AFC East Offseason Review: Wildcats, Minutemen, Planes and Bison

Timothy YoungCorrespondent IMay 10, 2009

TORONTO, ON - DECEMBER 07:  Chad Pennington #10 of the Miami Dolphins calls signals as Chris Kelsay #90, Kawika Mitchell #59 and Marcus Stroud #99 of the Buffalo Bills line up on December 7, 2008  at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Dolphins won 16-3.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

It's 2:34 in the first quarter of Week Three. Chad Pennington runs off the field, but Chad Henne doesn't run on. The huddle breaks, and Ricky Williams lines up wide to the left, while Ronnie Brown sits in the shotgun. Ricky goes in motion toward Ronnie, Ronnie takes the snap to paydirt, thus stunning Bill Belichick and the Patriots.

But it didn't end there.

What seemed like a one time trick play turned in to the league-wide phenomenon known simply as "The Wildcat." Fred Jackson lined up with Trent Edwards at receiver for the Bills, the same in New York, where Thomas Jones stared down Brett Favre spread wide to the right.

The Wildcat, Brett Favre and the Jets, Tom Brady's injury, the collapse of the Bills—all of these things led to the AFC East becoming one of the most exciting and competitive divisions in the NFL.

Things can only get more exciting this year. The draft is over and each team is getting ready to start their OTA's and training camp. Here's a recap of what each team has done so far this offseason.

Miami Dolphins (11-5)

The Miami Dolphins shocked the NFL by turning the league's worst record in 2007 into an AFC East-leading 11-5 in 2008. That turn around was due mostly to the steady and strong play of new quarterback Chad Pennington. A healthy Ronnie Brown also worked wonders for an offense that finished 12th in total yards per game.

The Dolphins did little in free agency, picking up line help in Joe Berger and Jake Grove. They also replaced Andre' Goodman with ex-Cardinal Eric Green.

Where they truly shined, as all Bill Parcell-led teams do, was through the draft.

It was no surprise that the Dolphins would address two things early on: The secondary and a weapon worthy of the Wildcat. They did both, and they did both very well.

The ultimate weapon for the Wildcat was snatched up in the second round in former WVU star Pat White. With an accurate arm, quick moves and receiver speed, he can line up and do anything in the formation.

When you face Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Joey Galloway, Lee Evans, and newcomer Terrell Owens in four games a year, you can never have too many corners. The Dolphins effectively picked up the best in the draft in Vontae Davis, and matched the size of Owens and Moss by drafting physical specimen Sean Smith out of Utah.

The 6'4", 214-pound Smith has the leaping ability to negate the jump ball, and will probably be a staple in the red zone defense for years to come.

New England Patriots (11-5)

Tom Brady is healthy, and Bill Belichick is still the head coach. That's enough to be scared of if you have to play the Patriots.

They hit two lotteries in the NFL this offseason, in both free agency and the draft. You can never have too much depth, but when that depth is starting quality, things get scary.

The additions of Fred Taylor and Joey Galloway add great depth to the backfield and receiving corp, and Shawn Springs, Tank Johnson, and Tully Banta-Cain will fight for starting roles on the defensive side of the ball.

Anyone who's a fan of an AFC East team got chills on draft day when they saw the Patriots continuously trade back. Bill Belichick with so many picks is a dangerous thing, and he proved it when he drafted hard-hitting safety Patrick Chung, run-stuffer Ron Brace, and corner Darius Butler.

Chung will most likely get the nod to replace Rodney Harrison, and Brace looks to be the replacement for veteran Vince Wilfork down the road.


New York Jets (9-7)

The Promised Land never came when Brett Favre took the helm in New York. The sky was the limit to start the year, and it appeared that everything was going to go right. A weak end to the season (1-4 in their last five) cost the Jets a playoff spot, but so did interception machine Brett Favre.

The new regime under Rex Ryan wasted no time bringing in old faces from the Ravens. Jim Leonhard, Marques Douglas, and Bart Scott all did well in Baltimore, and Rex couldn't let the free agents test the market.

Although at the time it may not have been their main goal, it would seem in retrospect that they stocked up in free agency so they could make a big move in the draft.

The Jets traded far up the board to take former USC QB Mark Sanchez with the fifth overall pick in this year's draft. They had only two other selections for the entire draft, and spent them on areas of need in running back Shonn Greene and offensive lineman Matt Slauson. Expect Greene to be a factor in later years, with Thomas Jones aging.

One major question looms in the Big Apple, though: Who starts Day One? Sanchez is a one-year starter from USC with all the tools, but can he make the jump from one year of college ball to the NFL? Kellen Clemens is the incumbent as of now, but Mark Sanchez has made it public he plans to be taking the snaps on opening day.

With no clear receiving threat, it wouldn't be a big shocker if the Jets took a chance on veteran Marvin Harrison, who has been very quiet during the free agency period.

Buffalo Bills (7-9)

"I don't know what else we gotta do, we're playin' ball up here in the B'lo." Those were the words said by DT Marcus Stroud after a 23-14 victory over the San Diego Chargers in Week Seven.

Up to that point, they were.

The Bills started off hot, with a 4-0 record heading in to the desert, before getting beat up on by the Arizona Cardinals. Trent Edwards was injured in that game, and J.P. Losman took the helm. Since J.P.'s departure, Bills fans are excited about the addition of Ryan Fitzpatrick, who did well in taking over for the injured Carson Palmer last year.

New addition Terrell Owens was a head-scratcher for some, but a breath of fresh air for QB Trent Edwards and WR Lee Evans. Edwards now has proven red zone threat, and Evans doesn't have to constantly face double-teams anymore.

The Bills cleaned house on their offensive line, getting rid of centers Duke Preston and Melvin Fowler, cutting Derrick Dockery, and trading left tackle Jason Peters to the Eagles.

They addressed the center position and depth by bringing in offensive linemen Seth McKinney and Geoff Hangartner. In the draft, they addressed major needs in the line by drafting center Eric Wood and guard Andy Levitre.

The biggest addition through the draft should be Aaron Maybin, a pass-rushing machine out of Penn State.

Of all the teams in the AFC East, the Bills may have the most question marks heading into Day One. Can the offensive line gel and hold up against the strong defenses of the AFC East? How will Terrell do in cold weather and with a young quarterback? How will the loss of Marshawn Lynch affect the Bills for the first three games? Will they go 7-9 again?

Here are five things people should look for out of the AFC East this year.

1. Tom Brady's return.

After going down week one with a knee injury and very limited time to prepare for this year, will one of the games best quarterbacks be rusty, or will he return to his gunslinger mentality without missing a step?

2. The New York Jets' quarterback play.

Of the two fighting for the number one spot, either can be success stories or flop. Clemens gets the nod in my opinion, giving Sanchez time to get a feel for the game and learn the system. If Sanchez is to start, it's a heavy burden to be a rookie and step in to Brett Favre's shoes.

3. Pat White and the Dolphins.

Will the Dolphins have another division-leading year, and how will Pat White help the Wildcat? The offense will be an exciting thing to watch with Chad Pennington and the array of weapons at his disposal.

4. The T.O. show.

The receiving corp in Buffalo is scary on paper, along with Marshawn Lynch, Fred Jackson, and Dominic Rhodes in the backfield, but with an unpolished offensive line, can Trent get the ball to them without being rushed? If he can, it'll be an intriguing offense in Buffalo.

5. Who takes the cake?

Four solid teams, all vying for that top spot in the AFC East.

Expect an exciting finish to the season, some heated rivalries rekindled, and some nasty play on the field when these teams suit up against each other on Sundays.


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