The major question facing each team in the AFC East as summer break looms.
Buffalo Bills: By all accounts, the Bills had a productive minicamp. But a huge question remains about the future of Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd. He was a no-show this week in a clear display of displeasure over receiving the franchise tag. Byrd also skipped all organized team activities and has yet to sign the tag. Because of his refusal to sign, the Bills could not fine him for skipping mandatory minicamp. The Bills have plenty of cap room and Byrd is one of their core players entering his prime, so it makes sense for both sides to reach an agreement. However, time is running out, as training camp is coming up at the end of July.
Miami Dolphins: I’ve spent a lot of time at Miami’s practice facility for the past month during minicamp and OTAs. The Dolphins met my expectations in improving their passing game and defensive playmaking, but here is a question I didn’t get answered: Is the running game better in 2013? Miami lost tailback Reggie Bush in free agency, and I thought I would see more big plays from running backs Lamar Miller, Daniel Thomas and rookie Mike Gillislee. However, they were rather pedestrian this week. That being said, Miami’s run defense is stout and players aren’t practicing in pads, so it’s hard to gauge fully the progress of the running game until there’s live hitting in training camp.
New England Patriots: The wide receiver position is still a work in progress. Outside of free-agent pickup Danny Amendola, New England still hasn’t figured out its No. 2 and No. 3 receivers. These are important positions for the Patriots, who led the NFL in total offense in 2012 but lost Pro Bowl receiver Wes Welker and veteran Brandon Lloyd. Unproven veterans, such as receivers Donald Jones, Michael Jenkins and Lavelle Hawkins, are competing with rookies Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce. It will take a full training camp to pick the best two or three options from this group. Also, the Patriots need Amendola to play all 16 games this season, which is a risky proposition. I fully expect New England’s passing game to take a step backward in 2013. The receivers aren’t as talented, and tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez have injury concerns.
New York Jets: Can the Jets win this season with Mark Sanchez as the starter? It’s early, but it appears New York is heading in that direction. Sanchez relied on his experience to win the quarterback battle this week in minicamp over rookie second-round pick Geno Smith. Heading into training camp, Sanchez is the favorite to win the starting job in Week 1. New York already is discussing whether to implement a read-option offense for Smith, which would get him involved in the game even if he’s not the starter. All in all, there are not a lot of reasons to be confident in New York’s offense this season. Sanchez is winning a lukewarm quarterback battle but must improve from the last two seasons.