AFC East Training Camp Capsules
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (15-4)
OPEN CAMP: July 26, Foxborough, Massachusetts
LAST YEAR: New England lost twice in its first four games but recovered to win 11 of its final 12 behind MVP season of quarterback Tom Brady. He impressed at age 40, throwing for 4,577 yards, 32 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He did so despite reported issues between himself, coach Bill Belichick and team owner Robert Kraft following midseason trade of backup Jimmy Garoppolo to 49ers. Defensive inconsistency was ongoing issue and it caught up with Patriots in Super Bowl loss to Philadelphia. It included surprise benching of cornerback Malcolm Butler, one of several players to sign with new teams during free agency.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: RB Jeremy Hill, RB Sony Michel, QB Danny Etling, DE Adrian Clayborn, WR Jordan Matthews, OT Trent Brown, OL Isaiah Wynn, CB Jason McCourty, DT Danny Shelton,
IMPORTANT LOSSES: Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, WR Danny Amendola, WR Brandin Cooks, CB Malcolm Butler, CB Johnson Bademosi, RB Dion Lewis, OT Nate Solder, OT Cam Fleming.
CAMP NEEDS: Wide receiver will be hot topic. After sitting out 2017 with torn right ACL, Julian Edelman is suspended for first four games of regular season for violating NFL policy on performance enhancers. Combined with losses of Amendola and Cooks in trades to Dolphins and Rams, respectively, it leaves Chris Hogan (34 catches, 439 yards, five TDs) as top returning wide receiver. Something also must be done to solidify defense that needs more edge rushing and someone to start alongside Stephon Gilmore at cornerback.
EXPECTATIONS: Even with offseason roster changes, Patriots enter camp as team to beat in AFC East. All-Pro TE Rob Gronkowski considered retirement in offseason; he and Brady skipped voluntary offseason workouts. But both returned for mandatory minicamps and say they are focused on helping New England reach what would be its fourth Super Bowl in five seasons. One of biggest question marks will be how linebackers coach Brian Flores does in new role as defensive play caller.
BUFFALO BILLS (9-8)
OPEN CAMP: July 26, St. John Fisher College, Pittsford, New York
LAST YEAR: Under first-year coach (Sean McDermott) and GM (Brandon Beane), Buffalo overcame major roster overhaul and midseason quarterback shuffle to win four of last six games and clinch playoff berth to end 17-year postseason drought. Bills snapped longest active streak of missing playoffs in North America’s four major professional sports. At 29, LeSean McCoy was offensive workhorse with 1,138 yards rushing and 448 yards receiving and eight touchdowns. Revamped secondary, including first-round pick Tre’Davious White, keyed patchwork defense by finishing tied for sixth in NFL with 18 interceptions.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: Rookie QB Josh Allen, QB A.J. McCarron, rookie LB Tremaine Edmunds, DT Star Lotulelei, DE Trent Murphy, CB Vontae Davis, WR Jeremy Kerley, RB Chris Ivory, OLs Russell Bodine and Marshall Newhouse, and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: QB Tyrod Taylor, LT Cordy Glenn, C Eric Wood, RG Richie Incognito, WR Jordan Matthews, CB E.J. Gaines, LB Preston Brown and FB Mike Tolbert.
CAMP NEEDS: Many center on how quickly new-look offense finds chemistry with new starting quarterback. Two big holes to fill on line and offense lacks established depth at receiver behind Kelvin Benjamin. Plus Buffalo is introducing new philosophy under Daboll. All eyes are on Allen, first-round pick out of Wyoming, and how long it will take to develop behind former Bengals backup McCarron and returning backup Nathan Peterman.
EXPECTATIONS: Defense should be improved entering its second season, and with plenty of reinforcements. Can offense develop threat beyond McCoy, who turned 30 on July 12. Though long-term future looks bright, given young core of talent on roster, early projection is Bills might take step back in Year 2 of McDermott and Beane’s rebuilding process.
MIAMI DOLPHINS (6-10)
OPEN CAMP: July 26, Davie, Florida
LAST YEAR: Dolphins regressed in second season under Adam Gase. As rookie coach he led them to 10 wins and playoff berth, but in 2017 Dolphins never recovered from quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s season-ending knee injury in training camp, and deteriorated into wildly inconsistent, undisciplined team. They led to start fourth quarter in only two games and were outscored by 112 points, fourth worst in NFL. Owner Stephen Ross decided to keep organization’s core leadership intact, but Gase and executive vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum may need turnaround to keep jobs beyond this year.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: S Minkah Fitzpatrick, G Josh Sitton, DE Robert Quinn, WR Danny Amendola, WR Albert Wilson, C Daniel Kilgore, TE Mike Gesicki, RB Frank Gore, RB Kalen Ballage, QB Brock Osweiler.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: DT Ndamukong Suh, WR Jarvis Landry, C Mike Pouncey, G Jermon Bushrod, K Cody Parkey, QB Jay Cutler, QB Matt Moore, TE Julius Thomas, LB Lawrence Timmons.
CAMP NEEDS: Dolphins will count on two players with no NFL experience to assume significant roles. Linebacker Raekwon McMillan, their most promising rookie in 2017, is back after knee injury in first exhibition game ended his season. Fitzpatrick is expected to make immediate impact after being taken with 11th overall pick in April. Most of all, Gase needs to keep Tannehill healthy as quarterback comes back from two serious injuries to left knee since December 2016.
EXPECTATIONS: Tannehill became starter as rookie in 2012 and has still never taken postseason snap, and there’s plenty of reason to doubt that will change this year. While he returns, Dolphins bid adieu to three players with Pro Bowl resumes in Suh, Landry and Pouncey. There were financial reasons, and Gase also wanted change in culture. He believes addition of such veterans as Gore, Amendola and Quinn represents upgrade, but oddsmakers disagree. They project Dolphins to again be six-win team.
NEW YORK JETS (5-11)
OPEN CAMP: July 26, Atlantic Health Jets Training Center, Florham Park, New Jersey
LAST YEAR: Rebuilding Jets finished 5-11 for second straight season under coach Todd Bowles, but exceeded expectations by many who predicted New York to have trouble winning more than couple games. New York was competitive in nearly every game, and team credited Bowles’ culture change for improved attitude around facility. Both Bowles and GM Mike Maccagnan received two-year contract extensions after season. QB Josh McCown had career year at 38, setting personal bests with 2,926 yards passing, 19 TD passes and five TD runs before missing final three games with broken left hand. His exceptional leadership was also praised by teammates. WR Robby Anderson emerged as legitimate deep threat with 63 catches, 941 yards and seven TD receptions. Defense struggled to get to QBs, but solid play by rookie safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye was big positive.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: Rookie QB Sam Darnold, CB Trumaine Johnson, RB Isaiah Crowell, QB Teddy Bridgewater, WR Terrelle Pryor, LB Avery Williamson, C Spencer Long, C Travis Swanson, DE Henry Anderson, S J.J. Wilcox, K Cairo Santos.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: DE Muhammad Wilkerson, LB Demario Davis, RB Matt Forte, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, DE Kony Ealy, C Wesley Johnson, K Chandler Catanzaro.
CAMP NEEDS: Familiar theme for Jets and their fans: all eyes on QBs. But this summer will be particularly intriguing with Darnold — No. 3 overall pick out of USC — being given every opportunity to win starting job in competition with McCown and Bridgewater. Darnold will have to show he can operate system of new offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, promoted from QBs coach after John Morton was fired. WR Quincy Enunwa (neck) and Pryor (ankle) coming back from injuries that ended seasons early. Long, coming off knee injury, will be looked at to anchor O-line after not practicing in offseason. Finding consistent pass rusher at OLB will also be key, with recent draft picks Lorenzo Mauldin, Dylan Donahue in mix of players needing to prove themselves.
EXPECTATIONS: Acting owner Christopher Johnson has made it clear playoffs are not mandatory this season, although Jets have failed to reach postseason for last seven years. Team made lots of key moves in offseason, with selection of Darnold re-energizing fan base waiting for legitimate franchise QB for decades. Still, progress will be expected from team with sights set on making even more noise next season — especially with New York expected to have NFL’s most salary cap room heading into 2019 offseason.