BBD Staff Writer: Eric Samulski
As we count down the days until training camps start around the NFL, many fans and teams are starting to analyze the pieces that make up their roster and ask themselves what the season has in store.
After I looked specifically at the Buffalo Bills last week, it’s time to turn our attention to the other teams in the AFC East and examine the questions they have to answer in order to reassure their fan bases that this season might not be one to forget.
New England Patriots
Can the Patriots survive their current tight end drama?
It’s only fitting to start with the league’s biggest story right now. With a warrant possibly being issued for the arrest of Aaron Hernandez in connection to an ongoing murder investigation, the Patriots are facing a major distraction this offseason with far-reaching implications.
If there’s one coach that has never seemed to have time for distractions, it’s Bill Belichick. Will they keep Hernandez around if the investigation continues to linger? If additional details in the investigation further implicate Hernandez, it could be a gigantic blow for the Patriots, who are already likely to be without Rob Gronkowski for the start of the season after he underwent offseason back surgery.
If Hernandez is marred in legal troubles and Gronk cannot recover quickly from surgery, the Patriots’ dynamic offense might be in real trouble.
Can a wide receiver emerge from the pack to lead the Patriots?
Losing tight ends might be extra hard on quarterback Tom Brady because the Patriots still don’t have a go-to wide receiver.
After losing Brandon Lloyd and Wes Welker this offseason, the Patriots signed oft-injured receiver Danny Amendola and a whole host of players who haven’t really established themselves in the NFL, including ex-Bill Donald Jones.
They have an intriguing rookie in second-round pick Aaron Dobson from Marshall, but it’s tough to rely on rookie wide receivers to be immediate impact starters. Somebody is going to need to step up if the team has any shot of making the playoffs, let alone compete for another championship. Brady has thrown to mash-up receiver groups before, but never a group so inexperienced.
Can the Dolphins replace Reggie Bush?
When I wrote about the AFC East’s breakout players, I mentioned Lamar Miller simply because he seemed to be the frontrunner to replace Reggie Bush. However, the second-year pro has never been a feature back in the NFL and only started for the Hurricanes for one year during college.
Bush was a major part of the Miami attack last season, accounting for 26.4 percent of the Dolphins’ offensive yardage. With Ryan Tannehill still evolving as a quarterback, the team needs to find a way to take some pressure off of his shoulders and give him another offensive outlet. If Miller can’t be that guy, the offense could be in real trouble.
Can the Dolphins replace Jake Long?
The Dolphins made a lot of headlines this summer for signing what seemed like every free agent on the market. Despite the way that blew up for the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles, the Dolphins seem excited about their new components. Yet, the one thing they did not do was find a replacement for All-Pro left tackle Jake Long, who left for St. Louis this offseason.
With a young, mistake-prone quarterback under center, protecting the blind side is of the utmost importance. Right now, that task is left to second-year pro Jonathan Martin from Stanford.
Martin had a shot at left tackle last year, playing four games when Long went down with a triceps injury, and it didn’t go well. Out of 80 offensive tackles who played at least 25 percent of their team’s snaps last season, Pro Football Focus (subscription required) rated him as the league’s 76th-best. He also allowed the third-most quarterback pressures of anybody at his position according to PFF. If he can’t improve this season, all the new additions will mean nothing.
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Tags: Aaron Dobson, Aaron Hernandez, AFC East, C.J. Spiller, Donald Jones, EJ Manuel, Geno Smith, Jonathan Martin, Kevin Kolb, Lamar Miller, Mark Sanchez, Mike Goodson, Questions, Rob Gronkowski, Training Camp