AFC East: Torry Holt

Parcells, Bledsoe and the Hall of Fame

February, 9, 2011
2/09/11
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I once heard Tom Donahoe, the former Buffalo Bills president and general manager, call quarterback Drew Bledsoe a future Pro Football Hall of Famer.

Then again, Donahoe used to say a lot of things.

I was reminded of this when taking a glance at players who will make their first appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot for 2012.

Buffalo News reporter Mark Gaughan, who's on the Hall of Fame selection committee and last weekend was elected president of the Pro Football Writers Association, blogged the top newcomers to consider the next few years.

[+] EnlargeBill Parcells and Drew Bledsoe
AP Photo/Ed ZurgaBill Parcells and his former quarterback Drew Bledsoe will be on the Hall of Fame ballot next year.
The lists are helpful in speculating when fan favorites such as Andre Reed and Curtis Martin will get their Canton calls. They both were finalists this year -- Reed for the fifth time, Martin for the first -- but weren't added to the 2011 induction class Saturday.

Perhaps that development was fitting for Martin because his coach with the New England Patriots and New York Jets will be on the ballot again. They could get in together in 2012.

Bill Parcells has been a finalist twice, but not since 2002 because rules for coaches changed. They now must wait five years from their last game to be eligible for induction, and Parcells returned to the sidelines with the Dallas Cowboys in 2003.

Is Parcells a Hall of Famer? I know Miami Dolphins fans aren't too thrilled with him these days, but he did add to an already remarkable legacy -- two championships, different teams to the Super Bowl, a few organizational turnarounds -- by guiding the Dolphins from 1-15 to the AFC East title as their football operations boss.

Also on the ballot next year will be Bledsoe, running backs Corey Dillon and Tiki Barber, fullback Mike Alstott, guard Will Shields and coaches Bill Cowher and Marty Schottenheimer.

Bledsoe had a fine career with the Patriots, Bills and Cowboys and ranks eighth all-time in passing yards. But he was a Pro Bowler only four times and never was first-team All-Pro. Bledsoe was helpful in getting the Patriots their first championship, so he does have a ring. But that was Tom Brady's team.

Dillon also was a four-time Pro Bowler and won a Super Bowl with the Patriots. He ranks 17th in rushing yards and never led the league in a major rushing category.

Schottenheimer played for the Bills and Patriots before winning 61 percent of his regular-season games as head coach of the Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs, Washington Redskins and San Diego Chargers. His 200 victories rank sixth all-time, but his 5-23 playoff record will hurt.

That group of first-time candidates -- plus the newcomers for 2013 -- bodes well for Reed. There won't be any new receivers for him to box out. He already has jockeyed ahead of contemporaries Cris Carter and Tim Brown by making the cut from 15 to 10 in the selection process the past two years. Carter and Brown haven't.

Gaughan highlighted first-year players for next few classes.

2013: Quarterback Vinny Testaverde, offensive linemen Larry Allen and Jonathan Ogden, defensive tackle Warren Sapp, defensive end Michael Strahan.

2014: Running back Shaun Alexander, receiver Marvin Harrison, linebacker Derrick Brooks, safety Rodney Harrison and coaches Tony Dungy, Jon Gruden and Mike Holmgren -- if they don't return to sideline work.

2015: Quarterback Kurt Warner, receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt, tackles Orlando Pace and Walter Jones and linebacker Junior Seau.

Andre Reed has strong Hall of Fame case

February, 2, 2011
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Andre ReedUS PRESSWIREFormer Bills receiver Andre Reed finished his career with 951 catches for 13,198 yards and 87 TDs.
Receptions come a lot cheaper these days.

The game has changed, and all you need for proof is a glance at Paul Warfield's career stats. He caught more than 50 passes once. He gained more than 1,000 yards once. In some of his Pro Bowl seasons, his numbers wouldn't have justified a roster spot in your 10-team fantasy league.

Yet Warfield is considered one the most dangerous receivers NFL history, a first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Famer.

"Our game is beginning to resemble baseball in which everyone is looking at numbers," Warfield said this week from his home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. "Numbers tell the story to a degree, but I like to look at one's full body of work.

"I'm from the old-school generation. You might be termed a wide receiver, but you should be a football player first."

Steve Largent is another example of how stats don't quantify a receiver's worth like they used to. Largent retired after the 1989 season as the NFL's all-time leading receiver with 819 catches. He, too, was a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Twenty-one years later, Largent ranks 20th in receptions behind such names as Derrick Mason, Torry Holt, Keenan McCardell, Muhsin Muhammad and fullback Larry Centers.

In 1985, only four players had caught 600 passes. The list is 55 players long now.

"It doesn't necessarily undermine a player's ability to get into the Hall of Fame because he had great stats or doesn't have great stats," Largent said Monday from his office in Washington D.C. "You're looking for a guy who was the total package."

With that in mind, you might consider Andre Reed's stats if you choose when deciding if he belongs in the Hall of Fame. They're sterling -- if a little outdated and discounted by time.

To both Largent and Warfield and other legendary receivers, Reed qualifies for Canton without even looking at the numbers.

"I saw the value Reed had to that team not only as a receiver, but also as a leader," Largent said. "There are some attributes you don't keep statistics of, but you become aware of as one player watching another play the game."

Reed is Largent's "total package" and Warfield's unequivocal embodiment of "football player."

"It's long overdue for Andre," Warfield said.

Reed is among the 15 Pro Football Hall of Fame finalists who will learn Saturday whether they will be included in this year's induction class.

The star Buffalo Bills receiver has been a finalist five times. There's a belief this year offers his best chance yet. In previous years, he has shared the ballot with at least one receiver who took precedence because they were icons (Jerry Rice, Michael Irvin) or had been waiting longer (Art Monk).

Reed could become the sixth Hall of Famer from a team that went to four straight Super Bowls but failed to win one.

Already enshrined are Bills quarterback Jim Kelly, running back Thurman Thomas, defensive end Bruce Smith and head coach Marv Levy. Wide receiver James Lofton also is in Canton, but he didn't play on all four Super Bowl teams, and is more closely associated with the Green Bay Packers.

"I was a part of something special, and I'll take that to my grave," said Reed, 47. "We were a family. But the Hall of Fame, I don't know how I would react. It would be a validation of your work and what you did.

"Hopefully on Saturday I can be in that fraternity with them, but every year it's a tough ballot."

The other finalists include running backs Marshall Faulk, Curtis Martin and Jerome Bettis, receivers Tim Brown and Cris Carter, tight end Shannon Sharpe, center Dermontti Dawson, tackle Willie Roaf, defensive ends Richard Dent, Charles Haley and Chris Doleman, defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy, cornerback Deion Sanders and NFL Films patriarch Ed Sabol.

The Hall of Fame's 44-member selection committee will decide Saturday. The group includes NFL writers, one representative per franchise, 11 at-large voters and one from the Pro Football Writers Association. The committee will pare the group of 15 finalists down to 10 and then to five. At that point, a vote will be held, with 80 percent agreement needed for induction.

Up to five modern-era candidates may be elected each year. First-time nominees Faulk and Sanders are virtual locks to get inducted. That leaves three spots available for Reed and the other finalists to get in.

Buffalo News reporter Mark Gaughan will make the case for Reed's induction. It's a compelling one.

"He certainly had a great career, one of the great clutch receivers," Warfield said. "He was consistent, one Jim Kelly could always go to and always find open in a situation where they're trying to make a big play. He's an all-encompassing receiver."

Reed was third on the NFL's all-time receptions list when he retired after the 2000 season with 951 catches, behind only Rice and Carter. Reed was a seven-time Pro Bowler and a superstar on a team that won four conference championships in a row.

"He was as dangerous a receiver as there is," former Bills quarterback Frank Reich said. "Versus press coverage, he was almost impossible to stop, coming off the ball. We always felt if they tried to play tight man on Andre it didn't matter who was guarding him. Any shutdown corner in the league in press coverage, Andre was going to beat him."

Reed was a force on the big stage. In 19 postseason games he had 85 receptions for 1,229 yards and nine touchdowns. He didn't score any Super Bowl touchdowns, but he did have 27 receptions for 323 yards.

In the Bills' epic comeback against the Houston Oilers in the 1992 postseason, he made eight catches for 136 yards and three touchdowns.

Reed is known as tremendously durable. He played 253 games, counting playoffs. He often darted into traffic to make plays in a crowd of defenders.

"No fear," Reich said.

Reed was one the greatest ever when it came to yards after the catch, second perhaps only to Rice.

[+] EnlargeAndre Reed
US PresswireAndre Reed, on playing for the Bills: "I was a part of something special, and I'll take that to my grave,"
"Most people that were on that team or played against us will remember how explosive he was in run-after-the-catch," said Reich, now Peyton Manning's position coach with the Indianapolis Colts. "He rivaled Jerry Rice in that category. Like Jerry Rice, his 40 time was good and probably not great. But there was nobody faster with the ball in his hands."

What put Reed's production in even greater context is a closer look at Buffalo's offense in the 1990s.

Many fans, even those who closely followed the Bills then, recall a prolific aerial attack. They remember Kelly running the no-huddle, K-Gun offense and slinging the ball all over the field to Reed and Lofton.

As Gaughan will point out again Saturday, the Bills ranked 17th in passing offense throughout Reed's career. In Reed's six prime seasons from 1988 through 1993, the Bills passed 51 percent of the time. By comparison, the Washington Redskins' famed "Hogs" offense passed 50 percent of the time when Monk was there.

Reed didn't have much receiving help either. He played with Lofton for four seasons, but Lofton was 33 years old when he joined Buffalo. In 1988, for instance, Reed's second and third receivers were Trumaine Johnson and Chris Burkett.

So far, the chief impediment for Reed's induction hasn't been his resume, but the other names on the ballot.

A wide receiver has been inducted each of the past four years, and in seven classes out of the past decade.

Gaughan noted there is room in Canton for at least two more receivers from the 1990s. A breakdown of membership shows seven receivers who predominantly played in the 1960s, four from 1970s, four from the 1980s and two from the 1990s.

Reed, Carter and Brown are the worthiest receiver candidates to join Rice and Irvin from that decade.

There's a velvet rope. This is Reed's fifth year as a finalist. Carter has been a finalist four times, Brown twice.

Reed apparently jockeyed to the head of the receiver line last year. In the selection process, Carter and Brown didn't make the top-10 stage, but Reed did.

That development has raised Reed's hopes for 2011.

"I'll be more nervous because of the way the voting went last year," Reed said. "I feel I'm more deserving of it. It was pretty close. The anticipation is enhanced this year."

But there are no guarantees. Several legendary receivers have waited longer than five years to get the Canton call. Don Maynard, John Stallworth and Monk got in on their eighth time as finalists. Lynn Swann was a finalist 14 times. The Seniors Committee was necessary to induct Bob Hayes 34 years after his last NFL game.

Reed admitted he has fantasized about the phone call too many times to count. He's even tried to research the moment.

"I've talked to a bunch of Hall of Famers who say when they get the call they're at a loss for words," said Reed, who plays a lot of golf and sells his own line of barbeque sauce in the San Diego area. "They don't know how to react.

"I'll just have to wait and see."

And hopefully not have to wait some more.

Marshall calls Bess top all-time route runner

October, 14, 2010
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When it comes to running pass routes, Brandon Marshall claims Miami Dolphins teammate Davone Bess is elite.

[+] EnlargeDavone Bess
Richard C. Lewis/Icon SMIMiami receiver Davone Bess is tied for second in the NFL in third-down receptions with 10 for 109 yards.
Marshall doesn't merely mean on the Dolphins' roster or in the game today.

Marshall means of all-time, as in alongside Jerry Rice and Torry Holt and Marvin Harrison and Wes Welker and Steve Largent and Paul Warfield and Raymond Berry and ...

"In all of football," Marshall said of Bess, "he's one of the best route runners in all of football ever, not just in today's receivers. Ever."

While Marshall's assertion sounds quite hyperbolic, there's no denying Bess is one of the NFL's most underrated receivers. He wasn't drafted out of Hawaii in 2008 because he wasn't considered fast enough (40-yard dash in 4.7 seconds) or big enough (5-foot-10, 190 pounds).

"He plays big, man," Marshall said. "He's an all-around wide receiver."

Bess had to become a masterful route runner to make it in the pros. His meticulousness -- like Greg Camarillo for Miami before him -- is why Bess has been heavily involved in the Dolphins' offense since they signed him and why they traded Camarillo last month.

Bess' compact size actually helps him as a route runner more than the gazelles who lope up the sideline and rarely need to worry about gaining separation through craftiness or precision.

Bess has been one of the league's top third-down targets since last season. He's tied for second in the NFL in third-down receptions with 10 for 109 yards, one touchdown and eight first downs.

Marshall leads the league with 11 third-down receptions. Anquan Boldin is the only receiver with more third-down conversions than Bess.

In Week 4, Bess had one of his bigger games before heading into the bye. He made eight catches for 96 yards and a touchdown against the New England Patriots on Monday night.

"When you put in the tape, this guy's amazing, what he's able to make his body do," Marshall said of Bess. "He gets open almost every single play."

"The guy doesn't catch [76] balls last year just because. There's a reason for that, and he's on pace to probably catch almost 100 balls this year [84]. I'm excited for him, and I'm excited to be able to be on the other side and on the same side as him."

Patriots end Torry Holt's season

August, 15, 2010
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Torry Holt's season -- and perhaps his career -- is over.

Holt
Holt
The New England Patriots placed the prolific receiver on injured reserve Sunday because of a bad knee. At 34 years old and with declining production, this could be the end for Holt.

"It's a great disappointment for Torry," Holt's agent, Kennard McGuire, told ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss. "He saw this as a terrific chance to play with another great quarterback and being coached by one of the all-time greats."

Numbers indicated Holt would have a difficult time making the roster anyway. Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Julian Edelman are locks. Top draft picks Brandon Tate and Taylor Price have had solid summers.

Holt is a seven-time Pro Bowler with 920 receptions (11th all-time) for 13,382 yards (10th all-time) and 74 touchdowns (tied for 27th all-time).

With a spot open on the roster, the Patriots brought back recently released receiver Buddy Farnham.

In other roster news, the Patriots released rookie defensive back Ross Ventrone and signed undrafted rookie offensive lineman Brian Simmons.

Will Torry Holt make Patriots roster?

August, 10, 2010
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- In sweatpants and a winter skullcap, New England Patriots receiver Torry Holt watched Tuesday morning's practice against the New Orleans Saints.

He missed Monday's practice, too, for undisclosed reasons.

Holt also might be looking in from afar when it comes to New England's final roster.

Holt
On the all-time leaderboard, Holt's 920 receptions rank 11th, and his 13,382 yards rank 10th. But the most significant number to him over the next month will be how many receivers the Patriots choose to keep.

Holt seems to rank sixth -- at best.

"However many we feel is best for the club," Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio replied when I asked how many receiver slots were available. "We've kept five. We've kept seven. It all depends."

Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Julian Edelman are back. Brandon Tate was a third-round draft choice last year. Injuries wiped out most of Tate's rookie season, but he has elicited praise from Tom Brady over the offseason. Taylor Price was a third-round pick in April.

Those are five receivers right there. When you consider keeping a sixth or seventh, he better add something beyond his listed position. Sam Aiken, for example, made 11 tackles and forced a fumble on special teams last year.

"You look at your club and you figure out the offensive or defensive component and then a special teams component," Caserio said. "The receivers are competing with the secondary players or the linebackers for a particular spot. We talk about 'the more you can do,' and that's important."

Holt doesn't play special teams, but the seven-time Pro Bowler can add leadership and be a mentor for the young receivers. Whether that's enough to make the cut is the issue.

The Patriots tried to make it work with faded veteran Joey Galloway last year, but cut him a few weeks into the season because it was a disaster. Holt's coming off career-lows with 51 receptions and 722 yards for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

"He's got a lot of experience," said Caserio, a former receivers coach for the Patriots. "He hasn't been out there for a few days, but he's smart. He's a very instinctive receiver. He has good hands. He's a good route runner. When he's been out there, when he's had his opportunities, he's made some plays.

"I think his value comes into play off the field as well. He does a nice job working with our younger receivers. Torry's been a really productive player in this league. He's done things on the field that are good and behind the scenes, some of the things that you don't see, I think he's been invaluable from that perspective."

Canton awaits Andre Reed eventually

August, 6, 2010
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Andre Reed knew this wasn't going to be the year he entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith were eligible for the first time, and both were no-brainers. Space is limited in each class, and the voters weren't going to induct two receivers.

But Reed views 2010 as a step in the right direction. The legendary Buffalo Bills receiver won't get into the Hall of Fame this weekend, but he's walking up the front steps.

[+] EnlargeAndre Reed
US PresswireAndre Reed finished his playing career with 951 receptions.
Reed this year finished among the 17 semifinalists a fourth time. Although the board of selectors didn't vote to enshrine him this year, he finished in the top 10, something he'd never done before.

"My phone was blowing up when we got to the final 10," Reed recalled of the selection process, which concludes Super Bowl weekend. "I hadn't gotten to the final 10 yet. You're only a stone's throw away then."

He also received more votes than Cris Carter for the first time, indicating Reed's candidacy is on the rise.

Reed's case is an interesting one that has been explored on this blog before. When the seven-time Pro Bowler retired in 2000, he ranked third all-time with 951 receptions. He has slid to eighth and probably will drop out of the top 10 this year. Randy Moss, Torry Holt and Hines Ward are closing in.

"That's just how it is," Reed said. "A lot of guys are going to have a lot of catches. The game has changed. Now it's pass to set up the run. Before it was run to set up the pass. But maybe catches won't be as much of a factor. It'll be how many championships, how many times did you go to the Super Bowl? It'll be more team-oriented because anybody can catch 800 balls nowadays.

"In 1989, I caught 88 balls. That was a career year. These guys are catching 100 balls left and right now. Wes Welker had 100 balls three years in a row. Is Wes Welker going to be a Hall of Famer? I don't know. It's an accomplishment to catch 100 balls a year, but ...

"Keyshawn Johnson caught 800 balls, but nobody really talks about him. Great receiver, but do you put him in? Steve Smith? Keenan McCardell? Those guys are on the wayside."

Reed was the best receiver on a team that won an unprecedented four consecutive conference titles. The Bills couldn't manage to win one Super Bowl, but that hasn't barred Reed's teammates from the Hall of Fame.

Twenty years from now there likely will be more inductees from the Bills of the 1990s than the New England Patriots of the 2000s. Already in are quarterback Jim Kelly, running back Thurman Thomas, defensive end Bruce Smith and head coach Marv Levy. So is James Lofton, who spent four seasons with Buffalo.

"I played in the best era of wide receivers ever, if you ask me," Reed said. "All the guys that are in my era are Hall of Famers. The next group of guys will be Terrell Owens and Marvin Harrison and Randy Moss.

"They'll be arguing about those guys, but it'll be a different argument because of how the game has evolved."

While folks are formulating those arguments, Reed is content to wait his turn.

"I'm humbled by it," he said. "I don't trip and say 'Aw, man!' If it's going to happen, it's not on my time. It's on somebody else's.

"My friends and family are more upset about it that I am. When it's my time, it's my time."

AFC East training camp preview

July, 27, 2010
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Can the AFC East send three clubs to the playoffs?

Sure seems possible to me. The past two years have produced different division champs and a third team that reached the AFC Championship Game last season.

The journey will start in a matter of days. The Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots blow the air horn on Thursday. The Miami Dolphins start Friday afternoon. The New York Jets open their "Hard Knocks" camp Monday morning.

All four teams have loose ends to tie up before camp. None has signed its first-round draft choice. Patriots left guard Logan Mankins remains unsigned and unhappy.

FOUR BIG QUESTIONS

Buffalo Bills: Who will be the quarterback?

[+] EnlargeEdwards
Luc Leclerc/US PresswireTrent Edwards played in just eight games for the Bills last season.
New head coach Chan Gailey has stressed there will be an open quarterback competition, but the first depth chart will be known when the Bills begin camp. The campaign would get off to a fascinating start if anybody other than Trent Edwards takes the initial first-team reps. Ryan Fitzpatrick finished last year as the starter, but offers the least amount of upside. He's a sixth-year journeyman backup. Brian Brohm, a 2008 Green Bay Packers second-round pick, provides the most intrigue, titillating Bills fans because he's the unknown quantity. The battle should be a slowly progressing storyline unlikely to be decided until preseason games have been played -- and maybe not until the week before the season opener.

Miami Dolphins: How quickly will receiver Brandon Marshall integrate into the offense?

The Dolphins' prized offseason acquisition missed voluntary workouts and minicamp because of hip surgery the Dolphins didn't anticipate when they traded for him in April. His absence delayed the Dolphins' ability to see how he could transform the offense, forcing any ideas to remain X's and O's on the dry-erase board until training camp. The injury also prevented quarterback Chad Henne from getting fully acquainted with Marshall, a player who can help expedite Henne's development. Henne must get used to Marshall's speed and route angles. How quickly they find their timing on intermediate and longer patterns such as deep outs and posts against a defense will be important to making sure they're totally on the same page when the season starts.

New England Patriots: Will the Patriots show noticeable improvement on defense?

[+] EnlargeDarius Butler
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesDarius Butler will compete with Devin McCourty for the chance to start at left cornerback.
The old baseball adage claims championship teams are strong up the middle. The Patriots can say they're formidable in that regard. They have star nose tackle Vince Wilfork, inside linebacker Jerod Mayo and a solid group of safeties. But this ain't baseball. In football, especially with a 3-4 defense, teams need an outside presence. The Patriots are eager to see if they can improve their pass rush and be more consistent at cornerback. Those two areas depend on each other and contributed to the Patriots ranking 22nd in sacks per pass play last year. They'll have to sort through returning outside linebackers Tully Banta-Cain, Derrick Burgess, Rob Ninkovich and Shawn Crable and 53rd overall draft pick Jermaine Cunningham. At the all-important left cornerback spot, unproven sophomore Darius Butler will compete with first-round pick Devin McCourty.

New York Jets: Will quarterback Mark Sanchez take command in his second camp?

As a reckless rookie, Sanchez seemed hell-bent on squandering a team loaded in several key categories: No. 1 defense, No. 1 rushing attack, three Pro Bowlers on the offensive line. But late last season, Sanchez finally bought into what offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer had been preaching and closed the season with a deep playoff run. Knee surgery limited Sanchez's first full NFL offseason, but he participated in minicamp. He'll have two talented receivers, Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes, who weren't around at this time last year. How their chemistry develops over the next two months will be crucial.

HOTTEST SEATS

Bills: Demetrius Bell. It's odd to imagine a player drafted in the seventh round as a long-term project being on the hot seat going into just his third season. But Bell plays left tackle, and the Bills can't afford to fool around at such an important position. Bell didn't play a snap in 2008, yet emerged as last year's opening-night starter. He struggled before a knee injury ended his season prematurely. Bell was one of the NFL's most penalized players, and Gailey abhors pre-snap penalties. In eight games, Bell committed six false starts and allowed five sacks.

[+] EnlargeWill Allen
Marc Serota/Getty ImagesHow Will Allen rebounds from a knee injury will be important.
Dolphins: Will Allen. The 10-year veteran started last season as the club's top cornerback, but suffered a season-ending knee injury in the sixth game. The Dolphins played out the year with a pair of rookies, Sean Smith and Vontae Davis, at cornerback. While they were frequently broiled by opposing receivers, they are the future and there's something to be said for trial by fire. Allen's contract might doom him. He's scheduled to make base salaries of $5.2 million this year and $5.5 million next year.

Patriots: Laurence Maroney. He has been a polarizing player since the Patriots drafted him 21st overall in 2006. He has looked like a stud running back at times, but not nearly often enough. Maroney's entering his fifth season but has started only 14 games, hasn't cracked 900 rushing yards in a season and fumbles too much.

Jets: Nick Folk. Coaches don't have much patience for an erratic kicker. The Jets parted ways with a good one, letting Jay Feely leave via free agency. They signed Folk, a former Pro Bowler who was a disaster with the Dallas Cowboys last year. He was inconsistent in Jets voluntary workouts and minicamp, already drawing playful ridicule from coach Rex Ryan. If Folk continues to miss kicks, the Jets won't be laughing.

SECRET WEAPON

Patriots receiver Brandon Tate. When considering New England's top targets, the names Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Torry Holt and maybe Julian Edelman come to mind. Keep an eye out for Tate, a second-year pro with one reception. Tate still was recovering from knee surgery when the Patriots drafted him in the third round out of North Carolina. He made his debut in Week 7 and suffered another knee injury in Week 9. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has spoken highly of Tate during the offseason.

CHANGING OF THE GUARDS

The Bills boast one example of stability over the rest of the AFC East -- on the offensive line, no less.

[+] EnlargeAlan Faneca
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinThe Jets' release of Alan Faneca raised some eyebrows.
The Bills enter training camp with the lone left guard in place. Second-year pro Andy Levitre returns as the starter, while each of the other three clubs have uncertainties to address. The Jets and Dolphins are letting players compete for their left guard openings, while the Patriots have a two-time Pro Bowler who has demanded a trade.

In Jets camp, second-round pick Vladimir Ducasse and sophomore Matt Slauson are battling for the vacancy created by the controversial release of nine-time Pro Bowler Alan Faneca.

The Dolphins traded Justin Smiley, their left guard the past two seasons. Nate Garner started eight games, including four on the left side while Smiley was hurt last season. Donald Thomas started 12 games at right guard. Richie Incognito started at right guard for the St. Louis Rams and Bills. The Dolphins drafted guard John Jerry in the third round.

Mankins isn't expected to be at Patriots camp when it begins. He's an unsigned restricted free agent and last month went public with his desire to be traded. Right tackle Nick Kaczur has been working in Mankins' spot.

Big Question: Top AFC East move?

July, 6, 2010
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NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

What was the top offseason move in the AFC East?

We've hit a rare dead period in the NFL, when all the teams have sent their players home to enjoy the summer for a few weeks. Offseason programs are complete. Training camps will begin at the end of the month.

[+] EnlargeMarshall
Steve Mitchell/US PresswireBrandon Marshall's trade to Miami was one of the biggest offseason moves in the AFC East.
Perfect time to review all of the offseason moves. With activity slowed to a crawl, we can safely evaluate the ones that should have the most impact on the upcoming season.

I've taken five decisions from each AFC East club and ranked them based on how important they'll prove to be in 2010.

But this list merely is to provide a reminder of what has happened the past few months. I'd like to see your list in the comments section below. Nominate your favorite move, give me your top five or rank them all.

NOTE: I was remiss in leaving out one of the bigger moves, but thanks to some friendly reminders in the comments section, I have corrected the list by inserting the Dolphins' switch at defensive coordinator at No. 4.

1. Dolphins trade two second-round draft picks for receiver Brandon Marshall.

2. Jets trade a third-round pick for cornerback Antonio Cromartie.

3. Patriots use franchise tag to ensure nose tackle Vince Wilfork's return.

4. Dolphins fire defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni and hire Mike Nolan.

5. Dolphins sign inside linebacker Karlos Dansby.

6. Bills name Buddy Nix general manager and hire head coach Chan Gailey.

7. Jets trade a fifth-round pick for receiver Santonio Holmes.

8. Bills switch to 3-4 defense.

9. Jets pass on re-signing kicker Jay Feely and sign pass-rusher Jason Taylor.

10. Bills draft Clemson running back C.J. Spiller ninth overall.

11. Patriots clean house at tight end, sign Alge Crumpler, draft Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

12. Dolphins move Randy Starks from defensive end to nose tackle.

13. Patriots sign defensive end Gerard Warren.

14. Jets sign safety Brodney Pool, trade Kerry Rhodes.

15. Patriots release outside linebacker Adalius Thomas.

16. Dolphins release outside linebacker Joey Porter.

17. Bills sign defensive end Dwan Edwards.

18. Jets replace running back Thomas Jones with LaDainian Tomlinson.

19. Bills sign inside linebacker Andra Davis.

20. Patriots sign receiver Torry Holt.

Over or under? New England Patriots

June, 29, 2010
6/29/10
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Football Outsiders managing editor Bill Barnwell and I pick over or under for three players from each AFC East team, using 2010 statistical projections from ESPN.com's fantasy analysts.

It's time to bring you the New England Patriots.

Brady
Brady
Quarterback Tom Brady, 30 touchdowns

Barnwell's take: OVER, but only slightly. If you plug Brady's historical touchdown rate (5.3 percent) into last year's total of 565 pass attempts, you get ... 30.1 touchdowns. I don't know if that's necessarily the right figure to use, though. Brady had 50 touchdowns in his legendary 2007 season. In 2009, Brady saw each of his top receivers get hurt, and his third guy was Sam Aiken for a good portion of the year. I think Julian Edelman and/or Torry Holt should be an upgrade as the third receiver. It might only be 32 or 33 touchdowns, but that would still be over.

My take: UNDER. Brady has surpassed 28 touchdowns in a season exactly once. Sure, Brady was transcendent in 2007. But he, Randy Moss and Wes Welker have accumulated a lot of scars since then. Nobody knows when Welker will return to form after knee and shoulder surgeries. Moss is 33 years old and has been slowed by injuries. Brady, a year after he tossed seven touchdown passes to tight ends Benjamin Watson and Chris Baker, will be throwing to rookies Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. With all those variables, I have little reason to trust Brady will throw for more touchdowns in 2010 than he has in seven of his eight full seasons.

Moss

Moss
Receiver Randy Moss, 93 catches

Barnwell's take: UNDER. Even though I think Brady will hit the over on touchdowns, this is a really high total for a player that's struggled with minor injuries throughout his time in New England (even if those injuries have been swept under the rug at times). The Pats should also have more in the way of options for Brady, which should allow him to spread the ball out to a wider group of targets.

My take: UNDER. I agree with Bill. This number seems irrationally high to me. Perhaps the belief is that he'll pick up some slack while Welker recovers. But Moss has surpassed 83 passes just once in his past six seasons. He has shown signs of wear, playing a good portion of last season with a separated shoulder, a league source told ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss after the Patriots were eliminated from the playoffs.

Welker

Welker
Receiver Wes Welker, 89 receptions

Barnwell's take: UNDER. This really comes down to how healthy you think Welker is. This sort of recovery timeframe from an ACL injury would not be unprecedented. Philip Rivers had a torn ACL and had surgery after the playoffs in 2007, and he was quite fantastic in 2008. Then again, Rivers wasn't playing wide receiver. If I knew Welker would be on the field Week 1 at 90 percent, I'd take the over. But I think it will take longer for him to heal than, perhaps, the Patriots have been playing up.

My take: UNDER. So much of Welker's game relies on cuts, stops and starts. Those are the types of activities that put so much strain on a player's knees. Welker averaged 8.9 receptions a game last year, so it's easy to do the math and see he could miss six games and still hit ESPN.com's fantasy projection at that clip. But we can't possibly expect Welker to maintain the same torrid pace he set when perfectly healthy. Edelman's emergence will allow the Patriots to bring Welker back cautiously and give Brady another option even when Welker gets back on the field.

Video: Wes Welker making progress

June, 18, 2010
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ESPN reporter David Amber files this video from New England Patriots minicamp on the progress of slot receiver Wes Welker, who is recovering from knee and shoulder surgeries.

"Wes has done an unbelievable of job of working hard to get back where he is," Patriots receivers coach Chad O'Shea says in the clip. "He's come out here and done everything that we've asked him to do and the doctors and trainers have allowed him to do so far."

On the radar: Taylor Price

June, 17, 2010
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NFC On the Radar: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A player, coach or issue that should be on your radar as training camp approaches.

New England Patriots rookie receiver Taylor Price has made a big impression on minicamp observers this week at Gillette Stadium.

[+] EnlargeTaylor Prince
AP Photo/Elise AmendolaRookie Taylor Price is making a name for himself during workouts with the Patriots.
Price, the 90th overall draft selection from Ohio University, was unable to participate in team practices because of an NFL rule that prevents a rookie from reporting as long as his college remains in session. That generally affects schools that use the quarters system, and Ohio happens to be one.

Price was allowed to participate in rookie camp, but had to stay away for organized team activities. Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Price had some ground to make up on the rest of the rookies.

But by all accounts Price has looked sharp. ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss noted quarterback Tom Brady seems to have taken a shine to Price.

"It's a good start, but I have a long way to go," Price said. "There is nothing easy to learn out here. I don't know as much as I should know yet, but I'm getting to that point. I'm just learning gradually every day."

Price had 56 receptions for 784 yards and five touchdowns last year for Ohio head coach Frank Solich, the former Nebraska head coach known for his run-dominant offenses.

"He has good hands," Belichick said when the Patriots drafted Price. "He can catch the ball. He's big. He's fast. He can run a variety of routes. ... I think if he had been in a different offense and a more productive offense, he would have had more production."

Maybe it's too soon to think of Price making an impact this year. We know where Randy Moss and Wes Welker (when healthy) will line up. Beyond that, the Patriots have a few receivers to sort through, including veterans Torry Holt and David Patten and sophomore Brandon Tate.

Then again, backup slot receiver Julian Edelman contributed right away despite being drafted in the seventh round out of Kent State, where he played quarterback -- proof that a rookie with a steep learning curve can come out of the Mid-American Conference and impress Belichick enough to get on the field.

Even minus Welker, Pats WRs impressive

May, 25, 2010
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This week's edition of the Scouts' Eye on ESPN Insider examines the NFL's most intriguing circumstances at wide receiver.

The New England Patriots are first on the list of four teams Scouts Inc. analyst Matt Williamson highlights. Williamson's opening line: "The more I look at this wide receiver and tight end situation, the more I like it."

The Patriots are facing some uncertainty when it comes to Tom Brady's targets. His security blanket, Wes Welker, is recovering from knee and shoulder surgeries. Welker isn't expected to be available and effective at the start of the regular season. All of their tight ends -- rookies Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez and free agent Alge Crumpler -- are new to the offense.

In the Patriots' favor, Williamson writes, is that Randy Moss is entering a contract year and should be motivated for a big season, and Hernandez provides flexibility as a dangerous receiver if the Patriots want to go with double tight ends. Williamson sees Hernandez playing a significant role in helping Julian Edelman fill Welker's void.

"The other wideouts also are interesting, especially Brandon Tate, who more or less had a redshirt year in 2009 as he recovered from a knee injury," Williamson writes. "But Tate can be a difference-maker and is immensely talented. ... Expect Tate to quickly become a prominent member of this passing attack and quite possibly an opening-day starter."

Williamson isn't counting on veteran free agent Torry Holt to add much because youngsters like Tate and rookie Taylor Price could become more attractive options in a hurry.

All hands on deck without Wes Welker

May, 20, 2010
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Wednesday's revelation Miami Dolphins star Brandon Marshall had hip surgery and won't be able to practice until training camp means both of the AFC East's 100-catch players are rehabbing.

New England Patriots slotmeister Wes Welker recently provided generally rosy updates about his surgically repaired knee and shoulder. But Welker's former teammate, ESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi, is skeptical Welker will be ready for the start of the regular season.

Bruschi explained how the Patriots will have to cope until Welker returns.

"This is a very serious knee injury, and I think he's going to miss the beginning of the season," Bruschi said. "If that happens, other receivers must step up.

"They signed veteran receiver Torry Holt. He must be looked upon. Also, Julian Edelman is a receiver that came in last year and did a good job for that offense. And Tom Brady is looking to young receiver Brandon Tate, someone who was injured last year but was a high draft pick and has great potential to help this offense.

"These receivers must step up because the loss of Wes Welker early in the year could affect some ballgames."video

AFC East wire: Jets, Fins remarkably alike

May, 17, 2010
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Miami Dolphins

Buffalo Bills

New England Patriots

New York Jets

How I See It: AFC East Stock Watch

May, 13, 2010
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NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Falling

Adalius Thomas, free-agent outside linebacker: Almost three weeks after the Patriots released him, Thomas remains unemployed.

It seemed certain Thomas would reunite with Rex Ryan and join the New York Jets. The last time Thomas was effective was with Baltimore in 2006, when Ryan was defensive coordinator. But the Patriots held onto Thomas long enough that the Jets signed former Dolphins star Jason Taylor. As a result, there also was speculation the Dolphins would pursue Thomas to fortify the edge in their 3-4 defense.

"With him we'll end up first in the league in defense, and without him we'll end up first in the league in defense," Ryan recently said. "If we get him, great. I'm not worried about him."

Nobody seems to be. Thomas will turn 33 in training camp. He had 20 sacks in his final two seasons with Baltimore. He had 14.5 in his three seasons in New England and just three last year. Bill Belichick benched him for a pair of games.

Rising

Brandon Tate, Patriots receiver: Tate's name hadn't been mentioned much this offseason. The third-round pick from North Carolina appeared in two games and had zero receptions as a rookie last year and plays on a team that features Randy Moss, added Torry Holt and is more concerned with how Julian Edelman will fill in while Wes Welker recovers from knee and shoulder surgery.

But Patriots quarterback Tom Brady thrust Tate's name into the conversation this week, making a point to rave about Tate's offseason in a pair of interviews.

"I like Brandon Tate a lot," Brady told Sports Illustrated. Brady later told Boston sports-radio station WEEI that Tate "has had a great offseason."

That's quite a blessing for a player otherwise known as a project. The Patriots were criticized for drafting Tate so early because he was rehabbing a knee injury that was expected to limit him for much of 2009. They activated him in Week 7, and he suffered another season-ending knee injury in Week 9.

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