NFL Nation: Eric Green
It becomes official today that he will miss the entire training camp. The last Steelers player to do that was tight end Eric Green in 1990, when he was their No. 1 pick. Green did not sign until after the regular season began and missed the first four games.
There's been increasing talk that Wallace will report back to the Steelers, who have been resigned to the fact that they wouldn't see Wallace at St. Vincent College this year. Wallace is holding out to protest the lack of a long-term deal. The Steelers have stopped talks on a new contract until he reports back to the team.
"There's a little buzz around the team that he'll be coming back pretty soon," wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. “I don’t know the exact date, but it’s looking pretty good.”
If I had to make a guess on a return date, I would say sometime next week, perhaps as soon as a day or two after Sunday's preseason game against the Colts. Even though Wallace is working out with a trainer in Florida, he needs to get in football shape and get up to speed with Todd Haley's offense. The Steelers' season opener at Denver is 23 days away.
╗ Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)
Each week leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: History in that spot.
The Bears’ top pick is No. 75 overall. Here are the last five players taken in that spot, with their NFL team in parentheses:
2009: Ball State tackle Robert Brewster (Dallas)
2008: Oklahoma defensive back Reggie Smith (San Francisco)
2007: Illinois State receiver Laurent Robinson (Atlanta)
2006: Louisville guard Jason Spitz (Green Bay)
2005: Virginia Tech defensive back Eric Green (Arizona)
Robinson had 37 receptions as a rookie but has since moved to St. Louis. Spitz was the Packers’ opening-day center last season before a back injury sidelined him. He is a candidate to start in 2010. Smith has played in 13 games over the past two seasons for the 49ers, with seven tackles and no interceptions.
The Lions’ top pick is No. 2 overall. Here are the last five players taken in that spot, with their NFL team in parentheses:
2009: Baylor offensive tackle Jason Smith (St. Louis)
2008: Virginia defensive end Chris Long (St. Louis)
2007: Georgia Tech receiver Calvin Johnson (Detroit)
2006: USC running back Reggie Bush (New Orleans)
2005: Auburn running back Ronnie Brown (Miami)
Brown, Bush and Johnson have all been dynamic playmakers for parts of their careers. Coincidentally, all three have been slowed by knee injuries of varying severity. The Rams are still waiting for elite payoff from Long and endured an inconsistent rookie season from Smith.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers’ top pick is No. 23 overall. Here are the last five players taken in that spot, with their NFL team in parentheses:
2009: Mississippi offensive tackle Michael Oher (Baltimore)
2008: Illinois running back Rashard Mendenhall (Pittsburgh)
2007: LSU receiver Dwayne Bowe (Kansas City)
2006: Oklahoma guard Davin Joseph (Tampa Bay)
2005: Nebraska cornerback Fabian Washington (Oakland)
Oher, Mendenhall, Bowe and Joseph have been full-time starters. Washington moved from Oakland to Baltimore.
The Vikings’ top pick is No. 30 overall. Here are the last five players taken in that spot, with their NFL team in parentheses:
2009: Rutgers receiver Kenny Britt (Tennessee)
2008: Purdue tight end Dustin Keller (New York Jets)
2007: LSU receiver Craig Davis (San Diego)
2006: LSU running back Joseph Addai (Indianapolis)
2005: Virginia tight end Heath Miller (Pittsburgh)
All five are skill players, for what it’s worth. Davis has been a bust, but Miller, Addai and Keller are highly productive players. Britt is on pace to be as well.
Marty Schottenheimer, 21-year NFL head coach:
"That sounds to me that it's expensive. It reminds me of when I was 6 years old and used to walk to the little grocery and candy store. When I say little, I mean you could barely fit five people in there. I used to go in there with my four, five, six, seven pennies. I could barely see above to counter. And I would say 'I want to take one of those, two of those, one of these ...' Mrs. Pascoe would have to stop me and say 'I'm sorry that's all the money you have.' That was my first exposure to what it was like to be a coach in the National Football League. My math has never been very good, but I understood what it meant.
"My theory has always been there's an amount of money you can spend, and you need to spread it out the right way to find the players that will help your football team. Some guys get paid more than they're worth, and some guys get paid less than they're worth. The market for Dansby was established somewhere by somebody.
"There are a number of people that would not be willing to make that kind of commitment, but the Dolphins know their situation better than anybody, and there might be other factors they desired other than play on the field -- leadership ability and the like. I've always thought that when it comes to free agents nobody knows what you're looking for like you do. The benefit you have in free agency is you have a pretty good idea how a guy is going to play at this level. Coming out of college, there are no assurances."
Kim Bokamper, Pro Bowl outside linebacker for the Dolphins and sports anchor of Miami's CBS affiliate:
"I've gotten to a point with free agency where I have to wait and see before I have an opinion because so many times they pick up guys you feel good about and they don't perform. That, to me, has always been the biggest question: Will he play as hard now that he's got the cash in his pocket compared to when he didn't -- relative to the amount of money these guys make. A perfect example is Ernest Wilford. He got some money in his pocket and put it in neutral.
"But with Dansby, you bring in a guy at middle linebacker who's a playmaker that they need. It kind of signals that the owner or the management feels that they're close and they're willing to go out and make a splash and spend a big chunk of change on someone who can put them there they need to be this year, and that's the playoffs.
"I have these visions in my head of running backs and tight ends running crossing routes or running down the middle of the field and watching our linebackers trailing them, two or three steps behind. If Dansby resolves that, then I'm all for it.
"Is there another guy out there considered better? If so, then I'd question the money. I don't think anybody can argue you'd pay more for anybody else out there than you would on this guy."
Keith Sims, three-time Pro Bowl guard for the Dolphins in the 1990s:
"I'm hoping we're not talking about another Dolphins free-agent bust like Eric Green, Ernest Wilford or Gibril Wilson. They haven't hit on their free agents. Otherwise, they'd have that cornerback, have that safety, have that receiver.
"Barring injury, [Dansby] will be a solid player for years. My question is whether he's going to be worth the dollars. I think it was a glaring need for the Dolphins, and he's a guy that's been productive. I think he brings a lot to table, and the one thing the Dolphins did not want to do was allow him to go to another team for a visit. He was able to force their hand and force them to pay top dollars to stop him from getting on that plane.
"Maybe they overpaid a little bit, but he solves a huge hole in the middle of the defense. The Dolphins identified what they wanted, saw he was the best player on the market and did what it took to go out and sign him. They went with the -- quote, unquote -- safest guy as they possibly could find and gave him the money.
"It's perfect timing for the player. He had all the leverage in the world. The team was desperate to fill the position, and they could've drafted [Rolando] McClain out of Alabama, but I always feel more comfortable paying top dollar to a veteran who has produced rather than a guy who's unproven, coming out of college."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
The plan for Miami Dolphins rookie cornerbacks Sean Smith and Vontae Davis is for them to split time.
Before Monday night's game is over, they could have splitting headaches.
The Dolphins will host the Indianapolis Colts in Land Shark Stadium. As if a home debut and the big "Monday Night Football" stage won't be enough to have their brains swimming, Smith and Davis will be in Peyton Manning's cross hairs.
|Michael DeHoog/Sports Imagery/Getty Images|
|Vontae Davis will likely be tested early and often by Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.|
"I think he will be looking there," Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano said at his Thursday news conference. "Watching Peyton over the years, I don’t think he is going to force the ball any place. He is going to do exactly what the defense dictates and not force the ball and try to limit turnovers and do those kinds of things for his football team.
"That being said, we are not na´ve. Our guys know that. There are going to be times in the game where he is going to look over there and try to pick on them."
Manning was diplomatic when asked Thursday about Miami's rookie cornerbacks.
"You see a lot of ability in both guys," Manning said. "It will take accurate throws. It will take good routes and see how they match up.
"There is still some of that unknown. You prepare for some things you may get, but adjust to certain things once the game actually arrives."
Smith and Davis each saw over 30 plays opposite left cornerback Will Allen in Sunday's 19-7 loss to the Atlanta Falcons in the Georgia Dome.
Smith played the first two series, making him the first Dolphins rookie cornerback in 29 years to start on opening day.
Sparano noted "a couple technical errors" out of Smith and Davis on Sunday. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan went deep to Roddy White on the opening drive. White beat Smith with a double move, but Ryan's pass was underthrown and fell incomplete.
"The ball was going to go down the field early in that game," Sparano said, "and I don't know what the play was, but I don’t think it was no more than six, seven plays into the game where they took the shot at Sean down the field."
Sparano told reporters Wednesday that he wanted to keep divvying up their time because he wants to keep both of them involved at right cornerback.
The rookies performed well enough through training camp and in preseason games that the Dolphins felt comfortable in releasing veteran free agent Eric Green.
But neither Smith nor Davis has faced anybody like Manning before.
In the three seasons Smith played at Utah, the Mountain West Conference produced two drafted quarterbacks. BYU's John Beck and San Diego State's Kevin O'Connell both already have been cut.
Davis faced only a slightly higher degree of quarterback. The only ones drafted out of the Big Ten during Davis' time at Illinois were Drew Stanton, Troy Smith, Chad Henne and Curtis Painter.
"This is going to be the biggest challenge of their whole career, going against a guy that doesn't miss," Dolphins safety Gibril Wilson said in a South Florida Sun-Sentinel story. "We got away with a couple last week.
"Peyton's not going to miss those. We're going to have to really be aware of what the matchup situations are and where everybody is on the field at all times."
Three quick hits on the Miami Dolphins:
We haven't heard the last from Jason Taylor.
Many observers figured last year's uninspiring season with the Washington Redskins signaled the beginning of Taylor's decline. He missed three games because of a freaky calf injury, started only eight games and recorded a measly 3.5 sacks. He generated interest from the New England Patriots, so maybe that should have been a sign he had something left. But when he signed with the Dolphins he wasn't expected to be an every-down player. He would have to share snaps with incumbent strong-side outside linebacker Matt Roth and CFL import Cameron Wake. But Taylor has looked more like a six-time Pro Bowler than washed up. He and Joey Porter seem to be engaging each other as spiritual leaders of a defense with a chip on its shoulder. Roth's mysterious unavailability (injured? ill? contract?) has eased Taylor's return.
Sean Smith is better than even the Dolphins thought.
If the Dolphins knew the 6-foot-3 cornerback from Utah would emerge so quickly as starter material, they might not have drafted Illinois cornerback Vontae Davis with the 25th overall pick. The Dolphins' scouting department obviously had an idea Smith would be good. They selected him with their second pick of the second round. They loved his size for covering big receivers such as Randy Moss and Terrell Owens -- someday. But he might be pulling that duty sooner than projected as the right-side starter. Smith quickly surpassed Davis on the depth chart and has looked remarkable enough that the Dolphins cut veteran cornerback Eric Green, who they'd brought in as a free agent from the Arizona Cardinals.
Can Ted Ginn play like a lottery pick?
I realize that the NFL doesn't have a lottery draft, but if Ginn were a $5 scratch-off ticket he'd be a $3 winner. The ninth overall selection of the 2007 draft hasn't been lousy, but he hasn't been worth the investment either. The front office -- not the one that drafted him -- hopes he will blossom into something more than he has been. He was an electrifying return man at Ohio State but hasn't been able to convince the Dolphins to let him do it for them. He's listed at 5-foot-11. He avoids contact and runs out of bounds too quickly to ever be considered physical. But he does possess stunning speed they don't have elsewhere. If their first preseason game is any indication, the Dolphins would love to feed Ginn the ball. If he doesn't produce anything substantial in his third NFL season, he will go down as one of the biggest busts in Miami history.
|Steve Mitchell/US Presswire|
|Miami Dolphins coach Tony Sparano wants his team to stay hungry.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
Stands to reason they also are prohibitive favorites to take the AFC East crown.
But don't expect Dolphins coach Tony Sparano to cause a ruckus over a perceived oversight. He's quietly embracing it. Sparano doesn't want his team to act as if it has accomplished anything.
"What I don't want to do is to think we are good by any stretch of the imagination," Sparano said this past week during a break at training camp. "I think that we need to make sure this team stays hungry and continues to want to do the hunting out there."
Who will emerge as Chad Pennington's top target?
Analysts listed receiver as an area of grave need. The Dolphins' front office obviously didn't agree. They didn't sign any free-agent help and waited until the second day of the draft to select any receivers.
Miami wide receivers caught only five touchdown passes last year and managed only 11 receptions of 25 yards or more. The top three averaged 11.9 yards per catch.
Greg Camarillo was Pennington's obvious go-to guy last year, grabbing 55 passes through the first 11 games. But a torn knee ligament sidelined him for the final five games and puts a dubious spin on his projected role.
Davone Bess, who possesses a similar skill-set to Camarillo's, had 54 receptions last year. Ted Ginn finished with a team-high 56 catches for 790 yards, uninspiring numbers for the ninth overall pick of the 2007 draft.
Seven of tight end Anthony Fasano's 34 receptions were touchdowns.
But when the Dolphins need to convert a critical third-and-8 play, whom will defenses worry about?
Third-round draft picks Patrick Turner and Brian Hartline have had decent camps so far. Turner is tall and catches anything he gets his hands on, while Hartline is more of a possession receiver. Maybe one of them can emerge, but it's too soon to count on either of them.
Can a rookie win the starting right cornerback job?
|Joel Auerbach/US Presswire|
|Dolphins cornerback Vontae Davis is expected to compete for the starting spot.|
Earning a coach's trust is difficult for a rookie, especially at a position as pressure-drenched as cornerback. Smith has been convincing.
He's 6-foot-4, and the Dolphins drafted him to compete with the likes of Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Andre Johnson and the other big receivers they'll face this year. But to overtake a higher draft pick and a veteran so early in camp is an encouraging development.
Will new center Jake Grove and new assistant Dave DeGuglielmo transform the offensive line's personality?
Dolphins football operations boss Bill Parcells and Sparano didn't like what they saw out of their offensive line last year. One of the first offseason moves was to fire veteran O-line coach Mike Maser and hire DeGuglielmo, a New York Giants assistant.
One of their chief personnel priorities -- maybe the biggest -- was to find a run-blocking center.
The Dolphins wanted better success between the tackles. It didn't help that both of their opening-day starting guards were lost along the way. But they identified the main problem was second-year center Samson Satele, who started all 32 games of his career.
They signed Grove, an Oakland Raiders free agent, and then traded Satele to the Raiders for a sixth-round draft pick and a swap of fourth-round picks.
Newcomer to watch
Sure, Taylor still can be an impact pass-rusher. But he will be playing a new role and a different position from the one where he amassed almost all of his 120.5 career sacks.
Porter is the weakside outside linebacker. Taylor, a fixture all those years with his hand on the ground as Miami's right defensive end, will be the strongside outside linebacker. That means Taylor usually will line up on the left side in a two-point stance.
The Dolphins brought him back to be more of a situational pass-rusher, not to play every down. He should split snaps with incumbent Matt Roth (a run-stopper with limited coverage skills) and Cameron Wake (a Canadian Football League phenom who recorded 39 sacks in two seasons).
A mysterious situation has kept Roth sidelined through the first two weeks of camp. His agent claimed he had a groin injury. The Dolphins claimed he was ill and out of shape. Either way, that has allowed Taylor to get more reps so far.
"Teddy is going into his third year, and I think it's time for him to really show what he was drafted here to do," Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland said prior to the draft.
Ronnie Brown, who got off to a slow start in training camp last year because he was coming off knee surgery and a wrist injury, has looked sharp. His quickness and maneuverability stands out next to the other backs, including Ricky Williams, who doesn't look as explosive as he did a year ago. ... Williams is 32 years old and starting to show it. ... Rookie quarterback Pat White better be able to contribute from the Wildcat formation because he has been lousy as a quarterback. What makes White a threat is his ability to pass and run out of the formation, but his arm has been scattershot since he arrived. Defenses should force him to throw it. ... Kickers always have been expendable on a Parcells team. The Dolphins unearthed a gem last year with undrafted rookie Dan Carpenter, allowing them to save money by cutting Jay Feely. But Carpenter might have lost his footing. The club signed free agent Connor Barth to push him. Carpenter hasn't responded as well to the competition as the front office hoped. ... Rookie receivers Turner and Hartline, both third-round draft choices, have looked impressive. Turner is a tall target with soft hands who could turn into a third-down and red zone weapon. ... Sparano seems to be gaining confidence in third-year defensive tackle Paul Soliai, a fourth-round draft pick in 2007. Soliai is listed at 6-foot-4, 355 pounds. He twice was suspended for one game last year for weight issues. "A year ago I questioned how important this whole thing was maybe to Paul. ... From a professional standpoint, I think this guy is starting to get it. He is starting to figure out that this isn't only a hobby," Sparano said.
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.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
Sun-Sentinel reporter Zach Buchanan quotes Mitchell Butler III as saying "The Dolphins gave him a promise that they'll take him if he's around."
Miami hasn't had promising youth at cornerback for years, churning through a series of free agents to man the position.
The last time the Dolphins had a top cornerback prospects to groom were Patrick Surtain and Sam Madison in the late 1990s.
New England Patriots
- Boston Globe reporter Mike Reiss explains why tackle is such a premium position in the NFL and what this year's draft class looks like.
- WEEI.com's Christopher Price predicts the Patriots will take Cincinnati linebacker Connor Barwin with the 23rd pick.
- Miami Herald columnist Armando Salguero projects the Dolphins will take a defensive player in the first round.
- Palm Beach Post reporter Brian Biggane catches up with new Dolphins cornerback Eric Green to discuss the revamped secondary.
- South Florida Sun-Sentinel columnist wants to know which Dolphins draft class was best. Hyde's options don't include 1983.
- The Toronto Argonauts are furious to learn organizers want to bring more Bills games to the Rogers Centre, writes Toronto Globe and Mail reporter David Naylor.
- Allen Wilson of the Buffalo News is down on the Bills' decision to trade Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters.
- Associated Press reporter Dennis Waszak Jr. takes a look at outside linebacker Vernon Gholston's quest for sophomore salvation.
- Brian Costello of the New York Post gives the Jets a list of dos and don'ts for next weekend's draft.
- New York Daily News reporter Rich Cimini analyzes the Jets' quarterback decision as they head into the draft and weigh Southern California's Mark Sanchez and Kansas State's Josh Freeman.
- George Bretherton at The Fifth Down tries to quantify fun as an element to success.
"The best secondary in the league," Wilson said.
That probably sounds odd to draft analysts and fans who think the Dolphins have a glaring need at cornerback.
Wilson sat down with former Dolphins linebacker Kim Bokamper, the host of "Dolphins Tonight" on local radio station WQAM, and discussed the new-look defensive backfield.
"I think we're going to be a very tight-knit group," Wilson said, "and I think we can be the best secondary in the league if we all just put our heads together and putt he talent together and make it happen."
Wilson has been Miami's top signing this offseason. The Oakland Raiders junked him as a cost-cutting measure. He finished second on the Raiders with 129 tackles one year after they plucked him from the New York Giants' championship starting lineup.
"We've got to bond as a team," Wilson said. "We've got to work hard. Everybody's got to trust each other. I've got to be able to look to my left and look to my right and make sure these guys have the same passion, the same intensity that I bring to the field."
Bokamper asked Wilson to give the listeners a scouting report on what he brings to the Dolphins.
"A guy that goes 110 percent, a guy that's going to fly around and make plays, a guy that's going to go out and just hit somebody," Wilson said. "That's what I bring. I bring a lot of passion to the game, and I want to be the best. That's how I am, and that's how I'm going to play."
He has played free safety in only one of his five NFL season, but that's the position he played when he won his Super Bowl ring.
"I get to roam a little more," Wilson said. "I get to blitz some. That's what I'm most comfortable with."
Bell, who led Miami with 120 tackles last year, will remain at strong safety. But Wilson noted their interchangeable roles will make the defense more dangerous. Wilson said he and Bell have been working out together every day.
Both of them are known as hard hitters. Wilson recorded 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble. Bell had one sack and three forced fumbles.
"We'll be able to move around a little more because me and the strong safety, we're basically vice-versa," Wilson said. "We'll be able to do a lot more disguising, a lot more different looks. I think this is a perfect fit for me, and I'm excited to get started."
Team needs: Receiver, cornerback, interior line
|Joe Robbins/Getty Images|
|Rutgers wideout Kenny Britt would fill a need for the Dolphins and should be available when Miami picks.|
Dream scenario: The Dolphins hold the No. 25, 44 and 56 selections in the draft. They won't have their pick of the litter by the time they go on the clock, but they should be able to acquire prospects who can fill significant needs at receiver and cornerback.
Receiver looks like the more pressing need of the two. The Dolphins lost their starting right cornerback when Andre Goodman departed via free agency, but they replaced him with Eric Green, formerly on the Arizona Cardinals. While the Dolphins still require some youthful promise at cornerback -- they can't keep turning to retread veterans every year -- they have done nothing to shore up a mediocre receiving corps.
The Dolphins didn't have a go-to threat last year, but they can find help at No. 25. Maryland speedster Darrius Heyward-Bey still might be on the board. If not, Kenny Britt from Rutgers should be around. He doesn't have elite speed, but he's one of the bigger receivers in the draft.
The Dolphins then could come back for a cornerback with the 44th selection, obtained in the trade that sent Jason Taylor to the Washington Redskins. Louis Delmas from Western Michigan or Darius Butler from Connecticut could fall to the Dolphins there.
Plan B: Miami football operations boss Bill Parcells loves heart-and-soul players, and there will be a few available late in the first round. If Parcells can't bring himself to select a skill player and wants to stick with something a little closer to bedrock, he might find Southern California linebacker Clay Matthews still on the board. Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis and Boston College defensive tackle Ron Brace should still be around, too.
Scouts Inc. take: "It's un-Parcells-like, but I think they need to find smaller people this time around. They need to find a No. 1 corner. I don't know who that player is, but Vontae Davis is someone they'll have to consider there. The second round also makes sense for corners. Ideally, the plan would be to get a No. 1 wideout. Ted Ginn is a specialty player, and they have the slot guys. But they need the No. 1, all-around, big, fast, strong receiver. They might not be able to get him, so they might have to live life without that player." -- Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc.
Who has final say: Parcells makes the calls but pretends he's merely an interested observer. General manger Jeff Ireland is his right-hand man.
Now On the Clock: Atlanta Falcons, March 23.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Cardinals free-agent cornerback Eric Green has signed with the Dolphins, who announced the move Thursday afternoon.
The Cardinals phased out Eric Green last season. They had no interest in re-signing him. The Seahawks spent money on defensive tackle Colin Cole, so Howard Green was not a priority.
Both Greens project as role players. Eric Green might have some upside if he can stay healthy and find the right situation. It wasn't working for him in Arizona.
The first wave of free agency has come and gone. While Round 2 hasn't played out yet -- the draft is still six weeks away and offseason programs are in the offing -- the AFC South blog pauses to assess our four teams.
What's the overriding issue that remains to be addressed for each team? How might the franchises take them on?
|Rob Tringali/Sportschrome/Getty Images|
|Defensive end Antonio Smith gives the Texans some help on their defensive line.|
The team's 2006 draft was the last with Charley Casserly as GM and coach Gary Kubiak signed off on all seven picks. Three of them -- Mario Williams, DeMeco Ryans and Owen Daniels -- already have been to the Pro Bowl, and a fourth -- Eric Winston -- is a very solid starter.
If the Texans can come close to matching that with a defense-heavy draft, they could position themselves to challenge Tennessee and Indianapolis atop the division.
They need an infusion of defensive playmakers for new coordinator Frank Bush to work with: A sturdy linebacker, a stout defensive tackle, a safety or corner to challenge for a big role.
Never mind their standing as the league's 22nd-ranked defense in 2008. If the Texans can improve in scoring defense (24.6 points, 27th) and third-down defense (39.4 percent, 16th), that can make a huge difference. Defensive stinginess would help a team that's got an offensive head coach in Kubiak and an attack that should be able to score with a quality skill trio of Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson and Steve Slaton.
They believe they answered the question at defensive end by signing free agent Antonio Smith to play opposite Williams. But more additions to the front seven are needed, as they have to produce more pressure on quarterbacks. Only five teams had fewer than the Texans' 25 sacks last year, 12 of which came from Williams. Each of the 12 playoff teams last season recorded more sacks than it allowed. Houston was minus-seven.
Above all else, the pass rush needs to remain the focus. The Texans need a pocket-collapsing tackle, a linebacker who could contribute to the rush and/or a defensive back who can help keep the ball in a QB's hand for an extra beat. A running back to go with Slaton will be tempting, but the Texans should wait to grab one until after they've spent at least a couple of value picks on defense.
The Colts like Roy Hall and Pierre Garcon, but they are unproven and it would be asking for and expecting a lot for one of them to emerge as the third receiver on a team that needs dependable pass catchers for Peyton Manning. That's why it won't be a surprise at all if the Colts use the 27th pick in the draft on a wideout if there is one they believe fits what they do and can contribute right away.
But even if they go that direction early, their bigger issue is on defense, where the front seven needs restocking. The Colts need at least one big, run-stuffing defensive tackle and they need a new weakside linebacker with Freddy Keiaho (not given a qualifying offer when he could have been a restricted free agent) and Tyjuan Hagler (unrestricted) apparently out of the picture.
New defensive coordinator Larry Coyer is expected to be more complex, and Polian needs to give him more pieces to work with. The Colts like to choose "the best player available" in at least the first two rounds. It would be great for them if those players happened to be interior linemen or outside linebackers. Without boosts there, we'll be discussing a lot of the same issues in 2009 we covered in 2008.
The Jaguars have sent the message loud and clear: They are looking to rebuild by improving their foundation first, and they are big believers that the offensive and defensive lines are that foundation.
|Howard Smith/US Presswire|
|While providing stability on the offensive line, Tra Thomas knows he needs work on his run blocking.|
The addition of veteran left tackle Tra Thomas alleviates the pressure on the team to find a left tackle at No. 8 in the
draft, but Thomas himself said he needs work as a run blocker. With a team looking to spring Maurice Jones-Drew, that's the big priority.
At their peak, Jack Del Rio's Jaguars were known as one of the league's most physical teams. For a long time, the interior defensive line tandem of John Henderson and Marcus Stroud were primary reasons for that reputation.
The 2008 Jaguars never really replaced Stroud effectively after he was traded to Buffalo, and finding someone like him who could eat space and blockers and help boost Henderson back to his old form is important.
As usual, Jacksonville needs a playmaker outside. Their failures with receivers are well documented, but if David Garrard has insufficient protection and the defense can't get off the field on third down better, the next Jerry Rice won't win them too many games.
Re-establishing a physical identity remains priority No. 1, and will be a big focus in the draft.
Beyond Haynesworth, the Titans have lost little and should be in position to be a contender again. The big issue is the lack of playmakers.
When Chris Johnson left the Baltimore playoff game hurt, Tennessee didn't have an alternative and became far less threatening. Adding a field-stretching receiver can improve the Titans' quick-strike ability. A burner would help keep defenses honest so they can't focus on Johnson as much.
Is free-agent acquisition Nate Washington that guy? Perhaps.
If the Titans can bring back Chris Carr or sign one of the veteran corners they've looked at -- Justin Miller, Eric Green or Jarrett Bush -- they won't be in dire need of anything in the draft. That's a liberating idea for a team that needs to line up heirs at some spots like outside linebacker and corner.
But it also gives the Titans the option of grabbing a receiver they think can help add a dynamic like Johnson did a year ago. The question is, will they finally do it?
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Tracking free-agent visits can become a part-time job during the initial rush of free agency. Now that things have settled, I've put together an unofficial list showing where NFC West free agents have visited and which players the division's teams have visited with.
These visits fall into four basic categories:
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider suggests the receivers make Kurt Warner, not the other way around. He suggests the 49ers might have been better off not signing the three-time Super Bowl quarterback. Lynch: "In Arizona, Larry Fitzgerald's and Anquan Boldin's statistics weren't that much worse when Matt Leinart, Cade McCown or Jeff Blake throwing to them."
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says he's "a little surprised" the 49ers haven't sought an offensive tackle in free agency. Barrows: "Their lack of interest at the position basically tells me they are confident they can land a good one in the draft."
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic quotes Bryant McFadden's agent as saying a broken forearm prevented the cornerback from commanding $8 million per season on a long-term deal. The Cardinals landed McFadden for two years and $10 million. Somers: "McFadden's first-year salary of $3.75 million is guaranteed, and he receives a $1 million roster bonus and $250,000 workout bonus. The $5 million salary for the second year is not guaranteed."
Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald says the cornerback market is weak after the Cardinals signed McFadden, a player the Dolphins had pursued. Salguero: "Eric Green, who included the Dolphins among his free-agent visits that also saw him travel to Tennessee and San Francisco, is still available. Although the Dolphins didn't make Green a contract offer last week, he expected to begin fielding such offers this week and it would not surprise, considering Miami's situation at cornerback, that they make him an offer."
VanRam of Turf Show Times looks at possible landing spots for Rams receiver Torry Holt. Baltimore? Chicago? Atlanta? Dallas? Philadelphia?
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says he thinks the Rams are considering Alex Barron as a potential left tackle, but the team probably doesn't have long-range plans for him at any position. Also: "There are some at Rams Park who like Jason Smith better at this point, thinking that he's more physical than [Eugene] Monroe. There are some at Rams Park who like Eugene Monroe better at this point, thinking that he's more athletic. Monroe is probably more NFL ready. Smith is still new to the position. As for [B.J.] Raji, don't rule him out as a first-round pick for the Rams. It's not as if anyone in the building has told me the Rams are interested. But he's certainly a top 10 pick, and the Rams do need another body at DT."
William Tomisser of Seahawk Addicts links to Sam Farmer's Los Angeles Times story about how far the Seahawks went in courting free-agent receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. While free-agent visits are indeed planned in detail, the sea-plane ride that set apart this visit from some wasn't part of the itinerary, general manager Tim Ruskell said. According to Ruskell, the plane was available only by chance.
1:00 PM ET Indianapolis Cincinnati 1:00 PM ET Atlanta Green Bay 1:00 PM ET Cleveland New England 1:00 PM ET Oakland New York 1:00 PM ET Detroit Philadelphia 1:00 PM ET Miami Pittsburgh 1:00 PM ET Buffalo Tampa Bay 1:00 PM ET Kansas City Washington 1:00 PM ET Minnesota Baltimore 4:05 PM ET Tennessee Denver 4:25 PM ET St. Louis Arizona 4:25 PM ET New York San Diego 4:25 PM ET Seattle San Francisco 8:30 PM ET Carolina New Orleans