OPEN CAMP: July 27, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts.
LAST YEAR: Nothing stopped New England in 2017. Not Tom Brady finally serving his four-game ”Deflategate” suspension to begin season. Not Rob Gronkowski’s season-ending back surgery in December. Not even its 28-3 Super Bowl deficit to Atlanta, which it overcame to complete largest comeback in Super Bowl history and capture franchise’s fifth ring. Lots of things went right along way. Brady continued to defy his age at 39 to throw 28 TDs and just two INTs. RB LeGarrette Blount finally put injuries behind him to post league-best 18 rushing TDs and anchored Patriots’ potent ground game. Bill Belichick also got most out of defense that allowed league-low 15.6 points during regular season, with LB Dont’a Hightower and S Devin McCourty earning Pro Bowl nods.
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IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: CB Stephon Gilmore, WR Brandin Cooks, RB Mike Gillislee, TE Dwayne Allen, DE Kony Ealy, rookie DE Derek Rivers.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: TE Martellus Bennett, RB Blount, DE Jabaal Sheard, CB Logan Ryan, DE Chris Long
CAMP NEEDS: Patriots made decision to give Gilmore big money, while opting not to lock up Malcolm Butler long term. How duo coexists in secondary this summer will be scrutinized. What happens on defensive line and linebacker is also worth watching. Trey Flowers’ strong 2017 season, combined with trade acquisition of Ealy, should lessen sting of Sheard and Long’s departures. At linebacker, how Patriots use newcomer David Harris could take some of burden off Hightower.
EXPECTATIONS: Even with Brady turning 40 early in camp, there are no signs he is showing his age. Patriots improved mightily on offensive line last season and were able to shield Brady from punishment he incurred two years ago. They’ll have top eight players returning from that group. How will departure of Blount affect offense? Lots riding on addition of Gillislee and Rex Burkhead to fortify strong group that already includes Super Bowl hero James White and Dion Lewis.
MIAMI DOLPHINS (10-7)
OPEN CAMP: July 26, Davie, Florida.
LAST YEAR: Rookie coach Adam Gase led turnaround from 1-4 start and earned raves from players as he helped Dolphins make postseason for first time since 2008. They earned AFC wild-card berth and then lost in first round at Pittsburgh, 30-12; they still haven’t won postseason game since 2000. Progress came even though Miami allowed franchise-worst 6,122 yards. RB Jay Ajayi’s breakout year included consecutive 200-yard games, and QB Ryan Tannehill had career-high passer rating of 93.5 before knee injury in Week 14 ended his season. Dolphins lost final two games to Patriots and Steelers by combined score of 65-26, which showed gap remaining between Gase’s team and AFC’s best.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: TE Julius Thomas, LB Lawrence Timmons, TE Anthony Fasano, rookie DE Charles Harris, DE William Hayes, G Ted Larsen, S Nate Allen, S T.J. McDonald.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, LT Branden Albert, TE Dion Sims, S Isa Abdul-Quddus, DE Mario Williams, DT Earl Mitchell.
CAMP NEEDS: Tannehill will be closely monitored after recovering from sprained left ACL and MCL that did not require surgery. Says he’s 100 percent and took part in offseason workouts. C Mike Pouncey, who played only five games last year because of recurring hip issues, will see little if any action until season starts. Laremy Tunsil, first-round pick in 2016, will continue transition from LG to LT. New defensive coordinator Matt Burke has important newcomers to evaluate after Dolphins devoted top three draft choices to defense for first time in franchise history.
EXPECTATIONS: Last year Dolphins ranked in bottom half of league in both offense and defense and were outscored by 35 points, which suggests they overachieved in reaching 10 victories. They did it by winning final eight games that were decided by touchdown or less. Schedule looks tougher, so even if roster is more talented, Miami might be hard-pressed to match last year’s record.
BUFFALO BILLS (7-9)
OPEN CAMP: July 27, St. John Fisher College, Pittsford, New York.
LAST YEAR: Coach Rex Ryan failed to deliver on vow to build bully and address high-priced under-performing defense, leaving owner Terry Pegula little choice but to fire him in final week of season. Sean McDermott was hired to replace Ryan, then GM Brandon Beane was hired to replace Doug Whaley, who was fired in April. Lost four of final five games, extending playoff drought to 17 seasons – longest active streak in North America’s four professional sports. Defense allowed 240-plus yards rushing three times; generated combined six turnovers in final nine games; and allowed 29 straight points in final 20 minutes of 38-24 loss to Oakland on Dec. 4. LeSean McCoy-led running attack paced NFL in yards rushing for second consecutive season. QB Tyrod Taylor was inconsistent, while group of receivers were hampered by injuries. That included starter Sammy Watkins, who missed eight games with broken left foot.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: Ss Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, rookie CB Tre’Davious White, WRs Andre Holmes and rookie Zay Jones, FBs Patrick DiMarco and Mike Tolbert, OL Vladimir Ducasse, PK Stephen Hauschka, offensive coordinator Rick Dennison, defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: CBs Stephon Gilmore and Nickell Robey-Coleman, Ss Corey Graham and Aaron Williams, LB Zach Brown, WRs Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin, RB Mike Gillislee, PK Dan Carpenter.
CAMP NEEDS: New coaching staff and 43 offseason additions means it will be challenge for units to jell in time for season. Taylor adjusting to revamped receiving group that returns just one regular, Watkins. With exception of CB Ronald Darby, entire secondary is new, including first-round pick White, while defensive front seven adjusting to switch to 4-3 scheme.
EXPECTATIONS: Too many changes to coaching staff and roster to expect McDermott building immediate contender and ending playoff drought in first year. With so many newcomers and emphasis on building through youth, team needs to show signs of improvement as season progresses. QB Taylor running out of chances to establish himself as long-term starter entering third year, and only after agreeing to pay cut by restructuring contract in March.
NEW YORK JETS (5-11)
OPEN CAMP: July 28, Atlantic Health Jets Training Center, Florham Park, New Jersey.
LAST YEAR: Poor quarterback play, key injuries and inconsistency derailed season early after starting with high hopes following 2015 campaign that ended win shy of playoffs in promising first year under Todd Bowles. Ryan Fitzpatrick couldn’t duplicate success of previous season when he set franchise record with 31 TD passes. Veteran QB finished with 12 TDs and 17 INTs while being benched twice. Brandon Marshall had drop in production because of instability at QB, with fewest catches (59) since rookie season. Eric Decker played only three games before shoulder injury. Darrelle Revis had stunning decline that contributed to shaky secondary, and Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson had subpar seasons on defensive line. Starting C Nick Mangold, LT Ryan Clady and RT Breno Giacomini all had season-ending injuries that kept offensive line in flux. Defensive lineman Leonard Williams was one of few bright spots, making first Pro Bowl after leading team with seven sacks. Wide receiver Quincy Enunwa emerged as key playmaker.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: QB Josh McCown, CB Morris Claiborne, rookie Ss Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye, OL Kelvin Beachum, LB Demario Davis, K Chandler Catanzaro, offensive coordinator John Morton, outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: WRs Marshall and Decker, CB Revis, C Mangold, QB Fitzpatrick, LT Clady, RT Giacomini, LB David Harris, QB Geno Smith, K Nick Folk, S Calvin Pryor, S Marcus Gilchrist, offensive coordinator Chan Gailey.
CAMP NEEDS: All eyes will be on QBs, recurring theme in recent years for Jets. McCown, Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg enter camp in three-man competition for starting job. McCown signed one-year, $6 million deal in offseason to possibly start and serve as mentor to Petty, entering third season, and Hackenberg, second-rounder last year. Jets need to find out if Petty or Hackenberg can be franchise QBs, or search for signal caller could continue in draft next year. Lots of new faces on both sides of ball will need summer to mesh, particularly on offense where Morton is installing system with some West Coast tendencies. Adams and Maye will get plenty of work and could be starting safeties in Week 1.
EXPECTATIONS: Jets likely in for rough season. GM Mike Maccagnan shed roster of several high-priced, big-name players in massive rebuild – giving many young players chances to step up, also making for lack of overall experience on roster. While Maccagnan has eye on future, Bowles could be coaching for job despite not having a lot to work with.
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