On March 3, I received a text message from the Buffalo Bills via V-text saying they'd be holding a press conference later that afternoon. Being busy at the time, I put my phone on silent and in my pocket. While finishing a paper online, I opened my phone to two new texts. One was from my father saying to call him as soon as possible, the other from a good friend. My friend, a die-hard Dolphin fan, simply sent, "Have fun with that cancer on your team."
Speechless and motionless, I knew one thing: There was a new 81 in the AFC East.
With the egos of T.O. and Randy Moss in the same division, things could get interesting in the flanks. Here's a look at what's to come.
The Bills finally have a second veteran receiver in Terrell Owens. In quite possibly the most surprising move of the offseason, the Bills brought in ex-Cowboy Owens to add a threat opposite Lee Evans, who's needed one for quite some time. The speedy Evans, who finished his 2008 stint barely surpassing the 1,000 yard mark, has been a threat for the Bills ever since he was drafted out of Wisconsin in 2004. His problem, though, is that he has been 'Badgered' (pun intended) by double and even triple teams from opposing defenses.
Things should change for Evans with T.O. opposite him on the field. The many question marks that surround Owens in Buffalo don't seem to affect how Trent Edwards and the fans feel about his presence. The Owens' acquisition brings something to the Bills that they haven't had since James Lofton: a tall, proven veteran who can still stretch the field. Owens, who showed a few signs of aging last season with the Cowboys, still found the endzone 10 times and caught 69 passes for 1,052 yards.
With those two vying for most of the passes, it leaves Roscoe Parrish, Josh Reed, and second year players James Hardy and Stevie Johnson for the slot and depth. Reed has filled in admirably when called upon as a No. 2, but he most certainly belongs in the slot. Roscoe can cause some havoc in space and on deep balls, but is more suited for the return game.
Stevie Johnson, a seventh rounder last year, played very well at the end of the season when James Hardy went on the IR. Hardy, the Bills second round pick in '08, had trouble pulling some balls in but showed flashes of athleticism. With T.O. helping the young guys out, it should be interesting how they develop in the years to come.
As with all positions, no spot is safe. Two interesting bubble receivers are third year veteran Justin Jenkins and Feltin Huggins, Huggins being a practice squad player and Jenkins a solid special teamer.
Interesting Play to Watch For: With Lee Evans being one of the best deep threats in the NFL, and T.O. lined up across from him, the Bills could send them both on streaks and set Parrish on a short curl. It'd give Parrish a lot of time and space to wreak some havoc after the catch if the opposition doubles up on Evans and Owens
The talk of the Miami Dolphins last season was the Wildcat. The main reason the Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams wide formation was talked about so much was due to their weakness in the receiving department. Last year, after the departure of Chris Chambers to the Chargers, the Dolphins felt they had a new No. 2 guy when they picked up Ernest Wilford in free agency.
Wilford ended the season with three catches for 25 yards.
Ted Ginn was the No. 1 man for the fish last year, grabbing 56 catches for 790 yards. Although not bad for a run-heavy team, he only crossed the goal line twice. Still young, expect Ginn to develop more chemistry with QB Chad Pennington
With a glaring hole in the receiving corp in the offseason, the Dolphins went young again and drafted Patrick Turner and Brian Hartline in the draft. Turner, a USC product, has the size and ball control capabilities to be a threat over the middle. The 6'5" Turner is the closest bet to be the flanker on day one, but Hartline, Greg Camarillo, and second year standout Davone Bess will be vying for the same spot.
Davone Bess and Greg Camarillo put up solid numbers as the teams second and third receivers. Bess, a first year standout, caught 54 passes for 554 yards in mostly a reserve role, but broke the starting lineup in week 12 against the Patriots, where he posted a career high 87 yards on 5 catches. Camarillo was supposed to be the Wes Welker replacement, and performed admirably. A steal from the Chargers, Camarillo helped Chad Pennington with 613 yards through the air.
Endzone threat Anthony Fasano became Pennington's safety valve, scoring seven touchdowns in his first year with the Dolphins. Expect the tight end's role to expand this year, with a more comfortable QB behind center.
With Ginn, Bess, Camarillo, Turner, and Hartline the probable receivers, it leaves a hole at six.
If the Dolphins decide to keep six, second round player Brandon London or Ernest Wilford could make the squad. The safest bet would be London, unless Wilford can turn his act around and proves to be the weapon Bill Parcells and company wanted last year.
Interesting Play to Watch For: Ted Ginn has the speed, Patrick Turner has the height, and the Dolphins love the Wildcat. With Pat White being projected as a wide receiver in the draft but keeping his QB title, sending him in motion inside from the flank to take a direct snap would cause fits for defenses with all of the options that are possible with the ball in his hands.
New England Patriots
A healthy Tom Brady, Randy Moss, Wes Welker, and Joey Galloway. Do I even need to write an article about this group? Every secondary in the league gets a chill down their spine when No. 12 lines up with Moss and Welker wide.
Randy Moss, after coming off a record setting 23 touchdown season, saw his numbers drop slightly with Matt Cassel at the helm, but still posted 11 touchdowns and broke the 1,000 yard mark by eight yards. Moss is still feared for his quick feet, exceptional leaping ability and 6'4" frame. He will still be the top threat on the team.
Wes Welker stayed incredibly consistent, once again being his QB's best friend, putting up another 100+ reception season and matching his 10.5 yards per catch average from the '07 season. Whether it's over the middle, deep, or on the curl, Welker always seems to be open. He'll most likely line up in the slot, giving Joey Galloway the nod at No. 2.
On a team that has Tom Brady, there is no true depth chart number, but with the signing of probable future Hall of Fame inductee Joey Galloway, he assumes the No. 2 spot. Bringing a career total 10,710 receiving yards and 77 touchdowns, things can only get better for the veteran receiver. Bill Belichek didn't hesitate to bring Galloway in, and he should break the 11,000 yard mark as a Patriot.
With the departure of Jabar Gaffney, the Patriots drafted talented ex-Tar Heel Brandon Tate in the third round. He could fill in well as a No. 4 receiver, and provides just another receiving threat. Special teams ace Sam Aiken should make the roster for his tackling ability, but doesn't provide much as a fifth receiver. Ex-Eagle Greg Lewis could fill that role, but Matt Slater is a dark horse.
Interesting Play to Watch For: Any. If Tom Brady is behind the line and Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Brandon Tate and Joey Galloway are on the field with Kevin Faulk in the backfield, anything can happen.
New York Jets
Their old quarterback is gone (as a writer, I refuse to say his name), and it's either the future face of the franchise in Mark Sanchez, future bust Mark Sanchez, or Kellen Clemens throwing to a depleted receiving corp. Laverneus Coles is gone, leaving Jericho Cotchery, Chansi Stuckey, and a whole lot of question marks.
Cotchery has been Coles' partner in the flat for years, and now has his time to shine as the probable No. 1. In his three years as the No. 2 guy, he's caught 245 passes for 2,949 yards and 13 touchdowns. With strong corners in the AFC East and Cotchery probably being the primary target, those numbers could be dampened a bit this year.
Chansi Stuckey, who started two games last year, provided three touchdowns and an 11.3 yards per catch average last year. The three touchdowns were a great addition but the problem was they occurred in the first three games of the year. With no clear cut No. 2, expect Stuckey to get thrown in to the mix.
The savior and safety valve of any young quarterback is his tight end, and second year man Dustin Keller could fill that role to Sanchez or Clemens. Starting in six games last year, Keller had 48 catches for 535 yards and three touchdowns. A healthy Bubba Franks, who missed most of last season, could give the quarterback two midfield and endzone threats.
The rest of the receivers on the roster are hit or miss. Brad Smith, David Clowney and special teams player Wallace Wright are the only unmentioned players returning. All three will most likely make the roster, but expect more formations consisting of Leon Washington and Thomas Jones in the backfield, Keller in the slot and Cotchery and Stuckey split wide.
Interesting Play to Watch For: This should be changed to interesting player to watch, since that's what most Jets fans are wondering. Does Mark Sanchez take snap one of the season, or do they give Clemens the go and let Sanchez develop? Expect a stronger running game out of the Jets rather than a strong passing game.