NFL Nation: Brad Butler
Man games lost aren't avidly tracked in the NFL. Rosters are more volatile than in the NHL, where fully guaranteed contracts generally cement a roster coming out of training camp.
NFL teams cut and sign players more frequently. Injured players can dress because there's one game a week, and they can be used situationally. In the NHL, you have to play offense and defense. There are no third-down specialists you can safely insert for a shift or two.
Football Outsiders managing editor Bill Barnwell has compiled a worthwhile chart for the NFL.
Better than man games lost, it's starter games lost.
The Indianapolis Colts led the NFL with 89. The Chicago Bears and Kansas City Chiefs were tied for fewest at 11.
In the AFC East, the Miami Dolphins had the most with 62, ranking seventh in the league. They were banged-up all along the offensive and defensive lines. Receiver Brian Hartline, cornerback Will Allen and rookie defensive end Jared Odrick went to injured reserve among a few others.
The New England Patriots were tied for 10th with 54 starter games lost. Tom Brady played through a foot fracture, but they most notably lost cornerback Leigh Bodden and offensive linemen Stephen Neal and Nick Kaczur.
The Buffalo Bills were tied for 21st with 42 starter games lost. That's a great development after what happened to them in 2009, when they finished with 21 players on injured reserve, including left tackle Demetrius Bell, right tackle Brad Butler, inside linebacker Kawika Mitchell, starting cornerbacks Leodis McKelvin and Terrence McGee and Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd.
The New York Jets lost starters 38 times, ranking 23rd in the league. Their biggest losses were nose tackle Kris Jenkins, safety Jim Leonhard and right tackle Damien Woody.
What do these numbers say, especially when four of the top five most injury-riddled teams (Colts, Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks, Philadelphia Eagles) made the playoffs?
It means that depth (or playing in the NFC West) is imperative to surviving.
Barnwell offered to break down the chart by upper-body and lower-body injuries, but I haven't gotten that file yet.
Skeptics viewed Ginn as a luxury, while the Dolphins had visions of unleashing the speedster as a versatile threat in the passing game and special teams.
Last week, the Dolphins dumped Ginn for a fifth-round draft choice.
The Buffalo Bills made an unexpected decision Thursday night reminiscent of the Ginn pick, eschewing significant needs and taking Clemson running back C.J. Spiller ninth overall.
The Bills don't view Spiller as a Ginn-style specialty player. They imagine him as a multifaceted weapon along the lines of Reggie Bush or Percy Harvin, the type of player who can invigorate an offense that has ranked 30th, 25th, 30th, 30th, 28th, 25th and 30th the past seven seasons.
"He's a playmaker, a guy that creates field position and scores points, and he's exciting," Bills general manager Buddy Nix said. "We need some excitement, somebody that can make a big play and create some things on their own."
The immediate question, though, is whether the Bills can maximize Spiller's talents. As the Dolphins learned with Ginn, a highly skilled player -- no matter how electrifying -- needs a supporting cast to get him the ball and give him some room to operate.
Spiller has star power, but will he have a legitimate chance to shine?
The Bills went into the draft needing a quarterback, a left tackle and a nose tackle for the conversion to a 3-4 defense. When they went on the clock, still available were Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen, Iowa tackle Bryan Bulaga and Tennessee defensive tackle Dan Williams.
Most analysts projected Bulaga to be off the board by the time Buffalo picked. Williams was assessed as the best nose tackle prospect in this year's class.
The Bills' front office jolted the prognosticators by taking Spiller. He's the best running back in the draft, but the Bills already had two 1,000-yard backs on their roster. In fact, they have two more 1,000-yard running backs than they have clear-cut starting quarterbacks, left tackles or nose tackles.
"Need is important," Nix said, "but it had to be a guy that we thought was the player that can come in here and start immediately.
"Not to say that some of those guys couldn't. Maybe they could, but we also think we got a chance to get that position filled later on in the draft, and to be honest with you, there was only one Spiller."
Skill-position players were at a premium this year. Spiller was one of only three taken in the first 20 picks, the fewest since the NFL and AFL merged their drafts. The only other time that happened was 1977.
"He's the same size as Chris Johnson, and he's just a fuzz faster as far as the recorded time we had," said Nix, who added the Bills clocked Spiller at 4.32 in the 40-yard dash. "Chris Johnson gained 2,000 yards. He had to get some of them inside."
Scouts Inc. analyst Matt Williamson noted the problem with drafting Spiller is that he's most dangerous on the outside, and the Bills' tackles were miserable last year. Left tackle Demetrius Bell was in over his head and is coming off a knee injury. Opening-night right tackle Brad Butler retired.
Perhaps everybody should be picturing Spiller's impact not for 2010 but two or three seasons from now. Realistically, the Bills are going to struggle to compete in the AFC East this year. But as the Bills continue to assemble their roster and identify pieces for their offense, Spiller should look increasingly more like a difference-maker in the win-loss column.
In 14 games for Clemson last year, Spiller rushed for 1,212 yards and 12 touchdowns, caught 36 passes for 503 yards and four touchdowns, averaged 32.8 yards per kick return (with four touchdowns) and 26.3 yards on punt returns (with one touchdown).
That's a career for a lot of college players.
The Bills' backfield looks loaded. Fred Jackson started just 11 games and rushed for 1,062 yards last year. Third-year back Marshawn Lynch rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons and went to a Pro Bowl.
Spiller will have to compete for touches.
"But those touches can be big touches," Bills vice president of college scouting Tom Modrak said. "Big touches.
"He's got a lot of ways to get you."
Spiller wasn't concerned with the depth chart. He declared he will play any role head coach Chan Gailey has in mind.
"Whatever my role is," Spiller said, "my main focus is just winning the Super Bowl, getting to the Super Bowl, bringing back the glory days that used to be up in Buffalo. I'm not worried about how I'll be used in the offense or how many touches I'll have. My main focus is 'What can I do to help this team reach the Super Bowl?'
"I'm very excited that they made the decision. It's one they're never going to regret."
Until Butler decides to speak about his decision to retire, we'll be left to wonder how he came to the surprising conclusion he was done with the NFL at 26.
The NFL almost always decides its done with you first.
All we've heard from Butler was a statement the Bills distributed, but last week at the NFL scouting combine I had the chance to sit down in Lucas Oil Stadium with another offensive lineman who suffered a knee injury when he was 26 and could've returned, but came to terms with the fact he just didn't want to play anymore.
"You've got to follow your heart," two-time Pro Bowl center LeCharles Bentley said.
Bentley posted four great seasons with the New Orleans Saints and signed a handsome deal with his hometown Cleveland Browns for 2006. On the first play of 11-on-11 drills on the first day of training camp, Bentley blew out his knee and never played again.
"All of a sudden, football lost its importance to me," Bentley said. "I wasn't distraught. I was more relieved than anything. I wanted to leave the game being able to stand on my own two feet, and I was able to do that.
"It's a difficult transition for those that don't prepare for it. That's true for most athletes. You never see your mortality. You feel that you're immortal and it's going to last forever. A lot of guys fail to understand that there is life after football. Those wheels will fall off at some point."
Bentley had offers to return and admittedly overpriced himself with the Detroit Lions. But he eventually figured he didn't want to return at any price. Bentley has pursued a broadcast career in Cleveland and covered the combine for his Web site, O-lineWorld.com.
"There's no groupies in blogging," Bentley said with a laugh. "There's no love in that."
Tell me about it.
Butler's career options are more substantial. He majored in government studies at Virginia and spent time on Capitol Hill during the 2008 offseason as an intern for Kemp Partners in Washington D.C. Kemp Partners was founded by former Congressman and legendary Bills quarterback Jack Kemp.
Butler also has participated in the NFL's business management and entrepreneurial programs at the Harvard Business, Stanford Business and Wharton Schools.
"For him to make the kind of decision he made, he's probably pretty far along in his decision-making process," Bentley said. "A lot of the milestones that players have to go through, he's probably already gone through them. I would have a hard time believing he's uncomfortable with that decision. There's something else out there for him. You don't make that type of decision without something profound pulling you in that direction."
Bentley recalled how difficult it was to retire when so many people around him wanted him to stay in the game. The fame, the glory, the money are alluring not only to the player, but also those who benefit from being close to him.
Butler also had to come to grips with the idea of leaving his teammates in a lurch. The Bills already were hurting along the offensive line before he told the team he was through with football.
"I lost some people because my decision wasn't a popular decision," Bentley said. "My ability as an athlete afforded some people around me luxuries that they wouldn't have had without me. Those people are no longer around.
"You get the velvet-rope treatment your entire life. Guys don't want to let that go. There's a psyche to growing up being The Man their entire life. Once you take off that helmet, those shoes, that jersey, you're who you are as a man. That's a bitter reality a lot of players aren't ready for."
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A team-by-team analysis of the division. The arrow indicates which direction each team is trending.
New England Patriots
Final Power Ranking: 10
Biggest surprise: Tully Banta-Cain largely was considered an afterthought to the Patriots' defense when the season began. Players such as Vince Wilfork, Ty Warren, Jerod Mayo and Brandon Meriweather were the projected stars. But Banta-Cain, back after two years with the 49ers, led the Patriots with 9.5 sacks, four more than his previous career-high. He also had a pair of forced fumbles.
Biggest disappointment: Outside linebacker Adalius Thomas probably won't be back next year. Thomas has two years remaining on a free-agent contract that pays him an average of $7 million, but that didn't stop Bill Belichick from benching him twice. Thomas notched 11 sacks for the Ravens the year before the Patriots signed him. He finished with three this year, tying his worst output since he became a starter in 2001.
Biggest need: Despite unexpected seasons from Banta-Cain and defensive tackle Mike Wright, the Patriots must improve their pass rush. Wright had five sacks. So did Derrick Burgess, acquired with high expectations in a trade with the Raiders in training camp. The Patriots notched a mere 31 sacks, tying them for 23rd in the league. They ranked 12th in pass defense.
Team MVP: Wes Welker won't be around for the playoffs, but he certainly helped the Patriots get there. He led the NFL with a franchise-record 123 receptions for 1,348 yards.
Turning point: On opening night, Bills kick returner Leodis McKelvin fumbled with about minute left in the game to set up Tom Brady's second touchdown pass in the final 2:06 of a stunning victory. Had the Patriots lost that game, the whole trajectory of their season might've changed.
New York Jets
Final Power Ranking: 12
Biggest surprise: When star nose tackle Kris Jenkins suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 6, everyone figured the Jets' 3-4 defense was doomed. But rookie coach Rex Ryan continued to mold his defense into the NFL's best unit. The Jets ranked No. 1 in total defense and passing defense, and gave up the fewest first downs. The Cowboys had to close the season with back-to-back shutouts to nip the Jets by one-tenth of a point for the best scoring defense.
Biggest disappointment: Rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez's lack of progression from the start of the season has been frustrating. He began his career remarkably well, playing beyond his years in helping the Jets open 3-0. But his penchant for giveaways and a failure to grasp team concepts forced the Jets to curb their offense rather than open it up as the season wore on. The best solution has been to marginalize Sanchez. In his past five victories, his attempts were in the teens, and his yardage never surpassed 154.
Biggest need: Aside from accelerated experience at quarterback? Despite the trade for downfield threat Braylon Edwards, the Jets really could use help at receiver. Sanchez would benefit from a reliable slot receiver. The Jets' fourth-leading target was running back Leon Washington, who didn't play the final nine games. You'd have to look even lower on the stat sheet to find their third receiver. David Clowney finished with 14 catches for 191 yards.
Team MVP: Lockdown cornerback Darrelle Revis was the best player on the NFL's best defense. His six interceptions tied him for fifth in the league, and his 37 passes defensed were best by a comfortable margin.
Turning point: The Jets had a miraculous Week 16. All of the teams they needed to lose fell flat, and the undefeated Colts pulled their starters with almost six minutes left in the third quarter to usher the Jets onto the postseason threshold.
Final Power Ranking: 21
Biggest surprise: The Dolphins couldn't have appear more condemned than when they started 0-3 and lost quarterback Chad Pennington to a season-ending shoulder injury. In came sophomore Chad Henne, who had been lackluster in the preseason. The Dolphins preferred to let Henne marinate for another season, but he won seven of his first 10 starts and showed enough to give Dolfans reason to believe they've found a franchise quarterback.
Biggest disappointment: The best compliment head coach Tony Sparano could pay outside linebacker Joey Porter recently was that he had gotten better at stopping the run as the season progressed. Porter led the AFC in sacks last season with 17. He recorded only nine this season, with half coming in two games. A hamstring problem bothered him, and Sparano benched him one game for disciplinary reasons.
Biggest need: The Dolphins need receiving help more than ever. Pennington thrived with their collection of possession receivers because he's a precision passer. But Henne has downfield capabilities that require a reliable deep threat. Ted Ginn certainly has the speed but little else to qualify him as a No. 1 wideout.
Team MVP: Ricky Williams is 32 years old, but he turned back the calendar with his best campaign since 2003, the longest spread between 1,000-yard seasons in NFL history. He became the workhorse, rushing for at least 102 yards in four out of the five games after Ronnie Brown suffered a season-ending broken foot in Week 10.
Turning point: The Dolphins were in control when they were 7-6. Then they lost their last three games to finish out of the playoffs.
Final Power Ranking: 24
Biggest surprise: When it came to this year's draft class, all of the attention was focused on defensive end Aaron Maybin (11th overall) and offensive linemen Eric Wood (28th) and Andy Levitre (51st). But safety Jairus Byrd (42nd) stole the show for much of the season and was selected for the Pro Bowl. Byrd started only 11 games, but his nine interceptions tied for the NFL lead.
Biggest disappointment: Marshawn Lynch appeared ready to break out as an elite running back. He was entering his third season and was a Pro Bowler with a pair of 1,000-yard campaigns. But he opened the season with a three-game suspension for repeated bad behavior. He lost his job as the featured back by Week 11 and finished with 450 yards. He completed four games with 6 or fewer yards.
Biggest need: The Bills are practically naked at both offensive tackle spots. They traded Pro Bowler Jason Peters before the draft and chose not to replace him -- even though they had a crack at young star Michael Oher. The Bills went through a series of unimpressive names, including Demetrius Bell, Brad Butler, Jamon Meredith, Jonathan Scott and Kirk Chambers.
Team MVP: Fred Jackson took over as lead back by thoroughly outperforming Lynch. Jackson rushed for 1,062 yards and two touchdowns, and caught 46 passes for 371 yards and two touchdowns. Jackson also was Buffalo's top kick returner with 1,014 yards.
Turning point: Had McKelvin not coughed up the ball on that fateful kickoff return on opening night, the Bills would have ended a wicked losing skid against the Patriots and probably would have changed the course of their season.
1. Bill Belichick, Patriots head coach: No need to go over this one in great detail. He gambled. He failed. His controversial decision to go for it on fourth down from his own 28-yard line might have cost the Patriots a shot at home-field advantage in the playoffs.
2. Buffalo Bills offensive tackles: Left tackle Demetrius Bell is the latest to go down. He will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury and could join original right tackle Brad Butler on injured reserve.
Other tackles who have started this year and are hurt or have missed games: Jonathan Scott, Jamon Meredith and Kirk Chambers.
3. New York Jets at home: They won their first two games at the Meadowlands but have dropped their past three -- all of them heartbreakers. Maurice Jones-Drew knelt them out Sunday. They held the Miami Dolphins to 104 yards from scrimmage but lost because of three return touchdowns. The Buffalo Bills stunned them in overtime.
1. Tom Brady-to-Randy Moss combo: Sunday night looked like 2007 all over again. Brady completed 29 of 42 passes for 375 yards and three touchdowns. Moss had nine receptions for 179 yards and two touchdowns.
In the past two games, Brady has connected with Moss 15 times for 226 yards and three scores.
2. Ricky Williams, Dolphins running back: His responsibilities will increase with Ronnie Brown hobbled by an ankle injury. Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said Monday that Williams is capable of taking the Wildcat direct snaps.
With Brown gone in the fourth quarter Sunday, Williams ran nine times for 53 yards to nail down a victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
3. Cameron Wake, Dolphins outside linebacker: Wake continues to make his presence felt on a defense crowded with experienced outside linebackers.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills went into Sunday's game with a ramshackle roster.
They're even more dilapidated now.
In Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns, the Bills have lost three more players at the two positions they were thinnest: linebacker and offensive line.
Defensive captain Kawika Mitchell was carted off in the first half with a leg injury that looked serious. This week, Mitchell was switched to middle linebacker to replace Marcus Buggs, who replaced captain Paul Posluszny, who suffered a broken forearm in Week 1.
Buggs was carted off the field with a leg injury in the second half.
Keith Ellison is in the middle now.
The Bills also lost right tackle Jonathan Scott with an apparent leg injury. Scott became a starter when Brad Butler went on injured reserve with a knee injury suffered in Week 2.
Kirk Chambers, a veteran journeyman cut as the end of training camp, replaced Scott.
Buffalo also is playing without both of their regular starting safeties, Donte Whitner and Bryan Scott.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
You often hear about football being a chess match.
Sunday's game between the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins in Land Shark Stadium reminds me of the time my brother and I dug our old chess set out of the closet. About eight pieces were missing. So we rummaged through the old man's battery bin for some 9-volts and D-cells to fill out the ranks along with a couple of action figures.
I think Chewbacca to queen 4 won it.
The Bills and Dolphins will look similarly patched together.
Each team is enduring significant personnel issues. The Dolphins could be without their most important players on either side of the ball. Quarterback Chad Pennington is done for the year because of a right shoulder injury, and reigning AFC sack leader Joey Porter has been limited in practice by a hamstring problem.
Second-year quarterback Chad Henne will get his first NFL start.
"We believe he can do it, and we know he has the skills and the talent to do it," Dolphins outside linebacker Jason Taylor said. "We also know he’s going to go through some growing pains and make mistakes. Even the best quarterbacks in this league make mistakes.
"We’re there for him. I talked to him briefly and said, 'Go out there and do what you do. It's your team. We’re going to have your back, and we’re going to follow you.'"
The Bills' injury situation could help Henne big time.
Already without top linebacker Paul Posluszny, three-quarters of the Bills' starting defensive backfield could be sidelined. Right cornerback Leodis McKelvin was placed on injured reserve Thursday. Free safety Donte Whitner had thumb surgery and is expected to miss the game. Strong safety Bryan Scott didn't practice Thursday and is considered questionable.
Defensive tackle Kyle Williams missed practice with a groin injury.
Buffalo's offensive line could be without starting left tackle Demetrius Bell. A groin injury kept him off the field for a second straight practice.
The Bills have already lost opening-day right tackle Brad Butler for the year. If Bell can't go, right tackle replacement Jonathan Scott will flip over to the left side. Kirk Chambers, released on roster cutdown day, would be the right tackle.
"It's a challenge, no doubt about that," Bills coach Dick Jauron said. "But there's nothing we can do about it except to take the next step, see how the health is on Sunday and accept that fact that everybody in the league has injuries. Somehow you've got to get through them."
|AP Photo/Mike Groll|
|Terrell Owens was held without a catch in Buffalo's loss to New Orleans.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills astonished us all when they signed Terrell Owens, forming a dynamic duo with Lee Evans. Fans assumed they'd be Batman and Robin.
They've turned out to be a couple of Alfreds.
There has been no zip, bang, pow from Owens and Evans. They couldn't have been more mild mannered on Sunday, contributing essentially nothing in a 27-7 defeat to the New Orleans Saints in Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Owens had zero catches for the first time in 186 games, nearly 12 years of Hall of Fame football.
His was the longest active streak in the league and third all-time behind Jerry Rice and Marvin Harrison. Still, Bills offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt and quarterback Trent Edwards found a way to squander the threat.
Owens was targeted five times. He bobbled one. Had the ball swatted away. Edwards overthrew him.
"Clearly, he's a big part of the offense," Bills coach Dick Jauron said. "He certainly is a threat because they do pay attention to him. We've got to get him the football, obviously.
"We saw him open down the field. We just overthrew him a couple times. Underthrew him once, overthrew him once. When you get your opportunities you've got to take advantage of them."
Theoretically, defenses can't cover two game-breaking receivers on the same play. Double cover one, and the other will come open, right?
Evans was slightly more useful. He had four catches for 31 yards. His longest gain was 11 yards.
Defensive end Ryan Denney had a longer reception than that and more yards than Owens. Buffalo's only touchdown occurred on a fake field goal attempt. Brian Moorman, a punter, connected with Denney on a 25-yard pass play in the second quarter.
"We had plenty of opportunities to get the ball to us," Evans said. "We just didn't get it done. I feel like we had some opportunities and we just didn't take advantage of them."
What was supposed to be one the NFL's most formidable -- maybe the most formidable -- one-two punch has been rendered practically worthless.
Add their stats together and they have 13 catches for 186 yards and two touchdowns. One of those games was against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Before Sunday night's Colts-Cardinals game, 24 individuals had more receiving yards than Owens and Evans together. Mike Sims-Walker, of all people, has 187 yards for the Jacksonville Jaguars, but the Bills can't figure out how to get Owens or Evans -- let alone both of them -- involved.
"I would say wasted," Bills running back Fred Jackson replied when asked if that's what was happening with Owens and Evans. "But I know we're not taking advantage of having them on the field like we're supposed to."
After losing to the Saints, Owens was one of the first players off the field. He didn't mingle or shake hands like many do after a game. He trotted to the locker room, and by the time reporters had enough time to get down there, Owens already was out of his uniform and nattily dressed.
He spoke at the podium, but the only insight you could elicit is between the lines.
Reporter: "Do you think you and Evans are being wasted?"
T.O.: "We're just going with the plays that are called."
Reporter: "You could say no, that you're not being wasted."
T.O.: "I'm just going with the plays that are called."
Reporter: "Do you like the plays that are called?"
T.O.: "Whether I like them or don't, just going with the plays that are called."
Reporter: "What about the decisions that are made [by Edwards] after the plays are called?"
T.O.: "I don't know. You have to ask him."
Reporter: "No, I'm asking you what you think."
T.O.: "Nah. I don't want to answer that."
Reporter: "I'll ask him when I'm done with you."
T.O.: "I don't want to answer that because whatever I say, you guys are going to turn it to however you want to say it."
Reporter: "We'll print exactly."
T.O.: "Well, I just answered you, sir."
Edwards completed 20 of 35 passes for 156 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception, a ricochet when he tried to force a third-quarter pass to Owens in Saints' territory.
Edwards' longest completion was for 18 yards. Saints quarterback Drew Brees had completions of 32 yards and 20 yards on his opening drive.
The comparison might seem unfair, but should it be? Edwards has a future Hall of Famer getting paid $6.5 million, and a speed demon the club rewarded last year with a contract extension that, at the time, placed him among the league's 10 highest-paid players.
Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, making his first return to The Ralph since the Bills fired him as head coach, turned the Bills' offense into a mess.
The Bills converted only 2 of 14 third downs, failed to get into the red zone, surrendered eight tackles for losses and four sacks. The Saints were credited with 14 quarterback hits.
"Our offense as a whole just wasn't in a rhythm today," said Jackson, who ran 18 times for 71 yards. "We have to go back to the drawing board."
The offensive line began the season incredibly inexperienced and has gotten younger. Right tackle Brad Butler suffered a season-ending knee injury last week, but rather than sign a veteran to replace Butler, the Bills plucked a developmental player off the Green Bay Packers' practice squad and deactivated him Sunday.
The line committed six penalties. The Saints accepted five of them for 35 yards.
Would a veteran free-agent tackle such as Jon Runyan, Damion McIntosh or Langston Walker have made a difference Sunday? Probably not, but Edwards might have had that much more time to feed Owens or Evans the ball.
As for the streak, Owens shrugged it off. A receiver who once had 20 catches in a single game couldn't make one grab, even in garbage time.
Edwards claimed he had no idea about the streak, not even when the Bills had zero shot of scoring three times inside the final two minutes. The Bills certainly ran plays -- a Jackson run for no gain, Edwards to Josh Reed for no gain, Edwards incomplete -- before punting away so the Saints could kneel out the clock.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills coach Dick Jauron wasn't going to lie.
"There's a lot of worry," Jauron said.
He was speaking Wednesday afternoon about the fact three-fifths of his starting offensive line will have a combined zero NFL snaps among them when they meet the New England Patriots on "Monday Night Football."
The Bills on Tuesday released left tackle Langston Walker, their most experienced offensive lineman.
They're replacing him with Demetrius Bell, a seventh-round draft pick last year who didn't see any action. A pair of rookies will start at guard: Andy Levitre next to Bell and Eric Wood on the right.
Injury-prone Buffalo quarterback Trent Edwards will have trivial NFL experience protecting his blindside against one of the league's best defensive coaches.
All 56 games of NFL experience on Buffalo's line belongs to center Geoff Hangartner (27 starts) and right tackle Brad Butler (29 starts).
The Patriots' starting O-line has a combined 372 NFL starts. All but right tackle Nick Kaczur has more individual starts than the Bills' entire line. Kaczur has 49. The New York Jets' front five has 480 starts among them. The Miami Dolphins have 188.
"Yeah, you worry about it, but I've said often, I really like the guys," Jauron said. "I think we've come a long way. We'll find out on Monday night how far we've come. It’s not going to be easy. There's no doubt about that. So there's a lot of worry."
Walker's dismissal was the latest dramatic revision for the Bills' offense. The club fired offensive coordinator Turk Schonert on Friday, replacing him with quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt.
Edwards sounded intrepid when asked how concerned he was about the last-ditch developments that could impact his physical well-being.
"On paper, I think you're asking them a lot," Edwards said. "From an outsider's perspective, from where you guys are standing right now, I think it's asking a lot.
"But from my perspective, I don't think it's asking a lot at all. Those guys were drafted. They're bright-eyed rookies that are ready to fight."
Here are five Bills observations from Fawcett Stadium:
|Matthew Emmons/US Presswire|
|Bills receiver Terrell Owens got involved early in Buffalo's Hall of Fame game loss to Tennessee.|
The Titans appeared to be the much sharper squad when their first- and second-teamers were on the field. The Bills opened training camp on July 25, making them the first in the NFL to break out the air horn, at least a week before 13 other clubs. The Titans got started on July 31.
Bills quarterback Trent Edwards had only one series and concluded it with an interception at the Titans' 7-yard line.
Tennessee seemed to come up with the big play when it needed one against Buffalo's top players. On the game's first drive, Titans coach Jeff Fisher called for a fake punt that rookie A.J. Trapasso executed exceptionally, hiding the ball behind his back as he swung his leg and then dashing up the left sideline for a 40-yard touchdown.
Titans quarterback Kerry Collins was 7 of 10 for 82 yards. Collins picked on second-year right cornerback Leodis McKelvin for 19 yards to convert a third-and-15 situation on an eventual touchdown drive.
"The third-and-15 was a critical down in that series," Bills coach Dick Jauron said. "We can't let people off in that. The percentages are highly in our favor, and we just gave up a first down."
Early in the second quarter, the Bills were denied on third and fourth down from the Titans' 5-yard line. The Bills needed 2 yards for the first down on each snap.
"We've got to convert that and thought we had a chance to," Jauron said.
|Terrell Owens, the celebrity headliner on the first day of training camp, serves as a distraction from the numerous issues facing the Bills.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- On the first day of Buffalo Bills training camp, fans pressed their torsos up against the metal railing at St. John Fisher College to get the best possible look at a local attraction that, for the past few months, has been surpassed only by Niagara Falls.
For the first time since he signed in March, fans were able to behold the wonders of Terrell Owens in a Bills uniform. His every move was cheered. Each time he touched the ball -- even during casual warmup tosses on the sideline -- drew applause. They pleaded for autographs. They barked out chants, supplementing a popular refrain: "Let's go, Buf-fa-lo! Let's go, T.O.!"
The other 70 or so players were rendered afterthoughts. Owens, on the first day of camp, WAS the Buffalo Bills. He hadn't scored a touchdown, caught a pass, run a route or said something inflammatory yet. Owens, running around in chrome-bottomed Nike cleats, was all that existed.
And for the rest of the Bills, that should be a pleasant distraction.
The future Hall of Famer has diverted so much attention from myriad question marks surrounding his team.
The Bills have gone nine straight years without a playoff appearance. They went 0-6 against the AFC East last year. They have an injury-prone quarterback. Their miscreant Pro Bowl running back has been suspended the first three games. The fans generally loathe head coach Dick Jauron. The offensive line has been rearranged more than Tex Cobb's face. Rookie defensive end Aaron Maybin, the 11th overall pick, probably won't sign a contract any time soon.
Still, this year's season-ticket base will be the largest since Buffalo's Super Bowl years. The Bills have been able to market perennial hope, and this year's dreams are hitched to Owens, a player who makes the team nationally relevant for the first time since Doug Flutie was around.
But let's look deeper than the obvious storyline from Bills camp. Owens can't possibly fix everything.
|Joe Robbins/Getty Images|
|Langston Walker's transition from right tackle to left could be a key to the offensive line's performance.|
1. How will the Bills' reconstituted offensive line perform?
In the afternoon practice on the first day of training camp, Buffalo's offensive linemen conducted drills 10 feet in front of the railing that separated the most boisterous fans from the field. The throng gazed right past the most important players on the team so they could gawk at Owens and yell to him about how good his new toasted-oats cereal product is.
Buffalo will be as successful this year as its offensive line will allow.
The Bills had no choice but to trade Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters, who held out right up until the regular-season opener last year. They were convinced the still-disgruntled Peters would boycott the team into the season, maybe miss several games, to make his point again. They dealt their best player to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Rather than look for veteran help to replace Peters, the Bills flopped right tackle Langston Walker, a career right tackle of no particular acclaim, to the left side. Right guard Brad Butler slid to right tackle. They signed Geoff Hangartner to play center. They drafted Eric Wood in the first round and Andy Levitre in the second round to be their guards.
All five linemen projected to start on opening day will be in different positions than last year, when they gave up the fifth-most sacks in the NFL.
2. Will the pass rush be significantly better this year?
Only three teams had fewer than Buffao's 28 sacks last year.
The Bills selected Maybin to bolster its anemic pass rush. Many were skeptical he would make an immediate impact because he was a one-year starter at Penn State who entered the draft a year early. His chances of being a significant contributor are lessening with each day he's not under contract.
But the main character here is two-time Pro Bowl end Aaron Schobel
. He played in only five games last year because of a foot injury. Schobel collected 26 sacks in 2005 and 2006, but dropped to 6.5 sacks in 2007 and 1.5 in his limited time last year.
3. What kind of impact will the no-huddle offense make?
|John David Mercer/US Presswire|
|Early on, Trent Edwards has looked good directing Buffalo's new no-huddle offense.|
If the first few days of training camp were any indication, the Bills' offense will be fun to watch -- win or lose. To maximize their weaponry both at receiver and in the backfield and perhaps mitigate the line's limitations, offensive coordinator Turk Schonert, a former Sam Wyche pupil, has gone no-huddle.
The Bills' first-team defense has had trouble keeping Owens and Lee Evans from getting behind them. Trent Edwards, criticized for his inability or unwillingness to go deep, has been hurling rainbows that are going for touchdowns.
Some close to the team, however, aren't convinced the Bills will use it throughout a game. The belief is that they'll start out in the no-huddle and use it as long as it works. If defenses don't cave in the first half, the conservative-minded Jauron might be prone to get more conventional.
Fred Jackson sounds like an everyman name. But there's a decent chance you'll know who he is, especially if you're a fantasy football enthusiast, a few weeks into the season. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended running back Marshawn Lynch for the first three games. That will cede backfield duties to Jackson and Dominic Rhodes.
Jackson emerged from football oblivion. Undrafted out of Division III Coe College, he went to the arena bush leagues, then to NFL Europa and the Bills' practice squad. He has become one of the NFL's most underrated backs. He rushed for 571 yards last year with a 5.0 average, racking up 136 yards in place of an injured Lynch in the season finale. He caught 37 passes for 317 yards.
Newcomer to watch
Is there anybody else to consider other than Owens? We don't need to discuss the obvious, so let's pick the next in line.
Wood, a dominant center at Louisville, was drafted with the top pick the Bills received from the Eagles in the Peters trade. He will be learning a new position, but is confident it will be an easier transition from center to guard than any other position-to-position switch on the line.
Some consider the Bills a dark horse in the AFC East. They have the offensive firepower to make some noise, but have they improved enough to overcome their 0-6 division record last year? The Bills have gone 7-9 each season since Jauron arrived. It's foreseeable they could go 7-9 a fourth year in a row, but be much better than they've been. … Bills fans should hope second-year cornerback Leodis McKelvin is keeping his early camp performances in perspective. He has been getting flambéed by Owens and Evans on deep balls and getting his ankles broken by Owens' post-catch cuts on the underneath stuff. McKelvin's confidence probably is bruised, but he's squaring up against two of the game's best every day. … Edwards hasn't been able to stay healthy through his first two NFL seasons, which puts an emphasis on the backup. The Bills signed Cincinnati Bengals reserve Ryan Fitzpatrick to fill that role, but the Harvard grad has struggled. The no-huddle offense hums under Edwards, but when Fitzpatrick takes over, passes frequently don't find their mark. Third quarterback Gibran Hamdan has a chance to make a push for the No. 2 job. … The Bills are one of the NFL's deepest teams at receiver, but a rash of seemingly minor injuries has them trying out even more receivers. Steve Johnson, James Hardy, Felton Huggins and P.K. Sam have been sidelined. … The Demetrius Bell project continues to evolve. The son of former NBA great Karl Malone, drafted out of Northwestern State in the seventh round last year, didn't play a down last year. He has been seeing a healthy amount of reps at second-team left tackle and guard.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
- Calvin Watkins, who recently left the Dallas Morning News for AOL, reports the Jets have expressed interest in troubled cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones.
- J.P. Pelzman of the Bergen Record is skeptical the Jets quarterback job truly is an open competition.
- FoxSports.com's John Czarnecki ranks Kellen Clemens at the top of his list of players who need to watch their backs. Dolphins receiver Davone Bess also makes the top 10.
- Bills offensive lineman Brad Butler pens a thank-you note to the late Jack Kemp, for whom Butler interned in Washington D.C.
- You can get a sneak peek at what Bruce Smith's Pro Football Hall of Fame bust will look like before it's unveiled in Canton.
- South Florida Sun-Sentinel reporter Omar Kelly has a checklist of 10 questions about Miami's offseason.
- Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald takes a gander at Australian punter Jy Bond, who has never taken a live snap on any level.
Posted by ESPN's David Amber
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Bills general manager Russ Brandon says he hopes to take advantage of his two first-round picks (No. 11 and No. 28) and add depth at several key positions this weekend. Buffalo owns four of the first 75 overall picks and is hoping to address its defensive front seven as well as its offensive line.
Brandon indicated Saturday morning that it's "highly doubtful we will move either of our first-round picks."
Last year the Bills were tied for 28th in sacks and are looking to add a pass-rushing defensive end or outside linebacker. Brandon said he loves the intensity and football instincts of former USC linebacker Clay Matthews. Brandon described former Penn State defensive end Aaron Maybin as "explosive" and says former Florida State defensive end Everette Brown "flat-out can just get to the quarterback."
It looks as if the only Bills offensive lineman from last year who will be returning to his position is Brad Butler at right guard. With the trade of two-time Pro Bowler Jason Peters, the Bills will be looking to add one of the premier left tackles in the draft to their roster. Brandon said he believes there are a number of tackles who could step in right away and make an impact in the NFL. Last year, there were a record eight offensive tackles picked in the first round. Expect the Bills to take a tackle with one of their first picks Saturday.Aside from defensive end and offensive tackle, another position the Bills would like to address is tight end. Buffalo released last year's starting tight end, Robert Royal, this offseason. With the addition of Terrell Owens, Buffalo hopes to stretch the field and is looking for a player who could help in pass protection for quarterback Trent Edwards.
After a tumultuous offseason in which three Bills players were arrested, Brandon said character will be a key component to what the Bills do this weekend. "We also judge character as key, just like the players' combine scores and game tape," Brandon said.David Amber is ESPN's bureau reporter based in Toronto.