NFL Nation: Gary Guyton

Tennessee Titans cut-down analysis

August, 31, 2013
8/31/13
6:30
PM ET
Most significant move: Marc Mariani came back from a vicious broken leg suffered in the preseason in 2012. A shoulder injury suffered in the preseason opener cost him the rest of camp and the preseason, and the Titans put him in injured-reserve Saturday, ending his season. He might have been ready as soon as Week 3, but the Titans clearly didn't like the uncertainty. They could have waived him injured, exposing him to a claim. In that scenario, St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher, who was instrumental in the Titans drafting the receiver/returner out of Montana in 2010, might have wanted him. But the Rams or anyone else would have had to have added him without getting to examine the injury, and Mariani's not under contract beyond this year so a new team could have been at risk for picking up a year's salary and getting nothing out of him. If he wasn’t claimed, he would have reverted to Tennessee’s IR. By putting Mariani directly on IR, he is assured of his $575,000 base salary this season but won’t play anywhere. The move means Darius Reynaud is the returner. He showed himself to be only the team’s fifth-best running back during camp, but sticks to handle punts and kickoffs.

Wildcard: If Rusty Smith clears waivers, the Titans will want the fourth-year quarterback back on their practice squad. He’s not been on the active roster for nine games in any of his first three seasons, so he retains his practice squad eligibility. If Smith is claimed, the Titans will need to find a young quarterback for the spot, who they can work to develop as insurance and who will be able to offer an option as the No. 2 if Jake Locker or Ryan Fitzpatrick suffers an injury that results in any missed time. One team that won't claim Smith -- his hometown Jacksonville Jaguars.

What's next: I could see the Titans shopping for a veteran safety as they sift through cuts. Seventh-round pick Daimion Stafford is on the roster now, but the Titans are heavy with strong safeties and light at free safety. They’d probably like better balance and Stafford could ultimately land on the practice squad. With 10 defensive linemen plus strongside linebacker Akeem Ayers in line to play a good share of end, the last pure end -- Keyunta Dawson -- is hardly a lock at this point. Only one injured Titan, rookie linebacker Zaviar Gooden, is likely to miss the season opener at Pittsburgh.

Tennessee Titans cuts: S Al Afalava, T Daniel Baldridge, TE Brandon Barden (injured), DT Stefan Charles, DT Zach Clayton, TE Jack Doyle, LB Gary Guyton, DT DaJohn Harris, S Corey Lynch, FB Collin Mooney, DE Nigel Nicholas, RB Jalen Parmele, WR Rashad Ross, LB Tim Shaw, QB Rusty Smith, LB-DE Scott Solomon, G Kasey Studdard, WR Dontel Watkins, LB Jonathan Willard, CB Khalid Wooten, C-G Fernando Velasco

Placed on Injured-reserve: WR/returner Marc Mariani.

Titans confirm 10 cuts

August, 30, 2013
8/30/13
5:39
PM ET
NASHVILLE, Tenn -- The Tennessee Titans announced in a news release their first 10 cuts, eight of which had previously been reported by The Tennessean's Jim Wyatt.

The 10:

S Al Afalava
T Daniel Baldridge
TE Brandon Barden (injured)
DT Zach Clayton
LB Gary Guyton
DT DaJohn Harris
DE Nigel Nicholas
RB Jalen Parmele
G Kasey Studdard
WR Dontel Watkins

All of these moves were predictable.

Clayton was a seventh-rounder in 2011. Harris made last year's team as an undrafted free agent, and Afalafa was a veteran backup.

Miami Dolphins cut-down analysis

August, 31, 2012
8/31/12
11:21
PM ET
Click here for a complete list of Miami Dolphins' roster moves.

Most significant move: Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland, head coach Joe Philbin and the rest of his coaching staff warned their wide receivers that they needed to step up. This is Miami's weakest area, and week after week, receivers dropped balls and failed to make plays. Still, it was surprising that Miami cut two receivers of significance: Clyde Gates and Roberto Wallace. Both were on the bubble, but at least one was expected to make the cut -- especially on a receiver-deprived team. The Dolphins also released fellow receivers Chris Hogan, B.J. Cunningham and Jeff Fuller. The Dolphins said in the spring that they liked their receivers group; clearly, those opinions changed after training camp and the preseason.

Onward and upward: Miami made two free-agent additions to help the team’s depth at linebacker this offseason: Jamaal Westerman and Gary Guyton. Both players had starting experience and had played in the AFC East. But neither fit well with Miami’s new 4-3 defense. The Dolphins decided to cut their losses and not take either on their 53-man roster. There’s a good chance other teams will be looking for veteran linebackers, and due to their experience, both have a chance to land elsewhere.

What's next: Miami should be one of the busiest teams in free agency and scanning waivers. The Dolphins are rebuilding and need a lot of upgrades and depth. Wide receiver and safety are two positions Miami certainly will have its eye on. The Dolphins have a long way to go to make their roster into a contender. Rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill needs some assistance in his first season. So expect more changes in Miami before its Week 1 game against the Houston Texans.

Underrated players: AFC East

June, 10, 2011
6/10/11
12:00
PM ET
NFC Underrated Players: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A team-by-team look at the most underrated players in the division.

Buffalo Bills

Roscoe Parrish, receiver/punt returner: For five years,Parrish practically begged to be thrown the ball. He made the most of his touches, becoming one of the most dangerous punt returners in the NFL and setting franchise records.

[+] EnlargeBuffalo's Roscoe Parrish
Luc Leclerc/US PRESSWIREBills receiver Roscoe Parrish caught 33 passes for 400 yards and two touchdowns last season.
But his listed position was wide receiver, and in the Bills' passing game under head coaches Mike Mularkey and Dick Jauron, the undersized Parrish always seemed to be an afterthought.

That changed last year under new coach Chan Gailey. He played just eight games because of a broken wrist, but Parrish caught 33 passes for 400 yards and two touchdowns. The yardage was the most of his career. His TDs tied a career-high. Two more receptions would have matched a career-high.

Miami Dolphins

Kendall Langford, defensive end: On a defense with sack master Cameron Wake, the NFL's highest-paid linebacker in Karlos Dansby, franchise-tagged nose tackle Paul Soliai and Pro Bowl defensive end Randy Starks, a guy like Langford can get overlooked.

Langford, a 2008 third-round pick out of Hampton, has been a starter since his rookie season. Last year, after he gained national fame for being the sap who lost a $50,000 earring on the Dolphins' practice field, Langford produced a quality season for the one of the NFL's better defenses. He notched 47 tackles, three sacks, six tackles for losses, two forced fumbles and four passes defensed.

Langford is adept at controlling blockers and was a major reason why the Dolphins ranked seventh in run defense (100.1 yards per game) and third in average allowed per carry (3.6 yards).

New England Patriots

Gary Guyton, linebacker: Guyton started only eight games at linebacker last season, and half of those were necessitated by Brandon Spikes' four-game suspension. Even so, Guyton made a mark on the Patriots' defense. The undrafted third-year pro from Georgia Tech recorded 63 tackles, three sacks, two interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), six passes defensed, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery (returned for another touchdown).

"Gary is someone that fits in our system very well no matter what that role is," Patriots linebackers coach Matt Patricia said during the playoffs. "He's a very [versatile] player for us. He does an excellent job in whatever avenue we ask him to prepare and play. I think he is a guy who is active and plays for us every Sunday, and whatever that role is he's going to go out and do it to the best of his ability. It’s something that we have a lot of confidence in."

New York Jets

Brandon Moore, right guard: The Jets' offensive line has had remarkable star power over the past few seasons. Nick Mangold is an All-Pro center. Left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson went to the Pro Bowl last season. Right tackle Damien Woody has been to the Pro Bowl and owns Super Bowl rings. Alan Faneca, the Jets' left guard in 2008 and 2009, went to nine straight Pro Bowls.

Then there was Moore, an undrafted and often-overlooked workhorse. "Meat," as he's affectionately known by his teammates, has started 105 straight regular-season games. He was a third alternate for the Pro Bowl last year but still hasn't made it to one. In the Jets' locker room, he's respected enough to be a union representative.

"It's a shame that Brandon doesn't get as much of a nod as he deserves," Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said last season. "You'd be hard-pressed to find a better guard than him in all of football."

Making millions in the AFC East

March, 4, 2011
3/04/11
1:26
PM ET
Mark SanchezRichard A. Brightly/Icon SMIMark Sanchez is set to earn $14.75 million in base salary next season, the most in the AFC East.
Sports labor squabbles often are described as billionaires arguing with millionaires over money.

While that's a catchy rhyme that sums up fan frustration, the phrase is not entirely true.

Inspired by a blog entry from the minister of all things AFC South, Paul Kuharsky, I looked at NFL Players Association files to count up the number of AFC East players scheduled for $1 million base salaries in 2011.

Granted, up-front bonuses and incentives can make base salaries misleading. But base salaries are the only figures that create a common ground, player for player.

You'll see a vast majority of NFL players make much less than $1 million a year. Although many will make seven figures before they walk away from the game, careers are short and treacherous. They'll never see that kind of cash again for the rest of their lives.

That's why they're fighting for every dollar now.

Of the 226 players under contract in the AFC East, only 62 of them (27.4 percent) will make base salaries of $1 million or more.

The NFLPA hasn't acknowledged any franchise tags that have been signed. Those players are marked with an asterisk and not factored into the totals.

Buffalo Bills
Base salaries of $1 million or more: 19

Players under contract: 54

Percentage of roster making $1 million or more: 35.2

Miami Dolphins
Base salaries of $1 million or more: 15

Players under contract: 55

Percentage of roster making $1 million or more: 27.3

New England Patriots
Base salaries of $1 million or more: 14

Players under contract: 60

Percentage of roster making $1 million or more: 23.3

New York Jets
Base salaries of $1 million or more: 14

Players under contract: 57

Percentage of roster making $1 million or more: 24.6

Final Word: Jets at Patriots

January, 14, 2011
1/14/11
4:00
PM ET
Divisional Final Word: Ravens-Steelers | Jets-Patriots | Packers-Falcons | Seahawks-Bears

Three nuggets of knowledge about Sunday's Jets at Patriots divisional playoff game:

The Jets simply cannot pull off a 43-point swing in six weeks. Essentially, the same Jets are going into the same Gillette Stadium to play the same Patriots that obliterated them 45-3 on Dec. 6. The Jets must do two things: 1) find a way to undercut the Patriots, who have scored at least 31 points eight straight games; 2) escalate production from an offense that has been known to disappear without relying too heavily on erratic quarterback Mark Sanchez. I don't see the Jets holding the Patriots to 16 points like they did the short-handed Colts. The Jets' best shot to close the gap will be with a domineering ground attack from LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene. The Jets have been running the ball effectively, and the Patriots appear most vulnerable on the defensive line. But rushing their way to four or five touchdowns doesn't sound plausible.

[+] EnlargeDanny Woodhead
John Munson/The Star-Ledger/US PresswireDanny Woodhead accounted for 926 yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns.
Unlike the Colts, the Patriots can beat the Jets running or throwing. The Jets won last week by making Colts quarterback Peyton Manning hand off. Manning counted seven Jets defensive backs simultaneously on the field at times and marveled at seeing reserve cornerback Marquice Cole line up at defense end. The Jets could get away with that when the Colts' best running back was Dominic Rhodes. He couldn't make the Bills' roster out of training camp in 2009, spent most of the year with the UFL's Florida Tuskers and signed with the Colts last month. The Patriots, on the other hand, have BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead out of the backfield with support from Fred Taylor and Sammy Morris. Green-Ellis was the AFC East's lone 1,000-yard rusher this season and ran for 13 touchdowns. Woodhead gained 926 yards from scrimmage and scored six TDs.

The Patriots have more potent defense and special teams, too. The Jets lost their reputation for being opportunistic. Brad Smith returned two kickoffs for touchdowns. Dwight Lowery had two defensive touchdown returns, and Cole had one. But the Patriots scored nine touchdowns on defense and special teams. Inside linebacker Gary Guyton, Kyle Arrington and kick returner Brandon Tate scored two touchdowns apiece. The Patriots also led the NFL with 25 interceptions and tied for seventh with 13 fumble recoveries. The Jets finished second with 18 fumble recoveries but collected only 12 interceptions.

How I See It: AFC East Stock Watch

December, 29, 2010
12/29/10
9:16
AM ET
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.

How I See It: AFC East Stock Watch

December, 15, 2010
12/15/10
9:58
AM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Rex Ryan, Jets head coach: Nothing seems to be going properly for Ryan. He's known as a master motivator, but he's not pushing the right buttons lately. He symbolically buried a game ball from the Week 13 debacle against the Patriots, and it looked like nothing more than a rah-rah antic after losing at home to the Dolphins. Ryan reportedly chafed his defensive players by criticizing them in his postgame speech. And then there's the Sal Alosi tripping scandal that might not go away as quickly as Ryan would like.

2. Jets offense: Mark Sanchez is playing poorly. LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene aren't finding room to run. Santonio Holmes and Jerricho Cotchery are dropping passes. Dustin Keller isn't involved. Right tackle Damien Woody is hurt. Other than that, there's nothing to worry about.

3. Dolphins offense: Chad Henne is playing poorly. Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams aren't as productive as you'd like. Right tackle Vernon Carey is done for the season. Top chunk-yardage receiver Brian Hartline is out. While Miami's defense seems to be getting itself together, the offense seems to get worse by the week.

[+] EnlargeNew England's Gary Guyton
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastPatriots linebacker Gary Guyton returned a fumble 35 yards for a touchdown against the Bears.
RISING

1. Inside linebacker Gary Guyton and the Patriots defense: The Patriots have put together a pair of strong defensive efforts against division leaders, holding the Jets to three points and the Bears to seven points. With rookie starter Brandon Spikes suspended for four games, Guyton stepped up with an interception and returned a fumble 35 yards for a touchdown on snow-covered Soldier Field.

2. Brodney Pool, Jets safety: Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine called him out last week for being inconsistent, but Pool arguably was the Jets' best player against the Dolphins and would have been considered the star had the Jets won. Pool recorded a sack, forced a fumble that Jason Taylor recovered and picked up a Henne fumble.

3. David Nelson, Bills receiver: The undrafted rookie from Florida caught a touchdown pass in his second straight game. His 11-yard grab was the only touchdown scored in a 13-6 victory over the Browns in Ralph Wilson Stadium. He should get more opportunities over the final three games. The Bills placed veteran receiver Lee Evans on injured reserve Tuesday.

Rapid Reaction: Patriots 36, Bears 7

December, 12, 2010
12/12/10
7:13
PM ET
CHICAGO -- Rapid reaction from the Patriots’ stunning 36-7 blowout of the Bears at snowy, windy Soldier Field.

What it means: The Patriots improve to 11-2 and clinch a playoff spot, but this type of convincing effort figures to have analysts thinking about much more than just a playoff spot for this team. The Patriots, who had a 33-0 lead at halftime, look like a well-oiled machine capable of a Super Bowl run.

Impressive burst from Patriots over seven quarters: The Patriots have been on a tear since the fourth quarter of their Thanksgiving win over the Lions. From the fourth quarter of that game, through the second quarter of Sunday’s win over the Bears, the Patriots outscored opponents 99-3.

Brady’s interception streak intact: Quarterback Tom Brady continues his remarkable stretch of error-free football. He has now gone eight games without an interception, his last pick coming Oct. 17 on a Hail Mary at the end of regulation against the Ravens. Brady had a few passes tipped the Bears almost intercepted. His MVP candidacy only grew stronger after this effort.

Guyton steps into Spikes’ role and delivers: With rookie inside linebacker Brandon Spikes serving the first game of his four-game suspension, Gary Guyton stepped into a full-time role and came up with two big plays -- a 35-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the second quarter and an interception in the third quarter.

McCourty the big injury to watch: Rookie cornerback Devin McCourty, who has been impressive in locking down the left side and totaling six interceptions, left the game in the second quarter with a rib injury and did not return. The potential loss of McCourty would be a big blow to the Patriots, who have been dressing just three corners on game-day. In addition, defensive lineman Ron Brace (head) left the game in the third quarter and did not return.

Bears crash back to earth: Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher had said during the week that “We’re the best team, period.” They didn’t play like it on this day. The Bears were outclassed, with quarterback Jay Cutler turning into the “Cutler of old” with a mistake-filled performance while the defense was shredded by Brady and Co.

What’s next: The Patriots return home to face the Packers in a Sunday night game. Green Bay lost at Detroit and could be without quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who left the game against the Lions with a concussion. It is Rodgers’ second concussion of the season.

NFL suspends Pats rookie Brandon Spikes

December, 10, 2010
12/10/10
4:37
PM ET
The NFL has suspended New England Patriots rookie inside linebacker Brandon Spikes for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances.

Spikes is not appealing the four-game suspension, allowing the punishment to begin with Sunday's game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field and wiping out the remainder of the regular season. He will be allowed to participate in the playoffs .

"I've been contacted by the NFL and informed that I will be suspended four games for the detection of an illegal substance in a drug test," Spikes said in a statement released by the Patriots. "The substance was a medication that I should have gotten clarification on before taking. It was not a performance enhancer or an illegal drug.

"The integrity of the game is very important to me. I understand the league's ruling and apologize to my teammates, the fans and the Patriots organization for this mistake."

Spikes is second to inside linebacker Jerod Mayo in tackles. Spikes has 71, according to the Patriots' game film. He snagged his first NFL interception Monday night, against the Jets' Mark Sanchez in the red zone.

Gary Guyton likely will replace Spikes in the lineup. Guyton has four starts this season. He has 43 tackles, two sacks, three quarterback hits and an interception that he returned 59 yards for a touchdown.

Overachievers prevailing in AFC East

December, 9, 2010
12/09/10
6:16
PM ET
Fred Jackson and Tom Brady and Davone BessGetty ImagesFred Jackson, Tom Brady and Davone Bess came into the league as unheralded long shots but have made the most of their chances.
It's no mystery why we love underdogs.

Respected football minds who get paid to assemble NFL teams dismissed them out of hand, scratched them from their draft lists, cut them in training camp.

Yet these players survive. They're too driven to give up. Not all of them become stars, but that's not necessary to become a precious asset on a team.

"As a coach, you love those stories," said former New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs head coach Herm Edwards. "They don't let you down."

Said Buffalo Bills head coach Chan Gailey: "You have to have them. There's no way to play the game without them."

Overachievers have dominated the AFC East this year. Late-round draft picks, players who weren't drafted at all and castoffs from other teams have starred for every team, including the MVP favorite (Tom Brady), two leading rushers (BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Fred Jackson), three leading receivers (Wes Welker, Steve Johnson, Davone Bess) and three sack leaders (Cameron Wake, Mike Wright and Kyle Williams).

These thriving underdogs are a substantial reason why the AFC East has been so compelling this year.

"It's football," said Jim Jensen, the ultimate survivor with the Miami Dolphins. They drafted the Boston University quarterback in the 11th round in 1980, and he stuck around until 1992 as a receiver/wedge buster/long snapper/third-down fullback/holder/tell me where to go, Coach, and I'll hit them.

"I like to watch guys that are working hard and working for the team," Jensen said. "They're working for a goal. They're not selfish. Wes Welker is a great example. He just loves to win. He's unselfish. Davone Bess is another one who's an inspiration to watch."

There's a reason the conquering underdog is such a common theme in Hollywood.

"These guys have something to prove," said film producer Mark Ciardi. "There's enough of these stories where these guys just survive and climb over players teams have a lot of money invested in. It's just a different thing when you've got to prove people wrong. They know they've got to check way more boxes than other people to succeed."

Ciardi pitched for the Milwaukee Brewers despite being a 15th-round draft choice in 1983.

"I got no money to sign," Ciardi said. "I was the last guy on the pitching squad of 17 guys in rookie ball. I had no chance."

Four years later, Ciardi made it to the majors. He started three games and pitched another in relief. He defied the odds, which is why he finds stories about unlikely heroes so appealing.

Among his true-story films: "Invincible" (about Philadelphia Eagles walk-on Vince Papale), "Miracle" (about the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team), "The Rookie" (about 35-year-old rookie pitcher Jim Morris) and "Secretariat."

All of those motion pictures portrayed an undeniable will to win, a theme that has carried Ciardi throughout his career. He sees it in such players as Brady and Patriots running back Danny Woodhead.

"What I realized was you've got to work extra hard," Ciardi said. "Nothing will be given to you, but you have an opportunity. The only way you're going to succeed is to snatch it and force them to keep you. If they don't have money invested in you, chances are you're not going to get the same kind of shot."

But having overachievers on the roster means more than a compelling storyline and increased jersey sales.

They often become team leaders and examples for other players to emulate. Underdogs help manage the salary cap because they're cheaper (at least in the beginning). They make draft mistakes much more bearable. They help a front office sell the team to future free agents.

"They're so coachable," former Baltimore Ravens head coach Brian Billick said. "Once they get into it, they realize how tenuous it is to stay in the NFL. Nothing came easy for them. You love having guys like that on your team."

Inquiring about a coach's favorite player is like asking a parent to name his favorite child. But it's easy to guess what type they admire most: the relentless survivors.

"You know what they have done to get to where they are," Gailey said. "As a competitor, you appreciate that. Everybody doesn't end up with a bunch of God-given talent. Guys have to go fight for what they want in life. When those guys get it, it's very satisfying to see it for those guys to make it."

[+] EnlargeJim Leonhard
Chris Trotman/Getty ImagesJim Leonhard went from the NFL scrapheap to being a vital player on defense and special teams for the Jets.
Two players New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan identified as critical to his establishing his defense last year were inside linebacker Bart Scott and safety Jim Leonhard. Neither was drafted. Leonhard had been waived by the Bills, re-signed and then cast adrift in free agency because the Bills viewed him as no more than roster filler. When Leonhard suffered a season-ending shin injury last week, Jets fans got nervous because he was integral to the secondary and special teams.

The NFL-leading New England Patriots are loaded with examples of perseverance. Brady has been such a superstar in the league for so long, it's sometimes strange to think of him as an underdog. But as the 199th pick in the 2000 draft, Brady might be the game's greatest overachiever.

Wake, the Miami Dolphins outside linebacker, leads the league with 12 sacks. He wasn't drafted and went five years between his last down at Penn State and his first in the NFL. Pro Bowl safety Yeremiah Bell was a sixth-round pick who got waived as a rookie and placed on the practice squad.

Buffalo's offense features late-round picks or undrafted players at the three marquee spots. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was a seventh-round draft choice and a career backup. Running back Fred Jackson didn't start a game for his high school team and came up through Division III and the arena leagues before emerging in NFL Europa. Top receiver Stevie Johnson was a seventh-round draft choice.

As inspirational as these players are, they also make slackers look that much worse. Those healthy first-, second- and third-round players who can't get on the field unfortunately aren't wired to battle that way.

"A lot of these guys think it's a right that they have to play," Gailey said. Overachievers "realize it's a privilege to play this game.

"When you got a guy who knows how to fight and understands the fight, understands competition, understands working through adversity and he becomes a good player on your team, then that helps set a tone."

Billick and Edwards emphasized the impact of undrafted players and late-round successes on a roster's overall well-being. Edwards, an undrafted player who started for the Philadelphia Eagles from the opening day of his rookie season, said unearthing overlooked gems are "like getting a free draft pick." Billick noted that they're instrumental to managing the salary cap.

"The residual effect is you don't have to spend those resources," Billick said, "whether they be draft choices or a procurement through free agency to go fill that spot.

"You pick Tom Brady up in the sixth round. Are you kidding me? What that does for your organization ... Even the difference between that and having to draft Matt Ryan third in the draft, the resources you have to spend is just a gift from above."

Heaven-sent is how Patriots fans must view a good chunk of their division-leading team. Dolfans can't be more thrilled with Wake or Bess. The Jets will depend on undrafted starters such as right guard Brandon Moore, defensive end Mike Devito and Scott down the home stretch while certainly missing Leonhard.

And about the only pleasure Bills fans have had this season is watching their unlikely stars because they're such gripping characters.

"An underlying factor to all these stories," Ciardi said, "is the will and the heart that makes them extraordinary on the field."

Jets start season more sloppy than super

September, 14, 2010
9/14/10
2:10
AM ET
Mark SanchezWilliam Perlman/US PresswireJets quarterback Mark Sanchez mustered just 74 passing yards against the Baltimore Ravens.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- So many yellow flags. They were strewn all over. They doomed the New York Jets in a 10-9 loss on Monday night.

There have been red flags with the Jets, too.

Not of the challenge variety, mind you. But maybe that's what they need, to be challenged a little more when it comes to discipline.

In the preseason, head coach Rex Ryan made a fiery speech to his players for exhibiting a lack of leadership and what he called "jackass" behavior. The scene was one of the most memorable from the "Hard Knocks" series, with Ryan's final words "now let's go eat a goddamn snack!"

Ryan was incensed partly because his players were eating McDonald's cheeseburgers during warmups for a public practice at Hofstra University.

Ryan addressed his team again Monday night. The Baltimore Ravens had eaten their lunch and wiped their mouths with the many yellow handkerchiefs lying around. The Ravens won by only a point, but the reason they won was troubling.

"That's not who we are," Ryan said. "That's not how we play. We pride ourselves on being one of the least penalized defenses in the league. Today was a joke."

Focus was a problem beyond penalties. Running back Shonn Greene fumbled twice, losing one. On their final offensive play -- fourth-and-10 from their own 31-yard line and with 41 seconds left -- tight end Dustin Keller made a catch near the sideline, no defender near him. With a clear look at the marker, he went out of bounds obviously short of the first down.

"That was Ripley's," Ryan said.

The Jets committed 15 penalties, 14 of which the Ravens accepted for 125 yards. They had nine penalties in the second quarter alone.

The Jets helped the Ravens set a franchise record with six first downs via penalty. The record was tied by halftime.

"It cost us the game really," Jets outside linebacker Jason Taylor said. "We played pretty darn well in a lot of situations. Maybe you can attribute it to a lack of discipline, but penalties that give up first downs are bad. We need to clean it up for sure."

The sheer number of penalties was bad enough. The situations were even more wretched.

Penalties gave the Ravens first downs on four plays that were third-and-9 or longer. A defensive holding call on rookie cornerback Kyle Wilson turned an incomplete pass on third-and-28 into a Ravens first down.

Cornerback Antonio Cromartie was flagged four times for 43 yards, including a 28-yard pass interference on a third-and-9 incompletion.

"It's just inexcusable," said Taylor, who jumped offsides to turn a third-and-3 into a second-and-1. "We did more to give it away than we did to get beat. You can't blame anybody but yourselves. You have to look in the mirror and say: 'We did it to ourselves.' We lost the game 10-9 and had plenty of chances to win and shot ourselves in the foot."

Receiver Braylon Edwards wiped out a pair of plays that would have done the Jets a world of good. He was called for an illegal shift on a beautiful 33-yard strike from Mark Sanchez to Keller down the right sideline in the second quarter.

On a nifty up-the-middle maneuver to block a field goal, Edwards ran into Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff. The penalty gave the Ravens a first down on a drive that eventually ended with the game's only touchdown.

Another third-down penalty, of course, helped. On third-and-10, Wilson was charged with pass interference in the end zone to set up Willis McGahee's 1-yard touchdown run.

I asked linebacker Bart Scott what all the penalties said about the Jets.

"I don't know," Scott said. "You tell me."

Undisciplined? Unprepared?

"If that's what you want to say," he said. "Whatever you want to say."

That was the first impression the Jets made for 2010.

You have to wonder if the happy-funtime atmosphere Ryan condones is negatively impacting them. Ryan already has had to talk to his players at least twice about unprofessionalism and sloppiness.

[+] EnlargeKris Jenkins
John Munson/US PresswireNew York Jets nose tackle Kris Jenkins was knocked out of the game in the first quarter with a knee injury.
The Jets have made several offseason moves that reduced their leadership presence in the locker room, parting with running back Thomas Jones, guard Alan Faneca and kicker Jay Feely, all character veterans. They also jerked fullback Tony Richardson around, cutting him and then re-signing him a week before the season.

More questions were raised this week about how the Jets conduct themselves. They created a stir Saturday with the way they treated Ines Sainz at practice and in the locker room.

Sainz wasn't taken seriously partly because she doesn't take her job seriously. She's promoted on the TV Azteca website as a reporter and a model and is known for showing up to events such as the Super Bowl media day and convincing players to do things like let her measure their muscles or give her a ride on their shoulder pads.

Nevertheless, the club was embarrassed. Jets owner Woody Johnson apologized to Sainz for the team's misbehavior and vowed his team would act with more class henceforth. The Association for Women in Sports Media has gotten involved. The NFL is investigating.

From an outsider's perspective, my own included, it would appear the Jets are running a loose ship.

Taylor scoffed at that idea.

"Hell, no," Taylor said. "Everyone's entitled to their opinion, I guess. But they're not on the ship."

In the same episode of Ryan's "goddamn snack" speech, Taylor showed up late for two practices. Each time, Taylor's coaches laughed off his tardiness.

Last year at Gillette Stadium, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick kicked four players off the premises for showing up a few minutes late to a team meeting on a wintry day when the roads were treacherous. Three of them were Pro Bowlers: Randy Moss, Adalius Thomas and Derrick Burgess.

The Jets have a short week to get ready for the Patriots this Sunday.

We'll see who has the most fun.

Undrafted players crucial to rookie classes

April, 25, 2010
4/25/10
11:31
AM ET
The Miami Dolphins' top two receivers last year. The Buffalo Bills' best running back. The New England Patriots' leading receiver and right guard. The New York Jets' right guard, best inside linebacker and a safety.

None of them were drafted.

[+] EnlargeWes Welker
Richard C. Lewis/Icon SMIWes Welker was one of seven Patriots to start at least four games last season who came into the league undrafted.
When Mr. Irrelevant was ceremoniously introduced Saturday in Radio City Music Hall and the 2010 NFL draft ended, draft rooms didn't go dark. That's when some of the best work takes place.

Scouts scan the long list of players who weren't among the 255 chosen ones and work the phones, trying to convince the best remaining prospects to sign as free agents.

Undrafted rookies are a critical element to building a team and should produce at least a couple of keepers every year.

"First, you improve your football team, but it's probably the most economical way to put players on your team," Buffalo Bills general manager Buddy Nix said. "There are a lot of good players out there.

"As all of us in here probably remember when there were 12 rounds and then there were 17 at one time. All of those players after seven rounds are still out there."

The AFC East is loaded with great examples.

Seven undrafted players started at least four games for division-champion New England last year: receiver Wes Welker, guards Stephen Neal and Dan Connolly, defensive lineman Mike Wright, inside linebacker Gary Guyton, outside linebacker Pierre Woods and safety Brandon McGowan.

The Dolphins relied on fullback Lousaka Polite, receivers Davone Bess and Greg Camarillo, tight end Joey Haynos and outside linebacker Cameron Wake, none of whom were drafted.

Bills running back Fred Jackson wasn't drafted, but he rushed for over 1,000 yards last year. Strong safety George Wilson evolved into a reliable starter.

The Jets fielded their share of draft-day oversights, including fullback Tony Richardson, right guard Brandon Moore, inside linebacker Bart Scott and safety Jim Leonhard.

That's a lot of quality players who weren't good enough to see their name crawl across the bottom of ESPN's draft telecast.

Still, they were found.

"These scouts bust their tails putting the board together on the back end of the draft board," Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland said. "You have to trust what they see, and I am pretty involved in it as well because I have been there before and I want to know what we are signing for. It is a very important aspect of [the process]."

Imagine all those Jets scouting reports that would otherwise go to waste if not for undrafted free agents.

Perhaps no team has relied on them to fill out their 53-man roster, practice squad and training camp roster more than the Jets.

Two straight Aprils, they drafted the fewest prospects in the league -- three last year and four this time. They also drafted only four players in 2007.

"I'm banking on our scouting department that we're going to sign a couple players here in the next couple of hours that will have a good chance of making our team," Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum said Saturday night.

Patriots add Brandon Spikes to LB corps

April, 23, 2010
4/23/10
8:57
PM ET
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick relied on the developmental skills of old buddy Urban Meyer again and selected his second straight Florida defender, drafting inside linebacker Brandon Spikes 62nd overall.

Why the Patriots took him: Spikes was among the top three inside linebackers in the draft, but slipped because of concerns about his speed and ability cover the field against the run or defend in pass coverage. But he's a tough player with many impressive traits.

Where Spikes fits: Gary Guyton, an undrafted player in 2008, started every game at inside linebacker for the Patriots last year. The Patriots also have Tyrone McKenzie, a third-round pick last year who missed the entire season with a knee injury. Spikes provides an upgrade at inside linebacker and will partner with Jerod Mayo in the middle.

Scouts Inc. says: One of the most instinctive defenders in college football. Recognition skills continue to improve. Finds the ball quickly and has playmaking flair. Shows great awareness and is usually the first on the Gator defense to diagnose a given play. ... Plays the game with a chip on his shoulder and shows the ferocious attitude teams are looking for in an inside linebackers. He is big and shows decent natural strength. While he rarely gets rolled over at the point of attack Spikes is not an overly-explosive hitter. ... Displays better closing burst to the ball carrier than his timed speed might indicate. Adequate strength at the point of attack as a tackler, but he's not a lights-out striker. Leaves his feet a bit too often and can improve as a space tackler by breaking down and playing with more consistent leverage.

Belichick banishes Thomas second time

December, 13, 2009
12/13/09
9:58
AM ET
On Thursday, we explored the possibility of New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick benching the so-called Tardy Four.

Thomas
At least one of the laggards won't be on the field Sunday against the Carolina Panthers in Gillette Stadium.

NFL Network's Jason La Canfora and ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss reported Saturday night outside linebacker Adalius Thomas will be deactivated.

There was no word on the other three: receiver Randy Moss and linebackers Gary Guyton and Derrick Burgess. Check back late Sunday morning to see if any of their names appear on the inactive list.

Thomas, also a healthy scratch in Week 6, was the only one of the four to react negatively after Belichick sent them home for arriving late to a team meeting Wednesday morning because wintry weather made for treacherous driving conditions.

"Motivation is for kindergarteners," Thomas told reporters Thursday. "I'm not a kindergartner. Sending somebody home, that's like 'He's expelled. Come back and make good grades.' Get that [expletive] out of here. That's ridiculous. Motivation?"

Burgess publicly accepted responsibility for being late. Guyton refused to discuss their banishment but fielded questions about the Panthers. Moss didn't speak to reporters at all.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider

NFL SCOREBOARD