AFC East: DeShaun Foster
Before we get into this week's AFC East mailbag, I'd like to remind folks they can join me on Facebook.
You'll receive alerts to all of my blog posts the moment they hit cyberspace. You can interact with other AFC East fans (i.e. tell them how superduper your team is while calling their favorite players ninnies).
You can find me at various times of the day for a quick one-on-one chat, or you can post a question on my wall that I might use in my next mailbag.
We have a couple of Facebook submissions in this week's edition, in fact. Have a gander.
Joshua in San Diego wants to know how the tough AFC East schedule will impact the chances of Tom Brady having a big rebound season. He specifically mentions the cross-divisional matchups against the AFC South and NFC South, which feature some elite pass-rushers.
One of the keys to Brady's effectiveness is his ability to stand in the pocket, feel the coming defenders closing in and unflinchingly wait until the last possible moment to let the play develop before delivering.
As fabulously as Brady has looked throwing the ball in non-contact drills, there certainly is a mental component he hasn't encountered in his recovery from two torn knee ligaments. We won't know until preseason games how Brady reacts under live pressure.
All four AFC East offensive lines will have their hands full this year. Each team will face at least six of the top 11 sack leaders, and that doesn't include Jason Taylor.
Miami Dolphins outside linebacker Joey Porter is on that list, but they also play the Pittsburgh Steelers and the other divisional teams don't. That means the Dolphins get to face seven of the top 11, including James Harrison (16 sacks) and LaMarr Woodley (11.5).
I've gone on record with predictions -- as everything looks on paper in June; whatever that's worth -- that the Patriots will go to the playoffs and the Bills will finish last in the AFC East.
But I think there's a greater possibility the Dolphins edge past the Patriots again than the Bills rebound from a 0-6 divisional record to make the playoffs with five jumbled offensive line positions.
Can the Bills make the playoffs? Sure. I covered the 1-15 Dolphins. I've seen stranger things. But the last time I checked, Buffalo didn't hire Bill Parcells or make any corrections to their infrastructure. It's the same team plus Terrell Owens, a decent center, a backup running back and some rookies -- but minus a Pro Bowl left tackle.
That doesn't add up for me.
Jamal from Facebook is sick of all the Patriots haters -- obviously fixated on Spygate as the excuse for everything the club has accomplished -- who post in the comments section under the AFC East blog posts.
I wholeheartedly agree, Jamal. Some fans will latch onto anything that helps them justify why their favorite teams haven't had the same success. Officiating conspiracies are good for that, too.
I kept an open mind about the Spygate saga as it developed, but I've spoken to more than enough intelligent football people about it. I'm convinced the benefits of the verboten video were overblown.
ESPN analyst Herm Edwards is one of the discerning minds I've asked about it. Edwards, then the New York Jets' head coach, was so unimpressed he was captured waving to the Patriots' camera in one of the illegal tapes from 2004.
"If you're naïve to believe that helped him win a Super Bowl," Edwards said last week, "you're kidding yourself. I don't believe that."
Based on the players they've hosted so far, a third running back and a linebacker are the Buffalo Bills' top unresolved needs in free agency.
Another running back the Bills brought to Orchard Park signed with somebody else Friday. Kevin Jones decided to remain with the Chicago Bears. The Bills previously hosted Fred Taylor, who chose the New England Patriots. DeShaun Foster has visited but remains unsigned.
Many see the Bills poking around at available running backs and wonder what this means for Marshawn Lynch, who could be facing a suspension. The NFL will take last summer's hit-and-run incident into account when deciding the proper punishment for Lynch's conviction for carrying a concealed weapon.
The Bills, however, are not thinking about unloading Lynch. The sentiment at One Bills Drive is he has made two mistakes, neither of which was worth waivers. Rest assured, Lynch is on a short leash, but the Bills haven't reached their breaking point.
Then why do the Bills need a third running back if they're keeping Lynch and have Fred Jackson?
The biggest reason is Lynch's likely suspension. The Bills will need someone to help Jackson carry the load, and they're not sold on Xavier Omon, who probably deserved to be cut last year but made the team as a rookie because Dwayne Wright couldn't hold onto the ball.
Whatever punishment NFL commissioner Roger Goodell dishes out will be served at the beginning of the season, and the Bills can't afford to get off to a slow start.
Now he awaits word from the executioner.
Lynch on Thursday received three years probation, was ordered to 80 hours of community service and lost his search-and-seizure rights (he must comply with police even if they don't have a warrant) as part of a plea bargain for multiple gun charges stemming from his Feb. 11 arrest in Culver City, Calif.
Lynch pleaded guilty to a concealed weapons charge. In return, the Los Angeles County Superior Court dropped the other two misdemeanor charges.
But the punishment judge Ralph Amado handed down is minor compared to what NFL commissioner Roger Goodell might do.
"Today we learned of Marshawn's guilty plea to the misdemeanor violation," the Buffalo Bills said in a statement. "He has accepted responsibility for his actions and apologized for his mistake. The league is now reviewing the matter under the NFL Personal Conduct Policy."
Lynch is facing a likely suspension for his latest transgressions. He'll be considered a repeat offender because of last summer's controversial hit-and-run incident in Buffalo.
Lynch already is groveling.
"Today I pled guilty to a misdemeanor violation of having a firearm in a vehicle," Lynch said in a statement released by his attorney, M. Gerald Schwartzbach. "I am embarrassed by my recent arrest and conviction. I deeply regret that I placed myself in this situation. I have made mistakes in the past. Although I have learned many lessons over recent years, I obviously have not learned enough.
"I apologize to my family, the Buffalo Bills organization, my teammates, the Buffalo community, and Commissioner Goodell. I have already learned from this recent mistake and am sincerely committed to being a more responsible citizen and better representative of the NFL."
Many already have forgiven Lynch because he's a sensational running back, a Pro Bowler who has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons.
This story isn't over yet.
New York Jets
- Mark Cannizzaro of the New York Post reports the Jets have re-signed kicker Jay Feely.
- Newsday's Erik Boland recounts the inspiring tale of how Jim Leonhard kept playing football.
New England Patriots
- Providence Journal writer Shalise Manza Young takes a look at the steroid double standard between football and others sports.
- Mike Reiss reports for the Boston Globe that New England hosted receiver Joey Galloway on Wednesday.
- The Boston Globe's Charles P. Pierce writes the only acceptable answer to the Matt Cassel/Mike Vrabel trade is clearing room for Julius Peppers.
- Mark Gaughan reports the Bills entertained running back DeShaun Foster and linebacker Cato June on Wednesday.
- Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports former Bills tight end Robert Royal is joining the Browns.
Miami Dolphins quarterbacks coach David Lee is getting much of the credit for installing the gimmick offense they ran Sunday to flummox the New England Patriots.
Running back Ronnie Brown scored four rushing touchdowns in a 38-13 rout. Brown also threw a touchdown pass.
The Wildcat offense, as the Dolphins call it, put Brown in a shotgun formation, spread quarterback Chad Pennington wide and lined up Ricky Williams as a wingback who would counter. The Patriots were fooled out of their socks.
But Dolphins offensive coordinator Dan Henning ran a similar system before in the NFL -- and to a much higher degree.
- The Panthers had lost four straight games (the Dolphins had lost 20 of their past 21 games).
- The Panthers were coming off an embarrassing 37-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers (the Dolphins were coming off an embarrassing 31-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals).
- Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme was injured, and backup Chris Weinke was too hurt to practice during the week and hadn't won in 17 career starts (Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington had been ineffective through two games).
- The Panthers had two capable rushers in DeShaun Foster and DeAngelo Williams (the Dolphins have two capable backs in Brown and Ricky Williams).
Henning's solution was to snap directly to DeAngelo Williams and hand off to Foster.
Unlike the Dolphins, who picked their spots with the Wildcat, Henning went full-scale with his gimmick.
The Panthers ran 52 times that day and held the ball for nearly 42 minutes in a 10-7 victory. The Panthers tried seven passes, one of them going for the game's only touchdown.