AFC East: Lee Evans

Brady-LewisUSA TODAY SportsTom Brady and Ray Lewis face off for the second year in a row in the AFC title game.

It’s not the Tom Brady versus Peyton Manning showdown many expected in the AFC Championship Game. But the intense rivalry between the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens is just as exciting.

For the second consecutive year, these familiar foes will meet at Gillette Stadium for the right to represent the AFC at the Super Bowl. Last season, New England escaped with a 23-20 victory after Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff shanked a 32-yard chip shot that could've forced overtime.

Is this year’s rematch the last stop for Baltimore middle linebacker Ray Lewis? Or will Brady be denied his sixth career Super Bowl appearance? AFC East blogger James Walker and AFC North blogger Jamison Hensley examine the possibilities.

James Walker: Jamison, I feel like it was just yesterday when we watched Billy Cundiff botch an otherwise great playoff game at Gillette Stadium. You had the feeling there was still unfinished business between these two teams, even after they played in the regular season. I think it’s fitting that the Ravens and Patriots got back to this point and meet again with so much on the line. How different are the Ravens now compared to the team that made last year’s AFC title game?

[+] EnlargeBilly Cundiff
AP Photo/Winslow TownsonKicker Billy Cundiff and the Ravens walked off the field disappointed in last season's AFC title game.
Jamison Hensley: Well, James, the Ravens don't have Cundiff or wide receiver Lee Evans anymore, which is a big difference from last season. But that hasn't been the only change. The Ravens have really undergone an image makeover in the 12 months since losing the AFC Championship Game in Foxborough. Last year, and actually for the past 13 seasons, the Ravens were a team defined by defense. The offense has always been in the passenger seat when it comes to the team's championship drive. That's not the case anymore. Even though the Ravens' defense finished No. 17 in the league, it has been ranked in the 20s for most of the season. The Ravens are relying on Joe Flacco and their offense more than ever. Baltimore won half of its games this season by scoring 30 or more points and was 5-0 when Flacco threw for more than 300 yards. As he's been all season, Flacco is the X factor for the Ravens. I'm sure he's going to throw the ball deep against a Patriots defense that has given up some big plays this season. Everyone knows Tom Brady is championship caliber, but is that defense at that level yet?

Walker: New England’s defense is tricky to gauge. Is it championship caliber? No. The Patriots are not going to win a championship solely based on their defense, which was ranked 25th this season. But it has improved, largely due to its young players. Rookies like linebacker Dont'a Hightower, defensive end Chandler Jones and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard have really added to New England’s physicality. The Patriots are ninth against the run and ninth in points allowed. It’s the “chunk” passing plays where New England has the most trouble. I think the Ravens can have success by attacking the Patriots vertically. New England has done a good job this season of scoring touchdowns, pushing the pace on offense and holding opponents to field goals. Before you know it, opponents are down 17 or 20 points. Obviously, the Patriots’ offense is a hot topic thanks to Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo. He provided New England some easy bulletin-board material by saying he doesn’t respect the Patriots’ “gimmick” offense. The Patriots will use that as motivation, even if they don’t admit it publicly. Speaking of motivation, how big is the Ray Lewis factor and how will it impact this game?

Hensley: There will always be a debate on whether Ray Lewis is the greatest middle linebacker of all time. But there's really no argument when it comes to Lewis being the greatest leader in NFL history. James, as you know from your years of covering the AFC North, Lewis has a way of motivating players and getting them to elevate their game. That's a big reason the Ravens had a top-10 defense from 1999 to 2011. His impact is being felt this season, too. The Ravens are 7-1 with Lewis and 5-5 without him. When Lewis announced before the playoffs that this was going to be "his final ride," that became the emotional rallying cry for this team. Do I think everyone is playing for Ray Lewis? Not at all. Joe Flacco wasn't thinking of Ray Lewis when he threw that desperation touchdown pass in Denver. But the Ravens are certainly playing inspired football. It helped the Ravens beat Peyton Manning and they're hoping it helps them to knock off another future Hall of Fame quarterback. James, what has impressed you the most about Tom Brady's game this year?

[+] EnlargeNew England's Dont'a Hightower
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsDont'a Hightower is one of the fresh faces helping the Patriots' defense.
Walker: I’ve always argued that Brady is better than Manning, especially this time of year. People will always debate their statistics. But the biggest difference is Brady is 17-6 and Manning is 9-11 in postseason games. I think that’s telling. There is no other quarterback I’d rather have in a one-game scenario than Brady. What’s impressed me most is Brady is 35 and showing no signs of slowing down. Brady even took on more responsibility this season, running a high-tempo, no-huddle offense more often, and he flourished. Brady, in my opinion, is in a class of his own among the final four quarterbacks. Flacco’s performance last week silenced a lot of critics, but he is 0-2 in AFC title games. Jamison, Flacco is in a contract year. Is this the season he gets over the hump in the conference championship game?

Hensley: If Evans could've held onto that catch in the end zone, Flacco would've already been over that hump. Just like last season, I expect the Patriots will look to shut down Ray Rice and force Flacco to beat them. Flacco has been a dangerous downfield passer this postseason, averaging 20.4 yards per completion. I'm not saying he's in Brady's class, but Flacco is playing at a higher level right now. It's not about Flacco stepping up in a contract year, either. He knows he's going to get paid whether it's a long-term deal or the franchise tag. The reason Flacco is playing better is because he's more experienced. Of course, as I say this, I also want to point out that Flacco is the streakiest quarterback in the league. So, do the Patriots get the good Flacco or the bad one? We'll find out Sunday. James, how do you see this game playing out?

Walker: You’re right, Jamison. Flacco has followed up some good performances with some bad ones. But I really like the sense of urgency from both teams. Baltimore has Lewis making his last postseason run and Brady looks like a man on a mission to qualify for his sixth Super Bowl appearance and maybe a fourth title. I decided to stay away from firm predictions after the regular season. AFC East blog readers were getting upset that I was hitting on most of my picks. My final record for the season was 40-12 picking division games. So I’m going to pass. But as I wrote last weekend, Brady was winning Super Bowls when Flacco, Matt Ryan and Colin Kaepernick were teenagers in high school. The quarterback advantage is in New England’s favor, which makes the Patriots the favorite of the four remaining teams.

Hensley: If the Ravens and Patriots played last month, my prediction would’ve been New England in a rout. But something has happened to the Ravens since the playoffs began. The Ravens are the big underdog once again, and that will only fuel their desire to prove themselves. Four of the past five meetings between Baltimore and New England have been decided by six points or fewer. This is going to be another close game. And, just like last season, the AFC Championship Game will come down to the final drive.

Reaction to Sterling Moore's big play

January, 23, 2012
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- One of the biggest heroes in the New England Patriots' locker room following their 23-20 victory against the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game was backup cornerback Sterling Moore.

[+] EnlargeSterling Moore
AP Photo/Winslow TownsonThe Ravens' Lee Evans is stripped of the ball by the Patriots' Sterling Moore during the final minute of Sunday's AFC Championship Game.
With time running out in regulation, Moore made the biggest defensive play of the game when he stripped the ball out of Baltimore receiver Lee Evans' hands at the last second to negate a potential game-winning touchdown. The Ravens subsequently missed a 32-yard field goal that could have forced overtime.

"It was just a split-second decision and I'm glad it worked out," Moore said. "We do that drill everyday in practice, but it was the first time I had to use it in a game, and I just took what I learned from practice into the game."

Here is some reaction to Moore's ... ahem ... "sterling" play:

Patriots LB Brandon Spikes: "You have to play through the whole play. His technique was [good]. I’m not in the secondary, but throughout the whole week the coaches put a big emphasis on playing all the way through. [Evans] had the ball, but [Moore] knocked it out. That was big."

Patriots safety James Ihedigbo: "That is why you have to play through the whistle. Like I said, Sterling made an amazing play. He didn’t see the ball coming and his back was turned. And as the receiver caught it, and before he could put two feet down, he slapped it out of his hand. That‘s just a split second. That is just great thinking, an amazing play there."

Patriots coach Bill Belichick: "[Moore] made some plays. Not perfect out there, but he competes hard and he’s a tough kid. He’s got good ball skills. He gets around the ball."

The Patriots and Ravens were the two best teams in the AFC all season. There was a very thin line that separated them in the AFC Championship Game. The Patriots executed better than the Ravens in the final minute.
Just three week ago draft bust Aaron Maybin reached a new career low. The Buffalo Bills, who went 4-12 last season, gave up on their former first-round pick and released Maybin after two unproductive seasons.

But several weeks later Maybin is on the verge of a stunning turnaround. The New York Jets signed Maybin several days after his release. Now, he's on the 53-man roster of a team that was one quarter away from the Super Bowl last season.

Maybin isn't in the clear yet. New York might still add free agents or waiver-wire pickups in the next few days, which would put his status in jeopardy. But it's obvious the Jets see something in Maybin that the Bills never did.

The question is, what is it?

Is Maybin a better fit in Rex Ryan's defense? Is Maybin finally motivated after getting released? Can a change of scenery help that much?

I was recently in Baltimore Ravens training camp and talked to receiver Lee Evans, who is Maybin's former teammate in Buffalo. Evans, an eight-year veteran and consummate professional, said he believes Maybin's maturity is finally getting to where it needs to be.

There are no guarantees in the NFL. Maybin might get cut before the Jets' Week 1 game against the Dallas Cowboys. But Maybin making New York's 53-man roster after Buffalo gave up on him a few weeks prior is a feat in itself.

Previewing the Buffalo Bills

September, 1, 2011
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All five panelists asked to pick the AFC East have the Bills finishing fourth. Here's my intelligence report on Buffalo:

Five things you need to know about the Bills:

1. Optimism on D: With Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams, the Bills have an exceptional foundation for their defense. Many thought this would be a 3-4 defense, and Buffalo is sure to employ that scheme plenty this year. But with Dareus, the No. 3 pick in the 2011 draft, and Williams, who is among the very best interior defensive linemen in all of football, Buffalo finds itself in the extremely enviable position of having two exceptional players at defensive tackle for the 4-3. As described in this blog post, Dareus is an extremely versatile defensive lineman who is capable of impacting a game in many different ways. But as high as I was on Dareus a few weeks back, the preseason made me even more of a believer. He is a great addition to this team.

2. Spiller on the spot: The Bills used the ninth overall pick in the 2010 draft to select C.J. Spiller. Spiller was the third first-round running back Buffalo has selected since 2003, when it picked Willis McGahee, with Marshawn Lynch being the other in 2007. First off, that is just bad business. Running back is the easiest position to find in this league. And simply put, if you are using first-round picks to acquire them, then you are neglecting other positions -- and the Bills have done plenty of neglecting over that time frame. But back to Spiller. He did little during his rookie season. The Bills need him to break out. A potentially dynamic playmaker who can excel on the perimeter or as a receiver, he could become a matchup nightmare for defenses and a huge big-play threat. That needs to happen ASAP. Although he still offers little between the tackles, Spiller has looked quite dynamic this preseason.

3. O-line offensive: Buffalo is weak at both tackle positions. The strength of its front five was the interior three. Now the Bills are shuffling bodies on the inside in what looks like an attempt to get bigger. But in the process, they are putting lesser players on the field. Overall, I see Buffalo's offensive line as one of the worst few in the league. Ryan Fitzpatrick came back to earth as the 2010 season progressed. For this offense to be successful with Fitzpatrick behind center, the line will have to be quite strong. I just don't see that being the case in 2011. And the Bills' quarterback of the future is not currently on the roster.

4. Questions at receiver: Steve Johnson was tremendous last season and is clearly the Bills' No. 1 option in the passing game. Although I personally expect Johnson to fall back to earth once he is the focus of every defensive scheme, I cannot discredit what he is capable of. As noted above, Spiller can pick up some of the slack in the receiving department, but the Bills really don't have tight ends who frighten the opponent. There are a few wide receivers here, though, who are intriguing -- and dealing Lee Evans will enable young players such as Roscoe Parrish, Donald Jones, Marcus Easley or David Nelson to get much more live game activity and potentially develop into starting-caliber weapons. Buffalo needs one or two of the aforementioned players to make that next step.

5. A lot rides on Merriman: What version of Shawne Merriman are we going to see for the Bills in 2011? The answer to that question is absolutely crucial for this team, as the Bills are deprived of frightening edge pass-rushers. The past few seasons, Merriman has been a shell of what he was early in his career, but he flashed his former impact ability during the preseason. And he now has a lot to prove. Arthur Moats is another outside linebacker I am quite fond of, but it is Merriman who is the key here.

AFC East links: Bills unveil Wildcat

August, 15, 2011
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Buffalo Bills

Veteran Bills players are still trying to come to grips with Friday's trade of Lee Evans to the Ravens."I was definitely surprised and still am," said cornerback Terrence McGee. "We got rid of such a great player, I think a player that we needed."

The Bills unveiled a new Wildcat formation in Saturday's exhibition with the Bears. Coach Chan Gailey said he was happy with the play of Brad Smith in the new package. "We wanted to work on the Wildcat .... We were able to get it on film and see what it adds to us," Gailey said.

Miami Dolphins

Special-teams play could be the deciding factor in the tight competition for Miami’s final roster spot at wide receiver.

The team signed veteran inside linebacker Marvin Mitchell on Sunday after a series of linebacker workouts.

There's no quarterback competition in Miami just yet, but coach Tony Sparano was impressed with Matt Moore in Friday's victory against the Falcons.

New England Patriots

The Patriots plan to work out veteran receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh and safety Darren Sharper.

Logan Mankins is "ecstatic" about his new six-year contract with Patriots.

Defensive line coach Pepper Johnson talks about the challenges of working with the 18 defensive linemen the Pats have in camp.

New York Jets

Recently released receiver Jerricho Cotchery said the chance to "win right now" led him to sign with the Steelers.

Plaxico Burress' injury gave rookie receiver Jeremy Kerley a major opportunity to shine in the Jets' preseason opener.

As much as this season is about Rex Ryan fulfilling his Super Bowl promises, it is even more about quarterback Mark Sanchez, whom Ryan has made a captain, writes the New York Post's Brian Costello.
ESPNNewYork.com's Rich Cimini has six things to watch for in the Jets' preseason opener against the Texans.

Bills observations

August, 14, 2011
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Observations from the Bills’ 10-3 preseason loss to the Bears:

Sacks!: The Bears might have the worst offensive line in football, but Buffalo deserves a lot of credit for sacking Chicago quarterbacks a whopping nine times. Shawne Merriman stood out in this capacity. If he is now close to the player he was just a few years ago in San Diego, that will be exactly what the Bills need so badly at outside linebacker. Merriman abused J'Marcus Webb -- who has no business starting at left tackle -- with regularity. Merriman won his one-on-one matchup with power, quickness and technique, which is very encouraging. Chicago was wise to get Jay Cutler out of the game even before the first quarter wrapped up. Cutler’s backup, Caleb Hanie, also could have done a better job of getting the ball out quicker.

Marcell Dareus: The rookie played terrifically in his debut for the Bills. I wrote last week what Dareus can do for this team from a schematic standpoint. We saw much of that against the Bears. He was particularly effective lined up at defensive tackle in the Bills’ four-man front, abusing Chicago’s right guards. Time and continuity should help the Bears’ line, but clearly Dareus brings a ton to the table. Dareus runs and changes directions extremely well for such a big man.

Bills OL needs work: As awful as the Bears’ offensive line looked in Week 1 of the preseason, Buffalo’s wasn’t all that spectacular either, particularly on the interior. Henry Melton is a real up-and-comer as Chicago’s 3 technique, and his quick get-off and penetration skills gave the Bills’ guards a tough time on numerous occasions. Running against the Bears should be a very difficult chore once again this season. Melton might make it tough on many guards this season.

…as does the run defense: While Chicago could not protect its passer, the Bears did open holes in the run game. Marion Barber was quick to get downhill. He was decisive and showed a better burst than I remember from his final days in Dallas. The Bills did not handle his physicality very well and too often failed to get him on the ground when given ample opportunity. Kahlil Bell, a similar type power runner, also gave Buffalo’s depth players a hard time.

Wideouts minus Evans: Lee Evans is now in Baltimore, so there is now a golden opportunity for one or several of the Bills’ young receivers to step up. While the quarterback ball placement didn’t help the cause early, no one out of this stable really stepped up against the Bears. It also should be noted that C.J. Spiller spent some time in the slot as well. His role needs to increase.

Brad Smith: We got a glimpse why the Bills signed Smith from the divisional rival Jets. They plan on using him in a wide variety of ways. He lined up as a Wildcat quarterback as a run threat, which could be a regular thing for the Bills on third-and-short situations. We already know that he is an upper-echelon kickoff returner and can be a factor on the edge or slot as a wideout, where he got some work in this game as well. He also threw the ball. Chan Gailey has a very good history of maximizing the talents of players similar to Smith.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com. Follow Matt Williamson on Twitter @WilliamsonNFL.

Newsome, Harbaugh on WR Lee Evans

August, 12, 2011
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The Baltimore Ravens made a significant trade Friday to acquire receiver Lee Evans from the Buffalo Bills. Baltimore gave up a fourth-round pick in 2012.

Here is what the Ravens' general manager and head coach said about Evans:

Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome

"Our fans will remember him from his outstanding game (six catches, 105 yards, three touchdowns) against us last season. He's a quality veteran receiver who stretches the field and gives us a significant downfield presence. He's the type of person you want on your team. He brings leadership and maturity to the locker room."

Ravens coach John Harbaugh

"We're excited about getting Lee Evans. He's a proven player in this league and a quality person who will fit in well on our team. We’re all looking forward to going to work with him."

Ravens smart to land Lee Evans

August, 12, 2011
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On Monday, I suggested the Baltimore Ravens call the Buffalo Bills and inquire about Lee Evans. On Friday, the Ravens landed Evans in a trade for next year's fourth-round pick.

This is a nice rebound by Baltimore's front office. The Ravens miscalculated their receiver situation in free agency by releasing Derrick Mason and pursuing a younger, more dynamic Malcom Floyd. Baltimore eventually whiffed on Floyd and it was too late to turn back to Mason, who signed a one-year contract with the New York Jets.

That left the Ravens with a pair of rookies as their No. 2 and No. 3 receivers. Torrey Smith and Tandon Doss may become good players down the road. But if Baltimore is serious about winning a championship in 2011, it can't rely on Smith and Doss to lead that charge this season.

Evans brings deep speed and a veteran presence. According to ESPN's Stats & Information, Evans is third in yards per catch (15.7) among active receivers with at least 300 receptions. Only Greg Jennings (16.2) of the Green Bay Packers and Braylon Edwards (15.8) of the San Francisco 49ers are ahead of Evans.

Starter Anquan Boldin will be the top target underneath, while Evans can blow the top off the defense. Fourth-year quarterback Joe Flacco finally has the speedy receiver he needs to take advantage of his beautiful (but rarely used) deep ball.

Overall, this move makes a lot of sense for the Ravens -- and not just because I suggested it.

Report: Lee Evans traded to Ravens

August, 12, 2011
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ESPN's Adam Schefter reports the Bills have reached an agreement to send wide receiver Lee Evans to the Baltimore Ravens in exchange for a fourth-round pick.

Evans, considered a high-value vertical threat, had said this week that trade talks were just a part of the game.

"It's not a whole lot I can focus on because I have no control," Evans said Thursday. "My main goal is to do everything in my power to help this team win. That's what my focus is more so than anything."

Read the full story here.

AFC East links: Baby steps for Plaxico

August, 12, 2011
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Buffalo Bills

During a radio interview Thursday, GM Buddy Nix didn't deny that Lee Evans is available on the trade market.

The New York Times' Andy Benoit has a season preview for the Bills.

The Bills still have some needs to fill, but with veterans Drayton Florence, Terrence McGee and Leodis McKelvin in the secondary, the team is set at cornerback.

Miami Dolphins

Coach Tony Sparano admitted the Dolphins will stick to a rudimentary game plan for the team's preseason opener. Sparano on expectations for the offense: "I don’t want to use the term vanilla, but that’s kind of where you’re going to be.”

Considering what's gone wrong for the Dolphins over the past year, they could use an image makeover, according to TCPalm.com's Ben Becker.

More details are emerging about the April incident that left both Brandon Marshall and his wife Michi-Nogami Marshall injured. According to reports, the police "found a 13-inch kitchen knife laying next to a magazine clip from a firearm on a table outside of Marshall’s office. Both were covered in blood."

New England Patriots

Receiver Taylor Price, a 2010 third-round pick, impressed Bill Belichick with his performance in Thursday night's preseason opener. Belichick on Price: "Taylor had some good plays, made a couple good catches. ... But again, he’s done some of those things in practice over the last couple weeks. It’s good to see them happen in the game, but he’s been very competitive in training camp this year. The year’s made a big difference.”

Rookie running back Stevan Ridley didn't waste any time making a big impression in his first NFL action.

Tom Brady was among a number of New England's starters would did not see any action in the opener.

New York Jets

The Associated Press has a profile on Mark Sanchez and Scotty McKnight, childhood best friends who have been reunited as teammates on the Jets.

Center Nick Mangold was fine after leaving Thursday's practice early with what was later described as a stinger.

Rex Ryan said he plans to play Plaxico Burress for a few snaps in Monday’s preseason opener with the Texans, even though Burress continues to be limited in practice due to an ankle injury.

The Star-Ledger's Conor Orr looks at Dustin Keller and the Jets' depth at tight end heading into the season.

Source: Bills open to Lee Evans trade

August, 11, 2011
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Evans
Evans
The Buffalo Bills are now open to trading wide receiver Lee Evans, a league source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

Evans still is considered a vertical threat that will be an asset for the team that lands him. Trade rumors involving Evans have swirled during the offseason.

"The trade talks, that's just part of the game. It's not a whole lot I can focus on because I have no control," Evans said, Thursday. "My main goal is to do everything in my power to help this team win. That's what my focus is more so than anything."

For the full story, click here.

AFC East links: Ocho, Albert rework deals

August, 11, 2011
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Buffalo Bills

Receiver Lee Evans is trying to ignore rumors that the team might trade him. Evans said he is happy in Buffalo and wants to stay with the team, but anything involving a trade is "out of [his] control."

Receiver Roscoe Parrish injured his leg in practice Wednesday night was ruled out of the team's first preseason game against Chicago.

Miami Dolphins

After a portion of a team practice ended up onYouTube, the team is asking fans to not post practice videos online.

Reggie Bush is unlikely to return punts for the Dolphins -- at least for now. Bush isn’t listed among the three punt returners on the team's initial depth chart, but coach Tony Sparano said Bush "may do it at some point down the road."

New England Patriots

Chad Ochocinco and Albert Haynesworth have restructured their contracts, presenting low-risk, high-reward scenarios for the team, according to Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com.

Reiss counts off the main things he'll be looking for in the Patriots' preseason opener against the Jaguars.

New York Jets

Former defensive lineman Sean Gilbert, who just a year ago played a prominent role is Darrelle Revis' holdout -- is serving as a Jets coaching intern.

All eyes will be on wideout Plaxico Burress at practice Thursday, according to ESPNNewYork.com's Rich Cimini. "If Burress doesn't practice Thursday, following a day of rest, we'll know the ankle injury is more serious than the Jets are letting on."

AFC East links: Stevie Johnson's big goals

August, 2, 2011
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Buffalo Bills

Wide receiver Marcus Easley has been sidelined by a knee injury.

Stevie Johnson has high expectations coming off a breakout 2010 season. "Just try to be like Lee [Evans]," Johnson said. "Lee's one of the elite receivers. He's had 1,000-yard seasons, multiple 1,000-yard seasons. That's what I want to do. I want to be one of those receivers you hear about. Steve Smiths and all that. [Larry] Fitzgeralds. I want to be like those guys. I want to have consistent, 1,000-yard seasons and multiple touchdowns. I don't want to get it twisted and sound like an arrogant guy or anything. But that's the next step for me. I feel like I want to be in that category with those receivers, like Lee is."

Miami Dolphins

Jason Taylor was surprised to get the call asking if he wanted to return to the Dolphins.

Greg Cote of The Miami Herald: "Nothing the Dolphins have done so far, post-lockout, would scream win-now and command the rest of the league’s attention as much as the acquisition -- still -- of quarterback Kyle Orton."

New England Patriots

Chad Ochocinco has vowed to blend in with his new teammates in New England.

Chad Finn of The Boston Globe says Randy Moss' final pattern wasn't a predictable one.

New York Jets

Mark Sanchez says it's time for him to step up his game.

Sporting a new tattoo, Rex Ryan was in midseason form on Monday when he met with the media.

AFC East links: Leigh Bodden set to return

July, 20, 2011
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Buffalo Bills

Buffalo Rumblings continues its countdown of the 10 Bills who will impact what happens in 2011. Coming in at No. 7 is running back C.J. Spiller. Brian Galliford: "Opposing defenses paid more attention to Spiller last season than any other Bill aside from Lee Evans. Speed alone makes Spiller a player that teams must account for on every snap, and his versatility makes that all the more difficult."

Miami Dolphins

Quarterback Tyler Thigpen hasn't ruled out a possible return to Miami.

Former Dolphins linebacker Bryan Cox is ready to make an impact as an assistant coach.

New England Patriots

ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss caught up with safety Brandon Meriweather on Tuesday at former teammate Ellis Hobbs' football camp.

After missing all of last season, Leigh Bodden is anxious to start hitting. "I’m ready for contact. No red jersey. I don’t plan on wearing that when I get there,” Bodden said last week when asked about the state of his shoulder. “I’m definitely ready. I’ve been working out. I feel great. I’m just ready to play."

New York Jets

If the Jets want to be active in free agency, they are going to have to create some room to get under the salary cap.

Cornerback Antonio Cromartie made it clear Tuesday that he plans to test the free-agent waters. "I'm not giving anybody a hometown discount," Cromartie said during an interview with Sirius XM Radio. "I'm definitely going to see what the organization says and also let them know I want to go out and test the market and see where my value is."

Bart Scott isn't a fan of the reported elimination of two-a-day practices during training camp.

Fabric of the game does big business

July, 6, 2011
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TomlinsonAP Photo/Joe MahoneyThe gloves LaDainian Tomlinson wore when he scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns in a win over the Denver Broncos in Week 6 last season are for sale.
For sports card collectors, perfection is the goal. All four corners must be sharp. The photo needs to be centered. It has to be just so. Thankfully, there's hasn't been threat of bubblegum stains for decades.

In today's memorabilia market, however, cardboard is about as mundane as it gets. There are bigger thrills than busting open a pack to find another high-gloss Rated Rookie who might never crack a starting lineup.

Jarrod Oldridge looks for a bigger jolt. He buys his memorabilia by the shipping container.

"You open that box up and the smell comes out, the aroma of the unwashed apparel with the grass and mud and blood," Oldridge said. "You smell the game.

"You get goose bumps. Your heart's pounding."

Oldridge is involved in one of the hottest segments of the memorabilia industry -- game-used equipment.

He owns J.O. Sports Co. in Las Vegas and has exclusive contracts with several NFL teams to sell helmets, jerseys, spikes, gloves, game balls and just about everything else you can imagine from the field. Three of his clients are the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins and New York Jets.

Oldridge's website isn't quite as personal as Mean Joe Greene throwing his jersey at a kid in exchange for a Coke, but fans have access to the fabric of the game. Many of the game-worn jerseys -- and in some cases full uniforms -- are unwashed. That's the way collectors prefer them.

"You want the thing ripped off the guy's back," said Oldridge, who pitched for Emporia State. "It's a new wave of collecting. When I was a kid collecting baseball cards, I'd get a Mark McGwire rookie or a Bo Jackson. That was the best feeling you could have as a collector. You got the prized possession.

"Back then, you never could've thought you could own the jersey Adrian Peterson's wearing on his card."

Rich Mueller, managing editor of Sports Collectors Daily, can't think of another way collectors can get closer to the action than game-used equipment.

I suppose a hobbyist can make the experience more personal by collecting DNA samples. Then again, much of Oldridge's inventory is suitable for forensics inspection. Perhaps the next step is scraping some blood off a jersey to clone an NFL star and watch the game with him in your man cave.

[+] EnlargeSteve Johnson
AP Photo/Ed ReinkeThe jersey from Steve Johnson's three-touchdown game against the Bengals last season is available for purchase.
"If you've got in your hands the uniform the guy was wearing when he broke the tackle to score the touchdown and win the game, how much closer can you get than that?" Mueller said. "That's part of the allure. Collectors want a tangible memory of a game.

"And a lot of them are one-of-a-kind items. The T206 Honus Wagner card is one of the rarest collectibles on the market, but there are 75 to 100 of those in existence. Brett Favre wore only one helmet from his final game. That's a piece of NFL history."

Of particular interest to AFC East fans might be the jersey Bills receiver Steve Johnson wore when he scored three touchdowns against the Cincinnati Bengals. He lifted that jersey to expose his "Why so serious?" T-shirt underneath. The jersey Lee Evans wore when he caught three touchdowns against the Baltimore Ravens is for sale, too.

Also available are jerseys All-Pro center Nick Mangold wore last year against the Dolphins, the gloves Jets receiver Jerricho Cotchery wore when he snagged a touchdown to help beat the New England Patriots in Week 2 and the gloves Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson wore when he scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns in a four-point victory over the Denver Broncos in Week 6.

Dolphins material is limited because J.O. Sports Co. reached its agreement with them a couple weeks ago. As for the Patriots, Oldridge might need to strap on a helmet to protect his forehead from repeatedly striking a wall.

"Every team is different," Oldridge said. "The Patriots have just been notoriously difficult when it comes to their uniforms."

The big four sports handle game-used equipment differently, much to Mueller's wonderment. These items are commodities. Leagues presumably would maximize revenues if they handled them internally. Major League Baseball does, hiring on-site authenticators to affix holograms to merchandise for resale.

The MeiGray Group, a company founded by a pair of passionate collectors in 1997, has worked out deals to sell game-used NBA and NHL items. They also dominate the minor-league hockey ranks.

And to think clubs used to recycle uniforms until they fell apart, would pass them along to farm teams or sell them to sandlot groups. Mueller wrote about a pile of 1938 New York Yankees jerseys given to a church softball team for $9 apiece. In the bunch were game-worn Lou Gehrig pinstripes.

Today, uniforms are scooped up almost the minute they land in the hamper or fall to the locker-room floor as a player walks to the showers.

"It may sound sick," Oldridge said. "But as a man who played sports, the collectors, everybody who ever slid into second base or got his bell rung on the field, it's just great."

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