Brady leftovers: On Gronkowski, Wright

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
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A few leftovers from New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's talk on WEEI's Dennis & Callahan on Tuesday morning:

Gronkowski
Gronkowski
On Gronkowski saying he will play. At first, Brady did not know that tight end Rob Gronkowski told reporters on Monday that he is good to go and will be playing in Sunday's regular-season opener against Miami. Once Brady heard Gronkowski's comments, he expressed he is looking forward to having a healthy teammate.

"Well, I hope so. The more guys we get out there the better," Brady said. "We just started the week of practice, so I think everyone is trying to get out there, learn each other and the final roster has finally been picked. Whoever is on the active roster has to be ready to go. We are going to need contributions from everybody.

"If Gronk can be one of those guys then I think that makes our team better. But, we have a lot of playing and contingency plans for everybody being out. That's just what we have to do. ...

"Being [Gronkowski's] teammate for the last four years we know what he can bring to the team -- what his ability is out there, what he is capable of by not only his own ability but how it helps the other guys out there too. We have a good group of guys, so that if they are going to cover Gronk then we have to throw to the other guys and when he is out there he is obviously a great target."

Ready to get the season started. With the preseason in the books, Brady is fired up for the regular season to start.

"Absolutely. These count. This goes in the final standings," Brady said. "This is when you are expected to be at your very best and every bit of preparation that we have done for the last six months -- the end of last season -- comes down to this particular day. Yeah, there is a lot of urgency to this week. You can't afford any mistakes. The guys that are out there, those guys have done the best job over the course of the offseason to put themselves in the best position to help our team. I'm excited. I think it's a different feeling yesterday than all year because we have been off for so long and finally we get an opportunity to go out there and do something that really counts."

Wright
Impressed by No. 81. Brady likes new tight end Tim Wright's ability to absorb a lot of information in a short period of time.

"I watched him a lot last year because we had a lot of games where we saw Tampa play in and said who is this young No. 81 who looks like a good player?" Brady said. "So, I am excited to have him on our team. He's a good player. ... Hopefully he can go out there and keep making [plays] because we are going to that position to be a big contributor on the team this year."

Let the defense prove itself. The Patriots' potential for improvement on defense has people abuzz. But, Brady adds perspective that every team feels excited heading into the season:

"Everyone thinks this time of year the whole team is improved -- we have made all these changes and this player is gone, thankfully, and now we have this guy coming to save the day. Everyone thinks every year their team is better. There's 32 teams that are very hopeful when in reality that's probably not the case -- just hope and opinion. That's why we go out there and play and put everything out there on field. You go out there and give everything you have got every single week to see where you are at. My opinion doesn't matter because [the defense] is going to get a chance to go out there and prove it anyway."
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When the New England Patriots traded quarterback Ryan Mallett to the Houston Texans on Sunday, it answered one of the lingering questions for the team at the end of the preseason: Who would be the top backup behind Tom Brady?

Garoppolo
Second-round draft choice Jimmy Garoppolo won the job, which he was still absorbing when approached in the locker room Monday.

“It hasn’t really sunk in,” he said.

Garoppolo was balancing the excitement of earning the job with the short-term goals of the team, which are preparations for the regular-season opener in Miami on Sunday.

“We’re on the Dolphins right now. It’s one of those things, the game goes on,” Garoppolo said. “We just have to be ready for the Dolphins and prepare like it’s a normal week for us.”

Asked what it means to have the vote of confidence from the coaching staff, Garoppolo said, “It always helps, giving you confidence. But it’s one of those things, you have to have confidence in yourself and if you don’t have that, you don’t have anything really. …

“I feel confident, but I have a long way to go still. I’m still a rookie, still have a lot to learn, the whole playbook, defenses and everything.”

Looking back on the preseason, Garoppolo’s confidence started to rise after his performance in the opener Aug. 7 against Washington.

“I don’t know if everything changed for me, but it was definitely a stepping stone,” he said of that game. “It gave me some confidence and got me ready for everything else that came after it.

“I thought [the preseason] was good. It was a good first experience. Training camp, overall, went well. We’re on to the season now and these are the games that really count. Everything steps up a notch really.”

Buffalo Bills game predictions

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
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ESPN.com Buffalo Bills reporter Mike Rodak makes his game-by-game picks for the 2014 season.

Week 1: at Chicago Bears

This will be EJ Manuel's first "real" test of the season and it won't be easy. The Bills went 2-6 on the road last season, with Manuel's only road win coming against Jacksonville. Given the offense's struggles in the preseason, this is a tall task. Prediction: Loss


Week 2: Miami Dolphins

The Bills beat the Dolphins twice last season -- with Thad Lewis starting at quarterback in each game -- and there is plenty of reason for optimism here. The Bills started strong at Ralph Wilson Stadium last season, nearly beating the New England Patriots and then knocking off the Carolina Panthers. With a pumped-up home crowd, they should pull this one out. Prediction: Win


Week 3: San Diego Chargers

Back-to-back home games in September can't hurt for Manuel. If he gets some momentum going against Miami, it should help against San Diego, which was a playoff team last season. I'm not convinced the Chargers are close to being a power in the AFC, making this a winnable game for Buffalo. Prediction: Win


Week 4: at Houston Texans

This is a classic toss-up game, a road contest against a team that was in the NFL's basement last year. The Texans will be better this season, but like the Bills, they have question marks at quarterback. Can Ryan Fitzpatrick out-duel Manuel? We'll say yes, but it will be close. Prediction: Loss


Week 5: at Detroit Lions

Jim Schwartz returns to Detroit to face his old team. The Bills' road schedule isn't overly difficult and I think they can come away with a few wins along the way. We'll chalk this one up as a victory. Prediction: Win


Week 6: New England Patriots

The Bills played the Patriots tough in last season's opener and also beat New England at home in 2011. It could happen again but it will take a strong effort from Manuel. By Week 6, is he ready to topple Tom Brady and the Patriots? Not likely. Prediction: Loss


Week 7: Minnesota Vikings

Will this be a Teddy Bridgewater vs. EJ Manuel matchup? Perhaps, if Matt Cassel struggles early for the Vikings. This is another winnable home game for the Bills, one in which their improved run defense will be tested against Adrian Peterson. We'll give the Bills their fourth win. Prediction: Win


Week 8: at New York Jets

Manuel had one of his worst games last season in the Meadowlands and was outdone by Geno Smith and the Jets. Whether Smith or Michael Vick is starting for the Jets by this point may not matter; the Jets' defense is tough and should contain the Bills on New York's home turf. Prediction: Loss


Week 10: Kansas City Chiefs

The Bills played the undefeated Chiefs tough around this time last season, with Jeff Tuel's goal-line interception the turning point in an otherwise well-played game. The Chiefs use a controlled offense, led by Alex Smith, and have a strong defense. That's a good combination to beat the Bills. Prediction: Loss


Week 11: at Miami Dolphins

The Bills should escape some of the South Florida heat as this game falls in November, but the Dolphins have a superior quarterback in Ryan Tannehill. If the Bills' defense stays strong like it did last season in Miami, this is a winnable road game. Prediction: Win


Week 12: New York Jets

The Bills handed the Jets one of their worst losses of last season at Ralph Wilson Stadium, a game in which Smith was benched for Matt Simms. Can Manuel have another strong day? It's tough to foresee this far into the season, but we'll say yes. Prediction: Win


Week 13: Cleveland Browns

Who will be the Browns' quarterback by Thanksgiving? Does it matter? This is the Bills' most winnable home game. If they can't pull this one out, yikes. The Browns would gladly take the "W" and the Bills' first-round draft pick next May. But for now, let's hold off. Prediction: Win


Week 14: at Denver Broncos

This begins a brutal December stretch that could ultimately doom the Bills' chances at the playoffs. Pulling out a win against Peyton Manning in Denver would be the Bills' biggest accomplishment in years. It won't happen. Prediction: Loss


Week 15: Green Bay Packers

From one future Hall of Fame quarterback to another. Aaron Rodgers will come in to Ralph Wilson Stadium and hand the Bills another loss, one that would probably put them out of playoff contention. Prediction: Loss


Week 16: at Oakland Raiders

Cross-country trips are never easy, and no matter what the Raiders' quarterback situation is by the end of the season, it may not matter. If the wheels are coming off the Bills' wagon, this will be a tough game to win. Prediction: Loss


Week 17: at New England Patriots

The Bills are in a tough spot with this one. If the Patriots are still battling for a playoff spot, they'll be playing tough and will be a hard team to beat at home. If the Patriots already have locked up the playoffs, then that would likely mean the Bills are out. Either way, not a good spot for the Bills to pull out a win. Prediction: Loss


Predicted Record: 7-9

New England Patriots game predictions

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
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ESPN.com New England Patriots reporter Mike Reiss makes his game-by-game picks for the 2014 season.

Week 1: at Miami Dolphins

The Patriots' ability to handle the heat and humidity will be critical, and conditioning has been a big part of training camp. The Dolphins have a new offensive coordinator in Bill Lazor, so there will be a bit of a new twist to preparations of a familiar foe. Prediction: Win


Week 2: at Minnesota Vikings

Tom Brady vs. Matt Cassel. A fun one from a Patriots quarterback perspective, as Cassel was the backup in New England from 2005-08. Prediction: Win


Week 3: Oakland Raiders

Don't see the Raiders being able to come into Gillette Stadium and beat the Patriots, even though I think Derek Carr is the better option at quarterback over Matt Schaub. That's a tough spot for the Raiders, who travel to London the next week. Prediction: Win


Week 4: at Kansas City Chiefs

Arrowhead Stadium is a tough place to win. When the schedule was initially released, I figured the Chiefs would get this one, but I'm reversing course now. Prediction: Win


Week 5: Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals got the Patriots last year in Cincinnati. I don't think they pull it off again, even though this is a good spot for them coming off the bye and with the Patriots on a short week. Prediction: Win


Week 6: at Buffalo Bills

Looks like the Bills still have big questions at quarterback. In that case, it's hard to invest in them in this game. Prediction: Win


Week 7: New York Jets

The Jets' defense could play New England tough, but I'm not betting against Darrelle Revis in this one. Prediction: Win


Week 8: Chicago Bears

With a long week to prepare, it's hard to pick against the Patriots. The Bears could be a tough matchup with two top-flight receivers, but the Patriots are always tough to beat at home. Prediction: Win


Week 9: Denver Broncos

Next year's game will be in Denver if the teams both finish in the same spot in the standings. Peyton Manning versus Tom Brady -- it never gets old. Prediction: Win (in overtime)


Week 11: at Indianapolis Colts

This is the iron part of the schedule. I think Andrew Luck finally breaks through against the Patriots, in part because the game is at Lucas Oil Stadium. Prediction: Loss


Week 12: Detroit Lions

Tough spot for the Lions, following up a road trip to Arizona and then playing the following Thursday on Thanksgiving. Prediction: Win


Week 13: at Green Bay Packers

Not easy to win at Lambeau Field. This could be one of the most entertaining games of the season. Prediction: Loss


Week 14: at San Diego Chargers

Asking a lot of the players in this tough, back-to-back road stretch. The Chargers are one of the more underrated teams in the NFL. Prediction: Loss


Week 15: Miami Dolphins

The Patriots always seem to fair well against the warm-weather Dolphins at home in December. Prediction: Win


Week 16: at New York Jets

There's always one game that surprises us and we never saw coming. Could this be the one? Prediction: Loss


Week 17: Buffalo Bills

Another season finale against the Bills, just like last year. Should be the same result. Prediction: Win


Predicted Record: 12-4

Miami Dolphins game predictions

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
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ESPN.com Miami Dolphins reporter James Walker makes his game-by-game picks for the 2014 season.

Week 1: New England Patriots

The Patriots have dominated the AFC East division for a long time. New England will be at or near full strength in Week 1, which is bad news for Miami. Prediction: Loss


Week 2: at Buffalo Bills

Buffalo swept Miami last year and has been an awful matchup for the Dolphins in recent seasons. This will be the Bills' home opener and Miami's first road game. That is not a good combination. Prediction: Loss


Week 3: Kansas City Chiefs

At this point, Week 3 will be a must-win for Miami, which cannot fall to 0-3. Kansas City was a playoff team last season, but the Dolphins have enough talent to pull off an important win. Prediction: Win


Week 4: at Oakland Raiders

Although you never know how a team will respond going overseas, this should be a win for the Dolphins in London. Oakland is a struggling team that won't win many games this year. Prediction: Win


Week 6: Green Bay Packers

The Dolphins will receive a boost on defense with safety Reshad Jones and defensive end Dion Jordan coming off suspensions. But quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Packers' offense will be too much as Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin loses to his former team. Prediction: Loss


Week 7: at Chicago Bears

Winning in Soldier Field is never easy. The Dolphins lose a close one on the road. Prediction: Loss


Week 8: at Jacksonville Jaguars

This is a road game the Dolphins should win. Miami's defense can take advantage of former Dolphins draft bust Chad Henne or an inexperienced Blake Bortles at quarterback. Prediction: Win


Week 9: San Diego Chargers

West Coast teams usually struggle when making the long flight to Miami. The Dolphins pull this one out to keep things interesting in the second half of the season. Prediction: Win


Week 10: at Detroit Lions

This is one of those "swing games" that will make or break Miami's season. The Dolphins are capable of beating Detroit but fall short. Prediction: Loss


Week 11: Buffalo Bills

Despite being an awful matchup, the Dolphins can't afford to get swept by the Bills for the second year in a row. Miami wins a competitive game over Buffalo at home. Prediction: Win


Week 12: at Denver Broncos

Unless future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning is injured, the Dolphins have little chance of winning this game. This will be a homecoming of sorts for Miami running back Knowshon Moreno, who played in Denver. Prediction: Loss


Week 13: at New York Jets

The Dolphins usually play well in New York. However, that streak of beating the Jets on the road comes to an end this season. Prediction: Loss


Week 14: Baltimore Ravens

Miami let the Ravens escape last season with a win in Sun Life Stadium. The Dolphins will be determined not to let it happen two years in a row. Prediction: Win


Week 15: at New England Patriots

The Patriots on the road in December is asking for disaster. New England usually is full-throttle by this time of year and rounding into playoff form. Prediction: Loss


Week 16: Minnesota Vikings

Miami finishes the regular season with two home games in December. The Vikings are mediocre and should be a winnable game late. Prediction: Win


Week 17: New York Jets

Similar to 2013, this game could have wild-card implications. The Jets and Dolphins usually split, so Miami gets the nod at home. Prediction: Win


Predicted Record: 8-8

New York Jets game predictions

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
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ESPN.com New York Jets reporter Rich Cimini makes his game-by-game picks for the 2014 season.

Week 1: Oakland Raiders

The schedule-makers did the Jets a solid by matching them with the Raiders for the opener -- at home, no less. There's no way the Jets can lose to rookie Derek Carr and a rebuilding Oakland team. Prediction: Win


Week 2: at Green Bay Packers

This is a tough, tough spot for the Jets' depleted secondary. Their young DBs will have a hard time communicating at loud Lambeau Field, and Aaron Rodgers will tear them to shreds. Prediction: Loss


Week 3: Chicago Bears

The Brandon Marshall-Alshon Jeffery receiving tandem is scary for the Jets, but they can get pressure on Jay Cutler and control the game with their "Ground & Pound" rushing attack. It'll be old-school football for the Jets on the Monday night stage. Prediction: Win


Week 4: Detroit Lions

This could turn into a prolific pitch and catch between Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson, but this is where Rex Ryan's defensive acumen will come into play. He'll cook up an exotic scheme that will confuse the interception-prone Stafford. Prediction: Win


Week 5: at San Diego Chargers

Ryan likes San Diego -- he won a playoff game there in January 2010 -- but this trip to the West Coast won't go as well. It'll be too much travel and too much Philip Rivers, who will cool off the hot Jets. Prediction: Loss


Week 6: Denver Broncos

Oh, brother. In this case, the Manning brother at MetLife Stadium will be Peyton. Unless he's freaked out by Super Bowl nightmares from last February, Manning will have a field day with the Jets' secondary. Prediction: Loss


Week 7: at New England Patriots

The Jets get only three days of rest before facing Tom Brady & Co. on the road. There are easier things in the NFL than having to prepare for the Patriots on a short week. It's almost not fair. Prediction: Loss


Week 8: Buffalo Bills

This is a must-win game, and the Jets will respond to the challenge. With fans and media clamoring for Michael Vick, Geno Smith will play his best game to even the Jets' record at 4-4. Prediction: Win


Week 9: at Kansas City Chiefs

Call this the Buddy Bowl. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg worked under Chiefs coach Andy Reid in Philadelphia and Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton served under Ryan with the Jets. In the end, the Chiefs' home-field advantage will be the difference. Prediction: Loss


Week 10: Pittsburgh Steelers

The Jets have dropped three straight to the Steelers, including the 2010 AFC Championship Game. It's not the Jets' favorite matchup, but this isn't your typical Pittsburgh team. It's time for some redemption. Prediction: Win


Week 12: at Buffalo Bills

Here's a guarantee: The Jets won't visit the local Dave & Buster's on the eve of the game, as they did last season on the trip to Buffalo. The Jets lost and Ryan was ripped for trying something outside the box. No matter, they'll lose again. Prediction: Loss


Week 13: Miami Dolphins

Expect the unexpected in this old rivalry. The Jets have dropped two straight at home to the Dolphins, failing to score a touchdown. Some things are hard to explain. Playing on Monday night, the Jets drop to 5-7, prompting Ryan to bench Smith in favor of Vick. Prediction: Loss


Week 14: at Minnesota Vikings

By now, Teddy Bridgewater will be starting for the Vikings. Ryan's defense is tough on rookies, so the Vick-led Jets will save their season with a rousing victory in the cold of Minnesota. Prediction: Win


Week 15: at Tennessee Titans

Chris Johnson circled this game on his calendar as soon as the schedule was released, making no attempt to hide his bitterness toward his former team. He'll run wild against an overmatched Tennessee defense. Prediction: Win


Week 16: New England Patriots

Ex-Jets star Darrelle Revis returns to MetLife Stadium, this time as a member of the Jets' top rival. He'll intercept Vick, but the Jets will get the last laugh, improving to 8-7. Prediction: Win


Week 17: at Miami Dolphins

In a repeat of last season, the Jets will close the season on an upbeat note, ending the Joe Philbin era in Miami. Unfortunately for them, a 9-7 record won't be good enough for the playoffs, marking the fourth straight year out of the postseason. Prediction: Win


Predicted Record: 9-7

With the New England Patriots trading offensive lineman Logan Mankins last week, the question has been asked in some circles: Could the same thing happen with quarterback Tom Brady in the future if rookie Jimmy Garoppolo continues to progress?

Brady
Along those lines, Brady was asked on sports radio WEEI's "Dennis & Callahan" program Tuesday morning if one of his goals is to stay with the Patriots throughout the entirety of his career.

"There's nowhere I'd rather play, I know that," Brady answered. "I love playing for this team and I love representing this team and hopefully I can do that for as long as I can. When I suck, I'll retire, but I don't plan on sucking for a long time. So hopefully that leads me to being here and there's no place I'd rather be.

"Like I said, I love this game and I love working hard at it. I've had a lot of people over the years tell me the things I couldn't do. I think that's always been great motivation for me to try to go out there and accomplish things I think I can do. Hopefully it's to continue to play at a really high level for a long period of time."

When asked if it bothered him to see boyhood idol Joe Montana of the 49ers in a Chiefs uniform at the end of his career, Brady said: "That goes back to the business side of football. I don't know what that situation was, I wasn't really around when those decisions were made.

"You know, you're expected in this business to perform. That's what football is about. This is not a personality contest. This is a very highly competitive game where your physical skill set and what it means to the team, they place a value on that. If that value fits within the range, then great. If it doesn't, they don't want you and then you go somewhere else to play.

"Once no one else wants you, or you don't want to play anymore, that's when you retire. Some guys make the decision to retire early. So I like working hard at it and I'm going to try to be the best I can be for as long as I can be that.

"Hopefully the team values that and if they don't, then I'll probably have a tough day at some point. But that's what football is all about."

When host Gerry Callahan remarked to Brady that he seemed like the type of player who would have to have his jersey taken away from him, Brady said, "Yeah, probably. But at the same time, I mean, you have long-term goals in your head because those are the things that motivate you and sustain you when you think long-term. But the reality is, in football, it's a contact sport and anything can happen at any time. Anybody's career could end on one particular play, so you have to temper that with your short-term goals, too.

"So you have long-term goals because those motivate you over the course of the year. Then you have short-term goals, where in moments like this, you're not focused on your football mortality. You're focused on what you can be this particular week. This game changes so quickly and things happen all the time, every week, that change the course of people's careers and lives, and the course of the team, and if you can just focus on the short-term when you focus on the short-term, and focus on the long-term when those are the things to focus on, then that serves you best. You always have goals in the back of your mind, personal goals. Certainly this time of year you put aside whatever personal goals you have for the success of the team, because it's a team sport.

"Our guys have worked really hard to get ourselves in this position to go out there and be at our best this year, because that's what matters. This year is most important. It's the only year we have. ...I'm excited for this year and what we have. Anything after this year, that's to be dealt with at a later time. That's kind of the point where I'm at now."
Damon "Big Snacks" Harrison earned his nickname, one of the best in sports, because he loves to eat. But you can't do what he's done, overcoming a snub at every level of football, with an appetite limited to food.

Harrison always wants more for himself, and we're not talking Big Macs. One year after establishing himself as one of the premier run-stopping defensive linemen in the NFL, the New York Jets' nose tackle enters the 2014 season with a craving to become a better pass-rusher.

Snacks wants sacks.

And he expects to get some.

[+] EnlargeNY Jets
Al Pereira/New York Jets/Getty ImagesDamon Harrison worked on becoming a better pass-rusher this offseason.
"I'll be a whole lot better," said Harrison, who recorded only one sack last season in primarily a first- and second-down role. "This year, the production in the pass-rushing area should go well. I worked on it a lot in the offseason, and I'm seeing the improvement. The coaches like what they see."

At home in Lake Charles, Louisiana, Harrison dabbled in boxing, unleashing punches into mitts held by his instructor. At 6-foot-4, 350 pounds, he'd be in the super-heavyweight division. The idea, of course, was to improve his hand quickness. Despite a successful 2013, his first year as a starter, he learned that trying to beat a guard or center with slow hands is like taking a knife to a gun fight.

"Last year, I was out there on the fly, just pretty much trying to bully people," he said. "In the NFL, you can't do that."

Harrison moves exceptionally well for a man of his size -- in college, he was able to do 360-degree dunks -- but his athleticism didn't translate into pressure on the quarterback. In 226 pass-rushing opportunities, he generated only nine hurries, according to the stats-based website Pro Football Focus.

It's rare to find a nose tackle that can pressure the quarterback on a consistent basis. Harrison gets that, but he also has a desire to become a well-rounded player. It showed up in the preseason, as he demonstrated improvement as a pass-rusher. You saw better technique disengaging from blocks and you saw a better closing burst.

His teammates would like to see Harrison get more pass-rushing chances in sub packages.

"He proved that he's one of our most valuable players," linebacker Demario Davis said. "When somebody is one of your most valuable players, you can't take him off the field.

"The more we keep him out there on pass plays, it's going to help us even more because he gets good penetration," Davis continued. "It's going to open up lanes for our ends and it's going to push the quarterback out of the pocket."

Rex Ryan acknowledged that Harrison "isn't just a big slug. He's a big, athletic guy, and he can push the pocket." The problem is, how does he fit into the nickel package?

The addition of Jason Babin gives the Jets five legitimate pass-rushers, along with Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, Quinton Coples and Calvin Pace.

"Who are you taking off the field?" Ryan asked. "Sheldon Richardson? Mo Wilkerson? That's what you're balancing."

Nevertheless, Harrison can help as a first- and second-down pass-rusher. His true value, though, is clogging the A and B gaps, stifling the running game -- and that will be huge in Week 1 against the Oakland Raiders, who will attack on the ground with Darren McFadden, Maurice Jones-Drew and Marcel Reese.

Harrison was the highest-rated defensive tackle against the run last season, according to Pro Football Focus. Asked how he ranked in the Rex Ryan ratings, the coach smiled and said, "Pretty darn good."

Snacks was one of the feel-good stories in 2013, claiming the starting job after Kenrick Ellis went down with a preseason back injury. Harrison is a modern-day "Rudy," except a lot bigger.

He was cut twice by his middle-school team and became a water boy. He wasn't recruited out of high school. He was a junior-college reject. He stocked shelves at a Wal-Mart, making $14 an hour. He got a shot at William Penn University, a NAIA school in Iowa. He dominated, but he still was undrafted in 2012. He signed with the Jets, receiving a $7,000 bonus.

Now he's one of the best players, in the final year of his contract, destined for a large pay day.

"It's an honor that someone would take the time and acknowledge what a nose tackle does, because a lot of people don't know," said Harrison, alluding to the PFF rankings. "Yeah, I think I'm pretty good stopping the run. Do I consider myself the best? I mean, I don't know. I don't watch too many guys."

The Jets led the league in fewest yards per rush last season, and that doesn't happen without Harrison in the middle, doing the dirty work.

"Everybody talks about Mo and Sheldon -- they're phenomenal players -- but a big part of our run-stopping defense comes from Snacks and Calvin Pace," Davis said.

Pace, the strong-side linebacker, sets the edge and forces runners to cut back to the inside. That's where Harrison is lurking, ready to gobble them up.

Nose tackle is a no-glory position, but Harrison has developed a following. With a nickname like Big Snacks, how can you not be admired? He said he's almost always recognized when he goes to a gas station or a grocery store. Imagine when he starts sacking the quarterback.

Bon appetit.
The New England Patriots claimed second-year safety Don Jones on waivers from the Miami Dolphins on Monday, and waived second-year offensive lineman Chris Barker to make room on the 53-man roster.

Jones, a 2013 seventh-round draft choice out of Arkansas State, played in 16 games last season for Miami. His primary contributions came on special teams as a gunner and led the club with 11 special teams tackles last year.

The 5-foot-11, 205-pound Jones joins a deep safety corps in New England that includes Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon. Tavon Wilson and Nate Ebner. It's one of the few positions where the Patriots figured to be seeking depth.

One line of thinking is that the Patriots could potentially receive some Dolphins-based intelligence from Jones leading into the Sept. 7 season opener between the teams. Jones made headlines in May, and earned a suspension from the Dolphins, for his tweets on Michael Sam's reaction to being drafted.

As for Barker, the Patriots have groomed him over the past year after claiming him on waivers from Miami at the final cutdown last year. Barker, a guard who also played left tackle in training camp and preseason, would almost certainly sign to the team's practice squad if he clears waivers.

The Patriots kept 10 offensive linemen on their initial 53-man roster, which is a bit higher than the league average.

Patriots work out snapper McDermott

September, 1, 2014
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- After releasing incumbent snapper Danny Aiken on Saturday, the New England Patriots have a void to fill on their roster and they took a closer look at one possibility on Monday, working out former San Francisco 49er Kevin McDermott.

The Patriots didn't immediately sign McDermott, who entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with San Francisco last year and won a training camp competition over veteran Brian Jennings. McDermott took pleasure in being the team's most anonymous player in 2013.

The 24-year-old, who played in college at UCLA, was waived by the 49ers on Saturday in favor of Kyle Nelson, who is known more for his coverage skills.

As the Patriots sort through their snapper-in-transition situation, they currently have Charley Hughlett on the practice squad and veteran Rob Ninkovich as the top option on the 53-man roster.

It would be a surprise if the Patriots go into Sunday's season opener against the Dolphins with Ninkovich as the primary snapper.

New York Jets sign CB Phillip Adams

September, 1, 2014
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Desperate for cornerbacks, the New York Jets acquired their second in as many days, signing free agent Phillip Adams.

Adams was released Saturday by the Seattle Seahawks. He was originally a seventh-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers, but he has bounced around the league. He has played for the New England Patriots, Seahawks (2011) and Oakland Raiders.

In 66 career games, Adams has three interceptions.

Clearly, the Jets are reaching, hoping something works out. On Sunday, they acquired Leon McFadden, formerly of the Cleveland Browns, on waivers.

To make room for Adams, the Jets waived wide receiver Quincy Enunwa, a sixth-round pick. He likely will return on the practice squad.
DAVIE, Fla. -- The first offering of bad news happened this morning for the Miami Dolphins' defense: New England Patriots Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski declared himself ready to return in Week 1.

Gronkowski
Gronkowski
Miami’s defense has traditionally struggled against the Patriots’ offense. The Dolphins will be preparing for a New England team at full strength Sept. 7 at Sun Life Stadium to open the regular season.

Though Gronkowski’s return is news to the rest of the league, the Dolphins were not surprised. Miami was bracing for Gronkowski, who is coming off an ACL tear, as soon as the NFL schedule was released in April.

"We were fully prepared. We saw he was on the 53-man roster so we have to be prepared for every combination," Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said Monday. "He’s an excellent player. He’s been very productive throughout his career. So we will have a good plan in place. ... We will be ready for him, for sure."

Gronkowski provides perhaps the biggest matchup problem Miami has on defense. The Dolphins' linebackers are one of the most inconsistent groups on the team -- both against the run and the pass. Gronkowski is arguably the NFL’s best tight end when healthy and New England quarterback Tom Brady’s favorite target in the red zone.

However, if the Dolphins focus too much on one player it could open things up for others on New England's offense, such as receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola.

"We’ve got to defend their entire group and that’s a big enough chore as it is," Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said. "We assumed that he would be playing. So that’s kind of how we’ve been proceeding since the spring."

This will be an interesting chess match between two division opponents who know each other well. The team which best took advantage of the extra prep time will start the regular season 1-0.

"You’re always able to spend more time on your first opponent -- and that goes back to spring," Coyle said. "Certain things that we worked on, and certain things we exposed our players to, I think they have a better feeling now than if it were Game 5 or 6 during the regular season."
Newly acquired cornerback Leon McFadden was the NFL poster boy for the dramatic increase in preseason penalties. In fact, he committed a league-high eight, according to the NFL's stats website, and it wasn't close for second.

Playing for the Cleveland Browns, McFadden was called four times for defensive holding, three times for illegal contact and once for pass interference. Two penalties were declined. All told, it amounted to 60 yards.

The former third-round pick apparently didn't get the memo on the league's increased emphasis on contact penalties.

A few other statistical nuggets on McFadden, whom the Jets picked up Sunday on waivers:
  • He played a lot in the preseason -- a total of 188 snaps, including two starts. Conditioning shouldn't be an issue.
  • He was targeted 20 times (that's a lot) and allowed seven completions for 145 yards, according to the stats-based website Pro Football Focus. His catch percentage (35.0) is good, but he obviously surrendered big plays.
  • As a rookie in 2013, he ranked 181st out of 199 cornerbacks, according to PFF.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots announced their 10-man practice squad Monday, and it's a group highlighted by second-year receiver Josh Boyce.

Joyce
Boyce
"A little bit [disappointed], but at the end of the day I'm on the football team still," Boyce said in the locker room Monday. "So you know I can't complain about that. It caught me off guard a little bit, but it's just all right now."

Here is the Patriots' initial practice squad:

DE Jake Bequette -- 2012 third-round draft choice has appeared in eight games over two seasons with the Patriots but hasn't registered any statistics.

WR Josh Boyce -- 2013 fourth-round draft choice out of TCU. Played in nine games with the Patriots last season, totaling nine catches for 121 yards and returning nine kickoffs.

QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson -- The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Sacramento State alum has been with Miami (2011), Minnesota (2012-2013) and San Francisco (2011, 2013-2014) after entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent. He does not have any regular-season stats.

LB Ja'Gared Davis -- Davis was claimed on waivers from the Texans in August of 2013 and played in one regular-season game and two playoff games last season on special teams.

S Kanorris Davis -- In his first year out of Troy, Davis appeared in three regular-season games and two playoff contests last season for the Patriots in a special-teams-type role.

RB Jonas Gray -- First-year running back out of Notre Dame, a bigger presence at 5-foot-10 and 230 pounds, did some good things in the preseason for the Patriots.

LS Charley Hughlett -- The first-year snapper was with the Patriots for a few months this offseason and has also spent time with Dallas and Jacksonville. He has not snapped in a regular-season game.

OL Chris Martin -- Rookie offensive tackle from Central Florida joined the team in June as an undrafted free agent and spent training camp on the active/non-football injury list.

LB Deontae Skinner -- Undrafted middle linebacker from Mississippi State was with the Patriots until the cut down to 75 players and adds some depth in practice at a position where the Patriots are thin on their 53-man roster.

CB Daxton Swanson -- The first-year cornerback from Sam Houston State, who stands at 5-foot-11 and 191 pounds, was with the Patriots in training camp and showed good ball skills in practice and games.

Every Patriots player present at practice

September, 1, 2014
Sep 1
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- All hands are on deck for the New England Patriots as they began preparations Monday for the Sept. 7 regular-season opener at the Miami Dolphins.

No players were missing from practice other than cornerback Brandon Browner and wide receiver Brian Tyms, who are both serving four-game suspensions for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.

Defensive tackle Chris Jones rejoined his teammates after doing some conditioning work at the start practice. He had been out since the Aug. 7 preseason opener against Washington after sustaining a sprained left ankle.

Rookie offensive lineman Chris Martin, who spent training camp on the non-football injury list, also returned after signing on the team's practice squad.

Meanwhile, for those keeping tabs on jersey numbers, defensive end Zach Moore switched from No. 71 to No. 90; linebacker Darius Fleming swapped from No. 44 to No. 55; and Martin changed from No. 72 to No. 69.

The Patriots were wearing shorts and shells for the practice.

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