NFL Nation: Robert Woods
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- A few thoughts on the Buffalo Bills' 26-10 win Sunday over the Cleveland Browns at Ralph Wilson Stadium:
What it means: The Bills (7-5) continued to play sloppy football at home but came away with another "how did that happen?" victory. After gaining just 91 yards and scoring no points in the first half, the Bills awoke in the third quarter, scoring two touchdowns in a span of 10 seconds -- which was all they needed against the turnover-prone Browns (7-5), who benched Brian Hoyer for Johnny Manziel. The Bills' playoff hopes remain intact, but how much longer can they hold on? For now, they can't be counted out.
Stock watch: Defensive end Jerry Hughes, up. A free agent after this season, Hughes' price tag continues to rise. Entering Sunday with 9.5 sacks and two forced fumbles, Hughes continued to make plays against the Browns. On a Terrance West run in the third quarter, Hughes forced a fumble and returned it 18 yards for a touchdown. He has benefited from strong play across the Bills' entire defensive line, but Hughes' value on the open market continues to escalate.
Game ball: Wide receiver Robert Woods. Another big game from the second-year receiver. After setting career highs Monday night in a 38-3 victory over the New York Jets, Woods led the Bills with four catches for 71 yards, including a 34-yard gain on a fourth-and-3 play that led to the Bills' first touchdown. Woods again stole some thunder from rookie Sammy Watkins, who caught 3 of 9 targets for 11 yards.
Orton's shaky outing: The Bills won this game, but it wasn't the product of strong quarterback play, especially in the first half. For the game, Kyle Orton completed 17 of 31 passes for 190 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. With a 57.2 passer rating, he became just the fifth quarterback this season to win with a passer rating under 58.
Dareus injured: Defensive tackle Marcell Dareus departed for the locker room in the second quarter with a groin injury. He returned to the sideline in the second half but was replaced by Stefan Charles.
What's next: For the Bills to make the playoffs, it will take a monumental effort in their remaining four games. They travel to face the Denver Broncos next Sunday, followed by their home finale against the Green Bay Packers. They end with road trips against the Oakland Raiders and New England Patriots. It will be tough sledding down the stretch.
With fans' jaws still dropping at New York Giants rookie Odell Beckham Jr.'s physics-defying grab Sunday night, Buffalo Bills receiver Robert Woods put on his own show Monday night.
On third-and-2, Woods streaked past Jets cornerback Darrin Walls down the right sideline, stretching out his right hand for Orton's pass. Bobbling the pass as he continued to run, Woods was able to momentarily pin it against his helmet while keeping his feet in bounds.
Talk about concentration.
"He could have caught it with two hands," teammate Sammy Watkins opined. "But being Robert, he wanted to go one-handed and it was a great catch."
Yet it wasn't Woods' only impressive grab of the night. Darting into the end zone on a third-and-goal in the first quarter, Woods turned his body and fell backward while snagging a 7-yard touchdown pass from Orton.
It was all in a day's work for Woods, a second-round pick last season who set career highs with nine catches for 118 yards.
Part of that production, coach Doug Marrone explained, was courtesy of the Jets shading their coverage to help take Sammy Watkins out of the game.
"If you look at it, they kept rolling everything to Sammy so it was difficult for us to get him the football," Marrone said. "Like I said before, when they do that you're going to need the other guys to step up because they're going to be in one-on-one coverage.
"I thought Robert really stepped up and played extremely well and if he doesn't then we're in trouble. That's just the way it is."
Compared to Woods' 11 targets, Orton threw at Watkins just five times and the rookie finished with three catches for 35 yards.
"When you're winning the game, you don't get caught up into that. If I was losing, it probably would've been a problem," Watkins said. "But when you're winning and seeing your boys, the team who you grind with every day, [Chris Hogan] and Robert making plays, it's nothing. But it can get scrapping if you're losing the game. But if we're winning, I'm fine."
DETROIT -- A few thoughts on the Buffalo Bills' 38-3 win Monday over the New York Jets at Ford Field:
What it means: For both the team and the city, the Bills needed this win and they went out and got it. On a night when just about everything went wrong for the Jets, the Bills were able to capitalize on all of their opportunities and run away with their second blowout win over their division opponent this season. It was easily the Bills' most impressive win of the season, even before you consider the circumstances for the organization last week. Quality performance.
Special atmosphere: This was a unique, fun night for Bills fans and the NFL. With a full allotment of free tickets distributed, nearly the entire stadium was full. The official attendance at Ford Field -- which holds 65,000 -- was announced as 56,004. The crowd was decidedly pro-Bills, although we spotted jerseys for at least 29 different NFL teams in the stands. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell also attended.
Stock watch: Quarterback Kyle Orton, up. We've put the veteran in the "down" category the past two weeks, so it's only right that he gets credit here. Orton bounced back in a big way from his recent shaky outings, completing 24 of 32 passes for 230 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Both of those touchdown throws were in the red zone, part of an overall 3-for-3 showing for the Bills inside the 20-yard line, a big improvement for the NFL's worst red zone offense entering the weekend.
Game ball: Wide receiver Robert Woods. Who needs Sammy Watkins? The Bills' No. 2 receiver set career highs with nine catches for 118 yards, stealing the spotlight from Watkins, who finished with three catches for 35 yards. But it wasn't just the statistical production from Woods that earns him this game ball, it was also a pair of acrobatic catches: one for a touchdown in the first quarter, and another for a 27-yard gain in the second quarter where Woods caught the ball with one hand and pinned it against his helmet. It was David Tyree-esque.
Another sack party: The Bills' defense line cannot be stopped. Already leading the NFL in sacks (39) entering the game, the Bills added another seven. It's the fifth time this season the Bills have notched five or more sacks in a game. Mario Williams tallied two of them.
What's next: On a short week, the Bills will return home and prepare for Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns. After some questions about whether the Bills could clear Ralph Wilson Stadium in time, that game will be played on the Bills' home field, a source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.
Watkins left Wednesday's practice with a groin injury and did not return. While the Bills do not believe his injury is serious, ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported that Watkins was scheduled to undergo a precautionary MRI.
In Watkins' place, receivers Robert Woods and Chris Hogan lined up with the first team in warmups Thursday.
The Bills will have a brief practice Friday before hosting the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.
Meanwhile, running back Fred Jackson was present at the start of Thursday's practice. He returned to Wednesday's practice but was a limited participant.
Guard Cyril Richardson (non-injury) remained out of practice Thursday.
Weather conditions: There have been passing downpours in the area this morning and more rain, including thunderstorms, is possible throughout Sunday. Temperatures are currently in the upper 60s with moderate humidity. Winds are about 15 miles per hour and gusting to 25 miles per hour.
Andre Reed receives ring: Former Bills wide receiver Andre Reed, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this summer, will receive his Hall of Fame ring in a halftime ceremony Sunday.
Robert Woods probable: On the injury front, wide receiver Robert Woods is listed as probable after missing Thursday's practice with an ankle injury. Meanwhile, linebackers Randell Johnson (out, knee) and Keith Rivers (doubtful, groin) are unlikely to play. If Rivers is inactive, the Bills will need to declare five additional inactives.
Parry gets the call: John Parry is today's referee.
Woods has started the first two games of the season alongside rookie Sammy Watkins. He has five catches for 83 yards.
Watkins was more optimistic about Woods' status Thursday.
"I think he's fine. I think they just wanted to rest him today. He tweaked his ankle the other day," Watkins said. "He went through the walk-through [Thursday morning] pretty fine. But I think it was kind of sore a little bit, but he gonna be fine."
Meanwhile, the Bills added starting left guard Chris Williams to their injury report. He was limited.
"He went throughout the practice," Marrone said. "We just watched his reps."
Here is the Bills' full Thursday injury report:
Did not participate:
S Jonathan Meeks (neck/placed on injured reserve)
LB Randell Johnson (knee)
WR Woods (ankle)
LB Keith Rivers (groin)
DT Stefan Charles (hip)
G Williams (back)
WR Watkins (ribs)
TE Lee Smith (toe)
Woods was not listed on the team's unofficial injury report Monday, so it's likely that he suffered the injury during Wednesday's practice.
Meanwhile, linebacker Keith Rivers (groin) was limited in his return to practice on Wednesday.
"I felt pretty good," Rivers said. "Moving around pretty well and [will] just keep taking it day by day."
Did not participate:
S Jonathan Meeks (neck/placed on injured reserve)
LB Randell Johnson (knee)
LB Keith Rivers (groin)
DT Stefan Charles (hip)
WR Robert Woods (ankle)
WR Sammy Watkins (ribs)
TE Lee Smith (toe)
P Colton Schmidt -- Let's lead off with Schmidt, who joined the Bills last week and had an impressive outing. Schmidt, 23, pinned the Bears at their 14, 7, 14, and 6-yard lines with four of his five punts.
RB Fred Jackson -- It was a quiet game up until overtime for Jackson, whose 38-yard rumble sealed the Bills' overtime win. Clutch play for the veteran when it counted.
CB Corey Graham -- Getting the start in place of Stephon Gilmore, the former Bear intercepted Jay Cutler and returns it 45 yards. The next play was a Bills' touchdown.
DT Kyle Williams -- The reliable veteran stepped in front of a Cutler pass for his first career interception. As Bears tight end Martellus Bennett said after the game, the "fat guy got the pick" -- high praise, I guess.
RG Erik Pears -- The veteran notably missed a block on a screen pass that could have been a big-gainer. He also was flagged for holding, though the call was declined.
RT Seantrel Henderson -- The rookie was flagged for a holding penalty on a 13-yard Sammy Watkins catch as the Bills were driving in fourth quarter. That pushed them back and they later settled for a field goal.
TE Scott Chandler, LB Brandon Spikes -- The veterans were flagged for personal fouls on separate plays. The Bills didn't get many breaks from the officials Sunday, but these are the unnecessary flags that can swing close games.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills' decision to have rookie wide receiver Sammy Watkins return in their preseason finale may have backfired.
After sitting out one game with bruised ribs, Watkins reinjured his ribs on the ninth play of a 23-0 loss Thursday to the Detroit Lions. Crossing over the middle, Watkins took a hard hit from Lions linebacker Ashlee Palmer and later departed for the locker room.
Watkins did not return to the game.
Here are some other thoughts on the Bills’ preseason loss:
- Outside of Watkins, the rest of the Bills' starting offense played three drives -- against a Lions defense that rested several starters -- and was unable to come away with any points. EJ Manuel went 3-for-7 passing for 56 yards. He was sacked twice, both times on the opening drive. Manuel completed a pair of passes to Robert Woods -- for 16 and 20 yards -- but those were the highlights of his night. There was less of a sample to judge than previous weeks, but Manuel's performance was decidedly mixed.
- The Bills played their full first-team defense for a pair of drives against a Lions offense that rested quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson. Both drives, led by quarterback Dan Orlovsky, were three-and-outs. Defense hasn't been the issue for the Bills this preseason.
- Jordan Palmer, signed this week, replaced Manuel at quarterback in the second quarter. He finished the second quarter 3-for-9 for 25 yards, one interception and a 2.8 quarterback rating. Trailing 17-0 at halftime, the Bills were booed off the field for a second consecutive game by their home crowd. Palmer finished 9-for-22 for 73 yards and three interceptions, casting some doubt on his roster security as the Bills are set to make final cuts Saturday. Palmer had a 10.4 quarterback rating for the game.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- After three preseason games on the road, the Buffalo Bills returned home to a renovated Ralph Wilson Stadium and put up a dud in the first half of a 27-14 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Saturday.
Fans booed EJ Manuel and the Bills' first-team offense off the field at halftime after they failed to reach the red zone in their first eight possessions. At one point early in the second quarter, penalties forced the Bills into a third-and-40 situation.
The offense's futility ended when the Buccaneers pulled their starting defense at the start of the second half. Manuel promptly marched downfield and tossed a 14-yard touchdown pass to Mike Williams, the Bills' starting offense's first touchdown in 19 drives this preseason.
Here are some other thoughts on the Bills’ preseason loss:
- Sammy Watkins did not play because of bruised ribs. The Bills started Williams and Robert Woods at receiver in his place. Woods was targeted three times in the first half without a catch, while Williams had two catches for 32 yards. Manuel went 9-for-18 for 67 yards and was intercepted once. After showing some promise earlier this preseason, the passing offense took a step back Saturday.
- C.J. Spiller didn't help the offense's cause. The Bills leaned more on Spiller (eight carries) than Fred Jackson (three carries) in the first half, a reversal from last week's game in Pittsburgh. Spiller broke an 18-yard run but gained 9 yards on his other seven carries. Now healthy from an ankle injury that hampered him last season, Spiller running toward the sideline and not being able to turn the corner will be a problem for the Bills' offense, setting up longer to-go distances for Manuel on second and third downs.
- More bad news for the Bills' offense? Every starting offensive lineman except right tackle Seantrel Henderson was flagged for a penalty in Saturday's game.
- The Bills' defense was put in a tough spot and performed well, for the most part, in the first half. The run defense held Doug Martin to 38 yards on 12 carries, a noticeable improvement from last season when Bobby Rainey opened with an 80-yard touchdown run against the Bills. The pass defense, outside of an interception by Da'Norris Searcy, was more suspect. Linebacker Brandon Spikes had trouble sticking with Martin on a 22-yard catch, while Ron Brooks was beaten by Mike Evans for a 24-yard touchdown.
- In a puzzling move, the Bills replaced Manuel with fourth-string quarterback Dennis Dixon for the first play of the fourth quarter. Dixon has barely received reps in practice and had taken only two snaps -- both kneeldowns -- this preseason prior to Saturday. Dixon's first and only drive ended when he fumbled a snap on fourth-and-1. The Bills haven't seen great play from either Jeff Tuel or Thad Lewis this preseason, and with Dixon's forgettable possession, the Bills may have the NFL's worst backup quarterback situation.
- Searcy (stinger), wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (neck), tight end Lee Smith (foot), and wide receiver T.J. Graham (unknown) all left the game with injuries and did not return.
LATROBE, Pa. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Buffalo Bills training camp:
- This was without a doubt the Bills' most physical practice of training camp. The Pittsburgh Steelers "welcomed" the Bills to their training camp home at St. Vincent College by laying some hard hits early in an 11-on-11 live tackling drill. That quickly led to scuffling between the two teams, although players generally showed restraint; we didn't see any punches thrown. After practice, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin commended the teams for their "professionalism" during the practice.
- With that said, there was plenty of chirping from the Steelers' secondary -- led by safety Mike Mitchell -- throughout the practice. At times, the frustration among Bills receivers boiled over and they exchanged words with the Pittsburgh defensive backs. After the session, Robert Woods talked about avoiding the distractions of the "other stuff" during the practice, likely in reference to some of the trash-talking on the field.
- During 11-on-11 drills, when each team's offense is simultaneously running plays against the other team's defense at opposite ends of the field, our focus was on the offense, where EJ Manuel and Sammy Watkins remain the top stories of camp. Watkins dropped his first pass from Manuel -- it appeared that he pulled up against an oncoming Steelers safety -- but then got into a groove with Manuel. Watkins caught his next three passes from Manuel, although none were beyond 10 or 12 yards. Manuel overthrew Watkins on his final two targets of the afternoon.
- Manuel has a knack for downplaying some of his negative plays when speaking to reporters after practices, so we have to question him when he said after practice Wednesday that the Bills were "very good on third down." By our tracking, the Bills converted 4 of 14 plays on third down in practice. Two were short sideline patterns to Watkins, while the two others were crossing patterns to Chris Hogan and Lee Smith. Otherwise, it wasn't good, nevermind "very good." He was sacked or scrambled three times, overthrew Woods twice, threw behind T.J. Graham on a crossing pattern, threw too far in front of Hogan on a crossing pattern, and also under-threw Woods -- all incompletions.
- Kicker Dustin Hopkins (groin) was added to the injury list before practice. Tight end Tony Moeaki (hamstring), wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (hamstring), guard Chris Williams (lower back), linebacker Ty Powell (medical), and safety Jonathan Meeks (neck) were the others not practicing.
- The Bills and Steelers will meet again for another joint practice at 5 p.m. Thursday.
- Tuesday night's practice saw the return of tight ends Scott Chandler and Tony Moeaki, as well as wide receiver Marquise Goodwin. None had played in Sunday's preseason game due to injury. Moeaki left practice about halfway through and came back without pads. Word after practice was that Moeaki didn't suffer a new injury and that the team only planned on having him participate in individual drills. Goodwin, meanwhile, was limited in team drills.
- There was a heavy emphasis on the red zone in Wednesday's practice. The results weren't spectacular. In his second set of 11-on-11 reps, Manuel was sacked on his first two plays. The second play featured Manny Lawson pulling up in front of Manuel (no contact is allowed on quarterbacks) and standing there as Manuel continued to move his feet and read the defense for another second or two. It was an odd sight. Manuel found Lee Smith on the next play for a touchdown, one of just two we logged for Manuel in red zone drills. Some of Manuel's past problems cropped up Tuesday night, as he appeared to hold the ball too long on some plays while making questionable decisions (e.g. targeting Scott Chandler in double coverage in the end zone) on others. Overall, it was one of Manuel's poorer practices of camp.
- Robert Woods' place in the offense has become a topic of conversation since he wasn't on the field with the first team offense Sunday night. Marrone said the Bills played Woods into the third quarter to get a look at him in the slot, although it may still be troubling for the second-round pick that Chris Hogan was the slot receiver with the first team Sunday night. On Tuesday night, Woods' snaps with Manuel continued to be limited. For one stretch in a red zone drill, it was Hogan, Sammy Watkins, and Mike Williams as the top combo.
- Cyril Richardson saw more time with the first team in 11-on-11 drills Tuesday night. For now, it looks to be him and Kraig Urbik battling for that job. We haven't seen Chris Hairston in that spot in over a week.
- Cornerback Leodis McKelvin did not participate in the practice. His case becomes more curious, as he began training camp participating in team drills and has seen his workload decrease ever since. McKelvin had offseason hip surgery which is apparently still affecting his ability to practice. Fellow cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who also had hip surgery and did not play in Sunday's game, participated in team drills Tuesday.
- More injury updates: offensive lineman Edawn Coughman left practice with a strained oblique. Center Doug Legursky (back) and safety Derek Brim (hip) did not practice.
- The Bills will practice Wednesday afternoon at 2 p.m. ET before traveling to Charlotte on Thursday. They play the Carolina Panthers on Friday night.
In his place, the Bills used Sammy Watkins and Mike Williams as their top duo with Chris Hogan subbing into the slot. Those were the only three receivers who worked with quarterback EJ Manuel in his only two series of the game.
"A little bit [surprised] for Woody not to be in with us with the one's. A bit surprising," Manuel said of Woods' absence with the first-team unit. "But he did great. He did great. Woody's going to be Woody with whatever he's given. So I was still glad to see him go out there and do a great job."
Asked about the decision to use Hogan as the third receiver with the first-team offense instead of Woods, coach Doug Marrone was brief.
"[Hogan] came in only in the slot," Marrone said.
The Bills have used Hogan in the slot with their first-team offense at times during training camp, so his presence with that unit wasn't surprising. What was unusual, though, was Woods playing into the third quarter, while teammates Watkins and Williams were out of the game by late in the first quarter.
Woods, a second-round pick last season who started 14 games as a rookie, was asked following Sunday's loss if he told why he didn't start.
"No," Woods said, smiling.
"It is what it is. I just come out here and make plays whenever I'm in on the field."
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick has job security. His three counterparts in the AFC East? Not so much.
Rex Ryan landed a contract extension this offseason, but don't let that fool you. He will have reason to be nervous if the New York Jets miss the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. The Buffalo Bills' 6-10 record last season wasn't ominous for Doug Marrone -- that was just his first year on the job. But with an ownership change on the horizon, a failure to improve in 2014 might not bode well for Marrone.
Then there is Joe Philbin of the Miami Dolphins. He survived a bullying scandal that took place in his locker room and on his practice field. A late-season collapse that cost Miami a playoff berth couldn't sink Philbin, not when you consider the adversity the team fought through just to be in contention. But now Philbin enters his third year, when a lot is expected of a regime. He is likely out of second chances.
The four writers who cover the division -- Rich Cimini in New York, Mike Reiss in New England, Mike Rodak in Buffalo and James Walker in Miami -- offered their insights on the AFC East hot seat and other key topics. They also polled their Twitter followers to find out if they saw the issues differently.
Which AFC East coach enters camp on the hottest seat?
Rich Cimini: Doug Marrone's seat is lukewarm and Rex Ryan's is warm. Joe Philbin? Let's just say his tush is feeling extreme heat. Frankly, I'm a bit surprised he survived last season's debacle. Not only did the Dolphins collapse down the stretch to blow a playoff spot, but they became a national punchline because of the bullying scandal. The mess cost general manager Jeff Ireland his job, but Philbin emerged as the Teflon Man. He has now run out of mulligans. Philbin is working for a new GM, Dennis Hickey, and it's hard to imagine him returning in 2015 if the Dolphins miss the playoffs again. Philbin is an offensive-minded coach, but his offense -- quarterback Ryan Tannehill, in particular -- has shown no improvement. ... We would mention Bill Belichick's seat, except it's really not a seat. In this division, it's a throne.
Mike Rodak: This is a close race between Rex Ryan, Doug Marrone and Joe Philbin. Ryan faces the tough scrutiny of the New York market, and if the Jets' combo of quarterbacks Geno Smith and Michael Vick doesn't pan out, Ryan could be gone, despite his contract extension this year. In Buffalo, a pending ownership change naturally puts Marrone's future in doubt. I don't think CEO Russ Brandon or general manager Doug Whaley would fire Marrone even if things don't go well this season, but their voices might not matter if a new owner wants sweeping changes. In Miami, new GM Hickey has given Philbin his vote of approval, but how long will that last? If I had to pick one situation where the head coach's job is most in question, it's Philbin with the Dolphins.
James Walker: Miami's Joe Philbin has the hottest seat in the AFC East. After going a combined 15-17 his first two seasons, this year is really playoffs or bust for Philbin. He was fortunate to survive last year's late-season collapse and major locker-room issues with the bullying scandal that embarrassed the franchise. General manager Jeff Ireland and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman and others lost their jobs, but Miami owner Stephen Ross offered Philbin one more opportunity to prove he's the right coach for the team. The key for Philbin will be winning within the division. He is 4-8 against AFC East teams, and that won't cut it this season.
Which of your team's positional battles intrigues you the most?
Cimini: No question, it's the quarterback situation even though Geno Smith versus Michael Vick isn't a true open competition. No matter, it's still a compelling story, one that will create many headlines in training camp. It's Smith's job to lose, but I'm curious to gauge his development now that he has had a full season and a full offseason to immerse himself in the offense. More than anything, he should be better at seeing the field and reading defenses. How will he handle the pressure of knowing there is a capable replacement if he falters? Let's be honest, he never had to deal with that as a rookie. If Smith is outplayed by Vick, it will put the coaches in a delicate position. Clearly, they want Smith to be the starter, but they also have to consider the possible message it sends. If the best guy isn't playing, it's bad form. One position, so many fascinating subplots.
Reiss: Receiver looks like the Patriots' most compelling position battle. They are counting on big-time improvement from second-year players Aaron Dobson (second round), Josh Boyce (fourth round) and Kenbrell Thompkins (undrafted), while big 2013 free-agent signing Danny Amendola will be looking to prove he can stay healthy and recapture the magic we saw in the 2013 season opener. Veterans Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell are also expected to play significant roles, and can slippery-quick seventh-round pick Jeremy Gallon be a sleeper? Lots of questions to answer.
Rodak: The starting spot that seems most up for grabs in Buffalo this offseason is at safety. Who will start opposite Aaron Williams? The Bills lost Jairus Byrd and didn't address the loss in free agency or the draft, instead putting their faith in two of their draft selections from last season -- Duke Williams (fourth round) and Jonathan Meeks (fifth round) -- as well as a more experienced veteran, Da'Norris Searcy. With Aaron Williams recovering from shoulder surgery for most of organized team activities, we didn't get a great feel for which player had the best shot to win Byrd's old job. In the few times that Williams was on the field, it was Searcy lining up with the first team, but Duke Williams and Meeks also got reps with the first unit throughout OTAs. It's a battle that will continue into training camp.
Walker: The Dolphins have a few good position battles, but I am most intrigued by the competition to be the slot receiver because of the immense depth at the position. The Dolphins have Brandon Gibson, Rishard Matthews and rookie second-round pick Jarvis Landry all competing for one spot. In addition, these receivers have different styles. Gibson is more detailed and cerebral. He gets open with his route-running. Matthews is the biggest and most physical receiver of the bunch. Landry is sort of a combination of the two, but he lacks blazing speed. I think all three are capable of handling the position. It's just a matter of who performs the best and which style the coaching staff prefers.
@mikerodak running backs look to be more interesting than I expected, and even though there isn't competition QB growth is #1- Bob rieth (@Bob_rieth) June 16, 2014
Which veteran on your team is poised for a breakout season?
Cimini: For several reasons, it should be Quinton Coples. After two nondescript seasons, it's time to turn potential into production -- and he knows it. The talent is there. With Coples, whose work ethic was questioned when he came out of North Carolina, it is a matter of want-to. Does he want to be great? The former first-round pick was slowed last season by a position change ("rush" linebacker) and a fractured ankle in the preseason, which cost him three games. Now he should be comfortable at the position and he dropped weight in the offseason, which should help his quickness on the edge as a pass-rusher. Coples has the ability to turn a middling pass rush into a very good one.
Reiss: With the Patriots bolstering their secondary with Darrelle Revis, a player like third-year defensive end Chandler Jones could be a primary beneficiary of better coverage. He had six sacks as a rookie and followed that up with 11.5 last season. Could he hit 15 this season? As long as he stays healthy, it wouldn't surprise me.
Rodak: There was no shortage of breakout performers for the Bills last season, especially on defense. Defensive end Jerry Hughes, cornerback Leodis McKelvin, safety Aaron Williams and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus all enjoyed the best seasons. This season, I see two strong candidates for breakout performances: wide receiver Robert Woods and cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Woods had a strong start to last season -- he was a candidate for NFL rookie of the month in September -- but a revolving door at quarterback and a late-season ankle injury hampered his progress. If quarterback EJ Manuel bounces back from his up-and-down rookie season, Woods could stand to benefit. I would give him the edge to break out over Gilmore, a former first-round pick who was limited by a wrist injury most of last season but is among the better cornerbacks in the division when healthy.
Walker: Last season the Dolphins saw significant returns from a second-year defensive end, Olivier Vernon. He led the Dolphins with 11.5 sacks and really came on strong in 2013. So I'm going to stick with the same position and the same experience level and go with current second-year defensive end Dion Jordan. The Dolphins got little return for their No. 3 overall pick last year -- he had just 26 tackles and two sacks. But I like what I saw from Jordan during organized team activities and minicamp. Jordan hit the weight room hard this offseason and bulked up about 17 pounds. He's much stronger, which is key because Miami's coaching staff was concerned about Jordan's ability to stuff the run. Jordan should put up better numbers and be an all-around better player. His biggest issue is getting playing time behind Vernon and Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake.
@JamesWalkerNFL Dion Jordan. Can't hold him back anymore. He will get 10 sacks and will be on the field 40 plays per game- Tom Ernisse (@ternisse13) June 4, 2014
How many years do you think Tom Brady has left?
Cimini: No doubt, Jets fans will celebrate the day Brady decides to call it quits. Statistically, he's in a two-year decline, but he played with such a patchwork receiving corps last season that it's hard to say he is going south. Brady, who turns 37 in August, should have at least two more Brady-like seasons. I'm basing that on recent history. After all, John Elway won his second Super Bowl at 38 -- and promptly retired. It's rare in the modern era for a quarterback to play well beyond 38. Brett Favre had a great year at 40, and Warren Moon enjoyed a good year at 38, but the examples are few and far between. The Patriots drafted Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round for a reason. Brady is signed through 2017, but I'd be mildly surprised if he's still around at the age of 40.
Reiss: I'm not going to be the one who bets against Tom Brady. I still see him playing at a high level through the completion of his current contract in 2017, and based on the way he takes care of his body, the dedication to his craft, and the desire to play as long as possible, I could see him going the Warren Moon route and playing into his 40s. It's all contingent on good health, but will Tom Brady still be slinging passes and winning games in the year 2020? Yup.
Rodak: I would peg Brady's window at 3-4 years. In the past, he has spoken about his fear of the "abyss" that will follow his playing career. Yet we've also seen him in the public eye as a father in recent years and I think he would embrace that role in retirement. The bigger question is whether Bill Belichick would ever "move on" from Brady or simply allow him to play -- and start -- as long as he'd like. Belichick is markedly unemotional when he makes personnel decisions, so I don't think he would necessarily let Brady dictate when his career ends. Even if Belichick's final season coincides with Brady's, I think Belichick would want to leave the organization in a good spot. That could mean handing over the reins to a younger starter if the situation calls for it.
Walker: I covered Brady for two seasons as ESPN.com's AFC East reporter. To me, he has always come off as a player who wished he could play football forever. You would be surprised how many NFL players are not that way. Brady isn't motivated by money or fame. I think there is a genuine love for the game and thirst for competition that will be hard for Brady to let go. That is why I expect Brady to hold on for as long as he can. I expect two or three more quality seasons, but I wouldn't be surprised if Brady tries to go longer. I think Brady is too competitive to walk away on his own. Father Time might have to pull him away from the NFL.
@MikeReiss Two. (hoping he goes out with a ring (a la John Elway)- Because i think he has less than 3 - I'm watching the back up QB battle.- Elizabeth (@capesquad) June 18, 2014
Nearly a third of the league inquired about receiver DeSean Jackson, but not all the teams are known. Two of those teams reportedly have fallen out of the race for Jackson -- and both have coaches who previously worked with him (Andy Reid in Kansas City and Marty Mornhinweg with the New York Jets). The assumption is that this sends up red flags about Jackson; that’s not necessarily the case.
And it’s hard to get a good feel on who is really interested. Oakland and Washington definitely are, though to what extent remains to be seen. Jackson arrives in Washington Monday and will visit Tuesday. Thus far, it’s his only reported visit.
San Francisco’s name came up when Jackson was on the trade block and the 49ers had expressed interest in free-agent wide receiver Golden Tate, among others, before he signed with Detroit. So it would make sense that they’d at least inquire about Jackson. Tampa Bay has said they'd take a look, though it was a rather tepid endorsement.
Here’s a little handicap of some teams that have expressed interest or reportedly want to get in the race:
Cap space: Approximately $7 million
Why he’d consider: It’s a premier market in a premier conference. Oh, and they get to play the Eagles twice a year. The Redskins would have a lot of speed offensively with Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Andre Roberts and Jordan Reed and would be a major threat down the field. Add to it an athletic quarterback who can extend plays and the off-schedule explosions would increase. Robert Griffin III’s deep-ball ability will be important -- and his ability to extend plays. Jackson’s agent, Joel Segal, has definitely taken quarterback play into consideration in the past with his receivers. If Jackson is forced to take a one-year, prove-it deal, this especially would be a factor.
Why he wouldn’t: Because other teams can offer more. Washington can’t compete if Jackson’s strong desire is to return to the West Coast and play for the team he grew up rooting for (Oakland). If they want a more proven coach, San Francisco and Tampa Bay have to be a consideration (if the Bucs are strongly interested, which is debatable). And if San Francisco truly is interested, then the 49ers clearly would offer him a better chance for team success. The Redskins still have other needs to address so they can only spend so much, and it's hard to gauge how aggressive they'll be. But the fact that they have the first visit says something.
Cap space: Approximately $13 million
Why he’d consider: They have more cap room than most teams, so they could offer the sort of contract that could get it done now -- if they wanted to go that high. They need what Jackson provides (though many teams do).
Why he wouldn’t: The Bills aren’t a marquee team and their quarterback situation is questionable. EJ Manuel started 10 games as a rookie and showed flashes, but remains unproven. That has to be a strong consideration. None of their receivers had more than 597 yards last season, so how secure could you be? They have a good young talent in Robert Woods, a solid receiver in Stevie Johnson (nagging injuries, however) and a fast young guy in Marquise Goodwin. But that’s not exactly a Hall of Fame trio. The draft has to be an attractive option, so that could limit what the Bills would be willing to offer.
Cap space: Approximately $15 million
Why he’d consider: Because the Raiders were his favorite team growing up and he played college ball at nearby Cal. Jackson is a West Coast kid, and if his desire to return there is strong, then it will be hard to top. The Raiders need help at receiver so Jackson would fill a big hole. Also, the Raiders have more money than the other teams reportedly interested thus far.
Why he wouldn’t: The Raiders have a wait-and-see approach going on and, while they’d like him, they won’t overspend. So if another team is more aggressive, then Jackson could end up elsewhere. Also, other than going back to California, the Raiders aren’t exactly an attractive franchise. Their coach, Dennis Allen, will enter the season on the hot seat and their quarterback, Matt Schaub, is not known for throwing deep all that often. At this point, it’s uncertain if he remains a quality starting quarterback.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Cap space: Approximately $12 million
Why he’d consider: They have a potentially strong structure with new coach Lovie Smith. He’s a proven coach in the first year of his regime so he’ll be around several years at least. The Bucs have another explosive receiver to pair with Jackson in Vincent Jackson. Both are dangerous down the field. Oh, yeah, and they have the cap room to absorb a bigger contract.
Why he wouldn’t: Smith’s history suggests building around the run game and the defense. Also, they have a journeyman starting quarterback in Josh McCown and a second-year guy in Mike Glennon, whom the new coach did not draft (and replaced right away). So there are questions at this spot. Their interest is said to be lukewarm, so it’s hard to imagine them overspending for Jackson.
San Francisco 49ers
Cap space: Approximately $4 million
Why he’d consider: It’s the best team, it’s near where he played college ball and it puts him back on the West Coast. They need a receiver who can stretch the field to pair with Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree and tight end Vernon Davis. Jackson would provide that and then some. They also have a big-armed quarterback in Colin Kaepernick who can let Jackson run under the ball and remind everyone of his explosiveness. Unlike Washington, the 49ers also have a defense that plays at a championship level, so if Jackson wants to produce and win, this could be the stop.
Why he wouldn’t: The 49ers were reportedly interested in pursuing a trade, according to Pro Football Talk. But their cap number isn’t high and they already have talent at receiver. They could opt for the draft, which is deep at this position and has a few players with Jackson-like qualities (though no one can match his acceleration on deep balls). Hard to know what the reported friction with the 49ers between general manager Trent Baalke and coach Jim Harbaugh means for the future of either person and, subsequently, a guy like Jackson.
1:00 PM ET Cleveland Baltimore 1:00 PM ET Dallas Washington 1:00 PM ET Indianapolis Tennessee 1:00 PM ET Jacksonville Houston 1:00 PM ET San Diego Kansas City 1:00 PM ET New York Miami 1:00 PM ET Chicago Minnesota 1:00 PM ET Buffalo New England 1:00 PM ET Philadelphia New York 1:00 PM ET New Orleans Tampa Bay 4:25 PM ET Carolina Atlanta 4:25 PM ET Detroit Green Bay 4:25 PM ET Oakland Denver 4:25 PM ET Arizona San Francisco 4:25 PM ET St. Louis Seattle 8:30 PM ET Cincinnati Pittsburgh