defense. This is a physical group that wants to be elite. Miami finished No. 15 in total defense last year, but its ranking was a bit skewed due to its 0-7 start. The Dolphins' defense played like a top-10 unit in the second half of last season.

Miami's run defense is one of the best in the league, although you wonder if the adjustment to the 4-3 defense will hurt continuity. Miami returns many of the same players in the front seven, but switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3 will force some players into different roles.

Miami's secondary is the biggest question mark defensively. The team has a pair of budding, young corners in Vontae Davis and Sean Smith looking to make a jump, while the safety position is in flux. Reshad Jones and Chris Clemons began camp as the starting safeties, but versatile defensive back Jimmy Wilson also worked with the first team.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

Joe Philbin
Steve Mitchell/US PresswireFirst-year coach Joe Philbin has seemed unfazed by several curveballs already thrown his way.
Philbin has his head on straight. He has a good demeanor for a rookie head coach, and you have the sense things won't be too big for him in his first year.

Philbin already faced several challenges. Miami agreed to do "Hard Knocks," which can be a coach's nightmare because it allows an outsider an all-access pass. Philbin also has a three-way quarterback competition, and the front office added a colorful personality to the locker room in Johnson. But Philbin has taken each challenge in stride and even has a good sense of humor about things.

I have no idea if Philbin can match wits with Bill Belichick on Sundays or properly manage the final five minutes of a game. We will have those answers soon enough. But I like what I've seen from Philbin so far.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

I don't see this team scoring a lot of points. In a scoring league, that's a big problem.

Miami's plan is to run an up-tempo passing offense with questions at quarterback and unproven receivers. In theory, this is a strategy that is doomed to fail.

The Dolphins' offensive strength is their running backs. But a West Coast offense is, by nature, pass-heavy. If Philbin thinks he can run his Green Bay-style offense in Miami with Garrard or Moore at quarterback instead of Aaron Rodgers, he is sadly mistaken.

I expect plenty of growing pains for Miami's offense and the team losing plenty of low-scoring games. The defense will keep the scoring down most weeks, which is good because Miami's offense won't be lighting it up.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Speaking of Miami's running backs, the group looks solid. Starting tailback Reggie Bush looks in the best shape of his career and is coming off his first 1,000-yard season. Bush says his goal is to lead the NFL in rushing. That seems like a long shot, but another 1,000-yard season would be great for Bush. Backups Daniel Thomas and rookie Lamar Miller also have run hard early in camp and have plenty of potential.
  • Dansby enters this season in tremendous shape. He checked in at a trim 247 pounds. Last year Dansby was a victim of the lockout. He began last season around 270 pounds and didn't get down to his usual playing weight until midseason. Not coincidentally, Dansby played his best football in the final eight games of 2011. "You live and you learn," Dansby said.
  • I like what I'm seeing in the daily corner-receiver battles between Smith and Johnson. Both are competitive and want to push each other. Smith, 25, has made it a point to line up against Johnson, a six-time Pro Bowler, every chance he gets. Sometimes Johnson wins and sometimes Smith wins, but both players are getting better.
  • I'm predicting a breakout season for third-year defensive lineman Jared Odrick. He gathered some momentum at the end of last season and looks ready to put it all together this year. Odrick, a 2010 first-round pick, will be a full-time starter for the first time in his career. He has a good combination of size and quickness and has been tough to block in camp.
  • Miami's tight ends have yet to flash this offseason. The position was huge in Green Bay, where Jermichael Finley developed into a star under Philbin. Dolphins veteran Anthony Fasano and rookie third-round pick Michael Egnew are trying to fill that role. Fasano has the experience and Egnew has the edge in athleticism, but neither is making many plays.
  • It's early, but Hartline has fallen down the depth chart. Many projected Hartline to be the No. 1 receiver in Miami’s offense, but he missed most of the spring with a leg injury and began training camp on the second team. He's already in and out of practices due to his leg, and that's not helping his chances of earning the No. 1 role.
  • The Dolphins have worked rookie right tackle and second-round pick Jonathan Martin exclusively with the first team in training camp. He's a virtual lock to start in Week 1. Martin played in a pro-style offense at Stanford and was Andrew Luck's left tackle. Martin is switching to the right side this year to pair with Dolphins left tackle Jake Long.
Here are the most interesting stories Saturday morning in the AFC East: Morning take: Tebow has a story and message that a lot of people want to hear. This will be his second big speech this offseason.
  • Miami Dolphins tight end Anthony Fasano said some players were unhappy about the team's decision to do HBO's "Hard Knocks."
Morning take: The show isn't the easiest thing to do for players who want their privacy in training camp. But the bigger picture is Miami could use the national attention and try to change the perception that it's a downtrodden franchise.
  • Brad Smith exclusively at quarterback, the Buffalo Bills moved him back to wide receiver in practice Friday.
Morning take: I wrote that Buffalo was dropping the ball with Smith several days ago. It seems the Bills figured it out. There's nothing wrong with Smith getting work at both positions, but he needs to play some receiver. Buffalo paying $15 million to a No. 3 quarterback just isn't a wise investment.
Morning take: New England is not an incredibly athletic team, but the Patriots are smart and skilled. This year's draft picks were a good indication the team wanted to get faster at all positions.

It's early in the offseason. But from the looks of it, the Miami Dolphins want to run an up-tempo offense under first-year head coach Joe Philbin.

The former offensive coordinator of the Green Bay Packers is known for putting pressure on defenses. Green Bay was as good as anyone in dictating tempo. Last year the Packers were third in total offense (405.1 yards per game) and first in scoring (35 points per game).

But can Philbin's philosophy work in Miami?

The key to Philbin's first year will be quickly learning and knowing his personnel. New coaches often make the mistake of assuming their system and concepts are one size fits all.

Miami quarterbacks Matt Moore or David Garrard certainly isn't Aaron Rodgers. Dolphins receiver Brian Hartline is not Greg Jennings, and tight end Anthony Fasano is not comparable to Packers tight end Jermichael Finley.

The Dolphins have uncertainty at quarterback and the worst group of receivers in the division. Going up-tempo has its risks. Miami could face plenty of three-and-outs, which would put a lot of pressure on its defense.

Philbin and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman need to be careful about this while installing their new West Coast offense. Green Bay's strengths under Philbin were the quarterback and passing game. It's much easier to go up-tempo when you have a Pro Bowl and Super Bowl-winning quarterback throwing to stud receivers and tight ends.

Miami doesn't have that on its roster this year. The Dolphins' strength is their running game behind their offensive line and 1,000-yard rusher Reggie Bush. It would be wise for Miami's coaching staff to keep that in mind.

AFC East tight end rankings

May, 11, 2012
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Earlier this week we took a look at the best running backs in the division. On Wednesday, we will examine another position: tight ends.

Here are the top four tight ends according to the AFC East blog:

No. 1: Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots

Skinny: Say what you want about Gronkowski's personality, but he is a beast on the field. His size, wing span and strong hands have made him an elite tight end in just two seasons. Gronkowski had an NFL record 17 touchdown receptions for a tight end in 2011 and is nearly impossible to stop in the red zone.

No. 2: Aaron Hernandez, Patriots

Skinny: Hernandez is part tight end, part wide receiver. He was probably the Patriots' best deep threat last year, although receiver Brandon Lloyd will take over the role this season. Hernandez is a top-10 tight end but a second option in New England. Hernandez probably will get a shot to be the guy somewhere else when his rookie contract expires in a couple years.

No. 3: Dustin Keller, New York Jets

Skinny: Keller set career highs with receptions (65) and yards (815) last season. He was Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez's most reliable weapon from the start of the season to the end. Keller has a lot of tools. He's able to make the catches in traffic as well as stretch the field. Keller should improve as New York's passing offense becomes more efficient.

No. 4: Anthony Fasano, Miami Dolphins

Skinny: Fasano is a solid player but not great at any particular thing. He does stretch the field better than he's given credit for. He averaged a career-high 14.1 yards per reception in 2011. I'm curious to see how well Fasano fits in Miami's new West Coast offense. Fasano also won't have the luxury of Brandon Marshall taking away coverage and double teams.

Third-round notes in AFC East

April, 27, 2012
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The AFC East made some interesting additions in the third round of the NFL draft.

Here is a recap:
  • The Bills finally drafted a wide receiver by taking T.J. Graham of North Carolina State. Buffalo passed up better prospects in the second round, but you can't fault the Bills for finding a potential starting offensive tackle (Cordy Glenn). Graham was the 20th-ranked prospect at receiver by Scouts Inc. His not a big receiver (5-foot-11) but does possess top-end speed. Buffalo needs a speedster opposite top target Steve Johnson.
  • The Dolphins made an interesting choice in Miami (Fla.) defensive end Olivier Vernon. He is the first player from the hometown Hurricanes the Dolphins have taken since Vernon Carey in 2004. Vernon had an inconsistent career at Miami. The Dolphins also traded back and drafted Missouri tight end Michael Egnew with their second pick in the third round. Agnew can provide depth behind starter Anthony Fasano.
  • The New York Jets also drafted Arkansas State linebacker Demario Davis at No. 77 to help their pass rush.
  • The New England Patriots continue to boost their pass rush with third-round pick Jake Bequette of Arkansas. He recorded 21.5 career sacks at Arkansas and is a versatile player. The Patriots traded down with the Green Bay Packers for this third-round pick.

Morning take: Bills in prime time

April, 17, 2012
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Here are the most interesting stories Tuesday morning in the AFC East:
  • Which game will the new-look Buffalo Bills get in prime-time when the NFL announces its schedule this evening?
Morning take: The Bills-Patriots and Bills-Texans games are the most attractive. Let's find out tonight.
Morning take: Maybe for depth, but Anthony Fasano is a decent player at the position. I would rank other needs on offense higher, such as a right tackle and wide receiver.
  • Will New York Jets quarterbacks Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow run "two separate teams" on offense?
Morning take: That's one way to look at it. Sanchez will have the conventional package, while Tebow will run the Wildcat package. The key will be the efficiency of the other 10 players.
  • New England Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork says defensive linemen should be able to rush the quarterback without worrying about penalties.
Morning take: That’s the new NFL world we are living in and it’s not going to change. Quarterbacks are too important and may be over officiated. But I understand.
Two of Peyton Manning's most reliable weapons are now on the free-agent market. Former Indianapolis Colts receiver Reggie Wayne and tight end Dallas Clark -- both multi-time Pro Bowlers -- will wear new uniforms next season due to Indianapolis' big roster makeover.

Should the Miami Dolphins consider signing one or both players? This would be one sure way to appease Manning, who is considering Miami as one of several destinations.

Miami could use an upgrade at receiver opposite Brandon Marshall. Wayne is a good friend of Manning and lives in Miami, where he went to college. Wayne seems like a good fit. The Dolphins don't have a huge need at tight end. But Clark, 32, could make a decent tandem with Anthony Fasano. Clark does have an injury history the past two seasons that Miami needs to be careful of.

The Dolphins are expected to meet with Manning over the weekend, and Manning has all of the leverage. But this is a very fine line for Miami to walk with free agency approaching.

On one hand, the Dolphins need to be careful not to let a player who may or may not sign with the team dictate how they operate with free agents. On the other hand, this is Peyton Manning -- one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. If going after Wayne and/or Clark is what separates Miami from the other potential Manning suitors, it's probably general manager Jeff Ireland's best interest to swallow his pride (and offseason game plan) and go for it.

Miami's front office has spent months analyzing the draft and free agency, and there is a good chance spending money and cap room on two 30-something pass-catchers wasn't in the plans. But chasing a player the caliber of Manning is a high-stakes game where just about anything goes.

Wrap-up: Dolphins 30, Bills 23

December, 18, 2011
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Here are some thoughts on the Miami Dolphins' 30-23 victory over the Buffalo Bills :

What it means: Miami (5-9) continues its strong second-half push and improves to 5-2 in the past seven games. It also marked the first victory under interim coach Todd Bowles, who kept the Dolphins focused and motivated this week after the firing of Tony Sparano. For Buffalo (5-9), it was the team's seventh straight loss. The Bills have major questions to answer on both sides of the ball.

What I liked: Miami tailback Reggie Bush continues to make a push for his first 1,000-yard season. He recorded a season-high 203 rushing yards, including a 76-yard touchdown to seal the game. He now needs 77 yards in the final two games for the milestone. Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore returned from last week’s head and neck injury and played very efficiently. He threw for 217 yards and two touchdowns -- one to receiver Brandon Marshall and the other to tight end Anthony Fasano.

What I didn’t like: Defensively, the Bills don't do anything well. They can't stop the run or rush the passer and need to spend a lot of resources in the draft and free agency to improve on that side of the football. Offensively, it also looks like the Bills may have jumped the gun on signing quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to a $59 million extension. Fitzpatrick lost his seventh straight game as a starting quarterback and was inaccurate in the first three quarters. He threw for 316 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. Fitzpatrick padded his stats late in the fourth quarter after Miami took a sizable lead. Fitzpatrick will be the starter for the foreseeable future, and it's looking dicey if he can lift the Bills to contender status.

What's next: The Dolphins will travel for the second consecutive week to play the New England Patriots. New England won the first meeting between these two teams, 38-24, in Week 1. The Bills have another tough game upcoming next week. Buffalo will host Tim Tebow and the surging Denver Broncos, who were 7-1 in their past eight games entering Sunday.

AFC East injury updates

November, 17, 2011
11/17/11
5:02
PM ET
Here is the latest injury updates for Week 11 in the AFC East:

Buffalo Bills: The Bills finally got some good news this week on the injury front, as top receiver Steve Johnson (shoulder) returned to practice Thursday on a limited basis. Buffalo's struggling offense really needs Johnson in Sunday's game against Miami. Buffalo linebacker Chris Kelsay (calf) again had a limited practice and looks primed to return. Safety George Wilson (neck) and receiver David Nelson (illness, ankle) both missed practice for the second straight day.

Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins remain healthy late in the season. Starting tight end Anthony Fasano (ankle) was the only player limited in practice. But he's on pace to play Sunday. Cornerback Nolan Carroll has a hamstring injury but had full participation.

New England Patriots: For New England, the big injury is top cornerback Devin McCourty, who didn't practice with a shoulder injury. The Patriots had 14 players who were limited. It was mostly the usual suspects from last week. But Wes Welker was limited with a knee injury that appears to be a new ailment for New England's leading receiver.

Morning take: Jets not blaming Sanchez

November, 16, 2011
11/16/11
7:00
AM ET
Here are the most interesting stories Wednesday morning in the AFC East:
  • New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis said the team is not blaming quarterback Mark Sanchez for the Jets' struggles.
Morning take: Playing quarterback in New York is always tough. Sanchez is not making all the strides the Jets expected this season. But other areas of the teams are struggling as well.
Morning take: New England made some big-name acquisitions such as Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco. But it's been the under-the-radar additions like Waters and Andre Carter that are paying off.
Morning take: The good news is Buffalo is 5-4 and still in the playoff hunt. But the Bills are on a two-game losing streak and need to get their act together before it's too late.
Morning take: Fasano isn't the focal point of Miami's offense. But he has three touchdowns in his last three games. That's the kind of production Miami needs.

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