AFC East: West Coast offense

With training camp just a few weeks away, the AFC East blog continues its look at players in the division who are on the roster bubble.

Next, we take a look at New York Jets guard and former second-round pick Vladimir Ducasse.

Reason for hope: The best thing we can say about Ducasse is his high draft status. Teams do not like giving up on second-round picks. There's always the optimism in New York that, at some point, the light will come on for Ducasse and he will finally live up to his potential. Ducasse struggled again last year in limited playing time and continues to be a raw project. But the Jets need depth on the offensive line. Perhaps a new West Coast offense can spark something in Ducasse that we have not seen in the past.

Reason for concern: To put it bluntly, Ducasse is a draft bust. The Jets gave him three years to develop, and he has not shown the type of strides the team was hoping for. Ducasse lost his biggest supporter in New York when former general manager Mike Tannenbaum was fired after last season. New Jets general manager John Idzik did not pick Ducasse in the second round and does not have the same ties. Ducasse must show he is ready to play this year or the Jets will move on.

Chances of making 53-man roster: 40 percent
The New York Jets and Miami Dolphins played conservative on offense for long stretches last season. Neither team ran wide-open, pass-heavy offenses due to protecting quarterbacks Mark Sanchez and Ryan Tannehill.

But both quarterbacks will be relied on more in 2013. Sanchez, if he wins the starting job, will be playing in an aggressive West Coast scheme under first-year offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. Tannehill has much better weapons and will throw more due impressive free-agent acquisitions such as tight end Dustin Keller and receivers Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson.

With that said, one area where both AFC East quarterbacks must improve in passing out the shotgun formation. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Tannehill and Sanchez were ranked 31st and 34th, respectively, in completion percentage from the shotgun. Tannehill completed just 57 percent of his passes from the formation with seven touchdowns and nine interceptions, while Sanchez completed 55.8 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Tannehill lined up in the shotgun 337 times last season. That is more than Super Bowl-winning quarterback Joe Flacco (315), Robert Griffin III (302), Ben Roethlisberger (260) and other notables. But with little weapons, Tannehill didn't have much success. His Total Quarterback Rating was 45.1 from the shotgun formation. Nine of Tannehill’s 13 interceptions in 2012 also were a result from lining up in the shotgun, which must improve.

Sanchez was even more of a disaster when he didn’t line up directly under center. His QBR from the shotgun was 19.2, which was the second-lowest rating in the NFL. Sanchez also didn’t have many weapons to work with and averaged just 5.88 yards per attempt from the shotgun.

Both the Jets and Dolphins will run West Coast offenses this season aimed at pushing the pace and scoring points. Thriving in the shotgun is an important piece to the puzzle, especially on third downs. Keep an eye on the progress of Sanchez and Tannehill playing in that formation this year.
The AFC East blog continues its "Show and prove" series for the division in 2013.

On Thurday we take a look at New York Jets second-year receiver Stephen Hill.

2012 stats: 21 receptions, 252 yards, three TDs

What he has to prove: Hill has to prove that he’s polished enough to be a starting wide receiver in the NFL. The former second-round pick came to New York very raw and with little experience catching passes at Georgia Tech. But Hill has the kind of size and speed that you like at the position. New York doesn’t have many weapons on offense this year. So Hill should get ample opportunities to prove his worth with the rebuilding Jets.

Walker’s 2013 outlook: Hill still has a long way to go based on what I saw in his rookie season. Hill had issues with drops and overall concentration, which is not a surprise considering he wasn’t asked to be a pass-catcher much in college. He must also stay healthy this season. It’s going to take a lot of coaching for Hill to be a polished receiver at the NFL level, and he did not get very good coaching with the Jets last season. This will be Hill’s second offensive system in two years. Perhaps offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg can get more out of Hill's potential in a West Coast scheme than former Jets offensive coordinator Tony Sparano. Veterans Santonio Holmes and Jeremy Kerley should get most of the receptions in New York. But Hill has the potential to at least be New York’s top deep threat this season.
One of the New York Jets' biggest free-agent signings this offseason is in hot water before he plays his first game with the team. Running back Mike Goodson, who was expected to compete for the starting job, was arrested Friday in New Jersey on drug and weapons charges.

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That brings me to our latest poll question: What should the Jets do with Goodson? First-year general manager John Idzik has a tough decision to make with the running back.

Should Idzik cut Goodson immediately? The Jets signed Goodson to a three-year, $6.9 million contract. The Jets most likely will be out of the $1 million signing bonus they paid up front in this scenario, especially if Goodson is cut before the legal process runs its course. But it could be worth it for Idzik to set a tone with the Jets that the circus is coming to an end and bad off-the-field behavior will not be tolerated.

Will the Jets wait for all the details? The season does not start until September. New York has several months to wait and see how Goodson’s legal issues play out. Perhaps Goodson has a good explanation and a good lawyer to get rid of this situation. The Jets could take a wait-and-see approach until they know all the facts.

Or should New York keep Goodson on the team regardless? The Jets were awful on offense last season and cannot afford to lose talented players on that side of the football. Goodson is the team’s most explosive running back and appears to be a good fit for offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg’s West Coast scheme. Cutting Goodson would leave the Jets with tailbacks Chris Ivory, Bilal Powell and Joe McKnight, which is not a strong group.

Using our SportsNation poll, vote on how the Jets should handle this recent incident with Goodson. You can also share your thoughts in the comment section below.
The AFC East blog will begin its 2013 "Show and Prove" series this week. We will examine key players in the division who have a lot to prove this upcoming season.

Let’s start with Miami Dolphins tailback Lamar Miller, who will be a first-year starter.

2012 stats: 51 carries, 250 yards, one TD

What he has to prove: Miller must prove that he can carry the load in his second season. He showed a lot of potential in 2012 by leading the Dolphins with 4.9 yards per carry, but this year will be different with the departure of former starter Reggie Bush to free agency. Miller’s carries could increase from 51 last season to more than 200. That's a big jump. Miller had injury issues in college and must prove his durability. Miller also is a bit undersized and struggled mightily with pass protection. That’s a major focus for Miller if he wants to be the long-term solution at tailback in Miami.

Walker’s 2013 outlook: I liked what I saw from Miller last season. He has good burst and vision, which are two things needed from a tailback running behind Miami’s zone-blocking scheme. Miller is a better fit in that respect that Bush, who had a penchant to run east and west too often for zero or negative yards. However, I do have serious doubts about Miller as a pass blocker. Teams identified and exposed Miller last year in that area when he was in the game. He has a long way to go with taking on blocks, and I’m not sure he can make huge strides in just one offseason. Otherwise, Miami’s backfield of Miller, Daniel Thomas and potentially rookie Mike Gillislee should be solid and better than advertised.
Free-agent tight end Fred Davis is getting a lot of interest from AFC East teams lately. First, the Buffalo Bills' brass met with Davis over the weekend. Now, the New York Jets are also expressing interest.

According to the Newark Star-Ledger, Davis said in a radio interview with Pro Football Central that he will be meeting with the Jets this week.

"I'm taking a visit there in a couple days," Davis said of the Jets on Tuesday.

There are various reasons why the Bills and Jets are interested. Both teams need depth at the tight-end position.

New York lost starting tight end Dustin Keller to the Miami Dolphins in free agency. The Jets will run a West Coast offense next season under new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhenwig and need a pass-catching tight end. Davis is coming off a season-ending knee injury, but caught 59 passes for 796 yards during a healthy 2011 campaign.

Buffalo starting tight end Scott Chandler also is coming off a season-ending knee injury and is expected to miss most of the offseason workouts. Davis should be healthy sooner and could fill that void for the injured Chandler.
The New York Jets have a big void to fill at tailback after the free-agent departure of 1,000-yard rusher Shonn Greene to the Tennessee Titans. Greene has been the primary ball-carrier in New York for the past two seasons and was the central focus of New York's ground-and-pound philosophy.

But Mike Goodson believes he is the right person to fill that void in New York. Goodson rushed for just 211 yards last season with the Oakland Raiders and will compete with Jets backups Joe McKnight and Bilal Powell for the starting role in training camp.

The Jets are transitioning to a West Coast offense and needs a quick-hitting ball carrier. Goodson has good quickness and could be the guy. Despite limited carries, he averaged 6.3 yards per carry last season.

“I definitely think [the West Coast offense] highlights the things that I do well in my game,” Goodson said on a conference call this week. “Catching the ball out of the backfield, being able to isolate the linebackers, run some routes and also running the ball between the tackles, I think it’s going to be good.”

Goodson said he received interest from New York and the Cincinnati Bengals. Goodson chose the Jets primarily for the chance to compete for a starting role. He would have been BenJarvus Green-Ellis' backup in Cincinnati.

Goodson, 25, has fresh legs. He has just 160 carries in three years with the Carolina Panthers and Oakland Raiders. Goodson might eclipse that number this season alone with the Jets.

Goodson usually shined when he had the chance. But his opportunities were limited playing behind big names in Carolina and Oakland.

“Most of them were 'big-money' guys: Darren McFadden, DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart,” Goodson explained. “So at the same time [I’m] learning from those guys. I had to play behind them, so it was tough. But I think it’s put me in a position now where I can come in, be able to make those types of plays and be that guy at running back, that every-down guy.”
Here are the most interesting stories Friday in the AFC East: Morning take: The Patriots are trying to get proven veterans on the cheap by letting the market settle. No one has signed Wilson or Abraham after the initial push, so the Patriots will see if either will sign at their price.
  • West Virginia Geno Smith says he has a private workout with the Buffalo Bills next week.
Morning take: The Bills are desperate for a quarterback and hold the No. 8 overall pick. Other teams ahead of Buffalo like the Oakland Raiders, Cleveland Browns and Arizona Cardinals may also be interested.
  • Former Miami Dolphins left tackle Jake Long continues to meet with the St. Louis Rams.
Morning take: It’s been a long (no pun intended) stay in St. Louis. Health is probably a huge issue since the Rams would have to invest a lot of money in the former No. 1 overall pick.
  • The New York Jets could have interest once the Arizona Cardinals release quarterback Kevin Kolb.
Morning take: Kolb played in Philadelphia under new Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. New York will run a similar West Coast system, and Kolb would compete with Mark Sanchez and David Garrard.
The thin free-agent quarterback market just gained a new player. The Kansas City Chiefs released quarterback Matt Cassel on Thursday after four up-and-down seasons.

Cassel made his name with the New England Patriots before leaving for Kansas City in 2009. Could Cassel rejoin the AFC East?

Let's examine.

Buffalo Bills

The Bills should be interested in anyone and everyone who becomes available at quarterback. This team is desperate after cutting former starter Ryan Fitzpatrick this week. The Bills are left with backup Tarvaris Jackson, who is not the long-term solution. Buffalo will almost certainly draft a rookie quarterback next month, but it could use another veteran quarterback like Cassel to compete. Perhaps the biggest issue is Cassel does not necessarily fit the wide-open, spread offense Buffalo wants to run under new coach Doug Marrone. Buffalo would have to tailor its offense to fit Cassel's limitations.

New York Jets

The Jets just signed veteran quarterback David Garrard to compete with Mark Sanchez. Going after another veteran quarterback, especially with very little cap room, might be overkill for a team that must fill so many other needs. I do not expect the Jets to go after Cassel. But if Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb soon becomes available, which is a strong possibility, New York might consider it. New Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg coached Kolb in Philadelphia and will run a similar West Coast system.

New England Patriots

Cassel made his name in New England when he replaced the injured Tom Brady in 2008 and led the Patriots to an 11-5 record. That performance earned Cassel a big contract with Kansas City. There is a chance Cassel could return full circle with the Patriots if they decide to trade young backup quarterback Ryan Mallett. The Patriots reportedly are getting some interest around the league in Mallett. Cassel could be an insurance policy to back up Brady if New England receives an offer it cannot refuse for Mallett.
As expected, tailback Reggie Bush is no longer a member of the Miami Dolphins. Bush officially signed a four-year contract with the Detroit Lions Wednesday on Day 2 of free agency.

Bush rushed for more than 2,000 yards in his two years with the Dolphins. But returning to Miami was never a realistic option.

The Dolphins were ready to move on with their two younger running backs: Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas. Miami had other needs to address in free agency and didn't feel obligated to sign a third running back to an already deep position.

This week we took a look at Miller replacing Bush in the lineup. The second-year tailback led the Dolphins with 4.9 yards per carry. Miller seems like a good fit in Miami’s quick-hitting, West Coast offense. The biggest area of concern is pass protection, and that’s something Miller needs to work on.

Detroit got a solid player in Bush. But I do not think Miami's front office is too worried Wednesday that Bush signed with another team.
Remember last year when the Miami Dolphins continually explained that you don't need top receivers to successfully run a West Coast offense?

Well, we all know by now that is false. Look no further than Miami's 26th-ranked passing offense and meager 18 points per game in 2012. Suddenly, Miami is changing its tune and looking to spend top dollar on a No. 1 wide receiver this offseason.

The New York Jets should learn from Miami's mistakes. The Jets, under new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, would be wise to quickly add talent at wide receiver. That is one of New York's thinnest positions, which would make it extremely difficult to run a West Coast offense.

Mornhinweg had DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and others at receiver in Philadelphia. The Jets have mostly question marks.

Maybe Santonio Holmes can return to form after a season-ending foot injury. Maybe rookie Stephen Hill can become more consistent in his second year. Maybe Mark Sanchez or another quarterback will improve in a West Coast scheme. These are a lot of maybes.

The Jets are doing a complete 180 on offense this season. New York's old and outdated ground-and-pound style will be replaced by a pass-heavy offense that relies on precision and timing. The thought of Sanchez airing it out 35 times a game to New York's current group of receivers is a scary thought. New general manager John Idzik better make some upgrades fast, or this would be a recipe for disaster.

The Dolphins are a year behind on offense because they overrated their system. No pass-heavy, West Coast scheme can work unless you have talented receivers who can get open and make plays. Miami learned that lesson the hard way last season. But it doesn't have to be this difficult for New York in 2013 if the team gets in front of the problem.
There will be two teams running a West Coast offense in the AFC East in 2013.

Last season, the Miami Dolphins made the switch with mixed results under first-year head coach Joe Philbin and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman. This season, the Jets are set to hire new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to implement a West Coast scheme in New York, according to reports here and here.

The Jets were 30th in total offense last season under former offensive coordinator Tony Sparano. So change was necessary. But the Jets must get the right players to fit Mornhinweg's West Coast style or things could be just as ugly as last season.

Mornhinwegs' scheme is very different from the ground-and-pound philosophy the Jets have had under head coach Rex Ryan. It is a more wide open and pass-heavy offense. Right now, the Jets would be hard-pressed to throw the ball 60 percent of the time with struggling quarterback Mark Sanchez and a thin group of receivers on their roster.

Expect major changes in New York now that the team hired new general manager John Idzik. The Jets will get younger fast, but it will take time to get better.

Fixing the offense, no matter who is running it, is perhaps New York's biggest challenge.
The AFC East blog will be full go with NFL free agency once the regular season ends. However, there will be a few interesting stories that catch our eye that we will address before then.

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The latest interesting development came from Green Bay Packers receiver and pending free agent Greg Jennings. The two-time Pro Bowl receiver told Steve Wyche of NFL Network that he doesn't think the Packers will sign him to a long-term extension.

It's rare that a player admits that publicly, but it does make a lot of sense for Jennings to bolt Green Bay.

Jennings has been injured most of this year, playing in just six games, but he wants a huge payday. Jennings believes his play the past several years warrants a large contract extension, but he may have to get that from another team.

The Packers have a bevy of younger, less expensive receivers for Pro Bowl quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay won the NFC North mostly without Jennings' services this year.

Miami has a ton of cap room. And if the Dolphins bid high for Jennings, I don't think the Packers will compete. Miami most likely will compete with other teams. But the Dolphins have an advantage due to Jennings' familiarity with Miami's West Coast offense after playing under head coach Joe Philbin.

The good news for the Dolphins is the 2013 free-agent class is filled with talented wide receivers. If Miami can't land Jennings, other top receivers like Dwayne Bowe, Wes Welker and Mike Wallace could be available. Any of these receivers would be a sizable upgrade for the Dolphins, who need to acquire better pieces around rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
The general rule of thumb is that rookie quarterbacks struggle in the NFL against the blitz. The disguises, exotic looks and increased speed of the game often make it tough on rookies to throw well under pressure.

However, Miami Dolphins rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill is not having a traditional rookie season. The area where Tannehill is struggling the most is against base defenses. It is part of the reason Miami is 4-6 and has lost three straight games.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, Tannehill has the NFL’s second-worst completion percentage (55.2) against four or fewer rushers. When defenses do not blitz, it throws Tannehill off his game. He’s been sacked 10 times and thrown five interceptions against base defenses this season.

Opponents frequently blitzed Tannehill at the beginning of the season, which is normal for rookies. But Tannehill showed the ability to make quick and accurate throws in Miami’s West Coast offense, and had early success. Then, opponents adjusted around midseason by not blitzing as much and dropping a lot of defenders back. That is where Tannehill hit a wall.

The early book is out on Tannehill now that teams have enough film on the rookie quarterback. It will be up to Miami’s coaching staff and Tannehill to make the adjustment in order to have success when teams do not blitz.

What went wrong with Jabar Gaffney?

November, 21, 2012
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The Miami Dolphins made an interesting roster move by releasing veteran wide receiver Jabar Gaffney.

Here are some thoughts on what went wrong:
  • There was always a health issue with Gaffney this year. It’s a major reason why he was cut by the New England Patriots this summer and it factored into Miami’s decision. Miami worked out Gaffney in September but waited until October to sign him in order to allow Gaffney to get healthy. But Gaffney had knee issues once again and missed Miami’s last game against the Buffalo Bills.
  • It took an unusually long time for Gaffney to get up to speed. That was due to a combination of health and adjusting to Miami’s West Coast offense. I spoke to Gaffney in Miami’s locker room a few weeks ago and asked about his toughest adjustment with the Dolphins. He said it was getting used to learning the hand signals in the offense, because Miami runs a lot of no-huddle.
  • Finally, the production just wasn’t there. After waiting weeks for Gaffney to get healthy and up to speed, he didn’t produce. Gaffney caught just four receptions in three games. Backups Marlon Moore and emerging rookie Rishard Matthews also are improving, which made Gaffney expendable.

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