AFC East: Trent Dilfer

Thoughts and observations on the New York Jets:

1. The Re-X factor: The top storyline for the second half of the season, which begins Sunday, will be the future of head coach Rex Ryan. Owner Woody Johnson and general manager John Idzik have to make a decision: Extend his contract or fire him. Naturally, the No. 1 factor will be the team's record, but there's another factor that should (and will) loom large in the evaluation -- the development of rookie quarterback Geno Smith.

If Smith makes strides and finishes with his arrow pointing up, it would be a huge boost for Ryan and his coaching staff. It would mean he's developing under Marty Mornhinweg & Co., and what sense would it make to start over next year with a new staff? My sense is that a 7-9 record, with an ascending Smith, would be good enough to earn Ryan another year. Statistically, Smith's second quarter was slightly better than the first, but he'll need more than baby steps over the final eight games to nail down the job for 2014. If he regresses, it won't bode well for Ryan.

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesWill the Jets use another early draft pick to select a QB if rookie Geno Smith continues to struggle the rest of the season?
"If I put on my GM hat, I would tie Rex, Marty and Geno together," said ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer, one of the smart people around football. "The Marty-Geno mix is really good, and I think Marty is good for Rex. The Jets' ceiling, if they acquire more talent, is higher because of Marty's aggressive approach. I wouldn't want to start over with a new guy next year. They should maintain continuity. They're wildly inconsistent, but it looks better and has a better feel than last year. It's a better product."

I agree. But Smith needs to keep going in the right direction.

2. Quarterbacking 101: Dilfer said Smith is operating an offensive system more complex than what the Jets used in Mark Sanchez's rookie year in 2009. In '09, they scaled it back to help Sanchez. It was heavy play-action and they moved the pocket, halving the field and cutting down his reads. With Smith, "It's pure dropback, with complex read progressions," Dilfer said. "Marty is throwing a lot of good stuff at him. It's baptism by fire. Talking to great coaches and great quarterbacks, and knowing my own experience, that's the best way to get the best out of a young quarterback. It speeds them up to the graduate level."

I get it, but I think there should be times when Mornhinweg dials it back a little to help Smith through rough patches.

3. Where the Hill is Stephen? Second-year WR Stephen Hill has become an afterthought in the Jets' offense, raising questions about him. Consider the last five games: 23 targets and only 10 receptions, including five when the team was in an obvious catch-up/passing mode. Save for two big games against the Buffalo Bills, Hill has been a disappointment in his first two seasons. In fact, one-third of his career yardage total (and three of his four TDs) has come in the two Buffalo games.

I asked Mornhinweg about Hill's lack of production, and all he said was, "That's my responsibility. I have to do a better job there." Meaning? "Get him the ball a little bit."

Here's the part that stings the Jets: They drafted Hill in the second round (43rd overall) after trading up, passing up WR Alshon Jeffery, who has become a solid receiver with the Chicago Bears. Jeffery has 57 catches, 928 yards and five touchdowns in two seasons; Hill has 44, 592 and four. The Jets knew Hill would be a project when they drafted him, but it has to be troubling that a receiver off the street -- David Nelson -- has produced better numbers over the past month.

4. Re-visiting Revis Island: Some in the media (including me) have fallen into the trap of trying to imagine the Jets' defense if they had kept CB Darrelle Revis, perhaps conveniently forgetting that he's coming back from major knee surgery. He's still not the Revis of old, and he admitted it the other day on his weekly radio spot in Tampa. Revis, explaining why the Buccaneers haven't used him in the press-man style that made him famous, said his surgically repaired knee has been the main factor.

“Earlier in the year, I didn’t have the explosion to play press; the receiver would just run the [vertical] 9-route on me and I didn’t have the stamina to do that play in and play out, especially playing press," Revis said.

If he were with the Jets, this would be a significant issue, considering their system is predicated on man-to-man coverage.

5. Ivory's payback: Chris Ivory downplayed Sunday's matchup against the New Orleans Saints, his former team, but I suspect he will be highly motivated to prove a point. Back in training camp, Ivory admitted to me that his three-year run in New Orleans was difficult at times because of their crowded backfield.

"I never felt lost, but I didn't like the situation at times," Ivory said. "At the same time, you have to understand there are phases you have to go through, being undrafted. They had guys they drafted, guys they had confidence in. Me, just coming in, I had to build their confidence and it took a little more time."

The Jets traded a fourth-round pick for Ivory, one of only six player trades last offseason involving a fourth-round pick or higher, according to ESPN's John Clayton. The Jets had two of the six -- the Ivory and Revis trades.

6. Revolving door: Because of injuries, it has been difficult to build continuity on offense. In fact, the Jets have used 28 different players, tied with the Bucs for most in the league.

7. Go wide, young man: The Jets aren't known as a perimeter running team, but maybe they should think about it more often. When they run around left end, they average 6.78 yards per carry, the fifth-best mark in the league, according to NFL stats. When they go right end, it's 5.59 yards. Imagine if they had a real perimeter threat.

8. McElroy's intel: Dan Pompei of Bleacher Report spent a week with Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, who allowed behind-the-scenes access as he prepared for last week's game against the Jets. The story reveals that former Jets QB Greg McElroy, a member of the Bengals' practice squad, was a big help. McElroy typed up a tip sheet and gave it to QB Andy Dalton. Gruden also picked his brain on the Jets in a meeting.

"His insight is very helpful," Gruden told Pompei in the middle of the week. "He has a pulse on their defense, what hurts them."

I'd say the Bengals hurt them, all right.

9. Good news/bad news: The Jets are one of only 11 teams since 2001 to have a minus-12 turnover margin or worse through eight games. That's bad. Of those 11 teams, they're the only one to have a .500 record. That's good. It indicates what they could be if Smith stops giving it away.

10. Feeling old: The first time I saw Nick Toon was Nov. 27, 1992, the day his dad, Al, retired from the NFL at the too-young age of 29. Nick was only 4, but he was at the news conference, and I remember seeing him afterward in the parking lot at the Jets' old Hofstra training facility. He hopped into a mini-van, and the family drove off. It always struck me that Al's wife, Jane, was behind the wheel. Al, still suffering from post-concussion syndrome, wasn't fit to drive. Now, Nick is a grown-up wide receiver, and he'll be playing Sunday for the Saints at MetLife Stadium. I'll be in the press box, wondering how 21 years flew by in a minute.
On Wednesday ESPN put together an expert panel to determine which team will is poised to dominate in 2015.Insider That is three years and four seasons from now.

Here is how things shaped up in the AFC East:

No 2: New England Patriots

Thoughts: Earlier Wednesday I wrote a column that New England will struggle when Tom Brady retires. Our panel thinks Brady will still be around in 2015 and gave New England a "nine" rating at quarterback. That's debatable. Brady will be 38 years old in 2015. Is Brady still playing football? And if so, is Brady still elite pushing 40? The article also ignores tight end Aaron Hernandez's contract situation. He's a free agent in two years, along with teammate Rob Gronkowski. Hernandez is probably not on New England's roster in 2015 unless the Patriots find a way to make "Gronk" and Hernandez two of the highest-paid players at the same position. That's not likely.

No. 16: New York Jets

Thoughts: The Jets are an interesting team. Like the Patriots, they are built to win now. It’s hard to say where New York will be in four seasons. ESPN's Trent Dilfer says he still loves the talent and potential of quarterback Mark Sanchez, but I disagree. Entering his fourth season, I think Sanchez pretty much is what he is. Of course, Sanchez can play better over the next few years and reduce turnovers. But he’s not a future perennial Pro Bowler in waiting. Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis will be 30 in 2015. Maybe he’s still the best cornerback in football at that time. Maybe not. New York’s drafts also can be hit or miss.

No. 22: Buffalo Bills

Thoughts: Things are looking up for Buffalo this season, but I think the Bills were a victim of circumstance in this case. The Bills haven’t made the postseason in 13 years. Therefore, I would assume it was very hard for our expert panel to put any stock in Buffalo’s future several years down the line. But there are some good, young players on the roster. Running back C.J. Spiller has potential. So does defensive tackle Marcell Dareus and rookie corner Stephon Gilmore. No. 1 receiver Steve Johnson also is still just 25. I still have questions about the long-term potential of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. But the Bills have potential to build something.

No. 28: Miami Dolphins

Thoughts: ESPN’s panel sees too many questions about the direction of Dolphins. Is rookie Ryan Tannehill the long-term solution quarterback? Is Joe Philbin a viable head coach? Is Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Long staying in Miami beyond 2012? There are a lot of questions in Miami. The Dolphins aren’t ready to compete now, and they have to make a lot of the right moves in order to compete in the future. Only the Oakland Raiders, Jacksonville Jaguars, Minnesota Vikings and Cleveland Browns had lower rankings than the Dolphins in these future Power Rankings.

Dilfer calls Cam Newton no-brainer for Bills

April, 15, 2011
Trent Dilfer started laughing as soon as he heard Chris Mortensen relay the comment from Buffalo Bills head coach Chan Gailey.

While breaking down the Bills for ESPN's "On the Clock" series, Mortensen said Gailey told him, "I think we can win a championship with Ryan Fitzpatrick."

Dilfer couldn't stifle his amusement.

"All right, look ... No," Dilfer said, shifting in his seat and trying to comprehend the statement. "If you're going to win a Super Bowl with Ryan Fitzpatrick, you better have the Baltimore Ravens' defense that I played with. That's the only formula to win a Super Bowl without a dynamic, playmaking quarterback."

Dilfer said Fitzpatrick could be Buffalo's answer at quarterback "for a year or two, yes, but that's about it." Dilfer insisted the Bills must draft Auburn quarterback Cam Newton if the Heisman Trophy winner still is on the board at No. 3.

"His unique skill set is going to fit Buffalo," Dilfer said. "He spins the ball at an incredibly high rate. He can knife it through the wind and the bad weather. His physicality in the run game will help them in bad-weather games, in the short-yardage game.

"He's the perfect fit, and you have a good -- good -- serviceable quarterback in Ryan Fitzpatrick to play while you groom [Newton]. It's a no-brainer in my opinion to take Cam Newton."

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper projects Texas A&M outside linebacker Von Miller as the pick for Buffalo because he would stabilize their feeble pass-rush.

Analysts spotlight Henne, Fins QB situation

April, 1, 2011
Total coincidence that we reached the Miami Dolphins' turn in the AFC East reader mock draft the same day ESPN's "On the Clock" roundtable series takes a look at the aqua and orange.

Most of the panel's conversation deals with the Dolphins' quarterback situation. Draft expert Mel Kiper once again noted the Dolphins might have erred by taking left tackle Jake Long first overall in 2008 rather than a quarterback.

"The left tackle is not going to get you where you want to go," Kiper said. "The quarterback does. It's nice to have that great left tackle, but you've got to have the quarterback."

The Dolphins drafted Chad Henne with their second second-round pick that year.

"Chad Henne was wildly inconsistent at Michigan," Kiper said. "That's why I had some questions about him, coming out. We see that in Miami. There are games where he looks like he could be the guy and other games you scratch your head, saying 'Why did that throw go where it did?'

"The inaccuracy of Chad Henne and the inconsistency of Chad Henne is the reason right now they don't know where they're going at quarterback."

Henne completed 61.4 percent of his throws for 3,301 yards and 15 touchdowns with 19 interceptions. His 75.4 passer rating was 15th in the league.

Henne lost his starting job to Chad Pennington in Week 10 and might have remained on the sidelines had Pennington not suffered a season-ending shoulder injury.

ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer still believes Henne can be salvageable as a starter.

"When I study him on tape, there is improvement," Dilfer said. "You see improvement in his ability to change speeds on the ball, make some throws he hasn't been able to make earlier in his career.

"And I think after 27 starts, it's not a big enough body of work to come up with a definitive judgment on Chad Henne. I think the franchise would take a giant step backwards if they started over and went and got another rookie. Unless it's an established, veteran, free-agent quarterback, I think Chad Henne is the answer for the Dolphins this year."

Also discussed in the segment were the fractured front-office relationships stemming from owner Stephen Ross' pursuit of Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh. Ross and general manager Jeff Ireland flew cross country to woo Harbaugh, leaving Sparano to twist.

"That broke a trust right there," ESPN's Chris Mortensen said. "Even though this is trending down a little bit, it has not been a collapse. ... That trust is tough to repair, but somehow Ireland and Sparano have got to do that, because it's not a disaster."

Patriots draft could bring championships

March, 30, 2011
The New England Patriots are the NFL's richest team heading into the draft. They own two picks in each of the first three rounds and three picks in the top 33 slots.

In the latest edition of ESPN's "On the Clock" roundtable series, analysts Trent Dilfer and Mel Kiper, reporter Chris Mortensen and moderator Mike Tirico discussed just how significant this year's draft can be for New England.

"I believe with a strong draft," ESPN analyst Mel Kiper said, "Tom Brady may get two more Super Bowl rings -- if this draft is productive."

The Patriots have an incredible degree of flexibility with how they choose to approach the draft.

They've been more likely to trade back and accumulate picks in past drafts. But with a rookie wage scale nearly certain to be part of the next collective bargaining agreement, this could be the year the Patriots make a play.

"Seven picks in the first four rounds, do they try to package and move up?" Kiper wondered. "Wide receiver is an issue. Do you go up get A.J. Green from Georgia? Do you go up and get Julio Jones from Alabama?

"Or do you stand pat, figuring you have a need at outside linebacker, you have a need at wide receiver, you could use a running back. This offensive line right now could be in a state of flux. There's no question about that."

If the Patriots do stick with the picks they have, Kiper forecasts their first-round combo could be Purdue defensive end/outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan and Miami receiver Leonard Hankerson.

Dilfer's druthers would be to trade up for one or two no-doubt impact players.

"They don't have guys that change the down," Dilfer said. "They have guys that win the down based on doing their jobs, but they don't have that fear factor. They don't have the dynamic playmaker on either side of the ball.

"So, with all these picks, maybe it's an opportunity to move up there and get two dynamic playmakers that can actually change each down."

Ranking the AFC East's tight ends

March, 29, 2011
To play off's positional Power Rankings, I've broken down the AFC East's best tight ends.

Here's how I slot them:
  1. Dustin Keller, New York Jets
  2. Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots
  3. Aaron Hernandez, New England Patriots
  4. Anthony Fasano, Miami Dolphins
  5. Alge Crumpler, New England Patriots
  6. Jeff Cumberland, New York Jets
  7. David Martin, Buffalo Bills
  8. Jonathan Stupar, Buffalo Bills
  9. Mickey Shuler, Miami Dolphins

The first five are obvious. Keller is the most dangerous tight end in the division. I ranked him sixth in the NFL on my ballot.

But if Gronkowski and Hernandez didn't have to share touches, then one of them might surpass Keller. Gronkowski and Hernandez combined for 87 catches, 1,109 yards and 16 touchdowns.

ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer thought Gronkowski was snubbed from the overall top 10 list and called him "a dominant blocker in-line ... almost like another tackle" and said "he will be the premier tight end in the NFL in the next few years."

Fasano is next in the AFC East with 39 receptions for 528 yards and four touchdowns, but the stats plummet after that. Crumpler is next because of his blocking skills and knowledge he can make the play if the Patriots depended on it.

From there, I sorted them based on speculation.

Cumberland, an undrafted rookie, was deactivated for 15 games. But I saw enough of the physical specimen in training camp and the preseason to imagine him contributing more to the Bills than Martin (seven receptions, one touchdown) or Stupar (12 receptions, no TDs).

Dilfer views Buffalo as Newton's perfectville

March, 29, 2011
On Monday's edition of "NFL Live," analysts Mark Schlereth and Trent Dilfer each stated a case for Auburn quarterback Cam Newton's best destination.

Schlereth's answer was the Carolina Panthers. They own the first overall pick and need a leading man to take them into the future.

Dilfer argued the best place for Newton was with the Buffalo Bills, who the Heisman Trophy winner is visiting Monday and Tuesday.

Dilfer contended the Bills have the proper infrastructure to accommodate Newton, from head coach Chan Gailey to quarterbacks coach George Cortez to incumbent starter Ryan Fitzpatrick.

"I think it's the ideal fit for Cam Newton for a lot of reasons," Dilfer said. "Fitzpatrick being there, can play the position for a couple years while Cam Newton develops.

"More importantly, Chan Gailey understands how to develop a young quarterback. He's a forward-thinker offensively. He builds his offense around the talent, not injects a player into an offense. I think this is very important for Cam Newton. You see the things he did at Auburn. These are the types of things Chan Gailey will immediately implement into the Buffalo Bills' offense.

"George Cortez, their quarterback coach, is a guy that's been in Canada for a long time and understands that horizontal stretch on the football field and will do a great job with Cam, integrating him into the NFL game."

I couldn't agree more with Dilfer. Many Bills fans see Fitzpatrick's presence as a reason not to draft Newton. I look at it conversely.

Any team would want a veteran like Fitzpatrick around to mentor a big-time prospect. Fitzpatrick is a classic overachiever journeyman. He has fought to stay in the NFL. His work ethic is admirable. He's smart. His teammates respect him and respond to him. And when it would be time for Fitzpatrick to step aside, he's not the type to cause a fuss.

That, plus Gailey's track record with quarterbacks, looks like a fine environment for a young quarterback to grow.

Sanchez's completion percentage in focus

March, 16, 2011
In a "SportsCenter" segment that examines the New York Jets' draft needs, Trent Dilfer took a moment to evaluate quarterback Mark Sanchez.

Dilfer asserted the next step in Sanchez's development must be to improve his completion percentage in his third season.

Sanchez completed 53.8 percent of his throws as a rookie (29th among all qualifying passers) and 54.8 percent last year (29th again).

"That's the biggest issue with Mark Sanchez," Dilfer said. "He has proven he's the alpha male. He's the leader. He's the commander-in-chief of this offense, and he plays his best in big moments.

"But there's also first-and-10 in the second quarter, where you've just got to get the gimmie completion. He has to become more of a completion passer, dissect the defense and start dictating the terms."

Dilfer's comments aren't revelatory, but imagine how much better the Jets' offense would be if Sanchez could reach 62 percent. That would've placed him an ordinary 13th in completion percentage.

Using last year's attempts and average yards per completion, the extra 7 percent would translate to 36 more completions for an extra 430 yards for Sanchez.

That might not seem like a lot spread out over 15 games (he barely played in the regular-season finale), but it's nearly three first downs. A completion here or there, especially on third down or in the red zone or to get Nick Folk a little closer to the goal posts, can make a real difference within a game.

Dilfer: Jets' defense is 'smoke and mirrors'

March, 16, 2011
New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan's pride and joy has been -- and probably always will be -- his defense.

ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer hasn't been too impressed lately.

For an installment of a "SportsCenter" series on team-by-team draft needs, Dilfer stressed the Jets have too many holes to warrant Ryan shooting off his mouth with Super Bowl guarantees.

"It's smoke and mirrors," Dilfer said. "It is bells and whistles. They will not be a great defense until they get some dynamic play out of their front three in that 3-4 defense. They must, must identify their bigs on the defensive front before they become great and before they can fulfill this promise of winning the Super Bowl."

The roundtable discussion also included ESPN reporter Chris Mortensen and draft expert Mel Kiper Jr.

Mortensen noted Ryan is desperately missing a Terrell Suggs-type outside linebacker like he had with the Baltimore Ravens and claimed the Jets are "tricking [the defense] up so much it catches up to them at some point."

Kiper suggested the Jets draft UCLA safety Rahim Moore because they need a free safety. Kiper considers Moore the best safety in this year's draft class, with a big drop in quality to the next prospect.

Cam Newton underwhelming in workout

February, 27, 2011
INDIANAPOLIS -- Auburn quarterback Cam Newton might be second-guessing his decision to throw at the NFL scouting combine.

I was among a small group of Pro Football Writers Association members allowed to watch Sunday afternoon's session at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Newton was off target throughout, frequently overthrowing receivers. But it should be noted quarterbacks work with unfamiliar receivers at the combine. They run at different speeds and break varying routes.

That's why a lot of agents advise their quarterbacks -- as was the case with Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert -- not to throw at the combine and save those drills for campus workouts with receivers they know.

Newton completed 11 of his 21 throws.

His ball sailed on 10-yard outs, 15-yard ins and fly patterns. He was pinpoint on all three of his 12-yard hooks, and completed two of three Z-outs.

The performance was markedly different than the one Newton delivered two weeks ago for a media workout in San Diego.

After watching that display, retired quarterback and ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer remarked "The ceiling is so astronomically high for this player, Cam Newton, that the scouts, the GMs, the coaches are really going to be slobbering about the prospects of having him on their team."

Will Sunday's performance hurt Newton's draft stock or turn off a team such as the Buffalo Bills from drafting him third overall? Not by itself. He will need to rebound at his pro day March 8.

Quarterbacks who dazzled Sunday include Arkansas' Ryan Mallett and Washington's Jake Locker. They threw in the early session I didn't attend, but those who witnessed were particularly impressed with Mallett's accuracy.

Mayock presents different Newton theory

February, 11, 2011
When it came to evaluating Cam Newton's media workout Thursday, ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer was effusive.

NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock was refusive.

Mayock didn't attend the workout in San Diego, said he didn't need to watch the workout and generally dismissed it as meaningless when it comes to appraising the former Auburn quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner.

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
AP Photo/Chris ParkFormer Auburn QB Cam Newton worked out for members of the media Thursday in San Diego.
"He's got a classic overhand delivery," Mayock said on the NFL Network. "He's got a big arm. You and I in gym shorts out at the local high school can throw pretty accurately. So I would guarantee you he would look great in a pair of gym shorts. He would throw with accuracy and arm strength. His mechanics are very good.

"But I would offer one cautionary note, and that is the best pro day for a quarterback I ever attended was JaMarcus Russell, and that same day -- even though I admitted it was the best pro day I ever saw -- I also said I wouldn't take him in the first round."

Russell, the No. 1 pick in 2007, is the worst bust in NFL draft history.

The Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins are the AFC East teams that could select a quarterback in the first round. The Bills draft third (Dilfer's apparent range for Newton), while the Dolphins draft 15th (closer to Mayock's range for Newton, but still probably too early).

Dilfer said "The ceiling is so astronomically high for this player, Cam Newton, that the scouts, the GMs, the coaches are really going to be slobbering about the prospects of having him on their team."

Mayock ranks Newton third in this year's quarterback class behind Missouri's Blaine Gabbert and Washington's Jake Locker.

"For me, it's not about [Newton] throwing in shorts," Mayock said. "It's about a lot of other things. He's going to throw the ball beautifully in those controlled environments.

"To me, there are two issues with this kid. Issue No. 1 is he came out of a shotgun, and if you watch the tape it's basically a very simple offense. One read and either the ball was out or he was out. So can he adapt to, can he process and assimilate to a very structured and complex pro offense against a complex pro defense?

"Secondly, and most importantly, when you get to a certain skill level in the NFL, which this kid certainly has, at the quarterback position, what kind of kid is he? Is he going to be the first guy in the building? Is he a gym rat? Is he football smart? Is he a leader of men?

"All those things to me are way more important than any workout in shorts."

Dilfer, meanwhile, was blown away and said Newton's stock should skyrocket. It's fascinating how two men who played in the NFL and have been around the game for decades would place such dissenting opinions over the value of Thursday's workout.

Dilfer played quarterback in the NFL for 14 years. He played for five organizations, went to a Pro Bowl and won a Super Bowl.

If anything, the divergent viewpoints of Dilfer and Mayock indicate how 32 teams can judge a player differently and why arguments sometimes break out among a team's scouting department over a given player before a pick is made. It also helps explain how the New York Jets could take Vernon Gholston sixth overall.

Dilfer: NFL will drool over Cam Newton

February, 10, 2011
Trent Dilfer spent the past week breaking down Auburn quarterback Cam Newton's game film.

Dilfer wanted to be prepared for what he would observe Thursday at Newton's media workout Thursday in San Diego.

Dilfer wasn't adequately prepared. He was blown away.

"He's going to skyrocket up the boards," Dilfer said.

The Buffalo Bills might have a big decision to make on Newton when they draft third overall. Even if they're happy with Ryan Fitzpatrick for now, a dynamic quarterback is needed to challenge for the AFC East title, let alone a Super Bowl.

The Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos aren't expected to take a quarterback when they pick first and second. But Dilfer stated Newton will give every team something to consider as long as he remains on the draft board.

"The ceiling is so astronomically high for this player, Cam Newton, that the scouts, the GMs, the coaches are really going to be slobbering about the prospects of having him on their team," Dilfer said.

Thursday's workout was a preview of what teams will see in two weeks at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.

Dilfer shared his thoughts on Newton's display.

"A few things jumped out at me," Dilfer said. "First of all, his physical prowess, his stature. I mean, Cam Newton is a giant, giant man. He dwarfed me, and I'm 6-4, 240 pounds. Just the presence was amazing.

"The other thing was how the ball jumped off his hand. This is a guy that has a powerful arm. George Whitfield, his quarterback coach, has done a masterful job, coaching him from the feet up. He showed great balance. He showed great foot energy, as he did drop back and take snaps from under center.

"The third thing is that he has quarterback-passer DNA, and that's the thing we weren't sure about him because he was such a great athlete. This is a guy that in his workout threw about 30 very challenging throws, and each one of those throws he kept his eyes down the center of the football field, spun his eyes back to the perimeter and delivered the ball early with anticipation. This is a gifted, gifted passer."

ESPN reporter Shelley Smith, her hair flying in the wind as she asked, wondered how impressive a workout in shorts and a T-shirt really was.

"These were challenging throws," Dilfer countered. "These were throws down the football field into a pretty stiff wind. ... This wind is blowing probably 10, 15 mph in his face. He knifed the ball through the wind. He controlled it very well. The ball spins very well off his hand."

How does Mark Sanchez look for 2011?

January, 26, 2011
In a season-review video for, analysts Trent Dilfer and Tom Jackson graded the New York Jets' campaign and gave their impressions of quarterback Mark Sanchez's development heading into his third season.

Sanchez's second season is open for interpretation. He had a handful of poor performances and some uninspiring stats, but the Jets went to the AFC Championship Game a second straight season with him.

"You see the same thing in that game and this season that you saw at USC," Dilfer said. "You go back and talk to his high school coaches. You saw it in high school. This is a kid with a special intangible makeup. The bigger the situation, the more pressure on him, the more difficult the situation it brings out the best in him.

"His fixes are easy: Do better when it's easy because when it gets hard, when it gets sticky, this guy's at his best."

Jackson added: "A lot of quarterbacks go through a sophomore slump. There was none of that for Mark Sanchez. He had his moments, his ups and downs. But the maturity level that he showed at the end of the year, it makes me excited about what we're going to see from him next year. ... You can see they're letting him play more and more."

Does AFC East have big D trend covered?

January, 25, 2011
ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer provided his insight on a top offensive trend earlier Tuesday.

He also shared thoughts on a defensive movement he speculated could dictate schemes for the next decade.

Not long ago, Tampa 2-style zone defenses were en vogue. Dilfer now sees the NFL widely adopting a "coverage-based" philosophy.

"The trend now in the NFL for the dominant defenses is that it's become about coverage," Dilfer said. "At times it's pass rush. At times it's zones. At times it's blitz. But, ultimately, this has become a coverage league.

"When you can find corners on the outside that can play man-to-man defense -- old-school man-to-man, 'I got you' all over the field -- it creates so much flexibility in your schemes defensively to keep the offenses off balance.

"What are offenses doing? They're spreading you out. They're trying to attack zones. The defenses that lock up and still put pressure on the quarterback are the defenses that are having success."

What does that mean for the AFC East?

If this becomes the preferred method of defense, then the New York Jets are in good shape as long as they have Darrelle Revis at cornerback. Antonio Cromartie is a free agent, but he could be back, helping the Jets maintain a formidable tandem.

The New England Patriots also have a strong coverage foundation. Rookie cornerback Devin McCourty was voted to the Pro Bowl after a season of covering the opposition's best receivers. He had seven interceptions. Reliable veteran Leigh Bodden missed the season with a torn rotator cuff. But he'll be back. Bodden is under contract through 2013.

The Miami Dolphins are confident in Vontae Davis, but coverage on the opposite side of the field has been erratic. Sean Smith possesses tremendous athleticism, but the Dolphins haven't been comfortable with him as a starter. They removed Smith as a starter when the season began and eventually cut the player who replaced him, Jason Allen.

The Buffalo Bills' cornerbacks are an interesting group. Drayton Florence has been their best pass defender and showed a knack for the big play in 2010, but he's a free agent. Terrence McGee is a formidable player when healthy, but he missed seven games. Leodis McKelvin, the 11th overall draft choice three years ago, is an athletic specimen but gets burnt way too often.

Trent Dilfer identifies offensive trend for '11

January, 25, 2011
I tell anybody who will listen that Trent Dilfer is one of my favorite two or three NFL analysts out there.

A lot of readers like to knock Dilfer because he wasn't a superstar quarterback. Therefore, his critics allege, his opinions aren't valid. Never mind that he spent 14 years in the NFL, that he went to a Pro Bowl with one team and quarterbacked another to a Super Bowl title.

Those were some of the sentiments brought up in the comments section underneath an item I posted eight months ago about the New England Patriots offense.

Dilfer said the Patriots' offense was "exposed system-wise" in 2009 despite finishing third in yardage and predicted they would make a dramatic change in 2010. Dilfer said the Patriots would abandon their spread offense and rely on two tight-end sets, quick throws and more running.

Readers, especially those early in the thread, where knee-jerk responses are more common, scoffed.

And Dilfer was 100 percent accurate.

Dilfer has the ability to identify a trend before it becomes popular.

With that in mind, I think it would be of value to hear Dilfer's observations about an emerging offensive trend he has noticed.

Dilfer explains how offenses finally have come up with an effective remedy for defenses that zone blitz by the following:
  • Spread out formations horizontally.
  • Go with three-receiver sets.
  • Remove a tight end.
  • Perhaps most importantly: Don't worry about blocking all possible pass-rushers.
  • Trust the quarterback to identify the defense's weakness at the line.
  • Make quick throws of less than 10 yards.

Do you think this will defuse zone blitzes in 2011?