AFC East: injuries

After losing 2012 starting wide receivers Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd, the New England Patriots must rely heavily on tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in the passing game. But can the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady count on Gronkowski to have another Pro Bowl season in 2013?

Gronkowski is slated for back surgery Tuesday and is expected to miss a portion of training camp. The main goal is to have Gronkowski ready for New England's Week 1 AFC East battle against the Buffalo Bills.

But how effective with Gronkowski be when he returns?

“He will be Gronk-ish, I’ll say, but I don’t know if he will be the same explosive, strong, physical Gronkowski," ESPN NFL analyst Jason Taylor said. "It’s tough to come back from four surgeries on your forearm, and now a fifth surgery on your back.”

Taylor also mentioned all of the offseason work in the weight room and strength training that Gronkowski is missing. It will take time to regain his full strength and flexibility.

I’ve said several times to expect New England’s passing attack to take a step back this year. The receivers aren’t as good and the tight end position has plenty of health concerns. If Gronkowski isn’t the “Gronk” of old in 2013, New England needs others step up and stay healthy for a full season.
Here are the most interesting stories Wednesday in the AFC East: Morning take: Time will tell. On paper, Miami should be a playoff contender. But it's going to take good coaching, good health and consistent play for the Dolphins to reach their potential.
  • New England Patriots starting cornerback Alfonzo Dennard was carted off the field after suffering an arm or shoulder injury.
Morning take: This is not good news for New England. Dennard is a good player, and the Patriots need all the cornerback depth they can get. Let's wait and see the extent of the injury.
Morning take: Buffalo is looking for depth at guard and still searching for a replacement after Andy Levitre signed with the Tennessee Titans. Legursky spent time with the Pittsburgh Steelers and has ties to Bills general manager Doug Whaley.
  • Here is some bad news for the New York Jets: Star cornerback Darrelle Revis plans to be ready for Week 1 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Morning take: I don't expect Revis to miss the Bucs' Sept. 8 opener against New York. Trading him provides extra motivation to stick it to his former team. The Jets are in trouble if Revis returns to form.
Rob GronkowskiAP Photo/Elise AmendolaRob Gronkowski is to have back surgery in June, and he has had four forearm surgeries since November.
In June 2012, the New England Patriots signed Rob Gronkowski to a six-year, $53 million extension. The move made sense at the time for the former AFC champs, because Gronkowski was coming off a record-setting year with 90 receptions, 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns. Therefore, the Patriots didn't hesitate to sign him to the richest contract for a tight end in NFL history.

But just one year later, it's time to question whether the Patriots eventually will have buyer's remorse. There no denying his Hall of Fame talent, but Gronkowski also comes with durability issues.

How long will he last with the Patriots? Can Gronkowski be the same effective player in New England for five more seasons?

Gronkowski's injury history is no surprise. It started when he missed his senior year in college after major back surgery. As a result, the Patriots were able to get a first-round talent in the second round. But Gronkowski is going in for another back surgery in June, and it will mark his sixth surgery since February 2012. He has had four surgeries alone on his broken forearm since November.

Gronkowski has become a human pin cushion before his 25th birthday and has earned the dreaded label of injury-prone player. According to ESPN NFL analyst Matt Williamson, Gronkowski's growing list of injures "has to be a concern now."

"You hope that it's manageable," Williamson said. "The Patriots' doctors must have approved [Gronkowski's health]. There's no way you give him a six-year extension if they didn't think they were on top of the situation. But where we are sitting right now, it looks bad, doesn't it?"

Gronkowski's back surgery is described as minor by agent Drew Rosenhaus. However, former offensive lineman and NFL analyst Mark Schlereth provided chilling commentary from his experience with back surgery on ESPN's "NFL Live" this week.

Schlereth is an expert on going under the knife. He had 29 surgeries in his 12-year career, and he says recovering from a bad back is the worst of the group.


How many more years will Rob Gronkowski play in the NFL?


Discuss (Total votes: 7,524)

“Robert Watkins, the doctor who will perform [Gronkowski’s] surgery, is also the doctor who performed my back surgery. One thing you have to understand about back surgery, that area is so fine back there and scar tissue is a real issue and can irritate those nerve roots,” Schlereth said. “You sneeze and it’s over. Your back will just lock up on you. It’s one of those things that’s a really hard injury to have. And I’ve always said this: I’ve had 20 knee surgeries during the course of my career, and I would take another 20 knee surgeries to get the one back surgery back if I could get rid of it, because it bothers me every single day of my life.”

Gronkowski will miss a portion of training camp recovering from back and arm surgeries, and any setback could push his recovery into the regular season. He was in and out of the lineup all last season. He missed five regular-season games and the AFC Championship Game, which New England lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens 28-13.

Can the Patriots win a Super Bowl this season without a healthy Gronkowski? Statistics show New England's chances are slim without its most effective pass-catcher.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's Total Quarterback Rating is 77.3 since 2011 with Gronkowski on the field and 63.5 without Gronkowski. In addition, Brady averaged 10.5 yards per attempt over that same span throwing to Gronkowski, along with 31 touchdowns and four interceptions. Brady averages just 7.8 yards per attempt with 22 interceptions throwing to other receivers and tight ends. Gronkowski’s impact in New England is simply unmatched.

The Patriots need Gronkowski more than ever this season. They let go of 2012 starting receivers Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd, who accounted for 192 receptions, 2,265 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. New England completely remade the receiving corps with less-proven veterans Danny Amendola, Michael Jenkins, Donald Jones, Lavelle Hawkins and rookies Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce.

"It would be a huge blow, no doubt about it," Williamson said if Gronkowski misses time this season. "Even if Amendola makes up for Welker, which I have some doubts about, you got to think they will be weaker at receiver. I love the offensive line, and I think the running game is strong. [Tight end Aaron] Hernandez also is a good player. But Gronk is a difference-maker."

Contractually, the Patriots have a major decision to make with Gronkowski in 2015. New England has a $10 million option bonus that must be picked up by the final day of the 2015 league year. If the Patriots decide not to do that, the contract would be voided.

Gronkowski could be the best tight end of this generation if he ever finds a way to avoid injuries. But at this point it could be a challenge for Gronkowski, 24, to remain healthy and productive in the NFL at age 30.

"He could be the best tight end ever," Williamson said of Gronkowski's potential. "What he’s done in a short amount of time is unprecedented. He’s the best red zone threat in the league. He’s by far the best tight end in the league. He’s an elite blocker. He can run every route and is extremely physical after the catch. He can go up and get the ball in traffic.

"He has no flaws, except for durability."
It hasn't taken long for tight end Jake Ballard to shed his Big Blue colors of the New York Giants and join the New England Patriots. The teams have faced off in two recent Super Bowls and developed a healthy rivalry. Now Ballard has been on both sides.

Ballard's last game with New York was against the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI in February 2012. He suffered a significant knee injury in that game. In a sign of respect, New England head coach Bill Belichick claimed Ballard off waivers despite knowing Ballard would not play the next season. The Giants weren’t happy about it, but New England had no issues stashing Ballard on their roster for a year instead while he rehabbed.

Ballard is ready to play again in 2013 and met with the Boston media for the first time Thursday. Ballard says there is no question where his allegiance stands.

"I'm absolutely a Patriot through and through," Ballard said, according to "I enjoy being here, I enjoy being around the coaches, and everybody is great."

New England's waiver claim may come in handy one year later. Ballard missed all of last year but currently is the healthiest pass-catching tight end on the roster. According to's Albert Breer, tight end Rob Gronkowski will have back surgery in June and will miss at least part of training camp. Meanwhile, Aaron Hernandez is out until at least until training camp while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. Ballard would be the starting tight end for the Patriots if the season started today.

Gronkowski and Hernandez were in and out of the lineup all last season because of injuries. Ballard provides a good third option for the next time one of those two goes down.

If history is any indication, Ballard must stay ready. Gronkowski and Hernandez both have lengthy injury histories and numerous surgeries. Therefore, there's a strong chance Ballard's number will be called this season.
The AFC East blog continues its “Show and Prove” series for 2013 in the NFL.

Next up, we take a look at potential Buffalo Bills starting quarterback Kevin Kolb.

2012 stats: 1,169 yards, eight TDs, three INTs

What he must prove: Kolb has to prove he is worthy of being a starting NFL quarterback. He’s had ups and downs in stops with the Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals. Now, Kolb will be part of a three-way competition with Tarvaris Jackson and rookie EJ Manuel. If Kolb is worth his salt, he should beat out a career journeyman and a first-year quarterback still trying to learn the NFL game. Kolb has the most experience of the three, but he’s also been inconsistent and prone to injuries.

Walker’s 2013 outlook: Longtime readers of the AFC East blog know I’ve thought Kolb was a legitimate franchise quarterback. He’s never had the consistency or durability to lead a franchise. This is perhaps Kolb’s final chance to prove he can be a starter. If Kolb can’t win a starting job in Buffalo, he probably can’t win a starting job with most other NFL teams. Either way, Kolb is nothing more than a stopgap option in Buffalo. The job will eventually go to Manuel whenever he’s ready. That could happen in Week 1, Week 10 or the following season. The best Buffalo can hope for is for Kolb to play decent football long enough this season for Manuel to develop.
The AFC East blog continues its “Show and Prove” series for the division in 2013.

Next up Monday we take a look at New England Patriots’ starting wide receiver Danny Amendola.

2012 stats: 63 receptions, 666 yards, three TDs

What he must prove: Perhaps no wide receiver in the AFC East has more to prove this year than Amendola. Not only is Amendola trying the fill the huge shoes left behind by former Patriot Wes Welker, but Amendola must also prove his durability. Amendola has missed more games (20) than he’s played in (12) the past two seasons. Still, New England saw his talent and signed him to a five-year, $31 million contract. Amendola must produce immediately to make Patriots fans forget about Welker.

Walker’s 2013 outlook: Amendola, 27, is a younger and more athletic version of Welker. From that perspective, it makes sense why New England made this move. But what was questionable is New England making the switch when Welker was still extremely productive and still had a strong chemistry with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. I don’t see Amendola developing Welker-like chemistry with Brady in one year, and that’s a problem because the slot receiver is very important to Brady and New England’s offense. Welker also was very durable, which Amendola is not. The biggest goal for Amendola is to play all 16 games this year, which he’s only done once in his career. That would mark a good first step with the Patriots.
The New England Patriots completed a controversial swap of slot receivers this week. The defending AFC East champions let go of Pro Bowl receiver Wes Welker and signed Danny Amendola to a five-year, $31 million contract.


How many games will WR Danny Amendola play next season?


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Both receivers have talent. But the elephant in the room with this Welker-for-Amendola swap is Amendola’s huge durability questions.

The former St. Louis Rams receiver missed more games (20) the past two seasons than he’s played (12). Amendola has averaged 10.5 games played per season, which is concerning considering tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez were also injured last year.

In our latest "Poll Friday" in the AFC East, we ask how many games will Amendola play for the Patriots this season? He's had a history of elbow, shoulder and foot injuries during his four year career.

Using our SportsNation poll, vote on Amendola’s durability for New England next season. You can also share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Dolphins sign kicker Nate Kaeding

December, 21, 2012
The Miami Dolphins signed veteran kicker Nate Kaeding, the team announced Friday. Incumbent kicker Dan Carpenter was hampered by a groin injury and placed on injured reserve.

Keading is a former two-time Pro Bowl selection with the San Diego Chargers. He will replace Carpenter for the rest of the season.

Miami has been fortunate with injuries all season, but the injury bug is hurting the team in December. In addition to Carpenter, Miami could be without starting wide receivers Davone Bess and/or Brian Hartline, who are dealing with back injuries.

The Dolphins will host the Buffalo Bills Sunday at Sun Life Stadium.

Jaguars-Dolphins halftime notes

December, 16, 2012
MIAMI – The Miami Dolphins lead the Jacksonville Jaguars, 10-3, at halftime.

Here are several thoughts at intermission:
  • Chad Henne's return to Miami has been a mixed bag. He started fast by putting together a 10-play scoring drive to start the game. Jacksonville settled for a field goal. Since then, Henne has been cold. He's missed a few makeable throws and is bothered by Miami’s pressure. Henne is 9-of-14 for 96 yards in the first half.
  • Miami tailback Reggie Bush is struggling to find running lanes. Jacksonville is making a strong effort to stop Miami’s ground attack and held Bush to just 25 yards on 8 carries. The Dolphins are thin at receiver without Davone Bess. That makes their passing game easier to defend.
  • Miami’s secondary suffered a couple of injuries. First, starting safety Chris Clemons suffered a neck stinger in the first quarter and sat out the remainder of the first half. Then, cornerback Nolan Carroll suffered a knee injury in the second quarter. Both players are questionable to return.
  • Overall, the Dolphins have played down to their competition. Miami looks sloppy and committed a bad turnover on quarterback Ryan Tannehill's fumble, although it didn't cost the team any points. The Dolphins are clearly a better team. They have a chance to put the game away early in the second half and not let Jacksonville hang around to try to pull off the upset.

Morning take: Tom Brady on a tear

November, 9, 2012
Here are the most interesting stories Friday in the AFC East: Morning take: Brady is 35 and isn't slowing down. As long as he stays healthy, the Patriots are in contention.
Morning take: Buffalo is already hurting at defensive end. Mark Anderson will not play against New England, and now Kelsay is dinged.
Morning take: Miami has an impressive 22-game streak of holding tailbacks under 100 yards. Johnson is the type of player who can break a 70-yard run to the house.
Morning take: The Jets get the most media attention. But I think most people knew that this wasn’t a great team. The Jets are playing at most people’s expectations.

Reggie Bush not buying Rex's apology

October, 24, 2012
DAVIE, Fla. -- Remember the "hot sauce" comment by the New York Jets?

Jets coach Rex Ryan said, leading up to their first meeting with the Dolphins in Week 3, that Reggie Bush would get a little "hot sauce." Bush wound up injuring his knee before halftime against the Jets and wasn’t happy about it. He felt the Jets entered the game looking to hurt him.

Bush later upset the Jets by saying they got what they deserved when New York Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis (knee) was lost for the season in the same game. That didn’t sit well in New York.

But Ryan apologized for his “hot sauce” comment as the rivals prepare to meet Sunday.

“For him, I don’t want an apology, and obviously I hope he’s taken mine and understand the sincerity,” Ryan said in a conference call with Dolphins media. “Reggie Bush is such a player that we are going to pay special attention to him. And I got news for him: We’re going to do it this week also. We have to know where he is and all that kind of stuff. That’s what I meant. I certainly don’t want to see him hurt, ever.”

Apparently Bush still has hard feelings. He wasn't very accepting of Ryan’s apology Wednesday.

"I don’t believe that. I don’t believe that at all,” Bush said. “But it is what it is. Like I said, the great thing about divisional games is you get to play them twice.”

Things could get chippy again from both rivals, but Bush said he’s not worried about it. If anything, he’s more prepared this time.

“Retaliation? They’re the ones who started it,” Bush said. “If there was ever any retaliation, it would come from us. But you know what? With this team, and the caliber of guys and character of guys that we have, we play with respect for the game.

“It’s football. I didn’t go and complain or whine about being a target of the Jets. I expect that every game. So I wouldn’t expect it to be any different this game.”

Bush’s production has gone down since his knee injury. He hasn’t rushed for more than 67 yards or averaged more than 3.9 yards per carry in the past three games.

Two weeks of rest could be huge for Bush. The Dolphins are trying to re-establish their running game, and Bush is a huge part of that.

“I’m definitely a lot stronger than what I was a couple of weeks ago,” Bush said. “I feel a lot better, about as healthy as you can get at this point of the season.”
New York Jets backup running back Joe McKnight (ankle) made a return to practice on Friday. It turns out he will play in Sunday’s rivalry game against the New England Patriots.

This is significant because McKnight’s availability could mean fewer opportunities at running back for Tim Tebow. The Jets have been hinting that Tebow, a converted quarterback, could get some carries at tailback this week against New England.

The idea came out of necessity since McKnight and fellow running back Bilal Powell missed most of practice leading up to Sunday's game. But McKnight will spell starter Shonn Greene as the No. 2 tailback. It remains to be seen if Tebow will still get carries at tailback behind Greene and McKnight.

Here are the inactives for New England and New York:

Jets: QB Greg McElroy, RB Bilal Powell, G Caleb Schlauderaff, DT Kenrick Ellis, WR Clyde Gates, DT Sione Pouha, S Eric Smith

Patriots: RB Brandon Bolden, LB Tracy White, S Patrick Chung, G Logan Mankins, DE Jake Bequette, S Steve Gregory, DE Ron Brace

Jets sink further into abyss

October, 3, 2012

I have a new nickname for the New York Jets after all that's happened the past two weeks.

Call them the "Bad News Jets."

Whether it's on the field or off, New York continues to stumble over itself and sink further into the abyss. The latest bad news is losing No. 1 receiver Santonio Holmes for the 2012 season with a foot injury. This comes one week after the Jets lost their best defensive player for the year: Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis (knee). Both star players were injured on non-contact plays.

I wrote last week that you can stick a fork in the Jets after Revis' injury. New York went from "well done" to "overcooked" after Holmes' injury.

So what's next for New York's receiving corps? Currently, the team has Jeremy Kerley, Chaz Schilens and injured rookie Stephen Hill. This is not enough unless the Jets' plan is to tank the season for a high draft pick and/or get starting quarterback Mark Sanchez benched sooner than later. Wednesday's signing of free-agent receiver Jason Hill won't help much, either.

The receivers still available in free agency all come with risks. Terrell Owens, Chad Johnson and Plaxico Burress are aging players with baggage. If I had to choose one of these players for the Jets, it would probably be Burress, since he played in New York last year and is familiar with Sanchez. But none of these options can singlehandedly save the Jets' woeful offense. New York's offense is ranked 28th in the NFL -- and that was with Holmes.

A trade may be the best route. There are a few more weeks before the NFL trade deadline, and the Jets must do something. It may cost New York a high draft pick for someone's No. 3 or No. 4 receiver. It's not a great way to do business but the Jets are desperate.

The Jets are 2-2 and remain in first place in the AFC East. But that will not be for long after losing Revis and Holmes in back-to-back weeks.

Morning take: Is Revis ready to return?

September, 18, 2012
Here are the most interesting stories Tuesday in the AFC East:
  • New York Jets Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis' status remains uncertain for Sunday’s game against the Miami Dolphins.
Morning take: The Jets don’t need Revis as much in this game, because Miami doesn’t have the same receivers Pittsburgh has. But this is a big divisional game and the Jets need all their good players.
Morning take: That’s a good question. I don’t know what team that was last weekend in a loss to the Arizona Cardinals. New England won’t win many games playing that way. But the Patriots rarely play poorly two games in a row.
Morning take: Starks came in a lighter and motivated, and he’s off to a good start. Teams will have a tough time running up the middle against Starks and Paul Soliai this season.
Morning take: Buffalo is running the ball very effectively and needs to keep that the focus of the offense. The Bills need to run the ball on the road to beat the Cleveland Browns this week.

Updating AFC East injuries

September, 13, 2012
Here are the latest injury updates for Week 2 in the AFC East:

Buffalo Bills

With tailback Fred Jackson definitely out, the biggest name to watch this week is defensive tackle Marcell Dareus. His brother was shot and killed earlier this week, but Dareus returned to practice Thursday and expects to play. Rookie receiver T.J. Graham will replace the injured David Nelson (knee), who went on injured reserve.

Miami Dolphins

Backup running back Daniel Thomas suffered a concussion and could miss Sunday's game. He's been held out of practice for two straight days. That means rookie Lamar Miller could spell Reggie Bush against the Oakland Raiders. Dolphins defensive tackle Tony McDaniel (knee) also has missed practices Wednesday and Thursday. Receiver Anthony Armstrong was added to the injury report with a hamstring injury.

New England Patriots

Backup tailback Shane Vereen returned to practice this week on a limited basis. He could provide depth and explosiveness in New England’s backfield. Starting guard Dan Connolly's status also is in question after suffering a head injury. Connolly practiced on a limited basis Thursday but sat out Wednesday's practice.

New York Jets

The biggest injury name to watch is Jets Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis (concussion), who did not practice for the second straight day. New York head coach Rex Ryan said Thursday the team probably won’t determine Revis’ playing status until Saturday. So he is pretty much a game-time decision. Tight end Dustin Keller (hamstring) and safety LaRon Landry (heel) both sat out Thursday but are just managing injuries. Defensive tackle Sione Pouha is practicing and looks like a go after missing Week 1.