AFC East: Tashard Choice

Bills release RB Tashard Choice

December, 4, 2013
12/04/13
10:08
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The Buffalo Bills released running back Tashard Choice on Wednesday.

Through the first 12 games of the season, Choice had been a third option behind top runners Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller. He rushed 35 times for 126 yards, while adding four catches for 10 yards.

Choice first joined the Bills during the 2011 season under then-head coach Chan Gailey, who had coached Choice at Georgia Tech. Choice had less of a role this season under new offensive coordinator Nate Hackett.

The Bills re-signed Choice to a one-year deal in March. With four games remaining in the season, the Bills may have cut ties with Choice in order to evaluate running back Ronnie Wingo. The undrafted rookie has been active for just one game since being promoted off the practice squad.

Choice, 29, was a fourth-round draft pick of the Dallas Cowboys in 2008. He set career highs as a rookie, rushing 92 times for 472 yards.

Halftime thoughts: Bills 10, Chiefs 3

November, 3, 2013
11/03/13
2:52
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Offering some halftime thoughts as the Buffalo Bills lead the Kansas City Chiefs, 10-3:

1. Jeff Tuel, starting in place of Thad Lewis, has arguably outplayed Alex Smith to this point. Tuel was able to connect on a 59-yard touchdown to Marquise Goodwin, which has been the difference early in this game. Smith and Tuel are both completing a lot of shorter, manageable passes, as was expected. Despite the Chiefs entering the game with the NFL's best pass rush, they haven't gotten to Tuel yet today. The Bills, on the other hand, have two sacks.

2. Tuel's one interception came in the second quarter on a bad misfire to tight end Scott Chandler. The Chiefs knocked on the door after the turnover, moving to the Bills' 11-yard line, but cornerback Nickell Robey came up with a key tackle on third down -- another solid play by the undrafted rookie who has held his own this season. It doesn't feel like the Chiefs' offense has the punch it needs for this game.

3. C.J. Spiller's week off seems to be having an effect, as he was able to break away from defenders on a 29-yard run in the second quarter. Spiller sat out the first drive of the game and the Bills have used a rotation featuring more Tashard Choice than usual, but when Spiller's been on the field, he's been effective. Spiller has 46 yards on six carries.

4. You have to think field position will be a major factor in the second half. Each team has gone on long, sustained drives early in the game. Expect possessions to be limited in the second half. This one feels like it could come down to a late turnover deciding the outcome.

W2W4: Bills at Saints

October, 25, 2013
10/25/13
4:00
PM ET
NEW ORLEANS -- Here's what to watch for:

1. Can Jackson shoulder load? The strongest indication that running back C.J. Spiller won't play Sunday came on Friday, when he was officially declared doubtful for the game. Spiller has played under 25 percent of offensive snaps in each of the past three games, as he's been dealing with a "nagging" ankle injury, so while he's been able to contribute for a few plays a game, his potential absence won't significantly alter the Bills' game plan. But with Fred Jackson's knee taking another hit last Sunday, this is probably the thinnest the Bills have been at running back. It's unlikely Jackson can play a full workload, so expect more of Tashard Choice (or even Ronnie Wingo, elevated from the practice squad Friday) than in past games.

2. How does Pettine scheme against Brees? Other than the ongoing health concerns at running back, the biggest consideration for the Bills in this game is stopping Drew Brees and the Saints' potent offense. It's a challenge any week, but as Tim Graham of the Buffalo News pointed out Friday, the Saints are averaging 41.5 points the past four seasons in the game after their bye week. The Bills allow 25.4 points on defense, 22nd in the NFL, so unless Thad Lewis can go toe-to-toe with Brees in a shoot-out, the Bills will need to play nearly flawless defense, generating turnovers in key situations. The Bills and Saints have both excelled in that area this season; they are tied for sixth in the NFL with a plus-5 turnover differential.

3. Special teams spark? If the Bills want to pull out a win in the Superdome, they'll most likely need scoring from more than just their offense. If they can't get it from their defense, perhaps they'll get it from special teams. The Saints rank 27th in the NFL in kickoff coverage, allowing opposing returners to gain 26.2 yards per return. We all saw the explosive potential of receiver Marquise Goodwin in the preseason. Now that he's back from a hand injury, the Bills would get a big boost if he can rip off a touchdown return on Sunday.

4. Stopping Sproles: All eyes may be on Saints tight end Jimmy Graham and his availability for Sunday, but he isn't the only offensive weapon in New Orleans. Running back Darren Sproles is averaging 11.4 yards per reception, his highest average since his career in San Diego. The Bills have been inconsistent tackling in recent weeks, especially in their Week 6 loss to the Bengals, so corralling Sproles will be among their defensive priorities on Sunday. Mike Pettine's defensive packages typically use only one or two linebackers on most plays, but he might consider leaning towards using another linebacker or a safety to shadow Sproles in this game.

Kolb shaky in his debut for Bills

August, 16, 2013
8/16/13
9:00
PM ET
After not playing in the preseason opener, Kevin Kolb got back into the Buffalo Bills' quarterback competition on Friday night, starting and playing the entire first half against the Minnesota Vikings.

Kolb
Kolb's results were mixed. He finished the first half 13-of-21 passing for 111 yards, but many of his completions came on check-downs to tight ends and running backs. Kolb also scrambled out of the pocket frequently, often throwing on the run.

The Bills were 2-for-9 on third down, and at one point in the second quarter Kolb was booed by some fans at Ralph Wilson Stadium after his pass to wide receiver Chris Hogan on third-and-8 fell incomplete.

Kolb also threw an interception in the first quarter, although his pass, intended for rookie receiver Marquise Goodwin along the sideline, was tipped by the defender in coverage before it was caught by Vikings safety Jamarca Sanford.

Late in the first half, Kolb began to look stronger, leading the Bills on a 13-play drive that was stunted in the red zone by a holding penalty on guard Colin Brown. But Buffalo was forced to punt after Kolb couldn't connect with running back Tashard Choice on third-and-12.

After the Bills regained possession with 38 seconds left in the half, Kolb had his best drive of the game, completing back-to-back passes to push the Bills into field-goal range.

Kolb finished the first half with a 55.9 quarterback rating. He was replaced by rookie EJ Manuel at the start of the second half.
Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said Wednesday that the Bills plan to give carries to running back C.J. Spiller "until he throws up," which indicated that after three seasons of splitting carries with Fred Jackson, Spiller will now be the "feature back" in Buffalo.

Spiller, who turns 26 next week, was the Bills' leading rusher last season. He was tied with the Minnesota Vikings' Adrian Peterson for an NFL-best 6.0 yard-per-carry average among qualified running backs, finishing with 1,244 yards on 207 carries.

Peterson may be the lone workhorse in the Vikings' backfield, but across the NFL, teams are generally opting for more of a backfield-by-committee approach.

The philosophy driving the trend is that NFL running backs have a short shelf life compared to players at other positions, and investing high draft picks or big-money contracts in running backs is risky business. The result is teams stocking their backfields with mid-round talent and avoiding large deals.

The Bills are one exception, having drafted Spiller ninth overall in 2010, and now apparently set to make him the centerpiece of their offense in his fourth season.

If they commit to that plan, it is worth taking a look at the other running backs on the Bills' roster, some of whom could see less of a role in the offense this season:

Fred Jackson (32 years old, 7th season)


2012 stats: 10 games (8 starts), 115 attempts, 437 yards (3.8 average), 3 touchdowns, 5 fumbles
Quick take: Coming off a knee injury, Jackson could be used in goal line and short-yardage situations. Known as a powerful runner, Jackson could have a late-game role if the Bills' offense is able to tire defenses with their up-tempo approach.

Tashard Choice (28 years old, 5th season)

2012 stats: 12 games (0 starts), 47 attempts, 193 yards (4.1 average), 1 touchdown, 0 fumbles
Quick take: Spiller's workload could make Choice, a depth-level player, less important. He could be slated for fewer carries in 2013 than last season.

Zach Brown (24 years old, 1st season)

2012 stats: Was late-season addition to practice squad in 2012.
Quick take: Brown will have to carve a role on special teams to make the roster.

Drew Smith (23 years old, rookie)

2012 stats: 10 games, 195 attempts, 1,001 yards (5.1 average), 18 touchdowns -- at Albany
Quick take: Smith will likely be competing this preseason for a spot on the practice squad.

Kendall Gaskins (22 years old, rookie)

2012 stats: 11 games, 148 attempts, 604 yards (4.1 average), 16 touchdowns -- at Richmond
Quick take: At 238 pounds, Gaskins played fullback in college but projects as a running back in the NFL.

Camp Confidential: Buffalo Bills

August, 4, 2013
8/04/13
11:00
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PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- Travel to most NFL training camps, and this passing drill is the same: A ball boy snaps to a quarterback, who throws to a receiver practicing a specific route.

But make a stop at St. John Fisher College in upstate New York, site of the Buffalo Bills' training camp, and rookie quarterback EJ Manuel isn't receiving the ball from just another member of the equipment staff.

Instead, you'll see head coach Doug Marrone snapping it to Manuel.

It's appropriate, because the fate of Marrone, a former NFL offensive lineman, will be tied to the success of Manuel, the first quarterback chosen in April's draft.

Through his first week of an NFL training camp, Manuel has looked the part, avoiding the critical mistakes that rookie quarterbacks often make as the intensity of practice picks up.

Which raises the next point: These Bills want to play fast.

Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett installed a no-huddle offense last season while working under Marrone at Syracuse, and will bring the same concepts -- borrowed from the Bills' "K-gun" offense of the early 1990s -- to Buffalo.

As training camp rolls on, Manuel has been eased into the first-team offense in practice, and he appears comfortable running Hackett's up-tempo system. Having poise in practice is one thing, though, and expecting Manuel and Hackett, who was last in the NFL as a quality control coach with the Bills in 2009, to light up NFL defenses this season is probably asking too much.

The Bills want to bring Manuel along slowly, and there will be growing pains along the way. So despite the rookie's passing the first few tests of training camp, don't look for Marrone to accelerate the process too much.

But for now, it's so far, so good for the 16th overall pick out of Florida State.

"He's going to be the face of our franchise," general manager Doug Whaley said. "And it's not too big for him."

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeMario Williams
AP Photo/Bill WippertMario Williams was bothered by a wrist injury in 2012, and this year he has already missed time in training camp with a sore foot.
1. Can they stay healthy? When the Bills took the practice field for the first time last weekend, nearly the entire roster was able to participate in practice, leading Marrone to note afterward how the team was fortunate to begin camp that healthy. Yet defensive end Mario Williams was one of the few exceptions, watching from the sideline because of a sore foot. He later left camp to have it examined by doctors, and the Bills' highest-paid player had not returned to practice by Friday.

Last season, Williams dealt with a wrist injury that limited his productivity until he underwent a procedure during the bye week. He came back strong, finishing with 10.5 sacks. But the Bills need more out of him, and his latest injury isn't a good sign for the team.

Likewise for wide receiver Steve Johnson, who pulled up with a hamstring injury during Friday's practice, and could miss time this preseason. The Bills dealt with a number of injuries to key players last season -- tight end Scott Chandler and running back Fred Jackson among them -- and they haven't built enough depth on their roster to withstand the blow of losing a player like Johnson.

2. When does Byrd return? Safety Jairus Byrd remains unsigned and away from Bills training camp, another less-than-ideal situation for one of the team's top players. The Bills failed to reach a long-term deal with Byrd, who is the only franchise-tagged player in the NFL yet to sign his tender, by the July 15 deadline.

Ultimately, it would be surprising if Byrd doesn't report to the team by the start of the regular season. By doing so, he would earn a guaranteed $6.9 million, and still have the possibility of a long-term deal come next March.

The question is if the Bills can persuade Byrd to return earlier, forgo the risk of injury and use the preseason to get acclimated to the new defensive scheme. But one way or another, these situations tend to work themselves out, and Pro Bowl-caliber players like Byrd quickly get back up to speed.

3. Can Pettine turn around the defense? It didn't take long last season for the Bills' porous defense to be exposed. The New York Jets, owners of the NFL's 28th-ranked scoring offense by season's end, hung 48 points on Buffalo in the season opener. Three weeks later, the New England Patriots erased a 21-7 third-quarter deficit to come away from Orchard Park with a 52-28 win, lighting up the Bills for 580 total yards.

Such performances, especially against division opponents, will drown the Bills again this season if new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine can't turn things around. Pettine is known for blitz-heavy schemes that pressure opposing defenses, but his defensive remake will also have to address a run defense that allowed opponents 145.8 yards per game last season, second-worst in the NFL.

Pettine has several pieces to work with, including Byrd, Williams and top cornerback Stephon Gilmore. The key will be filling holes elsewhere. Can rookie Kiko Alonso step in right away at inside linebacker? Can former third overall pick Marcell Dareus benefit from a fresh start and contribute along the defensive line? And where does the pass rush come from if Williams goes down with another injury? These are just a few of the questions facing Pettine and his staff.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

Beyond the early positive signs from Manuel, the Bills' offense has the potential to be explosive, especially if healthy. They addressed deficiencies behind Johnson at wide receiver by drafting Robert Woods (second round) and Marquise Goodwin (third round). They have one of the NFL's better running backs in C.J. Spiller and a receiving threat at tight end in Chandler. The offensive line could prove problematic, but Hackett's fast-paced system could help take pressure off blockers.

Having not made the playoffs since 1999, the Bills' annual problem is getting over the hump in their division, which includes defeating New England. They will host the Patriots at Ralph Wilson Stadium in the Sept. 8 season opener, which is perfect timing for Buffalo. Fans will be excited, parts of Hackett's offense will yet to be revealed on film and Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski may not be ready to play. It will be a challenge for Buffalo, but kicking the season off by beating New England would be big.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

The NFL saw three rookie quarterbacks take their teams to the playoffs last season, but it's hardly been an annual occurrence. Manuel will need to exceed expectations if he is to repeat the successes of Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck from last season. It won't doom his career if Manuel struggles for stretches this season (assuming he becomes the starter) and the results for the Bills follow suit. It's just the way things go in the NFL, and improvement can take time.

Beyond that, the Bills have a top-heavy roster that will require more than one season under Whaley to develop depth across positions. The offensive line lacks starting-quality players at at least one position, there are question marks behind Chandler at tight end and the defensive line includes several underachieving, younger players. The rigors of an NFL schedule may prove too difficult to overcome for the weak points on the roster.

OBSERVATION DECK

[+] EnlargeEJ Manuel and Kevin Kolb
AP Photo/David DupreyThe Bills drafted EJ Manuel (left) in the first round, but Kevin Kolb has been ahead of him in taking most of the first-team reps at quarterback during camp.
" For all the talk about Manuel, it has been veteran Kevin Kolb taking the majority of the first-team reps at quarterback in camp. The Bills have dismissed talk of Kolb being a "placeholder" while Manuel adjusts to the NFL, but Kolb will have to step it up if he wants a legitimate shot at holding onto his role as the starter. He has struggled, and would hardly inspire confidence if under center on opening day.

" Spiller had a breakout season in 2012, but don't overlook Jackson, who could create an impressive one-two punch at running back. Jackson is 32 and coming off a knee injury that lingered last season, but is just two years removed from averaging 5.5 yards per carry in 2011. The Bills have used two-running back sets frequently in practice, and between Spiller, Jackson and Tashard Choice, they have backfield threats that will force defenses to adjust.

" The battle at wide receiver behind Johnson has several candidates, and the Bills haven't been afraid to throw different players into the mix with the first-team offense. From this standpoint, Goodwin has performed better in camp than Woods, who struggled with drops through the first few practices. Undrafted rookie Da'Rick Rogers figures to factor into the mix as well. It's no coincidence the Bills opened their first practice of training camp with a deep-ball drill; it's a receiver group that has the potential to take the top off of opposing defenses.

" Marrone has routinely named Jamie Blatnick and Kourtnei Brown when mentioning pass-rushers on his defense, especially following the surprising release of Mark Anderson shortly before training camp. But it may be more out of default than anything: the Bills lack depth at the outside linebacker position. Blatnick spent most of last season out of football after being released from Denver's practice squad, while it took Brown until Week 14 to hook onto Washington's practice squad. It's possible either player could emerge, but if Marrone has practice-squad-level players on the field to provide pass-rush during the regular season, the Bills will be in trouble.

" It's a similar situation along the defensive line, where the Bills are searching for options both alongside and behind Mario Williams and Kyle Williams. The top option is Dareus, but the Bills will need more quality play out of him if he takes 50 percent or more of defensive snaps. Other possibilities include more players who have largely underachieved in the NFL, including Alex Carrington and Alan Branch.

" The absence of Byrd in practice has been alleviated by an impressive start by Aaron Williams, the team's second-round pick in 2011. He struggled at cornerback through his first two seasons, but his switch to safety looks to be paying off early in camp. He has been around the ball and come down with interceptions.

Buffalo Bills practice report

July, 31, 2013
7/31/13
12:22
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PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills were back on the practice field Wednesday morning, holding their second full-padded session of training camp.

Passing along some observations:

Williams back, but does not participate: Defensive end Mario Williams was back in uniform after leaving training camp to have his sore foot evaluated. Williams worked with the strength and conditioning staff on the sidelines, and did not participate in practice. Meanwhile, tight end Scott Chandler (ACL) and defensive lineman Kyle Williams (Achilles) continued to be held out of team drills. Head coach Doug Marrone said the team has built in rest days for Chandler, who had knee surgery in January.

[+] EnlargeLeodis McKelvin
Kevin Hoffman/USA TODAY SportsBills coach Doug Marrone came away impressed with the play of defensive back Leodis McKelvin on Wednesday.
Rogers sits out; McKelvin gets bumped up: Cornerback Justin Rogers was not in uniform on Wednesday after suffering a right hamstring injury in Tuesday's session. Marrone said after practice that Rogers will be out "for a short period of time." Rogers began training camp with the first team and was replaced by T.J. Heath on Tuesday. However, veteran Leodis McKelvin ran with the first team on Wednesday, with Heath and Crezdon Butler playing cornerback for the second group.

"He made a heck of a play on a comeback [pattern]," Marrone said of McKelvin after practice. "When you're out for that long, it takes some time. He's really coming along nicely. We're excited about that."

Elliott carted off: Second-year receiver Kevin Elliott was carted off the practice field with a right shoulder injury. Elliott made an impressive diving catch during 11-on-11s against top cornerback Stephon Gilmore, but came down hard on his shoulder and looked to be in pain on the sideline. Elliott is the mix for a back-end roster spot.

Other injuries: Marrone said a pair of running backs were hobbled with ankle injuries on Wednesday. Veteran Tashard Choice came up slow during a punt drill and talked to trainers, but later came back onto the field for 11-on-11 work. Meanwhile, Zach Brown suffered an ankle injury that Marrone said doctors will examine.

Manuel gets first-team action: Rookie quarterback EJ Manuel ran the first-team offense during the initial 11-on-11 period of practice after spending most of his time with the second team to begin training camp. Veteran Kevin Kolb led the top group for the final two 11-on-11 periods. For the second consecutive practice, Manuel avoided making any critical mistakes while in the pocket, but looked to face more blitz pressures than he has in previous sessions.

Kolb was intercepted during an early 7-on-7 drill by Gilmore, who undercut rookie running back Kendall Gaskins on a short pattern. Kolb was later intercepted by safety Da'Norris Searcy on a pass intended for rookie receiver Marquise Goodwin, and also had some throws that sailed behind receivers T.J. Graham and Robert Woods. On the plus side, it was Kolb who lofted a well-thrown ball to Elliott on the play where he was injured.

Dime package gets work: The Bills had six defensive backs on the field for a stretch of their final 11-on-11 period. Safety Duke Williams was one of the players coming on, with Bryan Scott replacing Nigel Bradham at linebacker. Along the defensive line, Manny Lawson and Alex Carrington provided the pass rush. On the second unit, rookie Nickell Robey manned the slot, intercepting quarterback Jeff Tuel late in the period.

Punters look even: The punt unit returned to action Wednesday, with Shawn Powell and Brian Stahovich both impressive during both special-teams periods. However, returners had issues during the first period, with Woods and Graham both muffing catches, drawing the ire of special-teams coordinator Danny Crossman.

Good day at the office for: McKelvin. The changes at cornerback continue for the Bills, and McKelvin was the latest to take reps with the first team. He didn't disappoint, showing tight coverage and breaking up a throw from Kolb to Woods during 11-on-11s.

Bad day at the office for: Kolb. It's tough to compare him side-by-side to Manuel since Kolb is usually seeing the best unit from the defense, but Kolb continues to struggle at times with his accuracy and decision making. He's in the spotlight given the quarterback situation, so his mistakes are more magnified than those of other players.

What's next: Players are off Thursday before returning to practice Friday morning from 8 to 11:10.
Here are the most interesting stories Tuesday in the AFC East: Morning take: Bush was benched for most of the first half against the Tennessee Titans for an early fumble. Bush made a mistake but has been a great leader in the locker room and a hard worker.
  • Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who coached Mark Sanchez in college, says the New York Jets put Sanchez in a bad spot with Tim Tebow.
Morning take: As I’ve said many times in the blog, I’m tired of people making excuses for Sanchez. That includes his college coach. This is a no-excuse fourth season for Sanchez and he’s not performing.
  • Buffalo Bills running back Tashard Choice had some choice words for New England Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes.
Morning take: Choice didn’t like that Spikes celebrated after knocking Bills running back Fred Jackson out of the game with a concussion. But the two teams don’t play each other until next year anyway.
Morning take: A good cornerback can make plenty of difference. Talib may have to shake the rust early, but he has the talent to make an impact.
The Buffalo Bills were in the experimental phase with their starting offense in the preseason opener. Buffalo passed the football 14 consecutive times with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick using a no-huddle offense.

It was a good time to test a new wrinkle. However, there were two casualties with this strategy: running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller.

Neither tailback got any carries last week for Buffalo. The Bills should give Jackson and Spiller plenty of work Friday against the Minnesota Vikings. They have the potential to be one of the top one-two punches at running back in the AFC. Jackson is coming off a season-ending leg injury and needs to round back into pre-injury form. Spiller has received limited carries as a backup in his three-year career.

Backup quarterback Vince Young was Buffalo's leading rusher in a 7-6 preseason opening loss to the Washington Redskins. Third-string tailback Tashard Choice got the most carries (nine).

It's time to give Jackson and Spiller a little love this week. This is the strength of Buffalo's offense this year, and the Jackson-Spiller combo needs to be sharp for the regular season.

Ranking the AFC East's backfield trios

July, 22, 2010
7/22/10
8:49
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An interesting cyberdebate unfolded beneath an item I wrote Wednesday about Buffalo Bills coach Chan Gailey's ground-game tendencies.

The piece was inspired by a column written by ESPN fantasy analyst Matthew Berry, who noted Gailey has an undeniable history of designating one workhorse running back during his stops as a head coach and offensive coordinator over the past 22 years.

Some writers scoffed, insisting Gailey's trend wouldn't apply in Buffalo because they have three capable backs in Marshawn Lynch, Fred Jackson and rookie C.J. Spiller.

In the process, reader migarvin21 boldly declared the Bills have the NFL's best trio of backfield mates.

As is the hallmark of a spirited debate, some immediately shot down migarvin21's opinion, while others offered support.

When I expressed skepticism, readers Bills451 and Jpicc8049 dared me to name a team with three better backs.

As I responded in the comments section, I would take the Baltimore Ravens' (Ray Rice, Willis McGahee, Le'Ron McClain) and the Dallas Cowboys' (Marion Barber, Felix Jones, Tashard Choice) trios over the Bills. Other readers mentioned the Washington Redskins (Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson, Willie Parker).

But it's tough to compare trio for trio because most good teams don't rely on a third running back.

I'd also take the one-two punches of the Carolina Panthers (DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart) and New York Giants (Ahmad Bradshaw, Brandon Jacobs) over the Bills' threesome. Some fans would prefer Chris Johnson or Adrian Peterson by himself to sprinkling touches among Jackson, Lynch and Spiller.

Motivated by the discussion, I put together my AFC East preseason backfield rankings for 2010. The order is determined not by the offensive lines or the coordinator's playbook. This is purely on the talent of the top three backs for the upcoming season.

1. Miami Dolphins: Yes, Ronnie Brown always seems to be hurt, and Ricky Williams is 33 years old. But they are the best tandem in the division. Brown's versatility and explosiveness is what turned the Wildcat into a fad. In a recent Sporting News column, an NFL scout rated Brown the fourth-best back and said if it weren't for injuries he'd be the league's most complete. The Dolphins also have a true fullback in Lousaka Polite, who is automatic in short-yardage situations.

2. Buffalo Bills: The Bills are too unproven to be in the conversation for best NFL trio -- for now. We can justify the argument if we base it on how well they could be. But neither Jackson nor Lynch has established himself as a go-to back. Jackson topped 100 yards two times last year. Aside from trampling the Indianapolis Colts' junior varsity in the season finale, Jackson rushed for more than 70 yards twice against a team with a winning record. Lynch looked like a monster his first two seasons then plummeted out of favor last year. Spiller doesn't have an NFL touch.

3. New York Jets: They boasted the NFL's best attack last year, averaging 172.2 yards a game. But leading rusher Thomas Jones is gone. Sophomore Shonn Greene looked like the real deal in the playoffs but needs to show he can be the workhorse for a full season. LaDainian Tomlinson is a surefire Hall of Famer, but he's 31 and looked ragged last year with the San Diego Chargers. Fullback Tony Richardson will be 39 by the end of the season.

4. New England Patriots: They're a grab bag. They have the perpetually uninspiring Laurence Maroney and three veterans -- Kevin Faulk, Fred Taylor and Sammy Morris -- who are 33 or older. They're good enough to get by, as evidenced by the fact the Patriots finished 12th in rushing last year, but none of the backs is good enough to be dominant. Maroney was the leading rusher with 194 carries for 757 yards, a 3.9-yard average. Faulk was next with 335 yards.

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