New York Jets: Doug Marrone

NFL Nation: 4 Downs -- AFC East

July, 3, 2014
Jul 3
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New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick has job security. His three counterparts in the AFC East? Not so much.

Rex Ryan landed a contract extension this offseason, but don't let that fool you. He will have reason to be nervous if the New York Jets miss the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. The Buffalo Bills' 6-10 record last season wasn't ominous for Doug Marrone -- that was just his first year on the job. But with an ownership change on the horizon, a failure to improve in 2014 might not bode well for Marrone.

Then there is Joe Philbin of the Miami Dolphins. He survived a bullying scandal that took place in his locker room and on his practice field. A late-season collapse that cost Miami a playoff berth couldn't sink Philbin, not when you consider the adversity the team fought through just to be in contention. But now Philbin enters his third year, when a lot is expected of a regime. He is likely out of second chances.

The four writers who cover the division -- Rich Cimini in New York, Mike Reiss in New England, Mike Rodak in Buffalo and James Walker in Miami -- offered their insights on the AFC East hot seat and other key topics. They also polled their Twitter followers to find out if they saw the issues differently.

First Down

Which AFC East coach enters camp on the hottest seat?



Rich Cimini: Doug Marrone's seat is lukewarm and Rex Ryan's is warm. Joe Philbin? Let's just say his tush is feeling extreme heat. Frankly, I'm a bit surprised he survived last season's debacle. Not only did the Dolphins collapse down the stretch to blow a playoff spot, but they became a national punchline because of the bullying scandal. The mess cost general manager Jeff Ireland his job, but Philbin emerged as the Teflon Man. He has now run out of mulligans. Philbin is working for a new GM, Dennis Hickey, and it's hard to imagine him returning in 2015 if the Dolphins miss the playoffs again. Philbin is an offensive-minded coach, but his offense -- quarterback Ryan Tannehill, in particular -- has shown no improvement. ... We would mention Bill Belichick's seat, except it's really not a seat. In this division, it's a throne.

Mike Reiss: Is it possible for someone to go from a Coach of the Year candidate last December to the hot seat in late July? It shouldn't be, but that is the situation in which Dolphins coach Joe Philbin finds himself. I thought Philbin deserved a lot of credit for keeping things together last season, and after the Dolphins beat the Patriots in mid-December many were singing his praises. But the team sputtered the final two weeks of the season and now Philbin, entering his third season, could be viewed as having the hottest seat among AFC East coaches. Crazy business, this NFL.

Mike Rodak: This is a close race between Rex Ryan, Doug Marrone and Joe Philbin. Ryan faces the tough scrutiny of the New York market, and if the Jets' combo of quarterbacks Geno Smith and Michael Vick doesn't pan out, Ryan could be gone, despite his contract extension this year. In Buffalo, a pending ownership change naturally puts Marrone's future in doubt. I don't think CEO Russ Brandon or general manager Doug Whaley would fire Marrone even if things don't go well this season, but their voices might not matter if a new owner wants sweeping changes. In Miami, new GM Hickey has given Philbin his vote of approval, but how long will that last? If I had to pick one situation where the head coach's job is most in question, it's Philbin with the Dolphins.

James Walker: Miami's Joe Philbin has the hottest seat in the AFC East. After going a combined 15-17 his first two seasons, this year is really playoffs or bust for Philbin. He was fortunate to survive last year's late-season collapse and major locker-room issues with the bullying scandal that embarrassed the franchise. General manager Jeff Ireland and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman and others lost their jobs, but Miami owner Stephen Ross offered Philbin one more opportunity to prove he's the right coach for the team. The key for Philbin will be winning within the division. He is 4-8 against AFC East teams, and that won't cut it this season.


Second Down

Which of your team's positional battles intrigues you the most?



Cimini: No question, it's the quarterback situation even though Geno Smith versus Michael Vick isn't a true open competition. No matter, it's still a compelling story, one that will create many headlines in training camp. It's Smith's job to lose, but I'm curious to gauge his development now that he has had a full season and a full offseason to immerse himself in the offense. More than anything, he should be better at seeing the field and reading defenses. How will he handle the pressure of knowing there is a capable replacement if he falters? Let's be honest, he never had to deal with that as a rookie. If Smith is outplayed by Vick, it will put the coaches in a delicate position. Clearly, they want Smith to be the starter, but they also have to consider the possible message it sends. If the best guy isn't playing, it's bad form. One position, so many fascinating subplots.

Reiss: Receiver looks like the Patriots' most compelling position battle. They are counting on big-time improvement from second-year players Aaron Dobson (second round), Josh Boyce (fourth round) and Kenbrell Thompkins (undrafted), while big 2013 free-agent signing Danny Amendola will be looking to prove he can stay healthy and recapture the magic we saw in the 2013 season opener. Veterans Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell are also expected to play significant roles, and can slippery-quick seventh-round pick Jeremy Gallon be a sleeper? Lots of questions to answer.

Rodak: The starting spot that seems most up for grabs in Buffalo this offseason is at safety. Who will start opposite Aaron Williams? The Bills lost Jairus Byrd and didn't address the loss in free agency or the draft, instead putting their faith in two of their draft selections from last season -- Duke Williams (fourth round) and Jonathan Meeks (fifth round) -- as well as a more experienced veteran, Da'Norris Searcy. With Aaron Williams recovering from shoulder surgery for most of organized team activities, we didn't get a great feel for which player had the best shot to win Byrd's old job. In the few times that Williams was on the field, it was Searcy lining up with the first team, but Duke Williams and Meeks also got reps with the first unit throughout OTAs. It's a battle that will continue into training camp.

Walker: The Dolphins have a few good position battles, but I am most intrigued by the competition to be the slot receiver because of the immense depth at the position. The Dolphins have Brandon Gibson, Rishard Matthews and rookie second-round pick Jarvis Landry all competing for one spot. In addition, these receivers have different styles. Gibson is more detailed and cerebral. He gets open with his route-running. Matthews is the biggest and most physical receiver of the bunch. Landry is sort of a combination of the two, but he lacks blazing speed. I think all three are capable of handling the position. It's just a matter of who performs the best and which style the coaching staff prefers.


Third Down

Which veteran on your team is poised for a breakout season?



Cimini: For several reasons, it should be Quinton Coples. After two nondescript seasons, it's time to turn potential into production -- and he knows it. The talent is there. With Coples, whose work ethic was questioned when he came out of North Carolina, it is a matter of want-to. Does he want to be great? The former first-round pick was slowed last season by a position change ("rush" linebacker) and a fractured ankle in the preseason, which cost him three games. Now he should be comfortable at the position and he dropped weight in the offseason, which should help his quickness on the edge as a pass-rusher. Coples has the ability to turn a middling pass rush into a very good one.

Reiss: With the Patriots bolstering their secondary with Darrelle Revis, a player like third-year defensive end Chandler Jones could be a primary beneficiary of better coverage. He had six sacks as a rookie and followed that up with 11.5 last season. Could he hit 15 this season? As long as he stays healthy, it wouldn't surprise me.

Rodak: There was no shortage of breakout performers for the Bills last season, especially on defense. Defensive end Jerry Hughes, cornerback Leodis McKelvin, safety Aaron Williams and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus all enjoyed the best seasons. This season, I see two strong candidates for breakout performances: wide receiver Robert Woods and cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Woods had a strong start to last season -- he was a candidate for NFL rookie of the month in September -- but a revolving door at quarterback and a late-season ankle injury hampered his progress. If quarterback EJ Manuel bounces back from his up-and-down rookie season, Woods could stand to benefit. I would give him the edge to break out over Gilmore, a former first-round pick who was limited by a wrist injury most of last season but is among the better cornerbacks in the division when healthy.

Walker: Last season the Dolphins saw significant returns from a second-year defensive end, Olivier Vernon. He led the Dolphins with 11.5 sacks and really came on strong in 2013. So I'm going to stick with the same position and the same experience level and go with current second-year defensive end Dion Jordan. The Dolphins got little return for their No. 3 overall pick last year -- he had just 26 tackles and two sacks. But I like what I saw from Jordan during organized team activities and minicamp. Jordan hit the weight room hard this offseason and bulked up about 17 pounds. He's much stronger, which is key because Miami's coaching staff was concerned about Jordan's ability to stuff the run. Jordan should put up better numbers and be an all-around better player. His biggest issue is getting playing time behind Vernon and Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake.


Fourth Down

How many years do you think Tom Brady has left?



Cimini: No doubt, Jets fans will celebrate the day Brady decides to call it quits. Statistically, he's in a two-year decline, but he played with such a patchwork receiving corps last season that it's hard to say he is going south. Brady, who turns 37 in August, should have at least two more Brady-like seasons. I'm basing that on recent history. After all, John Elway won his second Super Bowl at 38 -- and promptly retired. It's rare in the modern era for a quarterback to play well beyond 38. Brett Favre had a great year at 40, and Warren Moon enjoyed a good year at 38, but the examples are few and far between. The Patriots drafted Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round for a reason. Brady is signed through 2017, but I'd be mildly surprised if he's still around at the age of 40.

Reiss: I'm not going to be the one who bets against Tom Brady. I still see him playing at a high level through the completion of his current contract in 2017, and based on the way he takes care of his body, the dedication to his craft, and the desire to play as long as possible, I could see him going the Warren Moon route and playing into his 40s. It's all contingent on good health, but will Tom Brady still be slinging passes and winning games in the year 2020? Yup.

Rodak: I would peg Brady's window at 3-4 years. In the past, he has spoken about his fear of the "abyss" that will follow his playing career. Yet we've also seen him in the public eye as a father in recent years and I think he would embrace that role in retirement. The bigger question is whether Bill Belichick would ever "move on" from Brady or simply allow him to play -- and start -- as long as he'd like. Belichick is markedly unemotional when he makes personnel decisions, so I don't think he would necessarily let Brady dictate when his career ends. Even if Belichick's final season coincides with Brady's, I think Belichick would want to leave the organization in a good spot. That could mean handing over the reins to a younger starter if the situation calls for it.

Walker: I covered Brady for two seasons as ESPN.com's AFC East reporter. To me, he has always come off as a player who wished he could play football forever. You would be surprised how many NFL players are not that way. Brady isn't motivated by money or fame. I think there is a genuine love for the game and thirst for competition that will be hard for Brady to let go. That is why I expect Brady to hold on for as long as he can. I expect two or three more quality seasons, but I wouldn't be surprised if Brady tries to go longer. I think Brady is too competitive to walk away on his own. Father Time might have to pull him away from the NFL.

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Sunday notes: Geno, EJ rate 'very close'

September, 22, 2013
9/22/13
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Some quick thoughts and observations on the Jets as we head into Week 3:

1. Arms race: The perception that Geno Smith was the Jets' slam-dunk quarterback preference going into the 2013 draft isn't accurate. Smith and EJ Manuel, whom they face Sunday at MetLife Stadium, were "very close" on the Jets' draft board, according to former scout Joe Bommarito. "We had both guys up there high," he said.

Bommarito declined to divulge anything more specific than that, except to say both quarterbacks were grouped together on the same line on their board, meaning they probably had similar grades. If Smith hadn't been available in the second round, Bommarito said, they would've happily picked Manuel at No. 39 overall. Manuel took a pre-draft visit to the Jets' facility and felt the coaches liked him enough to take him.

As it turned out, the Jets passed twice on both quarterbacks (with the ninth and 13th picks). By the time they got to 39, Manuel was long gone, picked 16th by the Bills.

Bommarito's take on the two rookies: Smith has the stronger arm, Manuel gets the edge in accuracy. So far, you'd have to give the early lead to Manuel, who has made fewer mistakes than Smith. But we'll learn more about Manuel by the way he handles his first road game.

[+] EnlargeStephen Hill
Ed Mulholland/USA TODAY SportsA former Jets scout said that the team considers WR Stephen Hill, a 2012 second-round draft choice, a "four-year project."
2. The Hill Project: Bommarito, whose contract wasn't renewed after the draft, spent a dozen years as a Jets scout. One draft pick that caused a considerable amount of angst among fans (and some in the organization) was WR Stephen Hill, whose inconsistency is maddening. Bommarito is a Hill fan, but he acknowledged, "One minute, you're excited about the guy. Other times, you're like, 'Oh, really?' He's a four-year project. You have to be patient with him." He was alluding to Hill's limited background in the passing game. But four years? That's a lot of waiting in the NFL, especially for a second-round draft pick in 2012.

For more Jets-related insights from Bommarito, check him out on Twitter. His handle is @AskTheScout.

3. Rex's coaching tree: Both Rex Ryan and Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine insist everything is cool between them, and that there was no falling out at the end of last season. Ryan told me he wants Pettine to succeed in his new gig. Another former Ryan assistant, Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, is off to a great start. Before Thursday night, the Jets and Chiefs were ranked first and second in total defense, respectively, among AFC teams.

"I'm proud of Bob Sutton, too," Ryan said. "Somehow, maybe I helped a little bit. I'm proud to have a little bit of a coaching tree."

4. Nate (Can) Hackett: Speaking of coaching trees, what's better than a father-son deal? Bills offensive coordinator Nate Hackett is the son of former Jets OC Paul Hackett, who served under Herm Edwards from 2001-04. Hackett, a Bill Walsh disciple, was a lightning rod for criticism. He got beat up pretty badly in this town, so much so that he resigned under pressure after the Jets' playoff run in Jan. 2005. The tabloids cranked out plenty of "Paul Can't Hack-it" headlines.

His son, 33, the second-youngest coordinator in the NFL, is a rising star in the business. Bills coach Doug Marrone, the offensive line coach on that same Edwards staff, hired Nate at Syracuse. That's where they developed the up-tempo offense they're using in Buffalo, and it happened almost by accident. About two weeks before the 2012 opener, the Syracuse offense was getting dominated by the defense in practice. They needed to shake it up, so Marrone and Hackett junked their old offensive system and developed a hurry-up attack on the fly. That's what you call a true hurry-up.

5. The big trade: Jets OT Ben Ijalana, a former second-round pick of the Colts, was "excited," but not surprised his old team made the blockbuster trade for RB Trent Richardson. Ijalana said, "This is now for the Colts. There's no later. They have Lombardi aspirations. It's no secret. They talk about it all the time."

It's great to have an aggressive organization, but I think this was a panic move by the Colts, who surrendered a first-round pick to the Browns. Richardson gives them a legitimate running back to help QB Andrew Luck, but he won't be a game changer behind that offensive line. Luck is only a second-year player, so the window of opportunity will be open for many years. Like I said, they panicked.

6. Impact on the Jets: The Colts/Browns trade could affect the Jets in 2014. Clearly, the Browns are in the market for a franchise quarterback, and now they have two first-round picks to wheel and deal their way to the top passer in the '14 draft, presumably Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville. The Browns own five picks in the first three rounds, plenty of ammunition to make trades. If the Jets don't like what they see from Geno Smith and want to draft another quarterback, it'll be really hard to move ahead of the Browns.

Then again, after trading their best player, the Browns could up with the No. 1 pick without having to trade up.

7. Rex and Marty Show: Mark my words, you'll be hearing the phrase "run-pass ratio" a lot throughout the season. The chatter already has started. Ryan is saying all the right things, claiming he's all-in with Marty Mornhinweg's pass-heavy approach, but this bears watching. Ryan is a defensive-minded coach and defensive-minded coaches have "ball control" in their DNA, especially when there's a rookie quarterback involved. Under Mornhinweg, they're running the ball in only 37 percent of the plays. In 2009, Mark Sanchez's rookie year, they ran 59 percent of the time.

8. Class of '13: GM John Idzik is getting a lot of bang out of his first draft, at least in terms of playing time. Smith and FB Tommy Bohanon have played in 100 percent and 43 percent of the offensive snaps, respectively. For DT Sheldon Richardson and CB Dee Milliner, it's 90 percent and 78 percent of the defensive snaps, respectively. Milliner, benched at halftime last week, will be part of a rotation against the Bills.

9. The Iron Man: LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson has started every game in his career (114) and has missed only one play. There have been 7,330 offensive plays since his rookie year, 2006, according to ProFootballReference.com

10. Keeping up with Mr. T: Former GM Mike Tannenbaum is off to a fast start in the agent business, having signed at least 20 new clients from the coaching and media ranks. Sports Business Journal catches up with Tannenbaum to see how he's enjoying his new gig.

Green Day: Geno vs. old nemesis

September, 18, 2013
9/18/13
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A morning briefing on news and goings on around the Jets:

Geno Smith enjoyed a terrific college career at West Virginia, but he struggled mightily against one school in particular -- Syracuse, coached by Doug Marrone. Yes, it's the same Doug Marrone who coaches the Buffalo Bills, whom the Jets face Sunday.

Marrone isn't a defensive coach, but you can bet he'll be sharing his thoughts on Smith with his defensive coordinator, Mike Pettine. Marrone's teams were 3-0 against Smith, forcing him into some of his worst days as a collegian.

Put it this way: Smith was 0-3 versus Syracuse, 26-10 against the rest of the country.

"We pressured him," a person close to the Syracuse program said. "He always had trouble with our pressure."

Smith had only six multiple-interception games in three years as a starter, with three coming against Syracuse. In those three starts, he had five touchdown passes, five interceptions, 12 sacks and was held under 200 yards in two games. His NFL passer rating would've been 76.1. That's why, leading into the draft last spring, there was no Bills-Smith buzz. People in the know knew Marrone wasn't going to begin his Buffalo tenure by making Smith the face of the franchise. They ended up picking former Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel in the first round.

ICYMI: Former Jets star Darrelle Revis reportedly is unhappy in Tampa. Anybody surprised? ... The Jets lost and dropped only one spot (28th) in the ESPN.com power rankings. ... DE Muhammad Wilkerson, a guest Tuesday on WFAN, reiterated that he expects to play Sunday despite a sprained ankle.

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