AFC East: James Dearth
No wonder head coach Rex Ryan was bemoaning a lack of leadership in the latest episode of "Hard Knocks."
On Sunday, the Jets released veteran fullback Tony Richardson -- a day after he survived the cutdown deadline for the 53-man roster.
Richardson is trying to play a 16th NFL season. He was outplayed by rookie John Conner, but it was clear watching "Hard Knocks" the Jets coaching staff viewed Richardson as highly important to the 2010 cause. He was considered perhaps the most prominent leader in the locker room.
"Each season, there are difficult choices when constructing the 53-man roster, and this year is no exception," Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum said in a statement. "We appreciate Tony's contributions and leadership over the past two seasons and have nothing but the highest respect for him as a person and as a player."
The Jets also waived running back Chauncey Washington and receiver David Clowney. The dismissals cleared way for three waiver pickups: receiver Patrick Turner from the Miami Dolphins, tackle Patrick Brown from the Minnesota Vikings and defensive tackle Marcus Dixon from the Dallas Cowboys.
Richardson joined a long list of veterans who aren't around from a roster that was good enough to get the Jets to the AFC Championship Game, among them running back Thomas Jones (10 seasons), guard Alan Faneca (12 seasons), defensive end Marques Douglas (nine seasons), kicker Jay Feely (nine seasons) and long snapper James Dearth (nine seasons).
In fact, of the 10 most experienced players on the Jets' final roster last year, including injured reserve, only three remain: right tackle Damien Woody, nose tackle Kris Jenkins and defensive end Shaun Ellis.
Granted, the Jets did add veterans via free agency. Quarterback Mark Brunell is entering his 18th season, running back LaDainian Tomlinson his 10th and pass-rusher Jason Taylor his 14th. But all of them were signed with the intention to be backups.
You have to wonder whether the Jets have over-tinkered their roster.
CORTLAND, N.Y. -- There's a healthy chance you're already sick of the New York Jets.
You're sick of their loudmouth coach, sick of their hotshot quarterback, sick of their trash-talking defense, sick of their wheeler-dealer general manager, sick of hearing about their HBO series, sick of their delirious fans.
Get used to it all. They're not going away.
Every team wants to kiss the Lombardi Trophy, but the Jets have drawn the disdain of 31 other teams and their fans by being so cocksure about their plans.
Whether the Jets win a championship or crash and burn on their approach, they'll remain the NFL's most fascinating team in 2010. Win or lose, they're going to be a season-long story.
"That's our own expectations," Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez said on the first day of training camp at SUNY Cortland. "That's why we feed off of it. It's our own mentality, that Super Bowl-champion mentality. That's what we want, and that's what we're striving for. ... Now, we need to do it every day and prove it."
THREE HOT ISSUES
The Jets hope he matured considerably over the offseason. To help him along as a passer, they added receivers Santonio Holmes and Laveranues Coles and out-of-the-backfield target LaDainian Tomlinson.
Sanchez still has to make the right calls and decisions. Coaches and teammates note his indefatigable work ethic.
And there's no disputing how impressive he appeared down the 2009 homestretch. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer corralled him in time to salvage the season. Although Sanchez had more than 20 attempts in only three games after Thanksgiving, the Jets won six of those eight outings, two of them on the road in the playoffs.
Sanchez will need to shoulder much more responsibility this year. How he handles being the leading man of a Super Bowl contender will determine the Jets' fate.
2. How will Darrelle Revis' holdout affect the season? There's a belief among the Jets their defense will take care of itself. As nose tackle Kris Jenkins pointed out before training camp began, fans swooned when he suffered a season-ending knee injury six games into last season, but the Jets still finished with the NFL's top-rated total defense, scoring defense and pass defense.
Revis, of course, played an integral part. Maybe the most integral part.
All he did was establish himself as the preeminent shutdown cornerback. Revis was so good at shutting down the other team's top receivers, the Jets never had to worry about double-covering. That, in effect, gave them an extra defender to use however they wanted.
The Jets have cornerback depth to help them cope if Revis holds out into the season. They traded for cornerback Antonio Cromartie, a sensational cover corner (though not nearly the run defender Revis is). Dwight Lowery and first-round draft pick Kyle Wilson are capable.
But none of them are as good as Revis is. His return would provide invaluable peace of mind.
Or so you would think. Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum got rid of a few starters with big voices in the locker room. Gone were the lead running back on the NFL's top ground attack (Thomas Jones), a perennial Pro Bowl left guard (Alan Faneca), a starting safety (Kerry Rhodes) and a respected kicker (Jay Feely).
The Jets made some high-profile acquisitions, too. But perhaps the two biggest moves, Holmes and Cromartie, were poaching other teams' misfits. They also signed Tomlinson and outside linebacker Jason Taylor, classy veterans but with question marks about what they have left.
Other than references to his nickname, not much was written or said about Kentucky fullback John Conner when the Jets drafted him in the fifth round. The Jets had re-signed Tony Richardson for a 17th season, and they wouldn't bring him back if he wasn't going to keep his job, right?
Richardson might be on the bubble. Ryan has been diplomatic in speaking about Richardson's value to the Jets as a locker-room leader, but there's no doubt Ryan loves The Terminator. Conner has been a thumper in camp. Conner will make the team, and keeping two fullbacks is a luxury.
Revis' holdout is a shame on multiple levels. Both sides are standing by principles that are fully understandable. Revis is the NFL's best defender and wants to be paid as such. The Jets, meanwhile, have a signed contract that lasts three more years and refuse to consider as any kind of standard the Oakland Raiders' ridiculous deal with Nnamdi Asomugha, the league's highest-paid cornerback.
Unless they can reach a compromise or the Jets win the Super Bowl without him, both sides will forever regret this dispute. The Jets have a chance to win their first championship in four decades, and Revis might never get this kind of shot to win a title regardless of where he finishes his career.
- An overlooked roster maneuver that could prove significant is the decision not to bring back trusty long-snapper James Dearth. The Jets brought in youngster Tanner Purdum, who has been inconsistent. Jets kicker Nick Folk doesn't need his rhythm disrupted.
- I'm not saying Braylon Edwards' problems with drops have been solved, but he displayed great hands in the practices I saw. Maybe receivers coach Henry Ellard has helped him figure it out.
- Undrafted rookie tight end Jeff Cumberland looks like the total package at times. He's 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds at his Illinois pro day. He does make an occasional mental error, but he popped out in team drills.
- Shonn Greene will have to catch a few passes to keep defenses honest. Greene has terrible hands, something he and Ryan have joked about. But if he's going to be the featured back, he'll need to grab one here or there.
- I'm hesitant to believe Ryan's glowing comments on Vernon Gholston two training camps in a row, but I will say Gholston seems to have a role he can handle as a defensive end on passing downs. He can just chase the quarterbacks. But after two years at outside linebacker, he is versatile enough to drop into coverage if the Jets want to get tricky.
- It's fun to listen to backup quarterback Mark Brunell bark out the signals. He's a master of the hard count, a skill Sanchez is trying to learn. When Brunell walks to the line of scrimmage, there's a good chance the equipment managers will commit a false start.
- Overheard from a fan along the rail at SUNY Cortland: "Check out No. 58 in his sweatpants. You know Shonn Greene's going to run him over. Guy's got no shot." Sweatpants in the sweltering heat aside, Jets fans need to remember No. 58 is starting outside linebacker Bryan Thomas. He swapped out of his usual No. 99 for Taylor.
- I predict the second-most important defensive acquisition -- behind Cromartie -- won't be Taylor, but safety Brodney Pool. The free-agent pickup from Cleveland is dangerous on a blitz and will get his hands on some passes.
- The New England Patriots didn't make a mistake when they dumped quarterback Kevin O'Connell last year, 16 months after drafting him in the third round. The Detroit Lions claimed him on waivers and traded him to the Jets. They kept him on the roster as their fourth quarterback. He would appear to be in line for a promotion to third string, but O'Connell has looked no better this summer than he did when he was fresh out of San Diego State.
"NFL Total Access" host Rich Eisen asked Jenkins to advise nervous Jets fans how to approach a season full of expectations but also question marks because of such key departures as running backs Thomas Jones and Leon Washington, guard Alan Faneca and safety Kerry Rhodes.
"If we win, then you get all your dreams coming true. If we lose, then you all get to do what you've been doing for a long time and talk about us until you basically run us out of the city. So you're going to get what you want either way. But we're going for a Super Bowl. So sit back, enjoy the ride. We're planning on doing it big."
Jenkins continued with a curious and disparaging comment about players who have left -- without naming names.
"We have great guys who have come in to step up, to fill in the void of some of these big losses that we have had this season," Jenkins said.
"Then in some other cases, we've had some real men come in and step in for the women that we lost. So we're going to be OK. Don't worry about it."
Jenkins probably was being that aforementioned clown, but Eisen didn't follow up with another question to clarify who Jenkins was referring to. Some players left on rougher terms than others. Many Jets weren't pleased to see guys like Jones, Faneca and kicker Jay Feely leave.
Rhodes would be a good guess as to one player Jenkins meant. But Jenkins did say "women" plural.
For the record, Jets who were on the final 2009 roster but not currently with the team (in addition to those listed above) are receiver Wallace Wright, defensive tackler Howard Green, defensive end Marques Douglas, linebackers Marques Murrell and Ryan Fowler, cornerbacks Lito Sheppard and Donald Strickland, special-teams ace Larry Izzo and long snapper James Dearth.
Douglas reportedly will re-sign with the Jets later this week.
Coach Chan Gailey says he still hasn't spoken with Marshawn Lynch. Meanwhile, safety Donte Whitner says he saw Lynch two days ago but that he doesn't know what to expect from the running back.
Unheralded and undrafted, running back Joique Bell from Wayne State in Detroit is ready to compete for a roster spot.
Linebacker Paul Posluszny wants to add some weight and bulk before starting the season.
Even though wide receiver Brandon Marshall is still recovering from hip surgery, a Friday practice session should have Miami fans excited.
Backup quarterback Tyler Thigpen finally has a real quarterback coach.
Former Miami greats Jake Scott and Bill Stanfill will be added to the team's Honor Roll.
New England Patriots
Wes Welker's recovery from a torn ACL and MCL is going better than expected.
Patriots sign their seventh-round draft pick Thomas Welch.
New York Jets
Fifth-round draft pick John Conner inks a four-year deal worth $1.99 million.
Darrelle Revis may have avoided Thursday's practice, and HBO's cameras, on purpose.
Former Jets long snapper James Dearth contemplates what might be the end of his career.
Potential unrestricted free agents: DE Ryan Denney, LB Chris Draft, DB Todd Johnson, G Seth McKinney, WR Terrell Owens, WR Josh Reed, S Bryan Scott, G Kendall Simmons, LB Josh Stamer.
Potential restricted free agents: LB Keith Ellison, QB Gibran Hamdan, G Richie Incognito, TE Joe Klopfenstein, TE Derek Schouman, T Jonathan Scott, S George Wilson, CB Ashton Youboty.
Franchise player: None.
What to expect: The Bills are in a rebuilding mode and shouldn't be in too much of a hurry to sign their free agents. In fact, they took the unusual step of publicly announcing they wouldn't offer Owens, Reed or Denney contracts. The most attractive players are Incognito and Wilson. Most of the rest were bit players and injury replacements.
Potential unrestricted free agents: NT Jason Ferguson, CB Nate Jones, QB Chad Pennington, OLB Jason Taylor.
Potential restricted free agents: RB Ronnie Brown, TE Anthony Fasano, OLB Quentin Moses.
Franchise player: None.
What to expect: The Dolphins have a tough decision to make on Ferguson. He'll turn 36 during the 2010 season and is coming off a serious quadriceps injury. Without him, however, the Dolphins have a massive void in their 3-4 defense at a position that's difficult to replace. Pennington, Jones and Taylor all could be gone.
New England Patriots
Potential unrestricted free agents: OLB Tully Banta-Cain, CB Leigh Bodden, OLB Derrick Burgess, RB Kevin Faulk, DE Jarvis Green, P Chris Hanson, G Stephen Neal, ILB Junior Seau, TE Benjamin Watson.
Potential restricted free agents: K Stephen Gostkowski, G Logan Mankins, OLB Pierre Woods.
Franchise player: NT Vince Wilfork.
What to expect: Several starters are about to go up for bids, and the Patriots can't keep them all. Expect Faulk to be re-signed without much fuss. Neal, Bodden and Banta-Cain comprise a group they'd have trouble replacing. All three could fetch offers the Patriots would rather not match. Don't count on Watson coming back.
New York Jets
Potential unrestricted free agents: LS James Dearth, DE Marques Douglas, K Jay Feely, LB Ryan Fowler, TE Ben Hartsock, LB Larry Izzo, FB Tony Richardson.
Potential restricted free agents: QB Kellen Clemens, CB Drew Coleman, WR Braylon Edwards, DT Howard Green, T Wayne Hunter, WR Brad Smith, S Eric Smith, RB Leon Washington.
Franchise player: None.
What to expect: As a "final eight" team, the Jets have to window shop until one of their UFAs sign elsewhere. General manager Mike Tannenbaum is creative. Don't be surprised if the Jets use trades to upgrade. The key restricted free agent to monitor will be Washington, who received a second-round tender. His agent has been tweeting alarms the Pro Bowler could sign an offer sheet and dare the Jets to match.
It's difficult to see anything happening to make any of these selections look premature.
Teammates selected NFL defensive player of the year candidate Darrelle Revis for the Curtis Martin MVP Award and running back Thomas Jones for the Dennis Byrd Most Inspirational Player Award
Revis has been a lights-out defender all year. His six interceptions are tied for fifth in the NFL, and his 36 passes defensed lead the league by a comfortable margin.
Thomas was last year's team MVP for leading the AFC in rushing. A significant dropoff was expected for the 31-year-old power back, but he anchored a run offense that ranks first in the NFL. He ranks fifth individually with 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Inside linebacker David Harris received the Ed Block Courage Award. Left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson was given the Marty Lyons Award for Community Service. Long-snapper James Dearth was honored with the Kyle Clifton Good Guy Award.
For the first time in five years, J'Nathan Bullock pulled a helmet over his ears.
"It messed with all sorts of things," Bullock said Saturday by phone from the New York Jets facility in Florham Park, N.J.. "My neck, my vision, my timing, everything was off. I'm still getting used to it.
"Today, I woke up with a sore neck and my head was banging."
While most participants in this weekend's rookie camp can strap on their equipment as easily as most folks slip into a pair of loafers, Bullock is relearning even the simplest routines.
Bullock hasn't played football since high school. The Jets signed him as an undrafted rookie in hopes of turning him into a tight end.
Bullock was a 6-foot-5, 240-pound power forward at Cleveland State. He led the Vikings into the second round of the NCAA basketball tournament by averaging 15.2 points and 7.1 rebounds a game.
When he took off his football pads for the last time at Flint Northern High in Michigan, he figured it was forever.
"There weren't any thoughts about the NFL marinating," Bullock said.
Shortly after Cleveland State was eliminated from the tournament, he received queries from the Buffalo Bills and Chicago Bears.
That got him wondering.
"It caused some deep thought," Bullock said. "The idea resonated in my mind when actual teams started talking to me.
"I had aspirations to play in the NBA, but I took a turn. That's life."
Because Cleveland State doesn't offer football -- pro-football-reference.com lists no alumni in its database -- Bullock staged a workout for NFL scouts on the campus soccer pitch.
With visions of discovering the next Antonio Gates, a Kent State hoopster who went on to star for the San Diego Chargers, over half the league was represented at Bullock's workout. But Bullock said only the Jets sent a position coach. That won him over.
Bullock's goal is to make the 53-man roster. The Jets need help at tight end. Their depth chart consists of Dustin Keller and James Dearth, a long snapper with three catches in nine NFL seasons. The Jets released Chris Baker and haven't re-signed Bubba Franks.
The Jets didn't draft any tight ends. They brought in only Bullock, Utah State's Rob Myers and Arkansas' Andrew Davie as rookie free agents. Davie also is a long snapper. He caught eight passes for 71 yards and three touchdowns last year.
It would be interesting to see if he would clear waivers if the Jets tried to place him on their practice squad.
He insisted he isn't flippant about football, that he's not treating it as some fling before returning to the hardwood.
"Once something's on my plate, I go at it wholeheartedly," Bullock said. "I'm giving it 110 percent. I'm not going to cheat the Jets."
But Bullock admitted he had a rough time in his first two practices.
"I would want to make a better first impression because my expectations are high, probably too high," Bullock said. "I was fighting it all day [Friday]. I'm trying to learn the system and plays. It's hard to play naturally through all the mental parts.
"I haven't played up to my ability, but this is a different environment and we're at the beginning of the process."