Thursday, August 30, 2012

Philbin on state of Dolphins: 'Am I concerned? Yeah'


The Miami Dolphins hoped they could end their tumultuous preseason on a positive note.

Instead, they were routed by the Dallas Cowboys Wednesday, concluding their third winless preseason in franchise history.

“The only good news is this part’s over,” Philbin said after the game, according to the Palm Beach Post. “Am I concerned? Yeah... I thought we’ve been a good team in practice, we haven’t transferred that to the game.”

The Dolphins have sputtered on offense and been dominated on defense throughout the preseason, particularly when the starters were on the field. Miami has been outscored by opponents 63-16 in the first halves of their four preseason games, with only one touchdown coming from the first offensive unit.

They were also out-gained by an average of 71.5 yards per game.

Of course, the preseason isn't about wins and losses or even about the yards gained, but about how individual players perform in game action. But those result may be even more disappointing for Miami than the final scores.

Dolphins do due diligence with WR Stallworth visit


The Dolphins need wide receivers, and Donte' Stallworth needs a job.

Miami held a workout for a number of free agent wideouts this week, and Stallworth was in attendance, according to Omar Kelly of the South Florida Sun Sentinel. The Dolphins are trying to address a need that has been painfully exposed during the preseason.

Stallworth had been with the New England Patriots during training camp but was waived Monday. The 31-year-old has been with seven different teams in the past eight years but also missed the 2009 season serving a suspension stemming from a DUI manslaughter conviction.

Stallworth has 320 receptions for 4,774 yards and 34 touchdowns in his career.

Miami has a desperate need for weapons to help quarterback Ryan Tannehill in his rookie season. General manager Jeff Ireland is likely just doing his due diligence on the aging Stallworth, as he is also reportedly prepared to acquire a wideout via trade and will likely scour the waiver wire.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Jackson on sharing backfield: 'We'll have to adjust'

Photo: Doug Kerr, Flickr 


The Buffalo Bills enter the season with a workhorse tailback who had a breakout season going last year sharing the backfield with a third-year former first-rounder who is trying to prove himself capable of carrying a big workload.

The former is Fred Jackson, and the latter is C.J. Spiller, though Buffalo doesn't like to put them in any type of order. Coach Chan Gailey plans on running a legitimate two-back system incorporated into his spread offense.

How will it work out?

“I’m not sure. That’ll be something we’ll have to adjust to during the season," Jackson told 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland earlier this week. "But I’ve always been the type of guy that’s gonna do whatever it takes to win."

There's no question Jackson is the 1A in this deal, and it'll stay that way as long as he can pick up where he left off last season.

Jackson amassed 934 rushing yards and 422 receiving in just 10 games in 2011 but missed most of the second half of the season to a leg injury. However, the Bills extended his contract, which had a year left on it, by two years this offseason.

Spiller was better-than-average in taking over the workload last year, gaining 561 yards on the ground and 269 through the air.

Rex: Hill getting ton of reps, 'that's what you want'


Stephen Hill didn't get a whole lot of passes thrown his way the past few years in Georgia Tech's run-heavy offense, but the New York Jets are trying to make up for it during training camp and preseason.

Hill has lined up as a starter since the beginning of OTAs, and the rookie wideout has been the team's top receiver in preseason action.

Good and bad, it's been a trial-by-fire kind of summer for Hill.

 "I think he is playing so much, on the practice field and everything else," Jets coach Rex Ryan told the media Tuesday. "He is getting a ton of reps which is great for a rookie. That is what you want."

Hill is averaging 11.8 yards a reception through three preseason games. Five of his nine exhibition catches came Sunday against the Carolina Panthers. However, Hill also had a major hiccup when he let a perfectly-thrown ball from Mark Sanchez bounce off his hands and into the opponent's possession.

The one for the interception, that was a killer, there is no question about that," Ryan said. "That was an absolute killer. We just have to be consistent, watch the ball in. He certainly has the skill to be a fine receiver, it is just a matter of really focusing in, catching that ball first and then let him use his explosive speed."

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Bills' QB battle? Young gone, but Thigpen still loses


The Buffalo Bills had a competition going on for the backup quarterback job between Vince Young and Tyler Thigpen.

Young appeared to have the lead by default, then he played poorly against the Pittsburgh Steelers last week. So did Thigpen gain ground?

Nah, Tarvaris Jackson did. Buffalo dealt a late-round pick to the Seattle Seahawks for Jackson Monday, resulting in Young being cut.

The Bills clearly hadn't been pleased with how their backup quarterback situation was playing out, as Thigpen and Young had been below-average to bad through training camp and most of preseason.

Now, there's very little chance Jackson isn't the immediate backup behind starter Ryan Fitzpatrick. It's not like Buffalo will have a week-and-a-half competition between Jackson and Thigpen for the job.

That means Thigpen is a goner, as coach Chan Gailey has repeatedly stated multi-purpose player Brad Smith is the team's No. 3 QB regardless of who the backup is.

Fins still waiting for someone to step up at receiver

Photo: photo-gator, flickr 

Going into the preseason, the Miami Dolphins knew they were weak at the wide receiver position. But they hoped one of their young wideouts would emerge as a contributor to the offense in their exhibition opportunities.

Instead, through three preseason games, the Dolphins have learned they are actually worse off than previously thought.

Miami's receiving corps dropped a huge number of passes in last Friday's preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons. Normally the third exhibition game is when the starting offense simulates a regular-season situation, but as of now, none of Miami's young receivers could be considered a legitimate option when the actual games start.

Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman recognizes this problem.

“They haven’t helped matters,” he said of his young wideouts after the 23-6 loss, according to the Palm Beach Post. “And I wish they would say, ‘Hey, I’m the guy,’ and jump up from the table by having a knockout performance, and I don’t know how much clarity we’re going to have after the last ballgame.”

Legedu Naanee, who has reportedly had a good camp so far, dropped two balls in the game. Julius Pruitt, Marlon Moore and Marcus Thigpen all dropped a pass as well. Tight end Charles Clay had a pass ricochet off his hands and float deep into the secondary, which in most cases would be an interception.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Hernandez extension solidifies future of best TE pair

Photo: jdn, Flickr 

The New England Patriots have the most lethal tight end tandem in the NFL, and they're going to keep it that way as long as possible.

Monday, the Patriots extended Aaron Hernandez's contract to five additional years, etching his spot in New England until at least 2018, according to

The extension comes just months after the Patriots piled on a few more years to the league's-best tight end in Rob Gronkowski with a $54 million extension of his own.

Hernandez is extremely versatile and has often lined up at receiver as well as taken some snaps at running back, so in addition to being Gronkowski's clear-cub 1B, he makes players from other positions expendable.

Hernandez has caught 13 touchdowns over the last two seasons.

Folk wins Jets' kicker bout, Gang Green cuts Brown

Photo: Nick St. Denis 

The New York Jets brought in veteran kicker Josh Brown to compete with incumbent Nick Folk for the Jets' starting boot gig.

Challenge accepted, and completed.

Gang Green cut Brown Monday after an extremely competitive positional competition, opting to stay with Folk. The team clearly liked how he responded to the challenge of having Brown looming over him for his job.

Brown essentially broke the news via Twitter Monday morning.

"Best of luck to the 2012 Jets..." Brown tweeted. "Thanks for one of the most memorable camps in 10 yrs. GREAT GROUP OF GUYS!!"

Brown's fate was more or less decided Sunday night when he missed one of his two field goal attempts. Folk was 3-for-3 on the evening with a long of 46 yards.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Davis trade more proof Dolphins in full rebuild mode


If it wasn't clear before, it should be now that the Miami Dolphins are in full rebuilding mode. 

Since taking the Dolphins' head coaching job, Joe Philbin has strived to establish a new culture for the team. Starting with Brandon Marshall, and then Chad Johnson, Philbin has made it clear that players who don't fall in line won't line up for him this fall.

Cornerback Vontae Davis is the latest victim, if you could call him that. Davis was traded to the Indianapolis Colts in exchange for a second-round and conditional sixth-round draft pick on Sunday, according to Jay Glazer of Fox Sports.

Early episodes of this season of Hard Knocks highlighted Davis' struggles with conditioning and a questionable commitment to his craft. Then, as a clear result of his falling out of favor with the new coaching staff, Davis was demoted to nickel cornerback.

Instead of keeping him on the team, the Dolphins sought to get value for their most talented cover cornerback. He had been a starter at the position since being taken 25th overall in the 2009 draft.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Bills center Wood likes rookie Glenn's demeanor


Buffalo Bills center Eric Wood has "high expectations" for his team's offensive line this season.

And a lot of the weight regarding whether or not Buffalo will in fact be successful up front will ride on the shoulders of rookie tackle Cordy Glenn, who was recently named the team's starting left tackle.

Wood thinks Glenn will be just fine.

"Probably the best thing about him is he is a really even-keeled kid," Wood told reporters Thursday, according to the team's website. "I kind of ride with my emotions at times. I always mess with him and tell him I wish I had his demeanor at times. I am sure he wishes he had mine at times."

Glenn's steady demeanor during training camp is all fine and dandy, but he'll need to translate it to the field. Glenn got a taste of the big leagues the last two weeks facing Washington Redskins' Brian Orakpo and Minnesota Vikings' Jared Allen.

Glenn wasn't terrible or impressive against either of them, and coach Chan Gailey said earlier in the week that Glenn "needs as much playing time as he can get."

"It seems like every preseason game he has faced another great pass rusher," Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said Wednesday. "That is just how this league is. We are expecting him to step up and to play well. He still has a couple more weeks to get going, just in the preseason. Getting his feet wet and all that, but we are expecting big things from him this year."

Belichick, Patriots really like their Florida Gators

Photo: jdn, Flickr 

Taking a quick scan of the New England Patriots' roster, one college alma mater comes up twice as much as any other.

After the signing of speedy tailback Jeff Demps Saturday, a total of six former Florida Gators now play their professional football for head coach Bill Belichick.

That number is the result of Belichick's long-standing relationship with former Florida coach Urban Meyer.

"The University of Florida has great athletes and great players at their school as do a lot of the other Florida schools," Belichick said Thursday when asked about the Florida-New England connection, according to the team's website.

"But I had a good relationship with Coach Meyer as I do with Coach [Will] Muschamp and so maybe we had a little more insight or opportunity to evaluate or whatever and we felt like those particular players that we drafted there fit our system and what we were doing."

A common sight roaming the hallways of the Gators' training facility in the mid-2000s, Belichick cultivated a mutually-beneficial relationship with Meyer, where they discussed coaching philosophies and prospects. There he was able to closely interact with the Florida talent pool.

"I'd see him in our facility so much," Brandon Spikes, a second-round pick in 2010, said. "He knew what he was going to get out of the Gators."

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Being relieved of duties must be a relief for Hunter


Change was coming at right tackle for the New York Jets. It just took way too long.

According to multiple media reports, Jets coach Rex Ryan announced Thursday that embattled offensive lineman Wayne Hunter was being demoted to a backup position in favor of Austin Howard, who now has the starting right tackle gig by default.

Early this offseason, Hunter referred to himself as the team's "weakest link" last season, and he appeared to be just that through two preseason games the last two weeks. He was consistently overwhelmed with the opposition's defensive rush and gave up a plethora of pressures on quarterback Mark Sanchez, a handful of them resulting in sacks.

Now, Hunter will assume the job he had in 2010: the team's swing tackle, who will be used in extra-protection and running-down situations -- something the Jets will use plenty of Week 1 against Mario Williams and the Buffalo Bills.

Hunter will make $2.5 million in guaranteed money this season. That, combined with the fact that the microscope has turned from him to the Jets' front office and coaches, has to be a relief.

Communication, conditioning key for Jets' defense

Photo: Nick St. Denis 


The New England Patriots' offense goes no-huddle often. The Miami Dolphins will do the same under new coach Joe Philbin, and the Buffalo Bills do their fair share of no-huddle, as well.

So New York Jets coach Rex Ryan wants his annually-stout defense to be up to the task in 2012. And with Ryan, it starts with conditioning.

"... we have to be in unbelievable shape. You need to be in that kind of conditioning," Ryan told the media Wednesday. "A lot of these teams are going no-huddle. You see Miami and Buffalo, all these teams, New England obviously, with that no-huddle attack you have to be in great shape.

"That's something that we're telling our guys. You see them doing more wind sprints and all that. They're not just going through the body of practice, but even on their own that they'll be working that way."

There's no question the Jets have gotten faster on defense, whether you're looking at the youth movement on the defensive line or the trimming down of guys like linebacker Bart Scott.

But now in their fourth year under Ryan, the Jets feel their communication is the best it's ever been, and that's just as important for team speed as conditioning.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Patriots get blocking boost with Vollmer, Fells back

Photo: Beth Hart, Flickr 


The New England Patriots needed a boost to the exterior of their offensive line, which has been subpar through two preseason games.

They got a little help over the weekend with starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer being activated off the PUP list. Marcus Cannon, who will be Vollmer's game day replacement until he's ready, struggled Monday against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Vollmer, who practiced in front of the media for the first time Wednesday, had already begun working on the field with the team sometime between Saturday and Wednesday, according to Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

The fourth-year veteran played in just seven games last season due to multiple injuries and isn't sure if he'll be good to go for the team's Week 1 opener against the Tennessee Titans.

"I have no idea. I'm obviously making progress, working as hard as I can, and if i'm ready, I'm ready. If I'm not, I'm not," Vollmer told ESPN Boston. "I'm obviously hoping so and doing whatever I can to do it."

Tight end Daniel Fells also came off the PUP list last weekend and began practicing Wednesday. While he's projected to be the third tight end behind Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, Fells is a stout blocker and certainly can be used to help New England's struggling offensive tackles, namely left tackle Nate Solder.

Steinbach's retirement opens door for faltering Jerry


As if the preseason hasn't been rough enough for the Miami Dolphins' offensive line, they lost a player who they hoped would provide much-needed depth at guard.

Eric Steinbach, the veteran lineman the Dolphins signed to a one-year deal in July, decided to call it a career, the team announced Wednesday via Twitter. The 32-year-old former Cleveland Brown and Cincinnati Bengal attempted to make a comeback in Miami after sitting out the 2011 season due to a back injury, but decided to retire due to his cumulative health issues.

The Dolphins were already dangerously thin at the guard position, and Steinbach's departure further complicates a muddled situation.

John Jerry, a once near-certainty to not make the final roster, may now have the open door that he needed to make the team. His struggles with consistency and his weight have been well-chronicled in both the media and on HBO's Hard Knocks, where his positional coach Jim Turner repeatedly and publicly reprimanded him for his waistline.

The third-year guard has been trying to take the criticism in stride.

“They expect more out of me,” Jerry said, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “That pretty much says it all. When the coaches tell you they expect more out of you, you pretty much get it from there.”

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Fins' starting QB job Tannehill's to lose all along?


Monday, Miami Dolphins coach Joe Philbin named rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill the team's starter entering the 2012 regular season.

The fix should've been in from the start, and maybe it was.

Tannehill, who was drafted No. 8 overall in April, was perceived to be the team's No. 3 QB early in offseason activities, behind veteran David Garrard and incumbent Matt Moore.

But by training camp, Tannehill appeared to be locked into the backup gig, with Garrard and Moore more or less fighting for an all-or-nothing roster spot.

Once Garrard got hurt and would miss the remainder of the preseason, Tannehill was back in the mix for the starting job, as he'd only have to beat out Moore. Garrard's injury likely knocked him out of the race.

Tannehill put up decent numbers against backups in his first preseason game, but he wasn't terribly impressive in his first start last week. It's not like he did something absolutely extraordinary for Philbin to come to an epiphany that the future is now.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Rookie Cordy Glenn named Bills' starting left tackle


The Buffalo Bills have answered one of their biggest offseason questions.

Monday, Bills coach Chan Gailey announced rookie Cordy Glenn will be the team's starting left tackle. Glenn was battling with Chris Hairston, who started a handful of games at left tackle last year, for the gig.

Glenn (photo: Doug Kerr, Flickr) started at left tackle in Buffalo's first two preseason games and has gotten a majority of the first-team reps at the position thanks in part to Hairston filling at right tackle for an injured Erik Pears.

"Cordy has great ability. Ability is not the issue, it is just playing time," Gailey said, according to the team's website. "He needs as much playing time as he can get. I think if he gets playing time he has a chance to be a really good football player."

Glenn was so-so against Brian Orakpo and Jared Allen of the Washington Redskins and Minnesota Vikings, respectively, but he did enough to earn the job.

Pats' Ninkovich on move to DE: 'I'm pretty strong'


New England Patriots' Rob Ninkovich is moving from linebacker to defensive end this season.

And according to the 6-foot-2, 260-pound veteran, he's more than capable of making the switch.

“I’m pretty strong. I’ve always been pretty strong," Ninkovich told the media Thursday. "I think that tight ends I’ve been able to handle them pretty well, tackles, both of them at the same time. I should be all right."

Ninkovich had two interceptions against the New York Jets last season and two more the year before against the Miami Dolphins, proving he's plenty capable of dropping into coverage.

However, Ninkovich (photo right: Jeffrey Beall, Flickr) is a little more sack-happy these days, setting up shop on the defensive line. He's taken down the quarterback 10.5 times over the last two regular seasons.

"I’ve been doing it for a long time and it’s just something that you work on, you get your techniques right, you get your hand placement right and especially in that position it’s more about technique and leverage than it is just brute strength," Ninkovich, 28, said.

Dolphins name Ryan Tannehill starting quarterback

Photo: Dirk Hansen, Flickr 

It's official. Ryan Tannehill will be the Miami Dolphins' starting quarterback.

Tannehill had been battling with veteran Matt Moore during training camp and the preseason for the job.

"It was a close competition, but in the end we feel that this is the best decision for our football team at the present time," Philbin said in a Monday press conference, according to the team.

Moore was the incumbent starter, and after a 6-3 record down the stretch in 2011, many felt he deserved a chance to start this season. Each player was given one start in the preseason, and the rookie capitalized on his opportunies.

He completed 25 of his 44 attempts for 267 yards and one touchdown in two games against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers. He has also avoided turning the football over.

Tannehill was originally buried at No. 3 on the depth chart but had been gaining momentum in recent weeks, after a knee injury removed frontrunner David Garrard from the quarterback race. His steady improvements from June OTAs to training camp were evident and were enough to give the coaches confidence to move forward with him.

Fins need right side of offensive line to improve fast


The Miami Dolphins entered the season concerned about the right side of their offensive line. After two preseason games, neither of their new acquisitions have done much to quell those concerns.

Right guard Artis Hicks and right tackle Jonathan Martin were routinely pushed back or beaten in Friday's preseason tilt with the Carolina Panthers. The pressure created by the Panthers' defensive starters resulted in sacks, tackles in the backfield and batted balls at the line of scrimmage.

Particularly disappointing was Martin, who was utterly dominated by Panthers' defensive end Charles Johnson both in pass protection and run blocking. Johnson tallied two sacks and drew a holding penalty on the rookie in about a quarter of work.

"Everyone can tell it wasn't my best performance," Martin said, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel. "There are little things I've got to correct. I give the Carolina defenders a lot of credit, but I was beating myself out there."

Martin's display on Friday was reminiscent of Miami's 2011 starting right tackle Marc Colombo, whose miserable play prompted the Dolphins to take Martin in the second round of April's draft. Martin even donned No. 71, the jersey number worn by Colombo last season.

Nix: Merriman move about circumstance, not health


Shawne Merriman said he was in the best shape he's ever been in earlier this offseason, and the Buffalo Bills had his back.

But nothing is certain in the NFL.

The Bills released the veteran pass-rushing specialist Monday in a move that Bills general manager Buddy Nix said was about giving younger players an opportunity and not about Merriman's health, which has been a repeated issue for Merriman over the last half dozen years.

"Shawne was battling for the fourth defensive end spot," Nix told the media Monday. "We have three guys there that we feel good about. We have a couple of young guys. That is the reason we made the move.

"The 'why now' is a couple of things. One, we want to give these two young guys more reps in practice and more playing time in these last two games. Two, we want to give Shawne a chance to get a job. Us doing it earlier gives Shawne a better chance to get picked up and locked on to somebody."

Merriman reportedly looked good in spring practices, but he'd been working with the second-team defense and was mostly a third-stringer in the team's most recent preseason game, an exhibition bout with the Minnesota Vikings last Friday.

"I think he struggled a little. But first off, let me say this—he can play. He did everything," Nix continued. "He has been healthy since OTAs. He had not missed anything. He is very attentive in meetings. He has worked hard at practice and he has played, in spots, really well during the games.

"He is a hard worker; he has done everything he could do. We think we have been patient but there comes a point where we felt like we needed to move on and look down the road. These young guys will get a shot."

Solder, Pats' OL to face good test in Eagles' Wide-9

Photo: Beth Hart, Flickr 

Nate Solder had a less-than-impressive showing in the New England Patriots' preseason opener against the New Orleans Saints.

The new starting left tackle, who is taking over for quarterback Tom Brady's longtime blindside protector in Matt Light, was called for two holding penalties early on and consistently struggled to stand his ground against the right edge of New Orleans' defensive rush.

New England's offensive line as a whole, which has been hampered with injuries, veteran departures and shifting, didn't allow Brady and the rest of the Patriots' quarterbacks to get into their normal comfort zone.

Solder and the rest of the Patriots' front line will have an opportunity to redeem themselves Monday night against the Philadelphia Eagles' defensive front.

Philly uses the Wide-9 technique on the defensive line, which has the four-man front spread out so the defensive ends are well outside the opposing offensive tackles. This forces the offensive tackles to get up and into position quicker to compensate for the speed and outside angle the defensive ends are coming at.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Dolphins' 'D' struggling to get off field in preseason


With all the uncertainty surrounding the Miami Dolphins' offense in regard to the quarterback, receivers and offensive line, Miami came into this season knowing it at least was strong on defense.

After all, the Dolphins' defense finished last season ranked sixth in the NFL in points allowed and were the third-best unit against the run.

But that confidence is quickly withering away, after the Dolphins first team defense was repeatedly gashed by Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers in their 23-17 preseason game loss on Friday night.

Miami's first team defense also played poorly in the preseason opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, allowing 14 first-half points. Carolina was able to score 17 points in the first quarter alone.

Coach Joe Philbin is clearly frustrated with the group.

"Our biggest concern is getting off the field," Philbin told the media, according to an AP report. "We haven't stopped anybody yet. We haven't gotten off the field on third down, we haven't tackled real well. We haven't had a lot of pass rush. I guess I'd better stop there."

For the second consecutive week, an opponent dominated Miami's starters. Having Cameron Wake, Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett on the sidelines (due to minor injuries) didn't help, but Newton, Steve Smith and the Carolina's trio of running backs were able to do nearly anything they wanted offensively.

Panic Button Alert: Jets' Hunter a gigantic concern


The fact that right tackle Wayne Hunter was a liability to the New York Jets' offense entering the 2012 season was no secret.

But now it's time to panic.

Hunter, who referred to himself as the team's "weakest link" at the end of the 2011 season, clung to his job this offseason and has been completely backed by his teammates and coaches.

But Hunter has picked up right where he left off, and it's a big deal. It was on display when the Jets faced the New York Giants in preseason action Saturday.

Hunter was responsible for three first-half sacks on quarterback Mark Sanchez. It would have been four if one wasn't negated by a penalty.

He was also pushed around regularly when the Jets ran the ball.

"Either you perform or you don't perform," Hunter said after the game, according to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News. "If I don't, they're going to find someone to bring in and compete and get the job done."

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Rest of Fins' offense not making QB decision easy


In their second preseason game, the Dolphins started rookie Ryan Tannehill in hopes of clarify their quarterback competition.

Instead, the Dolphins' offensive showing on Friday only muddled the competition further and may have lowered the expectations for Miami's offense in 2012.

Hoping to carry the momentum from a strong training camp and impressive performance in Miami's first preseason game, Tannehill went three-and-out in four of his five drives in the Dolphins' 23-17 preseason loss at the hands of the Carolina Panthers.

Coach Joe Philbin had been planning to name the Week 1 starter before their third preseason game next Saturday. He seemed a little demoralized when asked who will be his starter after the game.

“I don’t know that, to be honest with you," he told the media, according to the Palm Beach Post. "I really don’t.”

The final score of a preseason game is ultimately unimportant, but the opportunities for evaluation are invaluable.

Big plays allowed negate production by Bills' D-front


The Buffalo Bills got the front-line penetration they wanted out of their first-team defense Friday night.

Unfortunately, following every stuff of the Minnesota Vikings' first-team offense (minus Adrian Peterson) in the teams' preseason bout was a defensive breakdown that resulted in a big gain.

Buffalo stopped running back Toby Gerhart for a two-yard run on the first play from scrimmage, but it gave up a big gain on a passing play from Christian Ponder to Percy Harvin on the next down. A late hit tacked on another 15 yards.

Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus then sacked Ponder, but the defense gave up another big gain on the following play, a pass to Jerome Simpson. Buffalo's defense bounced back with a sack, only to give up a big run and a touchdown pass on the next two plays.

"That's what you can't do," Bills coach Chan Gailey told reporters after the game. "You've got to take advantage of the sacks to stop drives. Normally, sacks stop drives. We've got to continue to work defensively to keep them reeling once we create that sack situation."

Friday, August 17, 2012

Dolphins RBs' aspirations may exceed opportunities


Dolphins running back Reggie Bush has set his sights high for this season. Back in May, he declared he wanted to win the rushing title.

But he's not the only guy in Miami's backfield with high expectations for himself.

“That’ll be fine, as long as I get my 1,000 yards,” second-year tailback Daniel Thomas said, according to Brian Biggane of the Palm Beach Post. “That’s my goal.”

Having Bush leading the league in rushing and having Thomas amass 1,000 yards is a highly unlikely scenario, especially in the Dolphins' new West Coast offense that focuses on short passes rather than pounding the ball. But Miami has to like the confidence both are showing, especially Thomas.

The former Kansas State standout rushed for 212 yards in the first two games of his rookie season but struggled down the stretch and finished the year with a disappointing 3.5 yards per carry average. Now through his first full NFL training camp, he hopes to overcome the durability and confidence issues that slowed him last season.

The poor performance has drawn concerns about the young tailback's long-term prospects, but a solid 2012 campaign will get him back on track.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Rex: 'It's impossible not to respect Brandon Moore'


Brandon Moore is quietly the best right guard in football. Fortunately for him, his coach isn't quiet about it.

Moore, who has given up the lowest ratio of quarterback pressures per passing play of any guard in the NFL over the past three years, according to Pro Football Focus, was elected to the Pro Bowl last season for the first time in his 10-year career. He's entering his 11th season with the New York Jets.

"It's impossible not to respect Brandon Moore," Jets coach Rex Ryan told the media Wednesday. "Obviously you respect good players, but with him, this is a self-made player.

"He wasn’t touched with the greatest God-given ability. In fact, he came in as a defensive lineman, moved over to the offensive line. Here is a guy who has developed, 600-pound bench press, his work ethic is phenomenal. He's as tough as nails, he really is.

"He is smart, tough, dependable, durable and all of that. Yet he still, and ever since I got here I have said he is the best guard in football, the best right guard in football, and really nobody listened until the stats come out."

Easley the odd man out in Bills' receiving corps?


The Buffalo Bills had somewhat of a training camp battle for the team's No. 2 receiver spot on the depth chart.

But the real competition was about staying on the roster.

Stevie Johnson is the Bills' clear-cut No. 1 wideout, but rookie T.J. Graham and returners Donald Jones, David Nelson, Derek Hagan and Marcus Easley were jockeying for position in the Bills' oft-used three and four-receiver sets.

As the Bills finished up their training camp session at St. John Fisher College, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick discussed chemistry developed with his wideouts.

He left out a name (actually a few), which was likely unintentional but very telling at where Buffalo's receiver situation is at.

“Right away David Nelson started out strong and then didn’t practice much, but he’s a guy that I know I can rely on,” Fitzpatrick said, according to “I think my relationship with Derek Hagan and Donald Jones has really grown in terms of getting comfortable with those guys.

"Making sure we’re on the same page in how they run their routes. So we’ve made a lot of progress in that regard through training camp and I think it’s just going to get better.”

Pennington: Sanchez throwing ball better than ever

Photo: Nick St. Denis 

Chad Pennington visited New York Jets camp, a place he's very familiar with, Tuesday.

Coach Rex Ryan brought the highly-respected former Jet and Miami Dolphin quarterback to camp to talk to the team, and as a result, Pennington talked to the media, as well.

While most copy coming out of Jets camp was about Pennington's views on the Wildcat, something now-Jets offensive coordinator Tony Sparano implemented while Pennington was his quarterback in Miami, Pennington also spoke about the progress he's seen from starting quarterback Mark Sanchez.

"I think from what I’ve seen from afar and now being here, Mark is throwing the ball better than I’ve ever seen him throw," Pennington told reporters, according to Randy Lange of "He’s got excellent control with his throws and his ball placement, and also just his body language and how he’s carrying himself in and out of the huddle, I think he’s doing an outstanding job."

Pennington mentored Sanchez earlier in the offseason per the request of Sanchez via a text message.

"I think he’s definitely gotten better over the offseason and really made a point to take it up to the next level," Pennington said. "And kudos to him for doing that because that’s a decision that you have to make as a professional, to listen to the criticism and then do something about it, and he’s certainly done that.”

Pennington also discussed his thoughts on how Sanchez handled the Jets' acquisition of Tim Tebow.

It's Shark Week, so Spikes' mentality is 'Be a shark'


Brandon Spikes, one of the New England Patriots' starting inside linebackers, has played in just 20 regular-season games over the past two seasons -- his first two years in the NFL.

Spikes missed the last four games of the 2010 season while serving a suspension for testing positive for a banned substance that was reportedly an ingredient in his ADHD medication.

He then played Weeks 2 through 9 (with a bye Week 7) in 2011 before being sidelined for seven games to injury. Spikes returned to the field Week 17 and went on to have a big postseason, recording 26 tackles, a sack, an interception and two passes defensed.

The Patriots need Spikes to carry that momentum into 2012. The third-year 'backer, coming off knee surgery, is trying to do just that.

"I feel like I'm getting better; learning the differences of the defense," Spikes told the media Tuesday, "where I'm supposed to be and where the next guy is.

"Being the middle linebacker I've got to kind of direct guys and it's coming a lot easier this year, so hopefully I can just keep getting better."

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Williams on Bills 'D': We do not make it complicated

Photo: Doug Kerr, Flickr 

The Buffalo Bills have a bunch of new pieces on defense in addition to their newly-aquired 4-3 scheme.

But according to one of the new Bills, getting acclimated hasn't been all that difficult.

"It is my seventh year in the league, so football is football and our system is pretty simple," defensive end Mario Williams told the media Monday. "We do not make it complicated. We try to keep it easy so we can play fast.

"You just basically know what you have to do and it is just about going out and being fast."

The Bills have the front-seven to make a simple defense work. Interior linemen Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams will do their best to draw attention and free up opportunities for Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, two pass-rushing ends acquired via free agency.

That should also help second-year middle linebacker Kelvin Sheppard, who will be depended on to make sure things run smoothly, be able to focus as much on his own job as what's going on around him.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Rex Ryan compares Dolphins' old Wildcat to Jets'

Photo: Mr. Usaji, Flickr 

The New York Jets are getting hounded with questions about the Wildcat for two reasons: One, they practiced it for the first time in training camp Monday, and two, because Tim Tebow is involved.

Gang Green implemented the supplementary scheme half a decade ago, using all-purpose player Brad Smith, who is now a Buffalo Bill, and speedy specialist Leon Washington, now a Seattle Seahawk, to anchor it.

But the Miami Dolphins, led by now-Jets offensive coordinator Tony Sparano, ran the Wildcat more than anyone in that span. Jets coach Rex Ryan compared New York's 2012 Wildcat campaign with Sparano's pre-2011.

"Well, Ronnie Brown was tremendous," Jets coach Rex Ryan told the media Monday. "He was absolutely tremendous at running the football and they’re (Brown and Tebow) both left handed. It’s just that Tebow throws the ball better.

"I think that’s the big difference between him and Ronnie is he throws it better. Now, Ronnie probably runs the ball a little better than Tim, but Tim can throw the ball better. With Ronnie, you were really defending the run. He did burn some people on the pass, but you were really concentrating on the run, where with Tim you’re going to have to defend both."

Ryan remembers Sparano's Wildcat activity very well, as the Dolphins ripped through the Jets' defense in the teams' first meeting of 2009, Ryan's first year with Gang Green.

Philbin's swift action on Johnson right thing to do


On Sunday, coach Joe Philbin and the Miami Dolphins made the tough decision to cut Chad Johnson just one day after his arrest for domestic battery. They spent little time gathering facts and certainly didn't let any of the legal process play out.

That incurred backlash from some in the locker room, most strikingly from team captain and emotional leader Karlos Dansby.

"I just hate we didn't stand behind him," Dansby said in a interview on The Sid Rosenberg Show on 640 Sports. "I know the guys in the locker room would. But the organization felt a totally different way. They probably have more information than we know, and they had to do what they had to do. Still, it's tough to lose a good man."

Johnson, despite his outlandish reputation, was popular in the locker room and in the brotherhood that is an NFL team, team leaders are expected to go to bat for the players they take the field with.

“He was gonna be our guy," Dansby added. "We had to stand behind him even though the situation came about. I just hate the fact he didn't get that third strike and that's just me personally."

According to Philbin, the team's seemingly sudden decision to cut ties was not a reaction to this incident but because of "a body evidence from June 11 forward."

On Film: Fitz did plenty of locking on in first game


The Buffalo Bills' offense thrives on quick, decisive passes from quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. That's coach Chan Gailey's system.

However, when the first read isn't available for a reception, Fitzpatrick needs to effectively get to the next level of his progression. He seemed to struggle with that in the team's preseason bout with the Washington Redskins Thursday.

It was only August exhibition play, and his protection wasn't the greatest, so take it for what it's worth.

Fitzpatrick completed six of 14 passes for 61 yards. He also had a touchdown called back due to an illegal formation.

Nine of Fitzpatrick's 14 attempts were undoubtedly thrown to his first read, as his head was locked in that direction.

Three other attempts appeared to be on his first read, but there was another receiver in the direct vicinity, so we'll give him the benefit of the doubt there. Still, on none of the throws did he go from one side of the field to the other.

Fitzpatrick clearly went to his second read on his third throw and fourth drop back, as there was a definite shift of his attention in terms of head movement.

The other attempt of the 16 was thrown directly in between two receivers, so it's hard to tell who he was going to. But again, they were on the same side of the field, so he more or less blocked off the opposite side of the field.

Mankins on Patriots' O-line: 'It's been a weird camp'

Photo: jdn, Flickr 

Between injuries and inexperience, the New England Patriots have issues across their offensive line.

Veteran guard Logan Mankins finally made his way back to the practice field over the weekend, six months after getting ACL surgery. His return is critical for a group that's trying to get in regular-season form despite all its setbacks.

"It’s been a weird camp. A lot of guys coming in and then they’ll come in for one day and then they’re hurt so it’s been a lot of shuffling parts in there," Mankins told the media Sunday. "I think there were a few practices we only had eight or nine guys. That’s pretty tough during camp – not having two full lines.

"I think the guys are in good shape, they’ve been working hard and they’re working hard on the plays and they’re getting better each day. I think they did a good job in the game the other night and gave us some things to build off of."

Second-year left tackle Nate Solder, who is replacing Tom Brady's longtime blindside protector in Matt Light, was iffy Thursday night in New England's preseason game against the New Orleans Saints.

Solder got beat on a few snaps and was called for two holding penalties. However, Mankins, who will be lining up alongside Solder, isn't concerned.

"I have a lot of confidence in Nate. Nate is one of those guys that’s going to do everything in his power to get better and to work hard," Mankins said. "He’s always studying, always lifting, always running. If you’ve seen him, he’s in phenomenal shape and he’s a great athlete and he’s got the mindset to work hard.

Sparano sees no point in tipping hand on Wildcat


There's no question the New York Jets will run a hefty amount of Wildcat plays during the regular season with Tim Tebow in the mix.

With that, the possibilities are plentiful... and top-secret. At least until Week 1.

"Obviously it’s going to be out there that we’re going to do something like that," Sparano told the media Sunday. "The 'how' is the question."

The Jets didn't run anything out of the Wildcat last Friday in their preseason matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals, and they likely won't for the remainder of exhibition play.

In fact, reporters were restricted from discussing the intricacies of Gang Green's work out of the special formation at practice Monday, according to ESPN's Sal Paolantonio.

"I’m more concerned about letting (future opponents) worry about it than giving them the answers to the test," Sparano said.

Fair enough.

The Wildcat isn't really an aspect of the offense that needs to see live action against an opponent in preparation for the season. While the formation does somewhat depend on blocking and deception by the receivers, it's more based on what the signal-caller, Tebow, does, and Tebow has been there and done that.

Despite progress, Graham must rid mental errors


During minicamp, Buffalo Bills rookie receiver T.J. Graham was heavily focused on getting his head wrapped around the playbook.

At the time, Graham said he was studying as hard as he could so by the time live action rolled around, he could do more thinking than doing.

But according to Bills coach Chan Gailey, Buffalo's third-round pick still has a little ways to go in that department.

"He has come a long way, in my opinion, since the first week of OTA’s. Is he there yet? I do not think he is there yet," Gailey told the media Saturday. "We do not have very many players that are there yet. They all can improve.

"I think he is getting a lot better and I like his progress so far. He has too many mental errors right now and we have to alleviate those."

Graham led the Bills' offense with 37 receiving yards in the team's preseason opener against the Washington Redskins.

Dolphins' receiving corps again has a sub-par look


The Miami Dolphins released receiver Chad Johnson one day after his arrest on domestic battery charges, according to Fox Sports' Jay Glazer. The 34-year-old wideout spent the night in jail after an altercation with his wife over a receipt for a box of condoms.

Johnson's career as a Dolphin ends with no receptions and one drop in one preseason game appearance. The Dolphins took a chance on the aging former star, but after this episode, he may not find another team willing to do the same.

The organization took a stand on player conduct, but now it has to face the on-field reality that it lost one of its better receivers.

Johnson was listed as a starter on the Dolphins' first depth chart, and his talent won't be easily replaced. Miami's top receivers are now Legedu Naanee, who has impressed in camp but is coming off a terrible season in Carolina, and Brian Hartline, a veteran that has missed the past two weeks with nagging injuries.

Miami also has reliable slot option Davone Bess, but beyond him, the depth chart looks pretty bleak. The rest of the group has a combined 14 career receptions in the NFL and is headlined by Roberto Wallace, Julius Pruitt and Marlon Moore.

Not a group that strikes fear into an opposing defense.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Chad Johnson's rock-bottom stock drops even lower

Photo: Beth Hart, Flickr 

When the Dolphins traded away Brandon Marshall, they effectively parted ways with his regular off-the-field incidents.

Unfortunately, another player took over where Marshall left off.

Newly-acquired reciever Chad Johnson was arrested for a domestic incident Saturday night, according to Omar Kelly of the South Florida Sentinel. Johnson allegedly head-butted his wife, Evelyn Lozada, during a heated confrontation in a car.

Lozada was treated for a forehead laceration at a nearby hospital. The couple married on July 4.

The 34-year-old receiver has yet to suit up in an official game for the Dolphins and had no catches and one drop in his preseason debut on Friday.

The Dolphins took a one-year flier on Johnson on June 11, hoping they could get some production out of the former All-Pro who was coming off a terrible season in New England. At that point, Miami was planning to start Brian Hartline and Davone Bess at wide receiver and needed some help at the position.

At some level, the signing made sense. Johnson would be motivated to focus on the field and not his persona after a bad season, and Miami needed some genuine talent at the position. Johnson was also a Miami native and would have an opportunity to resurrect his career in his own backyard.

Legal trouble is the last thing the Dolphins needed from Johnson.

They just traded their most dynamic offensive talent largely because of his repeated domestic incidents. Now, the significantly-less-talented Johnson is putting the Dolphins back in the headlines for the wrong reasons.

Miami cannot afford to have one of its players providing average production and having problems with the law. Johnson's $925,000 contract is not guaranteed, and the team could cut ties at nearly no cost.

Johnson may have blown his last chance in the NFL on Saturday. He was lucky to find a team to take him on this time around and may need a miracle for another team to sign him.

In the immediate aftermath of the incident, a Dolphins spokesman said, "We are aware of the situation and in the process of gathering all of the relevant information."

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Friday, August 10, 2012

Rookie Coples has 'tremendous' outing in 1st game


Week 1 of the NFL preseason has been pretty sloppy across the board, and the New York Jets' showing against the Cincinnati Bengals was no exception.

But the Jets had a handful of positives to pick from on defense, including the performance of first-round pick defensive end Quinton Coples, which Rex Ryan called "tremendous" after the game, according to Brian Costello of the New York Post.

Coples was arguably the most impressive player on the Jets' defense, making five solo tackles, including a fumble-forcing sack.

He also had two tackles for losses on one drive and made multiple quarterback pressures.

In addition to his solid work against the pass, Coples consistently got a good push on the linemen he faced and was around the ball on all the running plays the Bengals ran while he was on the field.

Tannehill brightens Fins' night after loss of Garrard


The Miami Dolphins opened their preseason against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Friday, but the worst part of the night came before the team even stepped on the field.

It was revealed that projected starting quarterback David Garrard was going to miss at least a few weeks after an arthroscopic knee procedure set to take place on Saturday.

While the day provided some tough news for one of their veterans, the Dolphins were treated to a promising show by one of their rookies.

Matt Moore was pushed into the starting lineup by Garrard's injury, but the most effective offensive performance came with No. 8 overall pick Ryan Tannehill under center.

Tannehill entered the game midway through the second quarter, and had one drive end after a touchdown was called back and led another impressive drive that was capped off by an 11-yard scoring strike to Charles Clay.

The rookie showed poise and command in the pocket against the second- and third-team Buccaneers defenders, completing 14 of his 21 passing attempts for 167 yards and the one touchdown.

Sparano didn't lie, offense very 'vanilla' in first game


Earlier this week, New York Jets offensive coordinator Tony Sparano said Gang Green's offense would be "vanilla" in the team's preseason opener.

He wasn't kidding.

Sparano, who is putting together an offense to be led by Mark Sanchez but also catered to Tim Tebow's strengths, didn't show his regular-season hand Friday night against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Sanchez ran the first-team offense, attempting just six passes and completing four for 21 yards. He didn't take any shots downfield and didn't make any risky plays. Sanchez mostly handed the ball off and made safe throws, at least when he wasn't getting sacked. The fourth-year Jet also had a four-yard scamper for a first down.

"It’s the first preseason game. We’re trying to shake the dust off and get back in the swing of things," Sanchez said, according to the team's website. "Their pressure got to us a little bit those first two drives. The third drive, we started to move the ball a little bit.

"I got a little scramble there, channeling my inner-Tebow, and got a first down so that was good. I got hit a little bit (and) hit the dirt. It was good for all of us. We’ll get better with protection and have a better outing next time."

Tebow wasn't used in any sort of Wildcat package, which is where he'll exclusively see time spelling Sanchez. The polarizing signal-caller ran a conventional offense, completing four of eight passes for 27 yards and an interception in about two quarters of action. He did, however, scramble for 34 yards total on four carries.

Garrard injury further skews Dolphins' QB situation


By many accounts, David Garrard was in firm control of the Miami Dolphins' starting quarterback job.

That was until Friday afternoon.

Garrard is scheduled to undergo arthroscopic knee surgery that will sideline him from practices and preseason games, according to Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times.

The circumstances of the injury are still unknown, but the veteran quarterback was reportedly a full participant in Wednesday practice. The Dolphins practiced on Thursday as well, but the session was closed to the media.

The news comes mere hours before the Dolphins were scheduled to take the field for their first preseason game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Matt Moore was reportedly told Friday morning that he would start the exhibition.

Garrard had seized frontrunner status in Miami's three-way quarterback race with a strong performance in offseason workouts and training camp. He was listed at No. 1 on Miami's first depth chart, released on Monday.

A lengthy recovery would likely draw the curtains on Garrard's career in Miami. He is only under contract for one season, and the Dolphins can avoid paying his $2.25 million dollar salary by releasing him before Week 1.

Patriots' rookie Jones very impressive in NFL debut


So far, Chandler Jones has the look of a first-round draft pick.

The rookie defensive end was very impressive Thursday night in the New England Patriots' preseason opener against the New Orleans Saints.

Jones consistently gave Saints left tackle Jermon Bushrod fits, drawing back-to-back holding penalties on Bushrod.

"I think he's going to be a good player in this league. It was a battle out there," Bushrod said, according to ESPN Boston. "I think he has a bright future ahead of him."

Jones was very quick off the line, showed very sound technique and demonstrated a non-stop motor on his edge rushes.

Greg A. Bedard of the Boston Globe had Jones tallied at five quarterback pressures on 14 dropbacks. Jones also helped push the pile on some tackles for losses.

Bills' Gailey: 'It looked ugly. It felt ugly. It was ugly'


The Buffalo Bills' offense was turrrible Thursday night.

The quarterbacks combined for a 14-for-34, one interception and no touchdown showing while getting sacked four times, and the offense as a whole combined for eight false starts and an illegal motion that negated a touchdown pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Stevie Johnson.

“It looked ugly, it felt ugly, it was ugly,” Bills coach Chan Gailey said, according to the team's website. “But I think we’ll learn from it and get better from it. We get to go back to work Saturday and that’s what we plan to do.”

Fitzpatrick, Buffalo's starting signal-caller, completed just six of 14 pass attempts with the first-team offense. The Bills operated in the no-huddle while Fitzpatrick was behind center.

“It was frustrating all night,” said Fitzpatrick. "We wish we would’ve been more productive and done things better, but you chalk it up to a learning experience and hope everybody comes out healthy and you move on.”

The silver lining in the whole thing was rookie receiver T.J. Graham leading the team in pass-catching with three receptions for 37 yards. His longest catching play was 21 yards.

Solder, Pats' O-line struggles in 1st preseason game

Photo: Beth Hart, Flickr 

The New England Patriots' offensive line struggled Thursday night. Left tackle Nate Solder didn't help.

Solder, a second-year tackle replacing quarterback Tom Brady's longtime blindside protector Matt Light, had a rough evening in the Patriots' 7-6 preseason victory over the New Orleans Saints.

Solder was called for two holding penalties early on and consistently struggled to stand his ground against the right edge of New Orleans' defensive rush.

New England's offensive line as a whole, which has been hampered with injuries, veteran departures and shifting, didn't allow Brady and the rest of the Patriots' quarterbacks to get into their normal comfort zone.

Brady completed four of seven pass attempts for 30 yards and was strip-sacked once, and New England's three signal-callers combined to complete less than 50 percent of their passes.

"We've played a lot of people at each position," Patriots coach Bill Belichick told the media of New England's offensive line. "I don't think there was any position we didn't play a lot of people. That's what these games are for: to evaluate the players."

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Dolphins QB Moore finds himself in familiar territory

Photo: Kevin Tsui, Flickr 

Miami Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore was listed No. 2 on the team's first preseason depth chart. It's early, and the rankings are not final, but it must feel like deja vu for the veteran quarterback.

Moore was signed last offseason to compete with Chad Henne for the starting job, only to see Henne named the starter and play flat in Miami's 0-4 start. Moore was handed the reins to the team after Henne went down with a season-ending shoulder injury, and led the team to six wins in the final nine games.

Now, he once again finds himself fighting for the job, and perhaps even his spot on the Dolphins roster.

“I guess it’s frustrating a bit,” Moore told Ben Volin of the Palm Beach Post regarding being listed as the backup. “But I’m not overly concerned that it’s going to wreck my performance or wreck my play from here on out.”

As the team prepares for their first preseason game against Tampa Bay on Friday, Moore is facing one of his last chances to seize the starting job that many thought he earned last season.

The South Florida media has all but anoited first-year Dolphin David Garrard as the winner of the quarterback competition, and his listing as the starter on the depth chart lends credence that the coaches are leaning the same way.