AFC East: Jake Locker

No fines for hits that injured Hoyer, Manuel

October, 6, 2013
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Three quarterbacks were lost to injury this past week, but the message from the NFL proved that while passers are a protected species in the NFL they also have to protect themselves on the run.

Proof: Jake Locker's hip injury in the pocket resulted in fines to the Jets' Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples. The Browns' Brian Hoyer tore his ACL on an awkward slide to unsuccessfully avoid a hit from Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso.

Then Bills quarterback EJ Manuel was lost for a month or more when he was hit square on the knee by Browns safety Tashaun Gipson, who suggested after the game it was a payback hit.

Nevertheless, the league has confirmed to ESPN's Chris Mortensen that neither Gipson nor Alonso was fined and determined officials also were correct in not throwing penalty flags on the plays that hurt Hoyer and Manuel.

Halftime thoughts: Back to reality

September, 29, 2013
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NASHVILLE -- A few thoughts on the New York Jets, down 24-6 at halftime to the Tennessee Titans:

1. The mirage: Everyone was giddy after last week's win over the Buffalo Bills. When are people going to learn? The Jets always look good against the Bills, creating a false sense of superiority. The Titans knocked them back to reality from the outset. The first half was reminiscent of last years' December debacle in Nashville.

2. Geno Sanchez: Rookie quarterback Geno Smith committed three turnovers (two interceptions, one fumble in the open field), resulting in short-field touchdowns for the Titans. They converted the mistakes into 21 points. One interception was an underthrow on a deep route to Stephen Hill, and the other was a poor decision, a throw into blanket coverage. Cornerback Alterraun Verner made both interceptions. This is what happens when you have a rookie at quarterback: severe growing pains. Smith gets little help from coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who continues to let him throw.

3. Bad defense: The Jets went into the game more concerned about Jake Locker's legs than his arm. Big mistake. Locker picked apart Rex Ryan's defense, throwing a career-high three touchdowns in the first half. It was a terrific game plan by the Titans, who surprised the Jets with their short-passing attack. It neutralized the Jets' pass rush and found soft spots in the secondary.

4. More push-ups: Looks like Ryan's penalty-prevention program did not do the trick. One week after setting a franchise record with 20 penalties, the Jets committed eight (one declined). The lack of discipline has to be alarming, considering how much emphasis was placed on the issue.

Double Coverage: Jets at Titans

September, 27, 2013
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Jake Locker and Bilal PowellUSA TODAY SportsJake Locker, left, and Bilal Powell hope to build on big games when their teams meet Sunday.
Preseason expectations for the New York Jets and the Tennessee Titans were poor, at best. Rex Ryan and Mike Munchak were at the top of the list of coaches on the hot seat. They had questions at quarterback and critics wondering about the caliber of their defensive playmakers.

Those questions still exist.

But three games into the season, entering a head-to-head matchup in Nashville, each stands at 2-1. They each won last week despite major penalty problems.

The Titans' offseason included more than $100 million spent on a big group of free agents and a revamping of the coaching staff, including the addition of senior assistant/defense Gregg Williams.

The Jets were much about turmoil, particularly with the drafting of quarterback Geno Smith and his competition with Mark Sanchez. To set up the game, ESPN.com Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky and Jets reporter Rich Cimini got together to break things down:

Paul Kuharsky: How, Rich, have the Jets pulled off this start after such an ugly offseason?

Rich Cimini: You're right, Paul, it was an ugly offseason. Ugly preseason, too, with a rigged quarterback competition that ended with Sanchez's shoulder injury. But to its credit, this team has stayed focused and confident. It's too early to say the Jets have arrived, but they're playing good defense. For a change, they actually have a front three/four that can put pressure on the quarterback. In the past, Ryan had to rely on exotic blitzes to generate the heat. Now he has a young, talented defensive line led by Muhammad Wilkerson. Seven of their eight sacks last week came on four-man rushes. The offense exploded last week, for one of the most prolific days in team history -- if you can believe it -- but I think a lot of that can be attributed to a lousy Buffalo secondary. Smith has a big arm, but he's prone to two or three big mistakes per game. He already has seven turnovers, compared to none for Jake Locker. What can you say about Locker's development?

Kuharsky: He's really made nice, steady progress. I like my quarterback to do more than not make giant mistakes, and Locker showed last week that he might be capable of more. The Titans love his intangibles. In a lot of ways, they drafted him because he's the anti-Vince Young. Locker prepares well, works hard, understands the hard parts of being an NFL quarterback and earns the respect of his teammates and coaches. He's blazing fast and can really throw. He changed protections twice in the game-winning drive against San Diego, which is real progress. Still, it's a run-first team that wants to hand the ball to Chris Johnson and, when he's healthy, Shonn Greene. (I know Jets fans are sad he's out this week.) The Titans rebuilt their interior line to protect better, but even more so, they can establish and count on the run. How is the Jets' front as a run-stopping group, and how are the Jets running the ball to take some of the burden off the rookie quarterback?

Cimini: Bilal Powell is coming off a career day (149 rushing yards), but offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg isn't married to the idea of running the ball to take pressure off Smith. He has been pretty aggressive with his play calling, allowing Smith to attack downfield. In fact, he has nine completions on attempts that went 21 yards or longer, tied with Aaron Rodgers for the league lead. As for stopping the run, the front seven is doing a nice job. It's a younger, faster front seven than the one you saw last December in Nashville. Linebacker DeMario Davis, nose tackle Damon Harrison and rookie defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson have injected much-needed speed into the defense. They have held a couple of good backs in check, namely Doug Martin and C.J. Spiller. I'm really curious to see how they handle Locker and Johnson. Talk to me about the Titans' defense. Sounds like Williams has brought a different dynamic.

Kuharsky: Yeah, Jerry Gray might still have the defensive coordinator title and might still be calling the game. But the Titans are running stuff he never thought to install or call on his own, and they've got an attitude he wasn't able to instill without Williams. The Titans are blitzing more, they are playing more press coverage, they are hitting harder, they are more assertive and their confidence and swagger is well beyond what we saw last season. Williams is completely in the background, low-keying it. If the defense plays as it has, he could re-emerge as a candidate for coordinator jobs after just one year back from his suspension. Rex seems to have backed off the crazy pronouncements and is more low-key himself. Same guy being a bit more guarded, or is there more change to it than that?

Cimini: Ryan is in self-preservation mode. He has a new boss, general manager John Idzik, a buttoned-down guy whose objective was to send the circus out of town. He has changed the culture around the organization, and Ryan has bought into that mentality. So yes, the old bravado is gone. Selfishly, as a reporter, I liked the old Rex because he gave us plenty to write about. Another reason for the change in his approach, I think, is he realizes this is a fairly young team (three or four rookies in the starting lineup) and he doesn't want to put extra pressure on them by making outrageous statements. As a result, it's a lot quieter around here. Bummer.

Kuharsky: It’s always quiet down here, Rich. Hopefully, someone will make some sort of noise Sunday. I’m thinking it’s unlikely to be a Jets receiver. I know Stephen Hill did some good work against the Bills. But the Titans' pass rush and coverage might be fine against Smith and his receivers. They don’t rate very well, do they?

Cimini: Astute observation, Paul. The Jets picked on a couple of backup cornerbacks for the Bills, racking up numbers you'd expect to see from Peyton Manning and the Broncos. It won't be that easy against the Titans. Hill is talented, yes, but he's wildly inconsistent. He'll make your heart race with a big play, but he'll also break it with an easy drop. Santonio Holmes remains their best receiver. Last week's big game notwithstanding, he's not the Holmes of a few years ago, still not 100 percent after foot surgery. Bottom line: This is still a receiving corps with questions.

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W2W4: Jets at Titans

September, 27, 2013
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It's Mirror City in the Music City.

There are many similarities between the New York Jets and Tennessee Titans, who play Sunday in a 4 p.m. kickoff at LP Field in Nashville: Both teams are a surprising 2-1. Both began the season with coaches on the hot seat. Both have young, developing quarterbacks. Both play aggressive, man-to-man schemes on defense. And both are highly penalized. For the Jets, it's their third straight opponent that won the previous week in the final seconds.

What to watch for:

1. Statement game: If the Jets want people to take them seriously, they need to go on the road and beat a middle-of-the-road team like the Titans. This is a very winnable game for the young Jets, who are starting to show skeptics that maybe, just maybe they can do something this season. They have to win these swing games because the schedule is about to get a lot tougher. If they can hit the quarter pole at 3-1, it changes the complexion of the season.

[+] EnlargeNew York's Geno Smith
Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY SportsGeno Smith passed for 331 yards, 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions last week against the Bills.
2. Big-play Geno: Geno Smith made the Buffalo Bills pay dearly last week for putting eight in the box and playing man-to-man on the outside. He'll see a lot of the same looks from the Titans, who decided to change their defensive philosophy after allowing a franchise-record 471 points last season. But the difference is that the Titans' cornerbacks, Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner, are better than the scrubs rolled out by the depleted Bills.

In other words, it'll be a challenge for the Jets' wideouts, Stephen Hill in particular, to get clean releases and into their routes on time. The X factor could be tight end Kellen Winslow, especially in the red zone. The Titans had some trouble last week with San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, so don't be surprised if Marty Mornhinweg tries to feature Winslow in the passing game.

3. Beware, the blitz: The Titans will bring pressure out of their 4-3 front. They've blitzed on nearly 50 percent of their passing downs, significantly higher than last season. Call it the Gregg Williams factor. The disgraced former coordinator of the New Orleans Saints (see: Bounty Gate) doesn't call the plays, but there's no denying his presence has made an impact on the Titans' defensive mentality.

Outside linebackers Akeem Ayers and Zach Brown are fast, active players, sometimes used in zone-blitz situations. The front four is led by defensive end Derrick Morgan, who will be matched against right tackle Austin Howard. Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey is a strong interior pass-rusher. The Jets' offensive line played a clean game last week (no sacks), but this will be a tougher challenge, especially on the road.

4. Make him the 'Hurt' Locker: Jake Locker is a great athlete still learning to play quarterback (only 11 career starts), but his confidence is soaring after last week's come-from-behind win in the final two minutes. Folks in Nashville are saying it could be the turning point in his career. Really? Locker remains a limited passer who, somehow, has managed to avoid turnovers. That's right, no turnovers in three games, compared to seven for Smith. The Jets aim to end Locker's streak. Rex Ryan has been preaching takeaways from the minute last week's game ended. (The defense has only one takeaway, which is unacceptable.)

The trick is keeping Locker in the pocket, forcing him to be a passer. His passer rating actually is significantly lower when he has extra time in the pocket, according to ProFootballFocus. If he breaks contain, watch out. He rushed for 68 yards last week, including a brilliant, 39-yard scramble. You might recall he scored a rushing touchdown against the Jets in last December's debacle.

5. Avoid the killer breakdowns: Each week, the Jets suffer one or two defensive lapses that result in a big play. It usually shows up in the form of a busted coverage, which happened in Weeks 1 and 2. Last week they fell asleep and let Fred Jackson escape a pile-up for a 59-yard run. They can't do that when Chris Johnson has the ball in his hands. To reinforce the point, Ryan can show the clip of last year's meeting, when Johnson turned a routine, off-tackle play into a 94-yard touchdown. He leads the AFC in rushing (256 yards), but there haven't been any splash plays. The Jets need to keep it that way.

The Titans are a ground-and-pound offense (where have we heard that before?), running behind their two new guards, free-agent addition Andy Levitre and No. 1 pick Chance Warmack. The center is ex-Jet Rob Turner, whose shotgun snaps have been shaky. They've had some problems with inside stunting, something the Jets might try to exploit. Levitre, Turner and Warmack already have allowed 26 pressures, per PFF.

Rex to defense: Get the ball!

September, 25, 2013
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The New York Jets' defense was feeling pretty good about itself after its eight-sack demolition of Bills rookie quarterback EJ Manuel, but the postgame celebration was shattered by a challenge from coach Rex Ryan.

"Rex got on the defense about creating turnovers," defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson said Wednesday.

The Jets are ranked third in total defense, doing a lot of nice things, but they've struggled with takeaways -- only two in three games, none in the past two. To be recognized as an elite defense, they need to do a better job of forcing turnovers. Sacks are great. Three-and-outs are nice. But you need game-changing plays.

"That's been a big emphasis this week," rush linebacker Quinton Coples said.

It should be.

The Jets face the Tennessee Titans, who have yet to commit a turnover. Obviously, Jake Locker has done a terrific job of protecting the football -- one of three starting quarterbacks with no interceptions -- but he'll face a defense that's starting to mature.

A defense that prides itself on making life miserable for quarterbacks. The Jets have caused problems for the Bucs' Josh Freeman (benched Wednesday), the Patriots' Tom Brady and, of course, Manuel, who combined completed only 47 percent of their passes against the Jets and were sacked 12 times.

"We go into every game with the same intention -- stop the quarterback," linebacker DeMario Davis said.

If a quarterback can't solve the Jets' scheme, nose tackle Damon Harrison said, he's "like a deer in the headlights."

Quite simply, the Jets have to do a better job of getting their hands on the football. In fact, they've had only six pass break-ups. That's surprisingly low, considering the improved pass rush. In theory, the quarterbacks -- under increased pressure -- should be making bad decisions with the ball. But that hasn't happened yet.

Video: Jets at Titans preview

December, 15, 2012
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Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden preview the New York Jets at the Tennessee Titans on "Monday Night Football."

Morning take: Aaron Hernandez returns

November, 8, 2012
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Here are the most interesting stories Thursday in the AFC East: Morning take: Hernandez hasn’t been the same since his tough ankle injury. He missed the Patriots’ last game against the St. Louis Rams but should be back after the bye week.
  • Surprise! Former quarterback Joe Namath is back to ripping the New York Jets again.
Morning take: This is the most predictable news of the week. Namath has been a longtime detractor of his former team. This time he goes after owner Woody Johnson.
Morning take: Tennessee must find out if Locker, a former first-round pick, is the long-term solution. Miami’s defense has a chance to confuse and batter Locker in his first game from injury.
Morning take: The Bills haven’t been to the playoffs since 1999. That streak will probably continue in 2012 unless the Bills have a sudden turnaround. It would have to start this week against the Patriots.

Seven-step drop: How good are the Jets?

September, 10, 2012
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Here are seven notes and observations from Week 1 in the AFC East:

  • There was an “I told you so” attitude with the New York Jets after their 48-28 blowout of the Buffalo Bills Sunday. Not only did the Jets (1-0) prove a lot of skeptics wrong in Week 1, but they did it against a Buffalo (0-1) team that received a lot of good press and offseason hype. It’s only one game, but the big question now is, “How good is New York?” The Jets were picked by many to be a third-place team in the AFC East and to finish around .500 this year. But they look dangerous when playing complementary football. It was a complete performance by the Jets Sunday where the offense fed off the defense, which also fed off special teams. If this is the type of Jets team we will see consistently, then perhaps the Jets are better than most thought. We could have a better indication of where New York stands next week when the Jets travel to play the Pittsburgh Steelers (0-1).
  • Also, the Jets’ receiving corps deserves a lot of credit for its production. Santonio Holmes, rookie Stephen Hill and Jeremy Kerley consistently schooled Buffalo’s young cornerbacks. The Jets had receivers running free regularly on Sunday, even during incompletions. New York quarterback Mark Sanchez did a good job taking care of the football and taking chances deep at the right time. Holmes, Hill and Kerley all had at least four receptions. “It was a great performance by us,” Holmes said. “The game plan went really smooth this week. Guys were paying attention to details. Everything just felt great and we put on a show.”
  • [+] EnlargeMario Williams
    Kellen Micah/ICON SMIMario Williams, right, took issue with the way Austin Howard pass blocked on Sunday.
    How did Jets' unknown offensive tackle Austin Howard keep Bills Pro Bowl defensive end Mario Williams at bay? According to Williams, Howard cheated. “Pass blocking doesn’t consist of using your hands to the face on every play,” Williams said afterwards. Howard, with some help, pitched a shutout against Williams, who was held to just one tackle with zero sacks and one quarterback pressure. Williams made a point to say Howard illegally and consistently used hands to the face as his primary method. According to Williams, he told the replacement officials on several occasions. “You don’t listen or even call it one time out of the 20 that were there?” a frustrated Williams said. “That’s really disheartening for everyone.” Jets head coach Rex Ryan had a different take. “Austin Howard played a tremendous game,” Ryan said. “Maybe he made a name for himself today.”
  • The look on Bills receiver David Nelson’s face said it all in the locker room. I wouldn’t be shocked if Nelson is done for an extended period. Nelson was carted off in the fourth quarter. It was a tough way to go out for Buffalo’s second-leading receiver, who is the best slot option the team has. This probably means rookie receiver T.J. Graham has to step up in Nelson’s place. Graham was inactive Sunday against the Jets.
  • Bills head coach Chan Gailey said starting running Fred Jackson’s knee injury wasn’t as serious as Nelson’s. But Jackson didn’t finish the game and his status is in doubt for a big Week 2 matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs (0-1). Jets safety LaRon Landry went low on Jackson, whose leg got caught in the turf. Jackson walked on the sideline after the game but didn’t return. Backup C.J. Spiller looks more than ready for the increased responsibility. Spiller rushed for 169 yards and a touchdown in relief against a tough Jets defense.
  • There may be more good news for the New England Patriots' defense. After pounding young Tennessee Titans quarterback Jake Locker in a season-opening win, Arizona Cardinals starting quarterback John Skelton also was sidelined in Week 1 with a possible high-ankle sprain. That type of injury can keep players out for about a month. But Skelton will most certainly miss next week’s game against the Patriots (1-0) at Gillette Stadium. That paves the way for enigmatic backup Kevin Kolb, who filled in decently on Sunday but has been a bust since signing a big contract with Arizona (1-0).
  • Finally, you have to wonder how much Miami Dolphins left tackle Jake Long's knee is bothering him. He was beat on several plays and looked unusually shaky at times Sunday against the Houston Texans. I’m not worried about Long’s play as much as the injuries piling up. Seventy percent of Long is still better than many left tackles. But it seems the past couple of years Long is playing hurt too often. It’s the second season in a row Long is starting the year banged up. It’s a long season and the Dolphins’ best player already is managing injuries. This is a contract year for Long, and Miami (0-1) has to decide whether it can make Long the highest-paid lineman in the league next season when he’s starting to develop the “injury-prone” label.
The Buffalo Bills against the New York Jets isn’t the only big Week 1 matchup in the AFC East. The reigning AFC champion New England Patriots will travel to Tennessee to face the Titans.

Here are some things Patriots fans need to know about their season-opening opponent:

General outlook: Tennessee is one of those teams that’s hard to gauge. The Titans quietly won nine games last year and challenged the Houston Texans for the top spot in the AFC South. However, Tennessee’s offense is going through a big change at quarterback by starting second-year player Jake Locker. This will be Locker’s first career start, and it’s against Patriots future Hall of Fame coach Bill Belichick, who had nearly two weeks to prepare.

No Britt: Everyone knows the Patriots’ pass defense isn’t great. That is why New England’s corners and safeties caught a nice break when the NFL suspended Titans wide receiver Kenny Britt one game for off-the-field misconduct. Britt, a former first-round draft pick, has the ability to be a No. 1 receiver. But constant distractions off the field and injuries have hurt his impact with the Titans. Taking a talented receiver away from a young quarterback will hurt Tennessee’s chances.

Rushing the QB: Tennessee’s best chance to win this game is getting to Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. New England’s offensive line is in flux at the moment with several players working their way back from injuries. It has not been a smooth preseason in that regard, as Brady took several big shots in limited playing time. The Titans struggled last year rushing the passer. Tennessee was 31st in the NFL with 28 sacks. That’s why the Titans made a key addition to get pass-rushing specialist Kamerion Wimbley, who has 42.5 career sacks.

Overall projection: We are going to hold our firm prediction until later this week, but this should not be the runaway blowout many expect. Yes, the Patriots are the better team. But even good teams can start slow in the regular-season opener, especially on the road. Tennessee’s strengths match up well with New England in some areas and could present some problems.

What contract can rookies expect?

April, 30, 2012
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The NFL draft is in the books, and the next step is to get rookies signed with their new teams. The new rookie wage scale has helped teams sign players much easier. The drama and potential for holdouts have been taken away now that teams, players and agents already know what kind of contract to expect based on their projected slot.

Here is a quick look at what players made last year, and what the latest AFC East rookies can expect:

No. 8 pick: QB Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins

2011 No. 8 pick: QB Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans (four years, $12.58 million)

No. 10 pick: CB Stephon Gilmore, Buffalo Bills

2011 No. 10 pick: QB Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville Jaguars (four years, $12 million)

No. 16 pick: DE Quinton Coples, New York Jets

2011 No. 16 pick: DE Ryan Kerrigan, Washington Redskins (four years, $8.72 million)

No. 21 pick: DE Chandler Jones, New England Patriots

2011 No. 21 pick: DT Phil Taylor, Cleveland Browns (four years, $8.1 million)

No. 25 pick: LB Dont'a Hightower, New England Patriots

2011 No. 25 pick: OT James Carpenter, Seattle Seahawks (four years, $7.641 million)

These contracts are absolute bargains for teams. That is why so many were trading into the top 10 at an unprecedented rate.

Even Miami's pick at No. 8 will be cheap compared to what quarterbacks in the draft usually make. Tannehill will average about $3-$4 million per year on his rookie contract? That’s not much risk for the Dolphins. Other AFC East teams will be risking even less thanks to the rookie wage scale.

Video: Kiper on how Pryor projects in NFL

June, 9, 2011
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ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper explains why Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor will be hurt by not going through the usual draft process of playing in the Senior Bowl, going to the combine and holding pro days.

Kiper says Pryor will be no better than a third- or fourth-round draft choice in the supplemental draft. Kiper calls Pryor's athletic ability "top notch," but adds he "throws some bad balls, makes some bad reads, some bad decisions. ... The pure passing skills you need are not there yet."

Should teams consider Pryor a WR?

June, 3, 2011
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A couple days ago, we took a gander at whether an AFC East club would be interested in grabbing besieged Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor in the supplemental draft.

Chances would be slim anybody would want him at quarterback.

But ESPN analyst Todd McShay offered another perspective: What about as a wide receiver?

McShay isn't convinced Pryor could develop NFL-level passing accuracy or interpretive skills despite tremendous speed and elusiveness. We saw how far that combination took Pat White.

But Pryor is 6-foot-6 and 233 pounds and is athletic enough to become a decent target.

McShay wrote for ESPN Insider:
Because of his size, I still think Pryor is a better prospect at wide receiver than quarterback at this point, and he would have been the No. 8 quarterback on my board -- behind Blaine Gabbert, Cam Newton, Jake Locker, Andy Dalton, Christian Ponder, Ryan Mallett and Colin Kaepernick -- had he chosen to enter the 2011 draft.

Pryor carried a third-round grade following last season (and remains in that area now) based mostly on his potential to move to receiver if he does not make significant progress as a quarterback early in his NFL career, and the odds are stacked heavily against him doing so.

As a couple readers mentioned, maybe Pryor could evolve into the type of player Brad Smith was for the New York Jets, a versatile player who can take snaps out of a pistol formation, return kicks or line up at receiver.

Lockout impact on Mallett, other rookie QBs

June, 1, 2011
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ESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi discussed the importance of informal lockout practices for getting rookie quarterbacks ready to play in 2011.

Bruschi said New England Patriots rookie Ryan Mallett is in the best situation because he won't need to be ready to play on opening day and has time to learn the system from Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick.

"Mallett is going to have the best chance to succeed because he is going to get to sit, he's going to get to watch and he is going to get to learn," Bruschi said. "He's not going to have a lot of pressure on him. So he will just develop slowly, which I believe is what every quarterback should have."

"SportsCenter" host Linda Cohn compared Mallett's situation to that of Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel, a seventh-round draft choice who watched for three years in New England before starting one season and striking it rich.

"You can’t underestimate the value of these young quarterbacks, to be able to sit there and look at a professional like a Peyton Manning or a Tom Brady, to see how they approach their craft," Bruschi said. "They learn. They process it all up here. And when their chance comes, that's when they can cash it all in."

AFC East reader mock pretty much a failure

May, 2, 2011
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For six weeks leading into the draft, I compiled your votes for an AFC East reader mock that would be measured against ESPN experts Mel Kiper and Todd McShay.

We got crushed.

Mightily.

AFC East readers correctly predicted only three selections: Auburn quarterback Cam Newton first to the Carolina Panthers, Louisiana State cornerback Patrick Peterson fifth to the Arizona Cardinals and USC tackle Tyron Smith ninth to the Dallas Cowboys.

That's right. Shut out in the division.

Kiper delivered nine picks in the correct slots, although three of them went to wrong teams because of trades. McShay got eight slots right with two going to the wrong team.

Therefore, Kiper and McShay each had six bull's-eyes.

Procedural circumstances hurt the AFC East reader mock draft a little. We started back in March, choosing a player every weekday until we were done. Once a selection was made, it was locked in.

Kiper and McShay, meanwhile, had the ability to constantly tweak. At one point, each predicted Alabama running back Mark Ingram to the Miami Dolphins at No. 15 -- just like readers of the AFC East blog. But Kiper and McShay eventually switched to the winning pick, Florida center Mike Pouncey.

But the competition was so one-sided, I doubt tweaking would've helped much.

I came up with this scoring system to give credit for picks that were close and to account for trades:
  • 5 points: bull's-eye (player and team)
  • 4 points: player to right team/different slot or player in right slot/different team
  • 3 points: player taken within one slot of projected pick
  • 2 points: player taken within two slots of projected pick
  • 1 point: player taken within three slots of projected pick

That gave the AFC East blog 26 points with three bull's-eyes, two players within a slot, two players within two slots and one player within three slots.

Of the 24 remaining guesses, six of them weren't taken in the first round at all. The good news is that Kiper and McShay also whiffed on four of the same ones: Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers, Arizona defensive end Brooks Reed, UCLA outside linebacker Akeem Ayers and Texas cornerback Aaron Williams.

Kiper racked up 48 points, powered by having the first six picks slotted correctly.

McShay accumulated 50 points with my system. He couldn't match Kiper's hot start, but caught him in the second half. McShay nailed the Cameron Heyward to the Pittsburgh Steelers with the 31st pick.

When considering the worst miss, AFC East blog readers had Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder going to the Buffalo Bills at No. 34 (we allowed two bonus predictions because AFC East teams had the first two picks of the second round). Ponder went 12th to the Minnesota Vikings. The 22-spot differential was the largest of any player in the three mocks.

Readers also failed to include Washington quarterback Jake Locker in the first round, and he went eighth overall to the Tennessee Titans.

Buffalo's QB option didn't materialize

April, 30, 2011
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills general manager Buddy Nix said "there were some shockers" when it came to first-round quarterbacks.

Those surprises, however, didn't take Buffalo off the quarterback scent.

The chance to take Alabama defensive lineman Marcell Dareus with the third pick played a bigger role in their decision not to get a quarterback within the first two rounds.

"We didn't think Marcell would be there," Nix said Friday night, minutes after taking Texas cornerback Aaron Williams. "Now, the whole thing, leading up to it until the last day or two, we thought he'd be gone. But when [Auburn quarterback Cam] Newton was gone and [Dareus] was there, it was an easy pick."

Whispers around One Bills Drive were that the Bills would look hard at a quarterback at No. 3 or go with a defender there and then try to get a quarterback at No. 34.

The latter option became less likely when Washington quarterback Jake Locker went eighth to the Tennessee Titans, Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert went 10th to the Jacksonville Jaguars and Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder went 12th to the Minnesota Vikings.

It was the first time three quarterbacks went within the first 10 picks since 1999 and only the third time it ever happened in NFL history.

"We're to the point -- and I think I said this a lot of times -- with the first pick, we wanted a franchise guy," Nix said. "If he wasn't there, then we were going to get better on defense and work on needs if the right guy was there."

Nix conceded the Bills still have to address quarterback at some point. They have only two -- incumbent starter Ryan Fitzpatrick and sophomore project Levi Brown -- under contract.

"We are still going to go to camp with probably four quarterbacks," Nix said. "So that's not to say we won't take one in the draft, but it's also not to say we wouldn't go after a veteran to be a backup for us and then take another arm to camp. It might be a college free agent."

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