NFL Nation: Kevin O\'Connell

Catching up with Kevin O'Connell

February, 21, 2014
Feb 21
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INDIANAPOLIS -- A familiar face was spotted in the media room here at the NFL combine, as we had the chance to catch up with former New England Patriots quarterback Kevin O'Connell, now a college football analyst for ESPN.

O’Connell was taken in the third round of the 2008 draft by the Patriots and had other NFL stops that included time with the Jets, Chargers, Lions and Dolphins.

The former San Diego State star shed some light on his personal experience at the combine and what stood out, from his perspective.

“No matter how much people prepare you for, nothing can get you ready for the first three days,” he said. “The mental, medical, all the things -- the meetings up until 11 p.m., then you’re up the next morning for your weigh-in when you’re in front of the whole league for everybody to see. ... By the time you get to the workout on Sunday, you’re fired up for it.”

The transition into a media career has been a successful one for O’Connell, who said he’s truly enjoying his new line of work.

“It’s been a blast because I absolutely love this game more than anything,” he said. “And the ability to stay around it, I’m doing some coaching stuff here and there, doing some -- calling games -- doing some things.

“I just love every aspect of the game and being able to, at the college level, at the pro level, be able to break it down in a way like I’m in a quarterback meeting room and we’re getting ready for an opponent,” he continued. “That’s kind of how I go about it.”

His approach to his work also includes sharing some insight and terminology that he learned from his former head coach, Bill Belichick.

“Absolutely, 100 percent,” he said. “Things like situational football and terms he would use as far as -- I use it with the quarterbacks that I’m helping right now. Things that he used to instill in me as a young player and basically said ‘the track to being a successful player is this and this will help.’ It doesn't guarantee anything, but I use a ton of that stuff.”

O’Connell is working with Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel leading up to the draft, a player many believe could wind up with the Houston Texans with the first overall pick in the draft.

Asked what he would do if he were in the Texans’ position, O’Connell said he'd take Manziel, but made the case for a trio of quarterbacks.

“I’m a little biased just because I’m working with Johnny Manziel out in California, but I really, really like [Central Florida quarterback] Blake Bortles, too," he said. "I think [Louisville quarterback] Teddy Bridgewater -- I think those three guys, Johnny Manziel, obviously Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles, I think those guys have every right to feel like they should all be the No. 1 pick in the draft.”

Video: Taking Ryan Mallett 'good business'

April, 30, 2011
4/30/11
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ESPN reporter Michael Smith evaluates the New England Patriots' first three rounds and calls the selection of Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett in the third round Friday night "good business."

Double Coverage: Pats vs. Colts in 2015

November, 18, 2010
11/18/10
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Colts and PatriotsESPN.com IllustrationPeyton Manning and Tom Brady have been at the center of arguably the best rivalry of the past decade. Who will carry it on when they step away from the game?
The annual AFC showdown is upon us, and with it come the recurring storylines.

That's right, the Indianapolis Colts will meet the New England Patriots on Sunday for an eighth straight season. The NFL's greatest ongoing interdivisional rivalry showcases two of the great organizations of this generation and renews the discussion about Peyton Manning's stats versus Tom Brady's championships.

We've decided to rekindle the debate, but before you throw your head back and groan in anticipation of the clichés, hold your horseshoes.

The purpose of this debate is to eliminate Manning and Brady and look into the future.

Which team has the better long-range outlook once Manning and Brady move on?

For the purpose of this discussion, we've set the target for 2015 -- one year beyond the length of Brady's latest contract extension -- to examine which team has the better infrastructure to cope with life minus its iconic quarterback.

Tim Graham: Time to get after it, Paul. But no weapons this time, please. I've just recently completed the physical therapy from our last debate.

Paul Kuharsky: Well, this back-and-forth will be less physically taxing, and since there is so much forecasting, you may actually be able to put your Jedi training to use.

Graham: Get this debate started we shall, hmmm?

Kuharsky: So what do the Colts and Patriots have now that's going to be a big factor for them in five years?

Jerry Hughes
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesWill 2010 first-round pick Jerry Hughes develop into a cornerstone on the Colts' defense?
I count eight guys who are in their first, second or third year with the franchise who I expect will still be prime contributors in 2015. But only three of the eight fit into the framework of the four most important positions on the field -- quarterback, left tackle, defensive end and cornerback. Those players would be corners Jerraud Powers and Jacob Lacey and defensive end Jerry Hughes.

Hughes is still unproven, but it's early and Colts president Bill Polian saw the potential for him to ultimately replace a Dwight Freeney or a Robert Mathis.

Others who may still be staples when Manning is gone: receiver Austin Collie, linebacker Pat Angerer, tight end Jacob Tamme, tight end Brody Eldridge and punter Pat McAfee. Can that group be the core of a team that continues to win? I wish I could offer a solid yes or no instead of a tepid maybe.

Beyond that, we've got five drafts to consider, right? And Polian regularly finds undrafted gems. I don't doubt the Colts will have talent. But they'll need new Freeney-, Dallas Clark- and Reggie Wayne-caliber stars, plus the replacement quarterback.

Graham: Patriots overlord Bill Belichick has drawn deserved criticism for his draft failures. He has swung and missed at his share of Terrence Wheatleys and Kevin O'Connells and Chad Jacksons in the early rounds.

But when you accumulate as many picks as the Patriots have and have elite football minds evaluating the talent, those bad decisions are going to even out eventually. The Patriots appear to be warming up when it comes to successful drafting.

[+] EnlargeAaron Hernandez
AP Photo/Paul Spinelli Rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez ranks second on the Patriots in catches and receiving yards.
The Patriots went into Heinz Field and manhandled the Pittsburgh Steelers with four rookies in their starting defensive lineup (defensive end Brandon Deaderick, outside linebacker Jermaine Cunningham, inside linebacker Brandon Spikes and left cornerback Devin McCourty) and a rookie tight end (Rob Gronkowski), who caught three touchdowns. Another rookie tight end (Aaron Hernandez) ranks second on the team in catches and receiving yards. Their punter is a rookie.

They don't have as many second- and third-year contributors, but inside linebacker Jerod Mayo was defensive rookie of the year in 2008. Among the sophomores are starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer and receivers Brandon Tate and Julian Edelman, who also handle return duties.

Without question, there will be a drop-off at quarterback when Brady retires, but the Patriots are loaded with core youth.

Kuharsky: The Colts may draft better, but they also draft less. Polian's not the draft pick wheeler-and-dealer Belichick is. Are those the guys who will be lining up the Manning and Brady successors?

It's a quarterback-driven league, and teams minus Manning and Brady will have major voids. We've got to talk about the replacements for the iconic quarterbacks, but it's hard to offer much conjecture on what kind of guy that will be without talking about who will be finding him.

Polian is 67 years old, and the last time I asked him about any sort of plan for retirement he gave me a head tilt and an uncomfortable expression.

Graham: I've noticed a lot of people do that around you.

Kuharsky: If things are neat and tidy, the suspicion is he and Manning -- the guy he hit the jackpot with when he picked him over Ryan Leaf -- will exit together. The next generation is waiting in the wings. Chris Polian is Indianapolis' vice president and general manager.

Chris Polian
AP PhotoCurrent Colts VP Chris Polian is likely play a key role in finding Peyton Manning's successor.
I'd expect Bill Polian will have a strong hand in selecting the Colts' quarterback of the future. But it will ultimately be Chris Polian who's connected to that signal-caller the way Bill Polian is connected to Manning. The younger Polian has a good reputation and good football genes, but it's hard to know how much of his father's personnel judgment he's inherited and how much he's learned. And having to replace a guy many will argue is the greatest quarterback of all time will be an awfully difficult assignment.

Graham: I don't know how long Belichick plans to coach, but even if he were to get tired of the week-to-week grind of getting his boys ready to play, it's fathomable he'll stick around to run the operation, handpicking his successor and overseeing football operations.

It would be silly to give Belichick more than a smidgen of credit for drafting Brady in the sixth round a decade ago. If Belichick truly knew what Brady was capable of, the Patriots wouldn't have passed on him until the 199th pick. So it's not like Belichick will simply wait until Brady's on the verge of retirement and automatically snag a replacement.

Kuharsky: True. But they knew more than everybody else when they finally did take him.

Graham: Belichick trusted his scout, and they unearthed a gem.

I believe Belichick's support staff is stronger than Polian's. Senior adviser Floyd Reese oversaw the Houston Oilers and Tennessee Titans' drafts when they picked Steve McNair and Vince Young. Player personnel director Nick Caserio, like a lot of Belichick's sidekicks over the years, will develop the tools to run his own show someday.

Kuharsky: I don't know that Belichick's got better support. It's just more well known and visible support.

Graham: And a high-profile owner who is willing to trust his front office, will spend money and doesn't dare meddle. That's another key component to New England's success over the past decade.

Kuharsky: Moving onto the replacement quarterback himself, Curtis Painter is Manning's current backup. But based on his work in a couple of regular-season games the team didn't care about winning at the end of last season and some preseason work, most people aren't forecasting anything special from him. And that would amount to quite a lengthy apprenticeship anyway.

Graham: You wouldn't think the Patriots have Brady's successor on the roster either. Brian Hoyer is an undrafted sophomore with virtually no experience so far. But you never can tell how these guys will develop while working alongside Brady for a few years. This is the team that identified Matt Cassel, a seventh-round draft choice who hadn't started a game since high school, as its top backup for 2008. He ended up going 11-5 when Brady blew out his knee.

Kuharsky: The Colts will need a guy for a super-tough replacement job. It would be awfully difficult for them to land in a Aaron Rodgers for Brett Favre or Michael Vick for Donovan McNabb replacement situation.

After hitting a grand slam with the No. 1 pick in 1998, odds would suggest that it will be tough for them to line up with the right guy at the right pick at the right time. The way they build, odds are Manning's heir will be a guy who plays a full college career. So he's a college freshman or a high-school senior right now, depending on their plan for easing him in.

Graham: The Colts and Patriots finish too high in the standings every year and don't get to pick until the 20s. That will make it nearly impossible to snag some golden-armed top prospect in their assigned draft positions. But the Patriots frequently go into drafts with other teams' picks -- and an abundance of them. They often have copious draft assets to move up if they want to. Or maybe the Patriots will obtain that big-ticket pick waaaaay in advance. A year ago, Belichick traded Richard Seymour to the Oakland Raiders for their 2011 first-round selection. That's the kind of creative investing that could pay off with a high-quality quarterback prospect down the road.

Kuharsky: It will definitely be more difficult for the Colts to get to the top of a draft to get a premier guy. And there may need to be a post-Manning down-cycle for the team to get up there and find the guy. Scribes in Indianapolis often wonder aloud what happens to the Colts' crazed support if they turn into a 5-11 rebuilding project. The rest of the AFC South certainly hopes that's how it works, and that the division is a lot more wide open once Manning's not in it.

And while we're forecasting five years out, I have two questions: Will Manning still be a deadpanning TV commercial superstar? And will Brady have had a haircut?

Graham: There's one unwavering prediction I can make about hair, Paul, but it's not about Brady's.

Patriots activate Mankins, cut Wheatley

November, 6, 2010
11/06/10
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The New England Patriots apparently liked what they saw out of Logan Mankins, estranged from the organization until signing his tender and reporting for work Tuesday.

The Patriots activated Mankins on Saturday and dumped cornerback Terrence Wheatley, a second-round draft choice in 2008. They also lopped linebacker Tyrone McKenzie, a 2009 third-round pick, from the practice squad.

Boston Globe reporter Shalise Manza Young writes Mankins is expected to start Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns. Dan Connolly started at left guard in each of the seven games Mankins missed.

Wheatley didn't play a game this year after suffering a foot injury in training camp.

Wheatley's release is another mark on New England's 2008 draft class. While the Patriots found a rookie of the year when they took Jerod Mayo 10th overall, they've released their next three picks: Wheatley (62nd overall), linebacker Shawn Crable (78th overall), quarterback Kevin O'Connell (94th overall).

McKenzie tore a knee ligament in rookie camp last year and missed his entire first season. He cleared waivers in training camp and was placed on the taxi squad.

New York Jets cutdown analysis

September, 4, 2010
9/04/10
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Check here for a full list of roster moves.

Biggest surprise: The Jets' roster was about as set as you could get heading into training camp. Only a couple reserve roles and special-teams spots were available. So there weren't any surprises, unless you want to count the development from earlier in the week. Backup quarterback Kellen Clemens avoided being released by restructuring his contract to remain on the roster behind Mark Sanchez and Mark Brunell. That meant the Jets cut Kevin O'Connell, which wasn't a surprise regardless of what Clemens did.

No-brainers: With the Jets keeping two fullbacks (Tony Richardson, John Conner) on the 53-man roster, there was no room for Jason Davis despite a strong summer. Linebacker Brashton Satele never got on the field, resulting in the memorable "Hard Knocks" quote from special teams coach Mike Westhoff: "Let him open up his freakin' pizza shop in the Bronx and leave me alone."

What's next: Aside from convincing cornerback Darrelle Revis to end his holdout and figuring out who they'll dump once receiver Santonio Holmes' four-game suspension is up, there's not much to address. General manager Mike Tannenbaum and head coach Rex Ryan will comb the waiver wire to see if they can improve the bottom of the roster. They also could bring back receiver Laveranues Coles after the season opener to avoid guaranteeing his salary for the year.

Rex Ryan implores Jets to show leadership

September, 1, 2010
9/01/10
11:49
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Rex Ryan is the face of the New York Jets and the star of the HBO series "Hard Knocks."

The head coach apparently is wary of not only being in front as a leader, but also alone.

In the latest episode of "Hard Knocks," an exasperated Ryan scolds his team for a growing lack of professionalism and a dearth of demonstrable leadership.

Previous scenes showed offensive coaches bemoaning a lack of confidence, veteran pass-rusher Jason Taylor showing up late multiple times and defensive players groping into a McDonald's bag for cheeseburgers during warmups for a practice at Hofstra University.

Ryan's speech to his players the night before playing the Washington Redskins:
"You guys know me, that I'm about as positive a guy as there is. I believe our team is better than every [expletive] team in the league. I believe our players are better than any players in the league, right? Those are true statements. That's how I believe.

"But the team's only going so far if I'm the only guy that leads. The team is only going so far. I'm not a great leader, OK? I'm not a great leader. I can't lead myself, this whole group of men. We ain't going to win, guys, if it's about me.

"I'm sitting back for us, waiting for us to understand the team that we said we're going to be. What the hell are we waiting on? What are we waiting on? Do you want it or not? Do you understand there's a price to pay?

"Can we have fun? You're damn right. I demand that we have fun. Now there's a difference between having fun and being a jackass. Our defense was a jackass when we went to Hofstra, eating a bunch of [expletive] cheeseburgers before we go stretch and all that. That's being a jackass.

"You can be a world champion, but not like this. We won't win it. We'll sit back and say 'Why didn't we do it?' We didn't do it because 'Where were our [expletive] priorities?' How about our offense? When are we going to put it together? Can we not run the ball down their throats every snap? Can we not throw it any time we want to [expletive] throw it?

"Let's make sure we play like the [expletive] New York Jets and not some slap [expletive] team. That's what I want to see tomorrow. Do we understand what I want to [expletive] see tomorrow?"

Earlier in the show, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer admits his players aren't showing much assertiveness. Quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh and running backs coach Anthony Lynn agree.

"We have some really talented guys," Cavanaugh says. "But none of them motivate vocally the group. So they all kind of look to each other like 'Yeah, we're pretty talented. Somebody's going to make a play here,' instead of saying 'I'll take this [expletive] game over.' "

Other highlights on this episode (there's only one more):
  • Nose tackle Kris Jenkins telling the rest of the defense in Washington they needed to force a turnover because Mark Sanchez needed more work.
  • Ryan's man crush on rookie fullback John Conner and the possibility veteran Tony Richardson will be released.
  • A close look at how much rookie left guard Vladimir Ducasse is struggling and concerns that position will get Sanchez hurt.
  • Ryan telling former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden that Santonio Holmes might be the best player on the field.
  • How backup quarterback Kellen Clemens avoided being cut.
  • Releasing receiver Laveranues Coles and reserve quarterback Kevin O'Connell.
  • Flabbergasted general manager Mike Tannenbaum trying to decipher where Tim Cowlishaw's infamous report about Darrelle Revis was coming from.
  • Ryan on the first three games against the Baltimore Ravens, New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins: "We open the season with three of our toughest games right out of the gate. But the great thing is if we end up kicking ass, that's going to send a frickin' message to the rest of the league. 'Oh, [expletive]!' "

Pats place top pass defender Bodden on IR

August, 31, 2010
8/31/10
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In trimming their roster to the mandatory 75-man limit Tuesday, the New England Patriots made a surprising move.

Bodden
Bodden
They placed their top cornerback, Leigh Bodden, on season-ending injured reserve. That might leave them with the NFL's least experienced starting tandem at cornerback: rookie Devin McCourty and sophomore Darius Butler, who started five games last year.

Bodden has a shoulder injury, the Patriots announced. Bodden later tweeted he would undergo surgery. He also hurt his knee early in training camp.

He started 15 games last year, including the postseason, and tied for the team lead with five interceptions. His 17 passes defensed were more than double the next-closest cornerback.

The Patriots also put defensive lineman Darryl Richard (foot) and defensive backs Josh Barrett (shoulder) and Brett Lockett (chest) on injured reserve and released defensive back Terrence Johnson.

The AFC East's other big personnel move Tuesday was the New York Jets' decision to keep quarterback Kellen Clemens and waive Kevin O'Connell.

Clemens was on the verge of being released when he agreed to a pay cut to remain the third quarterback, a tough pill to swallow for a 2006 second-round draft choice. But Clemens wanted to stay make a Super Bowl charge with his boys.

ESPNNewYork.com's Rich Cimini reports Clemens dropped his $1.1 million salary to a little more than the veteran minimum of $630,000.

The Jets also claimed pass-rusher Ricky Foley off waivers from the Seattle Seahawks. Foley had 12 sacks for the BC Lions of the Canadian Football League last year.
Thirty of 32 first-round choices from the 2008 NFL draft remain with their current teams.

The exceptions: Lawrence Jackson, selected 28th overall by the Seattle Seahawks, and Kentwan Balmer, chosen one pick later by the San Francisco 49ers.

And with Glen Coffee retiring from the 49ers, San Francisco joined the New England Patriots as the only NFL teams to have parted with more than one player drafted among the first three rounds over the past two seasons.

That makes it easier to waive the usual disclaimers about waiting three or four years before assessing draft classes. We already know the 49ers and Seahawks will never realize a return on their 2008 first-round investments.

The first chart lists the nine draft choices from 2008 or 2009 who are no longer with their original teams (Brad Cottam, a third-round choice of the Kansas City Chiefs, landed on the reserve/physically unable to perform list after clearing waivers).


The second chart shows how many 2008 and 2009 draft choices selected in the first three rounds are no longer with their original teams.

Camp Confidential: New York Jets

August, 18, 2010
8/18/10
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ESPN.com NFL Power Ranking (pre-camp): 7

CORTLAND, N.Y. -- There's a healthy chance you're already sick of the New York Jets.

You're sick of their loudmouth coach, sick of their hotshot quarterback, sick of their trash-talking defense, sick of their wheeler-dealer general manager, sick of hearing about their HBO series, sick of their delirious fans.

Get used to it all. They're not going away.

Every team wants to kiss the Lombardi Trophy, but the Jets have drawn the disdain of 31 other teams and their fans by being so cocksure about their plans.

Whether the Jets win a championship or crash and burn on their approach, they'll remain the NFL's most fascinating team in 2010. Win or lose, they're going to be a season-long story.

"That's our own expectations," Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez said on the first day of training camp at SUNY Cortland. "That's why we feed off of it. It's our own mentality, that Super Bowl-champion mentality. That's what we want, and that's what we're striving for. ... Now, we need to do it every day and prove it."

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeMark Sanchez
Jim O'Connor/US PresswireThe Jets are hoping Mark Sanchez has matured as a quarterback heading into his second season.
1. Can Sanchez handle the pressure? There's a lot of skepticism surrounding the man at the controls. Sanchez threw 20 interceptions last year as a rookie. He fumbled 10 times and lost three of them. He was so befuddled at one point, the Jets had to give him a color-coded wristband to help him comprehend the plays.

The Jets hope he matured considerably over the offseason. To help him along as a passer, they added receivers Santonio Holmes and Laveranues Coles and out-of-the-backfield target LaDainian Tomlinson.

Sanchez still has to make the right calls and decisions. Coaches and teammates note his indefatigable work ethic.

And there's no disputing how impressive he appeared down the 2009 homestretch. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer corralled him in time to salvage the season. Although Sanchez had more than 20 attempts in only three games after Thanksgiving, the Jets won six of those eight outings, two of them on the road in the playoffs.

Sanchez will need to shoulder much more responsibility this year. How he handles being the leading man of a Super Bowl contender will determine the Jets' fate.

2. How will Darrelle Revis' holdout affect the season? There's a belief among the Jets their defense will take care of itself. As nose tackle Kris Jenkins pointed out before training camp began, fans swooned when he suffered a season-ending knee injury six games into last season, but the Jets still finished with the NFL's top-rated total defense, scoring defense and pass defense.

Revis, of course, played an integral part. Maybe the most integral part.

All he did was establish himself as the preeminent shutdown cornerback. Revis was so good at shutting down the other team's top receivers, the Jets never had to worry about double-covering. That, in effect, gave them an extra defender to use however they wanted.

The Jets have cornerback depth to help them cope if Revis holds out into the season. They traded for cornerback Antonio Cromartie, a sensational cover corner (though not nearly the run defender Revis is). Dwight Lowery and first-round draft pick Kyle Wilson are capable.

But none of them are as good as Revis is. His return would provide invaluable peace of mind.

[+] EnlargeSantonio Holmes
AP Photo/Bill KostrounSantonio Holmes was just one of the Jets' high-profile offseason acquisitions.
3. Did the Jets ruin a good thing with too many roster moves? The Jets came within a half of the Super Bowl, taking a lead into the third quarter against the Indianapolis Colts -- in Lucas Oil Stadium, no less. It was a young team on the make, the type of roster you'd like to keep as intact as possible.

Or so you would think. Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum got rid of a few starters with big voices in the locker room. Gone were the lead running back on the NFL's top ground attack (Thomas Jones), a perennial Pro Bowl left guard (Alan Faneca), a starting safety (Kerry Rhodes) and a respected kicker (Jay Feely).

The Jets made some high-profile acquisitions, too. But perhaps the two biggest moves, Holmes and Cromartie, were poaching other teams' misfits. They also signed Tomlinson and outside linebacker Jason Taylor, classy veterans but with question marks about what they have left.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Other than references to his nickname, not much was written or said about Kentucky fullback John Conner when the Jets drafted him in the fifth round. The Jets had re-signed Tony Richardson for a 17th season, and they wouldn't bring him back if he wasn't going to keep his job, right?

Richardson might be on the bubble. Ryan has been diplomatic in speaking about Richardson's value to the Jets as a locker-room leader, but there's no doubt Ryan loves The Terminator. Conner has been a thumper in camp. Conner will make the team, and keeping two fullbacks is a luxury.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Revis' holdout is a shame on multiple levels. Both sides are standing by principles that are fully understandable. Revis is the NFL's best defender and wants to be paid as such. The Jets, meanwhile, have a signed contract that lasts three more years and refuse to consider as any kind of standard the Oakland Raiders' ridiculous deal with Nnamdi Asomugha, the league's highest-paid cornerback.

Unless they can reach a compromise or the Jets win the Super Bowl without him, both sides will forever regret this dispute. The Jets have a chance to win their first championship in four decades, and Revis might never get this kind of shot to win a title regardless of where he finishes his career.

OBSERVATION DECK
Vernon Gholston
William Perlman/The Star Ledger/US PresswireNew York is comfortable with Vernon Gholston at defensive end in passing situations.

  • An overlooked roster maneuver that could prove significant is the decision not to bring back trusty long-snapper James Dearth. The Jets brought in youngster Tanner Purdum, who has been inconsistent. Jets kicker Nick Folk doesn't need his rhythm disrupted.
  • I'm not saying Braylon Edwards' problems with drops have been solved, but he displayed great hands in the practices I saw. Maybe receivers coach Henry Ellard has helped him figure it out.
  • Undrafted rookie tight end Jeff Cumberland looks like the total package at times. He's 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds at his Illinois pro day. He does make an occasional mental error, but he popped out in team drills.
  • Shonn Greene will have to catch a few passes to keep defenses honest. Greene has terrible hands, something he and Ryan have joked about. But if he's going to be the featured back, he'll need to grab one here or there.
  • I'm hesitant to believe Ryan's glowing comments on Vernon Gholston two training camps in a row, but I will say Gholston seems to have a role he can handle as a defensive end on passing downs. He can just chase the quarterbacks. But after two years at outside linebacker, he is versatile enough to drop into coverage if the Jets want to get tricky.
  • It's fun to listen to backup quarterback Mark Brunell bark out the signals. He's a master of the hard count, a skill Sanchez is trying to learn. When Brunell walks to the line of scrimmage, there's a good chance the equipment managers will commit a false start.
  • Overheard from a fan along the rail at SUNY Cortland: "Check out No. 58 in his sweatpants. You know Shonn Greene's going to run him over. Guy's got no shot." Sweatpants in the sweltering heat aside, Jets fans need to remember No. 58 is starting outside linebacker Bryan Thomas. He swapped out of his usual No. 99 for Taylor.
  • I predict the second-most important defensive acquisition -- behind Cromartie -- won't be Taylor, but safety Brodney Pool. The free-agent pickup from Cleveland is dangerous on a blitz and will get his hands on some passes.
  • The New England Patriots didn't make a mistake when they dumped quarterback Kevin O'Connell last year, 16 months after drafting him in the third round. The Detroit Lions claimed him on waivers and traded him to the Jets. They kept him on the roster as their fourth quarterback. He would appear to be in line for a promotion to third string, but O'Connell has looked no better this summer than he did when he was fresh out of San Diego State.

On the radar: Backup QBs

July, 1, 2010
7/01/10
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» NFC On the Radar: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

A player, coach or issue that should be on your radar as training camp approaches.

All four AFC East clubs have uncertainties at backup quarterback. Three of them might head into training camp not knowing who theirs will be.

[+] EnlargeChad Pennington
AP Photo/J Pat CarterChad Pennington gives the Dolphins a veteran backup should Chad Henne struggle.
Let's take a look at each team's situation.

Buffalo Bills: Head coach Chan Gailey said he knows how his depth chart will look when camp opens at the end of the month, but the competition will remain wide open among Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Brohm. That makes the second- and third-string quarterbacks mysteries, too. The backup probably won't be too far removed from his shot to get on the field. If the Bills don't want to expose fourth quarterback Levi Brown to waivers so they can put him on their practice squad, one of the others could get cut.

Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins have two issues at backup QB. They will have a difficult decision to make unless they keep four quarterbacks or switch Pat White to another position. White, the 44th overall pick last year, hasn't developed. The presence of Tyler Thigpen, a former Kansas City Chiefs starter, probably will force a move. Respected veteran Chad Pennington is considered the third-stringer while he continues his recovery from shoulder surgery. But if something goes wrong with starter Chad Henne, it's hard to imagine coach Tony Sparano opting for Thigpen or White ahead of Pennington.

New England Patriots: Undrafted sophomore Brian Hoyer is back as Tom Brady's primary backup, but coach Bill Belichick has been restless with his QB reserves in recent years. Belichick dumped third-round pick Kevin O'Connell last summer, a year after drafting him. Even if Hoyer's role is safe, Patriots fans can't be too confident with the idea of him taking over in the event Brady gets hurt.

New York Jets: What a muddled mess this is. Few expect Kellen Clemens to remain with the club. The Jets have been interested in signing veteran free agent Mark Brunell and recently kicked the tires on the Michelin Man, JaMarcus Russell. The Jets kept four quarterbacks last year because they snagged O'Connell off waivers from the Patriots and weren't ready to part with Erik Ainge. I doubt they waste the roster spot again this year.

Jets show interest in JaMarcus Russell

June, 29, 2010
6/29/10
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I wonder if it would be too late for JaMarcus Russell to get in on that weight-loss contest with Rex Ryan, Kris Jenkins and Damien Woody.

ESPNNewYork.com's Rich Cimini reports the New York Jets have taken a cursory look at signing Russell as a backup quarterback. The Oakland Raiders made Russell the No. 1 pick in the 2007 draft, but cut him last month.

He was as bloated as his contract, reportedly puffing up to around 300 pounds. The Raiders will have paid him $39 million for 25 starts and seven wins.

Cimini also notes the Jets remain interested in signing veteran Mark Brunell to be Mark Sanchez's backup, but they must wait until late July because of the "Final Eight" plan for the uncapped season. The Jets could sign Russell immediately because he was cut by another team.

Primary backup Kellen Clemens almost certainly will be cut at some point, and the Jets don't have much invested in their other backup quarterbacks. Neither Erik Ainge nor Kevin O'Connell have asserted themselves as anything special.

It would be fascinating if the Jets cleaned house and took a flier on Russell as their third quarterback.

Ryan has a source with intimate knowledge of Russell. Ryan's twin brother, Rob Ryan, was the Raiders' defensive coordinator for Russell's first two NFL seasons.

When I was at the Jets' minicamp a couple weeks ago, I asked Rex Ryan how he and his brother discuss players. Rob Ryan now is the Cleveland Browns' defensive coordinator and advised Rex to sign former Browns safety Brodney Pool.

"We'll always be honest about a guy," Rex Ryan said. "It will always be like that. I'd much rather have a player that I feel good about go play for my brother than play for someone else. I think he feels the same way.

"If he cares about a player, he'd rather him come here and play for me than go somewhere else because he knows we'll take care of those guys. We're twins. He cares about his players and I care about ours. We always want those guys to be successful even when they leave you."

Hoyer on Tebow: 'Bring him. Let's go'

April, 1, 2010
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One of the chief elements to the theory the New England Patriots would be an ideal destination for Tim Tebow is that the only other quarterback on their depth chart is Brian Hoyer, an undrafted rookie last year.

"Bring him. Let's go," Hoyer told reporters Thursday at Gillette Stadium.

[+] EnlargeBrian Hoyer
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesBrian Hoyer would welcome the chance to compete with Tim Tebow.
"He's a great player. He's probably the most well-known football player, at least in my time, if not ever. I think he's a great athlete. I think he's a great competitor."

ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss was among the media gathering and posted a blog item on Hoyer's thoughts.

"He's probably over-scrutinized," Hoyer said of Tebow. "You almost feel bad for [him]. You just want him to come out here and get his shot and let him do what he does. But everyone wants to have an opinion, whether it's his throwing motion or what position he's going to play.

"That's really not fair to him. For as successful a quarterback as he was in college football, I feel like he deserves his chance and not to be so scrutinized."

Hoyer was the only QB backup on the Patriots' roster last summer.

In a startling training-camp maneuver, the Patriots waived Kevin O'Connell, a 2008 third-round draft choice. They also cut Matt Gutierrez when they signed veteran free-agent Andrew Walter in August. They released Walter before the season.

Hoyer got into five games last year, completing 19 of 27 passes for 142 yards and no touchdowns or interceptions. He rushed for one touchdown.

"There is always going to be competition," Hoyer said. "For me, coming in last year, there was a bunch of guys here. I'll never forget when I was getting recruited at Michigan State, I was like 'You have a bunch of quarterbacks here.' One of the coaches was like, 'There are always going to be quarterbacks wherever you go. You're going to have to compete.' It kind of struck me then.

"No matter what you do, you're going to have to compete against someone. If anything, it pushes me to work harder right now in the weight room, in the [practice] bubble, running and throwing and doing the little extra things."
Ryan Pickett, Chester Taylor and Brett Favre AP ImagesWhile the Packers locked up Ryan Pickett, left, and the Bears gave Jay Cutler another weapon in Chester Taylor, middle, the Vikings are still waiting to see if Brett Favre returns for another season.
Sometimes the NFL offseason moves so quickly that we don't have a chance to consider the causes, meaning, repercussions and lingering questions created by each move. So while we have a chance, let's consider four NFC North-related topics on Day 11 of Free Agency 2010.

Why was Green Bay so committed to retaining 30-year-old nose tackle Ryan Pickett a year after drafting defensive lineman B.J. Raji, who ostensibly plays the same position?

Raji finished his rookie season splitting time between nose tackle and defensive end in the Packers' 3-4 scheme, an assignment that seemed designed to groom him for a full-time role in 2010. That progression would have been logical for a highly drafted player. I presumed Raji's destination would be nose tackle, but the Packers first placed their franchise tag on Pickett and then signed the veteran to a four-year extension worth $28 million.

Pickett's new deal will pay him $10 million in 2010, a clear sign they intend for him to start. I suppose it's possible he could move to end, but it's more likely he'll be anchored on the nose.

Where does that leave Raji? Either as a starter at end, which might not be his best position, or in another year as a swing player who spells Pickett and also plays defensive tackle in the nickel formation.

Given how infrequently the Packers play their 3-4 defense, I suppose the "starting" designation isn't as important as it might be on other teams. But when you draft a player as highly as the Packers took Raji, you expect him to quickly find a consistent and full-time role -- somewhere.

Speaking last month at the NFL scouting combine, general manager Ted Thompson said: "We feel like Ryan's a good player. We feel like he's a good teammate, a good leader of that group. I personally like him quite a bit."

In an uncapped environment, there's no penalty for paying a player $10 million for those attributes. But the decision leaves Raji's short-term status less predictable.

(Read full post)

The book on Charlie Whitehurst

March, 9, 2010
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Charlie Whitehurst shares something in common with any quarterback the Cardinals might draft this year.

He has never attempted a pass in a regular-season NFL game.

Whitehurst
The Chargers' backup quarterback, on the Cardinals' radar as a restricted free agent, was tendered to a third-round choice. The Cardinals have an extra third-rounder from the Anquan Boldin trade, but the team could conceivably attempt to work out alternative compensation with San Diego should Arizona decide to pursue Whitehurst.

NFLDraftScout.com's analysis on Whitehurst coming out of Clemson in 2006 called him a "good competitor who is a quiet leader, but has total control of the huddle" and a quarterback with "a snappy overhead delivery and a fluid follow-through rather than a windmill type that most tall passers display."

Some of the negatives listed could be outdated, the assumption being Whitehurst has worked to correct them under Norv Turner and the Chargers' offensive staff.

Matt Leinart is the only quarterback on the Cardinals' roster.

Using a third-round choice for Whitehurst, 27, could make more sense than using one for a college prospect. Though inexperienced, Whitehurst would be better prepared to play in a regular-season game.

The chart shows third-round quarterbacks drafted since 2000. Not many have succeeded. One exception: The Texans acquired 2004 third-round choice Matt Schaub from the Falcons when Schaub had minimal experience.

Jets at Colts inactives

January, 24, 2010
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INDIANAPOLIS -- No surprises among the New York Jets' list of inactives for the AFC Championship Game.

The biggest name is Indianapolis Colts right cornerback Jerraud Powers, who was downgraded to doubtful Saturday night.

New York Jets

Indianapolis Colts

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