AFC East: Kirk Chambers

Camp Confidential: Buffalo Bills

August, 2, 2010
8/02/10
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ESPN.com NFL Power Ranking (pre-camp): 31

PITTSFORD. N.Y. -- Of any preseason prediction I can make, the one I'm most confident in is that the Buffalo Bills will finish fourth in the AFC East.

That slot would be neither general manager Buddy Nix's nor head coach Chan Gailey's fault. The problems they inherited have set the course for 2010.

But they are setting a tone for the long-term future the players can respect.

Gailey is trying to establish a new culture with his first training camp. He wants people to use two adjectives that haven't been associated with the Bills for a long time: tough and disciplined.

"He's very particular about things and how he wants them done," Bills receiver Lee Evans said. "We haven't really had that for a while here, with the head man running the show. You understand what he's trying to get done."

Gailey has kept his players in full pads at St. John Fisher College. Previous coach Dick Jauron rarely had his players in complete gear at camp.

Gailey believes players should be in pads and tested both physically and mentally. He's in a discovery phase not only about what he'll be able to work with on Sunday afternoons, but also keepers who will help him build a long-term foundation.

"When you actually have those shoulder pads on, mouthpiece in, chinstrap buckled up and you have to get off a block to make a play," safety George Wilson said, "that really shows the true testament of a real football player.

"That's what our coaching staff needs, a new staff that's coming in to evaluate this entire team and be able to put the best 53 men together for this 2010 season. I like what we’re doing. It's going to make us a lot more physical, a lot tougher, a lot more mentally prepared, and I have a positive outlook about it."

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeEdwards
AP Photo/David DupreyTrent Edwards is being given the chance to win the starting quarterback job.
1. Can quarterback Trent Edwards capitalize on another opportunity? Bills fans seemed to be pulling for Brian Brohm to emerge as the favorite to win the starting quarterback job. A major reason is they haven't seen him truly fail yet -- unlike Edwards and Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Yet, after several months working with his quarterbacks, Gailey liked Edwards best and installed him as the No. 1 quarterback to begin training camp. The battle remains open, but with Fitzpatrick and Brohm sharing reps with the backups and surrendering a few here and there to rookie Levi Brown, it's Edwards' job to lose. Based on Edwards' medical chart (combined with Hot Issue No. 2 below), there are no guarantees.

But Edwards has yet to get a fair shot to prove what he can do. He has experienced plenty of chaos since the Bills drafted him in the third round in 2007. Gailey is the first offensive-minded head coach Edwards has played under. Last year, offensive coordinator Turk Schonert got fired 10 days before the season, the Bills jettisoned both starting tackles (two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters and the most experienced member of the offensive line, Langston Walker) from the season before and endured a futile no-huddle experiment.

Gailey has run successful offenses everywhere he has been. This finally could be a legitimate chance for Edwards to show what he can do.

2. How will the Bills survive without proven offensive tackles? The Bills aren't known for their pass rush, but it was apparent in the early days of practice their offensive tackles were overmatched in pass protection. For their safety, quarterbacks wear red jerseys to remind oncoming defenders not to hit them. Good thing, or else the Bills might have needed to sign some replacements already.

While some front offices believe guards are fungible and tackles vital, the Bills have operated contradictorily in recent years. They've drafted guards within the first two rounds (Eric Wood and Andy Levitre) and paid big bucks for a free agent (Derrick Dockery) while declining to draft a tackle earlier than the fifth round since 2002.

Left tackle Demetrius Bell has been limited in 11-on-11 drills because he's recovering from knee surgery. He received his first snaps Sunday. His replacement, Jamon Meredith, has been overwhelmed at times. The other tackles likely to make the 53-man roster -- Cornell Green, Kirk Chambers and rookie Ed Wang -- have looked ordinary at best.

[+] EnlargeSchobel
Bob Donnan/US PresswireThe Bills have decided to move forward without linebacker Aaron Schobel.
3. What will happen with vacillating pass-rusher Aaron Schobel? He spent the entire offseason at his home in Texas, perhaps playing possum. He didn’t return to the Bills' facility to collect his roster bonus or participate in offseason workouts. He told some media outlets he was all but retired.

Then, on the verge of camp, the two-time Pro Bowler with a $6 million base salary expressed a change of heart. Schobel might want to play after all. Or maybe he's posturing for a trade, threatening to show up a month before the regular season despite failing to attend so much as a chalk-board session on the team's transition from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4.

On Monday morning, the Bills provided a nebulous answer: In a news release, Nix announced the team is moving forward with plans that do not include Schobel.

Nix said: “Aaron has been contemplating retirement for the past seven months, but we are at the point where we are moving forward and have informed his agent of our plans.”

Schobel can improve the defense with his talents, but the team is rebuilding and going through a defensive transformation he has demurred from. If they cut him, then they forfeit an asset. A trade appears to be the best option to me.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Wide receiver Steve Johnson was an afterthought when the Bills drafted him in the seventh round three years ago. But the front office was quietly confident he would be a player someday. After getting buried on a depth chart that no longer includes Terrell Owens and Josh Reed, Johnson might be ready to emerge. Johnson opened camp as the starting No. 2 receiver opposite Evans. That puts James Hardy on the spot. The Bills took him in the second round the same year they drafted Johnson.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Rookie running back C.J. Spiller, the ninth overall draft choice, still hasn't been signed. Reports indicate it might be a while before he's under contract. The players around him in the draft order have come to terms, but Spiller was the first running back off the board and was considered the most electric playmaker in the draft. His agent, Gary Wichard, certainly is hammering home that point every time he speaks to the Bills. While it's true running backs can afford to miss practice more than other positions because their role is so reactionary, Spiller is more than that. The Bills also consider him a receiver, and that makes practice time more precious for learning the nuances of Gailey's offense.

[+] EnlargeChan Gailey
AP Photo/ David DupreyChan Gailey is trying to learn as much about his team by working them out in full gear.
OBSERVATION DECK

  • The atmosphere at St. John Fisher College has been lifeless. It hasn't mattered whether it's morning, afternoon, night, weekday or weekend. The few fans who have shown up are silent.
  • Fitzpatrick has been plagued by interceptions through the first few days of camp. Bills defenders seem to have developed a strong read on where he's going to throw.
  • Gailey has mandated knee braces at practice for the offensive linemen, whether they've had injuries or not. He has been doing that since he began working with O-line coach Joe D'Alessandris at Georgia Tech in 2002. The players can opt out of the knee braces for games if they don't like how they feel.
  • The Bills' defensive backs have sensational hands. In every drill I watched, it was rare to see a ball hit the ground.
  • Left cornerback Leodis McKelvin has demonstrated lapses in concentration. He seemed lost in a passing drill Saturday, getting beaten by Hardy for an easy touchdown. Secondary coach George Catavolos had trouble getting McKelvin's attention afterward for some instruction. Soon after, McKelvin was dropping punts in a return drill.
  • Inside linebacker Kawika Mitchell told me the unit relies on free-agent acquisition Andra Davis' insight when it comes to 3-4 questions. That also goes for inside linebackers coach DeMontie Cross, who hasn't coached an NFL 3-4 before.
  • Mitchell on the 3-4: "It gives you more freedom. It allows you to showcase your ability a lot more. It's going to be a lot more fun."
  • Brian Moorman and Rian Lindell are one of the NFL's best punter-kicker combos. The Bills didn't bother to bring in any additional legs.
  • Wood is a head knocker. His quick return from a shattered left leg and no-nonsense demeanor on the field will make him popular in Buffalo.
  • After obstructed media views on the opening day, the Bills did a fine job of reorganizing their access areas to allow better viewing of 11-on-11 drills.
  • Outside linebacker Aaron Maybin has a body shape that stands out the moment you see him. Maybin looks like a Wii character, with a tiny waist that flares upward toward his shoulder pads. He told me his waist is 36 inches, but in pads it seems like a 28.
  • I focused on the tight ends at the blocking sled Friday morning. I saw why sophomore Shawn Nelson is viewed as more receiver than blocker. He looked considerably less powerful than the rest. While Derek Schouman, Jonathan Stupar and Michael Matthews jacked the sled, Nelson merely budged it. Nelson is listed at 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds. Only Matthews is larger at 6-4 and 270.

Chan Gailey out to eliminate sloppy flags

August, 1, 2010
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PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills coach Chan Gailey nearly recoiled when I brought up the subject.

Presnap penalties.

Every coach dislikes a yellow flag before the play begins. Gailey seems to have a more intense disdain for presnap penalties than most.

"Yes, I do," Gailey said, practically spitting out the words.

Gailey certainly has taken inventory of how undisciplined the Bills were last season. They committed 108 penalties last season for 855 yards, finishing eighth in both categories.

The Bills were the NFL's most-penalized team for much of the season under head coach Dick Jauron. They eliminated some sloppiness down the homestretch with interim coach Perry Fewell.

The Bills committed a league-high 32 false starts (18.8 percent more than the next-closest team) for 148 yards. They also had four illegal formations and three delay of games. On a positive note, they committed defensive offside just six times.

But Gailey is an offensive coach, and the last thing he wants to watch is his huddle moving farther away from the first-down marker.

"Don't accept it," Gailey said after Saturday's late training-camp session at St. John Fisher College. "We work on it every day. We talk about it every day. I make it a point every day.

"I don't have any magic wand. I don't have any pixie dust. We're going to work on it every day. We make it a point of emphasis. Guys generally will respond to things you make a point of emphasis of."

Left tackle Demetrius Bell made six false starts in eight games. His replacement, Jonathan Scott, committed five false starts in 10 games. Right tackle Kirk Chambers had four, and left guard Andy Levitre three.

"Lack of focus is the biggest reason," Gailey said. "They get distracted. The defense moves around. You can't let distractions get you on the football field. You've got to remain focused and do your job."

Gailey had to crack the whip similarly when he became Dallas Cowboys head coach in 1998. He replaced Barry Switzer, not known as a disciplinarian.

"I can understand when a facemask penalty or a hold happens," Sports Illustrated quoted Gailey as telling the Cowboys before a game against the Arizona Cardinals in November 1998. "But I will not accept any more presnap penalties. They show a lack of concentration."

The Cowboys won 35-28 to push their record to 7-3. They committed one presnap penalty.

"That's the way it should be," Gailey said after the game. "If you're a smart team -- and you have to be to win consistently -- you don't commit those penalties. I try not to make frivolous statements to the team. I want them to know that everything I do has a direct correlation to winning."

World Cup allegiances allowed to shift

July, 4, 2010
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Buffalo Bills offensive lineman and soccer fanatic Kirk Chambers will share his World Cup thoughts with the AFC East blog throughout the tournament.

When you're a fan of a team that constantly leaves you crestfallen, it's OK to have a backup squad.

Kirk Chambers needed some time to recover after USA's flirt-with-disaster run through the World Cup came to an appropriate end. Ghana snuffed the U.S. 2-1 with an extra-time goal.

"I was heartbroken," Chambers said. "To come so close again, hoping for a miracle and it not happening, it was deflating. All the air was released."

If you're going to continue to follow the tournament, then a rooting interest is desirable.

At least Chambers has Germany left. Germany advanced to the semifinals with a 4-0 rout of Argentina. He also is pulling for German forward Miroslav Klose to win back-to-back Golden Boots as the top World Cup scorer.

But don't think Chambers is jumping onto the bandwagon in his lederhosen. He fell in love with soccer while serving his Mormon mission in Berlin. He speaks fluent German. His father taught German in high school.

"That's where I spent two years of my life," said Chambers, who majored in public policy and minored in German studies at Stanford. "They just play good football. They've just been a machine on how they play and possess the ball. They're team-oriented, not selfish."

But Chambers didn't select Germany or the U.S. to win it all in his ESPNsoccernet Bracket Predictor. He penciled in Brazil as the champion, a decision that will destroy his bracket. Bills center Geoff Hangartner, who knows little about soccer and was cajoled into filling out a bracket, picked Germany.

Chambers' heart will always be with the U.S. team. He's generally satisfied with its showing in the World Cup despite his disappointment the sport will "fall back into obscurity until they start playing qualifiers again."

"A standard's been set to play well in group play and get through," Chambers said. "I'm not going to say they dominated in group play, but they showed up well. They performed as well as they should have when you look at it realistically."

Chambers has been impressed with emerging U.S. players such as Jozy Altidore, Herculez Gomez and Benny Feilhaber.

Chambers was struck by the dramatic exit of America's ouster. Ghana had a glorious chance to defeat Uruguay when Luis Suarez desperately used his hand inside the cage to prevent a goal. Suarez was ejected. Asamoah Gyan was awarded a penalty kick that should have ended the game. Gyan missed. Uruguay won in the shootout.

"Suarez purposely handballs," Chambers said. "He's in the goal. He knows he's getting kicked out and not playing in the next game. But that was a heads up play by Uruguay and an amazing outcome."

All sorts of reasons to keep watching.

Chambers: Goal restores World Cup beauty

June, 25, 2010
6/25/10
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Buffalo Bills offensive lineman and soccer fanatic Kirk Chambers will share his World Cup thoughts with the AFC East blog throughout the tournament.

In about the time it will take you to read this paragraph, the tenor of the world's most spectacular sports tournament changed for the United States. Like a lightning strike, the U.S. turned a stoppage-time counterattack into the most dramatic World Cup goal it ever has scored to beat Algeria 1-0, win the pool and avoid going home dejected.

[+] EnlargeLandon Donovan (10) celebrates his goal with forward Edson Buddle
Adam Jacobs/Icon SMILandon Donovan (10) celebrates his goal with forward Edson Buddle.
"You go from despair to complete exhilaration in the 13 seconds it took to go from one end to the other," Bills offensive lineman Kirk Chambers said.

Chambers didn't see Landon Donovan convert the rebound Wednesday morning. Chambers was on the practice field for the first day of Bills minicamp. "I have to work -- like a lot of people," he said. But when a Bills employee rushed out to inform Chambers of the result, they embraced in celebration.

Chambers loves soccer, but he had been a bit grumpy before Wednesday.

In his previous World Cup analysis for the AFC East blog, he focused on the frustrating flopping phenomenon that makes it tough for Americans to watch and the misery of the blown call that prevented the U.S. from beating Slovenia in its previous pool match.

Had Donovan not scored 45 seconds into four minutes of injury time, then the disallowed goal against Slovenia would have been the signature moment of the World Cup stateside.

"There may be some fans converted here," Chambers said. "Without that goal, then it's just another World Cup where the U.S. disappoints. If three more minutes run off the clock and there's no goal, we have another four years to ho-hum about not making it through group play again.

"It was a big goal. Of course, football is my first love, but this proves that soccer is a fun sport. There really is a lot to love. You just have to put a little effort into it."

Chambers watched Wednesday's white-knuckler on DVR, but he will be able to soak in Saturday morning's match against Ghana at home. Bills camp breaks Friday, allowing Chambers to enjoy U.S.-Ghana with his brothers at home in Provo, Utah.

Chambers should be 2-0 in picking matches so far. He forecasted a 2-1 U.S. victory over Slovenia (should have been a 3-2 victory) and nailed his 1-nil prediction for Wednesday.

He thinks the U.S. will beat Ghana 2-1.

"Ghana, I think we owe them a little payback for kicking us out of group play the last go-round," Chambers said. "They look like a pretty strong side.

"A lot of the U.S. play is just being scrappy. They have to keep that, stay within their game, tighten up on defense and make those runs at the goal when they can."

World Cup whistles shrill compared to NFL

June, 22, 2010
6/22/10
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Buffalo Bills offensive lineman and soccer fanatic Kirk Chambers will share his World Cup thoughts with the AFC East blog throughout the tournament.

Six times last year, Kirk Chambers knew precisely why an official threw a flag on him.

Four false starts, one holding and one illegal use of the hands -- on No. 73, offense.

There's accountability on the most minor infractions in the NFL. Whenever a flag hits the ground, the guilty player and the penalty are announced to the world.

The World Cup doesn't insist on such formalities, not even when a winning goal is disallowed. Referee Koman Coulibaly didn't have to answer to anyone when he waved off a dramatic U.S. goal in a draw with Slovenia.

We still don't know why Coulibaly disallowed the goal or which player he found at fault. FIFA doesn't require Coulibaly to declare any information.

The call could prevent the U.S. from reaching the knockout round. A victory over Algeria on Wednesday morning would allow the U.S. to advance, but a victory over Slovenia would have given the Americans the option to qualify with a tie in their pool finale.

"The U.S. got robbed of a goal," Chambers said. "But I understand how the game goes. I wasn't going to throw the nearest object at my television. Everyone accepts that as part of the game."

Last week, Chambers gave his thoughts on why flopping discourages many Americans from embracing soccer. Mysterious officiating can be another deterrent.

Chambers views soccer officiating as a subjective process, comparing it to how a parent might deal with small children. Rather than viewing each call in black-and-white terms, there's a sense of keeping the calls even on both sides.

"When I watch a football game, the refs are very objective," Chambers said. "It's either a holding call or it's not. There are some judgment calls, but for the most part it's either a penalty or it's not.

"In soccer, it's almost as if the ref is officiating an argument between little siblings. 'I'll side with this sibling on this one, but I'll pay back the other one later on.' As a parent, you might use subjective judgment to keep the playing field as fair as possible, and you don't have to explain it."

Chambers explained why video reviews can't work in soccer.

"Game flow plays such a big part in making soccer the sport it is," he said. "You can't have instant replay because you don't want to steal from the flow. To stop play of the game to review a play seems absurd."

Chambers won't be able to watch Wednesday's game against Algeria because the Bills are opening their minicamp. He will DVR the game and hopes nobody tells him who won before he can get home to watch.

I don't like his chances. There has been plenty of World Cup banter among Bills teammates, especially with rookie nose tackle Torrell Troup, a soccer fanatic who had been backing France. Troup apparently couldn't handle the repeated heartbreak that goes along with being a U.S. fan.

Chambers predicted a 1-nil U.S. victory.

"Algeria sure possessed the ball very well against England," Chambers said. "It's going to be a good challenge for the U.S. to make runs to the goal, but I have to believe they're going to win this one."

Chambers: Soccer flops turn fans away

June, 18, 2010
6/18/10
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Buffalo Bills offensive lineman Kirk Chambers will share his World Cup thoughts with the AFC East blog throughout the tournament.

Kirk Chambers saw plenty of carnage last year.

The Bills finished the season with 21 players on injured reserve. Six of them played with Chambers on the offensive line. Right tackle Brad Butler blew out his knee. Rookie right guard Eric Wood suffered a broken leg reminiscent of Joe Theismann's.

So when Chambers watches soccer, a sport he otherwise loves, he understands how American football fans can be turned off by all the players theatrically thrashing on the pitch.

"As a football player, if I were to roll around on the ground and hold my knee when my I get my ankle clicked," Chambers said, "I think I'd lose a little respect in the business, where in soccer it's accepted, if not encouraged."

Chambers has a passion for soccer, but a few days into the World Cup, he sent me a text message to tell me we had to address flopping in our next blog item about the tournament.

"You think 'Oh, get up, you little ...' What's a word we can use on the blog? 'Get up you pansy,'" Chambers said. "I've seen guys writhing in pain with their hand over their face, and next thing you know their fingers are slit so they can look at the ref and see if it's working. It's just a joke at that point, right?"

Not a joke is the importance of Friday morning's game to the USA's chances of advancing to the second stage. The U.S. will play Slovenia.

Chambers predicts a 2-1 U.S. victory and a more legitimate result than the cheap draw it had with England last week. The U.S. tied on goalkeeper Robert Green's flub.

"In any sport, especially in a tournament like the World Cup, you need to have a little bit of luck on your side, too," Chambers said. "All of the teams that advance are going to get a lucky break. You take it when it happens.

"Would I have liked to see Jozy Altidore score on his run? That would have been a way cooler way to tie things up. But, hey, you take a shot outside the box and it rolls off the keepers' gloves, you take it."

You can follow the ESPNsoccernet Bracket Predictor that Chambers filled out. Also in his public league is Bills center Geoff Hangartner. You can see Hangertner's bracket, too.

Bills tackle Chambers amped for World Cup

June, 11, 2010
6/11/10
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Buffalo Bills offensive lineman Kirk Chambers will share his World Cup thoughts with the AFC East blog throughout the tournament.

A dozen years later, the moment remains vivid in Kirk Chambers' mind.

German forward Oliver Bierfhoff, near the right sideline, sent an arcing pass to Jurgen Klinsmann into the penalty box. Klinsmann controlled the ball with his chest and quickly blasted a shot. U.S. goalkeeper Kasey Keller dived in vain.

Keller didn't see the ball go into the net, but Chambers did.

[+] EnlargeKirk Chambers
Brett Davis/US PresswireKirk Chambers is looking forward to following the World Cup.
"That specific play," said Chambers, a sixth-year offensive lineman for the Buffalo Bills, "sticks out in my mind almost better than some football plays I've been involved with."

Chambers, a Utah kid watching the 1998 World Cup while in Berlin to serve a Mormon mission, was disappointed yet captivated when Klinsmann clinched a 2-0 victory over the U.S. in pool play.

"The place was just in a frenzy," he said.

There's football, and there's futbol. Chambers has a passion for both.

In the coming weeks, Chambers will share his 2010 World Cup thoughts here on the AFC East blog. He will be monitoring the games and storylines throughout the tournament, which begins Friday morning. He has filled out an ESPNsoccernet Bracket Predictor that you can follow.

"I love the game," Chambers said of soccer. "I grew up playing primarily football and basketball, but in high school I never played pickup basketball. It was always pickup soccer with my friends.

"But I didn't really understand what soccer was to the rest of the world until I spent two years in Germany."

Chambers, an avid Real Salt Lake fan, acknowledged it requires work for the average American to appreciate soccer.

"It takes a little effort to enjoy," Chambers said. "When I watch an amazing run at the goal and see someone flip a ball some crazy way, I know how that affects me.

"It's a very simple sport, but it requires creativity on the fly to make something simple look exceptional."

At 6-foot-7 and 315 pounds, it's difficult to pretend Chambers might've had this option had he played soccer instead of football in high school. But if given the option to play in the NFL or the Premier League, he said he would stick with America's game.

Still, he admitted soccer's non-stop action can be more riveting than football.

"What I've really come to appreciate during international matches, I feel tension from the opening kickoff until the end of the game," Chambers said. "There's an internal tension caused by the nervousness of what's going to happen.

"Football is so much stop and go and TV timeouts and off the field and on the field. In soccer, there's a nervousness that grips you until the ref blows the match dead."

Chambers said being a U.S. soccer fan can be heartbreaking because the squad is competitive internationally but hasn't been able to break through. I could hear the irritation in Chambers' voice when he recalled how the U.S. blew a 2-0 lead and lost to Brazil in last year's Confederation's Cup final.

Chambers is pumped about America's midfield -- with Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey -- and expressed thanks for goalie Tim Howard. Chambers, however, is concerned with defensive lapses shown in friendlies.

"It's a bittersweet thing being a U.S. fan," Chambers said. "We're right at the doorstep of becoming a respectable team. It's exciting to follow that."

TMQing the AFC East draft

April, 27, 2010
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Page 2 columnist Greg Easterbrook shared plenty of thoughts on the draft in his "Tuesday Morning Quarterback" column.

Here are the AFC East highlights from his review:

Buffalo Bills
In April 2009, the Bills entered the draft with an emergency situation at left tackle, and chose no left tackle, but did use their first selection on a nickel linebacker who, even if all went well, would play only on passing downs. The Bills' 2009 offense proceeded to be awful as Buffalo started five different players at left tackle. This April, the Bills entered the draft with an emergency situation at left tackle, and did not choose an offensive lineman until the fifth round.
For a decade, Buffalo has failed to reach the playoffs -- the worst such streak in the AFC -- and in that period drafted horribly, making repeated luxury picks (three first-round running backs in a single decade, for instance) rather than fixing its offensive line. Offensive tackles on the Buffalo roster: Demetrius Bell, eight career starts, coming off an ACL tear; Jamon Meredith, four career starts; Edward Wang, fifth-round draft selection; Kirk Chambers, waived four times by the Bills over the last three seasons; Cornell Green, who will be 34 years old on opening day; Nick Hennessey, no career starts, though he surely got a great education at Phillips Andover Academy and then Colgate; Andre Ramsey and Jason Watkins, no career starts. Presumably, the quarterback-needy Bills passed on multiple chances to select Jimmy Clausen or Colt McCoy because they know the blocking is so bad, anyone under center for Buffalo next season will just get killed anyway. It's the year 2010. How can a professional football team totally ignore the need to be solid at offensive tackle?

Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins traded down from 12th to 28th to recover one of the second-round choices given in the Brandon Marshall trade, then were able to obtain a decent defensive tackle, their leading need, at 28. Factor in the addition of Marshall, and Miami had a solid draft. Hmm ... this is a straightforward sports comment; what's it doing in TMQ?

New England Patriots

Bill Belichick loves him some tight ends. Since becoming the Patriots' coach, Belichick has invested 11 choices in tight ends, including two last week. And Belichick loves draft-day trades, this year making six, involving a total of 18 choices at various points. Example: Through a sequence of transactions New England swapped the 47th choice, midway through the second round, for a late-second-round choice, a fifth-round pick and Carolina's second selection in 2011. This is skilled trading -- but when is New England actually going to use all its banked choices?
In 2009, New England banked a lot of choices via trades, going into 2010 holding three second-round picks. Since 2010 was viewed as a strong draft, it seemed Belichick's strategy would be to transfer picks into a strong year. Now the strong year has arrived and rather than fire all his ammo, Belichick traded down several times then concluded the draft having banked two first-round and two second-round choices for 2011. Even the squirrel who hides nuts for the winter eventually digs them up and eats them. When is Belichick going to use all these extra picks? Is he exhibiting some hoarding syndrome that should get him on Oprah?

New York Jets

The Jets spent their second-round choice on Vladimir Ducasse -- you don't run into a lot of NFL players named Vladimir. Though, this does seem an ideal name for the Rex Ryan mindset. I find it easy to imagine Ryan meeting Vladimir in some ancient castle to discuss plans for world domination.
The Jets also signed Jason Taylor. All his recent team-switching -- Miami, then Washington, then back to Miami, now Jersey/B -- makes Taylor seem mercenary. Of course the NFL is fundamentally a business; the owners always think first about the business angle. But TMQ fears Taylor's changing teams three times in three seasons will torpedo any chance he had to don that garish yellow jacket in Canton. Hall of Fame electors favor players who spent their entire careers in one place, toughing out the down years, because the Hall of Fame is, in part, about sustaining the romantic belief that NFL players are motivated by sportsmanship and loyalty. Taylor has made it clear he is motivated by his stats and his payday. That's very current, but Tuesday Morning Quarterback thinks it will keep him out of Canton.

AFC East Team Wrap-ups

January, 6, 2010
1/06/10
2:30
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NFC Wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South
Clayton: Video | AFC grades ... NFC More: Fantasy MVPs | FB Outsiders | Awards

A team-by-team analysis of the division. The arrow indicates which direction each team is trending.

New England Patriots

Final Power Ranking: 10

Biggest surprise: Tully Banta-Cain largely was considered an afterthought to the Patriots' defense when the season began. Players such as Vince Wilfork, Ty Warren, Jerod Mayo and Brandon Meriweather were the projected stars. But Banta-Cain, back after two years with the 49ers, led the Patriots with 9.5 sacks, four more than his previous career-high. He also had a pair of forced fumbles.

Biggest disappointment: Outside linebacker Adalius Thomas probably won't be back next year. Thomas has two years remaining on a free-agent contract that pays him an average of $7 million, but that didn't stop Bill Belichick from benching him twice. Thomas notched 11 sacks for the Ravens the year before the Patriots signed him. He finished with three this year, tying his worst output since he became a starter in 2001.

Biggest need: Despite unexpected seasons from Banta-Cain and defensive tackle Mike Wright, the Patriots must improve their pass rush. Wright had five sacks. So did Derrick Burgess, acquired with high expectations in a trade with the Raiders in training camp. The Patriots notched a mere 31 sacks, tying them for 23rd in the league. They ranked 12th in pass defense.

Team MVP: Wes Welker won't be around for the playoffs, but he certainly helped the Patriots get there. He led the NFL with a franchise-record 123 receptions for 1,348 yards.

Turning point: On opening night, Bills kick returner Leodis McKelvin fumbled with about minute left in the game to set up Tom Brady's second touchdown pass in the final 2:06 of a stunning victory. Had the Patriots lost that game, the whole trajectory of their season might've changed.


New York Jets

Final Power Ranking: 12

Biggest surprise: When star nose tackle Kris Jenkins suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 6, everyone figured the Jets' 3-4 defense was doomed. But rookie coach Rex Ryan continued to mold his defense into the NFL's best unit. The Jets ranked No. 1 in total defense, scoring defense and passing defense, and gave up the fewest first downs.

Biggest disappointment: Rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez's lack of progression from the start of the season has been frustrating. He began his career remarkably well, playing beyond his years in helping the Jets open 3-0. But his penchant for giveaways and a failure to grasp team concepts forced the Jets to curb their offense rather than open it up as the season wore on. The best solution has been to marginalize Sanchez. In his past five victories, his attempts were in the teens, and his yardage never surpassed 154.

Biggest need: Aside from accelerated experience at quarterback? Despite the trade for downfield threat Braylon Edwards, the Jets really could use help at receiver. Sanchez would benefit from a reliable slot receiver. The Jets' fourth-leading target was running back Leon Washington, who didn't play the final nine games. You'd have to look even lower on the stat sheet to find their third receiver. David Clowney finished with 14 catches for 191 yards.

Team MVP: Lockdown cornerback Darrelle Revis was the best player on the NFL's best defense. His six interceptions tied him for fifth in the league, and his 37 passes defensed were best by a comfortable margin.

Turning point: The Jets had a miraculous Week 16. All of the teams they needed to lose fell flat, and the undefeated Colts pulled their starters with almost six minutes left in the third quarter to usher the Jets onto the postseason threshold.


Miami Dolphins

Final Power Ranking: 21

Biggest surprise: The Dolphins couldn't have appear more condemned than when they started 0-3 and lost quarterback Chad Pennington to a season-ending shoulder injury. In came sophomore Chad Henne, who had been lackluster in the preseason. The Dolphins preferred to let Henne marinate for another season, but he won seven of his first 10 starts and showed enough to give Dolfans reason to believe they've found a franchise quarterback.

Biggest disappointment: The best compliment head coach Tony Sparano could pay outside linebacker Joey Porter recently was that he had gotten better at stopping the run as the season progressed. Porter led the AFC in sacks last season with 17. He recorded only nine this season, with half coming in two games. A hamstring problem bothered him, and Sparano benched him one game for disciplinary reasons.

Biggest need: The Dolphins need receiving help more than ever. Pennington thrived with their collection of possession receivers because he's a precision passer. But Henne has downfield capabilities that require a reliable deep threat. Ted Ginn certainly has the speed but little else to qualify him as a No. 1 wideout.

Team MVP: Ricky Williams is 32 years old, but he turned back the calendar with his best campaign since 2003, the longest spread between 1,000-yard seasons in NFL history. He became the workhorse, rushing for at least 102 yards in four out of the five games after Ronnie Brown suffered a season-ending broken foot in Week 10.

Turning point: The Dolphins were in control when they were 7-6. Then they lost their last three games to finish out of the playoffs.


Buffalo Bills

Final Power Ranking: 24

Biggest surprise: When it came to this year's draft class, all of the attention was focused on defensive end Aaron Maybin (11th overall) and offensive linemen Eric Wood (28th) and Andy Levitre (51st). But safety Jairus Byrd (42nd) stole the show for much of the season and was selected for the Pro Bowl. Byrd started only 11 games, but his nine interceptions tied for the NFL lead.

Biggest disappointment: Marshawn Lynch appeared ready to break out as an elite running back. He was entering his third season and was a Pro Bowler with a pair of 1,000-yard campaigns. But he opened the season with a three-game suspension for repeated bad behavior. He lost his job as the featured back by Week 11 and finished with 450 yards. He completed four games with 6 or fewer yards.

Biggest need: The Bills are practically naked at both offensive tackle spots. They traded Pro Bowler Jason Peters before the draft and chose not to replace him -- even though they had a crack at young star Michael Oher. The Bills went through a series of unimpressive names, including Demetrius Bell, Brad Butler, Jamon Meredith, Jonathan Scott and Kirk Chambers.

Team MVP: Fred Jackson took over as lead back by thoroughly outperforming Lynch. Jackson rushed for 1,062 yards and two touchdowns, and caught 46 passes for 371 yards and two touchdowns. Jackson also was Buffalo's top kick returner with 1,014 yards.

Turning point: Had McKelvin not coughed up the ball on that fateful kickoff return on opening night, the Bills would have ended a wicked losing skid against the Patriots and probably would have changed the course of their season.

Root of Buffalo's problem easy to tackle

November, 19, 2009
11/19/09
7:58
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There was one specific problem that doomed Dick Jauron with the Buffalo Bills.

It wasn't installing the no-huddle offense. It wasn't signing Terrell Owens. It wasn't firing the offensive coordinator 10 days before the regular-season opener. It wasn't Leodis McKelvin's fumble or Roscoe Parrish's bobble.

[+] EnlargeDick Jauron
David Butler II/US PresswireProblems at offensive tackle helped lead to Dick Jauron's demise in Buffalo.
What sunk Jauron and led to his dismissal Tuesday can be directly attributed to the Bills' organizational approach at offensive tackle. Jauron certainly had a voice in how they handled it, but vice president of pro personnel John Guy had input and chief operating officer Russ Brandon signed off on it.

Fitting that Jauron was fired the same week "The Blind Side," a major motion picture about the life of Baltimore Ravens rookie tackle Michael Oher, will hit theaters.

The movie is based on the book by Michael Lewis, author of "Moneyball." Oher was the central character in Lewis' book, but the real subject of "The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game" was about how left tackle had evolved into the second most important position in football.

The problem in Buffalo is that they don't have a tackle. Or they've had too many. Either way, it has been a disaster.

What follows is a timeline of how the Bills went from having a respectable pair of tackles to the most abominable group in the NFL.

April 17: Unable or unwilling to negotiate a contract extension, the Bills trade two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters to the Philadelphia Eagles for draft picks.

April 25 and 26: Bills decline to select a tackle in the 2009 draft.

April 26: I asked Jauron what the Bills intend to do at tackle.

"We went into the draft having discussed that after the trade of Jason, saying 'Do we feel like we have to have a tackle?' And I think we all agreed ... we're not going to stray far from our grades just to take a tackle," Jauron said.

"We felt like we have guys that can play there. So there's no sense in passing up a guy we think is significantly better at another position just to feel like we've plugged a number in. We weren't going to do that."

Shortly after the draft: Jauron informs right tackle Langston Walker they are moving him to left tackle and right guard Brad Butler they are switching him to right tackle.

May 14: Scouts Inc. analyst Matt Williamson observes "Buffalo might have the worst offensive tackles in the NFL."

Aug. 28: A team source tells me Demetrius Bell, despite a back injury, has overtaken Walker as the Bills' left tackle of choice. Bell is entering his second year and hasn't played in an NFL game.

Sept. 5: Bills cut tackle Kirk Chambers, who started four games in 2008.

Sept. 8: Bills cut Walker, re-sign Chambers. Jauron is asked if he overestimated Walker's ability.

"Probably," Jauron replies. "We clearly felt we could move him in, and he'd do the job. He just wasn't playing up to our expectations. So we felt like it was time to make that move."

Sept. 14: Bills start the season with Bell at left tackle and Butler at right tackle. Their entire opening-night offensive line has 47 career starts among them.

Sept. 20: Butler suffers a season-ending knee injury against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Sept. 22: Rather than pursue veteran help such as Jon Runyan or Damion McIntosh, the Bills pluck rookie tackle Jamon Meredith off Green Bay Packers' practice squad.

Sept. 27: Jonathan Scott starts for Butler at right tackle against the New Orleans Saints. It's Scott's seventh career start in four seasons. ... Bell suffers a groin injury.

Oct. 4: Chambers, inactive the two previous games, starts at right tackle against the Miami Dolphins and gives up 2.5 sacks to first-year outside linebacker Cameron Wake. ... Scott starts at left tackle for Bell.

Oct. 18: Meredith makes his first NFL start at right tackle against the New York Jets.

Nov. 1: Meredith suffers a knee injury against the Houston Texans.

Nov. 15: Bell suffers a right knee injury against the Tennessee Titans. Rookie guard Andy Levitre finishes the game at left tackle.

Nov. 16: Through Week 10, Bell is the NFL's most penalized player regardless of position.

Nov. 17: Bills fire Jauron, name defensive coordinator Perry Fewell interim head coach.

Wake hopes long journey just beginning

November, 18, 2009
11/18/09
5:06
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Cameron WakeAP Photo/Hans DerykCameron Wake's professional football journey has taken him from Canada to Miami.
This is not your first time. ... You've done this before. ... It's just a different-colored uniform and a little warmer. ... Get to the quarterback.

The words scrolled through Cameron Wake's mind in an endless loop on a steamy August night. He was about to play his first NFL preseason game, something he'd waited five years to experience. He didn't want to blow it.

Wake was a dynamic linebacker at Penn State, a captain. But when he left campus he might as well have fallen off the face of the earth. He wasn't drafted, and although he signed with the New York Giants, they cut him before training camp began.

So he floated. For years. He took a job shuffling mortgage papers, another as a personal trainer. A pro tryout got mixed in here or there. He assumed a new name.

Wake finally landed in the Canadian Football League and created enough of a ruckus to get another shot at the NFL.

He signed with the Miami Dolphins, and that's what brings him to that seminal moment in August at Land Shark Stadium. It's only the preseason, but he feels the moment and wants to make sure he experiences many more.

"I don't know if it's fear, but it's a feeling of wanting to make sure you're as ready as you can be when the moment comes," Wake said. "If you're not nervous when that situation comes up, then something's wrong with you. But that situation has happened many, many times.

"When I went up to Canada, every game was a chance. Coming down here [to the Dolphins] and auditioning for the various teams, this was my chance. Getting on the field was my chance. The first preseason game, 'Don't blow it.' It's something I've definitely come across more than once."

Wake has showed he belongs in the NFL. He was deactivated the first three games and gets the scrap snaps left over from veteran outside linebackers Joey Porter, Jason Taylor, Matt Roth and Charlie Anderson.

But Wake has managed to get to the quarterback a few times anyway. He enters Thursday night's game against the Carolina Panthers with 4.5 sacks, tied for second on the team and one behind Taylor.

Symbolic of Wake's journey, he traveled as far as a professional football geographically could -- about 2,800 miles from Vancouver to Miami -- to get his big break. He spent the past two seasons as a 4-3 defensive end for the BC Lions. He collected 39 sacks and was named the CFL's best defensive player each year.

"It's amazing," Wake said. "I changed positions, changed leagues, changed climates, changed coaches, changed countries. I'm literally in the opposite corner of the continent. It has been a major journey."

Wake, however, won't ever admit to feeling like he has arrived.

"Once you get a little bit, you want a lot more," Wake said. "When I signed, that was fine. I was part of the Dolphins. But that wasn't enough. I wanted to make the team. I made the team. That wasn't enough. I wanted to play. When I played and got a couple sacks, that's not enough.

"I need more. Give me more. I want more responsibility. I want more everything. I know it's not going to happen overnight, but I'm hungry."

Wake will turn 28 in January. Brigham Young grads and even Chris Weinke think that's pretty old for someone with one season of NFL experience.

DobbsIt's amazing. I changed positions, changed leagues, changed climates, changed coaches, changed countries. I'm literally in the opposite corner of the continent. It has been a major journey.

-- Dolphins linebacker Cameron Wake
The long road to quasi-rookie status has given Wake perspective.

He calls himself "a sponge," trying to absorb as much as he can from the wisdom that surrounds him. He played for Joe Paterno (under the name Derek Wake), but for the past nine months he has been inundated by highly concentrated football lessons from the likes of football operations boss Bill Parcells, head coach Tony Sparano, defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni, the NFL's active sacks leader (Taylor) and last season's AFC sacks leader (Porter).

"Sitting in the locker room, you can see all the guys who were big names coming out of college," Wake said. "No disrespect to the easy way to the NFL, but I had to sit on the couch. Being cut from football and having to go off somewhere and having to work your way back in, you appreciate every day moreso than maybe somebody who hasn't had to go through that."

Many Dolfans would like to see Wake get more chances to produce in games. Porter hasn't been getting it done. Porter has been bothered by a hamstring problem and was benched for Sunday's victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Wake had a sack against the Buccaneers, giving him one in consecutive games.

But his signature NFL performance thus far came in his second regular-season game. He recorded 2.5 sacks and forced a fumble against the Buffalo Bills in Week 4.

He abused Bills right tackle Kirk Chambers. Wake used speed and power to record his first NFL sack. He sprinted deep into the Bills' backfield, made a U-turn to shake off Chambers and charged at Trent Edwards from behind, jarring the ball loose.

Wake slowly climbed to his feet, stomping as he rose. He clenched his fists, and in a sudden motion arched his back, threw his arms outward and yelled at the sky.

"It's amazing to go from the couch to a game ball," Wake said. "It's hard to put into words. That journey, to get to that point, it's just the beginning."

How I See It: AFC East Stock Watch

November, 17, 2009
11/17/09
11:30
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NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Falling
Belichick
Belichick

1. Bill Belichick, Patriots head coach: No need to go over this one in great detail. He gambled. He failed. His controversial decision to go for it on fourth down from his own 28-yard line might have cost the Patriots a shot at home-field advantage in the playoffs.

2. Buffalo Bills offensive tackles: Left tackle Demetrius Bell is the latest to go down. He will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury and could join original right tackle Brad Butler on injured reserve.

Other tackles who have started this year and are hurt or have missed games: Jonathan Scott, Jamon Meredith and Kirk Chambers.

3. New York Jets at home: They won their first two games at the Meadowlands but have dropped their past three -- all of them heartbreakers. Maurice Jones-Drew knelt them out Sunday. They held the Miami Dolphins to 104 yards from scrimmage but lost because of three return touchdowns. The Buffalo Bills stunned them in overtime.
Brady
Brady
Moss
Moss

Rising

1. Tom Brady-to-Randy Moss combo: Sunday night looked like 2007 all over again. Brady completed 29 of 42 passes for 375 yards and three touchdowns. Moss had nine receptions for 179 yards and two touchdowns.

In the past two games, Brady has connected with Moss 15 times for 226 yards and three scores.
Williams
Williams

2. Ricky Williams, Dolphins running back: His responsibilities will increase with Ronnie Brown hobbled by an ankle injury. Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said Monday that Williams is capable of taking the Wildcat direct snaps.

With Brown gone in the fourth quarter Sunday, Williams ran nine times for 53 yards to nail down a victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

3. Cameron Wake, Dolphins outside linebacker: Wake continues to make his presence felt on a defense crowded with experienced outside linebackers.

Wake
Wake
Joey Porter didn't play Sunday because of an organizational decision, but Wake picked up some of the slack by recording a sack in his second straight game. He has 4.5 sacks, one behind Jason Taylor for the team lead.

Bills' O-line has just 47 NFL starts among them

October, 18, 2009
10/18/09
1:34
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- When the Buffalo Bills started their season, the five starters on their offensive line had a combined 56 NFL starts, the fewest on opening weekend in since the 2002 New York Giants.

The Bills were supposed to build from there.

The total of career starts, of course, should go up by increments of five after each game as the youngsters gained their footing. Or at least that would be the hope.

As Bills enter their Week 6 game against the New York Jets in the Meadowlands, they've managed to get about 16 percent less experienced on their offensive line.

The Bills' projected Sunday lineup will have a total of 47 career NFL starts and feature four players who made their NFL debuts this year.

Center Geoff Hangartner has 32 career NFL starts. Nobody else has more than five.

Rookie guards Eric Wood and Andy Levitre have five starts apiece. Second-year left tackle Demetrius Bell also made his first appearance on opening night but missed a game because of a groin injury, giving him four starts.

Rookie Jamon Meredith, plucked off the Green Bay Packers' practice squad, is expected to make his NFL debut and be Buffalo's fourth right tackle this season. Meredith wasn't good enough to make the Packers' roster. The Packers have allowed the most sacks.

Original starter Brad Butler (31 starts) is on injured reserve. His replacement, Jonathan Scott (nine starts), is out with a groin injury. Kirk Chambers (six starts), who got the nod at right tackle in Week 4, didn't make the team out of training camp.

Bills O-line signals false alarm

October, 11, 2009
10/11/09
8:59
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills committed more false starts that Bachman Turner Overdrive on the chorus of "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet."

The Bills were whistled for nine false starts in Sunday's hideous 6-3 loss to the Cleveland Browns.

The Elias Sports Bureau dug around and found that was the most false starts in a game since the New York Giants jumped 11 times against the Seattle Seahawks in November 2005.

And the Bills were at home. So they can't blame the crowd noise.

"I don't know," Bills offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt replied when asked for an explanation. "We tried to go with those quick cadences. We want to get an up-tempo and try to wear them down a little bit up front, and it jumped up and got us."

Cleveland accepted 13 penalties for 75 yards. Buffalo went into the game second only to the St. Louis Rams in penalties.

Eight of Buffalo's false starts were done by offensive linemen, three of whom did it twice each.

Four false starts occurred at right tackle. Jonathan Scott was caught twice before he got hurt. Then replacement Kirk Chambers did it twice. Left tackle Demetrius Bell also doubled up.

Right guard Andy Levitre had only one false start, but it stung. The Bills had a third-and-1 on the Browns 33-yard line when Levitre jumped. The Bills failed to convert on third and fourth downs.

"It's definitely tough to overcome, especially when we have a third-and-1," Bills receiver Terrell Owens said. "It's tough to win games with that many penalties and, obviously, turnovers."

The Bills had three of those, too. Trent Edwards threw an interception, trying to force a pass to Owens. They also lost a pair of fumbles, including Roscoe Parrish's bobble that gave the Browns possession for the winning field goal.

But the penalties were absurd.

"It's inexcusable," center Geoff Hangartner said, "and we've got to do something to change it."

Bills roster even more threadbare

October, 11, 2009
10/11/09
3:23
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham


ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills went into Sunday's game with a ramshackle roster.

They're even more dilapidated now.

In Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns, the Bills have lost three more players at the two positions they were thinnest: linebacker and offensive line.

Defensive captain Kawika Mitchell was carted off in the first half with a leg injury that looked serious. This week, Mitchell was switched to middle linebacker to replace Marcus Buggs, who replaced captain Paul Posluszny, who suffered a broken forearm in Week 1.

Buggs was carted off the field with a leg injury in the second half.

Keith Ellison is in the middle now.

The Bills also lost right tackle Jonathan Scott with an apparent leg injury. Scott became a starter when Brad Butler went on injured reserve with a knee injury suffered in Week 2.

Kirk Chambers, a veteran journeyman cut as the end of training camp, replaced Scott.

Buffalo also is playing without both of their regular starting safeties, Donte Whitner and Bryan Scott.

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