NFL Nation: Vernon Gholston

St. Louis Rams cut-down analysis

August, 31, 2012
8/31/12
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Click here for the complete list of St. Louis Rams roster moves.

Most significant move: The Rams released No. 2 quarterback Kellen Clemens even though Clemens knew the offense better than any player on the roster. Clemens, who spent time with the New York Jets when Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer held the same job there, lost out to impressive undrafted free-agent quarterback Austin Davis.

Davis, drafted by the Boston Red Sox this year, stood out during preseason for his poise. Some players appear as though they belong. Davis did, at least initially. The preliminary assumption here is that Davis fared well enough to win the No. 2 role, although rosters remain fluid and the Rams will consider veterans at every position as they become available. The Rams also released Tom Brandstater, who was initially thought to be competing with Davis for the third-string role.

Onward and upward: Clemens could catch on with another team. Overall, however, the Rams had more holes than front-line talent to fill those holes. The players they released will not be coveted elsewhere. That was partly because the suspension Austin Pettis faces for the first two games bought the Rams time at wide receiver, where the team has quite a few mid-level prospects. With Pettis on the reserve/suspended list and not counting against the 53-man limit, the Rams kept the six receivers considered most likely to stick, including veteran Steve Smith and second-year pro Greg Salas.

Veteran fullback Ovie Mughelli received his release and could appeal to the dwindling number of teams valuing a traditional blocking fullback. The Rams kept only four running backs on this initial 53-man roster. They parted with Chase Reynolds after coach Jeff Fisher lauded the 24-year-old back as someone with the ability to close out a game.

The Rams also cut Aaron Brown, Cornell Banks, Cory Harkey, Jamaar Jarrett, Jose Valdez, Scott Smith, Mason Brodine, Nick Johnson, Ben Guidugli, Kendric Burney, Deangelo Peterson, Sammy Brown, T. Bob Hebert, Tim Barnes, Bryan Mattison, Vernon Gholston and Joe Long. Gholston could be running out of chances.

What's next: The Rams need help throughout their roster. They have the No. 2 priority in waiver claims. Expect them to put that privilege to use. The Rams should be active in pursuing help at defensive tackle after losing first-round pick Michael Brockers for a month (estimated) with a high-ankle sprain. Trevor Laws is already on injured reserve.

The Rams have only eight offensive linemen, one fewer than teams generally prefer to keep. They could use another one. They kept six linebackers, on the low side. The team is carrying 11 defensive backs at present. I wouldn't be surprised if they shopped former starting corner Bradley Fletcher, who was playing deep into games in preseason.
Good Sunday to you. As always, NFC North teams are making waves in the news stacks. The Chicago Bears made the first big splash of this round of NFL free agency, agreeing to terms with safety Brandon Meriweather the day after the New England Patriots unexpectedly released him.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Meriweather
Greg M. Cooper/US PresswireSafety Brandon Meriweather is 27 and a two-time Pro Bowl player.
Meriweather is 27 and a two-time Pro Bowl player. He is athletically in the prime of his career and one who presumably wouldn't walk into a dead-end job, which is what the Bears would seem to have with veteran Chris Harris and second-year player Major Wright locked into starting roles.

So I think one of two things has happened here:

The Bears are less enthused about Wright than they have let on and are far from certain that they will re-sign Harris, whose contract will expire after this season.

Wright missed more than his share of tackles this preseason, but coach Lovie Smith is always looking to bring a young safety along. There have been no public indications that his job is in jeopardy, but would Meriweather sign with the Bears if he thought he wouldn't get a chance to start?

That brings us to Harris, whose play in the second half of last season was one of the reasons the Bears locked up the NFC North. There have been no indications of skill deterioration from him this summer, but you never know what plans the Bears have for him after this season.

Meriweather received a one-year deal, so there is no guarantee the Bears could hold on to him next season if they don't re-sign Harris. But a year in their system would probably give them the upper hand, at least. Via Twitter, Harris said he doesn't know how Meriweather will fit in. "I just work there," Harris tweeted.

The second possibility is that Meriweather didn't have as many options as he might have hoped.

Under that theory, he would fall into the category of defensive tackle Amobi Okoye, receiver Roy Williams and defensive end Vernon Gholston -- former first-round draft picks whom the Bears gave long looks to in training camp. (Okoye and Williams both made the final 53-man roster.)

When the Patriots make a veteran player available, either via trade or by release, the rest of the NFL gets suspicious. They have one of the league's most respected player evaluation systems and it's not often that coach Bill Belichick has bid farewell to a player who later matched the success he had in New England.

As Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com points out, there were indications all summer that Meriweather's status with the team had suddenly turned shaky. He reported to training camp in questionable shape, played more than many starters in the preseason and wasn't a great match for the increased amount of man defense the Patriots reportedly will play this season.

The Bears don't run their traditional Tampa-2 scheme as often as advertised, but they wouldn't be considered primarily a man defense, either. Any concerns about Meriweather's man coverage would be mitigated in their scheme.

From the outside, this seems like a strong and relatively risk-free move for the Bears. They made a small commitment to bring in a player who has been at the top of his position the past two seasons. If he can unseat Wright, that makes them a better team. If all he does is provide depth this season, they've got a better-than-normal backup plan should a starter be injured. And if he projects as a long-term replacement for Harris, the Bears will have one less offseason question to answer.

Let's see what else this day has in store for us....

Previewing preseason Week 3

August, 26, 2011
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In which we look ahead to NFC North preseason football over the next two days.

Green Bay Packers
Opponent:
Indianapolis Colts
Location: Lucas Oil Stadium
Day/Time: Friday/8 p.m. ET
Personnel notes: Coach Mike McCarthy estimated that starters will play midway through the second quarter. Although they could see extra time, it's not expected that McCarthy will bring them out for the third quarter. ... Receiver/returner Randall Cobb (knees) and defensive end Mike Neal (knee) aren't expected to play. Receiver Greg Jennings (knee) could join them on the sideline. Running back James Starks (ankle) and linebacker Clay Matthews (hamstring) should return from a week off.
Focal point: I'm curious to track how the Packers' offense performs when it is not in the no-huddle. That alignment has given them most of their success in the preseason, but I'm assuming they won't be running it every play during the regular season. From a competition standpoint, it's worth keeping a close eye on how tailback Ryan Grant performs and if Starks picks up where he left off before the ankle injury. Could Starks lay claim to the starting job with a strong showing?

Chicago Bears
Opponent:
Tennessee Titans
Location: LP Field
Day/Time: Saturday/8 p.m. ET
Personnel notes: Most starters will play at least a half. ... Receiver Sam Hurd (ankle), linebacker Lance Briggs (knee) and defensive tackle Anthony Adams (calf) have been ruled out. Tight end Kellen Davis (back) could miss the game, while cornerback Zack Bowman (concussion) appears likely to resume playing.
Focal point: The Bears' current offensive line configuration could lock itself into a Week 1 assignment with a solid outing that builds off last week's performance against the New York Giants. On the other hand, receiver Roy Williams needs to make a few catches in order to assure the Bears he is worthy of the starting job they handed him in training camp. Like most NFL teams, the Bears would like to see their offense produce a few touchdown drives before the preseason is over. Finally, I would like to see the Bears' defensive line rotation start shaking itself out. It's not clear at this point if they have a legitimate backup defensive end or if any of their two reclamation projects, Vernon Gholston and Amobi Okoye, will provide any help.

Detroit Lions
Opponent:
New England Patriots
Location: Ford Field
Day/Time: Saturday/8 p.m. ET
Personnel notes: Starters will play around half of the game... Running back Jahvid Best (concussion) and Maurice Morris (hand) aren't expected to play, so the Lions are likely to start Jerome Harrison. Mike Bell, Aaron Brown and Stefan Logan will be available to rotate in. Defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch (shoulder) is a strong candidate to sit out as well.
Focal point: The Lions' uncertain depth at running back will be on full display. By the end of the night, we should have an idea if they have someone capable of carrying a significant load while sharing the job with Best. On the other hand, fans might get their first look at rookie receiver Titus Young. Meanwhile, the countdown continues for the first preseason hit on quarterback Matthew Stafford. He told reporters this week: "You guys can ask all you want. I don't think about it. I just play football and whatever happens, happens."

Minnesota Vikings
Opponent:
Dallas Cowboys
Location:
Metrodome
Day/Time: Saturday/8 p.m. ET
Personnel notes: Some starters are expected to play into the third quarter. ... The Vikings have a long injury list. Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe (hamstring), linebacker Heath Farwell (hamstring), linebacker Jasper Brinkley (hip), tailback Toby Gerhart (ankle), defensive tackle Kevin Williams (foot) and cornerback Asher Allen (toe) are among those who won't play.
Focal point: The Vikings' first-team offense has produced three points this preseason and isn't likely to be on the field much in the preseason finale. So Saturday night is their best and last chance to build some momentum for the regular season. The offense hasn't appeared disorganized or confused. It just hasn't had much punch yet and its personality is far from defined. It would also be helpful if rookie Christian Ponder can establish himself as the No. 2 quarterback so the Vikings can free up Joe Webb to focus on the Wildcat and other unique packages.
Kinda hit a wall Friday evening. Happens. Now refreshed and ready for a weekend that will include our first training camp stop (more on that in a bit), let's slam through some random NFC North thoughts in quick-hit fashion:

Item: Chicago Bears tailback Matt Forte reported to training camp on time Friday after general manager Jerry Angelo assured his contract would be upgraded. "He told me a deal will get done," Forte said. "He said I'm a priority of his. What that means, hopefully that means soon. I mean, there's no telling with them. But to me priority means soon."
Comment: Timing is only half of the uncertainty. Angelo's idea of a fair deal for a running back might be different than Forte's. It's good to know the Bears will make an effort. But after DeAngelo Williams scored $21 million in guarantees from the Carolina Panthers, will their effort match Forte's demands?

Item: Bears camp opened without center Olin Kreutz, who remains an unrestricted free agent.
Comment: Kreutz is in discussions with the Bears but also has interest from the San Francisco 49ers. Odds remain he will return to Chicago, but Kreutz might be wise to let the Bears have a few practices without him to emphasize his value to them. And I'm guessing he won't be too disappointed if his time in Bourbonnais, Ill., is cut short a bit anyway.

Item: The Bears signed defensive end Vernon Gholston to a free agent contract.
Comment: I just googled Gholston to find his career stats. The first suggestion was "Vernon Gholston bust." That tells you all you need to know. The No. 6 overall pick of the 2008 draft has no career sacks. But there is no downside to giving him a flyer for camp, and if anyone can get something out of him, it's Bears defensive coordinator/line guru Rod Marinelli.

Item: The Detroit Lions placed left tackle Jeff Backus (pectoral) and cornerback Alphonso Smith (foot) on the active/non-football injury list.
Comment: Originally both players were destined for the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. The difference? Because the injuries occurred during the lockout, the contracts of both players would void (with no injury settlement) if the Lions decide to part ways. I don't think that's going to happen in either case, but it's an available option.

Item: Referring to defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh's brand-building activities this offseason, Lions coach Jim Schwartz said: "There were more Suh sightings than Bigfoot."
Comment: I'm glad someone said it.

Item: The Green Bay Packers agreed to terms with first-round draft pick Derek Sherrod, according to the Green Bay Press-Gazette and others.
Comment: The new collective bargaining agreement has rendered rookie negotiations pretty uneventful, at least until agents start finding some loopholes. But at this point, it would be a surprise if an NFC North team had a rookie holdout. The Packers' first practice is Saturday night.

Item: Packers coach Mike McCarthy and his wife, Jessica, welcomed baby daughter Isabella Conroy late Thursday night.
Comment: Sure, McCarthy won the Super Bowl last season. But if he really wants to show us something, he'll take the 2 a.m. feeding throughout training camp.

Item: New Minnesota Vikings quarterback Donovan McNabb secured his No. 5 from punter Chris Kluwe in a deal captured on video by the team's web site. McNabb agreed to donate $5,000 to a charity Kluwe supports. He also pledged to mention Kluwe's band in five separate news conferences and finally to buy Kluwe an ice cream cone.
Comment: Kluwe, who will wear No. 4, is one of the breakout stars of the lockout.

Item: The Vikings are presumably still in negotiations to sign a free agent receiver, but coach Leslie Frazier had this to say: "Bernard Berrian is going to step up and have a great year."
Comment: Berrian could be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the transition from Brett Favre to McNabb. For reasons that haven't fully been explained, Favre and Berrian never connected on a personal or football level.

Best of NFL: AFC East coaches

June, 29, 2011
6/29/11
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Best of NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

As part of the Best of the NFL Week on ESPN.com, here are five bests for the AFC East:

Best at telling it like it is, Chan Gailey: Many would expect the Jets' Rex Ryan to be my pick here. But Ryan uses the microphone to talk up his players too often -- even when they don't deserve it. Ryan has fawned over Vernon Gholston and has a tendency to hype up unproven youngsters. But the Bills' Gailey has demonstrated a refreshing candor when evaluating his players. He has no patience for silliness and has publicly criticized outside linebacker Aaron Maybin and cornerback Leodis McKelvin. Before the 2009 draft, Gailey said he wanted to draft a scatback. The Bills selected Clemson running back C.J. Spiller ninth overall.

[+] EnlargeRex Ryan
Jeff Zelevansky/Icon SMIRex Ryan showed off his sense of humor during a media conference by dressing as his twin brother Rob of the Cleveland Browns.
Best sense of humor, Rex Ryan: He steps to the lectern for news conferences with one-liners jotted down and ready to fire, frequently quotes his favorite comedies and can hold his own with David Letterman. Ryan's rapier wit likely was sharpened by daily debates growing up with twin brother Rob Ryan. Before facing Rob Ryan and the Cleveland Browns last season, Rex Ryan wore a wig to publicly ridicule his brother. What makes Rex Ryan's brand of comedy even more endearing is that his favorite punch line is himself.

Best grinder, Tony Sparano: For these Best of the NFL blog posts, we were provided a list of categories we could choose from. And every time I see the word "grinder," I immediately think of Miami's Sparano because when NFL Network reporter Albert Breer and I get together we have a running joke that's probably humorous only to us and annoying to everyone around us. I do a poor impersonation of Sparano that cracks us up, and in it, Sparano talks about how proud he is that his guys are grinding. I just did a search of "Sparano" and "grind" in my email archives, and it turned up in 19 Sparano interview transcripts dating back to June 2009.

Best coach-GM tandem: Bill Belichick and Bill Belichick: You can't argue with the track record. While the New York Jets' tandem of Ryan and Mike Tannenbaum have been highly successful, reaching the AFC Championship Game back-to-back seasons, no other AFC East coach or GM has won a Super Bowl. Belichick has won three titles while, in effect, handling both roles.

Best ego manager, Rex Ryan: The other three coaches don't have much tolerance for egos. Ryan, on the other hand, welcomes personalities big and small -- just as long as they can play. Ryan encourages players to be themselves and to express their opinions. Ryan has taken on players other teams couldn't handle anymore, namely receivers Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes and cornerback Antonio Cromartie.

Rex Ryan answers message board hecklers

May, 25, 2011
5/25/11
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ESPN The Magazine writer Sam Alipour carried out a novel assignment. He presented Rex Ryan a bundle of criticisms pulled from the Internet and asked the Jets coach to address them.

The results were interesting.

Ryan was disparaged for being a bad clock manager, disingenuous about Mark Sanchez, a motor mouth, a hypocrite, a poor drafter and a little more into feet than the average dude.

The most pointed (and deserving) criticism dealt with Ryan blasting pass-rusher Vernon Gholston in "Play Like You Mean It," Ryan's recently released autobiography. Ryan called the sixth overall draft choice from 2008 a phony after talking up Gholston the past two summers as a player on the rise.

Ryan's response:
"There's not a phony bone in my body, but if I could change a couple of words in the book, that would be one of them. Anyway, when I called Vernon a phony, I was talking to Eric Mangini about his combine numbers; he never played to those numbers. Vernon is a great person, and he got better as a player the two years I had him. And I don't kiss anybody's butt."

The Jets released Gholston after last season. He failed to record a sack in three seasons and will forever be known as one of the worst two or three busts in Jets history.

Jets tab Muhammad Wilkerson at No. 30

April, 28, 2011
4/28/11
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Wilkerson
Wilkerson
The New York Jets drafted defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson with the 30th pick Thursday night.

Why the Jets took him: The Jets have needed to get younger and better on the defensive line for a couple years. They had only 8.5 sacks from their defensive linemen last season, ranking 29th in the league. Veteran defensive end Shaun Ellis had 4.5 of them, but he is a free agent and will turn 34 in June.

How it affects the roster: The Jets' depth chart is wide open at defensive end if they don't bring Ellis back in 2011. Ellis' backup, Vernon Gholston, was previously released.

Scouts Inc. says: Consistently fires off the ball and gets into the pads of OL. Strong at point of attack. Can stack and shed as well as any 5-technique in this class. Has great size with good lower-body strength and excellent upper-body power. Can anchor versus the run but is also very adept at finding the ball, disengaging, pursuing and making the play.

Rex Ryan's book doesn't tell all, but enough

April, 27, 2011
4/27/11
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When I heard Rex Ryan was working on an autobiography, I wondered what he could put on those pages that we didn't already know.

Ryan has been an open, nearly unabridged book his entire life. It's one of the main reasons he's so beloved by his players and fans. Since he became head coach of the New York Jets two years ago, seemingly every aspect of his life has been reported.

But it turns out Ryan's entertaining style makes "Play Like You Mean It" a page-turner with fresh ideas and revelations.

About the only aspect of his life not illuminated was last year's foot-fetish storyline, but he did comment on the Jets' other prominent scandals that drew league investigations: the Ines Sainz sexual harassment claim and the Sal Alosi sideline trip of Miami Dolphins gunner Nolan Carroll.

ESPNNewYork.com's Rich Cimini previewed the book and shared some of the sexier passages.

Ryan gave details about the transition away from Brett Favre, revealed his disgust over Tony Dungy's criticism of his language and knocked former players such as safety Kerry Rhodes and defensive draft bust Vernon Gholston.

Ryan called Rhodes "a selfish-ass guy. He wouldn't work and he was a Hollywood type, flashing and needing attention."

While still defensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens, Ryan said he warned then-Jets head coach Eric Mangini not to draft Gholston.

"Truth be told, I didn't like the kid coming out of college," Ryan said. "He's a good athlete and a smart guy, but I thought he was a phony."

Ryan also took a dig at New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who last year spat how much he hated the Jets.

"I really don't know Tom Brady, but who wouldn't hate him?" Ryan said. "Look at his life. Actually, look at his wife. Every man in America hates Tom Brady, and he should be proud of that."

First round is coming, but at what cost?

April, 26, 2011
4/26/11
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Long/GholstonDoug Murray/Icon SMIBoom (Jake Long) or bust (Vernon Gholston), teams have spent plenty on first-round picks since 2000.
Buffalo Bills general manager Buddy Nix recently said rare circumstances would be required to trade the club's third overall draft choice. He sounded fixed on making that pick, even though he has no idea how much it will cost him.

There's curiosity over what the New England Patriots will do with their abundance of draft assets. They have enough picks that they could trade up into the top 10. Yet they don't know how rich that territory will be.

We know the NFL draft will begin Thursday night. Unclear are the dollars it will take to sign those picks.

Rookie cost controls almost certainly will be part of the next collective bargaining agreement, but will that deal be hammered out before the 2011 season?

If not, then teams might operate under last year's rules. That would mean more outrageous guaranteed dollars to prospects who haven't snapped an NFL chinstrap. A league source calculated NFL teams have committed over $3.154 billion in guarantees to first-round draft choices since 2000.

The Associated Press reported the NFL's proposal for a rookie pay system -- made before the lockout -- included $300 million in diverted funds that instead would go to veteran contracts and player benefits and slow the rapid growth of guaranteed first-round money (up 233 percent since 2000).

First-round contracts would be capped at five years under the proposal. All other draft picks would be capped at four years. The player's maximum allowable salary would go down if he hadn't signed by training camp, a deterrent to holding out.

Buffalo News reporter Mark Gaughan recently estimated the Bills would save roughly $15 million on their No. 3 pick with rookie cost controls. That certainly would make another Aaron Maybinesque pick more digestible.

With all this in mind, let's examine how much guaranteed money AFC East clubs have spent on their first-round draft picks since 2000. Data provided from the aforementioned league source shows the Patriots have spent most efficiently, the New York Jets have spent the most total dollars and the Miami Dolphins have spent the most per player.

The Dolphins have drafted eight first-rounders since 2000 and spent an average of $12.043 million in guaranteed money. That figure ranks eighth among all NFL clubs, but those players averaged only 37 starts for Miami.

Only the Buffalo Bills averaged fewer starts from their first-rounders at 36.2, but the Bills rank 19th in average guaranteed dollars committed.

Left tackle Jake Long's mammoth contract inflates Miami's dollar figure. The top 2008 pick became the highest-paid offensive lineman in NFL history days before commissioner Roger Goodell said Long's name at Radio City Music Hall. Running back Ronnie Brown was rewarded with $19.5 million guaranteed as the second pick in 2005.

Those picks were successful, but the Dolphins also committed $13.865 million to receiver Ted Ginn, $9.016 million to cornerback Jason Allen and $7.133 million to defensive end Jared Odrick.

The Jets' massive guarantee total includes left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson ($29.6 million), quarterback Mark Sanchez ($28 million), outside whatever Vernon Gholston ($21 million), cornerback Darrelle Revis ($14.7 million) and defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson ($14.7 million).

There are a couple royal busts in there, but the Jets still have spent relatively well. Despite picking in roughly the same average first-round slot as the Dolphins and Bills since 2000, the Jets have averaged nearly 61 starts per player.

The Bills' big-ticket items have been running back C.J. Spiller ($18.9 million), left tackle Mike Williams ($14.4 million) and Maybin ($10.9 million).

Buffalo's first-round picks ranked 19th in the NFL when it came to average guaranteed dollars.

The Patriots have committed eight figures in guaranteed money to only two of their 10 first-round selections since 2000 because of their penchant to trade back. Their average first-rounder is taken 20.7th overall.

Inside linebacker Jerod Mayo ($13.8 million) and defensive end Richard Seymour ($11 million) are the Patriots' lone top-10 picks under Bill Belichick and look like basement bargains compared to other names mentioned above.
The AFC North blog continues its series with ESPN.com's college writers to take an in-depth look at potential prospects for the division.

On Wednesday we check in with Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg to get a scouting report on Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward, who is a potential target of the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers.

Adam, after watching Heyward closely the past few years, how would you break down his game?

[+] EnlargeOhio State Buckeye defensive end Cameron Heyward
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireOhio State defensive end Cameron Heyward came through at big times for the Buckeyes.
Adam Rittenberg: There's a lot to like about Heyward even though he didn't have monster numbers his senior season. He boasts excellent size and can play both defensive line positions, as he showed for much of his college career. Heyward is a big-game player, as he showed with dominant performances against both USC and Penn State in 2009 and again in the Sugar Bowl against Arkansas, which was his best performance with the Buckeyes. Pro teams will be looking for more consistency out of him. Heyward understands the NFL life. His father Craig played in the league, and he has a definite maturity about him. He'd be a good pick for a team that uses a 3-4 scheme.

Should Heyward's late-season injury be a concern?

Rittenberg: The elbow injury isn't a concern to me. He suffered it in the second quarter of the Sugar Bowl and still went on to have his best game as a Buckeye.

Heyward has drawn some pro comparisons to Vernon Gholston, who was a star at Ohio State but a bust in the NFL. Fair or unfair?

Rittenberg: The Gholston comparisons are a little unfair. Heyward is more than just a pure pass rusher and played quite a bit on the inside at Ohio State, which does a nice job of moving around its linemen. Heyward can affect games without solely pressuring the quarterbacks.

Rex Ryan revisits Vernon Gholston failure

April, 8, 2011
4/08/11
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When Rex Ryan took over as New York Jets head coach, his general attitude toward pass-rusher Vernon Gholston was bullish.

Ryan thought if he couldn't develop Gholston, then nobody could.

After three NFL seasons and two under Ryan, the Jets released Gholston in March. The sixth overall draft choice in 2008 never got it. He started five games, was a healthy scratch three times and recorded zero sacks.

[+] EnlargeVernon Gholston
Sam Sharpe/US PresswireVernon Gholston was the No. 6 overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft.
At the NFL owners meeting in New Orleans a couple weeks ago, I had a chance to speak to Ryan for the first time since the Jets cut Gholston.

Ryan was little defensive about not being able to mold Gholston into an effective player.

Ryan claimed circumstances got in the way. Gholston went from 4-3 defensive end at Ohio State to 3-4 outside linebacker with the Jets under previous head coach Eric Mangini to 3-4 defensive end last year under Ryan.

The Jets also added Trevor Pryce during the season, an acquisition Ryan said hurt Gholston's snap count.

"I think Vernon improved," Ryan said. "Last year, I thought he gained strides. Unfortunately, I never knew this when we picked up Trevor and he played well for us, but that took a little away from Vernon. We had Shaun Ellis, so it was kind of hard to get [Gholston] more reps.

"But the guy is an excellent teammate. He did what was asked and he got better."

Even so, the Jets dumped him. Ryan spent a lot of time talking up Gholston to reporters and expressing optimism he would become a productive defender. Given that, I asked Ryan if he failed when it came to Gholston.

"Well, then I failed as far as the numbers go," Ryan said. "But I thought he got better, though. We'll see what happens to him. He's not done playing.

"I think I've had a long list of guys I've developed in my coaching career. Some guys develop faster than others. But I'll put how I coach up against anybody in this league when it comes to defense and technique."

Gholston will go down as one of the biggest draft busts in Jets history and a rare miss in recent years. The pick hurts even more because pass rushing is one of the Jets' biggest weaknesses.

Mangini was head coach and had influence when the Jets drafted Gholston. He's gone now, but general manager Mike Tannenbaum and vice president of college scouting Joey Clinkscales remain in place.

"I think Vernon still has the chance to have a productive NFL career," Tannenbaum said in New Orleans. "Obviously, he didn't play to the level of the sixth pick in the draft, but he's a great kid. His career is far from over.

"We'll have to look at our scouting process and have to see what we can learn from that experience."

Gholston, Cousineau make Kiper's bust list

March, 26, 2011
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In a column for ESPN Insider, draft institution Mel Kiper listed the 40 biggest non-quarterback bustsInsider since he put out his first draft guide in 1978.

Five AFC East picks made the cut. Here they are along with Kiper's comment:
  • Linebacker Tom Cousineau, Bills, first overall in 1979: "He was kind of an undersized guy, even in 1979, and his career didn't match his work in Columbus."
  • Running back Sammie Smith, Dolphins, ninth overall in 1989: "Smith played with a bruising style for FSU but wasn't explosive enough in the NFL."
  • Tackle Mike Williams, Bills, fourth overall in 2002: "An absolute mammoth at 370-plus pounds, Williams got starts but never lived up."
  • Defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson, Jets, fourth overall 2004: "Only 16 sacks in his career for a guy we thought would really penetrate and be a menace."
  • Outside linebacker Vernon Gholston, Jets, sixth overall in 2008: "Finally time to call it what it is. Amazing physical skills, but not even Rex Ryan could save him."

Draft Watch: AFC East

March, 17, 2011
3/17/11
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NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: draft rewind -- examining the past five drafts.

Buffalo Bills

Best choice: Defensive lineman Kyle Williams. Only three players in the Bills' past five draft classes have gone to a Pro Bowl. Two of them, Williams and safety Jairus Byrd, still are on the team. Williams was a 2006 fifth-round pick who has emerged as one of the NFL's top interior pass-rushers.

Worst choice: Defensive end John McCargo. The Bills traded up to select McCargo 26th overall in 2006. He has started one game since then. He was a healthy scratch for 15 games last year. The Bills tried to deal him to the Indianapolis Colts in 2009, but he failed his physical and was sent back.

Bubble player: Left tackle Demetrius Bell. On the surface, a starting left tackle from the seventh round sounds like a steal. But when you consider the Bills have banked on Bell and avoided drafting other tackles early enough to compete with him for three years, then you'd expect Bell to be an obvious franchise player. He has been OK, but far from a clear-cut solution.

Miami Dolphins

Best choice: Left tackle Jake Long. There's not much to discuss here aside from wondering how the Dolphins would be different had they drafted Matt Ryan No. 1 in 2008 instead. But Long undoubtedly has been their best draft choice of the past five years. He's an elite blocker and protector. He has been chosen for three Pro Bowls in three seasons.

Worst choice: Quarterback Pat White. The most regrettable pick of the Bill Parcells-Jeff Ireland regime was White at 44th overall in 2009. Not even former general manager Randy Mueller's fateful 2007 draft -- two of 10 picks still on the roster -- had a dud like White, who was cut after one season and retired from baseball seven months later.

Bubble player: Defensive end Jared Odrick. Last year's first-round draft choice is in a tough spot. Odrick played one game because of a hairline leg fracture. While the rookie was out, the Dolphins' three-man defensive front was cemented. Right end Randy Starks went to the Pro Bowl, while some thought left end Kendall Langford had the better season. And don't expect Starks to return to nose tackle to make way for Odrick. The Dolphins placed their franchise tag on nose tackle Paul Soliai.

New England Patriots

Best choice: Inside linebacker Jerod Mayo. Since the Patriots drafted Mayo 10th in 2008, he has led them in tackles all three years, won The Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year Award, has been defensive captain the past two seasons, was named first-team All-Pro last year and went to the Pro Bowl.

Worst choice: Wide receiver Chad Jackson. The Patriots traded with the Green Bay Packers to move up 16 spots and select Jackson 36th overall in 2006. Who did the Packers get with the 52nd pick? Greg Jennings. Injuries and lack of commitment forced Jackson out of New England after two seasons and 13 catches.

Bubble player: Safety Brandon Meriweather. For the most part, Meriweather has been successful. The 24th pick in 2007 has been to a pair of Pro Bowls. But how they voted him a starter last year is a mystery. Bill Belichick removed him from the starting lineup for three games because of disappointing play. That plus Meriweather's presence at a recent multiple shooting in his hometown raises questions about which way his career is going.

New York Jets

Best choice: Cornerback Darrelle Revis. The Jets not only drafted him 14th in 2007, but also spent second- and fifth-round picks to move up 11 spots for the chance. He quickly established himself as an elite lockdown cornerback. As long as he stays healthy, he should remain in the conversation for defensive player of the year for a while.

Worst choice: Defensive end Vernon Gholston. He's one of the biggest busts in franchise history. The Jets used the sixth pick of the 2008 draft on a player they thought would terrorize quarterbacks. The Jets cut him after three seasons and zero sacks.

Bubble player: Running back Shonn Greene. The Jets traded up to make Greene, the reigning Doak Walker Award winner at the time, the first pick on the second day of the 2009 draft. Greene has been solid, but he has played a supporting role to Thomas Jones and then LaDainian Tomlinson. Will 2011 be the season he takes over the lead?

Draft Watch: AFC East

March, 10, 2011
3/10/11
12:57
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: biggest team needs.

Buffalo Bills

Where would you like to start?

Offense? How about left tackle, right tackle, tight end and -- if there's a great one still on the draft board -- quarterback?

Defense? How about the line, outside linebacker, inside linebacker, cornerback and safety?

Special teams? OK, the Bills are fine there.

But kicker, punter and running back are about the only positions the Bills can draft third overall and not help themselves.

The most pressing needs, however, are tackle and outside linebacker. The Bills haven't drafted an offensive tackle earlier than the fifth round since taking Mike Williams in the first round in 2002, and their line play shows that. They have tried to coach up late draft picks (Demetrius Bell, Ed Wang) and rummaged through free agency (Cornell Green, Mansfield Wrotto, Jonathan Scott, Jamon Meredith) rather than acquire that prized blindside protector.

The Bills were so desperate at outside linebacker they plucked the injury-ravaged Shawne Merriman off waivers last year and then, even though he got hurt again minutes into his first workout, gave him a contract extension.

They can't bank on Merriman to anchor their pass rush. Yet even if he can contribute, they'll need more help. The Bills recorded 27 sacks last year. Only three teams had fewer.

Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins probably will need a running back. They could stand to upgrade at quarterback if they can.

But they definitely need interior offensive linemen.

They recently re-signed left guard Richie Incognito to an extension, but they still have problems at center and right guard. Although they have two solid book-end tackles in Pro perennial Bowl left tackle Jake Long and veteran Vernon Carey, they've been a mess in between for the past three years.

The Dolphins need to upgrade their power running game. Despite having a capable and healthy backfield tandem in Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams last season, the Dolphins ranked 21st in rushing yards, 29th in yards per carry and 29th in rushing touchdowns.

A stud running back certainly can help, and the Dolphins might have little choice but to take one with their 15th selection. Brown's and Williams' contracts are up. That's why so many draft analysts project the Dolphins will take Alabama running back Mark Ingram and then address the O-line later.

New England Patriots

Funny how things work for the Patriots when it comes to draft picks. The reigning AFC East champs might have the fewest needs but have the most draft picks at their disposal.

The Patriots went 14-2 last season and own two draft choices in each of the first three rounds. So the Patriots have the flexibility to go any number of directions.

The most obvious need is outside linebacker. The Patriots' entire outside linebacking corps mustered 13.5 sacks last year. Dolphins outside linebacker Cameron Wake generated 14 sacks all by himself.

Offensive line is another concern because there are so many question marks. Right guard Stephen Neal retired. Left guard Logan Mankins is upset. Left tackle Matt Light isn't signed. Nick Kaczur is coming off serious back surgery. The timing is right to bring in some fresh O-line blood.

The Patriots had one of the NFL's most entertaining backfields last year, with BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushing for over 1,000 yards and Danny Woodhead making the Jets look foolish for cutting him. But each running back has his limitations, and the Patriots could be on the lookout for an all-purpose back adept at catching a pass and converting a third-and-short.

New York Jets

The Jets are in a weird spot. They finished the season as a team with talent at virtually every position.

But they have a crowded group of free agents and couldn't bring themselves to sign any (aside from giving inside linebacker David Harris the franchise tag) until a new collective bargaining agreement was in place. The Jets want to know what the new salary cap is before moving forward.

That leaves a lot of loose ends for the Jets heading into the draft. Will they need a receiver to replace Santonio Holmes or Braylon Edwards? A cornerback to replace Antonio Cromartie?

The needs we can bank on are outside linebacker and safety.

The Jets must generate a better pass rush and still need to recover from the Vernon Gholston pick that set them back. Outside linebacker Bryan Thomas is competent, but no star. He led the Jets with just six sacks. Calvin Pace had 5.5 sacks. The recently released Jason Taylor added five.

Safety is an area of emphasis because they could have stood to upgrade even before Brodney Pool, Eric Smith and James Ihedigbo became free agents. Jim Leonhard is a Rex Ryan favorite but recovering from a broken shin.

AFC East leftovers from the combine

March, 3, 2011
3/03/11
12:32
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Before we get too far removed from the NFL scouting combine and mired in the labor morass, it's time to empty out the notebook from Lucas Oil Stadium. Here are some AFC East-oriented tidbits from the defensive players who met with reporters there.

Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers on the NFL's greatest offensive tackle:
"If I had to pick, I’d have to say Jake Long. One of the best I have ever seen."

Bowers on being compared to Bruce Smith and Reggie White:
"It's amazing. Just to be in the same sentence as those guys is amazing. Anytime anybody can put you in a sentence with Reggie White and Bruce Smith, you must be doing something right."

Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward on being compared to Vernon Gholston:
"We're two totally different players. Vern, they had him dropping at linebacker. You've seen my dropping abilities. They're pretty good [joking]. Me, I can play all over the line. I can play 3-technique and 6-technique. We are two different players. We had the privilege of going to The Ohio State, but we're not the same player. I'm never going to compare myself to him, and I don't think he'll ever do the same."

Fresno State outside linebacker Chris Carter about working with former Patriots outside linebacker Willie McGinest:
"We've been working primarily on drops. I know how to rush the passer. That's my big thing, work on drops and perfecting that, getting the hips loose. Making sure we go over the defenses 100 percent and I know everyone's assignment. When you play DE, you pretty much only have to know the front-seven assignments. But as a backer, one thing they emphasized is making sure we know everyone's assignment."

Hampton defensive tackle Kendrick Ellis on a fellow alum with the Miami Dolphins:
"Every time when I used to be at Hampton, I'd watch Kendall Langford. He just gave us hope. Small-school guys, we're not on TV every week. Just with him doing it, it gave us hope that we could do it. Kendall was a good player. So I try to emulate what Kendall did, being strong in the weight room, working hard and trying to be just like him."

Clemson safety Marcus Gilchrist on what he learned from C.J. Spiller:
"Humbleness. A lot times you hear about these big-time, high-profile guys and a tendency to judge them with character issues because they have such a big head. But C.J. is one of the most humble guys you'll ever meet."

Florida punter Chas Henry on speaking with Jets special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff:
"I’d sure love to hear from him. It’s a great organization. They’re going to have a lot of success in the future, and I’d love to be a part of it. ... I’m definitely following their situation."

Illinois linebacker Martez Wilson on comparisons to Dolphins linebacker Karlos Dansby:
"I've heard that a lot. I could definitely see myself as a similarity to Karlos. We're both tall and got long arms. Actually our play styles are very similar. That's a great comparison. He's a great linebacker. Just to have that type of comparison, someone who was in the NFL, is just a great accomplishment."

Clemson defensive tackle Jarvis Jenkins on being coached by the Buffalo Bills at the Senior Bowl:
"It was real good, being coached by the Bills. They opened my eyes a lot. I had to improve my pass-rush a lot, and they taught me a lot about not looking in the backfield, beating my man first, and actually had a good Senior Bowl, got better each day."

Cancer survivor and Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich on his relationship with Tedy Bruschi:
"Tedy reached out to me first. I remember the date, Sept. 29th, because that's the date I was told I didn't have cancer any more. One thing he told me that night back at my dorm at Boston College was 'Mark, you're a survivor now. Be proud of being a survivor.' Those are words that have stayed with me through my whole process. To me, that meant get your story out there, raise as much money as you can, be helpful to other people."

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