In-Depth AFC East Preview
1) New York Jets
Offense – The Jets have it all on the offensive line, from new and promising to veteran and reliable. Drafing G Vladimir Ducasse should only strengthen the running game that Thomas Jones profited from last year. Although Jones and Leon Washington greatly contributed to the running game last year, with Shonn Greene ascending the throne and Ladanian Tomlinson's arrival, the Jets shouldn't skip a beat as Greene's prominence is more than evident.
Besides Tomlinson, the addition of Santonio Holmes should open up the passing game for Mark Sanchez, although they won't be able to benefit from his services until the 5th game of the season due to Holmes violating the league substance abuse policy. The Jets yards/game fell from 16th in the league in 2008 to 20th in 2009, this partly because of a conservative approach taken by Offensive Coordinator Brian Schottenheimer while working his rookie quarterback into the system. It is unlikely that this approach will change much heading into the season, although having Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards, and Jerricho Cotchery should be a very formidable trio of receivers and could cause many teams problems. It also looks as though Laverneus Coles will be taking another tour with the team, giving Sanchez even further options.
Look for Rex Ryan to expand his deceptive nature with Tomlinson having been utilized several times in San Diego for some trickery.
Tight End Dustin Keller should once again be a huge presence this year having come in second on the team last year in receptions with 45. Keller has the strength to run people over and the speed to pick up extra yards here and there. Look for this offense to be in improved form this year with decreased predictability.
Defense – Phenomenal, smart, menacing. The Jets were #1 in the league last year in both points allowed and yards per game. Rex Ryan immediately exhibited his reputation as a defense specialist that made him so renowned in Baltimore and the most sought after coordinator in the league for a head coaching job. The skill set of this Defense is of Pro Bowl, highlight reel stature.
The Jets are still working out contract issues with Darrelle Revis and will have to utilize their highly regarded first-round pick Kyle Wilson at the Cornerback position if the issue is not resolved. Four time Pro-Bowl Nose Tackle Kris Jenkins has already voiced his opinion that although the team would love to have Revis as soon as possible they are so strong there is little need to worry, “"With Revis, it's the same thing. ... We definitely have the talent to go and keep on achieving our goals if Revis is going to be absent. I would love to see Revis there, but if not we have to keep on fighting." Adding Antonio Cromartie from the chargers in the offseason would make for a meddling CB duo with Revis. Jason Taylor's arrival bolsters and already deep defense which will also allow Taylor to stay fresh during drives. A veteran LB crew in Thomas, Scott, Harris, and Pace could be even mote dominant this year with the advancements of the rest of the defense.
The one major hit to the D was the loss of Marques Douglas at defensive who has just recently signed with rival Dolphins. There was assumption that the Jets would re-sign their fourth leading tackler but the team showed little effort to get him back. The Jets D will create a headache for any coaching staff attempting to manufacture a plan of attack.
Special Teams – Nick Folk and Clint Stintser will be competing for the starting PK job in New York during training camp. Folk was rolling along in Dallas last season up until he went 4-11 and seemed to have a complete confidence meltdown leading to his release.
Every team needs a reliable field goal kicker and the Jets kick their fair share. The position is currently one of the few noticeable potential weaknesses heading into the season.
2) New England Patriots
Offense – The Patriots look stout offensively as usual. It is hard to say anything different with a consistent O-line protecting one of the best QB's in the league giving him time to throw to one of the most dominant wide receivers in history. The Patriots do, however, need to develop a run game of some proportion if they are going to contend for a Super Bowl from an offensive perspective.
Regardless of their wide-out skill set which has been padded by the acquisition of veteran Torry Holt this offseason. Holt should be able to help open up some holes on defenses but there is no doubt that his explosiveness has increased tremendously in the past few years and he will need to prove he still has it. The Patriots hope for a better result regarding Holt than they had with Joey Galloway last season.
The Pats still do not have the mobile versatility they need in the backfield with three large RB's in Laurence Maroney, Sammy Morris, and the albeit ancient Fred Taylor. Maroney has not topped 900 yards in any season and although each can pick up the others slack during long drives, none of them have quite enough of a burst to establish a frightening running game.
The Patriots will be missing G Logan Mankins as training camp gets going. Mankins has not accepted the Patriots one year offer and will continue holding out indefinitely. The two-time Pro Bowler will be replaced by Nick Kaczur for the time being and the Patriots are hopeful he can fill in. The Patriots should have no problems putting up huge numbers and are hopeful to have Wes Welker fully recovered from last seasons devastating ACL/MCL injury by seasons start. Julian Edelman has proven to be a viable candidate as a “Mini-Welker” to give Wes a break when needed.
The main problem the Pats face offensively is whether or not they will have the rounded attack necessary to overcome potent defensive backfields like the Jets and Ravens that know how to stifle their passing game.
Defense – Defense is where the Patriots biggest problems dwell, and is also the reasoning for not ranking the Pats #1 for the east. They have not made many great improvements since last year but that should not hamper fan optimism. There is hope in this young squad as the talent seems be there.
Highlighted by a healthy Jerod Mayo for hopefully the full season, safety Brandon Mayweather, and Mayo's inside LB counterpart-24 year old Gary Guyton, the new Patriots defensive backfield brings something that the vastly intelligent veteran team of the late 90's and 2000's didn't and that's speed. They were not without extensive flaws last year as most opponents were able to exploit them, especially while Mayo's knee injury sidelined him.
Veteran linemen Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren should be excellent assets to the teams ability to stop the run as usual. 10-year veteran Gerard Warren is a name to keep an eye on as a replacement for Jarvis Green on the defensive right end slot. Warren has reportedly latched on to Wilfork presence and seems to be on a mission to represent the thirst to contribute aspect so common with Bill Belichick run squads.
The Patriots ranked 11th in total defense last season, a stat swayed by a defensively tilted division. The ability to pull this youthful squad together and make them a top-tier defensive unit is in the hands of Coach Belichick and he will no doubt welcome the challenge. The coach is likely to be calling the plays with Dean Pees gone to Baltimore. Their defense should improve, but to what degree is unknown. Either way, it will likely determine their postseason potential come December.
Special Teams – It is without doubt that Lawrence Maroney has some speed on kick returns but has yet to differentiate himself from the rest of the potential returners over the last few years. Julian Edelman has had some solid returns demonstrating his skills at the position.
Whether Welker or Edelman returns any punts, they both have the potential for explosiveness and create a top threat for the Patriot special teams. Stephen Gostowski has demonstrated that he is a reliable kicker and has kept the thought of Adam Vinatieri in the hindsight of Patriot fans' minds.
3) Miami Dolphins
Offense – Ah...Wildcat. The unique offensive system that no team in the NFL has been able to master, not like the Dolphins anyway. The Fins were fourth in the league in total yards on the ground last season, but their versatility was hampered by the loss of Ronnie Brown after a week 7 knee injury which took him out for the season. Ricky Williams did his best to pick up the slack but the offense and finished 10th in the league with 1,121 yards from scrimmage butt he Fins became more predictable without Ronnie and Ricky as a two-headed monster. The Fins did their best to work their rookie QB Chad Henne into an NFL QB comfort level and are looking to him as the future of the organization.
Executive VP of Football Operations Bill Parcells has been enthralled with Henne since day one and the QB has demonstrated promise. The highlight of the Dolphins summer, as well as one of the best NFL's biggest trades, was the 4-year $47.5 million dollar deal that got them Broncos standout wide receiver Brandon Marshall. Marshall adds an entirely new dimension to the offense and should keep defenses honest against the wildcat as well as helping get the Fins other youthful receivers open. According to ESPN.com, Brian Hartline is currently the #1 candidate to start alongside Marshall. Either way Davone Bess should get some reps, and the quick receiving core will allow screen plays and diversion from the wildcat, making it easy for Henne to operate.
Third string QB Pat White has been useful in the wildcat to make for three rushing options on certain plays and seems to be accepting this role as his career progresses. This side of the ball should be vastly improved for the Dolphins but they still might be a victim of the difficulty within their division.
Defense – The Fins defense was plagued with problems last year finishing 25th worst in points per game allowed and 22nd worst in yards allowed per game. Mike Nolan has assumed the job of defensive coordinator, and his aggressive philosophies should reshape that attitude on that side of the ball.
There are many new faces, as well as sophmore members to the D including new inside linebacker Karlos Dansby, CB's Vontae Davis and Sean Smith, and outside linebackers Koa Misi, and Cameron Wake. Misi, a second round pick this past draft and first rounder Jared Odrick lead the rookie charge and Misi has been benefiting from going up against All-Pro lineman Jake Long during practices. Nolan's 3-4 defensive seems to be allowing Misi and Wake to flex their abilities making for an offensive defensive. Vontae Davis led the Dolphins with four interceptions in 2009, his rookie season. “We’re working to get better and that’s the biggest thing,” Davis said at camp. “As long as everybody’s working to get better and buying into the system, we’re going to be all right.”
After last season's miserable 2-8 ending in Denver, Nolan decided to resign but was not all to blame for the Broncos woes. Regardless, Nolan is a veteran coach and should have the players respect and attention, which is a good start.
Nolan and head coach Tony Sporano met to discuss the new system and have reportedly created a bit of a hybrid system. The system, however, will be a work in progress and may not result in the drastic change that is necessary to turn the ship around in Miami.
Special Teams – 3rd-Year Kicker Dan Carpenter has made 84% and 89.3% of his field goals in the last two years making him 46 of 53 on his career and is a quality 19 of 25 beyond 40 yards. He is without a doubt a reliable kicker and come through for the Fins out as long as they give him the opportunities. Davone Bess runs a 4.64 and has considerable direction-changing ability which makes him a no-doubter for the punting/kick return game.
4) Buffalo Bills
Offense – Woe is the life of a Bills fan. The Bills fired head coach Dick Jauron near the end of last season, and the Perry Fewell interim trial did not pan out to their liking and he was sent on his way, along with the rest of the staff.
Insert: Chan Gailey. Gailey's NFL head coaching experience consisted of two years in the last of the 90's with the Dallas Cowboys. Gailey then moved on to Georgia Tech in 2002 and was dismissed after 6 average years with the team. It is an odd replacement for Dick Jauron but the Bills have been searching for answers for years now and coaching is always where the first finger is pointed.
The Bills early draft selections left some clueless as many expected them to search for a potential franchise quarterback, but it was Clemson standout RB C.J. Spiller that they simply had to have. Spiller is an exciting light for the future winning the ACC player of the year in 2009 and was the only FBS player to score a touchdown in every game. As for addressing issues, the Bills already have developed running backs in Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch. Spiller was also an explosive kick-returner as well holding the FBS record for return TD's with 7.
When Jimmy Clausen surprising dropped to the Bills in the second round they went with Defensive Tackle Torrel Troup out of Central Florida. The Bills did not select a QB until the 7th round with Levi Brown out of Troy who will likely find himself on the practice squad as a non-factor this season.
There is a three-horse race for the starting the position in the form of Ryan Fitzpatrick, Trent Edwards and Brian Brohm. Brohm was a top five pick out of Louisville in the 2008 draft but has had little chance to prove himself on the field. 6'2” Steve Johnson, a seventh round pick out of Kentucky in the 2008 draft made a bit of a name for himself amongst fans with 10 receptions last year and will be competing with James Hardy for the two-spot beyond veteran Lee Evans.
2009 fourth round pick Shawn Nelson is likely to start at tight-end ahead of Dan Schouman. The O-line is young and very suspect for the Bills and have not been a strength for quite some time now. They will hope for improvements out of second year starters Eric Wood and Andy Levitre on the interior at the guard position.
The Bills look to be headed for another mediocre offensive season even if C.J. Spiller shows there might be light at the end of the tunnel.
Defense – The Bills will be switching to a 3-4 defense under Gailey that will hopefully solve some of the tackling problems that occurred under Jauron. At the defensive end position, the addition of Dwan Edwards from the Baltimore Ravens should add some run plugging ability. Three time Pro-Bowl veteran Marcus Stroud is a backbone for the D and and will hopefully help guide rookie defensive end and underachieving John Mccargo to solid seasons. Kyle Williams is the bright spot on the defensive line with 66 tackles and four sacks last season. Williams will share some time with second round pick Terrel Troup at nose tackle.
Most notably at the outside linebacker position, the new 3-4 D could allow Aaron Maybin to utilize his quickness to a greater extent. The status of two-time Pro-Bowler Aaron Schobel still remains up in the air as he contemplates retirement. Inside linebacker Paul Posluszny sits at the core of the Bills D and has six turnovers in the final eleven games last year tying all inside linebackers in the category. The signing of Andra Davis from the Broncos brings a veteran presence to the young backers.
Kawika Mitchell should hopefully fully return to health after he rode the injured reserve list last season. Reggie Corner and Drayton Florence will battle for the nickel spot while Terrence Mcgee and Leodis McKelvin are a strong cornerback duo as long as Mcgee can come back strong from his shoulder injury suffered at the end of last season.
Last year's second round pick, Jairus Byrd, is the current standout amongst the safeties at the free safety position, intercepting nine passes last season.
Special Teams – Rian Lindell hit 84.8 of field goals in 2009 and besides a few bumps in the road has remained consistent. Roscoe Parrish has the potential to be a big punt return threat but was only able to put up a maximum gain of 31 yards last season, the lowest in his career.
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