NFL Nation: Brian Moorman

Rapid Reaction: Pittsburgh Steelers

November, 10, 2013
11/10/13
4:05
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PITTSBURGH -- A few observations from the Pittsburgh Steelers' 23-10 victory against the Buffalo Bills at Heinz Field:

What it means: The Steelers kept their season from spiraling out of control by beating up on the Bills in a stadium that had more than a few empty seats. As cathartic as the victory proved to be a week after the Steelers were humiliated in New England, there isn’t anything to suggest it is anything more than a Band-Aid. The Bills (3-7) were awful, and the Steelers (3-6) need to string at least three victories together before there can be any talk of them as plausible playoff contenders, as mediocre as the AFC North and the conference is.

Stock watch: Yes, the Steelers weren’t exactly facing Jim Kelly and the K-Gun offense, but the defense needed to play well in the worst way, and it did for the most part during a cold, drab day at Heinz Field. The Steelers used a familiar formula -- stopping the run and not letting a young quarterback beat them -- a week after arguably the worst defensive performance in franchise history. C.J. Spiller never got out of neutral, and the Bills were just 3-of-14 on third-down conversions. The Steelers improved to 17-2 against rookie quarterbacks since 2004, the year Dick LeBeau returned for a second stint as the team’s defensive coordinator.

Walking wounded: It wouldn’t be a Steelers game without an injury sustained by at least one of the offensive linemen. Left guard Ramon Foster left the game with an ankle injury early in the third quarter and did not return to the game. Starting outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley (calf) and reserve safety Shamarko Thomas (ankle) also left the game with injuries.

Hardly a clinic: Somewhere Drew Butler is laughing. Zoltan Mesko, too. The punters ushered out of Pittsburgh by coach Mike Tomlin probably couldn’t have done worse than Mat McBriar in his first two games with the Steelers. McBriar, signed after Pittsburgh waived Mesko two weeks ago, had punts of 27 and 36 yards in the first quarter and was a major reason the Steelers were unable to flip the field.

No regrets: The Steelers were reminded that it could be worse when it comes to their punting situation. Brian Moorman couldn’t beat out Butler in training camp -- Butler was later dumped for Mesko -- and he didn’t do much of anything for Buffalo against the Steelers. Moorman nearly kicked a ball into the stands when the Bills were hoping they could down a punt deep inside Steelers territory. He later kicked a low line drive that Antonio Brown returned 24 yards and led a 4-yard touchdown run by Le'Veon Bell.

Next up: The Steelers and their defense face what should be a considerably sterner test next Sunday when the Detroit Lions visit Heinz Feld for a 1 p.m. ET game. Matthew Stafford is the kind of passer who can carve up the Steelers’ secondary if he gets time in the pocket. Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson, meanwhile, is a bigger matchup problem than polka dots and stripes.

Rapid Reaction: Buffalo Bills

October, 13, 2013
10/13/13
4:24
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- A few thoughts on the Buffalo Bills' 27-24 overtime loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

What it means: The Bills couldn't overcome a rocky start by their defense, which allowed 284 yards in the first half. Buffalo got a solid performance from Thad Lewis, starting in place of an injured EJ Manuel, but the offense sputtered in overtime. The Bengals won the field position battle in the extra frame, winning the game on a 43-yard Mike Nugent field goal. Another tough home loss for the Bills, who dropped a similar game in Week 1 to the New England Patriots.

Lewis proves capable: Lewis, making his second career start, wasn't spectacular against a stout Bengals defense, but more than proved he should keep the job going forward. Lewis' first pass was a 47-yard completion, the Bills' longest offensive play this season, and he capped the opening drive with a 3-yard touchdown run. Lewis finished 19-of-32 for 216 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, better than most of Manuel's performances this season. On the negative end, Lewis fumbled on a third-quarter scramble, which the Bengals turned into a touchdown.

Stock watch: Rising -- the punt unit (in regulation). The Bills swapped out second-year punter Shawn Powell for veteran Brian Moorman last week, a move that shored up a reeling punt unit. Moorman averaged 47 net yards on his four punts in regulation, two of which were downed inside the Bengals' 5-yard line. The longtime Bills punter received loud cheers when he stepped onto the field. However, Moorman's 51-yard fourth-quarter punt, with the Bills backed up against their end zone, was returned 29 yards by Brandon Tate, setting up the game-winning field goal.

Gilmore, Byrd quiet in returns: The Bills had two of their top defenders back, but neither made an impact in the game. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore played with a large club covering his injured left hand and struggled at times tackling. He rotated at cornerback with Aaron Williams. Meanwhile, safety Jairus Byrd was limited in his first game this season. Byrd served as the third safety behind Da'Norris Searcy and Jim Leonhard, who came away with the Bills' only interception of the game.

What's next: The Bills fall to 2-4 as they prepare for back-to-back road trips to face the Miami Dolphins and New Orleans Saints to close out the first half of their season. After Sunday, the Bills will play just three more times at Ralph Wilson Stadium this season, and only twice before Dec. 22.

Longtime punter Moorman returns to Bills

October, 6, 2013
10/06/13
12:30
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The Buffalo Bills on Sunday re-signed longtime punter Brian Moorman, the team announced.

Moorman spent his first 12 seasons in Buffalo and holds franchise records for gross punting average (43.9), punts inside the 20 (243) and total punts (862).

The Bills released Moorman, a two-time Pro Bowler, early last season, replacing him with Shawn Powell. Moorman, 37, signed with the Dallas Cowboys and was in training camp this season with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Powell was released Friday after one of his punts was returned by Cleveland's Travis Benjamin for a touchdown. Bills coach Doug Marrone said Powell's punts lacked sufficient hang time.

Steelers also crave the power of Zoltan

September, 4, 2013
9/04/13
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Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is a huge supporter of other Pittsburgh sports. So it shouldn't have been a surprise Wednesday when he flashed the “Z” sign the morning after the Pirates clinched the team's first non-losing season since 1992.

Tomlin did it while making rounds in the Steelers locker room before practice. But he directed the sign that has become synonymous with the Pirates' success, if not the rebirth of professional baseball in Pittsburgh, at the Steelers' new punter.

[+] EnlargeZoltan Mesko
AP Photo/ Jim MahoneyZoltan Mesko has the name to fit in in Pittsburgh. The Steelers hope he has the game to be their punter.
That proved to be fitting, too, since Zoltan Mesko arrived in Pittsburgh with Zoltanmania running at a fever pitch.

For those Steelers fans who don't know about Zoltan and the "Z" sign, here is the abridged version: In 2012, Pirates players adopted the sign (press thumbs together with hands going in opposite directions) from the movie “Dude, Where's My Car?” and a character named Zoltan. Players flash it after getting a big hit, and fans have helped turn it into a local phenomenon.

Given his first name, it is not surprising that Mesko knew all about the power of "Z" by the time reporters crowded around his locker early Wednesday afternoon.

“I have heard about it and I welcome it,” said Mesko, who signed with the Steelers on Monday. “I'm not going to take it to the next level; that's the Pirates' thing. But I think it's pretty cool.”

Mesko is more interested in taking the Steelers' punting game to the next level – or at least stabilizing the position. The Steelers have used five punters since 2008, in large part because Daniel Sepulveda, a fourth-round draft pick in 2007, was often injured and never panned out.

Neither Drew Butler, the Steelers' punter in 2012, nor Brian Moorman impressed during training camp or the preseason. Mesko became available when New England kept undrafted rookie Ryan Allen, and the Steelers liked the fact that Mesko is left-footed, has a strong leg and is used to punting in bad weather.

They signed the former Michigan star and released Butler, one of several moves the Steelers have made since the final cut-down last Saturday.

“It's been a bit of a roller coaster, but I'm glad I landed on my feet and I'm glad I landed with such a great organization,” said Mesko, who averaged 44.2 yards per punt in three seasons with the Patriots. “I'm excited about the future.”

There was speculation that the Patriots released Mesko in part because the former fifth-round pick was due to make $1.3 million this season.

“It was a little bit of a curveball,” Mesko said of his release, “but I'm a strong believer in things happening for a reason. I did have a really good camp. I feel really fundamentally sound. What is in the past is in the past. I don't look back at it. I look forward. I'm really glad to be here.”

It is probably only a matter of time before the Pirates approach Mesko about some sort of promotion. Throwing out the first pitch before a game at PNC Park makes a lot of sense, no?

“First things first,” Mesko said with a smile. “I've got to take care of my job here.”

Observation deck: Steelers-Panthers

August, 30, 2013
8/30/13
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Some thoughts from the Pittsburgh Steelers' 25-10 loss to the Carolina Panthers in Thursday's preseason finale:
  • The only way Derek Moye doesn't make the 53-man roster is if the Steelers keep just four wide receivers. The 6-foot-5, 210-pounder clearly separated himself from the other receivers vying for a spot behind Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery and Markus Wheaton. Moye caught two passes for a team-high 55 yards Thursday; he received bonus points for chasing down Josh Norman from behind after the Carolina cornerback intercepted a Landry Jones throw and had nothing but green grass in front of him. Moye's hustle saved a touchdown and the Panthers settled for a field goal.
  • Jones played the entire game and finished with a thud after a great start. The former Oklahoma star looked masterful in directing an eight-play, 80-yard touchdown drive on the Steelers' opening possession. Jones looked like the rookie he is after that. He completed just 13 of 32 passes for 149 yards and three interceptions. The last pick came on his final pass of the game and, the Steelers have to hope, the foreseeable future. Wide receiver Justin Brown fell down on the play, but Jones still looked a long way from being NFL-ready. If injuries force Jones -- the No. 3 quarterback -- to play, the Steelers are in trouble anyway.
  • The toughest roster decisions the coaches and front office have to make might come at linebacker. Undrafted rookie Alan Baxter again put consistent pressure on the quarterback, and he will be tough to cut. But do the Steelers like him enough on special teams to keep a fifth outside linebacker? There appear to be at least four solid candidates for two backup spots at inside linebacker, and it probably comes down to special teams when sorting through those players.
  • If veteran Brian Moorman had to beat out Drew Butler, I think the latter hangs on to his job as punter. Neither one stood out during preseason play, and Butler is younger. He is also the incumbent.
  • Felix Jones ran well, gaining a game-high 56 yards on 14 carries and presenting the coaches with a tough decision at running back. Jones is probably the odd man out if the Steelers keep four running backs on their 53-man roster as well as fullback Will Johnson. But the former first-round pick could have convinced Pittsburgh to keep another running back while rookie Le'Veon Bell recovers from a mid-foot sprain.
  • I don't think Curtis Brown is in trouble as far as making the team, but the former third-round pick didn't help himself at Carolina. He was beaten twice for touchdowns by Ted Ginn Jr., who torched the Steelers with 149 receiving yards.
  • Wheaton saw his most extension action of the preseason, and the rookie third-round draft pick produced mixed results. He dropped three passes, including one that Jones put right on his hands. But Wheaton also showed why the Steelers are so high on him. He blew past a Panthers defensive back in the first half and would have caught a long touchdown pass had Jones not put too much air under the ball.
  • I know fans were screaming when Reggie Dunn fielded a punt inside the Steelers' 5-yard line and got tackled for a safety after he went backward while trying to reverse field. But Dunn isn't going to make the team anyway, and the undrafted rookie was just trying to make a play. The Steelers were intrigued by his speed, but one thing worked against Dunn from the start: the frequency of touchbacks in the NFL has de-emphasized kickoff returners.
  • What will the 53-man roster look like? I will take a shot at projecting it Friday in a post that will be up before noon. I expect the Steelers to make some cuts Friday afternoon, and they could do as they did in 2011, when they made the majority of their roster moves a day before the 53-man rosters had to be finalized.

Making millions in the AFC East

March, 4, 2011
3/04/11
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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

A look at AFC East union player reps

March, 3, 2011
3/03/11
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With the NFL's collective bargaining agreement hours from expiring, I thought it would be a good time to provide a rundown of the NFL Players Association representatives for each AFC East team.

These players essentially are the shop stewards, the 32 liaisons who are in closest contact with union executives and the ones responsible for keeping their teammates abreast on all developments.

Three of the four AFC East representatives are free agents, but that's not uncommon. In these cases, union responsibilities often are maintained until players have new teams or retire. Teams cannot sign or trade players until a new CBA is negotiated.

Buffalo Bills

Representative: Safety George Wilson. He's the only AFC East rep under contract, having re-signed Tuesday. Wilson is known as one of the hardest-working and classiest players in the game. The two-time captain entered the NFL in 2004 as a receiver and switched positions to stick around.

Alternates: Outside linebacker Chris Kelsay, punter Brian Moorman.

Miami Dolphins

Representative: Running back Ricky Williams. A running joke in the Dolphins' locker room is that Williams is a good choice because nobody has met with the commissioner more often than he has. Williams just completed his 10th season and is a free agent.

Alternates: Quarterback Chad Pennington, receiver Brandon Marshall, long-snapper John Denney.

New England Patriots

Representative: Left tackle Matt Light. He's one of the Patriots' most charitable and entertaining players. Light just finished his 10th NFL season and was chosen for his third Pro Bowl. He also is a free agent.

Alternates: Quarterback Tom Brady, tight end Alge Crumpler.

New York Jets

Representative: Fullback Tony Richardson. He has played 16 NFL seasons and also sits on the NFLPA's 11-man executive committee. He recently wrote an op-ed piece for the Huffington Post about the looming lockout.

Alternates: Right guard Brandon Moore, safety Jim Leonhard.
The St. Louis Rams' decision to try an onside kick to open their game against Detroit backfired when the Lions recovered and drove to a field goal.

The move seemed like an unnecessary risk against an 0-4 Lions team looking for a spark (easy for me to say with the benefit of hindsight).

Did the failed try affect the outcome? That's a tough sell after Detroit dominated so thoroughly during its 44-6 victory. Teams that failed to recover their own onside kicks had a 3-2 record over the last decade before Sunday.

In looking at every onside attempt to open a game since 2001, I can see where the Rams got the idea. Spanguolo was with the Philadelphia Eagles when Andy Reid opened games with onside kicks.

Philadelphia and Buffalo are the only teams in the last 10 seasons to recover their own onside kicks to open games. The Eagles drove to a field goal on their opening drive. The Bills lost a fumble on their second play.

The chart breaks down each of the eight onside tries to open games since 2001. Thanks to Keith Hawkins of ESPN Stats & Information for providing the information via Elias Sports Bureau.

Bills admittedly disgraceful in loss to Jets

October, 3, 2010
10/03/10
7:01
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Four games into their season, the Buffalo Bills are a team in crisis.

The New York Jets strutted into Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday afternoon and obliterated the Bills 38-14.

It could have been much, much worse for the Bills.

[+] EnlargeBills
Kevin Hoffman/US PresswireFour games into the season, the Buffalo Bills are already 0-3 in their division.
Jets kicker Nick Folk shanked an easy field goal in the first quarter. The Jets pulled their starters at the beginning of the fourth quarter and by the end of the game were handing off to their third-string running back, who hadn't been good enough to dress the first three weeks.

The Bills were shamed, disgusted and raw.

"I'm mad. I'm pissed the f--- off. Flat out," said Bills safety Donte Whitner, his hands dropped at his waist and balled into fists. His body was shaking. "Everybody should be pissed the f--- off.

"It's not even about money. It's not about anything else. It's about going out and playing hard and coming out with a win. That's what it's about. We haven't done it, and we're not doing it. If we continue to play like we're playing, we're not going to get there, and that's the truth."

Bills coach Chan Gailey was revolted by what transpired.

"Maybe I can answer some of your questions before you ask them," Gailey said as soon as he stepped behind the lectern for this postgame news conference. "We were a bad football team today.

"When we protected, we couldn't catch it. We couldn't protect.

"We had people going into the wrong spots, getting to the wrong people.

"We couldn't get off the field on third down. We couldn't convert a third down.

"We were not good on special teams.

"We turned the ball over twice. We didn't get any turnovers.

"We got sacked three times. We didn't get any sacks.

"If you play that way, you're not going to win. You're not even going to look decent in this league.

"Now, do you have any questions?"

The first question: Are the Bills the worst team in the NFL?

Gailey couldn't say they weren't.

Roster changes could be coming. The Bills already have dumped their starting quarterback. They're 0-3 in the division and likely aren't going to mount any serious threat to a .500 record.

"The thing is, this is the team that we have," Bills inside linebacker Paul Posluszny said. "So I don't ... Bring in guys off the street? I don't know what you can do personnel-wise.

"It's on the players. We have to look at ourselves and say 'I'm not playing as well as I can, and I know that, and I got to get that fixed.' Each one of us. The team that we have in this locker room, that's our personnel. We've got to win with those guys."

No, the Bills could have even less to work with.

The trade deadline is Oct. 19.

Does the front office embrace the lost season as inevitable and trade players for draft picks? Marshawn Lynch? Lee Evans? Drayton Florence? Whitner?

"I have no answers," said outside linebacker Chris Kelsay, one of the few players with some security after signing a four-year contract extension this week. "I wouldn't be surprised."

The Bills conceded they knew exactly what the Jets were going to do yet still were powerless to stop them. LaDainian Tomlinson ran 19 times for 133 yards and two touchdowns before he was pulled at the end of the third quarter. Shonn Greene rushed 22 times for 117 yards before he was removed from the game.

Jets tight end Dustin Keller hasn't been a secret. He caught a pair of passes in the back of the end zone.

"This isn't even about X's and O's," Whitner said. "This is about looking at the film and understanding who wants to be here, who wants to play.

"We knew everything they were going to do. They didn't do anything we didn't expect them to do. So if you know everything they're going to do, it can't be about X's and O's. It's about who wants to play football here and who don't want to play football here. It's about who wants to come out and play with some heart."

Buffalo was just as miserable on offense. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick led the team in rushing with 74 yards, nearly four times the output of their top running back. Fred Jackson and Lynch combined for seven carries and 29 yards.

Evans made his first catch with 20 seconds left in the game.

Brian Moorman punted for 172 more yards than the offense netted.

The Jets had the ball for 40 minutes.

"I feel for the fans because that was terrible," Whitner said. "That was embarrassing in each aspect of the game.

"They came out and punched us in the mouth each and every snap."

Seven years of misery for Bills versus Pats

September, 22, 2010
9/22/10
2:23
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- One position player on the Buffalo Bills' roster was on the field the last time they defeated the New England Patriots.

That was seven years and 14 games ago.

The Bills will try to snap their losing streak at 13 games Sunday in Gillette Stadium, a place they've never won.

[+] EnlargeLindell
Scott Boehm/Getty ImagesRian Lindell made his NFL debut in 2003 against the Patriots -- the last time Buffalo defeated New England.
"You have to have the mentality you're going to win every game," said outside linebacker Chris Kelsay, who played in the last victory and has endured the entire skid. "We'll go there with confidence. We're going to go out there and perform the best to our ability."

The Bills came heartbreakingly close to upsetting the Patriots on opening night last year, but Leodis McKelvin fumbled a kickoff in the final minutes to place Tom Brady on the doorstep of triumph.

The Bills have lost 18 of their past 19 meetings with the Patriots and haven't won on the road since 2000.

"We really haven't done enough to win against them," Bills receiver Lee Evans said. "They've just made plays later in games to win, especially in the close games. That's what the story of this league is. It comes down to making plays down the stretch. They've made more than we have."

Buffalo's last victory over New England was a doozy. Buffalo won 31-0 on opening day 2003. Travis Henry rushed for two touchdowns. Drew Bledsoe passed for one. Sam Adams ran back a Brady interception for another. Brady finished with a 22.5 passer rating.

Buffalo's roster has four players who were around then. Kelsay and kicker Rian Lindell made their NFL debuts. Punter Brian Moorman was there. Cornerback Terrence McGee was on the team but inactive for the game.

New England went on to win its second Super Bowl in three years. Buffalo finished 6-10.

Kelsay said he can't help but daydream about what it would be like to play for a winning organization such as the Patriots.

"I've thought about that before," Kelsay said. "You think what it would be like to be in their shoes. They're winning week in and week out. Anybody that's been in this league for an extended period of time and has lost more games than they've won, I think it's human nature to be curious about that.

"We need to get there. There's no way to beat around it. It's just something we haven't done around here, and somehow, some way we have to win more football games."

AFC East captains selected

September, 11, 2010
9/11/10
10:19
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A look at 2010 captains in the AFC East and how they were chosen ...

Buffalo Bills (player vote)

Miami Dolphins (player vote)

New England Patriots (player vote)

New York Jets

  • Selected on game-by-game basis by head coach Rex Ryan.

Bad news Bills lose another big player

August, 18, 2010
8/18/10
9:44
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Buffalo Bills coach Chan Gailey revealed Wednesday safety Jairus Byrd had groin surgery for a third time in the past 13 months and will be out indefinitely.

Byrd
Byrd
The problem is related to the sports-hernia surgery Byrd underwent before the end of last season. Still, Byrd managed to intercept nine passes in just 14 games (11 starts) and tied for the NFL lead. He was selected for the Pro Bowl but couldn't play.

"It looks like he's going to be out for a while," Gailey said. "We're hoping first game, but it may be not."

Buffalo's prospects for 2010 were dim enough without their roster being ravaged by injuries.

For context on how rough training camp has been, here's a loosely comprised list of their top few players, not counting punter Brian Moorman or kicker Rian Lindell.
  • Wide receiver Lee Evans: healthy.
  • Running back Fred Jackson: out four to six weeks with a broken hand.
  • Running back Marshawn Lynch: out three to four weeks with a sprained ankle.
  • Inside linebacker Paul Posluszny: missed first two weeks and preseason opener after groin surgery ... expected to play Thursday night against Indianapolis Colts.
  • Cornerback Terrence McGee: healthy.
  • Safety Jairus Byrd: out indefinitely after groin surgery.
  • Running back C.J. Spiller: healthy ... not sure yet where the rookie should rank on this list, but he belongs.

Did I forget anybody? Maybe you can put defensive lineman Marcus Stroud in there somewhere. He's also healthy.

Also hurt for the Bills: receivers David Nelson (leg), James Hardy (foot) and Marcus Easley (knee) and linebacker Chris Kelsay (shoulder).

Left tackle Demetrius Bell (knee) and right guard Eric Wood (leg) have been moved along cautiously as they recover from injuries suffered last year. Both are expected to play Thursday night.

Camp Confidential: Buffalo Bills

August, 2, 2010
8/02/10
10:55
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ESPN.com NFL Power Ranking (pre-camp): 31

PITTSFORD. N.Y. -- Of any preseason prediction I can make, the one I'm most confident in is that the Buffalo Bills will finish fourth in the AFC East.

That slot would be neither general manager Buddy Nix's nor head coach Chan Gailey's fault. The problems they inherited have set the course for 2010.

But they are setting a tone for the long-term future the players can respect.

Gailey is trying to establish a new culture with his first training camp. He wants people to use two adjectives that haven't been associated with the Bills for a long time: tough and disciplined.

"He's very particular about things and how he wants them done," Bills receiver Lee Evans said. "We haven't really had that for a while here, with the head man running the show. You understand what he's trying to get done."

Gailey has kept his players in full pads at St. John Fisher College. Previous coach Dick Jauron rarely had his players in complete gear at camp.

Gailey believes players should be in pads and tested both physically and mentally. He's in a discovery phase not only about what he'll be able to work with on Sunday afternoons, but also keepers who will help him build a long-term foundation.

"When you actually have those shoulder pads on, mouthpiece in, chinstrap buckled up and you have to get off a block to make a play," safety George Wilson said, "that really shows the true testament of a real football player.

"That's what our coaching staff needs, a new staff that's coming in to evaluate this entire team and be able to put the best 53 men together for this 2010 season. I like what we’re doing. It's going to make us a lot more physical, a lot tougher, a lot more mentally prepared, and I have a positive outlook about it."

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeEdwards
AP Photo/David DupreyTrent Edwards is being given the chance to win the starting quarterback job.
1. Can quarterback Trent Edwards capitalize on another opportunity? Bills fans seemed to be pulling for Brian Brohm to emerge as the favorite to win the starting quarterback job. A major reason is they haven't seen him truly fail yet -- unlike Edwards and Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Yet, after several months working with his quarterbacks, Gailey liked Edwards best and installed him as the No. 1 quarterback to begin training camp. The battle remains open, but with Fitzpatrick and Brohm sharing reps with the backups and surrendering a few here and there to rookie Levi Brown, it's Edwards' job to lose. Based on Edwards' medical chart (combined with Hot Issue No. 2 below), there are no guarantees.

But Edwards has yet to get a fair shot to prove what he can do. He has experienced plenty of chaos since the Bills drafted him in the third round in 2007. Gailey is the first offensive-minded head coach Edwards has played under. Last year, offensive coordinator Turk Schonert got fired 10 days before the season, the Bills jettisoned both starting tackles (two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters and the most experienced member of the offensive line, Langston Walker) from the season before and endured a futile no-huddle experiment.

Gailey has run successful offenses everywhere he has been. This finally could be a legitimate chance for Edwards to show what he can do.

2. How will the Bills survive without proven offensive tackles? The Bills aren't known for their pass rush, but it was apparent in the early days of practice their offensive tackles were overmatched in pass protection. For their safety, quarterbacks wear red jerseys to remind oncoming defenders not to hit them. Good thing, or else the Bills might have needed to sign some replacements already.

While some front offices believe guards are fungible and tackles vital, the Bills have operated contradictorily in recent years. They've drafted guards within the first two rounds (Eric Wood and Andy Levitre) and paid big bucks for a free agent (Derrick Dockery) while declining to draft a tackle earlier than the fifth round since 2002.

Left tackle Demetrius Bell has been limited in 11-on-11 drills because he's recovering from knee surgery. He received his first snaps Sunday. His replacement, Jamon Meredith, has been overwhelmed at times. The other tackles likely to make the 53-man roster -- Cornell Green, Kirk Chambers and rookie Ed Wang -- have looked ordinary at best.

[+] EnlargeSchobel
Bob Donnan/US PresswireThe Bills have decided to move forward without linebacker Aaron Schobel.
3. What will happen with vacillating pass-rusher Aaron Schobel? He spent the entire offseason at his home in Texas, perhaps playing possum. He didn’t return to the Bills' facility to collect his roster bonus or participate in offseason workouts. He told some media outlets he was all but retired.

Then, on the verge of camp, the two-time Pro Bowler with a $6 million base salary expressed a change of heart. Schobel might want to play after all. Or maybe he's posturing for a trade, threatening to show up a month before the regular season despite failing to attend so much as a chalk-board session on the team's transition from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4.

On Monday morning, the Bills provided a nebulous answer: In a news release, Nix announced the team is moving forward with plans that do not include Schobel.

Nix said: “Aaron has been contemplating retirement for the past seven months, but we are at the point where we are moving forward and have informed his agent of our plans.”

Schobel can improve the defense with his talents, but the team is rebuilding and going through a defensive transformation he has demurred from. If they cut him, then they forfeit an asset. A trade appears to be the best option to me.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Wide receiver Steve Johnson was an afterthought when the Bills drafted him in the seventh round three years ago. But the front office was quietly confident he would be a player someday. After getting buried on a depth chart that no longer includes Terrell Owens and Josh Reed, Johnson might be ready to emerge. Johnson opened camp as the starting No. 2 receiver opposite Evans. That puts James Hardy on the spot. The Bills took him in the second round the same year they drafted Johnson.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Rookie running back C.J. Spiller, the ninth overall draft choice, still hasn't been signed. Reports indicate it might be a while before he's under contract. The players around him in the draft order have come to terms, but Spiller was the first running back off the board and was considered the most electric playmaker in the draft. His agent, Gary Wichard, certainly is hammering home that point every time he speaks to the Bills. While it's true running backs can afford to miss practice more than other positions because their role is so reactionary, Spiller is more than that. The Bills also consider him a receiver, and that makes practice time more precious for learning the nuances of Gailey's offense.

[+] EnlargeChan Gailey
AP Photo/ David DupreyChan Gailey is trying to learn as much about his team by working them out in full gear.
OBSERVATION DECK

  • The atmosphere at St. John Fisher College has been lifeless. It hasn't mattered whether it's morning, afternoon, night, weekday or weekend. The few fans who have shown up are silent.
  • Fitzpatrick has been plagued by interceptions through the first few days of camp. Bills defenders seem to have developed a strong read on where he's going to throw.
  • Gailey has mandated knee braces at practice for the offensive linemen, whether they've had injuries or not. He has been doing that since he began working with O-line coach Joe D'Alessandris at Georgia Tech in 2002. The players can opt out of the knee braces for games if they don't like how they feel.
  • The Bills' defensive backs have sensational hands. In every drill I watched, it was rare to see a ball hit the ground.
  • Left cornerback Leodis McKelvin has demonstrated lapses in concentration. He seemed lost in a passing drill Saturday, getting beaten by Hardy for an easy touchdown. Secondary coach George Catavolos had trouble getting McKelvin's attention afterward for some instruction. Soon after, McKelvin was dropping punts in a return drill.
  • Inside linebacker Kawika Mitchell told me the unit relies on free-agent acquisition Andra Davis' insight when it comes to 3-4 questions. That also goes for inside linebackers coach DeMontie Cross, who hasn't coached an NFL 3-4 before.
  • Mitchell on the 3-4: "It gives you more freedom. It allows you to showcase your ability a lot more. It's going to be a lot more fun."
  • Brian Moorman and Rian Lindell are one of the NFL's best punter-kicker combos. The Bills didn't bother to bring in any additional legs.
  • Wood is a head knocker. His quick return from a shattered left leg and no-nonsense demeanor on the field will make him popular in Buffalo.
  • After obstructed media views on the opening day, the Bills did a fine job of reorganizing their access areas to allow better viewing of 11-on-11 drills.
  • Outside linebacker Aaron Maybin has a body shape that stands out the moment you see him. Maybin looks like a Wii character, with a tiny waist that flares upward toward his shoulder pads. He told me his waist is 36 inches, but in pads it seems like a 28.
  • I focused on the tight ends at the blocking sled Friday morning. I saw why sophomore Shawn Nelson is viewed as more receiver than blocker. He looked considerably less powerful than the rest. While Derek Schouman, Jonathan Stupar and Michael Matthews jacked the sled, Nelson merely budged it. Nelson is listed at 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds. Only Matthews is larger at 6-4 and 270.

Bills minicamp notes and observations

June, 25, 2010
6/25/10
3:55
PM ET
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills wrapped up their three-day minicamp Friday and broke for the summer. Here are some random thoughts from their five practices ...

  • It was difficult to get any kind of idea what the offense will look like. Not only did head coach Chan Gailey rotate his top three quarterbacks through first-team rotations, but he also did the same with his skill players. For example, in a seven-on-seven drill Thursday afternoon, Trent Edwards took the "first-team" reps, but his touchdown passes went to Chad Jackson and undrafted rookie David Nelson.
  • [+] EnlargeChan Gailey
    AP Photo/David DupreyIf Chan Gailey knows who his starting quarterback will be, he didn't tip his hand during minicamp.

  • I'm no scout, but I thought Edwards looked better than Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Brohm. Edwards threw a nice ball and didn't seem to make as many mistakes as Fitzpatrick and Brohm did.

    Brohm did close out the last practice well. Shortly after throwing an interception right to linebacker Andra Davis, he came back in a two-minute drill and found Donald Jones for a touchdown on the final play of minicamp.
  • Wide receiver James Hardy, the 41st overall pick two years ago, looked like he still was getting into shape. Gailey said Friday that Hardy had been slowed down this spring but didn't say why. Turns out Hardy underwent sports hernia surgery after last season and couldn't work out for six weeks, a league source said.
  • Buffalo's defensive backs have incredible hands. There's an old saying that if defensive backs could catch, then they would be wide receivers. But when I watched the Bills' secondary go through individual drills, the ball rarely touched the turf.
  • Running back Marshawn Lynch didn't look obviously out of place for having missed almost every voluntary offseason workout, but Gailey noted Lynch was behind the rest of the offense in terms of knowing the playbook."I don't think he's caught up," Gailey said. "You can't miss that much and be caught up, but he seems to be a fairly quick study."
  • Aaron Schobel still appears on Buffalo's roster at outside linebacker, even though the two-time Pro Bowl pass-rusher hasn't shown up all spring or summer and came close to announcing his retirement two weeks ago. Gailey called the July 29 start to training camp a "natural" deadline."

    Our stance hasn't changed," Gailey said. "Nothing has changed. We would have liked to have him here, but he chose not to. He's got a tough decision in his life to make, and we understand that. It's not like we don't understand. We do. He'll have a lot of catching up to do when he gets here."
  • Left tackle Demetrius Bell sat out the entire offseason while recovering from knee surgery, but Gailey said Bell will be ready to participate when training camp opens.
  • The Bills have one of the league's best kicker-punter combinations in Rian Lindell and Brian Moorman. The club didn't bother to bring in any other legs. The Bills didn't spend much time practicing field goals, but when they did Lindell was perfect, hitting from as deep as 53 yards by my spot.
  • Compared to the other AFC East workouts I attended, the Bills were quieter and more reserved -- probably due to the fact they're installing a new offense and learning a 3-4 defense. The Miami Dolphins have that militaristic feel under barking head coach Tony Sparano, while the New York Jets are highly animated with a lot of trash talk going back and forth between the offense and defense.

Your 2009 All-AFC East team revealed

February, 4, 2010
2/04/10
11:21
AM ET
Lousaka PoliteRichard C. Lewis/Icon SMIThanks to the dogged support of blog readers, Lousaka Polite got the nod for the All-AFC East team over the New York Jets' Tony Richardson.
A week ago, I solicited your help to select the AFC East's best players at every position for 2009.

Your votes have been counted and your comments read at ESPN.com and on my Facebook page. I believe we've come up with a rock-solid All-AFC East team.

In almost every case, the player who received the most votes made the squad. So consider this the team you selected. The only time I had to make a call was to break a tie or for a position that generated scant attention.

I also exercised my right as AFC East blog czar to revoke a ballot for stupidity and only considered the votes of people who made an honest effort to field an entire ballot -- not just throw out a name or two of a player from their team. Anybody who submitted an idiotic selection -- Buffalo Bills rookie Andy Levitre at left guard over two Pro Bowlers? -- got their entire ballot killed on account of credibility.

The biggest debate involved fullbacks Tony Richardson and Lousaka Polite, for whom passionate Dolfans made a convincing case. The vote was close enough that my influence would have allowed me to pick Richardson for the All-AFC East team, but you Polite zealots wore me down.

The biggest surprises from my perspective:

  • Dolphins running backs Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown received a combined four votes and finished third and fourth behind Thomas Jones and Fred Jackson. Based on the crush of support for Polite, you would think Williams and Brown would receive more votes through mere homerism. That's a credit to Dolfans and actually played a factor in my being won over on Polite. You voted with your heads.
  • Response for Bills inside linebacker Paul Posluszny. New York Jets leading tackler David Harris had one of the spots locked up. I thought New England Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo, the NFL's top defensive rookie in 2008, would be the other. But Posluszny received almost twice as many votes as Mayo.

The close votes I made the final call:

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