NFL Nation: Dave Wannstedt

TAMPA, Fla. -- A review of four hot issues from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 33-14 loss to the San Francisco 49ers:

[+] EnlargeTampa Bay's Bobby Rainey
Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesThe 49ers held Bobby Rainey and the Bucs to just 39 net rushing yards.
The Schiano Watch. The Bucs had won four of their previous five heading into Sunday. That created some reason for optimism that coach Greg Schiano might return for a third season. But this loss was a big hit to Schiano's chances. The Bucs very possibly could go 4-12, and not many coaches survive 4-12 seasons.

The reverse that didn't work. Schiano and special-teams coordinator Dave Wannstedt left themselves open to criticism when they called for a reverse on a kickoff return in the fourth quarter. Eric Page and Russell Shepard botched the handoff, and the 49ers took the fumble in for a touchdown. After the game, Schiano said one of the players made a mistake by following the wrong option on the play. That happens. But maybe the reverse shouldn't have been called in the first place.

Not following the plan: The first thing Schiano prides his offensive system on is the running game. Well, that wasn't working at all Sunday. The Bucs managed just 39 net rushing yards.

Glennon's regression. There's no question rookie quarterback Mike Glennon has taken a step back in the past three games. That may have a lot to do with the fact that he's faced good defenses from Carolina, Buffalo and San Francisco. But Glennon fared well when allowed to run the two-minute offense against the 49ers. Makes you wonder why the Bucs don't go with the no-huddle system more often.

Buccaneers reach a new low point

November, 3, 2013
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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers played their best football game of the season Sunday.

Naturally, they still lost. Even die-hard Bucs fans could see this one coming from 3,000 miles away.

The Bucs lost 27-24 in overtime to the Seattle Seahawks. And this wasn’t anything close to a moral victory. Instead, it was a morale loss. The Bucs are 0-8 and this one was far worse than the previous seven put together.

As the Bucs fly back across the continent Sunday night, do you think morale could be any lower?

I don’t. The Bucs led 21-0 at one point in the first half and 24-7 early in the third quarter. They could have (temporarily) silenced all of their critics by beating one of the NFL’s best teams in one of the league’s toughest road stadiums. Fans even would have backed off coach Greg Schiano -- until his next loss.

[+] EnlargeTampa Bay's Greg Schiano
Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY SportsWould the Glazer family think about replacing Greg Schiano before the Bucanneers' Monday night game against the Dolphins?
But the Bucs blew that big lead in disastrous fashion and you have to wonder if ownership is thinking about replacing Schiano with an interim coach.

Perhaps you’ve noted that I’ve yet to call for Schiano’s firing. My logic has been two-fold. First, going with an interim coach never solves anything. Second, the general rule of thumb is that you don’t pull the plug until the players stop playing hard for the coach.

The effort still was there Sunday and that’s something that should be considered. But I’m starting to wonder if the Glazer family, which owns the team, might go ahead and fire Schiano at the midpoint of his second NFL season.

It wouldn’t even be a small surprise at this point. Schiano has lost 13 of his past 14 games. Those are the kind of embarrassing numbers that got predecessor Raheem Morris fired. And, before you go saying the Glazers will stick with Schiano because he has three years remaining on his contract, think about something else.

The Glazers don’t like losing money. But, more importantly, they care deeply about how they and the Bucs are perceived. More than anything, the Glazers hate to be embarrassed.

Schiano was brought in to do two things. First, he was supposed to change the culture of a locker room that had run amok under Morris. He accomplished that by getting rid of the likes of Aqib Talib, Kellen Winslow and LeGarrette Blount. Give Schiano credit for filling the locker room with Boy Scouts (and former Rutgers players).

But the other thing Schiano was hired to do was win. He clearly hasn’t done that. Just like he did in some early-season close losses, Schiano got conservative against Seattle. His staff also didn’t seem to make any successful halftime adjustments.

Could things really get worse if the Bucs fired Schiano and elevated special teams coach Dave Wannstedt to interim coach? Probably not. But things probably couldn’t get much worse.

The Bucs hit their lowest point in Seattle. They squandered a chance for Schiano to say, “Hey, look at what my system can do if it’s run right."

But that didn’t happen and the Glazers might be at a point where they need to make a big choice. Remember what I said about them not liking being embarrassed. I can’t emphasize that enough.

The next game on the schedule is a Monday night contest (Nov. 11) against the Miami Dolphins. It will be on national television in a sold-out stadium that rarely sells out.

The Glazers have to decide what’s worse -- going the interim route or run the risk of letting a national audience see Schiano get booed out of Raymond James Stadium.

Fire Greg Schiano? Not just yet

October, 20, 2013
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ATLANTA -- The evidence and a lot of Tampa Bay fans say coach Greg Schiano should be fired immediately.

I say it's not that time. At least not yet.

Yes, Sunday's 31-23 loss to the Atlanta Falcons was the same story it's been all season. Schiano's Bucs were inept. They squandered opportunities and committed 11 penalties for 103 yards.

"It's been a long time since a team I coached had that same issue," Schiano said. "Put it on me to get that fixed. We had 11 penalties, six of them in Atlanta territory and four in the red zone. I think we do all the right things and it's worked over the years, yet it's not working right now. We've got to re-examine that."

There's a lot the Bucs need to re-examine and there's no doubt Schiano is running short on time. The Bucs are 0-6 and they've lost 11 of their last 12 games, dating back to last season.

[+] EnlargeGreg Schiano
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsGreg Schiano's Tampa Bay Buccaneers have lost 11 of their past 12 games.
"When teams are having penalties, that's a collective coaching and playing issue," Schiano said. "We've got to get it fixed. I'm frustrated because I've said that standing at this [microphone] before."

The Bucs are making the same mistakes over and over. That doesn't bode well for any coach and this season is on the verge of spiraling out of control. Quarterback Josh Freeman is gone, so Schiano is left to take all of the blame.

And he deserves every bit of it. I'm not giving Schiano a ringing endorsement, because that simply is not possible at this time.

But the alternative that so many fans want -- an interim coach -- isn't the answer. Sure, the Bucs could make special teams coordinator Dave Wannstedt their interim coach. He has been an NFL head coach before. Or the Bucs could turn to Butch Davis, who is a special adviser to Schiano. Davis also has been an NFL head coach.

What good would either of those moves do the Bucs, who have to turn around and play a Thursday night game against Carolina? Firing Schiano and replacing him with Wannstedt or Davis would only throw this team into more disarray -- and, yes, that is possible.

Going the interim route never is the answer. You only do that when things are totally out of control and you're only prolonging the inevitable -- the arrival of a new coach.

Things are dangerously close to being totally out of control for the Bucs, but they're not completely there yet.

Give Schiano, who ironically had a reputation as a builder and perfectionist at Rutgers, just a little more time to try to get things straightened out. He's had only three games with his quarterback, rookie Mike Glennon. Amid the rubble of three losses, Glennon has shown some improvement.

Get the penalties to stop and get the defensive backfield to stop watching balls go over its head. Maybe the Bucs can win five or six games down the stretch. If that happens, maybe Schiano, who has three more years on his contract, sticks around and maybe the Bucs turn the corner next season.

Yeah, all that's a long shot. But there really is one reason why I don't think the time has come to fire Schiano.

The Bucs aren't playing well, but they still are playing hard. Tampa Bay has seen teams quit before. (Remember 2011 under Raheem Morris or the end of the Sam Wyche days?)

From the time Schiano first arrived, there have been rumblings that the players don't like his methods. I think there's some truth to that, but the fact is the Bucs haven't packed it in -- yet.

Maybe that happens in Thursday night's nationally televised game. Or maybe it happens the following week when the Bucs go across the country to play Seattle.

If there ever are signs that this team has quit, then go ahead and fire Schiano immediately. But, as long as there is effort, don't make any moves this season.

Things aren't good under Schiano, but he still has the attention of his team. If you fire him and go with an interim coach, that's the equivalent of bringing in a substitute teacher, who will get plowed over by a class that's out of control.
Can the Buffalo Bills challenge the New England Patriots in the AFC East? Not this year, according to ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton.

Clayton addressed Buffalo's present and future in his latest mailbag Tuesday when asked if the Bills can make the postseason by winning 9-10 games.

"That’s too much to ask," Clayton responded. "The quarterback position is in transition. The receivers are too raw. The defense is switching back to a 3-4. That could lead to a tough start. As the season goes on, EJ Manuel might take over at quarterback. As long as the team can finish the season respectably, the Bills could start building toward 2014."

Buffalo has talent in several areas, and in some ways the team underachieved during its 6-10 season in 2012. The 2013 Bills have a chance to be a threat if they find a way to put it all together and get quality quarterback play from Manuel or veteran Kevin Kolb.

Improvement in coaching also will have a lot to do with Buffalo's success. Former Bills head coach Chan Gailey and former defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt didn’t do a good job of managing Buffalo’s talent. It’s too early to tell if rookie head coach Doug Marrone will be noticeably better in that area.

Poll: Who is to blame in Buffalo?

November, 26, 2012
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The Buffalo Bills haven’t been to the playoffs since 1999, and that streak will continue this season after Buffalo suffered a 20-13 loss Sunday to the Indianapolis Colts. The Bills are now 4-7 with virtually no shot of playing in the postseason.

SportsNation

Who is most to blame for the Bills' 4-7 season?

  •  
    18%
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    50%
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    12%
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    15%
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    5%

Discuss (Total votes: 8,461)

So who is most to blame in Buffalo? This was supposed to be a magical year that went downhill quickly.

Is Bills head coach Chan Gailey to blame? Gailey is 14-29 in three years in Buffalo. This is by far the most talented team Gailey has coached in Buffalo. But poor strategy and baffling in-game decisions equals a 4-7 record.

What about general manager Buddy Nix? The Bills spent a lot of money and resources this offseason. But did Nix spend the money wisely? The $100 million Mario Williams signing was a disappointment early, but he’s coming around. Signing quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick last year to a long-term extension appears to be a mistake.

Speaking of Fitzpatrick, is he the biggest of the reasons? Quarterbacks get a lion’s share of the blame, and Fitzpatrick is the one under center. He is notoriously streaky and prone to turnovers. He has thrown at least one interception in six of Buffalo’s seven losses this year.

Defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt is the final choice. Buffalo’s defense is ranked 26th in the NFL and hasn’t gotten the most from its talent.

Using our SportsNation poll, vote on who’s most to blame for Buffalo’s disappointing year in 2012. You can also share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Bills back-to-work FYI

July, 25, 2011
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NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Unrestricted FAs

Readiness factor: The Bills will need every moment they can find to prepare for the season. Their offensive skill players gathered at quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick's home in April. A larger contingent convened in Western New York for casual workouts in May.

Biggest challenge: Buffalo must find a defensive identity quickly. The Bills switched from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 with bad results last year. As it became obvious they had the NFL's worst run defense, they mixed their fronts. Head coach Chan Gailey has said that they will be a hybrid defense leaning toward a 3-4 base. Then he hired longtime 4-3 mastermind Dave Wannstedt -- not to replace defensive coordinator George Edwards, but as assistant head coach and linebackers coach.

Line in the sand: The Bills have a tenuous offensive line, although all the late-season starters are back. The line mostly has been mediocre and often riddled with injuries. Demetrius Bell has been a bargain at left tackle, but far from dominant. Right guard Eric Wood could eventually shift to center.

Key players without contracts for 2011: Inside linebacker Paul Posluszny and safety Donte Whitner have been two of the Bills' most prolific tacklers. Cornerback Drayton Florence is an overlooked free agent who could be popular on the open market. Disappointing former first-round pick John McCargo is a goner.

Draft Watch: AFC East

March, 24, 2011
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NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: schemes and themes.

Buffalo Bills

The Bills went through a defensive overhaul last year under new head coach Chan Gailey and coordinator George Edwards. They morphed from Dick Jauron's 4-3 Tampa 2 scheme to a traditional 3-4 set. The Bills drafted accordingly, but as the season wore on and they failed to stop the run -- they ranked dead last in the league in rushing yards allowed per carry and per game -- they sunk back into a 4-3 mindset and frequently added another defender to the line. They've also hired Dave Wannstedt as assistant head coach and linebackers assistant. Wannstedt is a 4-3 devotee. All of this adds up to the Bills being interested in the best available defenders they can find, regardless of whether or not they fit into a preconceived scheme.

Miami Dolphins

Rightly or wrongly, the Dolphins' offensive identity the past three seasons has been the Wildcat. Those days would appear to be over. Offensive coordinator Dan Henning and quarterbacks coach David Lee (the man who introduced the Wildcat) are gone. Wildcat trigger man Ronnie Brown and speed-motion back Ricky Williams don't have contracts, and both could be on other teams. The one player the Dolphins drafted specifically to enhance the Wildcat, quarterback Pat White, was released after one season. Miami's new offensive identity has yet to be determined under new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. Nobody can say for sure what he'll be looking for, but the run game must be strengthened. Head coach Tony Sparano said this week the Dolphins will remain a power rushing team. Brown and/or Williams will need to be replaced, and reliable interior linemen must be found.

New England Patriots

The Patriots are the NFL's most flexible club entering the draft. They own two picks in each of the first three rounds and in three of the top 33 slots. Bill Belichick can go any direction he chooses and certainly will have his staff working the phones for trade possibilities. The Patriots have a rich history of trading back to accumulate more picks, but they might be more open to trading up this year. They have decent youth on the roster, so when you consider the possibility of adding six more players drafted no later than the third round -- plus their picks in the fourth, fifth and sixth rounds -- you have to wonder if there will be room for them all on the 53-man roster. The glut of picks also allows the Patriots to select the best available player and not fret about specific needs with any given pick.

New York Jets

The Jets made it to the AFC Championship Game again and will draft 30th. Head coach Rex Ryan has playfully groused about the late position and the fact the Jets will have to rummage for the best player still on the board. The Jets drafted cornerback Kyle Wilson 29th last year and immediately named him the team's starting nickelback and punt returner. That didn't work out. Wilson started six games, made 19 tackles, defensed five passes and returned 15 punts. While that negative experience could entice the Jets to return to their usual ways and move up in the draft for a prospect they truly covet -- as they did with cornerback Darrelle Revis, linebacker David Harris and quarterback Mark Sanchez -- an inability to trade players until there's a new collective bargaining agreement might make that difficult.

More AFC East combine leftovers

March, 5, 2011
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INDIANAPOLIS -- A couple days back I posted some AFC East-related tidbits from defensive players at the NFL scouting combine in Lucas Oil Stadium. Let's close the combine book with thoughts from the offensive prospects.

[+] EnlargeTorrey Smith
Andrew Shurtleff/US PresswireMaryland receiver Torrey Smith knows his transition to the NFL will be challenging.
Maryland receiver Torrey Smith on watching the New York Jets on "Hard Knocks:"
"It's tough. It's a grown man's league. You get that feel from watching it. I liked their coach. He has a lot of fun. He definitely gets his team ready. It's an eye-opener."

Pittsburgh receiver Jonathan Baldwin on his mentors:
"People from Aliquippa, Darrelle Revis and Ty Law. After the combine I'll be working with Darrelle, doing one-on-ones and press release and things like that. Darrelle Revis is one of the best corners in the game. So doing what I’m sure will help me get ready for the next level of cornerbacks."

San Diego State receiver Vincent Brown on the toughest cornerback he faced in college:
"My true freshman year, Sean Smith. He shut me down pretty good that game. I'm not going to lie. It was definitely a learning experience, and I definitely grew from that. His size [was difficult]. I'm a smaller receiver. He's a big dude. He's got a big wingspan. It was a little tough to get around him at times when I'm a true freshman and thrown in the fire like that."

Indiana receiver Tandon Doss on learning from former Bills second-rounder James Hardy's inability to make it in the NFL:
"He's a great player and athlete. He's a freak athlete. He had some things along the way that kept him down. Hopefully, he gets back into it. I’m going to learn from the experience and take as much out of it as I can."

Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy on New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady:
"Coach [Nick] Saban doesn’t ever say 'Here, let's watch No. 12 from New England,' but you watch him. He's the most fun guy to watch in the league right now. There's a lot of efficient quarterbacks, but as far as his control, his balance, the way he sets up in the pocket, the way he is so mechanically sound, it really is such a joy to watch. He's so fluid. He never gets flustered. Just his subtle movements, all of his subtleties, every little detail is addressed. Coach Saban would never let me watch another quarterback play. He thinks that's soft or something. But, yeah, I obviously have spent time watching Tom Brady. He's a hero of mine and a guy who I would love nothing more than to try to pattern my game off of."

McElroy on whether he'd like to be Brady's backup:
"In a heartbeat. Absolutely."

Texas Christian quarterback Andy Dalton on the Bills' coaching staff at the Senior Bowl:
"It was fun being able to get to play underneath the Bills and their staff. To be in a pro system and to be in a pro offense and to learn with a bunch of guys. It was a great experience and will help me with the transition."

Arkansas tight end D.J. Williams on being compared to Jets tight end Dustin Keller:
"You've got to like it because he's very successful in the NFL. I like watching him play, his style. He's that type of person who can get down field and run amazing routes. He can cause a mismatch against a slower linebacker or a smaller DB. And he has the ability to get on the line of scrimmage and block, too. I enjoy watching him play, and that's not a bad comparison at all. It's a very good one."

North Carolina receiver Greg Little on being teammates with New England Patriots receiver Brandon Tate:
"I was on the team with Brandon for about two years. I was a backup to Brandon, and I really grew as a player seeing him play and just taking notes from him. Just sitting alongside him in the meeting rooms and watching his play was very beneficial to my game as well. I don't talk to Brandon as much today. But it's definitely someone I learned from and grew from as well."

Pittsburgh tackle Jason Pinkston on his relationship with Bills assistant head coach Dave Wannstedt:
"I was pretty upset when Coach Wannstedt first got fired [from Pitt]. I had a different relationship with Coach Wannstedt than some of the other players on the team. I actually graduated from his high school [Baldwin] when he was recruiting me. I've known him for about six or seven years. So it was a different kind of relationship with me and him. He was like a father to me. My mother passed away two years ago from breast cancer, and he was there for me -- him and his family -- a lot. So I had a different kind of love for him. He was more than just a coach to me. He was like a father figure. So I was pretty upset and hurt when they fired him like they did."

Pinkston on Wannstedt's coaching style:
"Aggressive. He's smart and he plays to win. He's a great coach, and he does everything by the book. We always went by three words: trust, accountability, desire. If he couldn’t trust you, you weren't going to play. He definitely had the backs of all his players, and now all his players respect him. We love him. I still love him to death."

Highlights from Chan Gailey at combine

February, 24, 2011
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Buffalo Bills head coach Chan Gailey and Miami Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland have completed their media responsibilities at the NFL scouting combine.

Here are some quick highlights from Gailey's gathering, with an Ireland report to follow. I'll elaborate on the more interesting issues later:
  • How Gailey would describe the roster: "I think we're on the right track. I do. I believe we have character on the team. I believe they understand. Hopefully, we're going to get better in each phase. You've just got to get them to understand how to win that close game."
  • On the No. 3 overall pick, Gailey said the general philosophy was to "take care of immediate needs and, at the same time, take care of the long-term franchise good. You have to consider all scenarios."
  • Gailey said that includes possibly trading up or trading down: "We don't turn our phone off at night."
  • He is "anxious" to see Auburn quarterback Cam Newton work out in Lucas Oil Stadium and called him "a big athlete that's in that Wildcat mode, but obviously has the ability to go to the dropback-passer mode."
  • Gailey claimed he wasn't concerned with Newton being a one-year starter at Auburn.
  • Ten years ago, the NFL dictated to colleges how quarterbacks should play. In the next decade, Gailey foresees college football dictating how the NFL uses the quarterbacks who emerge from whatever offenses are popular.
  • Gailey also declared he's "extremely confident" in incumbent starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and admitted he made a big mistake in not going with him instead of Trent Edwards last year: "Shoot, yeah! If I knew then what I knew now, I wouldn't do that. But you do what you can with the information you have, make a decision, hope you learn from it quickly and rectify the situation."
  • Gailey noted he's never been on a team where he thought he had too many good cornerbacks, there's always room for more. Drayton Florence and Ashton Youboty are about to become free agents. Gailey bluntly added former first-round pick Leodis McKelvin "left something on the table," but still has the chance to be a top-notch cornerback. I hope he'll commit to what he needs to commit to," Gailey said.
  • Reports on outside linebacker Shawne Merriman's recovery from Achilles surgery have been "all positive."
  • Last year's first-round pick, running back C.J. Spiller, needs to become better with ball security and pass blocking: "It didn't work out like anybody planned -- he planned, I planned, any fan out there planned. I still think he's going to be a very good to great player for the Buffalo Bills. I'll do better at finding ways to use him more."
  • The Bills consider their defense neither 3-4 nor 4-3, but a mixture: "If we are a hybrid, which I think we will be, it allows you to take Chris Kelsay and shift all the 3-4 over and now Kelsay or Merriman is a rush guy. We feel like we can massage that as we need to, getting the best football players on the field."
  • The Bills plan to draft defensive linemen based on talent more than positional fit and then find ways to use them.
  • New assistant head coach Dave Wannstedt, who has overseen great 4-3 defenses, will have wide-ranging roles as Gailey's top consultant on both sides of the ball.
  • Free-agent safety Bob Sanders visited the Bills while Gailey was out of town and he didn't have an update on where that stands.
  • The Bills have made an organizational decision not to comment on the NFL labor situation.

Leading Questions: AFC East

February, 16, 2011
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With the offseason in full swing, let's take a look at one major question facing each AFC East team as it begins preparations for the 2011 season:

BUFFALO BILLS

Can the defense become a difference-maker?

That abysmal 0-8 start and a record meager enough to lock down the third overall pick in the draft suggest the Bills were an utter mess in 2010. Statistically, they were on both sides of the ball.

Yet there's an unquestionably different vibe about the Bills' offense despite ranking 28th in points, 25th in yards, 18th in rushing offense and 24th in passing offense. Bills fans debate whether Ryan Fitzpatrick is an adequate starter. Running back Fred Jackson and wide receiver Steve Johnson are fan favorites.

There's a general belief head coach Chan Gailey has his young offense trending upward.

Buffalo's defense generates no such sentiment despite similar rankings: 28th in points, 24th in yards, 32nd in run defense and a misleading third in pass defense -- because opponents didn't need to throw. Opposing quarterbacks still recorded the league's fifth-highest passer rating against the Bills.

Buffalo needs an overhaul on defense, and they appear willing to try. Gailey brought in old pal Dave Wannstedt as assistant head coach and linebackers assistant. Wannstedt's influence is uncertain at the moment, but he has better credentials than defensive coordinator George Edwards, who oversaw a switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 and, in the end, mashed them together.

The Bills also re-signed outside linebacker Shawne Merriman. He's a reclamation project. But who knows? At least they're trying.

Much more must be done. The Bills have a foundation player in defensive tackle Kyle Williams, but he's surrounded by flotsam. Inside linebacker and leading tackler Paul Posluszny is a free agent. Merriman was worth the gamble because the Bills are desperate for pass-rushers with 2009 first-round pick Aaron Maybin looking like a bust and a half.

The draft won't solve all their problems, and general manager Buddy Nix is averse to patching holes with free agents. Unless the Bills strike big in the draft and Merriman turns out to be worth the risk, expect the defense to cost them more games in 2011.

MIAMI DOLPHINS

Will Chad Henne be their long-term quarterback?

The Dolphins revealed a lack of faith in Henne in 2010. They benched him twice.

The first time was an out-and-out demotion. In Week 10 -- with Tom Brady performing like an MVP, Mark Sanchez well on his way to the playoffs again and Fitzpatrick giving Bills fans something to cheer about -- the desperate Dolphins replaced Henne with Chad Pennington. There's no telling how long Henne would have remained on the sideline if Pennington didn't reinjure his throwing shoulder shortly after kickoff.

The next time Tony Sparano pulled Henne was in the season finale, a blowout loss to a Patriots squad that rested some of its best players and had nothing to play for. Henne completed six of his 16 passes, threw an interception and had a 25.8 passer rating. Not the way any quarterback wants to enter the offseason.

Henne was the Dolphins' supposed quarterback of the future. They drafted him in the second round in 2008, the year they took his Michigan teammate Jake Long first overall. Henne hasn't worked out yet. He studied under Pennington for a season and then took over in 2009, when Pennington got hurt two games into the season.

In his two nearly full seasons, Henne, at best, has looked decent. Great games have been rare. He has frustrated Dolfans more often than not. Henne has a career 75.3 passer rating. He has thrown six more interceptions than touchdown passes.

There are no guarantees Henne will remain Miami's starter, although the prediction here is that he will be in 2011. A new infrastructure is in place, and whenever a young quarterback has new idea men around, there's a tendency to extend opportunities -- especially when owner Stephen Ross, a Michigan man himself, has promoted Henne as a future Dolphins legend.

The Dolphins said goodbye to offensive coordinator Dan Henning and hired Brian Daboll, formerly of the Cleveland Browns. Henne's position coach, David Lee, left to be offensive coordinator at Mississippi. Receivers coach Karl Dorrell was switched to quarterbacks.

Will new voices be enough to inspire Henne to another level? I'm skeptical. While it's easy to scapegoat Henning -- and to an extent Lee -- for the offense's struggles, it should be noted Henning and Lee were considered geniuses when Pennington ran the offense and the Wildcat became an NFL trend. I doubt Henning and Lee turned vapid when Henne became quarterback.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Will the defense remain a weakness?

Week by week, the Patriots' defense evolved into a commendable unit. In four of their last five regular-season games, they allowed 20 combined points. Two of those opponents were playoff teams.

They sent four defensive players to the Pro Bowl: nose tackle Vince Wilfork, inside linebacker Jerod Mayo, cornerback Devin McCourty and safety Brandon Meriweather. Three of them were starters.

Not bad.

The numbers tell a different story. The Patriots ranked eighth in points allowed, but 25th in yards allowed, 11th in run defense and 30th in pass defense. The Patriots were dead last in third-down efficiency. They let opponents move the chains 47 percent of the time. They improved over the final few games, but in December they were on track to record the fifth-worst defense on third down since the NFL-AFL merger.

The Patriots gave up 34 points to the Browns, 30 points to the Bills and 24 points each to the Detroit Lions and Cincinnati Bengals.

Bill Belichick's defense can improve simply with another year of experience and the return of a couple of key contributors who missed 2010 with injuries.

The Patriots were young on defense. They started four rookies a couple of times. Their top secondary -- cornerbacks McCourty and Kyle Arrington, safeties Meriweather and Patrick Chung -- went into the season with four combined NFL seasons.

Not only will the defense improve by being another year older and wiser, but they'll also be reinforced when defensive end Ty Warren and cornerback Leigh Bodden come back.

Hip surgery wiped out Warren's season. Warren was a fixture at left end and forced the Patriots to juggle their line continually. A shoulder injury sidelined Bodden, and while McCourty emerged as a Pro Bowler, Bodden's presence over undrafted sophomore Arrington would have given the Patriots a much more formidable secondary.

New England's obvious need is a pass-rusher. With two draft choices in each of the first two rounds and the wherewithal to lure a free agent, there are plenty of reasons to expect New England's defense to upgrade in 2011.

NEW YORK JETS

Can the Jets retain their loaded receiving corps?

The Jets are in a bad spot when it comes to free agency in general, but particularly in regard to their wide receivers.

Contracts are up for Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith. They accounted for 17 of the club's 39 touchdowns.

Holmes spent the first four games on suspension, but he and Edwards combined for 105 receptions, 1,591 yards and 12 touchdowns. Smith was less of a threat in the receiving game, but he lined up as an option quarterback. He threw a touchdown pass and returned two kickoffs for touchdowns.

Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum declared his intentions to re-sign them all, but he added the plan was in pencil and expressed considerable doubt he would hammer out any deals before March 3, when the collective bargaining agreement is expected to expire.

Until there's a new CBA, nobody knows what free agency will look like. When will the signing period commence? How many seasons of NFL experience will determine restricted or unrestricted free agency? What will salary-cap parameters be?

That's why bringing back all three receivers will be unlikely. Once they hit the open market, the Jets will have to compete with the rest of the league for three players who will be coveted.

The Jets acquired Holmes and Edwards because they had baggage, but they have enhanced their reputations immensely. Holmes served his suspension and was on his best behavior. Edwards defied his rap as a habitual ball-dropper.

The always-respected Smith once again proved to be a versatile weapon at a time when such players are in high demand.

The Jets must keep at least two of them. They can't afford to give Sanchez less to work with. The young quarterback has many admirable traits, but he has shown little capacity to carry the offense himself. Sanchez requires a strong support staff.

The Jets might be able to get away with losing one of these receivers. Tight end Dustin Keller was sensational while Holmes was suspended. Through the first four games, Keller had 19 receptions for 234 yards and five touchdowns. Then Keller got lost in the offense and didn't score another TD.

Bills land Dave Wannstedt as assistant

January, 21, 2011
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Buffalo Bills coach Chan Gailey's defensive coaching staff has gotten a lot better.

FoxSports.com senior writer Alex Marvez reports Dave Wannstedt will join Gailey's staff as assistant head coach and inside linebackers assistant.

The move is an offseason victory for the Bills, an organization that struggled to attract top free agents because they haven't reached the playoffs in a decade. Wannstedt becomes the biggest name to join the Bills as an assistant coach since future Hall of Famer Dick LeBeau served on Gregg Williams' defensive staff in 2003 or since Sam Wyche was quarterbacks coach under Mike Mularkey in 2004.

It will be interesting to see how big a voice Wannstedt has on defensive game planning.

Gailey retained defensive coordinator George Edwards, who oversaw a slapdash unit that switched from Dick Jauron's 4-3 scheme to a 3-4. By the end of the season, the Bills were running multi-front schemes.

They ranked 24th in total defense, 32nd in run defense and third in pass defense (because opponents ran so much).

The Bills had an opening because Gailey fired inside linebackers coach DeMontie Cross.

Wannstedt agreed with the Bills after drawing interest from several other teams. He was available because he resigned as head coach at the University of Pittsburgh.

He was Miami Dolphins head coach from 2000 through 2004, taking them to the playoffs his first two seasons with Gailey as offensive coordinator. Wannstedt led the Chicago Bears from 1993 through 1998, reaching the postseason once.

Wannstedt gained notice as a sharp defensive mind under Jimmy Johnson with the Miami Hurricanes and Dallas Cowboys. He was Cowboys defensive coordinator in Super Bowl XXVII, holding the Bills to 17 points.

Landing Wannstedt would be a Buffalo coup

January, 13, 2011
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Dave Wannstedt met with the Buffalo Bills on Thursday to discuss how he might fit in with their defensive coaching staff.

Head coach Chan Gailey welcomed Wannstedt to One Bills Drive to see what job his old friend would be willing to do. Gailey previously stated his support of defensive coordinator George Edwards.

Wannstedt has been head coach of the Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins and recently resigned under pressure as University of Pittsburgh head coach.

He's overqualified for the Bills' only apparent vacancy, inside linebackers assistant. But tack on the title of assistant head coach and the pay that goes along with it, and that might work.

"I think he would be a very good fit, but it remains to be seen if this is something he would like to do or not," Gailey said to BuffaloBills.com. "So he'll have to think about it and see what direction he wants to go."

Gailey was Miami's offensive coordinator for two seasons while Wannstedt was head coach.

Before Wannstedt became a head coach, he was Miami Hurricanes and Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator under Jimmy Johnson, winning a Super Bowl.

"He's extremely knowledgeable," Gailey said of Wannstedt. "He's a great human being, a great team guy, and he would bring some intensity to our team because I know what burns inside of him."

The Bills probably will have to compete with other teams for Wannstedt's services.

ESPN's Adam Schefter previously reported Wannstedt also was expected to speak with the Cleveland Browns, San Diego Chargers and Carolina Panthers.
The Carolina Panthers just announced they’ll hold a 5 p.m. news conference Tuesday. They’re expected to announce Ron Rivera as their new head coach.

Rivera already has begun the process of seeking out assistant coaches to fill out his staff. He reportedly already is showing interest in hiring former University of Pittsburgh and NFL coach Dave Wannstedt as his assistant head coach and defensive coordinator. But Rivera may have some competition for Wannstedt. The San Diego Chargers are interested in Wannstedt to fill Rivera's old job as defensive coordinator.

How I See It: AFC East Stock Watch

December, 29, 2010
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NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills quarterback: Bills fans have been debating the merits of sticking with Fitzpatrick as their franchise quarterback or drafting a prospect. Sunday's meltdown against the Patriots would favor new blood. Fitzpatrick committed five turnovers -- three interceptions and two fumbles. The Patriots turned his first three giveaways into 21 points and romped.

2. Jets' run defense: It took a statistical review a few days after the fact to drop Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall below 100 yards rushing against the Jets two weeks ago. He would have been the first to hit the century mark against the Jets since Nov. 15, 2009. Their streak remained intact for that week only because Bears running back Matt Forte rushed for 113 yards (5.9 average) and one touchdown Sunday.

3. Davone Bess, Dolphins receiver: He's still one of the Dolphins' top players, but his second-half production hasn't measured up to his hot start or the lucrative contract extension he signed in October. That's the definition of a slumping stock. Bess caught his first touchdown pass since Week 7 on a tipped ball that should have been intercepted. He also fumbled a punt return the Lions converted into a field goal and fell down to allow Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy to intercept and score the winning touchdown in a late fourth-quarter collapse that might cost people their jobs.

RISING

[+] EnlargeShonn Greene
Mike DiNovo/US PresswireShonn Greene helped get the Jets' running game back on track Sunday.
1. Chances for another AFC East coaching change: We could be following an AFC East head coaching search for the eighth straight year. The Dolphins would appear primed for change after a dull and disappointing season that can be described as mediocre at best. The Dolphins began the year with Super Bowl aspirations and went 1-7 at Sun Life Stadium. They lost to the Browns, Bills and Lions in their final three home games. It's pretty easy to see Tony Sparano joining Dick Jauron, Eric Mangini, Cam Cameron, Nick Saban, Mike Mularkey, Herm Edwards, Dave Wannstedt and Gregg Williams as AFC East head coaches who either were fired or stepped down since the 2003 season.

2. Shonn Greene, Jets running back: The Jets couldn't find a better time to get their torpid rushing attack in gear. Greene ran 12 times for 70 yards and his first touchdown in 10 games Sunday against the Bears. Greene's 5.8-yard average was his highest of the season.

3. Gary Guyton, Patriots linebacker: He continues to shine while Brandon Spikes is suspended for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances. Guyton had a strip-sack and two passes defensed in Sunday's victory over the Bills. Over the past seven weeks he has three sacks, an interception, five passes defensed and a fumble return for a touchdown.

Bonamego firing bothers Westhoff

October, 8, 2010
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From one special teams coach to another, Mike Westhoff sent his regards to John Bonamego.

The Miami Dolphins fired Bonamego on Tuesday morning. Westhoff, the New York Jets' coordinator, said he reached out to let him know others were thinking of him.

"I'm the guy to do it," said Westhoff, who's in his 28th NFL season. "I've been around the longest. I think I know enough that I can talk from experience on both sides of it, from having good days and bad days. ... I know one thing. I know he appreciated it when we talked."

[+] EnlargePat Chung
AP Photo/Lynne SladkyBrandon Fields' blocked punt was just one of three special teams disasters that plagued the Miami Dolphins on Monday.
The Dolphins fired Bonamego hours after the New England Patriots annihilated them 41-14. The Patriots scored 21 points off special teams gaffes: a 103-yard kickoff return, a blocked punt and a blocked field goal.

Westhoff called a play that helped the Jets block a Dolphins punt the week before. As a result, the Dolphins cut linebacker Erik Walden supposedly for not picking up Jets safety Eric Smith on that punt block.

"I helped it happen," Westhoff said of the Bonamego's dismissal, "but it's happened to everybody."

Westhoff coached for the Dolphins from 1986 to 2000. His tenure ended when Dave Wannstedt fired him.

Westhoff said he was disappointed in the Dolphins' decision and sounded bothered Bonamego took the fall alone, with no players getting released, too.

One Dolphins player was at fault for two of the three special teams implosions, Westhoff claimed.

"It's interesting that there was one particular guy that was involved in two of those major breakdowns," Westhoff said. "Frankly, I don't think he could play. I don't want the guy either."

Who could this player be?

"I'm not going to tell you," Westhoff said. "That wouldn't be fair, but there was a common denominator."

Let's try to figure it out.

We can eliminate the blocked field goal as a play Westhoff was referring to for two reasons: 1) It was pretty obvious left wing Lydon Murtha simply let Patriots safety Pat Chung blow right past him; 2) nobody on the field-goal unit was on for punt protection or kickoff coverage.

Only four players were on both the punt and kickoff units: Bobby Carpenter, Patrick Cobbs, Lex Hilliard, Tim Dobbins and Tyrone Culver.

We can eliminate Dobbins and Culver from the discussion because they lined up on the right side for the punt, and Chung's block came through the left. Carpenter was the left tackle. Hilliard was the left wing. Cobbs was the personal protector.

On Brandon Tate's 103-yard kickoff return up the sideline, when he "broke around the edge, he had two unblocked guys," Westhoff said. "Make the tackle."

Carpenter was the first to miss. Nolan Carroll appears to be the other unblocked pursuer Westhoff referred to, and he's not on the other units.

Carpenter, a backup linebacker, was the first-round draft choice of the Dallas Cowboys in 2006, when Dolphins consultant Bill Parcells and general manager Jeff Ireland were there.

"If they had included some personnel with [Bonamego's dismissal], I might have not felt so bad," Westhoff said. "That bothers me. I know the guy worked hard. It's their business. It's not mine. They have the right to decide their own. I respect that, but I'm disappointed when those things happen."

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