AFC East: Danny Batten

The Buffalo Bills entered the 2012 offseason with a top priority of fixing its anemic pass rush. Two defensive ends and $142 million later, consider that problem solved with Mario Williams and Mark Anderson.

Now that the Bills set the edges of their new 4-3 defense, the team can focus on other areas. Let's get up to date on Buffalo's remaining needs and how this fits into the NFL draft.

Need No. 1: Left tackle

Analysis: The Bills are still searching for a blue-chip prospect to protect quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick's blind side. Left tackle was a revolving door in Buffalo last year, and that's a quick and easy way to lose games. This is a very important position that needs stability. I wouldn't be surprised if Buffalo takes a left tackle in the first round with the No. 10 overall pick. First-round possibilities include Iowa's Riley Reiff and Stanford's Jonathan Martin. Any top prospect at left tackle probably could start from Day 1 in Buffalo.

Need No. 2: Wide receiver

Analysis: The Bills re-signed leading receiver Steve Johnson before free agency. That gave Buffalo some relief in addressing this need right away. But the Bills pass a lot on offense and need another dynamic talent in the lineup. The Bills nearly signed Robert Meachem, who decided instead to go to the San Diego Chargers. That was the target Buffalo wanted. But there are probably a few receivers in the draft the Bills like.

Need No. 3: Outside linebacker

Analysis: The Bills took care of their defensive line, but their second level isn't that deep or talented. Nick Barnett is stable in the middle, but two outside spots remain a work in progress. Maybe Shawne Merriman has potential here. But he's coming off his second season-ending Achilles injury. No one knows at this point how well he can bounce back. The Bills also have a young linebacker in Danny Batten who has some potential. But can you start Batten for 16 games? An addition like Alabama's Courtney Upshaw could be solid. Upshaw is a good hitter who can also bring a pass rush off the edge. He could fall to the Bills at No. 10.
We have a lot of topics to get to this week. Let's get started.

Mr. Wakefield from Fort Collins, Colo., writes: What is the main factor holding the Buffalo Bills from having a successful defense?

James Walker: I talked to several Bills after their loss to the New York Giants, Mr. Wakefield. The common theme was they are not winning their one-on-one matchups. I agree. Football is both a complicated and easy game. There are things schematically that you can do to beat your opponent. But at the same time, the player has to beat the man in front of him. How many Buffalo defenders to do you see fighting off a block to sack the quarterback or sticking to a receiver in man-to-man coverage? It doesn't happen often. I like the scrappiness of the defense. But the Bills lack defensive players who can truly dominate and take over a game.

David P. Summers from Menlo Park, Calif., writes: What are the odds Buffalo's defense could improve significantly this year?

Walker: I don't know about significant improvement, David. About midway into the season we have a pretty good feel for strengths and weaknesses. But Buffalo needs to take a page out of the New England Patriots' playbook. The Bills must make small strides defensively week to week. A few weeks ago, New England was just as horrendous on defense. But the Patriots made a few improvements here and there, and now the defense isn't playing bad, despite the overall rankings. Buffalo is an offensive team. That's not going to change this season. But its defense needs to do more to carry its weight if the Bills want to make the playoffs.

Jerry K from Pittsburgh writes: Does losing linebacker Shawne Merriman actually mean anything for the Bills?

Walker: Anytime you lose a starting outside linebacker, I think it hurts. It gives Buffalo one less pass-rushing threat, although Merriman doesn't have the explosiveness he once had. The key is whether the Bills honor the final year of Merriman's contract or release him 2012 coming off Achilles surgery. Linebackers Arthur Moats and Danny Batten are both young and have to learn on the fly in Merriman’s place.

Jeff from London, Ky., writes: James, do you see the Dolphins pursuing Bill Cowher at the end of the season?

Walker: Absolutely, Jeff. It’s no secret that Cowher is on owner Stephen Ross' wish list. I did a blog this week saying Cowher needs to be Ross' top priority. The question is, does Cowher want to coach the Dolphins? There are reasons for and against going to Miami, and Cowher will have his pick of teams if he decides to come back in 2012. Cowher will take the most attractive job where he can win right away. I don't know if winless Miami is that place.

Wayne from Lake Worth, Fla., writes: Why hasn't practice-squad QB Pat Devlin been given any consideration?

Walker: The Miami coaching staff is fighting for their jobs and don't think Devlin is ready, Wayne. He's an undrafted rookie who didn't get any offseason work because of the lockout. Many Dolphins fans are curious. But playing Devlin could send the wrong message to the locker room that Miami is waving the white flag on the season. I've talked to him several times, and he has a good head on his shoulders. He's staying patient. There are 10 games left in the season. So you never know.

Kevin Huxford from Chesapeake, Va., writes: Which do you think is the most likely explanation for New York Jets coach Rex Ryan trying to change to a passing attack without a full offseason?

Walker: Kevin, I think the biggest thing that is New York's coaching staff believed Mark Sanchez was ready for it. He led the team to back-to-back AFC title games, and that most likely had Ryan and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer thinking it was time to take the leash off Sanchez in his third season. Add the fact that New York kept receiver Santonio Holmes and added Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason (since traded), and it probably made sense to the Jets. But that was a mistake and Ryan has admitted as much. Sanchez wasn't ready, Mason was a bust, and Burress is just warming up. Sometime coaches can trick themselves by over-thinking, and this was one of those cases. But I give credit to Ryan for not being stubborn and continuing to throw 40 times a game when it’s not working.

Vin F. from Long Island, NY, writes: Do you think the bye week will help or hurt the Jets?

Walker: Good question, Vin. I always think bye weeks are a good thing. Not only does it give teams two weeks to rest and recuperate from injuries, but it also provides two weeks to prepare for an opponent. But for some odd reason, teams coming off byes are 3-9 this season. I think it's a fluke due to the NFL lockout. But byes have been generally good overall.

Ryan from Waterville, Maine, writes: Do you see the Patriots giving any consideration to adding T.O. this season?

Walker: I don't see it, Ryan. The Patriots have the No. 1 offense in the NFL. Why would they need Terrell Owens? They are better off getting Chad Ochocinco up to speed than spending more money on a receiver coming off a major knee injury.

Brandon Caron from West Haven, Conn., writes: James, when comparing Big Ben and Tom Brady both have tremendous success. But I would be hesitant to put Ben on Tom's level because of the head-to-head struggles he has had?

Walker: I agree, Brandon. I have a lot of respect for the ability of both quarterbacks. But Brady is a better quarterback than Ben Roethlisberger hands down. Both may end up in the Hall of Fame. But only Brady is top-five all-time, in my opinion.

Comment and complaint department

Here are some comments and complaints from our AFC East community:

Zack from Somerville, Mass., writes: Hey James, the Jets are going to grab the wild card coming out of the AFC East this year. The Bills are pretenders, as in past years. The Jets get to play them twice, and the remaining schedule includes the Broncos, Chiefs and Phins, Pats at home and then the overrated Eagles and the Redskins. I'm a Pats fan. But I think the Jets will be there in the end.

Walker: Your projection is not out of the question, Zack. The Jets certainly have the talent and experience to make a playoff push. But I don't expect the Bills to lay down, either. I agree that it will probably come down to one of those two teams. But since I'm staying out of the prediction biz this year, I’m not ready to pick.

Jets fan in NH from Brentwood, N.H., writes: It has been frustrating watching the Jets this year in that every time that there offense starts to get going they seem to change away from what is working, and try some sort of trickery. Why can't Shotty stay focused on just moving the sticks and instead of going for the big strike? Or am I just off on this?

Walker: I see what you're saying, Jets fan. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer does have a penchant for making odd play calls at times. Remember the botched halfback throw against Miami that never got off the ground? Schottenheimer isn't having the best year calling plays. But I don't think he's the biggest issue on offense. I think the offensive line (until last week) put the Jets in a tough spot. If the line couldn't run-block or pass-block, what can an offense really accomplish?

James C. from FL writes: The Dolphin fans are in full on "Suck for Luck mode", but Andrew Luck has turned down a chance at being the No. 1 overall pick once before. With another year of eligibility, and the Dolphins looking like a much worse landing spot in terms of talent than last year’s Carolina team, do you think its possible that Luck would turn his back on the Dolphins if they were to obtain the No. 1 pick?

Walker: This theory has been thrown out several times, James, and I don't see it happening. First off, Miami is not a bad landing spot. The team has talent, particularly on offense with left tackle Jake Long, receiver Brandon Marshall, center Mike Pouncey and running backs Daniel Thomas and Reggie Bush. The new head coach (Cowher?) also will be an upgrade and the city of Miami is one of the top destinations for rich athletes to live. Luck is going to be the No. 1 pick whether he comes out this year or next year. Therefore, he's going to go to the worst team either way. I don't see the team factoring into his thinking.

AFC East Homer of the Week

This week's biggest homer is a Dolphins fan, who has a unique view on how they should handle their quarterback situation in 2012.

Pete from Pompano Beach, Fla., writes: James, am I one of the few Dolphins fans that has been happy with Chad Henne? He has shown vast improvement from his rookie season and hadn't stopped improving right up until he went down with the injury. The offensive problems the Dolphins have seem to be more with the wide receivers, mainly Brandon "Butterfingers" Marshall dropping passes and not necessarily bad passes. I'm not sure the whole "Suck For Luck" campaign is the best idea. He's a great college quarterback, but he could just as easily be the next Ryan Leaf or the next Peyton Manning. Why not go ahead and give Chad Henne another couple of years and see what his potential turns into?

Walker: Wow, Pete. You might be the only Dolphins fan who wants Henne over Luck. Henne had four years to show what he can do. You want to give Henne two more years to prove himself to Miami? That's not going to happen. Henne was the quarterback to the old regime of general manager Jeff Ireland and coach Tony Sparano. The new regime will not take on someone else's drafted, unproven quarterback who is coming off a season-ending shoulder injury. Congrats on being our "Homer of the Week" for Henne.

AFC East Haters of the Week

But we're not done...

There were a lot of haters from our Tim Tebow column following his win over the Dolphins. Tebow has a huge following and I got crushed for giving my honest take on the quarterback.

Enjoy.

Tim Ernest from Ft. Myers, Fla., writes: You elite think-you-know it all, college-educated media people are UNBELIEVABLE! Unless I was misinformed, when I played football the object of the game is to WIN!!! Did the Denver Broncos win in Miami, with the eyes of the ENTIRE world watching, with Tim Tebow, as their quarterback? In case you were too caught up evaluating his footwork or throwing motion, the answer to the question is a BIG FAT EMPHATIC YES!!!!!!!! No matter what you say Tim Tebow is a WINNER!

Dan from Rockledge, Fla., writes: Hmmm, you’ve been drinking with Merril Hoge and that Hall of Famer Trent Dilfer? Tebow will get better because he is a winner. But then again you went to Temple. You wouldn’t know about winning SEC, big boy football. Keep bashing. Keep sending subtle little digs. You too will look stupid in hindsight.

Walker: We received a lot of e-mails like these. Some had a lot worse language and were unprintable. The strange thing is I thought my Tebow column was pretty balanced. It provided pros and the cons that he fed into his legend and myth. "After watching Tebow on Sunday, I don't have a clear answer. Neither do the Denver Broncos," I wrote in the third graph. Some took away that I only ripped Tebow’s throwing mechanics and awful play for three-plus quarters. But I also praised his heart and ability to lead a huge comeback. Dan and Tim, thanks for being our AFC East blog "Haters of the Week."

If you have any questions, complaints, homer or hater comments, send them to our AFC East inbox.

Thoughts on Bills, Shawne Merriman

October, 25, 2011
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The Buffalo Bills lost outside linebacker Shawne Merriman for the rest of the season with an Achilles injury.

Here are several thoughts on Merriman and the Bills:
  • Going on the injured reserve for a second-straight year with Buffalo makes you question Merriman's future. Achilles injuries are tough for pass-rushers, who need explosiveness to get to the quarterback. Merriman clearly lost a couple steps from his prime days in San Diego. He had just one sack this season. A team may take a chance on Merriman to see if he has anything left in 2012, but he may have seen his last days in Buffalo.
  • The Bills have been struggling to get to the quarterback and need someone to step up. Youngsters Arthur Moats and Danny Batten have been getting increased playing time in recent weeks. Moats has eight tackles in Buffalo's past two games. Batten recorded five tackles in a recent loss to the New York Giants. Neither have registered a sack. Getting back a healthy Chris Kelsay should add stability to outside linebacker for Buffalo.
  • Overall, it's been a tough, four-year run for Merriman. He was once one of the NFL's most dynamic defensive players. Merriman registered 39.5 sacks from 2005-2007. But multiple injuries to his knee and Achilles stifled Merriman for more than half of his seven-year career. Merriman recorded only five sacks the past four seasons.
Update: Merriman issued a statement to the media through his publicist Tuesday evening:
"Due to the fact that I have recently been experiencing excessive aggravation in my Achilles tendon, which is a limitation that I have been dealing with for well over two years now, I sought the opinions of multiple medical specialists. After much consideration and unanimous professional recommendations stating that my Achilles is in danger of rupturing, I have been advised that it would be in my best interest to undergo surgery as soon as possible in order to prevent a major injury. I would like to thank all of my fans for their continued support on my road to a full recovery and am looking forward to getting back out on the field."

AFC East links: Gholston casts blame

August, 23, 2011
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Buffalo Bills

Count running back Fred Jackson among those surprised when he learned he wouldn't be starting the Bills' second preseason game last week. "I was shocked," Jackson said. "I feel like a No. 1 back, and I should be treated like one. As far as what's going on, you would have to ask them. I'm going to come out here and compete. I feel like I have been competing. I feel like I have done everything I can. It's been like that for two or three years, and nothing has changed."

After missing last season with an injury, linebacker Danny Batten isn't taking playing football for granted.

Miami Dolphins

Coach Tony Sparano has been impressed with the lack of mental errors from cornerbacks Sean Smith and Vontae Davis.

Anthony Fasano isn't flashy, but the Dolphins know they can always count on the veteran tight end to get the job done.

New England Patriots

Despite what appeared to be a very solid performance in the Patriots' latest preseason game, Logan Mankins says there is still room for the offensive line to make improvements.

Gerry Callahan of the Boston Herald is anything but a fan of Albert Haynesworth.

New York Jets

Former Jets first-round draft pick Vernon Gholston says he never got a fair shot to succeed under Rex Ryan.

Saturday’s Jets-Giants matchup, according to Plaxico Burress, is just "another football game."

Buffalo continues D upgrade in third

April, 29, 2011
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills drafted a third straight defender, adding Louisiana State inside linebacker Kelvin Sheppard with the 68th pick Friday night.

Why the Bills took him: The Bills already have addressed each level of their defense with a lineman (Marcell Dareus), a defensive back (Aaron Williams) and now a linebacker, a position that was thin last year. Sheppard is considered a smart and emotional leader, and he might need that kind of passion to overcome limitations as a sideline-to-sideline tackler.

How it affects the roster: Veteran linebackers Paul Posluszny and Akin Ayodele are free agents. Sheppard could contribute immediately.

Scouts Inc. says: Good communication skills. Quickly reads keys and reacts. Do not see many false steps from him. Has improved his discipline and rarely got fooled by misdirection or play-action in 2010. Flashes ability to sniff out draws and screens. Shows awareness to go for the strip when wrapping up ball carriers. ... Is technically sound with his hands and will almost always take on blocks properly. He is tough and fearless, but he does not have explosive upper body power. He rarely shocks the blocker with initial pop and he has some trouble disengaging from bigger blockers.

AFC East wire: Time to junk Pat White

August, 23, 2010
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Miami Dolphins
Buffalo Bills
New England Patriots
New York Jets

AFC East rookies rack up injuries

August, 3, 2010
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Monday was a rough day for AFC East rookies.

Miami Herald reporter Jeff Darlington tweeted Tuesday morning that linebacker A.J. Edds, the Miami Dolphins' fourth-round draft pick, believes he tore a knee ligament in Monday night's practice.

Buffalo Bills coach Chan Gailey delivered some bad news for tackle Ed Wang and linebacker Danny Batten.

Wang, a fifth-round pick from Virginia Tech, has an undisclosed injury that could require surgery. Gailey said it's not related to the ankle injury Wang suffered in offseason workouts.

"Ed’s got something that they may have to operate on," Gailey said. "It might take him out for quite a few weeks. So we’ll have to wait and see what the doctors say about that. That decision will be made [Tuesday]."

Batten, a sixth-round pick out of South Dakota State, suffered a shoulder injury on Saturday, but Gailey hadn't provided a prognosis until Monday night.

"Danny hit his shoulder, and it’s a fairly significant injury," Gailey said. "We’re going to have to look and see how long that takes for him to get back."

AFC East wire: Wildcat here to stay

June, 4, 2010
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Buffalo Bills

Sixth-round draft pick Danny Batten is the second of the team's nine 2010 selections to sign a contract.

Could Marshawn Lynch end up in Seattle?

Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins on Thursday named Ricky Williams the team's MVP for the 2009 season.

Ben Volin of The Palm Beach Post shares what he has learned thus far from offseason workouts.

Just because Miami has added a new weapon in Brandon Marshall, don't expect the Wildcat to be utilized any less.

New England Patriots

Can you guess which Patriot made an NFL.com list of active players believed to be locks for the Hall of Fame?

Running back Laurence Maroney is still looking for that one big season.

New York Jets

General manager Mike Tannenbaum admitted Thursday that the team is working to reach a long-term deal "within reason" with cornerback Darrelle Revis.

Coming off offseason knee surgery, quarterback Mark Sanchez is confident he'll be able to fully participate in the team's minicamp that begins June 14.

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