AFC East: Pierre Woods
None of them were drafted.
Scouts scan the long list of players who weren't among the 255 chosen ones and work the phones, trying to convince the best remaining prospects to sign as free agents.
Undrafted rookies are a critical element to building a team and should produce at least a couple of keepers every year.
"First, you improve your football team, but it's probably the most economical way to put players on your team," Buffalo Bills general manager Buddy Nix said. "There are a lot of good players out there.
"As all of us in here probably remember when there were 12 rounds and then there were 17 at one time. All of those players after seven rounds are still out there."
The AFC East is loaded with great examples.
Seven undrafted players started at least four games for division-champion New England last year: receiver Wes Welker, guards Stephen Neal and Dan Connolly, defensive lineman Mike Wright, inside linebacker Gary Guyton, outside linebacker Pierre Woods and safety Brandon McGowan.
The Dolphins relied on fullback Lousaka Polite, receivers Davone Bess and Greg Camarillo, tight end Joey Haynos and outside linebacker Cameron Wake, none of whom were drafted.
Bills running back Fred Jackson wasn't drafted, but he rushed for over 1,000 yards last year. Strong safety George Wilson evolved into a reliable starter.
The Jets fielded their share of draft-day oversights, including fullback Tony Richardson, right guard Brandon Moore, inside linebacker Bart Scott and safety Jim Leonhard.
That's a lot of quality players who weren't good enough to see their name crawl across the bottom of ESPN's draft telecast.
Still, they were found.
"These scouts bust their tails putting the board together on the back end of the draft board," Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland said. "You have to trust what they see, and I am pretty involved in it as well because I have been there before and I want to know what we are signing for. It is a very important aspect of [the process]."
Imagine all those Jets scouting reports that would otherwise go to waste if not for undrafted free agents.
Perhaps no team has relied on them to fill out their 53-man roster, practice squad and training camp roster more than the Jets.
Two straight Aprils, they drafted the fewest prospects in the league -- three last year and four this time. They also drafted only four players in 2007.
"I'm banking on our scouting department that we're going to sign a couple players here in the next couple of hours that will have a good chance of making our team," Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum said Saturday night.
Left guard Logan Mankins was assigned the highest-possible tender, which would give the Patriots first- and third-round draft choices if he were to sign an offer sheet with another team and the Patriots declined to match.
The Patriots placed a second-round tender on kicker Stephen Gostkowski and the lowest tender on outside linebacker Pierre Woods.
Low tenders bring back a draft choice commensurate with the round that player was selected in. Since Woods was an undrafted free agent, the Patriots would receive no draft compensation but would have the right to match the offer sheet.
Potential unrestricted free agents: DE Ryan Denney, LB Chris Draft, DB Todd Johnson, G Seth McKinney, WR Terrell Owens, WR Josh Reed, S Bryan Scott, G Kendall Simmons, LB Josh Stamer.
Potential restricted free agents: LB Keith Ellison, QB Gibran Hamdan, G Richie Incognito, TE Joe Klopfenstein, TE Derek Schouman, T Jonathan Scott, S George Wilson, CB Ashton Youboty.
Franchise player: None.
What to expect: The Bills are in a rebuilding mode and shouldn't be in too much of a hurry to sign their free agents. In fact, they took the unusual step of publicly announcing they wouldn't offer Owens, Reed or Denney contracts. The most attractive players are Incognito and Wilson. Most of the rest were bit players and injury replacements.
Potential unrestricted free agents: NT Jason Ferguson, CB Nate Jones, QB Chad Pennington, OLB Jason Taylor.
Potential restricted free agents: RB Ronnie Brown, TE Anthony Fasano, OLB Quentin Moses.
Franchise player: None.
What to expect: The Dolphins have a tough decision to make on Ferguson. He'll turn 36 during the 2010 season and is coming off a serious quadriceps injury. Without him, however, the Dolphins have a massive void in their 3-4 defense at a position that's difficult to replace. Pennington, Jones and Taylor all could be gone.
New England Patriots
Potential unrestricted free agents: OLB Tully Banta-Cain, CB Leigh Bodden, OLB Derrick Burgess, RB Kevin Faulk, DE Jarvis Green, P Chris Hanson, G Stephen Neal, ILB Junior Seau, TE Benjamin Watson.
Potential restricted free agents: K Stephen Gostkowski, G Logan Mankins, OLB Pierre Woods.
Franchise player: NT Vince Wilfork.
What to expect: Several starters are about to go up for bids, and the Patriots can't keep them all. Expect Faulk to be re-signed without much fuss. Neal, Bodden and Banta-Cain comprise a group they'd have trouble replacing. All three could fetch offers the Patriots would rather not match. Don't count on Watson coming back.
New York Jets
Potential unrestricted free agents: LS James Dearth, DE Marques Douglas, K Jay Feely, LB Ryan Fowler, TE Ben Hartsock, LB Larry Izzo, FB Tony Richardson.
Potential restricted free agents: QB Kellen Clemens, CB Drew Coleman, WR Braylon Edwards, DT Howard Green, T Wayne Hunter, WR Brad Smith, S Eric Smith, RB Leon Washington.
Franchise player: None.
What to expect: As a "final eight" team, the Jets have to window shop until one of their UFAs sign elsewhere. General manager Mike Tannenbaum is creative. Don't be surprised if the Jets use trades to upgrade. The key restricted free agent to monitor will be Washington, who received a second-round tender. His agent has been tweeting alarms the Pro Bowler could sign an offer sheet and dare the Jets to match.
Players can't become unrestricted free agents in an uncapped year unless they have six years of NFL experience. The usual minimum is four years.
NFC South dean Pat Yasinskas obtained the list, which includes 19 from the AFC East. The New York Jets have the most with eight.
- Linebacker Keith Ellison
- Quarterback Gibran Hamdan
- Guard Richie Incognito
- Tight end Joel Klopfenstein
- Strong safety George Wilson
- Cornerback Ashton Youboty
New England Patriots
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
- Miami Herald columnist Armando Salguero isn't bullish on the Dolphins' offense.
- The Dolphins aren't going to coddle rookie cornerbacks Sean Smith and Vontae Davis, writes the Miami Herald's Jeff Darlington.
- Palm Beach Post reporter Carlos Frias takes a look at left tackle Jake Long's difficult matchup with Indianapolis Colts pass-rusher Dwight Freeney.
- Sarah Talalay of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel explores the possibility of Dolphins games being blacked out.
- Buffalo News columnist Bucky Gleason writes backup running back Fred Jackson is better than Pro Bowler Marshawn Lynch.
- Buffalo News reporter Gene Warner takes a look at Terrell Owens' relationship with his grandmother, who has Alzheimer's disease.
- Rochester Deomocrat & Chronicle reporter Kevin Oklobzija writes the Bills are looking for ways to throw the ball deep.
- Steve Cichon and Randy Bushover of Buffalo radio station WBEN report there's conflicting info from Leodis McKelvin, his agent and the district attorney about wanting to press charges on the teens who vandalized McKelvin's lawn.
- Boston Herald columnist Gerry Callahan writes Jets safety Kerry Rhodes "handed a plate of raw meat to Belichick and to Brady, who will serve it with pleasure in the Patriots locker room over the next three days."
- Matt Tempesta of the Quincy Patriot Ledger writes the Patriots -- at least outwardly -- aren't digesting what the Jets are chumming.
- Boston Globe reporter Monique Walker takes explores how linebacker Adalius Thomas' role might change in Jerod Mayo's absence.
- WEEI.com's Christopher Price breaks down a linebacker position in flux, noting Gary Guyton and Pierre Woods will need to contribute more.
- Associated Press columnist Jim Litke writes "A hearty appetite and a gift for drawing up defenses weren’t the only things Jets coach Rex Ryan got from his daddy. You may recall Buddy Ryan liked to talk a little smack, too."
- Rich Cimini of the New York Daily News wonders what information expatriate Kevin O'Connell might impart to the Jets.
- The New York Post's Justin Terranova notes Ryan's previous successes against Tom Brady.
- Tara Sullivan of the Bergen Record checks in with somebody who doesn't yap: strong and silent linebacker David Harris.
|Buffalo's Aaron Schobel takes down New England quarterback Tom Brady on Monday. Bills fans have reason to be optimistic despite the loss.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- In Gillette Stadium on Monday night, the only absolute was on the scoreboard.
New England Patriots 25, Buffalo Bills 24.
The Patriots pulled off an astonishing victory, even by their standards. The Bills suffered an eviscerating defeat, even by their standards.
Yet there was more to this game than the way it ended, with Tom Brady throwing two touchdown passes in the final 126 seconds to extend the Patriots' winning streak to a dozen games over the hapless Bills.
It's what the Patriots do. They call upon their experience to coolly pick apart an opponent when the game is on the line.
It's what the Bills do. They make the universal hand gesture for "Hey, I need the Heimlich maneuver over here!"
Before fans for either team jump to any conclusions, however, let us stop for a few moments to pull the excitement and the despair a little back toward middling mellowness.
Patriots fans might want to hold off on asking their bosses for vacation time in February and booking those airline reservations for Miami.
Bills fans should refrain from giving their season tickets a Viking funeral on Lake Erie.
"It would have been huge," Bills linebacker Kawika Mitchell said of a win. "This is a team that's been successful against us since 2003. We didn't win a division game last year. We would have liked to start off winning one, especially here on Monday night.
"But it's not as big [for the Patriots]. It's not as bad as it looks for us. It's terrible right now, but we're 0-1. We've got move on from it. We've got 15 more games. The faster we can move on, the better we are."
With that, here are five reasons not to get too depressed if you're a fan of the star-crossed Bills and five reasons not get carried away if you follow the blessed Patriots.
Cheer up, Bills fans.
New offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt put together a game plan that was good enough to win.
The Bills on Monday night were everything they couldn't be in the preseason. Van Pelt put together a game plan in 10 days that looked like it was taken from a secret book on how to beat the Patriots.
Edwards completed 15 of 25 passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns despite connecting with Terrell Owens only twice for 46 yards. Edwards was in command. The offense committed zero turnovers and converted several critical third downs.
Some defensive lapses and Leodis McKelvin fumbling a kickoff inside the two-minute warning -- not the maligned offense -- doomed them.
"There is still a lot to gain from this game, still a lot of positives," Edwards said. "I'm not one of those moral victory guys after a tough loss, but we need to do a good job of regrouping. We need to do a good job of taking the positives away from this game.
"Unfortunately, you're up 11 and don't win the game with five minutes left. I've been in that position before. The feeling stinks, but we have another game Sunday."
The young offensive line played better than anyone expected.
Buffalo's front five went into the game with three players who'd never played an NFL game and a total of 56 career starts. They didn't embarrass themselves.
Left tackle Demetrius Bell had an awful game from a penalty standpoint. He was whistled four times, twice for an illegal formation, once for holding and once for a false start. But he and rookie guards Eric Wood and Andy Levitre kept Edwards upright for most of the evening.
"I really think we need to focus on how well the offensive line played tonight," Edwards said. "There were times I was standing in the pocket, taking two, three, four hitches and still no one was touching me.
"That's a lot of the reason we're converting on third downs. We're seeing their pressures, seeing their defense. We're prepared for their defense."
Aaron Schobel's presence changes Buffalo's defensive demeanor.
Schobel missed the last 11 games last year because of a foot injury. The two-time Pro Bowler reminded everybody what he could do when he bulled past Patriots left tackle Matt Light for a 10-yard sack and made a fabulous play to intercept a Brady screen pass and return it 26 yards for a touchdown. Schobel had two quarterback hits and two pass defenses.
Bills linebacker Paul Posluszny might have avoided serious injury.
Posluszny missed his rookie season because of a broken forearm. He left Monday night's game in the first half and didn't return. We later learned from Bills coach Dick Jauron -- hold your applause, Bills fans -- that Posluszny has a broken bone in his arm.
"It's not as bad as it was the first time," Jauron said. Posluszny could miss a few weeks, but his injury doesn't appear to be a season-ender.
Jauron didn't have a postgame update on defensive end Chris Kelsay, who left the game late in the second quarter with a knee injury and wasn't seen again.
Check your enthusiasm, Pats fans.
Inside linebacker Jerod Mayo went down with a knee injury in the first quarter and didn't play again.
The Patriots went into Monday night with a defense that had been gutted. Gone were defensive lineman Richard Seymour, linebackers Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel and safety Rodney Harrison. That's a lot of hardware there.
The defense was being turned over to emerging leaders like Mayo, last year's defensive rookie of the year. If the Patriots lose him for any significant amount of time, their defense will be spread even thinner.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick said after the game there was no update on Mayo's status.
"You just have to step up," Patriots linebacker Pierre Woods said of Mayo's injury. "Everyone has to play. No mistakes. Correct your mistakes."
The Patriots defense couldn't get off the field.
Mayo's absence didn't help, but the Bills offense controlled the second half -- when they had the ball. On the Bills' last drive of the third quarter and first drive of the fourth, they combined for 21 plays and 99 yards, held the ball for 9 minutes, 36 seconds.
The long possessions ended with a field goal and a touchdown to give the Bills an 11-point lead with 5:32 to play.
On the touchdown drive, the Bills converted third downs of 15, 3 and 8 yards that should have sealed the game if not for a crazy play.
"I was just thinking 'When is this team going to actually start playing, play like we do going against each other every day, play like we do in practice?' " said Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather, who made the initial hit on McKelvin to begin the chain reaction on the game-changing fumble.
The Patriots' stable of backs rushed for only 64 yards.
The Patriots couldn't get much going on the ground. Laurence Maroney ran 10 times for 32 yards, both team-highs. Fred Taylor ran nine times for 25 yards. Take away Brady's 9-yard scramble, and the Patriots averaged 2.9 yards a carry.
Where was Joey Galloway?
The Patriots failed to get their new receiver involved in the offense. Sure, Randy Moss went off for 12 catches and 141 yards. But the Patriots will need to find a way to get the ball to Galloway. Brady threw at Galloway twice, but they couldn't connect.
Quite simply, the Patriots can't get down by two scores at home to a team like the Bills.
"We came back and made the plays we had to make to win," Belichick said. We certainly don't want to put ourselves in that position very often. That's not what we're trying to do.
"But whatever it was they dealt with it and made some smart plays at the end. I wish we would have played like that earlier in the game."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
My new ESPN.com teammate, former Boston Globe reporter Mike Reiss, worked the New England Patriots locker room after Monday night's 25-24 victory over the Buffalo Bills in Gillette Stadium.
Reiss, now the anchor tenant at ESPNBoston.com, wove together a fantastic first-person account of the game-changing play: Bills kick returner Leodis McKelvin's crucial fumble with a couple minutes left in the game.
I particularly enjoy Pierre Woods' reaction to McKelvin's decision to bring it out of the end zone.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady converted the turnover into a game-winning 16-yard strike to Benjamin Watson with 50 seconds to play.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
- Palm Beach Post columnist Dave George writes veteran cornerback Will Allen is being a mentor to rookies Sean Smith and Vontae Davis.
- Miami Herald reporter Jeff Darlington wonders what coach Tony Sparano will think of next.
- South Florida Sun-Sentinel reporter Omar Kelly writes Randy Starks is having trouble auditioning for the right defensive end opening.
- Chris Perkins of the Palm Beach Post notes the depth chart should get tweaked after Saturday's scrimmage.
- Rochester Democrat & Chronicle reporter Sal Maiorana looks back on how Ralph Wilson went from the "honky-tonk AFL" to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
- Buffalo News columnist Jerry Sullivan pens an ode to Wilson, whose first game he saw featured Bronco Nagurski.
- Toronto Globe & Mail reporter David Naylor sketches out the running back situation beyond Marshawn Lynch, who is suspended for the first three games.
- D&C reporter John Boccacino previews the debuts of rookie offensive linemen Eric Wood and Andy Levitre.
- Brian Galliford of BuffaloRumblings.com writes, among other camp observations, about a disconcerting string of injuries on the line.
New England Patriots
- Christopher L. Gasper of the Boston Globe takes another look at newly acquired pass-rusher Derrick Burgess.
- Boston Herald reporter Ian R. Rapoport writes nose tackle Vince Wilfork doesn't want to play for anyone else.
- Providence Journal reporter Robert Lee writes about undrafted rookie quarterback Brian Hoyer's experience learning from Tom Brady.
- The player most affected by Burgess' arrival is Pierre Woods, writes Boston Herald reporter Rich Thompson.
- Glen Farley of the Quincy Patriot Ledger gauges reaction from players on how Camp Belichick has gone so far.
New York Jets
- New York Daily News reporter Rich Cimini writes sophomore tight end Dustin Keller will be a marked man this year.
- Newsday's Roderick Boone notes the chemistry Mark Sanchez has quickly found with Wallace Wright -- of all people.
- Dave Hutchinson of the Newark Star-Ledger thinks Sanchez has "a surprising command" of offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's no-huddle offense.
- Dan Sweeney of the Ithaca Journal looks into whether Chris Pizzotti is doing enough to win the third quarterback job from Erik Ainge.
|AP Photo/Stephan Savoia|
|Quarterback Tom Brady hopes to test his knee early and often in preseason games.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The folks residing in Patriot Nation find it unfathomable their team is not returning to the Super Bowl.
Any team coached by Bill Belichick and with Tom Brady throwing passes to Randy Moss must be a Super Bowl favorite, right? There's no other conceivable prediction for fans who harbor blind faith after so many years of being rewarded.
Yet there's a different mood at Patriots training camp this year. They're not the defending champs -- league, conference or division.
The Patriots have something to prove in 2009.
There's a sense of optimism around Gillette Stadium, to be sure. But last year -- following their reality-check loss to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII -- was a stern reminder nothing should be taken for granted.
How will Brady respond to a live pass rush?
This question cannot be answered as long as Brady's clothed in a red, do-not-touch practice jersey.
But the eventual answer will indicate whether the Patriots should be considered legitimate Super Bowl contenders.
Those who've crowded around the upper practice fields to watch Brady work out can't tell he underwent reconstructive surgery -- save for the black brace that clasps his left knee. His throws have the same zing. He's accurate. His command during two-minute drills is obvious.
That's all well and good, but if he gets jumpy in the pocket, there will be trouble. What has made Brady a future Hall of Famer is his pocket presence. He has been unflinchingly willing to take a hit to give his receivers one more half-second to separate.
|AP Photo/Robert E. Klein|
|Leigh Bodden is one of the early candidates to start at right cornerback for the Patriots.|
We don't yet know how he will react when defenders start falling at his feet, lunging for his legs, dragging him down.
Brady has stated his desire to play as much as possible in the preseason. He knows he'll need to face a few live opponents to see if the mental side of his rehabilitation is on par with the physical part.
What will the revolving door at cornerback turn out next?
Seven players have started at cornerback over the past two years. The Patriots will have at least one more new starter this year, possibly two.
Before we try to get a feel for how Belichick will handle one of the game's most important positions, remember that Fernando Bryant was the first-team left cornerback throughout 2008 training camp and the preseason. Then Belichick cut him before the regular-season opener.
For now, it appears free agent Leigh Bodden is the right cornerback. The left corner could come down to a pair of second-year pros: Jonathan Wilhite and Terrence Wheatley. The Patriots also added veteran free agent Shawn Springs and drafted Darius Butler in the second round.
First-team reps have gone to Wheatley while Wilhite, who replaced Deltha O'Neal for the final four games last season, has missed practices with an injury.
"Certainly, based off the offseason, both of those players have made significant progress," Belichick said, "and hopefully they'll be able to carry that onto the field and into training camp and build on it and have strong seasons. Their offseason has been good. They are way ahead of where they were last year."
Will the Patriots regret not bringing in veteran help to replace Mike Vrabel at outside linebacker?
Neither has much experience. Woods, undrafted in 2006, has made three starts. All of them came last year in place of an injured Adalius Thomas.
Crable, a third-round pick last year, is a somewhat unknown. Crable didn't play a game last year because of a shin problem and opened camp on the physically unable to perform list.
Unless the Patriots eventually do bring in help, it would appear to be Woods' job to lose.
Rodney Harrison's age and health weren't the only reasons the Patriots declined to bring him back for another season at strong safety. Brandon Meriweather's performances in Harrison's place truly nudged them forward.
Meriweather, the 24th overall draft pick in 2007, has been elevated to starting strong safety and should be ready for the job.
He started only the final 10 games after Harrison suffered a career-ending quadriceps injury. That was enough time for Meriweather to make more tackles (79) than Tedy Bruschi, record as many sacks (two) as Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren and lead the team with four interceptions.
Newcomer to watch
The Patriots welcomed back four capable running backs, but Belichick felt the need to enlist more help. Fred Taylor, with his 11,271 career rushing yards, has joined the crew.
How the 33-year-old Taylor's role develops will be an interesting storyline. There's enough depth at the position that Belichick won't need to lean heavily on Taylor, who gained the nickname "Fragile Fred" for the various injuries he endured in 11 seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Taylor already has dealt with a wrist injury since signing with New England, but in all fairness, he generally has been reliable over the past seven years, missing a dozen games.
Observation deckBelichick has been turning over the roster since camp began a week ago. The most interesting moves have occurred at backup quarterback, where Belichick obviously isn't happy. Third-stringer Matt Gutierrez was cut and former Oakland Raider Andrew Walter brought in to compete with last year's third-round draft pick, Kevin O'Connell, who seems to have lost reps to undrafted rookie Brian Hoyer. ... Greybeard receiver Joey Galloway is running just fine. A foot injury kept him off the field for all but nine games last year with Tampa Bay. ... Mammoth offensive lineman Sebastian Vollmer, viewed by many to be a reach as the 58th overall draft pick in April, has been impressive. The 6-foot-8 German émigré could push veteran Nick Kaczur to be the starting right tackle. ... Julian Edelman always seems to be on the field. The Patriots drafted the Kent State quarterback in the seventh round and are converting him into a receiver/punt returner/gadget guy. Edelman's often compared to Wes Welker, but they've been on the field together quite a bit with the first team. ... Oft-injured back Laurence Maroney is running with conviction. He's coming off a broken shoulder bone and looks powerful.
Training camp site: St. John Fisher College in Pittsford, N.Y.
Campfires: All eyes will be on Terrell Owens, but he's not the most significant storyline at St. John Fisher. The Bills' offensive line is a jumbled unit and needs to emerge from camp with proficiency. None of the projected starting five will play the same position as last year. Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters is gone. Right tackle Langston Walker is flipping over to the other side. Right guard Brad Butler is replacing Walker. Geoff Hangartner is the new center. Rookies are expected to play guard.
|AP Photo/David Duprey|
|All eyes will be on Terrell Owens during the Bills' training camp.|
A lot of parts must come together, but if they do, then the Bills' offense could be dangerous. They're adopting a no-huddle approach that will be fun to watch with a cast that includes Owens, Lee Evans and Marshawn Lynch. The Bills have been installing the offense for months, but the coaching staff's confidence in it will be dictated by how well Trent Edwards commands the no-huddle in camp and preseason games.
On defense, Buffalo's success may hinge on the defensive line. Pro Bowl defensive end Aaron Schobel is coming off a foot injury that rendered him essentially useless last year. The Bills drafted Penn State pass-rusher Aaron Maybin 11th overall. They also are hoping to get some production finally out of fourth-year defensive tackle John McCargo, who the Bills traded up to draft in the first round but so far has been a slug.
Camp will be a downer if ... the offensive line suffers an injury that prevents chemistry from forming. The main question about the Bills' front five is not that it's incapable. While there are doubts about Walker and Butler, many believe first-day draft picks Eric Wood and Andy Levitre have bright futures, and all of them can play multiple positions.
But nobody can dispute the value of cohesion and consistency along the offensive line. The sooner they learn to play their positions at a high level together, the less harassed Edwards will be. Any preseason volatility here would be harmful.
Camp will be a success if ... the defensive front shows signs it can be a positive influence. Buffalo defensive linemen recorded 12.5 sacks last year. Right end Ryan Denney led the way with four. Buffalo ranked 22nd in rushing yards allowed per game and 21st in yards per carry.
Buffalo is the only AFC East team that runs a 4-3 defense. If the Bills don't stop the run and can't sack quarterbacks, what's the point?
Project to monitor: Some Bills fans are enamored with the possibilities of sophomore tackle Demetrius Bell, a seventh-round draft pick from Northwestern State who didn't play a game last year. Bell has a good frame (6-foot-5, 307 pounds) and is the son of former NBA star Karl Malone.
Bell is viewed as a potential discovery in the making, the second coming of Peters, who the Bills signed as a rookie free-agent tight end and converted into a Pro Bowl left tackle. Bell spent the offseason getting reps as the second-team left tackle.
Training camp site: team facility in Davie, Fla.
Campfires: Dolfans are eager to see how old friend Jason Taylor fits into defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni's 3-4 scheme, and a substantial factor is whether Cameron Wake will resemble the player who dominated in Canada the past two years. Joey Porter, the reigning AFC sack leader, will remain on the right side. That leaves Taylor (who has played almost his entire career on the right side), Wake and incumbent Matt Roth to divvy up the snaps at left outside linebacker. That battle will be interesting to monitor.
|Jamie Mullen/US Presswire|
|Jason Taylor (99) returns to Miami after spending last season with the Washington Redskins.|
Second-round draft pick Pat White has generated plenty of excitement for what he could provide the Wildcat offense. Training camp will be the West Virginia quarterback's proving ground. He looked raggedy as a passer in minicamp. Chad Henne certainly will remain the No. 2 quarterback behind Chad Pennington, but White's value will be as a threat to throw out of the trendy direct-snap offense.
One of the Dolphins' big areas of need heading into the offseason was at receiver. They don't have a clear-cut, go-to target. Rather than obtain one, they tweaked. They drafted Southern California's Patrick Turner as a third-down and red zone option and Ohio State's Brian Hartline as another possession receiver. Ted Ginn is entering his third year and needs to show he was worth the ninth overall pick Miami used to draft him.
Camp will be a downer if ... Taylor's homecoming doesn't pan out. Despite fan enthusiasm for his return after a bitter, one-year exile, there are no guarantees. Taylor probably won't hold down an every-down role. He will be playing on the side opposite of his career success.
Acid reflux will be a common ailment for Dolfans if injury-prone center Jake Grove can't stay healthy. Grove, a free agent from the Oakland Raiders, was the Dolphins' top offseason acquisition after the staff identified stout blocking at center as their greatest need. It's the only major offensive upgrade the Dolphins made, but he has missed 26 games since he was drafted in 2004.
It takes a while for rookie cornerbacks to gain the coaches' trust, but the Dolphins lost last year's starter, Andre' Goodman, to free agency. They signed Eric Green, but he lost his starting job with the Arizona Cardinals last year. What a boon it would be if Davis or Smith show he's ready right away.
Newcomer to watch: Even his new teammates are keen on finding out whether Wake is the real deal. He dominated Canadian Football League offensive linemen, piling up 39 sacks in two seasons.
But he hasn't worn full pads in the NFL. The former Penn State captain went undrafted. The New York Giants signed him in 2005 but cut him before training camp began. Many Dolphins players have been impressed with Wake's raw athleticism but haven't been able to definitively state what they think of his chances until they see him in full-contact situations.
New England Patriots
Training camp site: Gillette Stadium complex in Foxborough, Mass.
Campfires: Tom Brady's left knee not only is the top story of Patriots camp, but perhaps the NFL preseason, too. How Brady responds from having two ligaments reattached will determine whether the Patriots return to their familiar status as Super Bowl contenders. He looked impressive during minicamp, but what everybody wants to see is Brady against a live pass rush. One of his biggest assets is his pocket presence. We'll see if oncoming defenders affect him.
|AP Photo/Stephan Savoia|
|Tom Brady has looked solid during offseason workouts as he recovers from knee surgery.|
Vince Wilfork's contract situation could be a problem. The Patriots drafted Boston College defensive tackle Ron Brace, but he's no Wilfork, the behemoth who anchors Bill Belichick's 3-4 defense. Wilfork is entering the final year of his contract and wants security. He skipped offseason workouts and his displeasure could impact his participation in training camp.
A couple of intriguing positions to watch will be outside linebacker and running back. The Patriots didn't bring in anybody to replace respected veteran Mike Vrabel, a Pro Bowler two seasons ago. Pierre Woods, Shawn Crable and Tully Banta-Cain don't make quarterbacks quake in their cleats, but maybe somebody will emerge. In the offensive backfield, Laurence Maroney is coming off a shoulder injury and, entering his fourth season, needs to produce. The Patriots also signed free agent Fred Taylor.
Camp will be a downer if ... Brady suffers a setback in his recovery. The Patriots won 11 games with unheralded reserve Matt Cassel last year, but does second-year backup Kevin O'Connell (without offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, no less) engender enough confidence to withstand Brady tweaking his knee?
If Brady encounters some turbulence, it's foreseeable the Patriots still could pull through as they did last year. But any Brady struggles will make Patriot Nation squirm.
Camp will be a success if ... somebody emerges as Vrabel's replacement and the Patriots come away pleased with their cornerbacks. New England's defense has some uncertainties, but finding reliable help at these spots will be huge.
The Patriots emerged from last year's camp unstable at cornerback. They cut Fernando Bryant just before the season and signed Deltha O'Neal, who was lackluster. This offseason they welcomed veterans Shawn Springs and Leigh Bodden and second-rounder Darius Butler. They traded right-side starter Ellis Hobbs.
Tough cuts to come? The Patriots will have some decisions to make at running back. Maroney is a first-round pick entering just his fourth season. They identified Taylor as somebody they needed. Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk are old dependables. BenJarvus Green-Ellis showed he could play in the NFL when given the chance. It will be interesting to see how this position sorts out.
New York Jets
Training camp site: State University of New York in Cortland, N.Y.
Campfires: As much as rookie coach Rex Ryan's revamped defense will shape the Jets' season, quarterback battles always steal the headlines. When one of the candidates is the highest-paid player in franchise history and the highest-drafted quarterback since Joe Namath, you know it will be a molten topic. The Jets traded up to draft Mark Sanchez fifth overall. He's getting paid $28 million in guarantees. Unless he flops or veteran Kellen Clemens is brilliant, the rookie should start.
|Rich Kane/Icon SMI|
|Vernon Gholston had a disappointing rookie season.|
The Jets, however, likely will go as far as their defense takes them. It's difficult to tell how an aggressive, blitz-oriented defense is coming together when nobody's wearing pads or hitting. Training camp conditions will be the first real sense we'll get about how Ryan's methods will translate from Baltimore.
Ryan's defense will be aided substantially if he can get pass-rusher Vernon Gholston to contribute. Last year's sixth overall pick from Ohio State had an undetectable rookie campaign. The Jets need to get some kind of return on their investment, but the urgency is greater with outside linebacker Calvin Pace's four-game suspension at the start of the season. Gholston's opportunity couldn't be more obvious. He must have a terrific camp.
Camp will be a downer if ... Ryan's much-ballyhooed defense doesn't hum by the end of preseason. With all of the bluster, the signings of Bart Scott and Jim Leonhard and the Lito Sheppard trade, the Jets better be good on defense.
Purely from an entertainment perspective, camp will be a bummer if Ryan doesn't keep yapping like he did during OTAs and minicamp.
Camp will be a success if ... either Sanchez or Gholston emerges as a credible player. They don't have to be Pro Bowlers, but if one or the other demonstrates a level of competence to build from, then fans -- and general manager Mike Tannenbaum -- can breathe a little easier about the immediate future.
Sanchez, of course, is who the Jets need to come into his own more than any other player. They have the most invested in him. He might be the franchise's front man for the next decade. But if Sanchez sputters in camp and Gholston's game materializes, organizational confidence still would be buoyed.
Catch and release: The Jets haven't made the move fans hoped. They haven't landed an experienced receiver to play with Jerricho Cotchery. They lost Laveranues Coles but have opted to find a starter among last year's reserves and by turning over the bottom of the roster.
Chansi Stuckey and speedster David Clowney look like the best bets to emerge from this crew. Brad Smith and Wallace Wright also could end up with bigger roles, but the auditions will last right up until the regular season begins.
Trey Wingo, Darren Woodson and Tim Hasselbeck preview the AFC East.
Jason Taylor? Signed.
Greg Ellis? Signed.
Julius Peppers? Signed.
The list of pass-rushers linked to the New England Patriots looks thinner than Manute Bol in a girdle.
Peppers finally signed his one-year franchise tender Wednesday for the Carolina Panthers. On a conference call, Panthers general manager Marty Hurney told reporters this isn't the first step to a sign-and-trade deal. Hurney said they intend to keep Peppers.
"We want Julius Peppers here," Hurney said. "This one-year contract was signed with the intention of him coming to training camp on Aug. 2 with the Carolina Panthers."
NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas breaks down why Peppers probably will remain a Panther.
But speculation was rampant before the draft that the Patriots were on the verge of trading for Peppers. It sounded like a formality. Peppers had announced his desire to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. The Patriots happen to be a 3-4 team and haven't brought in a proven veteran to replace Mike Vrabel.
The Patriots aren't convinced. Owner Robert Kraft twice made public statements that Taylor had a Gillette Stadium locker waiting for him, and the Dallas Morning News reported last week the Patriots offered Ellis a contract.
So what big names are left to wonder about?
Oakland Raiders defensive end Derrick Burgess is the most notable possibility. The two-time Pro Bowler doesn't like his contract. He has skipped voluntary workouts. He showed up for mandatory minicamp but sat out with a tummy ache.
Ellis, who the Raiders signed to a three-year deal nine days ago, has been playing in Burgess' spot at left defensive end.
A look at the key loss and his replacement for each team in the division:
Who's in: Langston Walker, left tackle
Outlook: The Bills couldn't cope with the prospect of another prolonged Peters holdout, so they traded away the headache -- even though he's one of the best in the business -- for some draft picks.
The Bills opted not to draft any tackles or sign any through free agency. Instead, they are slopping Walker from the right side and shifting right guard Brad Butler to right tackle.
Walker will be a drop-off from Peters. Scouts are skeptical the 6-foot-8 Walker will be mobile enough to handle some of the best pass-rushers in the game. The Bills will face several who finished among the top 10 in sacks last year.
Who's in: Jake Grove, center
Outlook: The Dolphins identified their biggest problem on the offensive line last year was their center. They didn't think Satele, who has been a starter since he stepped foot in the league, was physical enough against top 3-4 nose tackles.
Miami targeted Grove in free agency because he grades highly in run blocking and plays with a mean streak. Dolphins defenders say they notice a much more aggressive tone in the trenches since Grove arrived. He has been injury prone, but if he stays healthy he'll improve the run game.
Who's in: Pierre Woods, outside linebacker
Outlook: The most noticeable void on New England's depth chart is the one left by Vrabel's trade to Kansas City. His numbers regressed from his Pro Bowl season in 2007, but he still was a player opponents worried about.
The Patriots still could bring in another veteran before the season begins, but for now it looks like Woods will be the replacement. Woods seems to have Bill Belichick's trust, starting three games last year when Adalius Thomas went down.
Woods, an undrafted fourth-year pro, is decent against the run but hasn't demonstrated pass-rushing skills in a game yet. Barring any developments before training camp, it looks like the job is his to lose.
Who's out: Ty Law, right cornerback (free agent)
Who's in: Lito Sheppard, right cornerback
Outlook: The Jets plucked Law off the street in November when they decided rookie Dwight Lowery wasn't good enough to man the position opposite lockdown left cornerback Darrelle Revis. They didn't re-sign Law after the 2008 season and acquired Sheppard from the Eagles.
Sheppard is a playmaker because he attacks the ball. If he comes up with it, look out; he can go the distance. His coverage skills, however, are suspect. He couldn't retain his starting job in Philly, but the belief is that with Revis on the other side, the Jets can roll help to Sheppard's side.
Greg Ellis needs a job.
The New England Patriots need a pass-rusher.
Is this an obvious fit, or what?
"That makes perfect sense," said Michael Lombardi, a former NFL personnel executive and columnist for the National Football Post. "An outside pass-rusher is the one area they haven't really addressed."
The Dallas Cowboys released Ellis on Tuesday. He started every game at outside linebacker last year, recording 55 tackles and eight sacks. Ellis made the Pro Bowl two years ago. In 11 seasons as a Cowboys defensive end and outside linebacker he amassed 77 sacks.
"I think they would like to add that dimension," Lombardi said. "They might be so good on offense, their outside rushers won't need to worry about the run as much. They have to find a way to improve their nickel pass rush."
Ellis, on the downside of this career, will turn 34 in August. But the Patriots have had success rejuvenating older players. They were interested in signing Jason Taylor, who will be 35 in September and is coming off a lackluster season.
"Based on last year, the Cowboys getting rid of [Ellis] would make me concerned," Lombardi said. "Work him out to see where he is health-wise.
"They're going to explore every available player who can rush the passer. I don't know that for a fact, but I would suspect they have to."
Calvin Watkins of FanHouse.com reports Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker Greg Ellis is on the trade block because he's entering the final year of his contract. Watkins also writes the Cowboys have identified the Patriots and Cincinnati Bengals as the top potential trade partners.
Ellis was used mostly on passing downs. He recorded eight sacks, 12 quarterback pressures and 55 tackles. He also had an interception and recovered a fumble.
The Miami Dolphins might have been a potential landing pad for Ellis had they not signed Taylor last week. Ellis played for Dolphins football operations boss Bill Parcells in Dallas.
The Patriots traded outside linebacker Mike Vrabel to the Kansas City Chiefs and haven't brought in any additional help. Fourth-year pro Pierre Woods is the likely replacement if the Patriots don't find help elsewhere.
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|Brad Butler will play right tackle on the Bills' reshuffled offensive line.|
A lot of Pro Bowls and young talent exist in that group. Those are the projected linebacker/defensive end pairings Brad Butler will have to cope with twice a year as the Buffalo Bills' new right tackle.
Butler played right guard for the Bills last year but is being moved out. When the Bills traded two-time Pro Bowler Jason Peters and didn't replace him, they switched right tackle Langston Walker to the other side.
"After the draft, they called me and said 'Hey, we're going to make a move to Langston at left tackle and you at right tackle,' " Butler told reporters Wednesday in Orchard Park, N.Y. "I told them what I said before, when they moved me to guard as a rookie: 'Hey, if they want me to move to field goal kicker, then that's what I'm willing to do.'"
Buffalo's revamped offensive line will feature three new faces and four jumbled positions.
The Bills signed free-agent center Geoff Hangartner. They also drafted Eric Wood, a Louisville center they're switching to right guard, and Andre Levitre, an Oregon State tackle they're switching to left guard.
The depth chart on the Bills' official Web site already lists Wood and Levitre as the starters.
"There's no doubt it's a challenge," Jauron said. "I believe we have the right group of guys for it. They work well together. They enjoy working together, and they're a bright group, football smart. They think the game. They talk the game a lot. So it gives us a chance, but it won't be easy."
Butler expressed cautious optimism in his conversion.
He made 31 straight starts, including three bowl games, at right tackle for Virginia. But he hasn't started an NFL game at tackle since the Bills drafted him in the fifth round in 2006.
"The biggest challenge is more about athleticism and speed," Butler said. "When inside, it's more about power and strength. It's going to take some time to get used to that, but what's great is that I've got [Bills defensive end Chris] Kelsay to go against every day, and he practices hard, and ultimately the way I'll make the conversion to tackle is by working hard in practice."
The transition also includes a spatial component.
"It's something that's going to take time, specifically the smaller nuances and just the feel," Butler said. "The biggest difference besides the opponent you're going against is just the space out there, and you have to get used to working in space.
"When I was at guard, it was maybe a yard to your right or your left. Now there's 5, 10 yards to the back and side."
Whether or not the switch comes to him quickly, Butler's on board with the move.
"I believe in what coach Jauron has to say," Butler said. "We haven't made the playoffs since I've been here, and if they think the best way to make the playoffs is by me playing right tackle then I'm willing to do it."