AFC East: Miles Austin
The Dolphins had two months to craft their offseason plan to build a title contender in 2012. But after one day of free agency, their plan looks confusing, particularly at wide receiver.
Miami is reportedly interested in Dallas Cowboys free-agent receiver Laurent Robinson. He had a career year replacing Miles Austin last season. Can Robinson be the No. 1 receiver for the Dolphins?
Or will Miami look to the draft? Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon is a top-10 pick. The Dolphins hold the No. 8 pick and now have a huge need at receiver. Should this be Miami’s next target.
What about Dolphins receiver Brian Hartline? He’s been decent opposite Marshall in the starting lineup. Is Hartline ready to take his game to the next level in Miami’s new West Coast offense?
Using our SportsNation poll, predict who will be Miami’s No. 1 receiver next season. You can also share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 1:
Inexperienced Cowboys: Dallas visits the Jets on Sunday night. This is a terrible matchup for the Cowboys’ offense. Instead of older, heavy-footed road graders up front, the Cowboys' offensive line has an influx of athletic, but very young, starters. This could pay off in time, because they should be much better equipped to pass-block and get out on the screens and draw plays that favor Felix Jones. But for now, I expect huge growing pains. Ultra-talented Cowboys first-round pick Tyron Smith will not play because of a knee injury. I expect Dallas’ protection schemes to have plenty of breakdowns. That is an awful situation against a defense coached by Rex Ryan. Compounding matters for the Cowboys are the matchups on the perimeter. Miles Austin and Dez Bryant are as good a pair of starting wideouts as you will find. But Austin isn’t 100 percent healthy, and Darrelle Revis will shut down whichever wide receiver he covers. Antonio Cromartie is a very good man-to-man cover man who thrives against bigger wide receivers like Austin and Bryant. However, it should be noted that New York’s third-down defense last season gave up too many big plays.
Test for New England: New England travels to Miami for the early "Monday Night Football" game. Although it struggled this preseason, particularly against the Lions, I still consider New England’s offensive line one of the very best. But they will be tested in a huge way on the road. In the Miami heat, the fatigue factor will favor the home team. Miami has an extremely physical and deep 3-man defensive line. Led by Cameron Wake, the Dolphins’ edge pass-rushers are a real handful for any protection scheme. New England might be without starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, so we might see first-round pick Nate Solder in his first action.
Pressure from Patriots: When Miami has the ball, I expect Bill Belichick to dial up a lot of front-side pressure. Chad Henne is not very mobile, and he can struggle with pressure right in his face. Jake Long returns, after missing the preseason, to man his left tackle spot. I worry about the right side of the Dolphins’ offensive line, particularly starting right tackle Marc Colombo. He should be out-manned by players such as Shaun Ellis and Jermaine Cunningham, let alone the added front-side pressure. Compounding the problem, right guard Vernon Carey has little experience at guard. Anthony Fasano is an excellent blocking tight end and will have to spend much of his time on the right side, but the Miami running backs are either small and lacking physicality (Reggie Bush) or lacking experience (Daniel Thomas) in protection.
Stopping the run: The Bills' defense was awful against the run last season, but I am betting that it improved with the drafting of Marcell Dareus and some other additions. I expect the run defense to be particularly stout up the middle, where Dareus, Kyle Williams and Nick Barnett play. However, the changes might not pay off big against the Chiefs because Jamaal Charles is such a great runner outside the tackles. I also expect Dexter McCluster’s role as a ball carrier to increase.
ESPN.com's blog network began its series of positional power rankings Tuesday with wide receivers. I included only one AFC East target on my ballot, omitting some big names readers will disagree with.
Although Brandon Marshall earned enough votes to crack the top 10, he didn't appear on my list. Neither did Wes Welker, Steve Johnson or Braylon Edwards.
- Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals
- Andre Johnson, Houston Texans
- Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions
- Roddy White, Atlanta Falcons
- Greg Jennings, Green Bay Packers
- Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City Chiefs
- Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis Colts
- DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles
- Brandon Lloyd, Denver Broncos
- Santonio Holmes, New York Jets
Nine of my 10 nominees comprised the consensus top 10. The lone discrepancy was the last slot.
I almost didn't vote for Holmes. I originally had Pittsburgh Steelers burner Mike Wallace on the list, but I couldn't deny the direct impact Holmes had in closing out colossal victories for the Jets.
Holmes' stats weren't staggering, but he started the season with a four-game suspension that kept him out of the lineup and off the practice field. Once the NFL activated Holmes, it took him a couple weeks to get back into the offense. Then he was sensational. He had eight touchdowns in his last 11 games, including two out of three postseason games.
I couldn't bring myself to include Marshall. He had a nice reception total, but he scored only three touchdowns (one by December) and averaged the fewest yards per catch of any wide receiver with at least 850 yards. The Miami Dolphins had one of the NFL's weakest red-zone offenses, and a top 10 receiver should be able to help in that regard.
Welker didn't make the cut because he had a terrible season when it came to drops. ESPN Stats & Information charted a league-leading 11 drops. Welker averaged fewer yards than Marshall despite nearly half of his total (848 yards) coming after the catch (410 yards). That's a lot of long handoffs.
- The Jets have hosted free agent pass-rusher Travis LaBoy, writes Rich Cimini of the New York Daily News.
- Cimini blogs about LaDainian Tomlinson and muses about the futures of Thomas Jones and Leon Washington.
- Buffalo News reporter Allen Wilson forecasts the Bills will select Iowa tackle Bryan Bulaga with the ninth draft pick.
- Brian Galliford of BuffaloRumblings.com takes a look at 3-4 defenders the Bills might want to eyeball at the combine.
- Miami Herald columnist Armando Salguero compares the career arcs of Tomlinson and Ricky Williams and wonders why Williams still looks strong.
- South Florida Sun-Sentinel columnist Dave Hyde doesn't see free-agent receiver Miles Austin being an economic fit for Miami.
New York Jets
- Jane McManus of the Journal News reports third quarterback Erik Ainge hasn't been working out the past two weeks.
- New York Daily News reporter Rich Cimini writes the Jets' interest in Cowboys restricted free-agent receiver Miles Austin ceases to be.
- Newsday's Erik Boland reports Stony Brook University should be in the Jets' training camp conversation with Cornell University and SUNY Cortland.
- Olean Times Herald sports editor Chuck Pollock shares his thoughts on the myriad Bills headlines from the past week.
- David Naylor of the Toronto Globe and Mail reports organizers for the Bills' games in the Rogers Centre have slashed ticket prices 17 percent.
- Miami Herald reporter Jeff Darlington takes a look at the receivers in this year's draft class.
- Palm Beach Post columnist Dave George compares two remarkable seasons in Miami sports.
- Local sportscaster and former Dolphins tight end Joe Rose breaks into blogging with his take on what his old team should address in the first round.
New England Patriots
- Boston Globe reporter Mike Reiss catches up with one of Bill Belichick's sounding boards to find out what the Patriots might do with all those draft picks.
- Providence Journal writer Shalise Manza Young rates the 10 best draft picks on Belichick's watch.
- WEEI.com's Christopher Price rates the best late-round picks in franchise history.
Austin would be coming home if he signed an offer sheet with the Jets and the Cowboys don't match it. He grew up in Garfield, N.J., and attended Monmouth University.
"I've never been in this situation so I don't really know what to expect," Austin said. "It's a weird sort of limbo area to be in, but all I can do is let my agent handle everything."
- Boston Globe reporter Mike Reiss leads off his Sunday football notebook with a look at how West Virginia quarterback Pat White might look in a Patriots uniform.
- Providence Journal columnist Jim Donaldson takes note that "Tabloid Tom" Brady has unfortunately entered a different celebrity stratosphere.
- Donte Whitner's hometown paper, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, covers his arrest early Saturday morning for his involvement in a "near riot."
- Buffalo News columnist Jerry Sullivan warns the Bills are "in danger of joining the Bengals as the poster boys for bad behavior."
- Rochester Democrat & Chronicle columnist Bob Matthews considers a possible Roscoe Parrish trade.
- Miami Herald columnist Armando Salguero thinks John Beck doesn't have a Dolphins future.
- Barry Jackson of the Herald takes a look at some small-school draft possibilities.
- South Florida Sun-Sentinel reporter takes a look at what Dolphins might be on the trading block.
New York Jets
- Newark Star-Ledger reporter Dave Hutchinson writes Kellen Clemens and Brett Ratliff find it refreshing not to answer Jay Cutler questions.
- Newsday's Erik Boland talks with defensive end Marques Douglas, who ranks third in tackles for loss over the past six seasons.
- New York Daily News beat writer Rich Cimini reports running back Leon Washington is confident he'll get a new contract hammered out.
- Todd Archer of the Dallas Morning News says the Cowboys can't lose restricted free-agent receiver Miles Austin, who's visiting the Jets.
- Mark Gaughan of the Buffalo News reports Terrell Owens plans to be around the Bills facility more than everybody expected.
- Tampa Tribune reporter Ira Kaufman catches up with former Bills linebacker Angelo Crowell, who revisits his controversial knee surgery.
- Miami Herald columnist Greg Cote insists the Dolphins must re-sign Jason Taylor -- and now.
- South Florida Sun-Sentinel reporter Shandel Richardson writes Taylor's not in a rush to find employment.
- Miami Herald columnist Armando Salguero blogs the Dolphins' needs might not match their priorities heading into the draft.
New England Patriots
New York Jets
- Dallas Morning News reporter Todd Archer writes the Jets have scheduled a meeting this week with Cowboys restricted free-agent receiver Miles Austin.
- Clark Judge of CBSSports.com asserts the Jets need to sign Jason Taylor to keep him from the Patriots and give Vernon Gholston an in-house role model.
- Buffalo News reporter Allen Wilson takes a look at defensive tackle Marcus Stroud's new contract extension.
- Palm Beach Post reporter Edgar Thompson catches up with fan favorite Greg Camarillo on his recovery from season-ending knee surgery.
- The Miami Herald's Armando Salguero examines the Dolphins' need for a cornerback to play opposite Will Allen.
New England Patriots
Phillips, encircled by a gang of reporters, sat down at the NFC coaches' media breakfast Wednesday morning and was peppered with questions about a number of topics. But the club's decision to release Owens was among the most popular.
The diva receiver signed with the Buffalo Bills, who haven't been to the playoffs since 1999, when Phillips was their head coach.
Here are the highlights of what Phillips had to say about T.O.
Why did the Cowboys cut Owens?
Wade Phillips: We appreciate certainly, and I appreciate as a coach, all the great things he did. But we made the decision. We're going forward. We know we've got some young players we think can come in and play for us and help us at wide receiver, and we're going to give them that opportunity -- and younger players I'm talking about, even Patrick Crayton. We have a lot of confidence in Miles Austin. Sam Hurd unfortunately got hurt last year, but he was on the same pace with Miles and then Isaiah Stanback has come through and gotten better and better. All three of those guys ... have a lot of potential and we think they'll come through for us.
What type of player are the Bills getting?
WP: He's an outstanding player. Obviously, I think his numbers are going to be the second-best ever. He's going to be in great shape. He's a hard worker. All the things you want in a football player. I think they're getting a really good football player. One thing you've got to look at with players is production. He's been probably the most productive receiver in the last several years anyway.
Then why would you release him?
WP: Because we feel like we can forward with the guys we have. We think we have some emerging players that are going to make a difference.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said not having Owens around would make Tony Romo a better quarterback. Do you agree?
WP: Well, I think Tony is going to be better as he goes along, certainly. He's certainly accomplished a lot of things as far a quarterback is concerned. He's looking forward to and we're looking forward to this season. I think this is going to be even more of a breakout year for him just because of experience, not because Terrell is or isn't there. I think it's just experience and playing the game. Tony is still 21-8 as the starter the last two years. I think this is a big year for him.
Is the locker room better off without Terrell Owens?
WP: I'm not even going to discuss that because that's why I didn't want to talk about it in the first place. So you begin to talk about last year and all these things -- "This did or didn't happen. Somebody said this." All those things, I'm through with that.
This year. What's important is this year. The greatest stadium in the world, we're opening. Our team is going to have a great attitude. I think they already do now as far as looking forward to this season. That's the way you've got to go. That's the great thing about football. Pittsburgh is last year's champs. They're going to live in the glory for a little while certainly, but all of us are working for this season.
Is Owens a victim of his reputation?
WP: Terrell's situation is like the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. Anything that's said or done is going to be reported. And I'm not saying good or bad. What he says and how he's perceived is up to the fans and somewhat the media -- mostly the media reporting it to the fans and then present it themselves as to how they feel about him.
Is Owens' divisiveness overblown?
WP: Sure. Sure. Sure. Just give me a player that works hard, tries to win and has great talent and produces. That's going to be the big thing is replacing his numbers, certainly, but we think we have some young players that can come through for us and make that an easier transition.
Did you speak to Bills coach Dick Jauron about Owens?
WP: No. I would have. I'd be glad to talk to Dick, but that was Buffalo's decision to pick him up. We knew somebody would pick him up, certainly. Again, he's a talented player.
New York Jets
- Newsday reporter Erik Boland writes linebacker Ray Lewis is intrigued by the idea of reuniting with his old defensive coordinator, who now runs the Jets.
- New York Post columnist Steve Serby starts banging the drum for the Jets to sign Lewis.
- UPDATE: Newark Star-Ledger reporter Jenny Vrentas reports enough kind souls have stepped up to help Larry Grantham keep his Super Bowl III ring.
- Buffalo Business First writer Gary Burns wonders if Ralph Wilson will thank Erie County taxpayers for subsidizing the Bills in the owner's Hall of Fame speech.
- Joey Porter couldn't get far enough away from the Super Bowl scene, writes Kyle Galdeira for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.
- Miami Herald columnist Armando Salguero considers Dallas Cowboys receiver Miles Austin a person of interest for the Dolphins.
New England Patriots