Sunday 6-Pack of AFC East Thoughts and Notes, August 5 Edition
The Sunday six-pack is back from here until the end of the season, so let's open up a can!
Catching Up with the New Orleans Saints
The New England Patriots will host the New Orleans Saints at Gillette Stadium in training camp for the second time in the past three years.
"I thought yesterday's practice was probably one of the most productive practices I think I've been a part of in my career," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said, according to Darin Gantt of Pro Football Talk, regarding the practices in 2010.
That year, the Patriots were welcoming in the defending Super Bowl champions. This year, they're hosting a group that has a bitter taste in their mouth with the backlash of the pay-for-performance scandal widely known as "Bountygate." The team feels like it has something to prove.
Chaos notwithstanding, the Saints look just as talented as ever. Reports from Saints camp indicate this team still looks good, with ESPN NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas saying, "What I saw on the field looked like the same old Saints."
In a separate article, Yasinskas points out that the Saints defensive line is lacking talent:
There is legitimate concern about the pass rush, because Spagnuolo likes it to come mostly from his front four. Aside from defensive end Will Smith, who will serve a four-game suspension at the start of the season, the Saints don't have a proven pass-rusher. Many fans are worked up about the potential of Junior Galette and converted linebacker Martez Wilson. Those guys could turn into something, but maybe fans aren't looking in the right direction.
Second-year pro Cameron Jordan might be a big factor. Yeah, I know that sounds like a stretch because Jordan had one sack as a rookie, but he was a first-round pick and still has plenty of untapped potential. There's more than that, though. Look at Spagnuolo's past. When he became defensive coordinator for the New York Giants in 2007, Justin Tuck had gone through two NFL seasons with one sack. In Spagnuolo's first season, Tuck had 10. In 2008, Tuck recorded 12.
Perhaps Jordan could be the next in a long line of breakout defensive linemen for Spagnuolo. The Patriots interior offensive line might be a perfect tune-up for him. Without Logan Mankins and Brian Waters, they have been getting abused in practice to date.
If they continue to struggle against a Saints defensive line that lacks talent, that could be a big concern for the Patriots headed into the season. Or it could be a promising sign for Jordan, but I'm sure that'll be the last thing going through the minds of most Patriots fans.
Patriots Rotating Door on Interior OL Keeps Spinning with Robert Gallery Retirement
I touched on the ramifications of Patriots guard Robert Gallery's retirement on Saturday night, but one more caveat I hadn't mentioned was the shake-ups in reps.
To this point, Gallery has done work with the first- and second-team offensive lines. The units have been working on building chemistry, with none of the units having worked together before this year.
Center Dan Koppen told the media on Thursday that the shakeups were "great" for the offensive line, because "to be able to work with the other guys and get a feel for other people and all that stuff, it can only help us." This is in stark contrast to years past, where the offensive line has been a constant strength for the team as a result of their continuity.
We never had to wonder who was getting reps with the first-team offensive line; it was pretty much decided from the get-go. With so much changing, though, a lot remains uncertain.
Donald Thomas had already begun to take away some of Gallery's first-team reps, but with the former No. 2 overall pick now retired, there will be more shuffling along the offensive line.
Lucky Break for Jets on Santonio Holmes Rib Fracture
For awhile there, it looked like Antonio Cromartie might truly become the second-best wide receiver on the Jets roster. It was reported Saturday night that Jets wide receiver Santonio Holmes broke a rib in a scrimmage. Jets nation held its collective breath.
The sigh of relief came just minutes later, when it was reported (h/t Rich Cimini) that Holmes' x-ray came back negative, and that he had merely fractured a rib, not broken one. As a result, the wide receiver will be listed as day-to-day.
It's telling, though, that the reaction to Holmes' injury was so grim. He's the only familiar target remaining for quarterback Mark Sanchez outside of Dustin Keller.
Holmes will likely play in the slot extensively in 2012, but will be on the field in most two-receiver formations. Sanchez does some of his best work over the middle, and after Rex Ryan's comments regarding wide receiver Jeremy Kerley's "disappointing" offseason, the Jets probably aren't feeling too confident about the offense if Kerley is required to carry a load in the slot.
Bills Release of Depth Chart Could Be Concerning for Dorin Dickerson
When the Bills released their depth chart, everyone was quick to dissect the wide receiver rankings, the offensive line and the rotational spots on the defensive line.
One player who got lost in the shuffle, though, was fullback Dorin Dickerson.
The Texans drafted Dickerson as a tight end out of Pittsburgh in the seventh round in 2010. Since then, he's made the rounds on the Texans and Patriots practice squads before signing with the Bills this offseason.
He is a man without a position, listed as both a tight end and a fullback on the Bills' official website. At 6'2" and 227 pounds, he's built more like an H-back than anything else.
He'll have to carve out a niche for himself in the Bills offense if he wants to make the cut. If he wants guidance on how to become a good H-back in the NFL, he should look no further than within his own division at one of the best in the game right now: Aaron Hernandez.
Dolphins Could Be Onto Something With Will Yeatman at Tackle
When players switch positions in the NFL, a lot of times it's looked at through the lens of failures at their current position.
But that would imply being given a shot at their current position. In the case of Dolphins tight end Will Yeatman, who has played in three games with two starts in his one-year NFL career. Not enough of a body of work to call him a success or a failure at anything.
Yet here he is, being switched to offensive tackle. Why?
As a blocking tight end, he would have frequently been asked to fulfill responsibilities on the offensive line. Now, that becomes his sole focus. It's not as though he has a whole wealth of experience catching passes, anyway, with just 21 college receptions for 177 yards and a touchdown.
It's not as though he has a whole wealth of experience in football, either. Yeatman was an All-American on Notre Dame's lacrosse team, and he played for all four years of college.
His frame—6'6", 268 pounds—doesn't scream "NFL offensive tackle," but "bigger and stronger" are the days of yesteryear in Miami when it comes to offensive linemen. Yeatman's fleet-footedness at tight end, combined with the athleticism he showed in lacrosse, give hope that he might have the skill set necessary to play tackle in the zone-blocking scheme run by new Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin.
If nothing else, it's an experiment worth conducting if only to see how he performs given his assignments. The size can be worked on later with strength and conditioning coaches, if he even proves capable of fulfilling the duties of an offensive tackle in the first place.
- So much for safety Jim Leonhard returning to the AFC East. After the Jets announced they weren't bringing him back, initial speculation was that he might become a turncoat and join the Patriots. Then, he surfaced at a Bills practice during camp. On Saturday, he signed with the Denver Broncos. Because that was the next most obvious place for him to go, right?
- Dolphins punter Brandon Fields was ranked sixth among punters for his contract, but his four-year extension puts him at No. 5 according to the Miami Herald. Considering he averaged 48.8 yards per punt with an average net of 41.1 yards (both ranked fourth in the NFL in 2011), it's fair to say he deserves to be paid like a top-five punter. Injustice corrected.
- Jets center Nick Mangold is going to see his sister compete in the Olympics. She is a weightlifter. If she's anything like the brute that Mangold is, she's got that thing locked down. I can't be alone in thinking it would have been a tragedy if he hadn't gone to watch her compete in the biggest event of her life. I'm sure she would take time out of her schedule to watch her brother in the Super Bowl (if it comes to that).
- Dolphins wide receiver Chad Johnson was taking reps with the special teams unit on Saturday, according to the Sun-Sentinel. I don't think he'll be taking any reps with the special teams unit when it matters.
- Back in May, former Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon hinted at the thought of playing in Oakland to free-agent wide receiver Plaxico Burress, formerly of the Jets. Now, in August, the story has come back up on CSNBayArea.com. All Raiders coach Dennis Allen had to say was, "we're going to look at any options that are out there that we think can make us better. Whether or not we make any moves or not, that's to be determined. But we're not going to rule anything out." That's code for: we might or might not work him out, we may or may not like what we see, and then we may or may not sign him. Conclusive stuff.
- I'm looking forward to football season, but excuse me while I enjoy my last few free Sundays before a hectic six months.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained first-hand.
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