AFC East: Jerricho Cotchery

PITTSBURGH -- One month after returning from a fractured wrist, Buffalo Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore still isn't right.

That much was clear just looking at Gilmore, who hung his head in the Heinz Field locker room following the Bills' 23-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, his left wrist still noticeably swollen.

Gilmore
"It's not 100 percent, I wouldn't say that. It's sore after every practice, after every game," he said. "I'm just out there fighting."

For his first two games back, Gilmore wore a club over his left hand that essentially left him with one functioning arm. The club came off three weeks ago, but his play has still been noticeably impacted.

"I don't use it like I would use it if it was 100 percent," he said.

Gilmore was flagged for holding on the Steelers' opening drive, and later missed a tackle on receiver Jerricho Cotchery, springing a 26-yard catch-and-run.

Both of those plays can be explained in part by the wrist injury, but Gilmore appeared to be out of position for several other plays, with the Steelers finding success targeting his part of the field.

On one of those plays, Cotchery left Gilmore in his wake on a fade pattern for a 5-yard second-quarter touchdown.

"He came up and blocked me and then went out for a pass," Gilmore said. "He kind of lulled me to sleep a little bit on that play."

Not surprisingly, that was just how Steelers drew it up.

"[It was] a fall-asleep fade," Cotchery said. "We just try to lull the guy to sleep. Once he peeks [into the backfield], it's a touchdown."

Bills coach Doug Marrone was quick to defend Gilmore last week, when the Chiefs attacked him for most of the game. Marrone said Gilmore had the tough task of covering Dwayne Bowe and reacted similarly to Gilmore's performance Sunday.

"I think sometimes you have to give credit where credit is due," Marrone said. "Sometimes they are going to make a play. Cotchery is a good, veteran receiver. He made a nice move back there."

The problem, though, is that Gilmore is the Bills' top cornerback. As Buffalo's 2012 first-round pick, it's Gilmore's job to cover the best an opponent can offer and win consistently.

Injury or not, that hasn't happened lately. Under Mike Pettine, the Bills' defense requires strong man-to-man coverage to support blitzing and pressure, and if Gilmore isn't playing as well as he or the team would like, they will need to adjust.

"I'm getting better and better everyday. We're playing a lot of man [coverage]," he said. "That's what we like to do. That's what I like to do. So I'm trying to fight for my team."

Halftime thoughts: Steelers 10, Bills 3

November, 10, 2013
11/10/13
2:25
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PITTSBURGH -- Offering some halftime thoughts as the Pittsburgh Steelers lead the Buffalo Bills 10-3:

1. This is the sort of day for defensive football. With wind whipping around Heinz Field, both quarterbacks had issues through the early going. Ben Roethlisberger is 13-for-18 for 125 yards, racking up most of his yards in the second quarter. EJ Manuel is 6-for-13 for 43 yards. He was nearly intercepted on his first pass attempt to Stevie Johnson, but later connected with Johnson for a 23-yard gain.

2. Making his return from a knee injury, Manuel's best play of the game so far was made with his feet. Manuel rushed for a first down on third-and-7, immediately sliding after gaining the necessary yardage. That's something the Bills wanted him to do, and you can bet they were happy about it after that play.

3. Jairus Byrd came up with an interception in the first quarter -- his first of the season -- and returned it 57 yards, but the Bills squandered the good field position. Buffalo continues to struggle in the red zone.

4. The Steelers have given the Bills a bevy of offensive looks so far, mixing in the Wildcat on a few plays. One of those plays -- a direct snap to Le'Veon Bell, who handed off to Emmanuel Sanders -- went for 25 yards. Otherwise, the Steelers have brought on an extra offensive lineman and tried to hammer away with Bell and Jonathan Dwyer. They haven't been overly successful.

5. Bills top cornerback Stephon Gilmore has struggled. He was called for defensive holding and also blew a tackle on the first drive, and was the defender in coverage on Jerricho Cotchery's 5-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter.

Previewing the New York Jets

September, 1, 2011
9/01/11
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Of the five panelists asked to pick the AFC East, four have the Jets finishing second and Matt Williamson picked them to finish third. Here's my intelligence report on New York:

Five things you need to know about the Jets:

1. Mark Sanchez is going to have a shaky start: The third-year quarterback lost three-quarters of his receiving corps on the eve of training camp (Braylon Edwards, Jerricho Cotchery and Brad Smith), and it's going to take time to get comfortable with his new weapons, Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason. Fortunately, he still has Santonio Holmes, who will be the go-to guy. During this transition period, the Jets will have to rely on their running game and defense to carry the day. Once the passing game is up to speed, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer will be able to open things up. After two years of protecting him with the strong running game, the plan is to put more on Sanchez's shoulders. He'll be fine as long as he improves his accuracy.

2. The defense could dominate: If there's one thing Rex Ryan does well -- other than yapping -- it's coaching defense. Barring injuries, this should be a top-three unit for the third straight year. The Jets return 10 starters, nine of whom have been in Ryan's system for two years -- rare continuity. There should be very few mental mistakes, and the familiarity with the scheme should allow Ryan and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine to cook up some exotic packages. The major flaw is the lack of an elite pass-rusher, but they'll manufacture pressure with an array of blitzes.

3. They're not going to win many footraces: Save for Holmes, TE Dustin Keller and CB Antonio Cromartie, you can't say the Jets have any players exceedingly fast for their positions. The Jets are a big, physical team; they're not going to out-quick many opponents. Burress and Mason are 34 and 37, respectively; third-down back LaDainian Tomlinson is 32; and the middle of the pass defense -- safeties and linebackers -- will get exploited by certain teams. They will continue to struggle between the hashmarks against tight ends and slot receivers.

4. The new kickoff rule will hurt: You could argue that the Jets won three games last season, including a playoff game, because of long kickoff returns. It was an absolute weapon for the Jets, who relied on the return game to change field position. Now, with Smith gone and with touchbacks expected to increase, the Jets are losing a bullet in their revolver. Mike Westhoff is one of the smartest special-teams coaches in the business, but it's hard to scheme up a kickoff return when the ball is flying out of the end zone.

5. Built to win now: This is a smart, veteran team that knows what it takes to get to the playoffs. They're hungry, too, having lost the last two AFC Championship Games. It has to happen this season because they probably won't have Tomlinson, Burress and Mason in 2012, and the highly paid linebacking corps is one year away from an overhaul. They have 19 starters back, which gives them an edge in the post-lockout world. The key is staying healthy, because there are thin areas on both sides of the ball.

Camp Confidential: New York Jets

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

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

One more miss and the honeymoon is over.

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

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

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

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

THREE HOT ISSUES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BIGGEST SURPRISE

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

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

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

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

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

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

OBSERVATION DECK

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

AFC East links: Bills unveil Wildcat

August, 15, 2011
8/15/11
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Buffalo Bills

Veteran Bills players are still trying to come to grips with Friday's trade of Lee Evans to the Ravens."I was definitely surprised and still am," said cornerback Terrence McGee. "We got rid of such a great player, I think a player that we needed."

The Bills unveiled a new Wildcat formation in Saturday's exhibition with the Bears. Coach Chan Gailey said he was happy with the play of Brad Smith in the new package. "We wanted to work on the Wildcat .... We were able to get it on film and see what it adds to us," Gailey said.

Miami Dolphins

Special-teams play could be the deciding factor in the tight competition for Miami’s final roster spot at wide receiver.

The team signed veteran inside linebacker Marvin Mitchell on Sunday after a series of linebacker workouts.

There's no quarterback competition in Miami just yet, but coach Tony Sparano was impressed with Matt Moore in Friday's victory against the Falcons.

New England Patriots

The Patriots plan to work out veteran receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh and safety Darren Sharper.

Logan Mankins is "ecstatic" about his new six-year contract with Patriots.

Defensive line coach Pepper Johnson talks about the challenges of working with the 18 defensive linemen the Pats have in camp.

New York Jets

Recently released receiver Jerricho Cotchery said the chance to "win right now" led him to sign with the Steelers.

Plaxico Burress' injury gave rookie receiver Jeremy Kerley a major opportunity to shine in the Jets' preseason opener.

As much as this season is about Rex Ryan fulfilling his Super Bowl promises, it is even more about quarterback Mark Sanchez, whom Ryan has made a captain, writes the New York Post's Brian Costello.
ESPNNewYork.com's Rich Cimini has six things to watch for in the Jets' preseason opener against the Texans.

Prepare for a chaotic week

July, 24, 2011
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Random thoughts and observations as we head into the homestretch of the lockout:

If free agency starts next Saturday, the latest tentative starting date, it'll make for a bizarro training camp. For the first few days of camp, teams will have swiss-cheese depth charts as their free agents shop the open market.

Imagine what it'll be like for the Jets: They will have Jerricho Cotchery (if medically cleared) and Patrick Turner as their starting wide receivers, with Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith potentially shopping for deals. At safety, you could see Jim Leonhard (if cleared) and Dwight Lowery, with Brodney Pool, Eric Smith and James Ihedigbo testing the market.

On, say, Day 3, they could have a new starting receiver show up, maybe Randy Moss. He'll sign his contract, receive a playbook and be sent out to the field to meet his new teammates. It's going to be chaos. It'll be a distraction for players and coaches, all of them wondering who's coming and who's going. It'll be taxing for the coaches, who will have to spend extra time teaching the system to new players. It'll be minicamp, OTAs and training camp all in one, with a revolving door of players. Fasten your seatbelt.
  • I'm all for player safety, but the elimination of two-a-days and the reduction of padded practices in the regular season (only 14) is a bit ridiculous. Come on, it's football, not lawn tennis. I agree with Bart Scott; it'll make player soft. The product on the field will suffer, especially the tackling. Old-school coaches believe players lose their edge when they're not practicing in pads.
  • The elimination of the No. 3 quarterback on the game-day roster, one of the proposed changes in the CBA, will increase the value of free agent-to-be Smith. A former college quarterback at Missouri, Smith can be the unofficial/emergency No. 3 while playing all his other roles. He'll save a roster spot or two, and that has value.
  • I don't know Robert Kraft, and I didn't know his late wife, Myra, but after reading all the tributes and seeing the number of players and former players that attended her funeral (including Curtis Martin), it's not hard to see why the Patriots are such a well-run organization.
  • You give Mike Tannenbaum six months to prepare for free agency, and you have to expect a big-splash move that catches people by surprise. He's not the wallflower type. If you're a Jets fan, though, you have to hope he doesn't outhink himself.
  • If I'm the Jets and I can get Nnamdi Asomugha for Darrelle Revis money (about $11.5 million per year), with a creative, backloaded deal, I'd do it. I'd rather spend a few million more for Asomugha instead of overpaying Antonio Cromartie. How often does a player of Asomugha's caliber hit the open market? I say go for it.
  • Question for owners: Was it really worth it?

Fabric of the game does big business

July, 6, 2011
7/06/11
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TomlinsonAP Photo/Joe MahoneyThe gloves LaDainian Tomlinson wore when he scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns in a win over the Denver Broncos in Week 6 last season are for sale.
For sports card collectors, perfection is the goal. All four corners must be sharp. The photo needs to be centered. It has to be just so. Thankfully, there's hasn't been threat of bubblegum stains for decades.

In today's memorabilia market, however, cardboard is about as mundane as it gets. There are bigger thrills than busting open a pack to find another high-gloss Rated Rookie who might never crack a starting lineup.

Jarrod Oldridge looks for a bigger jolt. He buys his memorabilia by the shipping container.

"You open that box up and the smell comes out, the aroma of the unwashed apparel with the grass and mud and blood," Oldridge said. "You smell the game.

"You get goose bumps. Your heart's pounding."

Oldridge is involved in one of the hottest segments of the memorabilia industry -- game-used equipment.

He owns J.O. Sports Co. in Las Vegas and has exclusive contracts with several NFL teams to sell helmets, jerseys, spikes, gloves, game balls and just about everything else you can imagine from the field. Three of his clients are the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins and New York Jets.

Oldridge's website isn't quite as personal as Mean Joe Greene throwing his jersey at a kid in exchange for a Coke, but fans have access to the fabric of the game. Many of the game-worn jerseys -- and in some cases full uniforms -- are unwashed. That's the way collectors prefer them.

"You want the thing ripped off the guy's back," said Oldridge, who pitched for Emporia State. "It's a new wave of collecting. When I was a kid collecting baseball cards, I'd get a Mark McGwire rookie or a Bo Jackson. That was the best feeling you could have as a collector. You got the prized possession.

"Back then, you never could've thought you could own the jersey Adrian Peterson's wearing on his card."

Rich Mueller, managing editor of Sports Collectors Daily, can't think of another way collectors can get closer to the action than game-used equipment.

I suppose a hobbyist can make the experience more personal by collecting DNA samples. Then again, much of Oldridge's inventory is suitable for forensics inspection. Perhaps the next step is scraping some blood off a jersey to clone an NFL star and watch the game with him in your man cave.

[+] EnlargeSteve Johnson
AP Photo/Ed ReinkeThe jersey from Steve Johnson's three-touchdown game against the Bengals last season is available for purchase.
"If you've got in your hands the uniform the guy was wearing when he broke the tackle to score the touchdown and win the game, how much closer can you get than that?" Mueller said. "That's part of the allure. Collectors want a tangible memory of a game.

"And a lot of them are one-of-a-kind items. The T206 Honus Wagner card is one of the rarest collectibles on the market, but there are 75 to 100 of those in existence. Brett Favre wore only one helmet from his final game. That's a piece of NFL history."

Of particular interest to AFC East fans might be the jersey Bills receiver Steve Johnson wore when he scored three touchdowns against the Cincinnati Bengals. He lifted that jersey to expose his "Why so serious?" T-shirt underneath. The jersey Lee Evans wore when he caught three touchdowns against the Baltimore Ravens is for sale, too.

Also available are jerseys All-Pro center Nick Mangold wore last year against the Dolphins, the gloves Jets receiver Jerricho Cotchery wore when he snagged a touchdown to help beat the New England Patriots in Week 2 and the gloves Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson wore when he scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns in a four-point victory over the Denver Broncos in Week 6.

Dolphins material is limited because J.O. Sports Co. reached its agreement with them a couple weeks ago. As for the Patriots, Oldridge might need to strap on a helmet to protect his forehead from repeatedly striking a wall.

"Every team is different," Oldridge said. "The Patriots have just been notoriously difficult when it comes to their uniforms."

The big four sports handle game-used equipment differently, much to Mueller's wonderment. These items are commodities. Leagues presumably would maximize revenues if they handled them internally. Major League Baseball does, hiring on-site authenticators to affix holograms to merchandise for resale.

The MeiGray Group, a company founded by a pair of passionate collectors in 1997, has worked out deals to sell game-used NBA and NHL items. They also dominate the minor-league hockey ranks.

And to think clubs used to recycle uniforms until they fell apart, would pass them along to farm teams or sell them to sandlot groups. Mueller wrote about a pile of 1938 New York Yankees jerseys given to a church softball team for $9 apiece. In the bunch were game-worn Lou Gehrig pinstripes.

Today, uniforms are scooped up almost the minute they land in the hamper or fall to the locker-room floor as a player walks to the showers.

"It may sound sick," Oldridge said. "But as a man who played sports, the collectors, everybody who ever slid into second base or got his bell rung on the field, it's just great."

AFC East wire: Players already going broke

May, 25, 2011
5/25/11
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Miami Dolphins
Buffalo Bills
New England Patriots
New York Jets

Players waste time by showing up

April, 26, 2011
4/26/11
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New York Jets left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson thought he had 750,000 reasons to show up to the team facility Tuesday.

In reality, he had none.

Ferguson, who will earn a $750,000 workout bonus for attending 85 percent of the Jets' offseason workouts, popped up in Florham Park, N.J., because the NFL lockout was lifted Monday. Ferguson found no workouts to be had. He told ESPNNewYork.com's Rich Cimini he should be credited for his effort when it came time to calculate the bonus.

Ferguson was one of several players around the league who showed up at team facilities. Jets receiver Jerricho Cotchery, guard Brandon Moore, defensive lineman Mike DeVito and linebackers Bart Scott and David Harris also appeared. Buffalo Bills cornerback Leodis McKelvin dropped by One Bills Drive to find there was no reason to be there. Miami Dolphins cornerback Will Allen did the same in Davie, Fla.

Those players who showed up Tuesday came off looking naive or like they're seeking attention with a publicity stunt.

Prudent agents and NFL Players Association team representatives have advised their clients and teammates to stay away from facilities because there's no legitimate point.

Workout clauses are predicated on a percentage of sessions the team has scheduled. Conditioning programs haven't commenced. Therefore, players can't get credit for a workout attended or marked down for a workout missed.

"Just because we have a decision rendered in our favor, my mindset hasn't changed," Bills player rep George Wilson told Buffalo News reporter Mark Gaughan. "I'm still set on working out on my own. We knew that whoever didn't get the ruling in their favor was going to file an appeal. At the end of the day this is what I expected, and what we told all our guys."

New England Patriots rep Matt Light held a charity breakfast Tuesday morning and was in no rush to report to Gillette Stadium. Light advised his teammates to relax for now.

"What I've been telling the guys is 'Give it a little time,' " Light said. "Guys are wondering, 'Do I need to get on a plane today? How do I proceed?' I can't give them answers to all those things, but hopefully later on tonight I will have more of them."

Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork added: "I won't head to Foxborough until everything is over with. I don't think that is the right way [to do things] in this situation."

Keller doesn't make TE Power Rankings cut

March, 29, 2011
3/29/11
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I understand why New York Jets tight end Dustin Keller didn't generate more attention in ESPN.com's positional Power Rankings this week.

He's one of those players you need to watch on a regular basis to fully appreciate him. Keller's numbers don't stack up with the most prolific tight ends because he doesn't get the opportunities they do.

That's the only reason he didn't make the Power Rankings cut, finishing 12th. Only three voters on our panel listed him on their ballots. Here's mine:
  1. Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers
  2. Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys
  3. Dallas Clark, Indianapolis Colts
  4. Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers
  5. Marcedes Lewis, Jacksonville Jaguars
  6. Dustin Keller, New York Jets
  7. Benjamin Watson, Cleveland Browns
  8. Zach Miller, Oakland Raiders
  9. Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta Falcons
  10. Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit Lions

Keller is a weapon all over the field. He's not just a threat in the red zone. He can stretch a defense, too. Only six tight ends had multiple plays of 40-plus yards last year. Keller was one of them.

Through the first four weeks of the season, Keller had 19 receptions for 254 yards and five touchdowns. But he didn't get as much consideration when Santonio Holmes returned from a four-game suspension and joined a receiving corps that included Braylon Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery.

So when you check the final numbers for tight ends last season, you see Keller ranked 11th in receptions, ninth in yards, sixth in average yards (minimum 40 catches) and tied for eighth in touchdowns.

It's easy to see how he can get bumped from the Power Rankings top 10 when opinions are in play and an injured star such as Clark must be accounted for.

As for the rest of my ballot, the players I must justify are Watson's inclusion and Washington Redskins tight end Chris Cooley's exclusion.

As with a few of my previous Power Rankings ballots, this comes down to personal taste. Cooley has great numbers, but so would a lot of other tight ends if they were targeted 123 times in a season. Furthermore, those targets are quick, high-percentage throws. Cooley had only nine plays of 20 yards or more and none that went at least 40 yards. He also fumbled three times.

A lack of big plays also is why I had Gonzalez rated so low. He had only five plays of 20-plus yards and none over 40 yards.

Witten was targeted a league-high 126 times, but he had 17 more receptions, 153 more yards and six more touchdowns than Cooley.

Watson, to me, was a bigger force in Cleveland's offense than other tight ends were to their teams. He finished fifth among all tight ends in receptions, fifth in yards and 13th in average yards (minimum 40 catches). Watson tied Cooley for third with 40 first-down receptions -- but on 25 fewer targets.

Check back later for my rundown of AFC East tight ends.

AFC East wide receiver power rankings

March, 11, 2011
3/11/11
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In the weekly AFC East chat I just wrapped up, Scott from Northglenn, Colo., inspired me to put together this item.

In response to ESPN.com's positional power rankings (they debuted this week with wide receivers), Scott asked me to rank the division's best receivers.

Those who read my take on Tuesday's wide receiver power rankings already know I rated Santonio Holmes 10th on my ballot and omitted Brandon Marshall and Wes Welker.

So let's sort them out, shall we?

This is a snapshot of where I see them based on last season and heading into 2011. I'm including free agents until they sign elsewhere. I'm also going 12 deep on this list to include three receivers from each club.
  1. Santonio Holmes, New York Jets
  2. Brandon Marshall, Miami Dolphins
  3. Wes Welker, New England Patriots
  4. Steve Johnson, Buffalo Bills
  5. Braylon Edwards, New York Jets
  6. Deion Branch, New England Patriots
  7. Davone Bess, Miami Dolphins
  8. Lee Evans, Buffalo Bills
  9. Jerricho Cotchery, New York Jets
  10. Roscoe Parrish, Buffalo Bills
  11. Brian Hartline, Miami Dolphins
  12. Brandon Tate, New England Patriots

ESPN.com will announce another position's power rankings each Tuesday. Expect to see my divisional breakdown on the blog that afternoon.

QB-ready teams can handle long lockout

March, 11, 2011
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The NFL long has been a quarterback-dominated league.

But quarterbacks will be more important than ever in 2011 if a protracted labor stoppage wipes out offseason workouts or encroaches on training camps.

ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton wrote a column on the topic, stressing teams with stability at quarterback could emerge way ahead of those that do not once a new collective bargaining agreement is brokered.

Several clubs, two in the AFC East, are evaluating their quarterback situations and are open to addressing their needs through free agency, trades or the draft.

[+] EnlargeMark Sanchez
Icon SMIMark Sanchez has the second most starts in the AFC East, but who will he be throwing to next season?
We have no idea when free agency will commence or player trades will be permitted. The longer teams must wait on those options, the less time there will be to learn playbooks and develop chemistry with receivers.

With that in mind, let's rank each situation in the AFC East based on how much its quarterback and infrastructure (stability of his supporting cast) will be able to withstand NFL dormancy.

New England Patriots

The Patriots have one of the NFL's most consistent situations. Tom Brady is the reigning MVP, guided his team to a 14-2 record and has all of his receivers coming back.

He and Deion Branch have an eerie chemistry that resurfaced immediately despite 3 1/2 years apart. I don't think Brady and Wes Welker need to worry about getting on the same page, but I wouldn't be shocked if they worked out regularly again like they did last summer, while Welker was rehabbing from his knee injury. Brady proved how quickly he can integrate new blood by the way he used rookie tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

Patriots offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Bill O'Brien will call the plays for the third season. The Patriots, like the Indianapolis Colts with Peyton Manning, will be just fine if there's a lengthy lockout.

New York Jets

Fact: Mark Sanchez has the second-most NFL starts of any No. 1 quarterback in the AFC East. He's only 24 years old, but Sanchez has started 37 games, one more than Ryan Fitzpatrick and 10 more than Chad Henne.

Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh have been with Sanchez from the beginning. Sanchez also is a self starter in the offseason. He convened a "Jets West" camp for his receivers last summer in California.

A potential problem is that Sanchez will have trouble gathering receivers this offseason because they don't know if they'll be back. Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards are free agents. But receiver Jerricho Cotchery and tight end Dustin Keller are on the roster.

Buffalo Bills

Even if the Bills draft a quarterback, a long lockout probably would ensure Fitzpatrick remains the starter by wiping out rookie camps and other critical orientation time. Fitzpatrick is a savvy veteran, a calming influence for the Bills' offense. He incorporates head coach Chan Gailey's concepts and has the support of his locker room.

Based on how Fitzpatrick played as the season wore on, there's no reason to believe the Bills suffered from a lack of chemistry. When receivers Roscoe Parrish and Lee Evans went down with injuries, Fitzpatrick had no trouble getting undrafted rookies David Nelson and Donald Jones involved.

But the Bills still could benefit from informal practices during a work stoppage. Top receiver Steve Johnson told me this week they have none scheduled.

Miami Dolphins

Henne created a stir when he divulged he had been, against the NFL's wishes, going over the playbook with new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and new quarterbacks coach Karl Dorrell. The NFL declined to pursue, and that was doubly good news for the Dolphins. They avoided punishment and got a head start before the league turned into a pumpkin.

But Henne would appear to be at a disadvantage despite the extra help. The Dolphins have declined to give him any kind of legitimate public endorsement. He's entering his fourth season, presents more questions than answers and is working with a new playbook. Top receiver Brandon Marshall suggested after the season he had more chemistry with third-string quarterback Tyler Thigpen than Henne.

Henne also revealed the Dolphins have informal workouts and a location arranged. That's much easier to do in Broward County than, say, Western New York. Good thing, too, because Henne can use all the help he can get to morph into the franchise quarterback the Dolphins hoped he would be.

Making millions in the AFC East

March, 4, 2011
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Mark SanchezRichard A. Brightly/Icon SMIMark Sanchez is set to earn $14.75 million in base salary next season, the most in the AFC East.
Sports labor squabbles often are described as billionaires arguing with millionaires over money.

While that's a catchy rhyme that sums up fan frustration, the phrase is not entirely true.

Inspired by a blog entry from the minister of all things AFC South, Paul Kuharsky, I looked at NFL Players Association files to count up the number of AFC East players scheduled for $1 million base salaries in 2011.

Granted, up-front bonuses and incentives can make base salaries misleading. But base salaries are the only figures that create a common ground, player for player.

You'll see a vast majority of NFL players make much less than $1 million a year. Although many will make seven figures before they walk away from the game, careers are short and treacherous. They'll never see that kind of cash again for the rest of their lives.

That's why they're fighting for every dollar now.

Of the 226 players under contract in the AFC East, only 62 of them (27.4 percent) will make base salaries of $1 million or more.

The NFLPA hasn't acknowledged any franchise tags that have been signed. Those players are marked with an asterisk and not factored into the totals.

Buffalo Bills
Base salaries of $1 million or more: 19

Players under contract: 54

Percentage of roster making $1 million or more: 35.2

Miami Dolphins
Base salaries of $1 million or more: 15

Players under contract: 55

Percentage of roster making $1 million or more: 27.3

New England Patriots
Base salaries of $1 million or more: 14

Players under contract: 60

Percentage of roster making $1 million or more: 23.3

New York Jets
Base salaries of $1 million or more: 14

Players under contract: 57

Percentage of roster making $1 million or more: 24.6

Revis lobbies Ochocinco to become a Jet

February, 7, 2011
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Chad Ochocinco has vacillated between reverting his last name to Johnson or keeping his current moniker.

Ochocinco
Revis
I'm not sure if cornerback Darrelle Revis cares what name Ochocinco goes by, but Revis would prefer it on the back of a New York Jets jersey.

"I want Chad to come here and play for us, to be a Jet," Revis told New York Metro reporter Kristian Dyer in the days leading up to the Super Bowl. "I've been in his ear a lot about it this week. ... I think he could do well here. I've been telling him to come here."

There might not be enough microphones or footballs to go around.

The Jets already are considered a media paradise with colorful personalities such as head coach Rex Ryan, linebacker Bart Scott and Antonio Cromartie. The club provides regular access to owner Woody Johnson and general manager Mike Tannenbaum. They generate never-ending storylines.

But Ochocinco, too? That would be something.

From a football perspective, though, I'm not sure how much sense it would make unless the Jets can't afford to keep their receiving corps intact.

Tannenbaum said on a conference call last week he wants to re-sign free agents Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith for 2011. Jerricho Cotchery and tight end Dustin Keller are under contract.

So is Ochocinco, for that matter. But he appears to be headed for a Cincinnati Bengals divorce.

He has been diplomatic lately when speaking about his future with the Bengals, but he publicly stated two weeks ago he wanted to play for the Jets or New England Patriots.

The Jets "will make it to this point every year," Ochocinco said on "The T.Ocho Show" on Versus. "I'd do anything to play for someone like Rex Ryan or anyone who has that type of mentality."

A week before that, Ochocinco tweeted a note to Boston Herald reporter Ian R. Rapoport that he wanted to join forces with Bill Belichick.

Jets emotional vein simply tapped out

January, 24, 2011
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Mark SanchezAP Photo/Matt SlocumJets quarterback Mark Sanchez played well but New York was doomed by a slow start.
PITTSBURGH -- A week earlier, the New York Jets carried on as though they'd won the Super Bowl.

They went into Gillette Stadium and did the unfathomable. They made Tom Brady look average and destroyed the mighty New England Patriots a month after losing to them 45-3 on the same grounds.

The Jets jumped into the stands to cavort with their fans, the Patriots' faithful having filed through the exits long before. The Jets ran around with their arms outstretched like airplanes. Braylon Edwards did a roundhouse backflip. Patriots receiver Deion Branch called them "classless."

You half expected to hear somebody in green and white exclaim "I'm going to Disney World!" to signal the end of the season. Of course, the Super Bowl used to be followed with a carefree exhibition where players revel in their success and go through the motions.

Fittingly, the Jets followed up their personal Super Bowl with a performance worthy of the Pro Bowl -- not in terms of star power, but with a lack of purpose.

For the first 30 minutes of Sunday night's AFC Championship Game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field, the Jets played like they were still hung over from their victory in Foxborough, Mass.

The Jets were flatter than old champagne through the first half and watched passively as the Steelers scored the first 24 points. The Jets finally snapped to attention at the intermission and dominated the Steelers for much of the second half.

But the Jets couldn't overcome their horrible two quarters and lost 24-19. For the second season under Rex Ryan, they were eliminated one step short of the Super Bowl.

But the Jets sure didn't play like they'd been there before -- not in the first half anyway.

"No determination, no focus in every single phase," Jets safety James Ihedigbo muttered.

"It just wasn't us. It wasn't New York Jet football."

Perhaps it's one of those unexplained sports phenomena. The Jets certainly knew the importance of Sunday's game. One more victory and they were headed to the Super Bowl.

But they didn't answer the call. Instead, there was a dial tone.

"We knew what was on the line," Jets linebacker David Harris said. "I don't know what to say."

To a man, the Jets were unable to explain their inability to compete in the first half.

Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall left cleat marks all over the defense. Their poor tackling was unforgivable. Mendenhall had 95 yards and a touchdown before halftime. The Steelers dictated time of possession, keeping the ball for 21 minutes, 4 seconds.

Last week, Jets linebacker Bart Scott ridiculed the Patriots' defense for not being able to stop a nosebleed. Against the Steelers, the Jets couldn't patch a paper cut with a roll of duct tape.

The Jets' offense, meanwhile, gained 1 rushing yard by halftime. LaDainian Tomlinson had two carries for 1 yard. Shonn Greene had two carries for 4 yards.

"We didn't step on the field, playing the way we want to play," Harris said. "They jumped on us, had us on our heels."

The Jets played like they were emotionally spent, which is how they prepared for the game, too.

Unlike the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Jets displayed almost none of their distinctive spunk. They went from targeting Peyton Manning and Brady and Wes Welker to a deferential tone for the Steelers. Jets defensive lineman Trevor Pryce said it was an "honor and a privilege to play against" Ben Roethlisberger.

There was no edge throughout the week at the Jets' training facility in Florham Park, N.J.

The Jets insisted they'd be ready.

They clearly were not.

Fevered emotions are nearly impossible to maintain week after week, especially against a succession of nasty opponents on the road. That's a reason why it's such a feat when a wild-card team reaches the Super Bowl.

"It's three games to get to the Super Bowl," Scott countered. "It was just one more game."

[+] EnlargeNew York Jets head coach Rex Ryan
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireRex Ryan and the Jets fell one game short of the Super Bowl for the second straight season.
Scott delivered one of the great postgame interviews after eliminating the Patriots. He was a combination of thrilled and angry. In reference to the Steelers, he barked "Can't wait!"

But the Jets sure seemed to wait 30 minutes before they got their heads into the game.

Intensity is difficult to tap again and again until the vein collapses. Sometimes it gets demanding to find more villains to despise. You can't ask Dennis Byrd to deliver the same pregame speech and have it make an impact.

The Jets did pull themselves together at halftime and cobbled together an admirable effort through the third and fourth quarters.

Mark Sanchez played another solid road playoff game and outperformed Roethlisberger as a passer. Sanchez completed 20 of his 33 throws for 233 yards and two touchdowns for a 102.2 passer rating. Roethlisberger was 10-of-19 for 133 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions and a 35.5 rating.

Sanchez, a revitalized ground game and a suddenly conscious defense gave the Jets a chance. They got within a touchdown with 3:06 to play, when Sanchez connected with Jerricho Cotchery.

But the Jets frittered away a better opportunity nearly five minutes earlier. The Jets had first and goal on the 2-yard line but couldn't score. A 17-play drive ended on the 1-yard line after two incomplete passes and a pair of stuffed runs. The passes were curious plays called by offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, especially with Green trucking defenders.

A touchdown there and the Jets would have had more wiggle room.

"We had opportunities to make a comeback in the second half," Jets tight end Dustin Keller said. "Obviously, everybody's going to look at the first half and say 'If it wasn't for this and that,' but we still had an opportunity to win this game in the second half."

The Jets deserve credit for gathering themselves and not getting totally blown out. They did outscore the Steelers 16-0 in the second half.

But those first 30, flat minutes doomed them.

"It would be nice to take that first half back and come out better than we did and what we showed," Jets safety Brodney Pool said. "It just shows you can't come out flat at the beginning of a game like we did an expect to win."

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