AFC East: Brandon Deaderick

Every Wednesday during the season, we'll lead off the day with a quick recap of some notable former New England Patriots players and their standing with new teams.

Patrick Chung (Eagles)
Misses his second straight game, a victory over the Giants, with a shoulder injury.
Season snapshot: Has started three of five games and is credited with 18 tackles.

Jermaine Cunningham (49ers)
After reaching an injury settlement with the Patriots at the end of the preseason, defensive end/outside linebacker signs with the 49ers on Oct. 1.
Season snapshot: Wearing jersey No. 50, he has yet to play in a game.

Brandon Deaderick (Jaguars)
Plays 33 snaps and totals three tackles in road loss to the Rams.
Season snapshot: Has played 122 total snaps; has totaled seven tackles, one sack, one fumble recovery.

Brian Hoyer (Browns)
Quarterback tears his ACL in his third start and is out for the season.
Season snapshot: Led the Browns to two wins in two starts before his injury; 57-of-96 for 615 yards with 5 TDs and 3 INTs.

Zoltan Mesko (Steelers)
Bye week after the Steelers had dropped to 0-4 in loss to Vikings in London.
Season snapshot: 20 punts for 41.9 average (31st in NFL) and 37.6 net (27th in NFL)

Trevor Scott (Buccaneers)
Bye week.
Season snapshot: 45 total snaps at defensive end.

Zach Sudfeld (Jets)
Claimed on waivers on Oct. 4
Season snapshot: Wearing jersey No. 44, tight end was inactive for Monday's win over the Falcons.

Donald Thomas (Colts)
Lands on season-ending injured reserve after injuring his quadriceps in Week 2 home loss to Dolphins.
Season snapshot: Was opening-day starter at left guard and now faces long rehab.

Wes Welker (Broncos)
Five catches for 49 yards and one touchdown in 51-48 win over Cowboys; plays 73 of 79 snaps.
Season snapshot: Receiver has played 275 of 373 offensive snaps (73.7 percent), and has 31 catches for 315 yards and seven touchdowns.

Danny Woodhead (Chargers)
Running back plays 45 of 72 snaps in road loss to Raiders and totals nine rushes for 13 yards, and adds nine receptions for 58 yards and TD. Also fumbles (returned for TD) and is stopped on fourth-and-goal from the 1.
Season snapshot: Is second on the team with 31 receptions (for 220 yards and 3 TDs), and has carried the ball 28 times for 103 yards. Has played 154 offensive snaps.

Quick-hit thoughts on Pats and NFL

September, 1, 2013
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Quick-hit thoughts on the NFL and the New England Patriots:

1. The Patriots kept just two quarterbacks on their initial 53-man roster, marking the fourth time in the past five years they have done so. How does that compare to the other teams in the NFL? By my count, here is the breakdown for 2013 after Saturday’s cut-downs:

Four quarterbacks: three teams
Three quarterbacks: 15 teams
Two quarterbacks: 14 teams

The next step that will be interesting to monitor is how many of the 14 teams with just two quarterbacks add a third to their practice squad.

2. With all seven draft choices making the Patriots’ initial roster, plus five undrafted players, that initially gives the club 12 of its 51 spots filled by rookies. Add in six draft picks from last year still on the roster, plus 2012 undrafted running back Brandon Bolden, and that’s 19 players within their first two years in the NFL (35 percent of a 53-man roster). The Patriots have a solid veteran core, and trend older at some positions (defensive tackle, for example), but all in all, this is a very young team.

3. Let’s play the armchair-general-manager game for the Patriots when it comes to their defensive tackle need and see if we can hit the bull's-eye. Here were a few players at the position we could envision being of interest to the Patriots on the waiver wire:

Marvin Austin (Giants): The second-round pick out of North Carolina in 2011 hasn’t panned out, as his rookie season was wiped out by a torn pectoral muscle and he didn't break through last year. He is 6-foot-2 and 312 pounds. As ESPN Giants reporter Dan Graziano noted, the Giants are pretty deep at defensive tackle, so part of Austin’s release was a numbers game.

[+] EnlargeMarvin Austin
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesMarvin Austin, a second-round pick in 2011 who never found a groove with the Giants, could help New England at defensive tackle.
Kheeston Randall (Dolphins): The 6-foot-5, 309-pounder who played collegiately at Texas appeared in 12 games for Miami last season. He was a 2012 seventh-round pick and has some physical traits (e.g. long arms) that might have some appeal to New England.

Adam Replogle (Falcons): The undrafted rookie is 6-3 and 310 pounds, and started the final 47 games of his collegiate career at Indiana, where he was known for his work ethic and reliability. Patriots defensive line coach Patrick Graham had worked him out before the draft.

Torell Troup (Bills): He has battled injuries in the past but has some physical traits (6-3, 327) that could be appealing as a bigger-bodied backup to Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly. Bill Belichick got to know him well on his annual pre-draft scouting trip in 2010. Troup, who played at Central Florida, was picked by the Bills in the second round that year. He has some partially guaranteed money in his contract, so it might be smarter, if interested, for the Patriots to see if he clears waivers and then bring him in.

4. While the Patriots are extremely thin at defensive tackle, which they figure to address with one of their open roster spots, it led us to check in on former New England tackles Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick in Jacksonville. Both made the Jaguars’ initial 53-man roster and are backups to Sen'Derrick Marks and Roy Miller, who were signed as unrestricted free agents this offseason. Deaderick missed the first two games of the preseason with a groin injury, but is now healthy. Looking back, it’s only natural to wonder if the Patriots have any regret in parting ways with Love and Deaderick, as they created a void without having the reinforcements in place. In fairness, they were counting on Armond Armstead to play an integral role, but he later landed on the reserve/non-football illness list (he’s out at least the first six weeks of the season) after undergoing surgery for an infection.

4b. One more check-in: Patriots 2009 second-round draft choice Ron Brace didn’t make the initial 53-man roster with the Redskins. Given the depth questions at defensive tackle, would the Patriots consider bringing him back? Our guess: They probably look elsewhere.

5. Given the makeup of their initial roster -- with six receivers, five running backs, one fullback and three tight ends (one of whom, Rob Gronkowski, won’t be ready for the season opener) -- the Patriots figure to trend more toward three-receiver and two-back sets than multiple-tight-end packages early in the season. So while this is a team that has a reputation as a two-tight-end offense, which goes back to 2011 with the dynamic duo of Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, the early part of this season is likely to have a different look. For the Sept. 8 opener at Buffalo, the three-receiver grouping might turn out to be the best matchup anyway, as the Bills are hurting at cornerback and it could hit their stress points from a depth perspective.

6. With Elvis Dumervil now in Baltimore, and Von Miller facing a six-game suspension to open the year, what’s left for the Broncos at defensive end? The free-agent signing of veteran Shaun Phillips looks more significant now, as Denver will count on him to help fill the void along with Derek Wolfe (2012 second-round pick out of Cincinnati) and Malik Jackson (2012 fifth-round pick out of Tennessee). One lingering question is if the Broncos will be able to generate enough pass rush. As for Phillips, he jumped to the Broncos after spending the first nine years of his career with the Chargers, putting him in almost the same position as linebacker Daryl Smith, who signed with the Ravens after spending the first nine years of his career with the Jaguars. Both are stepping into important roles -- Phillips helping fill the Miller void and Smith part of the puzzle to account for Ray Lewis’ absence -- which is a neat storyline for the Denver/Baltimore NFL season opener.

7. When it comes to the Patriots’ rookie receivers, I think the pace of their progression goes in the reverse order of how they arrived: Undrafted Kenbrell Thompkins is furthest along, followed by speedy fourth-round pick Josh Boyce (Texas Christian) and then second-rounder Aaron Dobson (Marshall). The thought occurred to me as Thompkins was given the veteran treatment in the second half of Thursday's preseason finale, watching from the sideline as Boyce and Dobson were still on the field playing.

8. With news that the Bills signed center Eric Wood to a long-term contract extension, it served as a reminder that he was a player I believe the Patriots had targeted as one of their ideal choices in the 2009 draft. That was the year the team traded down twice -- from 23 (Michael Oher) to 26 (Clay Matthews) to 34, where they selected safety Patrick Chung. Had Wood been on the board at 34, I think he would have received strong consideration. Had they stuck at 26, maybe they would have taken him there. Not that the Patriots are currently hurting at center, as Ryan Wendell has developed into a solid starter, but there was a lot of smoke around the Patriots and Wood that year.

9. The Raiders did what I thought the Patriots might by keeping two punters on their initial 53-man roster, as they view both Chris Kluwe and Marquette King as assets. The thinking, it appears, is that maybe the Raiders could trade one of them for a draft pick, although it's hard to imagine that unfolding. As for New England, rookie Ryan Allen was so impressive that the Patriots didn’t think he would clear waivers so they could bring him back on the practice squad (I thought that maybe by waiting a week or two, it would have a better chance of happening). So instead of keeping two, they just kept Allen and said goodbye to Zoltan Mesko, who should be punting somewhere in the NFL this season. He didn’t lose the job as much as Allen won it.

10. Patriots players return to the practice field today and tomorrow. They were off Saturday, as owner Robert Kraft hosted his annual before-the-season party for players and their families on Cape Cod. The Patriots will also practice Monday, before a day off Tuesday.
Here are the most interesting stories Tuesday the AFC East: Morning take: Some who didn’t watch Miami often last year could view it that way. Lamar Miller is a virtual unknown to many NFL fans, but he was very good with limited opportunities. Daniel Thomas and rookie Mike Gillislee also provide quality depth. I think Miami’s tailbacks are better than advertised.
  • New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan had nice things to say about first-round pick Dee Milliner.
Morning take: Milliner will have a chance to win the starting job in Week 1. He will battle Kyle Wilson, but both players will have important roles on the defense. So Milliner must stay ready.
Morning take: Deaderick made five starts for the Patriots last season and was a valuable player in New England's rotation. But the free-agent additions of veteran Tommy Kelly and Armond Armstead made Deaderick expendable.
Morning take: Nix talked about stepping down for a while and finally made the move Monday. If rookie EJ Manuel turns out to be a franchise quarterback, Nix made good on his final major decision with the team.

Video: Patriots D-Line preps for Steelers

October, 25, 2011
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Brandon Deaderick and Albert Haynesworth discuss getting back to work after the bye week and the physicality of the Steelers.

AFC East labor impact

March, 11, 2011
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» NFC labor impact: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

A team-by-team look at how a continued labor impasse and extended NFL freeze on transactions would affect the division:

Buffalo Bills: The Bills are a young team that built momentum toward the end of last season. They went 4-4 in the second half. Over a six-game stretch in October and November, they went 2-4, and each loss was by three points to an eventual playoff team. Three of those losses were in overtime.

A prolonged work stoppage would stunt Buffalo's development. Coach Chan Gailey is entering his second year but his first offseason with Ryan Fitzpatrick as starting quarterback. The Bills also could draft a quarterback next month but they wouldn't be able to sign him or work with him until there's a new collective bargaining agreement.

Inexperienced players with one or two years dot the roster: running back C.J. Spiller, guards Eric Wood and Andy Levitre, nose tackle Torell Troup, outside linebackers Aaron Maybin and Arthur Moats and safety Jairus Byrd. They would benefit from as much prep time as they can get.

Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins' offense will have serious difficulty taking shape if there's a long work stoppage. Incumbent quarterback Chad Henne wouldn't be on the securest footing if we were heading into a normal offseason. The Dolphins were frustrated enough to remove him as their starter twice last year. Now he's working with a new offensive coordinator, Brian Daboll, and new quarterbacks coach, Karl Dorrell, who never has been a quarterbacks coach before.

Henne got a head start on his offseason by meeting with Daboll and Dorrell to try to absorb as much of the playbook as he could. Henne intends to communicate Daboll's philosophies to his teammates with informal workouts in South Florida.

That's where the Dolphins can have an advantage if they remain diligent. A large percentage of their players maintain homes in South Florida, making it easy for them to assemble for group sessions.

All of Henne's work could be rendered moot if the Dolphins want to acquire another quarterback, but then they'll have another problem. Until there's a new CBA, teams cannot sign free agents or make player trades. That means the Dolphins are in limbo if they want to make a play for an intriguing group of candidates that includes Kevin Kolb, Kyle Orton, Carson Palmer, Donovan McNabb and Vince Young.

New England Patriots: If any team can withstand a protracted work stoppage, it's the reigning AFC East champions. The Patriots have a solid roster filled with veterans, particularly on offense. Their coaching staff remained mostly intact. They're flush with draft picks.

The biggest impact probably would be felt on defense, where the Patriots sometimes started four rookies: end Brandon Deaderick, outside linebacker Jermaine Cunningham, inside linebacker Brandon Spikes and cornerback Devin McCourty.

Although a couple of veteran defenders returning from injuries (defensive end Ty Warren and cornerback Leigh Bodden) should help stabilize them, the Patriots will have difficulty coaching up their youngsters and improving their terrible third-down defense in a compacted offseason.

Another issue could be the way the Patriots flip through interchangeable parts. The Patriots are adept at discovering undrafted free agents and reclaiming other teams' castoffs, while constantly overturning the bottom of their roster. With no CBA, those roster moves cannot happen.

New York Jets: Free agency will be the Jets' biggest issue if a work stoppage drags out. They have the most free agents in the AFC East and declined to re-sign any of them, aside from placing the franchise tag on inside linebacker David Harris. The Jets didn't want to make any decisions until they knew what the next CBA looked like. That created several questions up and down the roster.

Receiver is the biggest question mark. Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards are without contracts, and quarterback Mark Sanchez needs a strong supporting cast. On defense, safety is a concern with Brodney Pool, Eric Smith and James Ihedigbo about to be free agents, too.

No CBA means the Jets won't be able to sign incoming free agents either. Polls have shown players around the league would love to play for Rex Ryan more than any other coach. But the Jets can't use that to their advantage until there's a new deal.

Good for you, Jets: Patriots are next

January, 9, 2011
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 LaDainian TomlinsonJonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesThe Jets advanced to play the rival Patriots thanks in part to LaDainian Tomlinson's two scores.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The New York Jets poured out onto the Lucas Oil Stadium turf, many with their helmets raised overhead. Nick Folk's 32-yard field goal flipped through the uprights as the clock expired Saturday night. The Jets beat the Indianapolis Colts 17-16 and advanced to the AFC divisional round of the playoffs.

The sickened crowd was so silent you could hear the Jets whoop and holler like they owned the place. Braylon Edwards did a backflip on his way into the tunnel.

And right about then the Jets remembered what's coming next.

"As soon as the game was over -- I know that all the guys were happy with the win -- but we got the Patriots on our mind," Jets safety Brodney Pool said. "We know we're going back there. We remember what they did to us."

Yes, the New England Patriots.

Congratulations, Jets on your wild-card round victory Saturday. On Jan. 16, you get to return to Gillette Stadium, where the Patriots cudgeled you 45-3 about five weeks ago.

"The way that they beat us up when we were there, it was a butt-kicking," Pool said.

"They dominated us."

Jets defensive back Dwight Lowery interrupted.

"Not going to happen again," Lowery said, pulling a shirt over his head at the adjoining locker stall.

"That wasn't the same group of guys," Pool said, "that showed up today."

The Jets left Lucas Oil Stadium convinced they weren't the same team that the Patriots humiliated on "Monday Night Football." That Dec. 6 game emphatically dropped the Jets out of the AFC East lead. That loss led to questions about them being frauds who fattened their record by feasting on opponents with losing records.

"What happened in the last game definitely is not going to happen again," Lowery said. "We'll be better prepared overall. It's a brand new game."

Saturday night's victory resets the Jets. They beat the great Peyton Manning on his home field, in front of his raucous fans.

And the Jets did it with Manning avoiding blunders. Manning did his thing. He completed 69 percent of his passes for 225 yards. He fired a perfect strike to Pierre Garcon for a 57-yard touchdown. Manning didn't throw an interception and conceded on one garbage sack at the end of the first half. He posted a 108.7 passer rating.

The Jets still won.

Now they feel like they have an honest shot against Tom Brady, whom Rex Ryan took a shot at last week. Ryan knocked Brady, declaring him propped up by Bill Belichick and not as good as Manning.

"To beat an elite Hall of Fame quarterback in his house is huge," Jets right tackle Damien Woody said. "We had the right formula coming in here. The stakes get higher. Brady probably is going to be MVP of the league. That offense is humming.

"But to beat Peyton at home speaks volumes about the guys in this locker room and our coaching staff."

The Jets can't expect to hold the Patriots to 16 points. The Patriots have scored at least 31 points in eight straight games.

So good luck with that.

But the Jets have plenty to build upon.

[+] EnlargeNew York Jets place kicker Nick Folk
AP Photo/Michael ConroyNick Folk's game-winning 32-yard field goal as time expired sent the New York Jets to the divisional round against the Patriots next Sunday.
Perhaps most impressive about their victory was that Mark Sanchez was slipshod -- and that didn't kill them. Sanchez was off target on some plays and threw a boneheaded interception that kept the Jets scoreless at halftime. He didn't have any touchdown passes and finished with a 62.4 rating.

The Jets won with an aggressive ground attack that got better as the game progressed. LaDainian Tomlinson appeared fresh, as he did early in the season. He ran 16 times for 82 yards and two touchdowns. Shonn Greene added 19 carries for 70 yards.

"Really, it was more the mentality our backs took that they were going to run through that door," Ryan said. "Whether it had a lock on it or not, our guys were going to pound it in there.

"Our offensive line did a great job of slugging away. It wasn't going to be that you were going to rip [the Colts] for 8 yards and 8 yards. It usually starts 2, 3, 4 and then all of the sudden you're able to crack them."

The Patriots' run defense might be their biggest weakness heading into the playoffs. They placed defensive linemen Ron Brace and Mike Wright on injured reserve in the past week. They allowed an average of 108 yards a game, which ranked 11th. But a mitigating factor is that teams often are in catch-up mode in the second half and forced to throw.

Patriots inside linebacker Brandon Spikes is coming back from a league suspension. Rookie defensive lineman Brandon Deaderick was briefly suspended by the Patriots this week for an undisclosed reason.

Several Jets refused to discuss the Patriots matchup as Saturday night turned into early Sunday morning. When a reporter asked outside linebacker Calvin Pace about heading back to Gillette Stadium, inside linebacker Bart Scott lashed into a profanity-laced complaint that the Jets deserved time to enjoy beating the Colts.

Jason Taylor, who won his first playoff game in a decade, was one of the Jets who declined to speak specifically about the Patriots.

But the veteran pass-rusher put the victory -- and next week -- into perspective.

"If there was any bit of uncertainty, I think this helps erase it," Taylor said. "But it's one game. We won the playoff round. We've got to go play in the divisional round, and if we win that, we still haven't done anything yet.

"I understand the process. I've been in this spot before, where you win the first round and don't win in the second round. You get nothing for it. You don't even get a hat. Or a T-shirt."

It was so long ago, but the Jets actually did defeat the Patriots 28-14 at the Meadowlands in Week 2.

The trilogy will conclude next Sunday afternoon.

"Couldn't have scripted it better, to get a third opportunity at a team," Woody said. "We split in the regular season, but people don't remember our win. They remember the huge blowout. You're only as good as your last game.

"So Part III is coming up."

Seasons greetings from Orchard Park, N.Y.

December, 26, 2010
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Cold, gray and windy is the forecast for Sunday's matchup between the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills here at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Temperature at kickoff will be about 23 degrees, but it will feel like 9 degrees, with winds gusting up to 23 mph. The chance of snow is 50 percent.

New England could clinch the AFC East title and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, while a victory over the Patriots would make Buffalo's season. The Bills have won four out of their past six games, including an overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Buffalo has lost 14 straight games to New England and 19 out of 20 in the series.

The inactives:

New England Patriots
Buffalo Bills

Aaron Hernandez among Patriots scratches

December, 26, 2010
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The New England Patriots will be shorthanded Sunday in Ralph Wilson Stadium.

On Christmas night they announced six players wouldn't dress against the Buffalo Bills because of injuries.

Most notable is rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez, who is battling a hip problem. Hernandez had two touchdown receptions last week against the Green Bay Packers.

His absence could mean a big day for rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski in his homecoming. Gronkowski is from suburban Buffalo.

Also out are right guard Dan Connolly (concussion), outside linebacker Jermaine Cunningham (calf) and defensive linemen Mike Wright (concussion), Myron Pryor (back) and Brandon Deaderick (shoulder). All have started this year.

Connolly, who made highlight reels with his 71-yard kickoff return last week, has been one of New England's most valuable depth players. He has started 13 games, filling in at left guard until Logan Mankins ended his contract dispute and then at right guard when Stephen Neal suffered a season-ending shoulder injury.

Ryan Wendell or Quinn Ojinnaka will replace Connolly at right guard.

Cunningham has started 11 of the Patriots past 12 games.

Wright, Deaderick and Pryor have combined for 11 starts.

Overachievers prevailing in AFC East

December, 9, 2010
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Fred Jackson and Tom Brady and Davone BessGetty ImagesFred Jackson, Tom Brady and Davone Bess came into the league as unheralded long shots but have made the most of their chances.
It's no mystery why we love underdogs.

Respected football minds who get paid to assemble NFL teams dismissed them out of hand, scratched them from their draft lists, cut them in training camp.

Yet these players survive. They're too driven to give up. Not all of them become stars, but that's not necessary to become a precious asset on a team.

"As a coach, you love those stories," said former New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs head coach Herm Edwards. "They don't let you down."

Said Buffalo Bills head coach Chan Gailey: "You have to have them. There's no way to play the game without them."

Overachievers have dominated the AFC East this year. Late-round draft picks, players who weren't drafted at all and castoffs from other teams have starred for every team, including the MVP favorite (Tom Brady), two leading rushers (BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Fred Jackson), three leading receivers (Wes Welker, Steve Johnson, Davone Bess) and three sack leaders (Cameron Wake, Mike Wright and Kyle Williams).

These thriving underdogs are a substantial reason why the AFC East has been so compelling this year.

"It's football," said Jim Jensen, the ultimate survivor with the Miami Dolphins. They drafted the Boston University quarterback in the 11th round in 1980, and he stuck around until 1992 as a receiver/wedge buster/long snapper/third-down fullback/holder/tell me where to go, Coach, and I'll hit them.

"I like to watch guys that are working hard and working for the team," Jensen said. "They're working for a goal. They're not selfish. Wes Welker is a great example. He just loves to win. He's unselfish. Davone Bess is another one who's an inspiration to watch."

There's a reason the conquering underdog is such a common theme in Hollywood.

"These guys have something to prove," said film producer Mark Ciardi. "There's enough of these stories where these guys just survive and climb over players teams have a lot of money invested in. It's just a different thing when you've got to prove people wrong. They know they've got to check way more boxes than other people to succeed."

Ciardi pitched for the Milwaukee Brewers despite being a 15th-round draft choice in 1983.

"I got no money to sign," Ciardi said. "I was the last guy on the pitching squad of 17 guys in rookie ball. I had no chance."

Four years later, Ciardi made it to the majors. He started three games and pitched another in relief. He defied the odds, which is why he finds stories about unlikely heroes so appealing.

Among his true-story films: "Invincible" (about Philadelphia Eagles walk-on Vince Papale), "Miracle" (about the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team), "The Rookie" (about 35-year-old rookie pitcher Jim Morris) and "Secretariat."

All of those motion pictures portrayed an undeniable will to win, a theme that has carried Ciardi throughout his career. He sees it in such players as Brady and Patriots running back Danny Woodhead.

"What I realized was you've got to work extra hard," Ciardi said. "Nothing will be given to you, but you have an opportunity. The only way you're going to succeed is to snatch it and force them to keep you. If they don't have money invested in you, chances are you're not going to get the same kind of shot."

But having overachievers on the roster means more than a compelling storyline and increased jersey sales.

They often become team leaders and examples for other players to emulate. Underdogs help manage the salary cap because they're cheaper (at least in the beginning). They make draft mistakes much more bearable. They help a front office sell the team to future free agents.

"They're so coachable," former Baltimore Ravens head coach Brian Billick said. "Once they get into it, they realize how tenuous it is to stay in the NFL. Nothing came easy for them. You love having guys like that on your team."

Inquiring about a coach's favorite player is like asking a parent to name his favorite child. But it's easy to guess what type they admire most: the relentless survivors.

"You know what they have done to get to where they are," Gailey said. "As a competitor, you appreciate that. Everybody doesn't end up with a bunch of God-given talent. Guys have to go fight for what they want in life. When those guys get it, it's very satisfying to see it for those guys to make it."

[+] EnlargeJim Leonhard
Chris Trotman/Getty ImagesJim Leonhard went from the NFL scrapheap to being a vital player on defense and special teams for the Jets.
Two players New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan identified as critical to his establishing his defense last year were inside linebacker Bart Scott and safety Jim Leonhard. Neither was drafted. Leonhard had been waived by the Bills, re-signed and then cast adrift in free agency because the Bills viewed him as no more than roster filler. When Leonhard suffered a season-ending shin injury last week, Jets fans got nervous because he was integral to the secondary and special teams.

The NFL-leading New England Patriots are loaded with examples of perseverance. Brady has been such a superstar in the league for so long, it's sometimes strange to think of him as an underdog. But as the 199th pick in the 2000 draft, Brady might be the game's greatest overachiever.

Wake, the Miami Dolphins outside linebacker, leads the league with 12 sacks. He wasn't drafted and went five years between his last down at Penn State and his first in the NFL. Pro Bowl safety Yeremiah Bell was a sixth-round pick who got waived as a rookie and placed on the practice squad.

Buffalo's offense features late-round picks or undrafted players at the three marquee spots. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was a seventh-round draft choice and a career backup. Jackson didn't start a game for his high school team and came up through Division III and the arena leagues before emerging in NFL Europa. Top receiver Johnson was a seventh-round draft choice.

As inspirational as these players are, they also make slackers look that much worse. Those healthy first-, second- and third-round players who can't get on the field unfortunately aren't wired to battle that way.

"A lot of these guys think it's a right that they have to play," Gailey said. Overachievers "realize it's a privilege to play this game.

"When you got a guy who knows how to fight and understands the fight, understands competition, understands working through adversity and he becomes a good player on your team, then that helps set a tone."

Billick and Edwards emphasized the impact of undrafted players and late-round successes on a roster's overall well-being. Edwards, an undrafted player who started for the Eagles from the opening day of his rookie season, said unearthing overlooked gems are "like getting a free draft pick." Billick noted that they're instrumental to managing the salary cap.

"The residual effect is you don't have to spend those resources," Billick said, "whether they be draft choices or a procurement through free agency to go fill that spot.

"You pick Tom Brady up in the sixth round. Are you kidding me? What that does for your organization ... Even the difference between that and having to draft Matt Ryan third in the draft, the resources you have to spend is just a gift from above."

Heaven-sent is how Patriots fans must view a good chunk of their division-leading team. Dolfans can't be more thrilled with Wake or Bess. The Jets will depend on undrafted starters such as right guard Brandon Moore, defensive end Mike Devito and Scott down the home stretch while certainly missing Leonhard.

And about the only pleasure Bills fans have had this season is watching their unlikely stars because they're such gripping characters.

"An underlying factor to all these stories," Ciardi said, "is the will and the heart that makes them extraordinary on the field."

Patriots must cope with the rookie wall

December, 9, 2010
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Rookies have started 49 games for the New England Patriots this year. They've started four rookies on defense four times. A rookie cornerback leads them in interceptions. Two of their top five tacklers are rookies. One rookie tight end ranks second in receiving yards. Another rookie tight end ranks second in touchdown catches.

I'm sure you get the point: Rookies are important to the Patriots' success and, given their 10-2 record, play a larger role than rookies on most other teams.

That's why Ross Tucker's latest ESPN.com column is highly pertinent to the Patriots. After 13 weeks and a dozen games, Tucker explains the "rookie wall" is no myth.

The Patriots expect their season to last another two months, and some of their important contributors already have played more games than they did in a college season.

Tucker writes:
Right around this time of year, once the college football season is clearly in the rearview mirror, the production of some NFL rookies begins to decline. For a select few, their play can drop off precipitously. Young players who are unaccustomed to the length of a grueling NFL season can start to wear down mentally and physically. I know, because it happened to me.

Tucker, an offensive lineman who played for the Patriots and Buffalo Bills, recalls how his rookie summer with the Washington Redskins felt like an entire season before real games began.

Tack on four preseason games plus a lengthy playoff run and you're talking about 23 or so weeks of contact and stress.

It will be an issue for the Patriots to scale.

Double Coverage: Pats vs. Colts in 2015

November, 18, 2010
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Colts and PatriotsESPN.com IllustrationPeyton Manning and Tom Brady have been at the center of arguably the best rivalry of the past decade. Who will carry it on when they step away from the game?
The annual AFC showdown is upon us, and with it come the recurring storylines.

That's right, the Indianapolis Colts will meet the New England Patriots on Sunday for an eighth straight season. The NFL's greatest ongoing interdivisional rivalry showcases two of the great organizations of this generation and renews the discussion about Peyton Manning's stats versus Tom Brady's championships.

We've decided to rekindle the debate, but before you throw your head back and groan in anticipation of the clichés, hold your horseshoes.

The purpose of this debate is to eliminate Manning and Brady and look into the future.

Which team has the better long-range outlook once Manning and Brady move on?

For the purpose of this discussion, we've set the target for 2015 -- one year beyond the length of Brady's latest contract extension -- to examine which team has the better infrastructure to cope with life minus its iconic quarterback.

Tim Graham: Time to get after it, Paul. But no weapons this time, please. I've just recently completed the physical therapy from our last debate.

Paul Kuharsky: Well, this back-and-forth will be less physically taxing, and since there is so much forecasting, you may actually be able to put your Jedi training to use.

Graham: Get this debate started we shall, hmmm?

Kuharsky: So what do the Colts and Patriots have now that's going to be a big factor for them in five years?

Jerry Hughes
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesWill 2010 first-round pick Jerry Hughes develop into a cornerstone on the Colts' defense?
I count eight guys who are in their first, second or third year with the franchise who I expect will still be prime contributors in 2015. But only three of the eight fit into the framework of the four most important positions on the field -- quarterback, left tackle, defensive end and cornerback. Those players would be corners Jerraud Powers and Jacob Lacey and defensive end Jerry Hughes.

Hughes is still unproven, but it's early and Colts president Bill Polian saw the potential for him to ultimately replace a Dwight Freeney or a Robert Mathis.

Others who may still be staples when Manning is gone: receiver Austin Collie, linebacker Pat Angerer, tight end Jacob Tamme, tight end Brody Eldridge and punter Pat McAfee. Can that group be the core of a team that continues to win? I wish I could offer a solid yes or no instead of a tepid maybe.

Beyond that, we've got five drafts to consider, right? And Polian regularly finds undrafted gems. I don't doubt the Colts will have talent. But they'll need new Freeney-, Dallas Clark- and Reggie Wayne-caliber stars, plus the replacement quarterback.

Graham: Patriots overlord Bill Belichick has drawn deserved criticism for his draft failures. He has swung and missed at his share of Terrence Wheatleys and Kevin O'Connells and Chad Jacksons in the early rounds.

But when you accumulate as many picks as the Patriots have and have elite football minds evaluating the talent, those bad decisions are going to even out eventually. The Patriots appear to be warming up when it comes to successful drafting.

[+] EnlargeAaron Hernandez
AP Photo/Paul Spinelli Rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez ranks second on the Patriots in catches and receiving yards.
The Patriots went into Heinz Field and manhandled the Pittsburgh Steelers with four rookies in their starting defensive lineup (defensive end Brandon Deaderick, outside linebacker Jermaine Cunningham, inside linebacker Brandon Spikes and left cornerback Devin McCourty) and a rookie tight end (Rob Gronkowski), who caught three touchdowns. Another rookie tight end (Aaron Hernandez) ranks second on the team in catches and receiving yards. Their punter is a rookie.

They don't have as many second- and third-year contributors, but inside linebacker Jerod Mayo was defensive rookie of the year in 2008. Among the sophomores are starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer and receivers Brandon Tate and Julian Edelman, who also handle return duties.

Without question, there will be a drop-off at quarterback when Brady retires, but the Patriots are loaded with core youth.

Kuharsky: The Colts may draft better, but they also draft less. Polian's not the draft pick wheeler-and-dealer Belichick is. Are those the guys who will be lining up the Manning and Brady successors?

It's a quarterback-driven league, and teams minus Manning and Brady will have major voids. We've got to talk about the replacements for the iconic quarterbacks, but it's hard to offer much conjecture on what kind of guy that will be without talking about who will be finding him.

Polian is 67 years old, and the last time I asked him about any sort of plan for retirement he gave me a head tilt and an uncomfortable expression.

Graham: I've noticed a lot of people do that around you.

Kuharsky: If things are neat and tidy, the suspicion is he and Manning -- the guy he hit the jackpot with when he picked him over Ryan Leaf -- will exit together. The next generation is waiting in the wings. Chris Polian is Indianapolis' vice president and general manager.

Chris Polian
AP PhotoCurrent Colts VP Chris Polian is likely play a key role in finding Peyton Manning's successor.
I'd expect Bill Polian will have a strong hand in selecting the Colts' quarterback of the future. But it will ultimately be Chris Polian who's connected to that signal-caller the way Bill Polian is connected to Manning. The younger Polian has a good reputation and good football genes, but it's hard to know how much of his father's personnel judgment he's inherited and how much he's learned. And having to replace a guy many will argue is the greatest quarterback of all time will be an awfully difficult assignment.

Graham: I don't know how long Belichick plans to coach, but even if he were to get tired of the week-to-week grind of getting his boys ready to play, it's fathomable he'll stick around to run the operation, handpicking his successor and overseeing football operations.

It would be silly to give Belichick more than a smidgen of credit for drafting Brady in the sixth round a decade ago. If Belichick truly knew what Brady was capable of, the Patriots wouldn't have passed on him until the 199th pick. So it's not like Belichick will simply wait until Brady's on the verge of retirement and automatically snag a replacement.

Kuharsky: True. But they knew more than everybody else when they finally did take him.

Graham: Belichick trusted his scout, and they unearthed a gem.

I believe Belichick's support staff is stronger than Polian's. Senior adviser Floyd Reese oversaw the Houston Oilers and Tennessee Titans' drafts when they picked Steve McNair and Vince Young. Player personnel director Nick Caserio, like a lot of Belichick's sidekicks over the years, will develop the tools to run his own show someday.

Kuharsky: I don't know that Belichick's got better support. It's just more well known and visible support.

Graham: And a high-profile owner who is willing to trust his front office, will spend money and doesn't dare meddle. That's another key component to New England's success over the past decade.

Kuharsky: Moving onto the replacement quarterback himself, Curtis Painter is Manning's current backup. But based on his work in a couple of regular-season games the team didn't care about winning at the end of last season and some preseason work, most people aren't forecasting anything special from him. And that would amount to quite a lengthy apprenticeship anyway.

Graham: You wouldn't think the Patriots have Brady's successor on the roster either. Brian Hoyer is an undrafted sophomore with virtually no experience so far. But you never can tell how these guys will develop while working alongside Brady for a few years. This is the team that identified Matt Cassel, a seventh-round draft choice who hadn't started a game since high school, as its top backup for 2008. He ended up going 11-5 when Brady blew out his knee.

Kuharsky: The Colts will need a guy for a super-tough replacement job. It would be awfully difficult for them to land in a Aaron Rodgers for Brett Favre or Michael Vick for Donovan McNabb replacement situation.

After hitting a grand slam with the No. 1 pick in 1998, odds would suggest that it will be tough for them to line up with the right guy at the right pick at the right time. The way they build, odds are Manning's heir will be a guy who plays a full college career. So he's a college freshman or a high-school senior right now, depending on their plan for easing him in.

Graham: The Colts and Patriots finish too high in the standings every year and don't get to pick until the 20s. That will make it nearly impossible to snag some golden-armed top prospect in their assigned draft positions. But the Patriots frequently go into drafts with other teams' picks -- and an abundance of them. They often have copious draft assets to move up if they want to. Or maybe the Patriots will obtain that big-ticket pick waaaaay in advance. A year ago, Belichick traded Richard Seymour to the Oakland Raiders for their 2011 first-round selection. That's the kind of creative investing that could pay off with a high-quality quarterback prospect down the road.

Kuharsky: It will definitely be more difficult for the Colts to get to the top of a draft to get a premier guy. And there may need to be a post-Manning down-cycle for the team to get up there and find the guy. Scribes in Indianapolis often wonder aloud what happens to the Colts' crazed support if they turn into a 5-11 rebuilding project. The rest of the AFC South certainly hopes that's how it works, and that the division is a lot more wide open once Manning's not in it.

And while we're forecasting five years out, I have two questions: Will Manning still be a deadpanning TV commercial superstar? And will Brady have had a haircut?

Graham: There's one unwavering prediction I can make about hair, Paul, but it's not about Brady's.

Bills at Patriots inactives

September, 26, 2010
9/26/10
12:09
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Here are the inactives for Sunday's game between the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots in Gillette Stadium:

Buffalo Bills
New England Patriots

AFC East links: Spiller in no rush to sign

July, 13, 2010
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Buffalo Bills

When asked during an interview with Sporting News' Clifton Brown whether he expects to sign a contract before training camp, first-round pick C.J. Spiller replied, "I let my agent handle all of that. We're not going to rush."

Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com examines which unit can be expected to adapt fastest to the defense's new 3-4 scheme.

Miami Dolphins

A pickup truck belonging to Brian Hartline was found abandoned after a crash on Interstate 595 earlier this month, according to a Florida Highway Patrol report. The report states that troopers have not heard from Hartline regarding the crash.

Guard Cory Proctor talked with Andy Kent of miamidolphins.com about his passion off of the gridiron: playing drums in his band Free Reign, with Cowboys offensive linemen Marc Columbo and Leonard Davis and Davis’ good friend since high school, Justin Chapman.

Who are the three most overrated Dolphins?

New England Patriots

The Patriots signed their seventh-round pick, defensive lineman Brandon Deaderick.

How is the youth movement going in New England? Shalise Manza Young looks at the Patriots' rookies and second-year players and what their expected roles are.

The Patriots are a team in transition, and USA Today's Sean Leahy takes a position-by-position look at the team heading into training camp.


New York Jets

Jets Chairman and CEO Woody Johnson issued a statement on the passing of George Steinbrenner:
"George Steinbrenner is an American icon and was one of the preeminent owners in all of sports. A true champion with his own unique style, he held his team to the highest standards and demanded a title for Yankees fans each and every season. I will remember him as a winner whose passion and enthusiasm became part of the fabric of New York City. He was an inspiration and represented the essence of leadership."

Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum announced the team waived defensive tackle Simi Toeaina.

Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco weighed in on a potential Darrelle Revis holdout, asking, "Why would he hold out and not return to play against me?"

Jenny Vrentas of the The Star-Ledger takes an in-depth look at the D'Brickashaw Ferguson's new contract and what it might mean for contract negotiations with other Jets players.

AFC East links: Will Revis really hold out?

July, 10, 2010
7/10/10
2:39
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Buffalo Bills

After spending his entire 10-year career with the Bills, is linebacker Aaron Schobel ready to retire?

Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly thinks Trent Edwards should lead the team.

Miami Dolphins

Receiver Greg Camarillo, who comes from a family of professional educators, is serious about school. The former Stanford mechanical engineer major will be a judge on a panel that will award $220,000 in grants and scholarships to high school seniors and non-profit organizations.

New England Patriots

Seventh-round pick and defensive tackle Brandon Deaderick has inked a four-year deal with the Patriots. The 6-foot-6, 314-pound defensive tackle from Alabama is the sixth of 12 picks to sign with the team.

New York Jets

The Daily News reported Friday that cornerback Darrelle Revis was prepared to hold out through training camp if a new deal could not been reached. NFL.com, however, writes that his current contract may compel him to show up at the start of mandatory practices in August.

Is left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson's contract extension really a long-term commitment?

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