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Wednesday, July 22, 2009
AFC East training camp preview


Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Buffalo Bills
Training camp site: St. John Fisher College in Pittsford, N.Y.

Campfires: All eyes will be on Terrell Owens, but he's not the most significant storyline at St. John Fisher. The Bills' offensive line is a jumbled unit and needs to emerge from camp with proficiency. None of the projected starting five will play the same position as last year. Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters is gone. Right tackle Langston Walker is flipping over to the other side. Right guard Brad Butler is replacing Walker. Geoff Hangartner is the new center. Rookies are expected to play guard.

 
  AP Photo/David Duprey
  All eyes will be on Terrell Owens during the Bills' training camp.

A lot of parts must come together, but if they do, then the Bills' offense could be dangerous. They're adopting a no-huddle approach that will be fun to watch with a cast that includes Owens, Lee Evans and Marshawn Lynch. The Bills have been installing the offense for months, but the coaching staff's confidence in it will be dictated by how well Trent Edwards commands the no-huddle in camp and preseason games.

On defense, Buffalo's success may hinge on the defensive line. Pro Bowl defensive end Aaron Schobel is coming off a foot injury that rendered him essentially useless last year. The Bills drafted Penn State pass-rusher Aaron Maybin 11th overall. They also are hoping to get some production finally out of fourth-year defensive tackle John McCargo, who the Bills traded up to draft in the first round but so far has been a slug.

Camp will be a downer if ... the offensive line suffers an injury that prevents chemistry from forming. The main question about the Bills' front five is not that it's incapable. While there are doubts about Walker and Butler, many believe first-day draft picks Eric Wood and Andy Levitre have bright futures, and all of them can play multiple positions.

But nobody can dispute the value of cohesion and consistency along the offensive line. The sooner they learn to play their positions at a high level together, the less harassed Edwards will be. Any preseason volatility here would be harmful.

Division Camp Previews
• Tuesday: NFC North | AFC North
• Wednesday: NFC East | AFC East
• Thursday: NFC South | AFC South
• Friday: NFC West | AFC West

MORE
Camp battles: AFC | NFC

Schedule: Training camp dates

Camp will be a success if ... the defensive front shows signs it can be a positive influence. Buffalo defensive linemen recorded 12.5 sacks last year. Right end Ryan Denney led the way with four. Buffalo ranked 22nd in rushing yards allowed per game and 21st in yards per carry.

Buffalo is the only AFC East team that runs a 4-3 defense. If the Bills don't stop the run and can't sack quarterbacks, what's the point?

Project to monitor: Some Bills fans are enamored with the possibilities of sophomore tackle Demetrius Bell, a seventh-round draft pick from Northwestern State who didn't play a game last year. Bell has a good frame (6-foot-5, 307 pounds) and is the son of former NBA star Karl Malone.

Bell is viewed as a potential discovery in the making, the second coming of Peters, who the Bills signed as a rookie free-agent tight end and converted into a Pro Bowl left tackle. Bell spent the offseason getting reps as the second-team left tackle.


Miami Dolphins
Training camp site:
team facility in Davie, Fla.

Campfires: Dolfans are eager to see how old friend Jason Taylor fits into defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni's 3-4 scheme, and a substantial factor is whether Cameron Wake will resemble the player who dominated in Canada the past two years. Joey Porter, the reigning AFC sack leader, will remain on the right side. That leaves Taylor (who has played almost his entire c
areer on the right side), Wake and incumbent Matt Roth to divvy up the snaps at left outside linebacker. That battle will be interesting to monitor.

 
  Jamie Mullen/US Presswire
  Jason Taylor (99) returns to Miami after spending last season with the Washington Redskins.

Second-round draft pick Pat White has generated plenty of excitement for what he could provide the Wildcat offense. Training camp will be the West Virginia quarterback's proving ground. He looked raggedy as a passer in minicamp. Chad Henne certainly will remain the No. 2 quarterback behind Chad Pennington, but White's value will be as a threat to throw out of the trendy direct-snap offense.

One of the Dolphins' big areas of need heading into the offseason was at receiver. They don't have a clear-cut, go-to target. Rather than obtain one, they tweaked. They drafted Southern California's Patrick Turner as a third-down and red zone option and Ohio State's Brian Hartline as another possession receiver. Ted Ginn is entering his third year and needs to show he was worth the ninth overall pick Miami used to draft him.

Camp will be a downer if ... Taylor's homecoming doesn't pan out. Despite fan enthusiasm for his return after a bitter, one-year exile, there are no guarantees. Taylor probably won't hold down an every-down role. He will be playing on the side opposite of his career success.

Acid reflux will be a common ailment for Dolfans if injury-prone center Jake Grove can't stay healthy. Grove, a free agent from the Oakland Raiders, was the Dolphins' top offseason acquisition after the staff identified stout blocking at center as their greatest need. It's the only major offensive upgrade the Dolphins made, but he has missed 26 games since he was drafted in 2004.

Camp will be a success if ... one of the rookie corners steps into the starting role on the right side. The Dolphins drafted Vontae Davis in the first round and Sean Smith in the second.

It takes a while for rookie cornerbacks to gain the coaches' trust, but the Dolphins lost last year's starter, Andre' Goodman, to free agency. They signed Eric Green, but he lost his starting job with the Arizona Cardinals last year. What a boon it would be if Davis or Smith show he's ready right away.

Newcomer to watch: Even his new teammates are keen on finding out whether Wake is the real deal. He dominated Canadian Football League offensive linemen, piling up 39 sacks in two seasons.

But he hasn't worn full pads in the NFL. The former Penn State captain went undrafted. The New York Giants signed him in 2005 but cut him before training camp began. Many Dolphins players have been impressed with Wake's raw athleticism but haven't been able to definitively state what they think of his chances until they see him in full-contact situations.


New England Patriots
Training camp site: Gillette Stadium complex in Foxborough, Mass.

Campfires: Tom Brady's left knee not only is the top story of Patriots camp, but perhaps the NFL preseason, too. How Brady responds from having two ligaments reattached will determine whether the Patriots return to their familiar status as Super Bowl contenders. He looked impressive during minicamp, but what everybody wants to see is Brady against a live pass rush. One of his biggest assets is his pocket presence. We'll see if oncoming defenders affect him.

 
  AP Photo/Stephan Savoia
  Tom Brady has looked solid during offseason workouts as he recovers from knee surgery.

Vince Wilfork's contract situation could be a problem. The Patriots drafted Boston College defensive tackle Ron Brace, but he's no Wilfork, the behemoth who anchors Bill Belichick's 3-4 defense. Wilfork is entering the final year of his contract and wants security. He skipped offseason workouts and his displeasure could impact his participation in training camp.

A couple of intriguing positions to watch will be outside linebacker and running back. The Patriots didn't bring in anybody to replace respected veteran Mike Vrabel, a Pro Bowler two seasons ago. Pierre Woods, Shawn Crable and Tully Banta-Cain don't make quarterbacks quake in their cleats, but maybe somebody will emerge. In the offensive backfield, Laurence Maroney is coming off a shoulder injury and, entering his fourth season, needs to produce. The Patriots also signed free agent Fred Taylor.

Camp will be a downer if ... Brady suffers a setback in his recovery. The Patriots won 11 games with unheralded reserve Matt Cassel last year, but does second-year backup Kevin O'Connell (without offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, no less) engender enough confidence to withstand Brady tweaking his
knee?

If Brady encounters some turbulence, it's foreseeable the Patriots still could pull through as they did last year. But any Brady struggles will make Patriot Nation squirm.

Camp will be a success if ... somebody emerges as Vrabel's replacement and the Patriots come away pleased with their cornerbacks. New England's defense has some uncertainties, but finding reliable help at these spots will be huge.

The Patriots emerged from last year's camp unstable at cornerback. They cut Fernando Bryant just before the season and signed Deltha O'Neal, who was lackluster. This offseason they welcomed veterans Shawn Springs and Leigh Bodden and second-rounder Darius Butler. They traded right-side starter Ellis Hobbs.

Tough cuts to come? The Patriots will have some decisions to make at running back. Maroney is a first-round pick entering just his fourth season. They identified Taylor as somebody they needed. Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk are old dependables. BenJarvus Green-Ellis showed he could play in the NFL when given the chance. It will be interesting to see how this position sorts out.


New York Jets
Training camp site: State University of New York in Cortland, N.Y.

Campfires: As much as rookie coach Rex Ryan's revamped defense will shape the Jets' season, quarterback battles always steal the headlines. When one of the candidates is the highest-paid player in franchise history and the highest-drafted quarterback since Joe Namath, you know it will be a molten topic. The Jets traded up to draft Mark Sanchez fifth overall. He's getting paid $28 million in guarantees. Unless he flops or veteran Kellen Clemens is brilliant, the rookie should start.

 
  Rich Kane/Icon SMI
  Vernon Gholston had a disappointing rookie season.

The Jets, however, likely will go as far as their defense takes them. It's difficult to tell how an aggressive, blitz-oriented defense is coming together when nobody's wearing pads or hitting. Training camp conditions will be the first real sense we'll get about how Ryan's methods will translate from Baltimore.

Ryan's defense will be aided substantially if he can get pass-rusher Vernon Gholston to contribute. Last year's sixth overall pick from Ohio State had an undetectable rookie campaign. The Jets need to get some kind of return on their investment, but the urgency is greater with outside linebacker Calvin Pace's four-game suspension at the start of the season. Gholston's opportunity couldn't be more obvious. He must have a terrific camp.

Camp will be a downer if ... Ryan's much-ballyhooed defense doesn't hum by the end of preseason. With all of the bluster, the signings of Bart Scott and Jim Leonhard and the Lito Sheppard trade, the Jets better be good on defense.

Purely from an entertainment perspective, camp will be a bummer if Ryan doesn't keep yapping like he did during OTAs and minicamp.

Camp will be a success if ... either Sanchez or Gholston emerges as a credible player. They don't have to be Pro Bowlers, but if one or the other demonstrates a level of competence to build from, then fans -- and general manager Mike Tannenbaum -- can breathe a little easier about the immediate future.

Sanchez, of course, is who the Jets need to come into his own more than any other player. They have the most invested in him. He might be the franchise's front man for the next decade. But if Sanchez sputters in camp and Gholston's game materializes, organizational confidence still would be buoyed.

Catch and release: The Jets haven't made the move fans hoped. They haven't landed an experienced receiver to play with Jerricho Cotchery. They lost Laveranues Coles but have opted to find a starter among last year's reserves and by turning over the bottom of the roster.

Chansi Stuckey and speedster David Clowney look like the best bets to emerge from this crew. Brad Smith and Wallace Wright also could end up with bigger roles, but the auditions will last right up until the regular season begins.

Trey Wingo, Darren Woodson and Tim Hasselbeck preview the AFC East.