Training Camp: St. John Fisher College, Pittsford, N.Y., July 29
The Looming Camp Question: “Umm, so who’s our starting quarterback?”
The answer to that query is currently … well, still unknown. What’s that Lady Gaga song all the kids were singing last summer? “Poker Face.” That’s what applies here. Bills coach Chan Gailey and GM Buddy Nix haven’t shown their cards once since taking over the reins in Buffalo and have kept even the three quarterbacks competing for the starting gig in the dark up to this point. Gailey and Nix passed on drafting a quarterback in the first round or second round in April, have talked up their three-headed monster of Ryan Fitzpatrick-Trent Edwards-Brian Brohm in the press and have long contended it’s an open competition heading into camp. "I want them to work it out, not me to work it out," Gailey said last week. "I want them to work it out by performance on the field." Most members of the Buffalo media suspect Edwards is the guy, but both Brohm and Fitzpatrick will be given every opportunity to seize the job in camp and preseason. Alas, none of the three young gunslingers (I use that term loosely) appears to be the next Jim Kelly. Hell, none appears to be the next Frank Reich.
Key Camp Battle: Second wide receiver: James Hardy vs. Marcus Easley vs. Steve Johnson
Lee Evans has the No. 1 wide-out spot locked down in Buffalo, but with the departure of Terrell Owens and Josh Reed this offseason, the No. 2 spot is up for grabs. Hardy, a former second-round pick with great red zone abilities, is coming off an injury. Easley is an exciting rookie. Johnson, however, is the guy to keep an eye on. Early Edge: Steve Johnson
New Veteran in Town: Andra Davis, LB
The Bills signed Davis to a two-year, $4.4 million deal this offseason. They’re hoping the former Bronco and Brown can help lead the way in Buffalo’s transformation from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 scheme. Davis played the strong-side 3-4 ILB in Denver and Cleveland and should do the same in Buffalo this season.
Young Gun to Watch: C.J. Spiller, RB
Sure, the Bills appeared to have holes everywhere but running back on their roster. And yes, Spiller hasn’t played in all that many cold-weather games (OK, none). But you can throw that all away for now. There are only so many C.J. Spillers in the league. In the do-everything back, Gailey gets a guy who can make an immediate impact, whether it comes from running, catching, or returning the ball.
Current Vegas Super Bowl Odds: 28-1
Training Camp: Dolphins Training Facility, Davie, Fla., July 30
The Looming Question: “Is our secondary strong enough to go head to head with the likes of Randy Moss, Lee Evans, Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes and Wes Welker?”
In Yeremiah Bell, there’s a Pro Bowl performer manning strong safety in Miami. The other three spots in the secondary? Well, there will be a lot of youth, a lot of hope and a lot of crossing of fingers. Corners Vontae Davis and Sean Smith both started games as rookies and should be much improved in Year 2. Will Allen returns from injury and should be a factor as well. The free safety position was an utter disaster in 2009, with veteran Gibril Wilson being released after just one year on the job. Veterans Chris Clemons and Tyrone Culver will battle rookie Reshad Jones for the starting gig in 2010. If the secondary can hold its own, watch out for Miami. If it can’t, you can write off the much-hyped Dolphins.
Key Camp Battle: Center: Jake Grove vs. Joe Berger vs. Cory Procter
If Grove stays healthy, the job is likely his. Knowing his injury history, that’s a big if. Early Edge: Jake Grove
New Veteran in Town: Karlos Dansby, ILB
The acquisition of Brandon Marshall may have gotten all the headlines this offseason, but it’ll be the addition on defense that makes the biggest impact in 2010. Gone are vocal leaders Jason Taylor and Joey Porter from the Dolphins defense. Insert Dansby, the lavishly paid inside linebacker from Arizona. In Dansby, Mike Nolan gets a seasoned veteran with a knack for the big play, as seen in his game-winning interception return in last year’s NFC playoffs against Green Bay.
Young Gun to Watch: Koa Misi, OLB
Everyone is high on Misi, the second-round selection out of Utah. With Taylor in New York and veterans Quentin Moses and Charlie Anderson doing little to distinguish themselves thus far, Misi could be an opening-day starter at OLB.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Current Vegas Super Bowl Odds: 19-2
Training Camp: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., July 25
The Looming Question: “Who’s rushing the opposing quarterback?”
For years, the Patriots defense was stacked and loaded with premier pass rushing talent. Whether it was Richard Seymour or Jarvis Green from the edge or Willie McGinest and Mike Vrabel from the linebacker spots, getting to the quarterback never seemed to be a problem for the Patriots. It’s amazing, then, how the pass rush seems to be the greatest uncertainty in New England heading into camp. Journeyman OLB Tully Banta-Cain led the team in sacks last season with 10 and was rewarded with a three-year deal. Crazily enough, Banta-Cain — a guy who was a reserve in New England for many seasons — is expected to lead the surge in getting to the other team’s QB. Beyond him, the outside pass rushers on the roster include veteran Derrick Burgess, rookie Jermaine Cunningham, unknown entity Rob Ninkovich and a pair of mediocre Michigan guys in Shawn Crable and Pierre Woods. For what felt like years, the Patriots were linked to big-name free-agent pass rusher Julius Peppers. To be certain, there’s no Julius Peppers on this roster.
Key Camp Battle: Right defensive end: Gerard Warren vs. Mike Wright
Remember when Seymour and Green once manned this position in New England? Seems like forever ago. Now, the Pats feature two question marks at the right end spot. Wright flashed moments of greatness in the trenches last season, but Warren, a veteran talent signed to a one-year deal this spring, could ultimately see a lot of action in 2010. Early Edge: Mike Wright
New Veteran in Town: Alge Crumpler, TE
Torry Holt brings Hall of Fame credentials to the Patriots receiving corps, but Crumpler brings reliability to a position that hasn’t delivered over the past couple of seasons in New England. Veteran acquisitions Chris Baker and Alex Smith didn’t do much in ’09, especially in the passing game. In Crumpler and rookies Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, Brady now has three very different targets from the tight end spot. Look for Crumpler, a former star with the Falcons, to groom the two rookies as well as serve as the top run-blocking tight end in the offense.
Young Gun to Watch: Aaron Hernandez, TE
Hernandez is a Connecticut native and was a pass-catching demon in Urban Meyer’s offense at Florida. Bill Belichick pounced when the “move” target slipped to the fourth round. Don’t be shocked if Hernandez sees more playing time — and balls — than his fellow rookie, second-round pick Gronkowski, in 2010.
NEW YORK JETS
Current Vegas Super Bowl Odds: 12-1
Training Camp: SUNY Cortland, Cortland, N.Y., July 29
The Looming Question: “There seems to be a lot of distractions this summer. Too many distractions to repeat last year’s postseason run?”
Rex Ryan just confirmed that he’ll be writing an autobiography that’s set to come out in 2011, Mark Sanchez has been popping up in the tabloid pages, at the Tony awards and on Saturday Night Live throughout the 2010 offseason, the top four young players on the roster want new contracts, big personality veterans LaDainian Tomlinson, Jason Taylor, Antonio Cromartie and Santonio Holmes are joining the team and, oh yeah, cameras will spend the entire training camp and preseason period videotaping every waking moment for HBO’s Hard Knocks program this summer. And the PSLs! Oh, those PSLs! That’s a lot of stuff to deal with, none of which seems to deal with actual football being played on the field. If the Jets players (and their coach) can ignore the cameras, focus on football and keep their egos in check — the Jets should be in the Super Bowl conversation come December and January.
Key Camp Battle: Free safety: Brodney Pool vs. Eric Smith
Longtime free safety Kerry Rhodes is no longer in Jets green; insert either Pool or Smith. Pool was known as a big-time hitter with the Browns and was brought in over the offseason, while Smith has been a Jet since 2006. Both should have a fair chance at winning the job outright during training camp. Early Edge: Brodney Pool
New Veteran in Town: Jason Taylor, OLB
Taylor, long despised by Jets fans from his days (and disparaging comments about the fan base) in Miami, comes to town with 127.5 career sacks. Taylor, a 14-year veteran, was present but sat out the team’s recent OTAs while recovering from February shoulder surgery. Tomlinson may end up selling more jerseys and merchandise in New York, but plugging Taylor — one of the best pass rushers in the game — into the attacking 3-4 OLB spot in Ryan’s defense should be the bigger addition. The Jets defense was tops in the NFL last season. The addition of Taylor and cornerbacks Antonio Cromartie and Kyle Wilson makes them only scarier.
Young Gun to Watch: Vladimir Ducasse, G
Ducasse is expected to step into the enormous shoes of left guard Alan Faneca in 2010. A raw, athletic talent out of UMass, Ducasse didn’t pick up the game of football until he was 16. Early word out of Jets camp is Ducasse is making tremendous strides and learning under the watchful eye of Jets O-line coach Bill Callahan. He should be the opening day starting left guard.