NFL Nation: Ty Warren


ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – It appears Denver Broncos fans are over the loss of Tim Tebow.

Manning-mania is bubbling over in the Rockies.

The Denver Broncos opened training camp Thursday morning to a fan reception never seen before in these parts. An estimated 4,000-plus attended the opening day of practice to welcome Peyton Manning to Denver in his first public appearance in a Broncos helmet. The word is that late-arriving fans were having a difficult time getting into the practice.

The main parking lot adjacent to the practice field was full well before practice begin and people were forced to park a mile away from the facility.

The previous record for training camp at the team’s facility was just over 3,000. Yes, even Tebow-mania couldn’t attract this type of crowd.

Manning received a huge reception when he hit the practice field and his every completion spurred wild applause. Several fans were wearing Manning Denver jerseys; some were wearing Manning Indianapolis jerseys.

Meanwhile, in other Denver camp news, second year safety Rahim Moore opened with the first team defense. He will compete with fellow second-team safety Quinton Carter. Also, veteran defensive tackle Ty Warren was working with the first-team defense. Prior to Warren re-committing to the team in June, Sealver Siliga worked with the first team.
The restructured contract upon which the Denver Broncos and Ty Warren agreed Wednesday was a mutually beneficial one.

Warren
Warren, who signed with Denver last summer, has missed the past two seasons due to injury. He had long considered the proposed reduction.

Warren will be in the rotation at the defensive tackle position if he can stay healthy -- giving Denver much-needed depth. The 31-year-old knows this new deal is a win for everyone involved.

“I thought my job is to always look out for the well-being of my family, and the team’s job is to look out for the well-being of the team,” Warren told reporters in Denver. “Ultimately, we were able to find out what was most important to each side.”

Broncos could miss top players

September, 16, 2011
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The Denver Broncos are in danger of playing Sunday against visiting Cincinnati without four of their key players.

Cornerback Champ Bailey (hamstring), defensive end Elvis Dumervil (shoulder), receiver Brandon Lloyd (groin) and running back Knowshon Moreno (hamstring) are all listed as questionable. Lloyd worked on a limited basis Friday. However, Bailey, Dumervil and Moreno didn’t practice all week. When players miss an entire week of practice, it often means they will not play in the game.

Playing without both Bailey and Dumervil (arguably their best two defenders) would be crippling for a defense that is still very much a work in progress. Add in the fact that three fellow starters, linebacker D.J. Williams (elbow) and defensive tackles Ty Warren (triceps) and Marcus Thomas (shoulder), are still out and Denver is in danger of dropping to 0-2 in two home games to start the season.

If Moreno can’t play, Willis McGahee would start and Lance Ball would get some carries. Denver ran the ball just 13 times in a loss to Oakland on Monday night. Losing Moreno wouldn’t help Denver increase that total against the Bengals.

Times are tough in Denver and they might get even tougher Sunday.

Camp Confidential: Denver Broncos

August, 17, 2011
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- For a franchise that was accused of turning stale a few years ago, the Denver Broncos have become pros at taking fresh approaches.

For the second time in three training camps, Denver has a new head coach. John Fox takes over after the disastrous 23-month Josh McDaniels regime. From 1995 to 2008, the Broncos were the picture of coaching constancy. It was the Mike Shanahan show. Everyone knew it.

But the Broncos have been in flux and have gone from one of the better-run organizations in the NFL to a team that is grasping for an identity. Denver hasn’t been to the playoffs since the 2005 season. It hasn’t had a winning record since 2006.

In comes Fox, who is experiencing a rebirth himself after spending the past nine seasons in Carolina. Fox’s biggest task in Denver is to restore normalcy after the rocky McDaniels era and rebuild a winner.

“There has been instability here, good, bad or indifferent, that’s just the way it has been,” said Fox, whose team will be on its sixth defensive coordinator (former New Orleans secondary coach Dennis Allen) in six seasons.

“We have to build our program here. But I think it can be done. There are good pieces here.”

Many Denver players have raved about Fox. They appreciate his professionalism, his structure and his attention to detail. They believe there is a plan in place, and they trust Fox’s experience. The players also seem to appreciate the fact that Fox is simply in Denver to coach. The front office is run by legendary Denver quarterback John Elway and general manager Brian Xanders. Both Shanahan and McDaniels made personnel decisions.

“I get a great feel for Coach Fox,” star cornerback Champ Bailey said. “He’s one of the better coaches I’ve been around ... I like it that he is focused on coaching us on the field. That’s where he wants to be.”

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeVon Miller
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireRookie Von Miller will need to play well right away if Denver's defense is going to improve this season.
1. Fix the defense. While the Tim Tebow-Kyle Orton competition has garnered much attention, the real key issue in Denver’s camp has been the defense. This unit was ranked No. 32 in the NFL last season and was generally awful in every major statistical category. Fox and his defensive staff have taken a hands-on approach to improve this group, which is a mix of veterans and youngsters.

If the reconstructed defensive front plays well and rookie linebacker Von Miller makes an instant impact, this group has a chance to improve quickly. It seems to be working early. Denver’s defense has been capable in camp and it looked solid against Dallas in the preseason opener Thursday. Injuries to defensive tackles Ty Warren (who signed to a two-year, $8 million deal) and Marcus Thomas create more uncertainty at a key spot for Denver. It needs to get help there by Kevin Vickerson, Brodrick Bunkley, Jeremy Jarmon and Derrick Harvey in the rest of the preseason. Warren could be out for a long period and Thomas will miss the rest of the preseason.

2. Clarity at quarterback: The Broncos’ camp has been about getting the first-team ready to go with Orton. There is no question Orton is the starter now. If the team struggles, Tebow could enter the picture, but players love playing with Orton and the team thinks he currently gives them the best chance to win now.

Of course, the lack of clarity was team-induced. It spent the immediate days after the lockout trying to trade Orton to Miami. After that fell through, Orton took control of the offense quickly and has given Denver no choice but to make him the starter, TebowMania be dammed.

3. Establish a ground game: Although Fox is a defensive-minded coach, he has a strict philosophy on offense. He believes in stuffing the ball down an opponent’s throat and killing the clock. Denver struggled to run the ball under McDaniels, and Fox said adding a veteran tailback was paramount.

The Broncos jumped on Willis McGahee when he was cut by the Ravens. Expect McGahee and third-year player Knowshon Moreno to combine for plenty of carries. They have worked well in camp, and they combined for 40 yards on six carries in the preseason opener at Dallas. This camp has been spent getting these two involved in the offense as much as possible.

ELVIS IS BACK IN THE BUILDING

The Broncos are raving about the play of Elvis Dumervil. After leading the NFL with 17 sacks in 2009 and getting a contract worthy of that performance, Dumervil tore a pectoral muscle in early August last year and missed the entire 2010 season.

There was concern that his rust and a move back to the 4-3 under Fox could hamper the smallish Dumervil. He flourished in McDaniels’ 3-4 system after being a solid player in Shanahan’s 4-3 defense. Dumervil beefed up to more than 260 pounds, and he‘s been impressive under Fox.

The Broncos expect Dumervil and Miller to become one of the better pass-rush tandems in the league.

RELYING ON THE ROOKIES

[+] EnlargeRahim Moore
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesThe Broncos will also be looking to rookie Rahim Moore to shore up Denver's secondary.
One of the most exciting aspects of this camp for Denver has been the play of its rookies. The Broncos thought they drafted well in April, and after three weeks, they are thrilled with what they see.

“I think we had an excellent draft,” Fox said.

Added Dumervil: “This is the best group of rookies I’ve seen here in awhile.”

Leading the way is Miller, who was the No. 2 overall draft pick. The Texas A&M product has been as advertised. Teammates rave about his speed, explosiveness and his ability to make plays. They expect instant success.

Second-round pick Rahim Moore is vying for a starting spot with Kyle McCarthy at safety and has shown he is ready for NFL play. Right tackle Orlando Franklin, middle linebacker Nate Irving, tight end Julius Thomas and safety Quentin Carter are all expected to be major contributors. This is exactly what this 4-12 team needed -- a solid group of youngsters to build around after a couple of shaky years of drafting by McDaniels.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Safety Brian Dawkins may be turning 38 this year, but the Broncos are still getting a lot out of him. He works well with Fox’s staff, and his leadership has been uncanny during camp.
  • Defensive end Robert Ayers has been getting chances to break out in camp, but he has been slow to show progress. He was the No. 18 overall pick in the 2009 draft.
  • Receiver Brandon Lloyd has been slowed by swelling in his knee. Still, the team expects him to contribute. Lloyd had a breakout season in 2010 -- 77 catches for 1,448 yards.
  • The second-round draft class of 2009 has been a bust. Tight end Richard Quinn is hurt and could be the odd man out. Safety Darcel McBath has yet to develop, and cornerback Alphonso Smith (who Denver traded its 20101 first-round pick for) was shipped out to Detroit last year. This was supposed to be the nucleus of future success, and Denver hasn’t seen results.
  • The Broncos’ passing game struggled in red-zone and third-down situations. That has been a point of emphasis during this camp.
  • Veterans Joe Mays and Mario Haggan are competing to hold off Irving at middle linebacker.
  • Franklin has struggled in pass projection. Still, the team is committed to him.
  • Denver is excited about second-year receiver Eric Decker. Expect Decker to get a chance to contribute a lot.
  • The Broncos like what they have in new tight end Daniel Fells. He is solid as a receiver and as a blocker. He should help in both phases of the game.
  • Right cornerback Andre' Goodman has been steady, and the team is confident he can play well in 2011.
  • Second-year center J.D. Walton continues to improve, and he has shown strong leadership for a young player.
Heading into the NFL draft, defensive tackle was the Denver Broncos’ biggest question mark.

Now, four months later, it remains Denver’s biggest area of concern.

The Broncos’ situation at the vital position is again up in the air after top free-agent pickup Ty Warren suffered a partially torn triceps. Denver doesn’t know exactly how long he will be out or if he will need surgery. But he is expected to miss several weeks and could even miss the season. Denver signed the former New England standout to a two-year, $8 million deal this month.

He was supposed to bring stability and veteran leadership to Denver’s weakest area. He was hurt Monday. To make matters worse, Denver’s other starting defensive tackle, Marcus Thomas, suffered a pectoral injury Monday and he will be out for the rest of the preseason.

Newly acquired Brodrick Bunkley and holdover Kevin Vickerson will step in for the Broncos. They also have newcomers Derrick Harvey and Jeremy Jarmon. Expect Denver -- which didn’t address the position in the draft -- to scour the list of remaining free agents and scout the waiver wire in the next month in search of more help at defensive tackle.
I had just landed in Kansas City in preparation of my visit to the Chiefs’ training camp when I received word that the Denver Broncos may have suffered a serious injury.

Warren
Warren
New defensive lineman Ty Warren may have suffered a serious triceps injury. He is being examined and the extent of the injury is not known. But he could be out a while.

Warren’s absence would hurt Denver. He was the Broncos’ big free-agent signing as he signed a two-year, $8 million deal after being cut by New England. He was expected to bring stability to Denver’s weakest spot on the roster. To make matters worse, fellow Denver defensive tackle Marcus Thomas suffered a pectoral injury in practice Monday. The injuries occurred minutes apart. Thomas’ status is not known, either.

Warren’s injury would likely mean newly acquired Brodrick Bunkley will get more playing time. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Broncos look for veteran help at the position in the next month if Warren’s injury is serious.
The Denver Broncos continue to try to reconstruct their defensive line.

Warren
Warren
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that the Broncos have agreed to terms with former New England defensive lineman Ty Warren (see, the Broncos add ex-Pats even after the Josh McDaniels’ era). Warren, 30, was cut last week. Denver is paying him $10 million over two years with $2.5 million guaranteed.

The Broncos need Warren to still have something in the tank. If so, he will give leadership to a new-look line. Denver has added Jeremy Jarmon and Brodrick Bunkley through trades and they have signed Derrick Harvey. Marcus Thomas was also re-signed.

The line, defensive tackle in particular, has been Denver’s biggest need area this offseason as it tries to improve the NFL’s worst defense last season.

Denver won a battle with Kansas City to land Warren. The Chiefs had to be confident they would land Warren since he has New England ties with Scott Pioli and Romeo Crennel.

Yet, it’s doubtful the Chiefs were willing to match Denver’s generous contract.
Interesting news out of Denver as I settle in at the Raiders’ camp. The Denver Post is reporting that Kyle Orton is getting all the first team repetitions in training camp.

Orton
Orton
Tebow
Tebow
If that’s the case, Denver should simply decide to keep Orton as the starter. They tried to trade him to Miami last week, but a deal couldn’t be agreed upon.

Orton said last week his intention was to be the starter in Denver as a long as he is a Bronco. He is a free agent at the end of the season.

The Broncos clearly wanted to trade him and they wanted to see what Tim Tebow could do as a starter. If the Broncos don’t think Tebow is worthy of getting any first-team snaps, then they should make Orton the starter. The season starts in exactly six weeks for Denver.

Tebow will need all the time he can get with the first team if he is going to start. If Denver thinks he’s not ready, then they have to make that decision and stick with it.

Trading Orton in a few weeks and then trying to push Tebow (or Brady Quinn) into the starting lineup wouldn’t be fair for anyone.

Meanwhile, the Broncos are planning to look at many defensive tackles. They acquired Brodrick Bunkley from the Eagles for a conditional 2013 pick. He is a former first-round pick. There is no guarantee he will make the team. The Broncos signed former Jacksonville first rounder Derrick Harvey and are trying to sign fellow defensive linemen Jamaal Anderson and Ty Warren as they look for the right mix on the unit.
It is an AFC West race for Ty Warren.

The Denver Post is reporting that the former New England defensive lineman will visit the Kansas City Chiefs this week. He has already visited the Broncos. He is currently visiting the Texans.

It make sense that the Chiefs are pursuing Warren. He played for Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli and Chiefs’ defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel in New England. Warren is a quiet professional who could help a growing defense like the Chiefs. The Chiefs have added former Baltimore nose tackle Kelly Gregg, and Warren would give further beef to the unit.

Patriots draft could bring championships

March, 30, 2011
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The New England Patriots are the NFL's richest team heading into the draft. They own two picks in each of the first three rounds and three picks in the top 33 slots.

In the latest edition of ESPN's "On the Clock" roundtable series, analysts Trent Dilfer and Mel Kiper, reporter Chris Mortensen and moderator Mike Tirico discussed just how significant this year's draft can be for New England.

"I believe with a strong draft," ESPN analyst Mel Kiper said, "Tom Brady may get two more Super Bowl rings -- if this draft is productive."

The Patriots have an incredible degree of flexibility with how they choose to approach the draft.

They've been more likely to trade back and accumulate picks in past drafts. But with a rookie wage scale nearly certain to be part of the next collective bargaining agreement, this could be the year the Patriots make a play.

"Seven picks in the first four rounds, do they try to package and move up?" Kiper wondered. "Wide receiver is an issue. Do you go up get A.J. Green from Georgia? Do you go up and get Julio Jones from Alabama?

"Or do you stand pat, figuring you have a need at outside linebacker, you have a need at wide receiver, you could use a running back. This offensive line right now could be in a state of flux. There's no question about that."

If the Patriots do stick with the picks they have, Kiper forecasts their first-round combo could be Purdue defensive end/outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan and Miami receiver Leonard Hankerson.

Dilfer's druthers would be to trade up for one or two no-doubt impact players.

"They don't have guys that change the down," Dilfer said. "They have guys that win the down based on doing their jobs, but they don't have that fear factor. They don't have the dynamic playmaker on either side of the ball.

"So, with all these picks, maybe it's an opportunity to move up there and get two dynamic playmakers that can actually change each down."

Lockout jeopardizes big workout bonuses

March, 17, 2011
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A lot of money will go bye-bye if the NFL work stoppage eliminates offseason workouts.

That's a legitimate possibility if owners and players can't hammer out a deal well before training camps normally would begin.

ESPN's Adam Schefter has compiled a list of the NFL's richest workout bonuses and the attendance percentages required to earn them.

New York Jets left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson has the biggest incentive in the league at $750,000. He must attend 85 percent of the workouts to collect.

Other big AFC East bonuses:
Brady, however, is covered if there aren't any 2011 offseason workouts. His 2012 bonus will inflate to $500,000 in that case.
This is the third in a series of items revisiting relatively recent NFL trades involving first-round draft choices in the slots NFC West teams occupy this year.

The St. Louis Rams must hope the 14th overall choice treats them better than the 13th and 15th choices treated them recently.

Defensive tackle Adam Carriker was the choice at No. 13 in 2007. Cornerback Tye Hill was the choice at No. 15 a year earlier. Neither lasted long with the team.

This year, Rams fans will be looking to see if one of the top receivers or defensive linemen falls their way at No. 14. As for trading the pick? I'll break out what the 14th overall choice has brought in some previous trades involving only draft choices.

The pick: 14th overall

Held by: St. Louis Rams

Most recent trade involving only picks: 2007. The New York Jets jumped 11 spots to draft cornerback Darrelle Revis at No. 14. This trade helps show what Seattle might have to pay for swapping first-round choices with the Rams this year. In 2007, the Jets sent the 25th, 59th and 164th choices to Carolina for the 14th and 191st picks. The trade-value chart says the Jets paid 1,056.8 points for picks worth 1,116 points. The difference equates to a pick late in the fourth round. Carolina wound up with linebacker Jon Beason (25th), offensive lineman Ryan Kalil (59th) and linebacker Tim Shaw (164th).

Shockey vs. Haynesworth: In 2002, the New York Giants moved up one spot to No. 14 and drafted tight end Jeremy Shockey. They gave up the 15th pick, which Tennessee used for Albert Haynesworth, and the 110th choice (Mike Echols). Echols never played.

When the Bucs got Buffaloed: Tampa Bay moved up seven spots to No. 14 in 2001 for a chance to draft tackle Kenyatta Walker. The Buffalo Bills came away with the 21st pick, used for cornerback Nate Clements, and the 51st choice (Paul Toviessi). Walker was supposed to lock down the left side of the Bucs' line, but he played mostly right tackle, starting 73 games over six seasons. He was in the CFL by age 29.

The price of moving up: What might the Rams pay if they sought to move up a pick or three from the 14th overall spot? In 1993, the Denver Broncos sent the 14th (Steve Everitt) and 83rd (Mike Caldwell) choices to Cleveland for the 11th overall choice (Dan Williams). A decade later, the Patriots sent the 14th (Michael Haynes) and 193rd (Marques Ogden) choices to Chicago for the 13th choice (Ty Warren). Neither trade was a lopsided mismatch on the value chart. The Patriots underpaid slightly. The Broncos overpaid slightly.

AFC East labor impact

March, 11, 2011
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NFC labor impact: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A team-by-team look at how a continued labor impasse and extended NFL freeze on transactions would affect the division:

Buffalo Bills: The Bills are a young team that built momentum toward the end of last season. They went 4-4 in the second half. Over a six-game stretch in October and November they went 2-4, and each loss was by three points to an eventual playoff team. Three of them were in overtime.

A prolonged work stoppage would stunt Buffalo's development. Head coach Chan Gailey is entering his second year, but his first offseason with Ryan Fitzpatrick as starting quarterback. The Bills also could draft a quarterback next month, but they wouldn't be able to sign him or work with him until there's a new collective bargaining agreement.

Inexperienced players with one or two years dot the roster: running back C.J. Spiller, guards Eric Wood and Andy Levitre, nose tackle Torell Troup, outside linebackers Aaron Maybin and Arthur Moats, safety Jairus Byrd. They would benefit from as much prep time as they can get.

Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins' offense will have serious difficulty taking shape if there's a long work stoppage. Incumbent quarterback Chad Henne wouldn't be on the securest footing if we were heading into a normal offseason. The Dolphins were frustrated enough to remove him as their starter twice last year. Now he's working with a new offensive coordinator (Brian Daboll) and new quarterbacks coach (Karl Dorrell) who never has been a quarterbacks coach before.

Henne got a head start on his offseason by meeting with Daboll and Dorrell and trying to absorb as much of the playbook as he could. Henne intends to communicate Daboll's philosophies to his teammates with informal workouts in South Florida.

That's where the Dolphins can have an advantage if they remain diligent. A large percentage of their players maintain homes in South Florida, making it easy for them to assemble for group sessions.

All of Henne's work could be rendered moot if the Dolphins want to acquire another quarterback, but then they'll have another problem. Until there's a new CBA, teams cannot sign free agents or make player trades. That means the Dolphins are in limbo if they want to make a play for an intriguing group of candidates that includes Kevin Kolb, Kyle Orton, Carson Palmer, Donovan McNabb and Vince Young.

New England Patriots: If any team can withstand a protracted work stoppage, it's the reigning AFC East champions. The Patriots have a solid roster filled with veterans, particularly on offense. Their coaching staff remained mostly intact. They're flush with draft picks.

The biggest impact probably would be felt on defense, where the Patriots sometimes started four rookies: end Brandon Deaderick, outside linebacker Jermaine Cunningham, inside linebacker Brandon Spikes and cornerback Devin McCourty.

Although a couple of veteran defenders returning from injuries -- defensive end Ty Warren and cornerback Leigh Bodden -- should help stabilize them, the Patriots will have difficulty coaching up their youngsters and improving their terrible third-down defense in a compacted offseason.

Another issue could be the way the Patriots flip through interchangeable parts. The Patriots are adept at discovering undrafted free agents and reclaiming other teams' castoffs while constantly overturning the bottom of their roster. With no CBA, these roster moves cannot happen.

New York Jets: Free agency will be the Jets' biggest issue if a work stoppage drags out. They have the most free agents in the AFC East and declined to re-sign any of them aside from placing the franchise tag on inside linebacker David Harris. The Jets didn't want to make any decisions until they knew what the next CBA looked like. That created several questions up and down the roster.

Receiver is the biggest question mark. Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards are without contracts, and quarterback Mark Sanchez needs a strong supporting cast. On defense, safety is a concern with Brodney Pool, Eric Smith and James Ihedigbo all about to be free agents, too.

No CBA means the Jets won't be able to sign incoming free agents either. Polls have shown players around the league would love to play for Rex Ryan more than any other coach. But the Jets can't use that to their advantage until there's a new deal.

Making millions in the AFC East

March, 4, 2011
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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

Leading Questions: AFC East

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

BUFFALO BILLS

Can the defense become a difference-maker?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MIAMI DOLPHINS

Will Chad Henne be their long-term quarterback?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Will the defense remain a weakness?

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

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

Not bad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEW YORK JETS

Can the Jets retain their loaded receiving corps?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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