AFC East: Haloti Ngata

How many D players better than Revis?

July, 6, 2011
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Herm Edwards and Skip Bayless didn't stop arguing after they compared their top five offensive players on "First Take." They debated the other side of scrimmage, too.

New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis made both lists. Edwards, a former NFL defensive back, rated Revis fourth, one slot ahead of Oakland Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha as the best of that position. Bayless ranked Revis third.

The eye-opener was Edwards' omission of Pittsburgh Steelers star Troy Polamalu (a technical gaffe notwithstanding), while putting Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed third. Polamalu was second on Bayless' list.

Wilfork, Mankins revealed on 'Top 100'

June, 13, 2011
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A couple more New England Patriots have been added to the NFL Network's list of "The Top 100: Players of 2011." The rundown resumed Sunday night with Nos. 31 through 40.

AFC East players on the list so far:
One more Patriot has yet to be revealed, and we can safely assume who that will be.

The NFL Network also told us Wilfork is the second-rated nose tackle on the list. It looks like he's behind Baltimore Ravens plugger Haloti Ngata.

Mankins was the second-highest at his position behind New Orleans Saints guard Jahri Evans at No. 34. Mankins missed seven games last season because he was sitting out for Evans-type money.

Evans signed a seven-year contract worth $56.7 million in May 2010. The Patriots were able to extend a one-year, $3.26 million qualifying offer to Mankins last year because he was a restricted free agent. Mankins declined to sign it, permitting the Patriots to slash the offer to $1.54 million in June.

Breaking down Buffalo's Kyle Williams

February, 15, 2011
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Scouts Inc. analyzes Buffalo Bills defensive lineman Kyle Williams, whom head coach Chan Gailey has said defies categorization.

[+] EnlargeKyle Williams.
Jonathan Brownfield/US PresswireBuffalo's Kyle Williams is among the most versatile defensive linemen in the NFL.
Is Williams a nose tackle? A 3-4 end? A defensive tackle? Where might he best utilized, and if the Bills could draft a complementary player, what kind of rookie should they seek?

Williams is the NFL’s most underrated defensive player. In fact, he should have been a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate, but because of his supporting cast and the horrendous state of the Bills, few recognized Williams’ outstanding accomplishments in 2010.

But what is the best way to utilize Williams? I don’t say this about many defensive linemen, but I do feel that Williams would be very effective at either nose tackle or end in a 3-4 scheme. He also excels as a one technique lined up on a shoulder of the center, or as a three technique lined up on the outside shoulder of a guard in the 4-3 scheme. So, in reality, he is just a very good football player who demonstrates exceptional leverage, power, quickness and tenacity that would help any defense a great deal. But no matter what scheme is used as the base, I would move Williams around quite a bit. The Baltimore Ravens do the same with Haloti Ngata to find the best matchups for their best player.

But if we are talking about the ideal situation, I think adding a true nose tackle type (think the New England Patriots' Vince Wilfork) would be most beneficial for Williams and the Bills’ run defense as a whole. Buffalo’s run defense is among the worst in the league. But the Bills did draft Torell Troup with the thought of him developing into that wide-bodied nose tackle to eat up blockers. But Troup was less-than-impressive as a rookie.

Marcus Stroud was also a massive disappointment, and it might be time to cut ties with him. But Alex Carrington, Dwan Edwards and Spencer Johnson all have varied skill sets and could contribute in either scheme, but would be best as ends in an odd front. All three played reasonably well in 2010, with Carrington still having a lot of upside after playing his college ball at Arkansas State.

If Troupe greatly improves, which could be far-fetched thinking, the thing that would help Williams and everyone else mentioned above the most would be a lethal edge pass-rusher. That player could be either in the form of a 4-3 defensive end or a 3-4 outside linebacker. In a passing league, that cannot be overlooked. Williams can only do so much by himself.

Again, I would remain very multiple with Williams’ responsibilities. Obviously I am extremely high on Williams -- but in a way; because of his body type, he isn’t the prototype for any one specific defensive line technique or position. That isn’t a knock on what Williams can do for a defense at all, but it does go to show that he is a very unique player. It is time everyone took notice.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.

Revisiting Cam Wake and the DPOY debate

February, 3, 2011
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A couple days ago, I asked whether or not Miami Dolphins outside linebacker Cameron Wake was slighted because he didn't receive any votes for the Associated Press 2010 Defensive Player of the Year Award.

In the comments section underneath, the discussion was entertaining and the opinions passionate on both sides. I thought it would be worthwhile to revisit the issue and share some of the thoughts that were hashed out.

As I posted there, one of my chief concerns about debating Wake's season was that readers were quoting all sorts of inaccurately inflated stats. Some claimed Wake led the league in combined sacks and tackles for losses and insisted he notched double digits in both categories.

That's difficult to declare. While sacks are an official NFL stat, tackles are not. They are open to interpretation and charted by each coaching staff while reviewing game film. Teams apply different criteria to TFLs. Must they be solo tackles only? Are assists counted? Is a half-sack worth a full TFL?

For the record, the Dolphins credited Wake with 21 tackles for losses. That includes his 14 sacks. But the Dolphins also count a half-sack as one TFL, and Wake had two half-sacks in his total.

That means Wake had six TFLs not related to sacks. The math: 13 full sacks plus two half-sacks equal 15 TFLs directly from sacks. Subtract that from his 21 TFLs.

Now for the assertion Wake led the league in combined sacks and TFLs ... Wake finished third in sacks behind Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware and Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Tamba Hali.

The Cowboys credited Ware with nine TFLs. The Chiefs pegged Hali with 6.5 TFLs, showing they don't subscribe to the Dolphins' policy of counting a half-sack as a full TFL. Either way, both finished with a higher combo of tackles behind the line of scrimmage than Wake.

And neither Ware nor Hali received any defensive player of the year votes either.

Now that we've cleared that up, what about the general idea that Ware deserved to finish among the seven who received a vote? A reminder:
Most criticism from Wake supporters focused not on Polamalu, but on Matthews. Some readers contended Wake was more dominant than Matthews.

Wake did have a half-sack more than Matthews, who played one fewer game and battled hamstring and shin injuries for a portion of the season. We can't say for sure how many TFLs Matthews recorded because the Packers don't believe in them. But he did have an interception return for a touchdown and two forced fumbles. Wake had no interceptions and three forced fumbles.

So it's an interesting discussion, I suppose. Wake is an elite pass-rusher. He dominated backfields at times. But I think the Associated Press panel simply valued defenders who were more forceful all over the field.

Plus, Wake steadily compiled sacks throughout the season and didn't hold his brief NFL lead until the Dolphins were out of the playoff hunt. By then, nobody was paying attention to the Dolphins anymore, including their fans based on all those empty Sun Life Stadium seats in November and December.

Matthews, meanwhile, generated a lot of buzz with his torrid start.

Longtime AFC East blog follower Lori Chase (aka LCHASE2249), maybe the most astute reader-analyst out there, also pointed out the following about sacks leaders:
Fourteen sacks -- which ties [Wake] for 96th on the all-time single-season list -- and Finfans are miffed that none of the AP voters thought their guy was the greatest defensive player in the league in 2010? Take off those aqua-and-orange-colored glasses, folks. Even if he had led the league (which he didn't), do you know how many times the NFL sacks leader has won that season's DPOY award? Five. Five times in the 29 years since the sack became an official statistic in 1982.

The five were Lawrence Taylor with 20.5 sacks in 1986, Reggie White with 21 in 1987, Pat Swilling with 17 in 1991, Bryce Paup with 17.5 in 1995 and Michael Strahan with 22.5 in 2001.

Chase pointed out all were first-team All-Pros (Wake wasn't). Three played on division champions, with the two exceptions White and Strahan. White registered his 21 sacks in 12 games. Strahan broke the single-season sacks record.

In summary, Wake had a brilliant season. He established himself as a pass-rushing fiend, one of the NFL's best and certainly worthy of his Pro Bowl and second-team All-Pro selections.

All in all, I found the discussion in the comments section to be insightful and a great example of why I like to exchange ideas with readers there as much as possible.

Be sure to check the comments sections under my blogs and feel free to get involved. I try to visit as often as I can, and now that all four AFC East teams are done playing, you can expect to see me there quite a bit.

Was Cameron Wake snubbed for DPOY?

February, 1, 2011
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Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu won the Associated Press 2010 defensive player of the year award by two votes over Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews.

Nothing untoward there.

But a Dolfans faction was riled up outside linebacker Cameron Wake didn't receive a single vote of the 50 cast and filed their grievances with me Monday night on Twitter.

Marc Serota/Getty ImagesCameron Wake didn’t receive any votes for defensive player of the year.
Wake had a phenomenal season, but I happened to agree he didn't deserve defensive player of the year consideration. I was called a fraud and accused of being on drugs. One of those allegations is completely false.

Let's take a look at who did receive votes. All seven went to the playoffs:
Wake had a breakthrough campaign after being ridiculed by former teammate Joey Porter at this time last year. Wake recorded 14 sacks, 21 tackles for losses, 28 quarterback hits and three forced fumbles.

But Wake didn't stand much of a chance for defensive player of the year. Although the Dolphins ranked sixth in total defense, they failed to make the playoffs and won a single home game. That doesn't necessarily reflect on Wake, but it's hard to think of a player as a difference-maker on a team that loses more often than it wins.

The other problem was the same AP panel didn't vote Wake first-team All-Pro, meaning he wasn't among the top two players at his position. Matthews and Harrison were. Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker and NFL sacks leader DeMarcus Ware received as many All-Pro votes as Wake did.

To vote somebody the NFL's best overall defender when he's not the best at his spot is difficult.

There also was a strong sentiment Wake was snubbed in DPOY balloting not because he didn't win the award, but because he didn't receive any votes. But it must be noted, the AP panel doesn't vote for first, second and third place on their annual awards. Each ballot includes one name. Therefore, the voter is going to choose the single most-deserving player. There are no bones to throw out to make the also-rans feel appreciated.

Unfortunately for Dolphins supporters, their guy didn't get a vote despite a terrific season. A lot of others stars weren't named either, including Ware, New England Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork, Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, San Francisco 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis and Oakland Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. A lot of awesome players there.

What do you think? How badly was Wake snubbed?

Tom Brady headlines 2010 All-Pro squad

January, 24, 2011
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There was no dispute. Tom Brady was the NFL's best quarterback in 2010.

Brady was the only unanimous selection on the Associated Press' 2010 All-Pro team, announced Monday.

The AFC dominated the roster, filling 18 of the 27 roster spots. A third of the AFC's representatives hailed from the East.

Three New England Patriots made it. Brady was joined by guard Logan Mankins and linebacker Jerod Mayo. Mankins also was named a Pro Bowl starter despite missing the first seven games in a contract dispute.

A pair of New York Jets returned to the All-Pro roster from a year ago: center Nick Mangold and cornerback Darrelle Revis.

Mangold on Monday dropped out of the Pro Bowl because of an injury from Sunday night's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Alex Mack of the Cleveland Browns will take his spot.

Miami Dolphins tackle Jake Long, who is has been named to three Pro Bowls in as many seasons, made his first All-Pro team.

Nobody from the Buffalo Bills was selected for the All-Pro team. That means Kyle Williams didn't make it, but neither did Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork. The defensive tackles were Detroit Lions rookie Ndamukong Suh and Haloti Ngata of the Ravens.

Also on Monday, Pro Bowl roster replacements were added for the Steelers and Green Bay Packers, who have a more important game to play.

Dolphins defensive end Randy Starks was added for Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel.

Kyle Williams finally makes the Pro Bowl

January, 6, 2011
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In the eyes of many observers, a wrong has been righted.

Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams is going to the Pro Bowl.

The club announced he has been added to the AFC roster in place of injured Oakland Raiders defensive tackle Richard Seymour.

Williams was the first alternate and expected to go because Super Bowl participants can't play in the Pro Bowl, which takes place a week before the championship game. The other two defensive tackles selected are Vince Wilfork of the New England Patriots and Haloti Ngata of the Baltimore Ravens.

Williams no longer must wait around. He was an alternate last year and didn't make it.

He recorded 77 tackles and 5.5 sacks. He might have made the roster without any outside help had the Bills not ranked 32nd in run defense.

"I think everybody on our football team is very excited about Kyle having an opportunity to play in the Pro Bowl," Bills head coach Chan Gailey said. "There's probably not another guy more deserving because of the year he's had, because of what he stands for, and how he plays the game. We're all excited for him."

Curses! SI Super Bowl pick: Pats over Pack

January, 5, 2011
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If you believe in the Sports Illustrated jinx and don't like the New England Patriots, then I have some great news for you.

[+] EnlargePatriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork
AP Photo/Stephan SavoiaPatriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork's hard work usually does not show up on the stat sheet.
SI put Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork on this week's magazine cover and predicted the Patriots will defeat the Green Bay Packers 30-24 in the Super Bowl.

The issue contains a feature that I'm going to order certain Buffalo Bills fans to read. A lot of Bills fans have enjoyed arguing that defensive tackle Kyle Williams is superior to the likes of Wilfork, Haloti Ngata and Casey Hampton simply because Williams had more sacks than they did.

Williams deserves to be in the discussion. He is a great player -- but not because of sacks. And elite defenders such as Wilfork can't be evaluated because they have few sacks. Wilfork finished with two of them, both coming in a blowout victory over the Miami Dolphins in the regular-season finale.

As I've mentioned before, judging defensive tackles on sacks is like ranking inside linebackers on interceptions. SI senior writer Tim Layden explains what a prototypical defensive tackles means in "Attack of the Space Eaters."They're supposed to be the cornerstones of a solid run defense, and the Bills ranked dead last in the NFL. Williams, listed at 306 pounds, weighs about 20 or 30 or 40 pounds less than some of his top colleagues.

Layden writes:
Their goal is not necessarily to defeat opponents but to occupy them; not to chase down ballcarriers but to fill space that might otherwise be exploited by them; not to make plays but to absorb punishment so that teammates can make plays. In pursuit of these unglamorous goals they are required to carry massive (but not too massive) amounts of weight that they unabashedly lie about in public and promise to lose later in life. They are sensational athletes who look at first glance as if they should be contestants on "The Biggest Loser."

Wilfork describes his role in the story:
"It's not a glory position. I'm not a quarterback. I'm not a receiver. I'm not even a penetrating three-technique [tackle]. I'm at the bottom of the pile. Sometimes you see the running back get up before me. You just have to learn what plays you can make and what plays you can't make. If I'm getting double-teamed, there's a high probability that I'm not going to make that play."

Source: Kyle Williams top all-star alternate

December, 29, 2010
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Despite a marvelous campaign, Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams wasn't chosen to the Pro Bowl roster Tuesday night. Neither were any of his teammates.

Williams
Williams
Fret not, Bills fans. A charging buffalo helmet almost certainly will be on the field in Honolulu.

Williams just missed the Pro Bowl cut and was named first alternate, an NFL source informed me. Williams will be an immediate roster addition if Vince Wilfork, Haloti Ngata or Richard Seymour get hurt or make it to the Super Bowl, which will be played the week after the Pro Bowl.

There's an excellent chance one of the chosen defensive tackles won't dress for the Pro Bowl. Wilfork plays for the top-seeded New England Patriots. Ngata plays for the Baltimore Ravens, who have clinched a playoff berth.

Seymour won't have a shot at the Super Bowl with the Oakland Raiders, but this was his sixth Pro Bowl selection. Players who have been there before sometimes pull out of the game with an "injury" because they'd rather take a break from football.

Wilfork has been selected to three Pro Bowls, Ngata two.

ProFootballFocus.com, an in-depth analysis site, rated Williams' omission from the Pro Bowl roster its worst snub in either conference.

Teams don't disclose their Pro Bowl alternates because they don't want the information used against them in contract negotiations if the player doesn't get added to the roster. More names will leak out in the coming days.

AFC East Pro Bowl analysis

December, 28, 2010
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NFC Pro Bowl: East | West | North | South AFC Pro Bowl: East | West | North | South

Perfect sense: Nobody can argue with New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady starting for the AFC. He's setting efficiency records and is the frontrunner for league MVP. Miami Dolphins outside linebacker Cameron Wake was named a starter. He broke out in his second NFL season and leads the league with 14 sacks. Dolphins left tackle Jake Long will start at left tackle, making it three Pro Bowls in three seasons for him.

New York Jets center Nick Mangold, an All-Pro last year, will start. It is also good to see Jets left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson chosen. I feared Ferguson would get overshadowed at such a loaded position. The AFC East placed four offensive linemen -- three starters -- on the squad.

Made it on rep: The biggest surprise for me was Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather. He regressed from last year's Pro Bowl season. He actually lost his job as the starter for a couple weeks in September and might not have started in Week 14 because coaches were unhappy with him. Patriots left guard Logan Mankins didn't play until last month because of a contract squabble, but he was named a starter anyway because he has been phenomenal from the moment he took the field. He deserves to be in the Pro Bowl, but I didn't expect him to be voted a starter. Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis is another player who slipped significantly since last year's All-Pro season, but he was voted a starter.

Got robbed: While "robbed" might be too harsh of a word, the Buffalo Bills' defensive tackle Kyle Williams did have a campaign that was worthy of the Pro Bowl in a vacuum. But there was no way he was going to make the AFC roster ahead of Patriots star Vince Wilfork or Baltimore Ravens behemoth Haloti Ngata. Oakland Raiders defensive tackle Richard Seymour got the third spot. Williams has been dominant when it comes to getting into the backfield, but stopping the run is the primary responsibility for a nose tackle, and the Bills have the NFL's worst run defense. Williams still has the chance to go as an alternate. Jets guard Brandon Moore is another player who deserved recognition but couldn't crack a talented group. Jets kickoff returner Brad Smith has a 28.6-yard average and two touchdowns, but he couldn't beat out Tennessee Titans return ace Marc Mariani, who has scored kickoff and punt return touchdowns. He's the only player to do that so far this season.

Click here for the complete Pro Bowl list.

What AFC East players make the Pro Bowl?

December, 28, 2010
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The NFL will announce Pro Bowl rosters at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Here's a look at the most likely candidates from each AFC East club.

You'll notice a dearth of wide receivers. Before the season began, that looked like a loaded position within the division. They've been good, but none has the numbers worthy of Honolulu.

As a reminder, fans, coaches and players each count for one-third of the selection process.

Buffalo Bills

Legit candidates: None.

Outside shots: Receiver Steve Johnson, defensive tackle Kyle Williams.

Note: The Bills have a lot of players, Williams included, who are easy to root for because they were late-round draft choices or not drafted at all. But they weren't prolific enough to crack a Pro Bowl roster this season. Williams' 5.5 sacks are tied for sixth among all defensive tackles, but it will be tough to surpass Vince Wilfork, Haloti Ngata and Casey Hampton when the Bills rank dead last against the run. Williams could make it as an alternate. Johnson has impressive numbers, but his drops will cost him.

Miami Dolphins

Legit candidates: Offensive tackle Jake Long, outside linebacker Cameron Wake, kicker Dan Carpenter.

Outside shots: Inside linebacker Karlos Dansby, cornerback Vontae Davis, punter Brandon Fields.

Note: Long has been selected for the Pro Bowl each of his first two seasons. He has the reputation and is having a decent season while fighting through a shoulder injury. Wake leads the NFL with 14 sacks. Dansby has never been so much as an alternate before and didn't play like the highest-paid inside linebacker in NFL history. Fields likely won’t displace Shane Lechler, but might have garnered enough attention with his brilliant performance (56.4-yard average on 10 punts) to beat the Jets in Week 14. Carpenter went as an alternate last year and carried the Dolphins for a long stretch, but his four misses right before the players and coaches turned in their ballots will hurt.

New England Patriots

Legit candidates: Quarterback Tom Brady, receiver Wes Welker, nose tackle Vince Wilfork, inside linebacker Jerod Mayo, cornerback Devin McCourty.

Outside shots: Tight end Rob Gronkowski, guard Logan Mankins.

Note: Brady and Wilfork are locks. Mayo leads the NFL in tackles (unofficially). McCourty is having a fine rookie season and is tied for second with six interceptions. Quite a few receivers have had better seasons than Welker, but he has an established reputation and captured even more respect from players and coaches for his remarkable recovery from reconstructive knee surgery. Gronkowski also has been sensational in his first year. He's second to Antonio Gates and tied with Marcedes Lewis for touchdowns among tight ends. Mankins has been phenomenal, but didn't join the team until November.

New York Jets

Legit candidates: Center Nick Mangold, guard Brandon Moore, cornerback Darrelle Revis, special-teamer Brad Smith.

Outside shots: Tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson, inside linebacker David Harris.

Note: Mangold and Revis are stars who automatically get voted for. They'll probably get selected again. Smith would be a newcomer. Smith is deserving as a return specialist with a 28.6-yard kickoff average. But will he beat out Jacoby Ford (three touchdowns) and Joshua Cribbs? Moore seems to gain increasing respect from opposing players and coaches every year, and with Mankins a difficult pick and Alan Faneca out of the AFC, maybe Moore makes it. Ferguson and Harris have been fantastic, but they're at tough positions. Ferguson went to the Pro Bowl last year as an alternate.

Whitner displeased with contract talks

December, 16, 2010
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Buffalo Bills safety Donte Whitner is unhappy with a downward turn in negotiations for a contract extension and has suggested he will become a free agent after the season.

"If things continue the way that they're going," Whitner said Thursday, "obviously, I'm going to have to hit the free-agent market and see my true value."

If there wasn't so much snow on the ground in Western New York, we might be able to hear the crickets chirping.

How should Bills fans feel about Whitner possibly hitting the open market?

Whitner is second on the team with 115 tackles, yet much of that total can be chalked up to the Bills' lackluster run defense that allows backs to bolt into the second and third levels. Whitner has one interception, six passes defensed, no sacks, one tackle for loss, no forced fumbles and one recovery.

"He's a really good player for us, very smart, a good tackler," Bills coach Chan Gailey said of Whitner last week. "He's made a lot of plays for us this year. As time goes on, I think he'll be another guy that has a major impact on our football team in years to come."

The main reason Whitner hasn't connected with Bills fans -- beyond his blunt analysis when discussing the team through the media -- is his draft position. He was the eighth overall draft choice in 2006.

The Bills also were interested in Haloti Ngata, who since has become a star for the Baltimore Ravens. But they went with Whitner instead.

Buffalo, meanwhile, has been overtaken by overachievers.

Expectations for an eighth overall pick are driven up when the team's starting quarterback (Ryan Fitzpatrick) and top receiver (Steve Johnson) were seventh-round draft choices, the lead running back (Fred Jackson) wasn't drafted at all and its best defensive player (Kyle Williams) was a fifth-rounder.

The Bills declined to re-sign undrafted safety Jim Leonhard in part because they had Whitner. Leonhard became an important starter for the Ravens and New York Jets.

Whitner recently told reporters he was close to re-signing with the Bills and that it was just a matter of time. That news was met with indifference.

It'll be interesting to see if there's any uproar if he leaves.

Rex Ryan can only shrug about left guard

September, 29, 2010
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It doesn't take a shrewd scout or seasoned offensive line coach to recognize left guard as a problem for the New York Jets.

The Jets released perennial Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca in April and opened a competition between second-year pro Matt Slauson and second-round draft choice Vladimir Ducasse.

Slauson
Slauson
Slauson won by default, and he has been at fault a number of times through three games. The Buffalo Bills, desperate to generate any kind of pass rush, certainly have noticed Slauson as the weak link of an otherwise solid offensive line.

"Matt's not great right now, but he's working like heck to get better," Jets head coach Rex Ryan said Wednesday on a conference call. "I think he's about as good as most guards in our division."

The competition is a bit diluted this year. Faneca is gone. New England Patriots left guard Logan Mankins is an unsigned restricted free agent and hasn't reported. The Miami Dolphins cycle through guards every season. The Bills have sophomores Eric Wood and Andy Levitre.

Baltimore Ravens defensive lineman Haloti Ngata steamrolled Slauson for a sack on opening night.

Slauson was flagged three times in Sunday night's victory over the Miami Dolphins, twice for holding on one drive to prevent a touchdown. One of his holds erased an 11-yard pass play that would have given the Jets first-and-goal from the 5-yard line. The next hold nullified a Mark Sanchez touchdown run. The Jets settled for a field goal.

I asked Ryan if Ducasse was ready to step in.

"No," Ryan said. "If he was, he'd be playing.

"Ducasse, I'll tell you, this young man is going to be a player. There is no question. He's really a natural tackle. We're trying to put him in there to compete with Slauson, but he's not ready for that job right now."

Draft Watch: AFC East

March, 31, 2010
3/31/10
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NFC History: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: History in that spot.

Buffalo Bills: The ninth spot has been a minefield in recent years. Although it's a premium pick, it hasn't produced a Pro Bowler. The Washington Redskins selected cornerback Carlos Rogers in 2005. He has been a consistent starter, but missed most of 2007 with a knee injury. Detroit Lions outside linebacker Ernie Sims started every game in his first three seasons but made only eight last year because of a shoulder injury and has been a disappointment. The Miami Dolphins used their ninth pick in 2007 on receiver Ted Ginn, a maddening player for Dolfans because he plays small. Cincinnati Bengals outside linebacker Keith Rivers has played in only 20 games in his two seasons, and Green Bay Packers defensive tackle B.J. Raji started one game as a rookie last year.

Miami Dolphins: The 12th selection has been far more rewarding than the ninth over the past five years, producing four players who have been selected to six Pro Bowls. The San Diego Chargers found linebacker Shawne Merriman there in 2005, followed by Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, Bills running back Marshawn Lynch and Denver Broncos left tackle Ryan Clady. Last year's No. 12 has a bright future, too. The Broncos grabbed running back Knowshon Moreno, who rushed for 947 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie.

New England Patriots: Some intriguing players have fallen to the 22nd pick, which the Patriots own. The Minnesota Vikings were thrilled to see receiver Percy Harvin still on the board last year. The Dallas Cowboys snatched Felix Jones in 2008, and he could be their featured back this year. Although it didn't work out, the Cleveland Browns thought they'd drafted their franchise quarterback when they landed Notre Dame star Brady Quinn at No. 22 in 2007. In the two drafts before that, the San Francisco 49ers chose defensive end Manny Lawson and the Baltimore Ravens landed erratic receiver Mark Clayton.

New York Jets: The 29th overall selection has been good to the Jets before. That's where they picked up All-Pro center Nick Mangold in 2006. Other teams haven't been nearly as fortunate in that slot, but the New York Giants seem to have found a top prospect last year with receiver Hakeem Nicks. The others drafted at No. 29 over the past five years are 49ers defensive tackle Kentwan Balmer, Ravens guard Ben Grubbs and former Colts defensive back Marlin Jackson.

Ryan on Gholston: 'I believe in the young man'

March, 24, 2009
3/24/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

DANA POINT, Calif. -- One of the most incredible stats from last season: Prized New York Jets pass rusher Vernon Gholston, the sixth pick in the draft, recorded one solo tackle.

Of the 23 Jets who made a tackle, Gholston finished with the fewest. He also had four assists, giving him a grand total of five tackles. He, of course, had zero sacks.

While a single season is too soon to label any player a bust, Jets fans certainly are cynical about Gholston.

Jets coach Rex Ryan, however, isn't afraid to bang Gholston's drum.

"For whatever reason, the young man maybe never played up to expectations, but there's a reason that he was taken as high as he was," Ryan said over breakfast Tuesday morning at the NFL owners' meeting at the St. Regis Hotel.

"I believe in the young man. I think you're going to see this kid really come into his own this year."

Perhaps Ryan can figure out a way to unlock Gholston's potential and save him from becoming known as another Mike Mamula, a scouting combine phenom who looked good in a tank top but couldn't perform on Sundays.

Ryan previously spent 10 seasons on the Baltimore Ravens' staff, helping to mold them into one of the NFL's elite defenses.

"The thing I've really been impressed with about Vernon is that he's been there almost every day," Ryan said. "When nobody else was in the building, he was in there, lifting weights and everything else.

"He's ready to come out and, believe me, it's in there. We all know it's in there. But it's my job to get this guy playing at a high level by any means necessary, and that's what we're going to do."

Gholston, listed at 6-foot-3 and 264 pounds, left Ohio State after his junior season, when he set a Buckeyes record with 14 sacks.

"It's just a matter of letting him know what we expect of him and letting him roll," Ryan said. "All I want is everything he's got. That's all I want. Nothing more.

"It's funny because I heard the same things about [Ravens defensive tackle] Haloti Ngata when he came out of college, that he took plays off and things like that. I don't hear anyone saying that now."

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