AFC East: Shaun Ellis

Shaun Ellis on Jets: 'I'm over it'

February, 4, 2012
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Veteran defensive end Shaun Ellis spent 11 strong seasons with the New York Jets, registering 72.5 sacks in that span. That is why Ellis was surprised when the Jets basically let him walk last offseason and eventually sign with the New England Patriots.

Ellis was an unrestricted free agent but expected the Jets to make a strong push to bring him back. Instead, New York spent a first-round pick on rookie defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, which signaled the end for Ellis.

The veteran went on to join New York's biggest rival: New England. Now, Ellis has a chance to win his first ring Sunday when the Patriots play the New York Giants in Super XLVI.

Ellis said this week that everything worked out and he no longer holds any grudges against the Jets.

"No, I'm over it," Ellis said. "When things first started happening and they weren't going to bring me back and how that went, it was disappointing. With an organization that you spent so long with and you put all your heart into it to get to this point that I am at now. For them to basically close the door, it was tough, but I forgave them.

"I have put it behind me. I understand that it is a business. I had to go out and find the best situation for me and I found it here as a New England Patriot, and I’m in the Super Bowl."

This will be Ellis' first chance at the Super Bowl. He spent the past two years losing in the AFC Championship Game with the Jets.

Final Word: AFC East

September, 9, 2011
9/09/11
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» NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 1:

[+] EnlargeC.J. Spiller
Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty ImagesRunning back C.J. Spiller could help Buffalo slow down Kansas City's pass rush.
Handling Hali: Something to watch carefully when Buffalo visits Kansas City is how the Bills handle linebacker Tamba Hali. If left alone, he will torment Bills left tackle Demetrius Bell. If Buffalo designates a tight end next to Bell to assist with Hali or assigns a running back to chip him, that leaves the rest of Buffalo’s protection scheme vulnerable against pass-rushers Justin Houston, Glenn Dorsey and Wallace Gilberry. Kansas City also has a strong secondary. I have a hard time believing that Buffalo will have much success through the air this week. One guy who could really help their cause if used properly is running back C.J. Spiller.

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.

AFC East links: Sanchez to make a leap?

September, 9, 2011
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Buffalo Bills

At age 28, Ryan Fitzpatrick is finally getting his shot as a season-opening starting quarterback. “It’s taken me seven years to get this opportunity, and I can’t look back now,” Fitzpatrick said. “I’m excited about it. This is what I’ve worked for, this shot right here.”

Donald Jones doesn't have the flashiest résumé, but he won the competition to fill the starting receiver spot vacated by Lee Evans and he's out to prove he belongs there.

The Starpress.com's Doug Zaleski has the story on Robert Eddins, an undrafted rookie linebacker who made the final roster. Coach Chan Gailey on Eddins: "Completely surprising. I had no idea really who he was. The scouting staff said, 'Hey we need to look at this guy, he's got something to him.' And they were right. The guy has really done a great job."

Miami Dolphins

The team decided to bring Larry Johnson back after rookie running back Daniel Thomas suffered a hamstring injury.

Quarterback Chad Henne is eager to unveil the Dolphins' new offense under coordinator Brian Daboll. Henne: "Overall we are excited to see what we can do with our playmakers out there and show this offense off." The AP looks at the pressure Henne is under heading into the season.

New England Patriots

Shaun Ellis, a college roommate of Albert Haynesworth's, said the "the Albert [he] saw back in college" has re-emerged with the Patriots.

ESPNBoston.com's Jeremy Lundblad examines whether a Randy Moss-Tom Brady reunion would work for the team.

New York Jets

Special-teams coach Mike Westhoff slammed former punter Steve Weatherford, who signed with Giants this offseason, saying he "was disappointed in some of the poor performances that [Weatherford] had at the end of the year."

Linebacker Bart Scott is asking fans attending Jets games to step it up and show their support. "We have to challenge the people that's in the stadium now to get off their iPads and tweets and represent the stadium and get loud and make it a home-field advantage for us."

The Dallas Morning News' Rick Gosselin expects to see a much-improved Mark Sanchez this season.

The rich (Patriots) get richer

September, 4, 2011
9/04/11
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Add five-time Pro Bowler Brian Waters to the New England Patriots' all-star list of offseason acquisitions. New England agreed to a deal with the former Kansas City Chiefs guard Sunday morning, ESPN's Adam Schefter reports.

Waters will immediately fill one of the guard spots on New England's offensive line. He has to be a quick study, as the Patriots prepare for their Week 1 game against the Miami Dolphins on "Monday Night Football."

The Patriots, coming off a 14-2 season, continue to stockpile talent via free agency and trades.

In addition to Waters, New England also added receiver Chad Ochocinco, defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and defensive end Shaun Ellis. The four players combined to make 15 Pro Bowls.
Check here for a complete list of the New England Patriots‘ roster moves.

Surprise move: There was plenty of speculation about safety Brandon Meriweather's future after he played into the fourth quarter with the second unit in Thursday’s exhibition finale against the New York Giants, but it was still a surprise when the Patriots outright released the former first-round pick (24th overall in the 2007 draft) on Saturday. After releasing veteran James Sanders as part of the previous cutdowns, the Patriots further turned over that position, waving goodbye to a player who’s been to the Pro Bowl in each of the past two seasons.

The team also raised some eyebrows by releasing defensive end Eric Moore, a starter at season’s end last year, but the additions of veterans such as Mark Anderson and Shaun Ellis on the defensive line made him expendable. Wide receiver Brandon Tate, who was the team’s primary kick returner and No. 3 receiver last year, got edged by more versatile bodies, and veteran running back Sammy Morris was a victim of an influx of young talent at running back.

No-brainers: First-year players like offensive lineman Thomas Austin, running back Eric Kettani, and defensive back Ross Ventrone, as well as rookies linebacker Markell Carter, defensive lineman Aaron Lavarias, defensive end Alex Silvestro, tight end Lee Smith and tight end Will Yeatman were longer shots to make the roster. The release of two young tight ends (Smith and Yeatman) is a bit surprising given New England’s love of three tight-end sets and no pure fullback. (Could veteran Alge Crumpler be on the radar?)

What’s next: The Patriots are certainly in the market for safety help, and with backup guard Rich Ohrnberger placed on season-ending injured reserve, the team is thin on the interior line. Remember that this team rarely sits idle after cutdowns. Expect the Patriots to tweak their roster further based on what becomes available from cutdowns across the league.

Rapid Reaction: Giants 18, Patriots 17

September, 1, 2011
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Rapid reaction from the Patriots' preseason finale against the Giants, with the Patriots falling 18-17:

Tom Brady and starters play into second quarter. In all, Brady was on the field for 18 snaps (including penalties), as coach Bill Belichick wanted to get his first-unit offense some more work. The Giants were playing second-stringers from the start -- they had a quick turnaround after playing Monday night -- which adds context when considering the Patriots led 10-3 after the first quarter and 17-3 at the half. The Giants made a second-half comeback against the Patriots' second and third units, sparked by a fake punt which was taken 65 yards for a touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter. If Belichick's goal was to generate momentum after Saturday's preseason dud in Detroit while keeping top players healthy, this was a case of "mission accomplished."

Albert Haynesworth's debut. The big defensive lineman played for the first time this preseason, totaling 16 snaps -- seven coming in the first quarter and nine in the second quarter. Haynesworth started and made an immediate impact, delivering a strong interior rush on his first play in which the Patriots forced a fumble and returned it 18 yards to the Giants' 1. But after a stretch of five straight plays in the second quarter, he looked winded. After the second quarter, he spent the rest of the night chatting up his fellow defensive linemen on the sidelines. He was credited with two tackles on the night (1 solo, 1 assist) and it looks like he's still working himself into game condition.

Shaun Ellis gets sack in first game. Veteran defensive lineman Shaun Ellis, the former New York Jet who signed a one-year deal with New England, also made his debut as the Patriots opened with a four-man line of Ellis at left end, Haynesworth and Vince Wilfork at defensive tackle and Andre Carter at right defensive end. Ellis registered a sack of quarterback David Carr at the end of the second quarter, as the Patriots gave him an extended look in sub packages with nickel rusher Mark Anderson not dressed.

Following up on Chad Ochocinco. There has been a lot of chatter about receiver Chad Ochocinco and how he is integrating into the team's offense. He started, played a total of 11 snaps (including penalties), and was targeted twice while finishing with one reception. On the incompletion, Ochocinco couldn't gain separation deep up the left side. His completion was a 9-yarder to open the Patriots' second drive of the night that looked smooth across the middle. After going without a catch Saturday in Detroit, it was the type of performance that Ochocinco could feel good about entering the regular season.

Brandon Meriweather plays with backups. With the Patriots taking an extended look at safety Josh Barrett in the first half, two-time Pro Bowl safety Brandon Meriweather played throughout the second half with many who won't be on the New England roster come Saturday. Looking ahead, Meriweather's standing on the team bears watching. It was unusual to see him playing so deep into the game, and one might say it was a message being sent by the coaching staff.

Wes Welker dresses but does not play. The receiver injured his neck Saturday in Detroit, but in a sign that it isn't serious, he dressed for the game and went through his regular pre-game warmups. Welker didn't play, but it looks like he should be ready to go in the season opener.

Three injuries of note. Cornerback Kyle Arrington (limping while not putting weight on his right leg), linebacker Niko Koutouvides (looked like a concussion) and running back/fullback Sammy Morris (looked like a concussion) were looked at by members of the medical staff and never reutrned to the game.

Focus now turns to roster cuts and season opener Sept. 12. Expect the page to be turned quickly by Belichick and players, with the focus on trimming the roster from 80 to 53 by Saturday, and then preparations intensifying for the season opener, on "Monday Night Football" against the Dolphins (Sept. 12).

Camp Confidential: New York Jets

August, 20, 2011
8/20/11
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Rex Ryan said it his first day on the job, and he’ll keep saying it until it actually happens -- the New York Jets are going to the Super Bowl.

Early on, Ryan’s bravado was a breath of fresh air. Now, after two consecutive losses in the AFC Championship Game, the brash coach will be perceived as a windbag if the Jets don’t get it done in 2011.

One more miss and the honeymoon is over.

“This is the best roster we’ve had since we’ve been here,” Ryan said.

That’s debatable. The Jets are older and slower at wide receiver, depth is a concern at some key spots, and they have middle-of-the-field issues in pass coverage. That said, they have a young quarterback on the ascent -- Mark Sanchez -- and improvement in his play could compensate for other deficiencies.

Win or lose, the Jets are a marquee team. HBO’s “Hard Knocks” show isn’t around this summer to record every word and action, but the team still is generating national news -- Sanchez’s GQ cover, Plaxico Burress' return to football, Ryan’s bold quotes, etc.

You’re just not hearing the R-rated language.

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. Can Mark Sanchez become a four-quarter quarterback? He already has won four playoff games in two seasons -- impressive stuff -- so you know he can win big games. His problem is consistency, playing well from week-to-week and quarter-to-quarter in the regular season.

Yes, quarter-to-quarter. The Jets didn’t score an offensive touchdown in the first quarter over their final 15 games (counting playoffs), and a lot of that falls on Sanchez. Part of it could be attributed to inexperience, needing time to adjust to defensive wrinkles, but a lot of it stemmed from his inaccuracy. He completed only 55 percent of his pass attempts, about six or seven points below where the Jets want him to be.

[+] EnlargeMark Sanchez
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesThe Jets need to see more consistency from quarterback Mark Sanchez.
If Sanchez can eliminate the inconsistencies and settle down -- he led the league in dropped interceptions -- the Jets will have a real chance to do something special. We already know he can make plays in the fourth quarter, but now he has to play the first like the fourth. Problem is, he lost 75 percent of his receiving corps before camp opened, putting the onus on him to familiarize himself with a new group. That takes time.

2. Can the Three Amigos (Egos?) co-exist? On paper, the Jets have one of the best receiving corps in the league: Santonio Holmes, Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason. They’ve combined for more than 1,700 receptions and 24,000 yards, not to mention two Super Bowl-winning catches (Holmes and Burress). But now there will be a transition period, especially for Burress and Mason.

Not only are they learning a new system, they’re adjusting to life as secondary options. That’s not always easy for a receiver accustomed to being No. 1. Naturally, they’re all saying the right things, insisting they’re in it for the team, not themselves. We’ll see. Holmes is the No. 1 guy in these parts, and his new teammates will have to deal with that. If not, it will put a lot of pressure on Sanchez, who realizes he has a lot of mouths to feed.

The fact that Burress missed two weeks with a sprained ankle really slowed the process.

3. Do the Jets have a pass rush? This question really bugs Ryan because, as he likes to point out, the Jets finished eighth in sacks (40). Not bad, right? But sacks don’t mean everything, as coaches like to point out when it benefits their agenda. For instance: The Jets led the league in most big plays allowed on third down, and the primary reason was the lack of a consistent pass rush.

The Jets didn’t acquire anyone to help the pass rush, unless you count first-round defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, but he’s really not an edge rusher. He’ll be more of a first- and second-down run defender than a pass-rusher in the sub packages. If anything, the Jets lost some pass rush because they released Jason Taylor and didn’t replace his five sacks.

What to do? Ryan and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine are masters of the blitz, designing clever pressure packages that confuse quarterbacks. They manufacture pressure, and sometimes simulate pressure, to rattle quarterbacks. For the most part, it works, but it’s a dangerous way to live, as the Jets discovered last season. They have fantastic cover corners in Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, which makes it possible to employ that kind of scheme, but sooner or later the lack of a big-time rusher will catch up to them.

The Jets took a flyer on former Bills No. 1 pick Aaron Maybin, signing him to a minimum contract, but let’s be honest: He’s not the answer. It’ll be an upset if he makes the team.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

The Jets parted ways with two of their longest-tenured players, defensive end Shaun Ellis (Patriots) and wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery (Steelers). They were two of the most respected players in the locker room, players you always figured would retire as Jets.

Cotchery, unhappy in his role as the No. 3 receiver, requested his release. The Jets didn’t handle it well, cutting Cotchery before securing Mason, but it worked out in the end. They offered Ellis a one-year deal for the minimum salary, which he found insulting. He wound up signing with the rival Patriots, a PR hit for the Jets.

[+] EnlargePlaxico Burress
AP Photo/Julio CortezA sprained ankle has slowed Plaxico Burress since the start of training camp.
It makes them look cold, but the Jets evidently felt it was time to move on. The Cotchery decision could come back to bite them because he’s 29 and still can be an effective player.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

After a 20-month prison sentence that cost him two seasons, Burress needs practice more than anyone. But he missed the first two weeks of camp and the first preseason game with a sprained ankle, a significant setback as he attempts to regain his form and learn the Jets’ offense.

The Jets hope that the 6-foot-5 Burress can cure their red zone issues, but he and Sanchez are having trouble connecting in practice. This is going to take time. Don’t be surprised if Burress is a part-time player in the first month of the season.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Revis is having the best camp of his career. Yes, it’s true: This is only his third holdout-free training camp. But know this: He’s locking down receivers with the same determination he did in 2009, when he shut down No. 1 receivers on a weekly basis. This bodes well for the 10 players around him.
  • Burress is making most of the headlines -- Plax this, Plax that -- but the real prize of the offseason shopping spree is Mason. Ryan gets excited about reclamation projects, but let’s be honest: Burress hasn’t played in two seasons because he was in prison, and now he expects to come back to the pre-prison Plaxico. Whoa, let’s hold everything. Burress might turn out to be a good pickup, but it’s going to take time. Give him a few games into the season. In the meantime, they’ll ride Holmes and Mason.
  • You may not know this name -- Rob Turner -- but the Jets will miss him. He backs up at center and guard, plays tight end in the “jumbo” package, lines up on defense in goal line and blocks from the wedge on kickoff returns. In short, he does everything but mop the floors. Unfortunately for the Jets, Turner broke his leg in the preseason opener and will be lost for at least two months. It’s a big loss, even though the average fan might not think so.
  • The Jets are going to be vulnerable in the middle of the field in pass coverage. The safeties have suspect speed and the front seven also is short on the quicks. Opponents with athletic tight ends and crafty slot receivers are going to cause major issues for the Jets.
  • The run defense could be vulnerable up the middle. Dependable nose tackle Sione Pouha is hobbled by a sprained knee (not serious, but a nuisance), and inside linebacker Bart Scott is taking some time off with what’s believed to be a high-ankle sprain. Again, it’s not serious, but when two of your inside guys are hurting, it’s never a good thing.
  • Aside from Sanchez, the key player is running back Shonn Greene, the new feature back. No doubt, Greene has the talent to be the No. 1 tailback -- and he is -- but what about his durability? That always has been a question that dogs Greene. He’ll have to bring his A-game every week -- assuming he recovers soon from a skin infection on his right foot. When you’re a ground-and-pound team, you need a workhorse -- and LaDainian Tomlinson, 32, probably is too old to be that guy.
  • Remember this name: Jeremy Kerley. He’s a diminutive receiver/kick returner from TCU, and he will bring a lot of electricity. He’s only 5-9, if that, but he has tremendous acceleration and change of direction. He’ll be an immediate factor on punt returns and, if needed at receiver, he has the ability to make plays from the slot.

Video: Rex Ryan setting the bar high

August, 15, 2011
8/15/11
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Rex Ryan talks to Suzy Kolber about Super Bowl aspirations, how Plaxico Burress will help the Jets, the loss of Shaun Ellis and rivalry with the Patriots.
To keep in line with the other AFC East blog posts I have written this week, let’s discuss the status of the Jets’ defensive line.

New York used two early draft picks on defensive big men and Shaun Ellis is now with the rival Patriots. Trevor Pryce didn’t play a lot of snaps for the Jets last year, but he was effective when he saw the field. He is currently a free agent without a team. So there will be significant changes.

[+] EnlargeMuhammad Wilkerson
AP Photo/Julio CortezThe Jets are hoping first-round pick Muhammad Wilkerson can fill the spot vacated by Shaun Ellis.
Let’s discuss the draft picks and how they fit in. New York used its first-round pick on Muhammad Wilkerson and a third-rounder on Kenrick Ellis. Wilkerson is an excellent physical specimen who looks custom made for defensive end in Rex Ryan’s version of the 3-4. A bigger body than Wilkerson but not as quick or explosive, Ellis is also dripping with potential. Ellis could be a king-sized end, or, if he can prove to consistently play with leverage and keep his pads down, a force in the middle at nose tackle. If not for off-the-field issues, Ellis would have been drafted much higher.

But like all rookies currently getting acclimated to the league, the learning curve for these two is especially steep this season due to the lockout. Compounding matters, Wilkerson is transitioning from Temple and Ellis from Hampton -- which are not exactly NCAA powerhouses. But even if Wilkerson struggles to read blocks and hold the point of attack on early downs as a starting defensive end, he should be quite effective as a rookie rushing the passer in the Jets’ sub packages.

Because of the emergence of Sione Pouha as an upper-echelon nose tackle, New York should be able to bring along Ellis slowly at that position -- maybe just rotating him in from time to time to give the massive Pouha a breather. Pouha offers nothing as a pass-rusher, but he knows how to use his big body very well versus the run. It generally takes two interior offensive linemen to move him backward. And his presence allows the Jets’ exceptional set of inside linebackers to shine.

Although one starting end spot is vacant with Shaun Ellis elsewhere (New York surely would like Wilkerson to grab that job by the throat this preseason), Mike DeVito is among the most underrated players in the league. He is a rock at his end spot. Much like Pouha, DeVito is a simply exceptional player versus the run. But as a pass-rusher, DeVito leaves something to be desired. That being said, you can win an awful lot of games with Pouha and DeVito anchoring the defensive front.

Outside of the four mentioned above, the Jets are a little light on the defensive line, which is a bit concerning considering where Wilkerson and Kenrick Ellis are in their development right now. One name to keep in mind is Jarron Gilbert, who was a failure in Chicago’s upfield 4-3 scheme. He really didn’t fit the mold of the Bears’ defensive ends or interior linemen. But Gilbert is only 24, is built like a 3-4 end and has rare athletic ability for such a big man. Gilbert could be exactly the type of guy whom Rex Ryan cultivates and turns into a productive player.

One other wild card at defensive end in this equation is Ropati Pitoitua. We haven’t seen much of Pitoitua, but he has rare size for the position and has reportedly been quite impressive thus far in camp.

The Jets still have one of the better defensive lines in football. But it isn’t without some uncertainty.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com. Follow Matt Williamson on Twitter @WilliamsonNFL.
What was the Patriots' biggest weakness in 2010? Pass defense.

That won't be the case in 2011.

First off, let’s start with the cover guys. I am not entirely sold on the safeties, and the depth at this position in particular is a concern. But overall, you could do worse than Brandon Meriweather, Pat Chung and James Sanders. Still, I do think this is the weakest position now on New England’s defense.

[+] EnlargeLeigh Bodden
Luc Leclerc/US PresswireThe Patriots needs Leigh Bodden to return from the injuires that hampered his 2010 season.
The cornerback play should be vastly improved, though. First off, Leigh Bodden returns from injury. If he returns to his 2009 form, Bodden is an above-average starting corner who can excel in many different schemes. Last year’s first-round pick, Devin McCourty, would have been a legitimate candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2010 -- if it weren't for Detroit's Ndamukong Suh, that is. As great as McCourty was last season, expecting improvement in his second season seems logical as well.

The Patriots also used an early second-round pick this year on Ras-I Dowling. Dowling would have been a first-round pick if not for injuries. He has a lot of ability, and along with Bodden and McCourty, gives the Patriots excellent size at corner.

In addition to the latest two early round picks, New England has a slew of younger corners in Kyle Arrington, Darius Butler and Jonathan Wilhite. Collectively, this group has been underwhelming, but expecting improvement from these young cover men also doesn’t seem far-fetched. Even if just one of the three steps up, New England will be stacked at the position, which will allow Bill Belichick to be even more creative with his sub-package personnel. It should be noted, though, that it doesn’t yet appear Dowling is back to full health, which could stunt his growth and open the door for one of these three for early playing time.

Now, let’s discuss the pass rush, which like the coverage, should be improved. There has been a great deal of speculation that New England will be switching to more base 4-3 looks. Due to the team’s roster moves this offseason, that seems entirely likely. But I also expect Belichick to utilize many different looks from his front seven, changing on a week-to-week basis depending on the Patriots’ opponent.

If nothing else, the addition of Albert Haynesworth will pay dividends in this area. He can really get after the passer. Whether it is from a defensive end or nose tackle position in the 3-4 or as a 3-technique in the 4-3, Haynesworth will wreak havoc on quarterbacks. During his time in Tennessee, Haynesworth was used all over the defensive line, including as an outside edge rusher.

Haynesworth should pair with another newcomer, Shaun Ellis, as one of the most potent interior pass-rushing forces in the league on clear passing downs. Ellis will also contribute in the pursuit of quarterbacks from an end spot in New England’s odd front. The presence of both these players -- along with several incumbents -- should allow the Patriots to keep Haynesworth and Ellis quite fresh.

Off the edge, Jermaine Cunningham did some good things as a rookie and could be poised for a substantial step forward as an outside linebacker in the 3-4 or as a designated pass-rusher on throwing downs. He also could play some end when the Patriots use an even front. Andre Carter has consistently performed poorly when asked to move to outside linebacker in a 3-4, but he is well suited for defensive end in the 4-3. Belichick surely recognizes this and should use him accordingly.

The foursome of Haynesworth, Ellis, Cunningham and Carter as a pass-rushing front on passing downs is a vast improvement from a season ago. Mark Anderson, another guy who is much better suited for end in the 4-3, could also factor in, especially on early downs.

To say that New England has been aggressive to cure what ailed it in 2010 is a massive understatement. I fully expect this aggression to pay off in a big way.

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

AFC East links: Jets' defense like '85 Bears?

August, 9, 2011
8/09/11
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Buffalo Bills

Defensive end Alex Carrington is getting some work at linebacker and the 6-foot-5, 304-pounder made a good impression.

Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins hope their defense gets a boost from the return of three players who missed most of last season.

Miami released its first depth chart for the new season.

New England Patriots

Former Patriots coordinator Eric Mangini says defensive end Shaun Ellis will be a good fit in New England.

New England has 19 defensive lineman on its roster at the moment, and that’s not counting hybrid players such as Jermaine Cunningham and Markell Carter.

Steve Buckley of BostonHerald.com talks with Patriots coach Bill Belichick about preparing for the season after a lockout-shortened offseason.

New York Jets

Quarterback Mark Sanchez compares the Jets' defense to the famed 1985 Bears unit that rampaged its way to a 15-1 regular season and a Super Bowl crown. Coach Rex Ryan quickly dismissed the notion.

Some offseason moves by the Jets should concern offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.

Defensive end Shaun Ellis says there are no hard feelings with the Jets after he joined the Patriots for a contract that dwarfed what the Jets were offering.

Adding veteran receiver Derrick Mason was among the moves the Jets made aimed at helping quarterback Mark Sanchez develop.

The Jets added a pair of linebackers.

Jets: Three things we learned Monday

August, 9, 2011
8/09/11
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1. Jets and Patriots disagree. Obviously, the two organizations have a difference of opinion on defensive end Shaun Ellis. The Jets offered him $910,000 for one year, basically a Joe Torre-esque contract: We want you, but only at a ridiculously low price. The Patriots agreed to pay him $4 million. At that salary, they apparently believe he can be a full-time player. We're talking about two smart organizations that really know how to evaluate players. Someone is going to be wrong on this one.

2. Derrick Mason, Plaxico Burress have a long way to go. Mason, 37, participated in his first practice as a Jet, receiving a bulk of the reps -- and admitted afterward that his legs felt like jelly about halfway through the practice. Burress, 33, coming off his ankle injury, took only three team reps. This isn't going to be an overnight process, breaking in two old receivers -- one of whom spent 20 months in jail. But, remember, the goal isn't to be ready for the Texans on Aug. 15; the goal is Sept. 11 and the Cowboys.

3. Sleepers. A few off-the-radar players already have jumped out in camp -- PK Nick Novak, LB Nick Bellore (Central Michigan), WR Michael Campbell (Temple), LB Garrett McIntyre and DE Ropati Pitoitua. Rex Ryan identified Bellore as the most pleasant surprise on defense. He has an excellent chance to make the team because the depth at inside 'backer is suspect.

For more on the Jets, click here.

AFC East links: A case for Tebow in Miami

August, 8, 2011
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Buffalo Bills

Without the advantage of an offseason's worth of training, rookies are receiving huge doses of the speed and intricacies of the pro game in training camp, making an already complicated transition all the more overwhelming, according to Rodney McKissic of the Buffalo News.

Aaron Maybin, the No. 11 overall pick in the 2009 draft, could be battling in camp just to make the team.

Miami Dolphins

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel's George Diaz writes that Dolphins fans have been clamoring for the wrong Denver quarterback.

Chad Henne and Brandon Marshall had a meeting Sunday in an effort to get on the same page and the early return was promising: Henne connected with Marshall for three touchdowns during a scrimmage.

New England Patriots

Free-agent defensive lineman Andre Carter tweeted Sunday night that he was joining the Patriots.

Former 49ers safety Dashon Goldson visited the Patriots over the weekend.

Via Peter King, defensive lineman Vince Wilfork talked about Albert Haynesworth staying on the right path. "I tell you what, if he doesn't, he's out of here, and he knows it," Wilfork told King. "He knows he has some baggage, and he wants to turn it around."

New York Jets

Rex Ryan on Shaun Ellis joining the Patriots: "The fact that he chose them, there's no way I'm going to wish him well. There's no chance of that." Players react to Ellis' leaving. More reaction from Ryan.

The New York Post's Bart Hubbuch takes a look at the gamble the Jets are making on their revamped, older receiving corps.

Sunday practice notes from ESPNNewYork.com's Jane McManus.

Longtime Jet Shaun Ellis to join Patriots

August, 7, 2011
8/07/11
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The AFC East rivalry between New England and New York is getting an added jolt as longtime Jets defensive end Shaun Ellis will join the Patriots, pending a physical that is expected to be completed Sunday.

Ellis and the Patriots reached agreement on a one-year deal, a league source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. New England has been looking to upgrade its pass rush and it believes it will do so with the 34-year-old Ellis, who has played 11 seasons with the Jets after New York picked him with the 12th overall pick of the 2000 draft.

The Jets had made a one-year offer for the veterans' minimum of $910,000, according to Ellis' agent, Mitch Frankel.

AFC East links: Can Burress hold up?

August, 5, 2011
8/05/11
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Buffalo Bills

The Bills added to their wide receiver corps, signing former Chargers first-round pick Buster Davis. San Diego drafted Davis in 2007 when GM Buddy Nix was part of the Chargers' front office.

Tyler Thigpen knew he'd be a good fit with the Bills since he'd be reunited with coach Chan Gailey. Thigpen: "I just felt like it was a great opportunity out here, already knowing the system. When I got a look at the playbook ... the first meeting, it felt like second nature to me."

Bills linebacker Shawne Merriman has been flashing the form in camp that earned him the nickname "Lights Out." Merriman: "I'm not going to say I'm back-back yet because we still have a lot of time before we really have to strap on the pads and go. But every day I'm feeling a little bit better.''

Miami Dolphins

Defensive end Kendall Langford, eligible to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2011 season, said Thursday the team has assured him that he will receive a contract extension, according to the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson.

Quarterback Chad Henne admitted the jeers from Dolphins fans at training camp hurt him "deep down inside."

The Sun-Sentinel's Omar Kelly examines the idea (or perhaps fantasy) of Brett Favre joining the Dolphins.

New England Patriots

Logan Mankins appears to have smoothed things over with owner Robert Kraft. The Pro Bowl left guard is now open to the idea of negotiating a long-term deal with the Patriots.

The Patriots worked out defensive lineman Shaun Ellis, formerly of the Jets, on Thursday. Ellis is the latest in a string of defensive linemen to visit Foxboro this week; a list that includes Matt Roth, Quentin Moses, Raheem Brock, and, reportedly, Tommie Harris.

A report on Nate Solder's first practice with the Patriots.

New York Jets

Mark Sanchez's growth could be hindered by a lack of practice time with his wide receivers -- especially Plaxico Burress.

The New York Daily News' Gary Myers on Burress' ankle injury: "Burress has been talking about what great shape he's in. But if he turned his ankle just running around, it has to make you wonder what happens when he starts getting hit. If Burress is brittle, the Jets are in trouble. His body is not used to the stress of football."

Coach Rex Ryan expects Calvin Pace to key the Jets' pass rush this season. Ryan: "Yeah we think [he could have] one of those potential 10-sack seasons and all that, he has that kind of ability. There’s no doubt.”

Twelve-year veteran tackle Damien Woody will announce his retirement Friday.

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