An early look at the biggest training camp position battles:
The Buffalo Bills need at least one more receiver to step up if their offense wants to go to the next level. The Bills are hoping to find a gem from a group of unknowns in Jones, Easley and Graham. Jones was the starter last year and showed a few flashes and deep speed. A season-ending ankle injury cut his year short. He returns with two players gunning for the same job.
Easley is an intriguing player. He has some tools but also had a lot of bad luck with injuries. The Bills have stayed patient, but Easley may be down to his last chance. Graham, a rookie third-round pick, also is in the mix. The Bills hope Graham can develop fast and make his mark. The winner of this battle will complement 1,000-yard receiver Steve Johnson and slot receiver David Nelson in Buffalo's passing game.
We have yet another three-way position battle in the AFC East. The Dolphins are leaving all of their options open at quarterback between Moore, Garrard and Tannehill. All three quarterbacks bring something different to the table. Miami coach Joe Philbin said he wants to make a decision after the third preseason game.
From my point of view, Garrard looked better in the practices I attended. He looks more comfortable than Moore, the incumbent, because Garrard has played in a West Coast offense. The Dolphins plan to run a precision passing game based on timing and progressions, and that's not Moore's game. Moore has a backyard style. Tannehill is the furthest behind and still needs to get used to the speed of the NFL game. He had only 19 career starts in college and has often looked that way in practices open to the media this offseason.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
The reigning AFC champions are venturing into the unknown at running back. After losing dependable starter BenJarvus Green-Ellis to free agency, the Patriots are looking to second-year tailbacks Ridley and Vereen to carry the load. Both will get their share of carries this year. But the one who performs best in training camp and the preseason will be the starter.
Ridley averaged a solid 5.1 yards per carry as a rookie in 2011. He has a good burst between the tackles but needs to fix his fumbling woes. He had two late-season fumbles in the regular-season finale against Buffalo and the divisional playoff game against Denver. Patriots coach Bill Belichick didn't go back to Ridley the rest of the postseason. Vereen is quick and looks to be more of a home run hitter. Injuries hampered Vereen last season, but the Patriots are pretty high on last year's second-round pick. Danny Woodhead and former Indianapolis Colts tailback Joseph Addai also are in the mix for depth. Woodhead and Addai are expected to contribute more on third-down situations.
NEW YORK JETS
The Jets didn't have many weaknesses on their fifth-rated defense last season. But the biggest weakness was definitely safety. The Jets were eaten alive oftentimes over the middle of the field in 2011. Various tight ends and slot receivers had a field day because New York lacked the size, athleticism and physicality necessary to own the middle of the field.
Enter new safeties Landry and Yeremiah Bell. Both are solid veterans who are sure tacklers and physical hitters. Jets head coach Rex Ryan is excited over the prospect of having two enforcers over the middle waiting to blow up receivers. Bell is already making plays in organized team activities and minicamp. He will get one starting position. Landry is the favorite over Smith, last year's starter. However, Landry is still ailing from an Achilles injury and has yet to show the coaching staff how he fits in the defense. Once Landry returns, he must beat out Smith for a starting role.