AFC East: Josh Cribbs

The New York Jets have a Geno Smith situation unfolding at left guard.

If you haven't noticed, rookie Brian Winters is struggling, really struggling. Even though he has started only eight games, Winters tops all guards in the NFL with nine sacks allowed, according to ProFootballFocus.com. For an interior lineman, nine sacks is the equivalent of 19 interceptions for a quarterback, but at least Smith can say he's played every game.

If Rex Ryan wants to do what's in the best interest of the team, as he always says, he'd bench Winters -- if, in fact, he has that power. Look, we know Vladimir Ducasse isn't the second coming of Larry Allen, but he would be an upgrade at the position. For those keeping track, he allowed two sacks in four games before being benched in favor of Winters.

We know why Ducasse isn't playing: He's in the final year of his contract and he'll be playing elsewhere next season. Winters was John Idzik's third-round pick, and the first-year general manager is calling the shots here, folks. Winters is part of the future, so Idzik wants him on the field even if he's hurting the present. Similar politics are playing out at the quarterback position, where Smith has done nothing over the last few weeks to justify his starting role.

Idzik preaches competition, but the playing field isn't always level.

ICYMI: As expected, the Jets placed KR Josh Cribbs (shoulder) on season-ending injured reserve. To replace him, the Jets signed return specialist Darius Reynaud, most recently of the Tennessee Titans. They killed two birds with one signing, as Reynaud can return punts and kickoffs. ... The Jets worked out several players Tuesday, including Reynaud and CB DeQuan Menzie (Detroit Lions, Kansas City Chiefs). ... The Jets dropped only one spot in the ESPN.com Power Rankings, slipping to No. 23. ... Our film review of the Jets' nightmare loss to the Miami Dolphins. Warning: Contains graphic descriptions of botched plays; for mature audiences only.

Josh Cribbs leaves in sling

December, 1, 2013
12/01/13
7:45
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Jets wide receiver/kick returner Josh Cribbs left Sunday's game with a right shoulder injury and had his arm in a sling following the 23-3 loss to the Dolphins at MetLife Stadium.

The Jets announced in the second quarter that Cribbs had left the game, and he did not return any kicks or run the ball out of the Wildcat during his brief playing time.

Antonio Cromartie handled kickoffs with Cribbs sidelined, while Kyle Wilson returned punts. Cromartie had a nice day averaging 31.5 yards on his four returns.

During a game in which the Jets benched starting quarterback Geno Smith, the loss of Cribbs meant the Jets were without an emergency quarterback.

PAIR GET X-RAYS: Muhammad Wilkerson got an X-ray after the game. He said he was fine. Wilkerson has been dealing with a wrist injury although it didn't prevent him from playing Sunday.

Wide receiver Greg Salas also went for an X-ray, and he too said he was fine. He didn't say where he had the X-ray taken. Salas had one catch for no yards and was targeted four times.

HOLMES AND CRO PLAY: Game-time decisions Antonio Cromartie and Santonio Holmes both played, although in varying degrees.

Cromartie (hip) played the majority of the snaps and said it was the best he has felt and he had confidence in his hip. Cromartie got beat for a touchdown on a slant route.

Holmes (hamstring) played just three snaps and said afterward it was a "coach's decision." He did not register a catch and wasn't targeted.

Notes: Jets conjure up Alosi memories

November, 24, 2013
11/24/13
8:35
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BALTIMORE -- Three years removed from one of the most embarrassing plays in franchise history, the New York Jets triggered unpleasant memories Sunday with an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty on their sideline.

It happened on Jacoby Jones' 37-yard punt return in the third quarter of the Jets' 19-3 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Jones reversed field and ran up the Jets' sideline. During the run-back, the Jets' Troy Davis was blindsided by Courtney Upshaw, a crushing block that drew a gasp from the crowd at M&T Bank Stadium. An unidentified Jets assistant coach, perhaps protesting the legality of the block, erupted and got too close to the sideline.

The Jets' bench was penalized for interfering with officials. At least they didn't try to trip any opponents players. Former Jets strength coach Sal Alosi infamously tripped a Miami Dolphins player in 2010, fueling national headlines. Ultimately, Alosi resigned under pressure.

Soon after Sunday's penalty, CBS went into the archives, showing a replay of the Alosi debacle.

"He's on the white (boundary) -- it's not like was on the field -- but I know it's a point of emphasis to be off that area," Rex Ryan said. "It wasn't intentional, and you get caught up in the moment. We saw one of our players get hit. Those things happen. It's unfortunate. We're not the only team (that it's happened to). At that time, I was expecting a different call."

Meaning a penalty on Upshaw. Davis suffered a chest injury and didn't return to the game. Ryan, caught on camera, seemed incredulous by the call, mouthing what appeared to be an expletive.

Mo better than the rest: One of the bright spots for the Jets was DE Muhammad Wilkerson, who recorded two of the four sacks. He has 10 sacks, the most by a Jets player since John Abraham recorded 10.5 in 2005. Wilkerson is on a roll, with seven in his last seven games. He also was flagged for roughing the passer, tackling Joe Flacco beneath the knees -- a hit that could result in a fine.

Razzle dazzle: One of the Jets' best plays (there weren't many to choose from) was a 13-yard pass from Josh Cribbs to QB Geno Smith out of the Wildcat. It was the first reception of Smith's career, becoming the first Jets quarterback to catch a pass since Ken O'Brien made a 27-yard reception from Al Toon in 1991.

Suspect pass pro: Geno Smith was sacked three times and under heavy pressure, especially in the first half, but the pass protection was "decent," according to Ryan. He seemed more upset with the receivers, lamenting dropped passes. Unofficially, there were two drops -- Santonio Holmes and David Nelson.

The invisi-Hill receiver: WR Stephen Hill was held without a catch for the third straight game. Ryan had threatened to demote the slumping Hill, but he was in the starting lineup. His snaps, however, was reduced.

Injury report: CB Antonio Cromartie left late in the game with a non-contact hip injury. He has been bothered by a hip ailment for much of the season, but he described this as worse than the previous injuries. RB Chris Ivory sprained ankle on his first carry of the game and will go for an MRI exam. He stayed in the game, which is always a good sign.

Halftime Report: Ravens 9, Jets 3

November, 24, 2013
11/24/13
2:42
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BALTIMORE -- In the freezing cold -- it felt like 22 degrees in Baltimore at the start of the game with the windchill -- the Ravens have a 9-3 lead against the New York Jets in a field-goal fest.

The Jets have held running back Ray Rice to 16 yards on 8 carries, but have allowed 168 passing yards to the Ravens. The Ravens have 212 yards of total offense compared to 73 yards for the Jets.

WILDCAT SETS TONE: In the first two series, the Jets snapped the ball seven times to Geno Smith and four times to Josh Cribbs. Cribbs actually threw a 15-yard pass to Smith. The Jets employed a lot of Cribbs in the wildcat in a win against the Saints this season. Notably, he didn’t take a single direct snap in the second half of that game.

SECONDARY ISSUES: Ed Reed was able to break up a pass in the end zone, a 12-yard pass intended for Jacoby Jones. There was contact on the play and a flag was thrown in the end zone, but after the refs conferred, the flag was picked up and Reed was credited with pass defensed.

Antonio Cromartie picked up an interception in the second quarter, but he also gave up a 60-yard pass to Torrey Smith. There were two dropped interceptions by the Jets, one from Dee Milliner and another from Antonio Allen.

HOLMES, HILL, NELSON? The top three Jets receivers of the first half are, in order, Greg Salas, Geno Smith and Bilal Powell. The Jets main wide receivers all but disappeared in the first half.

Who are these guys in Jets uniforms?

November, 3, 2013
11/03/13
9:10
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Santonio Holmes, Jeff Cumberland and Kellen Winslow didn't play, and Jeremy Kerley left in the second quarter with a potentially serious elbow injury. It left Geno Smith with a bunch of no-name guys: Greg Salas. Zach Sudfeld. David Nelson. Throw in part-time wide receiver Josh Cribbs, and you're talking about four guys who weren't on the New York Jets' roster at the start of the season.

[+] EnlargeZach Sudfeld
Al Bello/Getty ImagesZach Sudfeld caught two passes for 46 yards.
That's what you call a patchwork receiving corps. Those four players combined for seven of the Jets' nine receptions in the 26-20 upset of the New Orleans Saints Sunday at MetLife Stadium.

"I've seen veteran quarterbacks struggle with new faces and new pieces," Nelson said. "The fact that we have a rookie quarterback, four new guys lined up at the line of scrimmage and he's okay with it ... it says everything about who he is and what he can become."

Smith (8-for-19, 115 yards) struggled, but he didn't commit any turnovers and he was sacked only twice. He didn't win the game, but he didn't lose it, either. Still, it was impressive that the Jets were able to function with so many new parts. Salas, who made his Jets debut, became their 29th offensive player to see the field this season.

Rex Ryan credited offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.

"I think it's clear that he should be the offensive assistant coach of the year," Ryan said, inventing an award. "That's obvious. The job that he and his staff have done is tremendous. They've found ways. He's not looking for excuses. 'Well, we don't have this, we don't have Holmes, we don't have this guy, we don't have Cumberland.' He just finds a way. Not one time did he ever flinch -- ever -- and we run the ball for 198 yards on 36 carries."

The Anonymous Four contributed in a variety of ways. Salas made a 44-yard reception. Sudfeld caught two passes for 46 yards. Cribbs caught two passes and, working out of the Wildcat, threw a 25-yard pass. Nelson caught a 19-yard pass.

The Jets signed Salas off the Philadelphia Eagles' practice squad. Sudfeld arrived on waivers from the New England Patriots. Cribbs and Nelson were unemployed.

"When you have guys come off the street, like myself, you have a lot to prove," Cribbs said. "When you have hungry guys that want to play, that's what you call playing like a Jet."

Rapid Reaction: New York Jets

November, 3, 2013
11/03/13
4:13
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A few thoughts on the New York Jets' 26-20 victory over the New Orleans Saints:

What it means: The Jets (5-4) stamped themselves as one of the NFL's biggest surprises, staging a monster upset one week after a 40-point loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. How can you explain this team? They're 5-0 in odd weeks, ranging from sensational to awful on a week-to-week basis. Now it can be said: They're a legitimate wild-card contender. Why not? In the watered-down AFC, anything is possible. As for the Ryan Bowl, Rex won for the third straight time, handing his twin brother Rob, the Saints' defensive coordinator, another bitter defeat.

Stock watch: Statistically, it was a dog-ugly game for Geno Smith (8-for-19, 115 yards), but the rookie quarterback learned a valuable lesson about game management. On this day, the Jets needed him to do one thing -- protect the ball -- and he did that. He had no turnovers for only the second time in nine games. He got away with a couple of bad throws, but it was no harm, no foul. Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg got too conservative late in the game, and it nearly cost them.

The ex-Saint goes marching: Jets running back Chris Ivory, traded by the Saints last offseason for a fourth-round pick, delivered a loud statement to his old team. Facing the Saints' vulnerable run defense (4.8 yards per carry before Sunday), Ivory rushed for 139 yards and a touchdown on 18 attempts. He's known as a tenacious downhill runner, but he flashed impressive speed on the edge, breaking three long runs. Clearly, he's faster than people realize. The Jets attacked the Saints with a creative running scheme that featured read-option plays and the Wildcat, including a pass completion by Josh Cribbs out of the Wildcat.

Welcome back, defense: After a horrible outing last week, the Jets responded with perhaps their best defensive effort of the season. They sacked Drew Brees only twice, but they generated consistent pressure on him and intercepted him twice -- one by linebacker DeMario Davis and another by cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who allowed a big play and a touchdown. It helped that wide receiver Marques Colston (knee) didn't play, and running back Darren Sproles (concussion) left in the first quarter. Injuries notwithstanding, it was impressive defense.

The castoffs: The Jets played without their top receiver (Santonio Holmes) and their top two tight ends (Jeff Cumberland and Kellen Winslow), and they lost wide receiver Jeremy Kerley (elbow) in the second quarter, leaving a patchwork group of targets. Greg Salas. Zach Sudfeld. David Nelson. Cribbs. Who are these guys? Not one of them began the season on the Jets' roster, yet they managed to combine for seven catches for 128 yards.

What's ahead: The Jets get a bye in Week 10.
The New York Jets have been riding the mediocrity train for almost two years, having won back-to-back games only once in a 26-game span. Their record following a victory is 1-9, with an eye-opening average margin of defeat -- 17 points. Can't handle prosperity? That's an understatement. They're allergic to it.

They can change the perception Sunday in Cincinnati, where they meet the red-hot Bengals (5-2), who have won three straight. As Rex Ryan continues to tell his team, there's no league rule that prohibits winning two in a row. Pushing while trying to block a field goal? Yes. A winning streak? No.

Kickoff is 4:05 p.m. ET at Paul Brown Stadium. What to watch for:

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
Ed Mulholland/USA TODAY SportsGeno Smith has yet to string together back-to-back wins this season.
1. Call him Geno (The Elevator) Smith: The Jets are up and down because their rookie quarterback is up and down. Geno Smith is 0-3 after wins, having played poorly in each game -- a total of one touchdown and seven interceptions in those contests. He was horrible in his two previous games against top-10 defenses (Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans), and the Bengals are ranked No. 9 in total defense. The Bengals had gone 20 straight games without allowing a 300-yard passer, the longest streak in the league, but they surrendered 357 last week to the Detroit Lions' Matthew Stafford. They won't have their top defensive back, cornerback Leon Hall (torn Achilles' tendon), who covered the slot on third down. That could mean another big day for Smith and wide reciever Jeremy Kerley, who was deadly last week in the slot.

Oh, by the way: Since 2008, under defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, the Bengals are only 7-8 against rookie quarterbacks.

2. Battle for defensive-line bragging rights: This game features two of the better lines in the league. The Bengals' four-man front has combined for 12 sacks; the Jets' front (counting rush linebacker Quinton Coples) has 10.5. Bengals defensive tackleGeno Atkins is the most accomplished lineman among both teams. Since 2010, he has more sacks (24.5) than any interior lineman in the league. He'll be a huge challenge for the Jets' guards, Willie Colon and rookie Brian Winters. Truth be told, the Bengals pose problems across the board. Their ends, Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson, are tough assignments for Austin Howard and D'Brickashaw Ferguson, respectively. Ferguson is coming off a shaky performance.

At the same time, the Bengals won't have it easy with Muhammad Wilkerson & Co., but they got a preview two weeks ago when they beat the Buffalo Bills, who run almost the identical scheme as the Jets. Center Kyle Cook did such a good job of reading the Bills' fronts that he received a game ball. The Bengals refer to the Jets' defense as "Buffalo on steroids." That's a compliment, by the way.

3. A pair of two-headed monsters: The two teams share a similar philosophy in the backfield, each running the ground game through two players. Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory form a workmanlike tandem, steady if not spectacular (no runs longer than 27 yards). The Jets rode Ivory last week, but look for Powell to return to a prominent role. They need his cutback ability against the Bengals' aggressive front. The Jets are aware of a quote from Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who said: “They’re going to figure out probably in the first 15, 20 snaps that running’s going to be pretty hard against our front seven.”

The Bengals split the carries between BenJarvus Green-Ellis and rookie Giovani Bernard, a Darren Sproles type. The Bengals are a better offense when Bernard is on the field. They average 5.8 yards per play when he's in, 5.3 when he's out, according to ESPN Stats & Information. They've also been throwing to him more the last two weeks out of the backfield. He'll be a tough cover for the Jets.

4. Green vs. Green: The Jets have a lot of respect for Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green. Asked what advice he'd give cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who most likely will cover Green, coordinator Dennis Thurman said, "Get your hands on him and pray." This is an enormous game for Cromartie. If he can't contain Green, who has been targeted a league-high 77 times, the Jets have no shot. One out of every four throws to Green is a deep shot, so Cromartie had better stay awake. Green is third in receiving yards (619) and he has a hot quarterback, Andy Dalton, looking for this third straight 300-yard passing day.

Dalton has five players with at least 20 catches apiece, the kind of balance that will present issues for the Jets. Saferty Antonio Allen did a nice job last week on Rob Gronkowski, but this is Gronkowski times two. The Bengals use a lot of two-tight end packages with Jermaine Gresham and rookie Tyler Eifert, who sometimes lines up as a receiver in an isolation play. That could be a mismatch for a cornerback.

5. Special teams will be huge: Write it down. Both teams have a tendency to play close games, so field position and field-goal kicking will be vital. Who's hotter than Nick Folk? He's 16-for-16 in field goals, including three game winners. Former Jets place kicker Mike Nugent kicked the game winner last week in Detroit, so he has to be feeling good about himself. One thing about Nugent: He had no touchbacks in his last home game. His short leg on kickoffs could create some opportunities for new kick returner Josh Cribbs, who is familiar with the surroundings from his years with the Cleveland Browns. Oddly, Cribbs hasn't scored a touchdown of any kind in 18 career games against the Bengals.

Rex Ryan: 'Like the old Josh Cribbs'

October, 20, 2013
10/20/13
8:17
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Josh Cribbs may have only been a New York Jet for a week, but the kick returner was as enthusiastic as his teammates who turned the locker room into a postgame party after a 30-27 OT win over the New England Patriots.

“The vibe that’s here, it’s a winning vibe and it’s different for me and I’m loving it,” Cribbs said. “And in crucial situations when the game is on the line this team didn’t falter. They showing that they can advance and I’m glad to be a part of this team because I was in Cleveland and we had a lot of tight games that didn’t go our way and I’m glad to be a Jet.”

Cribbs returned kicks and punts in his Jets debut, but he also was used as a wide receiver and took a direct snap on a wildcat play. He had three carries for 14 yards in addition to returning three punts for 44 yards and a kickoff for 17 yards.

“He looked pretty good,” Jets coach Rex Ryan said, “like the old Josh Cribbs. I was just happy that he was on my sideline and not the other one. For a guy that’s been out, you see those great return skills.”

Cribbs said the team wanted to mix it up as much as possible to confuse the Patriots. The Jets and Patriots have now split their regular-season meetings this year.

“We’re going to make a run for this thing,” Cribbs said. “I want to take it game by game but it’s hard to overlook.”

Cribbs also was impressed by the way Jets quarterback Geno Smith rebounded from an interception in the first half.

“For him to come back (from the interception),” Cribbs said, “and show this team everyone that, ‘Hey I’m a winner, I’m going to get it done, I’m a playmaker,’ and to be stout in the pocket and deliver good balls and come back lead our team to victory is great.”

W2W4: Patriots vs. Jets

October, 18, 2013
10/18/13
4:00
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Rex Ryan wanted his players so focused and well-rested for the New England Patriots that he told them to skip household chores for a week. On Sunday, we'll find out if the couch-potato approach worked.

It would help if they could hold on to the ball.

That has been the biggest difference between the New York Jets and Patriots over the last few years -- ball security. During their current five-game losing streak to the Patriots, the Jets are minus-11 in turnover margin. They give it away easier than day-old cheesecake at a bake sale. Can they reverse the trend? Kickoff is at 1 p.m. at MetLife Stadium, where the Patriots (5-1) will try to win their 13th straight AFC East game. The Jets (3-3) need a win to stay in the thick of the division race.

What to watch for:

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
Mark L. Baer/USA TODAY SportsGeno Smith had a rough first game against the Patriots, going 15-for-35 passing with three picks.
1. A second look for Geno: Rookie QB Geno Smith should fare better this time around. Then again, it can't get worse than the first meeting in Week 2, when he threw three interceptions in the final 11 plays. His familiarity with the Patriots, coupled with a full week to prepare (Round 1 was on a Thursday), is bound to help. It's all about game management. Smith won't see a lot of pressure schemes from Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who will test the kid's patience by forcing him to dink and dunk. The Patriots may take a more conservative approach than usual if CB Aqib Talib (hip) doesn't play. Statistically, there's a big drop-off when he's off the field. Talib intercepted Smith twice in the first game.

2. Hey, Marty: Run!: Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg tried to establish a ground game last week, but he gave up after a quarter. This time, he needs to stick with it. The Patriots have gaping -- repeat, gaping -- holes in their front seven with DT Vince Wilfork and LB Jerod Mayo done for the season. DT Tommy Kelly also could miss the game, meaning they will start two unheralded rookies at defensive tackle -- Joe Vellano, an undrafted free agent, and Chris Jones, cut by two other teams. If C Nick Mangold and RG Willie Colon don't control the point of attack, something is wrong. Of course, this will require a commitment from the pass-happy Mornhinweg. The Jets will miss Mike Goodson's outside speed, but they won't need it if Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory can hammer away inside the tackles.

3. Frustrating Brady isn't enough: Can anybody remember the last time the Jets intercepted Tom Brady? It was Oct. 9, 2011: CB Antonio Cromartie picked Brady on the final play of the first half. Since then, he has gone 163 passes against the Jets without an interception. That's ridiculous. In Week 2, the Jets proved a dominant effort versus Brady doesn't mean much without turnovers. They held the Patriots to nine first downs, yet they couldn't create any takeaways and lost, 13-10. The Jets need a big day from their corners, especially Cromartie, who admitted he's having only a "C year." Cro & Co. need to be ready for a lot of quick screens, which puts a premium on tackling. Brady's receiving corps has 16 drops, the third-highest total in the league.

4. Dealing with Gronk: This changes things. Assuming TE Rob Gronkowski plays -- he was cleared Friday by doctors -- the Patriots now have a major weapon at their disposal, especially in the red zone. Their red zone efficiency sagged without the 6-foot-7 Gronk, Brady's favorite target. Since 2010, his completion percentage to Gronkowski is 72.2, about 10 percent higher than to other receivers, according to ESPN Stats & Information. In his last two games against the Jets, Gronkowski caught 14 passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns. If the Jets show as much respect to him as they did to Tony Gonzalez two weeks ago, you can expect double-vice coverage in the red zone. S Jaiquawn Jarrett also was heavily involved in the Gonzalez plan. Would the Jets put Cromartie on Gronk in certain situations? Just a thought.

5. Feed the green beast: The Jets, trying to establish a true home-field advantage, want their fans to be loud and green. Ryan asked fans to wear green, creating a "Green Out" effect. OK, fine, but it would help to grab the attention of the wine-sipping, shrimp-eating masses if they jumped to an early lead. The Jets have led for only 52 minutes in six games, half of which came in the win over the Buffalo Bills. A dynamic, game-changing play in the first quarter would help immensely. Maybe this is where Josh Cribbs becomes a factor. Maybe he can add some sizzle to the special teams. A big play on defense would help, too, but the Jets are allergic to takeaways. In fact, they've gone 207 passes without an interception. They can't be taken seriously as a top-tier defense unless they make some plays.
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Josh Cribbs received a text from his agent Monday to call ASAP. He did, and this is how his agent answered:

"J-E-T-S!"

The former Pro Bowl kick returner signed Tuesday and practiced Wednesday for the first time, promising to make an immediate impact. Cribbs, 30, cut by the Oakland Raiders in the preseason, will return kickoffs Sunday against the New England Patriots. He's not sure if he'll have a role at wide receiver.

In his day, Cribbs was terrific, but he underwent arthroscopic knee surgery after last season and had a hard time catching on with a team. That didn't hurt his confidence.

"Oh, yeah, I'm going to get the job done," the former longtime Cleveland Brown said. "I'm not going to get walked down. I've picked up some weight through the years, muscle-muscle mass. So if somebody's fast enough to catch up to me, they're not going to be strong enough to bring me down."

Cribbs also believes he can add leadership in the locker room. He has a lot of moxie, and he's hoping to spread it around.

"I think that's one of the big reasons why they brought me in, to make a run for it," he said. "I can be a little lightning in here. ... I'm going to try to electrify this team and add that oomph, that 'it' factor."

Anyone should be an improvement over Clyde Gates, who averaged only 23.2 yards per return before hurting his shoulder and landing on injured reserve.

"The name on the back, when he stands back there, you're going to be a little nervous," Rex Ryan said of Cribbs. "We've all been scorched by him in the past."

Cribbs has scored eight touchdowns on kickoff returns, tied with former Jet and current Patriot Leon Washington for the most in history. Cribbs hasn't scored since 2009 on a kickoff, although he did have a punt-return in 2011 for the Browns.

An episode of Rex in the City

October, 16, 2013
10/16/13
7:30
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I've seen a lot of bizarre stuff in 25 years of covering the New York Jets, but this was a first: The head coach, standing in the press room, talking about sex. Or, rather, telling us he wasn't talking about sex.

About four hours after his news conference, Rex Ryan returned to clarify a comment he made in the team meeting. He apparently told the players to "rest your legs" and skip household responsibilities this week, focusing entirely on the upcoming game against the New England Patriots. At least one player, rookie defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, interpreted that as a no-sex edict from the coach.

"Most definitely," Richardson told the New York Daily News.

Soon after it was posted on the newspaper's web site, the Jets attempted to clarify the matter.

The weirdness started after practice, when newly-signed kickoff returner Josh Cribbs described Ryan's demeanor in the team meeting. Mind you, this was Cribbs' first exposure to Ryan.

“I saw it in his eyes in the team meeting," Cribbs said. "He really wants this game. I can tell he really wants this game. He was like, 'Rest your legs and go home. Don’t do nothing for your wife. Say: 'Baby, next week. I’m going to do it next week. I’m going to take out the trash next week. I’ll take the kids to practice next week. But I’ve got to rest for this game.' I’m going to tell him to put it on paper, so when I give it to my wife, I can be like, 'Hey, Rex said that I don’t got to take out the trash.’ So he might get a call from my wife.”

I wonder if Bill Belichick has to deal with this stuff up in the Foxborough bunker.
The New England Patriots and Pro Bowl receiver Wes Welker are involved in a high-stakes poker game. As of Monday afternoon, neither side has blinked or budged on the eve of free agency.

Welker, an unrestricted free agent, was allowed to negotiate with other teams last weekend per NFL rules. It's hard to imagine multiple clubs not showing interest in a receiver who had 118 receptions last season. If the Patriots cannot reach an agreement with Welker by midnight, he can sign with any team.

New England must be ready to move on in the event Welker walks. Here are some potential insurance policies for the Patriots:

Julian Edelman

Previous teams: Patriots

How he fits: Edelman knows the system well and was considered the heir apparent to Welker. New England attempted to phase Edelman in at Welker's expense last season, but injuries eventually sidelined Edelman. The Patriots like Edelman, but he is also a free agent who could garner interest. New England doesn't want to get into a major bidding war to keep its backup when the same thing is already taking place with Welker.

Danny Amendola

Previous team: St. Louis Rams

How he fits: Amendola is one of the underrated free agents in this year's class. He is a very good slot receiver, but he's also an injury risk. Amendola is the closest thing the Patriots could get to Welker, and at a cheaper rate. The biggest difference is Welker's durability. Amendola may be worth the risk if the Patriots lose Welker.

Josh Cribbs

Previous team: Cleveland Browns

How he fits: Cribbs is not a prototypical receiver, but he is tough, has good size and is dangerous on special teams. New England can always make use of versatile players. Cribbs caught a career-high 41 passes in 2011 but dropped off significantly with just seven receptions for Cleveland in 2012. The Patriots reportedly have interest in Cribbs, who at the very least can boost New England's return game.

Camp Confidential: Miami Dolphins

August, 19, 2011
8/19/11
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The one major question about the Miami Dolphins the entire offseason was never sufficiently answered.

So what is the deal at quarterback, anyway?

Chad Henne was the unequivocal choice of general manager Jeff Ireland and coach Tony Sparano at this time last year. There was boundless confidence that the team’s second-round pick in 2008 was ready to take the reins of an offense that was expected to be made more proficient by the addition of wide receiver Brandon Marshall.

The results were not pretty. On five occasions, all at home, Henne had the opportunity to win or tie a close game with a fourth-quarter scoring drive, and on all five he failed. Three of the subsequent losses were to also-rans Buffalo, Detroit and Cleveland, leaving Miami with a second straight 7-9 finish.

The failures almost cost Sparano his job, as owner Stephen Ross took a run at Jim Harbaugh, and for a time it seemed Henne might be replaced when Ireland engaged in negotiations for Denver’s Kyle Orton that ultimately came up empty. When the dust settled, former Carolina Panthers QB Matt Moore had been brought in as a backup, but nothing had really changed. Henne was still the one.

The team around him does appear to have gotten better. Coordinator Mike Nolan’s defense, sixth in the league a year ago, has remarkable depth on the defensive line and is better at linebacker with the additions of Kevin Burnett and Jason Taylor. Ireland addressed a deficiency in speed at the skill positions with the acquisitions of Reggie Bush and fourth-round wideout Clyde Gates. First-round pick Mike Pouncey, a center, has brought stability to the offensive line.

But in the 12 years since Dan Marino retired, it has always come back to the quarterback. This year is no different.

Even Marshall, who at one point late last season said he was “not sure” he and Henne could coexist, had good things to say about his beleaguered quarterback, who was actually booed at one preseason practice at Sun Life Stadium.

“Chad has been amazing this summer, getting the guys together,” Marshall said. “He’s been the face of leadership.”

Sparano was even more forthcoming.

“I’ve seen more people going to Chad for answers,” he said. “You would have to envision when you’re at Indianapolis or a place like that people are going to Peyton [Manning] for the answers. Well, more people are going to Chad for the answers now, and that’s a direct reflection of what this young man has done.”

Henne and Peyton Manning in the same sentence … now that’s a stretch for even the most loyal Dolphins fan.

Five days after Sparano made those comments, Henne started the first preseason game at Atlanta and was intercepted twice in five throws while Moore, playing with and against second-teamers, was solid.

It may or may not happen, but certainly all the pieces for a year of quarterback controversy are in place.

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeReggie Bush
Josh D. Weiss/US PresswireWill Reggie Bush be able to revitalize a stagnant running game?
1. Can Bush and rookie Daniel Thomas make people forget Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams? From 2005-10 either Brown or Williams led the Dolphins in rushing, and four of those six years they finished 1-2. Both are getting older -- Williams is 34, Brown 29 -- and the running game ranked 30th in yards per carry (3.7) and 21st in yards per game (102.7) last season. Ireland decided it was time to move on. Thomas, a second-round pick, led the Big 12 in rushing at Kansas State the past two seasons and at 6 feet and 230 pounds, he can pound the middle. Bush, who has missed 20 games to injury the past two seasons, expressed a desire to be the feature back upon his arrival but seems more likely to line up all over the field. “The lack of experience is definitely a concern,” admitted Sparano, whose stable of backs also includes unproven Kory Sheets and Lex Hilliard.

2. How will the season unfold for Marshall? The simple fact that Marshall was perceived to have a down year when he had 86 catches last season -- tied for second in franchise history behind O.J. McDuffie’s 90 in 1998 -- demonstrates how high the expectations are for the man known as “The Beast.” Marshall’s off-field problems, which included the arrest of his wife after Marshall was found stabbed at his home in April, culminated with him being diagnosed and treated for borderline personality disorder this offseason. In camp this summer, it seemed every time Marshall went out for a pass, Henne was the one throwing it. If Gates can be the home run threat Miami lacked after trading Ted Ginn Jr. last season, Marshall could benefit greatly.

3. Will new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll bring spice to a boring offense? Miami’s top two receivers last season, Marshall and Davone Bess, averaged 11.8 and 10.4 yards per catch, respectively. No wonder Henne came to be known as “Checkdown Chad.” But in the Dolphins’ first scrimmage this year, Daboll unveiled four-receiver sets and had Bush lined up everywhere from the backfield to wideout. Despite having Josh Cribbs, Daboll’s offense didn’t exactly light up the scoreboard in Cleveland, finishing 29th in total offense and 25th in yards per play. Sparano prefers the ground-and-pound, but Henne and Daboll must demonstrate they can keep up with prolific offensive units, such as New England, San Diego and Houston -- which happen to be Miami’s first three opponents.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

If a former first-round pick can qualify as a surprise, second-year defensive end Jared Odrick has earned that distinction. Odrick was lost early in the opener against Buffalo last season with a broken leg. His comeback was then stopped six weeks later by a broken ankle, ending his season. Worse, it turned out his first injury was eerily similar to one he suffered as a sophomore at Penn State, raising questions as to whether he could remain healthy enough to be counted upon. But in the early weeks of camp, Odrick was a force, as he and partner Tony McDaniel moved ahead of last season’s starters, Randy Starks and Kendall Langford, in team drills. That quartet, as well as Phillip Merling and Ryan Baker, give Miami inordinate depth at defensive end.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

After losing Justin Smiley to chronic shoulder injuries, the Dolphins had a vacancy at right guard in 2010 and drafted John Jerry out of Mississippi in the third round. Jerry, the younger brother of Atlanta defensive tackle Peria Jerry, got 10 starts but struggled to beat out journeyman Pat McQuistan. When Miami selected Pouncey in the first round of this year's draft, Richie Incognito, who played both guard spots at times last season, was put on the left side and John Jerry was given the opportunity to win the right guard spot. After seeing unsatisfactory results in the first two weeks of camp, Sparano moved Vernon Carey over from right tackle and brought in free-agent Marc Colombo, who had been let go by Dallas.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • [+] EnlargeClyde Gates
    Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesThe Dolphins hope that pick Clyde Gates will be able to stretch the field like Ted Ginn Jr. did.
    Two relatively obscure rookies provided two of the more intriguing storylines of training camp. Gates, of Abilene Christian, whose father was released from prison last fall after serving a lengthy sentence for first-degree murder, was one. Seventh-rounder Jimmy Wilson of Montana, who spent 26 months in jail before being acquitted of a first-degree murder charge, was the other. Gates, who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.37 at the combine despite nursing a sore groin, provides needed speed at wide receiver, and Wilson is a big hitter and ball hawk in the secondary.
  • While first-round pick Pouncey was drawing favorable comparisons to his Steelers All-Pro twin brother, Maurkice, for his blocking and intelligence, his struggles snapping the ball were an ongoing concern as camp progressed. Mike Pouncey, who moved to center as a senior at Florida after his brother left early, had some nightmarish games on shotgun snaps with the Gators and clearly doesn’t have the technique down yet.
  • Marshall isn’t known for being shy around a microphone, but he wasn’t in a talkative mood the first three weeks of camp. He spoke only once, to reveal his diagnosis for borderline personality disorder, and took only a handful of questions. Of course, Marshall was in the middle of the Henne soap opera last season, so there was speculation he didn’t want to stir up the water this year as he continues to undergo treatment for his disorder.
  • The only real battle for a starting job in camp has been at free safety. Third-year man Chris Clemons, last season's starter, was trying to hold off Reshad Jones, who made a favorable impression in limited opportunities as a rookie in 2010. Jones had a sack and an interception against Tennessee in one of his two starts and seems to be more of a playmaker.
  • The biggest mystery in camp surrounded the status of Pro Bowl tackle Jake Long, who was put on the physically unable to perform list early and did not work at all the first three weeks. Sparano said Long’s injury did not involve his knee, which along with his shoulder required surgery after last season.

Poking through the AFC East mailbag

June, 1, 2011
6/01/11
9:18
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Let's skim the AFC East mailbag to see what's on your minds these days.

Neil in Jackson, Miss., weighed in on the recent post about the Miami Dolphins' chances to go from a losing team to the playoffs in 2012. I wrote the Dolphins wouldn't be able to compete with the New York Jets or New England Patriots and other formidable wild-card candidates "until they get high-quality and consistent performances from their quarterback."

Neil's response was common among Dolfans lately: Rip Mark Sanchez.

"I'll readily concede he stepped up in the playoffs," Neil wrote, "but nothing in his career so far has demonstrated consistency. Quality QB play is more important than ever, but the Jets continue to prove you can be a threat to win titles without it."

That's true, but the Jets also have continued to prove they're far better at competing on a weekly basis (back-to-back AFC Championship Games) than the Dolphins (7-9 twice in a row) over the past two years.

The Jets can get away with Sanchez at quarterback because he has been better than Henne and because they're more complete on both sides of the ball. Sanchez is only 24 years old, appears to be improving and has a knack for clutch finishes regardless of how erratic he was over the first three quarters. He might not play consistently, but he consistently wins.

For the Dolphins to catch up, they need better quarterbacking. The other positions didn't change drastically when Chad Pennington gave way to Chad Henne in 2008. They added one of the NFL's most prolific receivers last year and arguably got worse.

In response to a Memorial Day post about Buffalo Bills guard Bob Kalsu, the only pro football player to die in Vietnam, Joseph wanted to make sure we knew the New York Army National Guard established Forward Operating Base Kalsu in Iskandariya, Iraq, in 2003.

"It is located about 20 minutes, by Black Hawk helicopter, from Baghdad International Airport," Joseph wrote. "As a Black Hawk crew chief, we go there several times a week. When I was stuck in Kalsu for several days due to bad weather, I saw the plaque outside of the HQ that describes both Bob Kalsu and why they named the FOB after him."

I wasn't aware of that. Pretty cool tribute to an American hero. Thanks for pointing that out, Joseph, but thank you even more for your service to our country.

Paul in Lexington, Mass., shared his thoughts to a question posed by a recent AFC East chat: Should the Patriots be automatic favorites in 2011? I've actually predicted -- in pencil because we haven't had free agency yet -- the Jets will win the division.

"Past is prologue," Paul contended. "Absent Bill Belichick, Tom Brady or Vince Wilfork getting hit by a bus, the Patriots should win the division by multiple games. They are by far the deepest team in the division."

Apparently drawing parallels to their background as overlooked Kent State quarterbacks, Paul also predicts Julian Edelman will have a Josh Cribbs-type year on punt returns and that unsigned Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins will be back.

I disagree with Paul's grandiose plans for Edelman, but I can't argue the Patriots are a great club.

Again, it's all in faint pencil at this point anyway.

Video: What makes Edelman dangerous?

January, 7, 2010
1/07/10
6:14
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How did New England Patriots rookie receiver Julian Edelman make it to the NFL after playing quarterback at Kent State? His college coach, Doug Martin, sits down with "First Take" host Dana Jacobson to discuss what drives Edelman, who's responsibilities skyrocketed when Wes Welker suffered a knee injury.

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