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Breer's training camp tour

Breer's training camp tour: Falcons

Posted by Albert Breer August 17, 2010 03:49 PM
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Globe NFL writer Albert Breer is visiting select training camps around the East Coast, and will report from each one he visits.


THE SCENE

The Falcons’ plush facility, opened in 2000, is the league’s only of its kind, with the ability to hold a self-contained training camp. Three practice fields sit behind the team’s headquarters, with upscale dorms that house the players past them and a large 100-yard field house to the side. It’s not an old-school college setting, but players can get everything – practice, study, workout, sleep – on this campus.

Atlanta’s efficiency in its practice regiment, which allows for periodic water breaks due to the oppressive Southern heat, is impressive given the youth of the club. It’s clear that in a short time, GM Thomas Dimitroff, the old Patriots’ college scouting director, and coach Mike Smith have established a workman-like culture here.

But even with the added attraction in town, with New England coming in for practices Tuesday, the crowds are sparse. Several factors play in there, including the city’s transient nature and distance from the city and its suburbs to Flowery Branch, which is about halfway to the South Carolina border from downtown Atlanta.

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan attempts a pass during NFL football training camp against the New England Patriots in Flowery Branch, Ga., Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2010. To review his previous reports, check out his training camp tour page.

THREE THINGS TO SORT OUT

The defensive backfield: The Falcons opened a vault to bring in cornerback Dunta Robinson from the Texans, and expect safety Thomas DeCoud to make a leap to a star level in his third year in the league. But depth remains a concern. Steady vet Erik Coleman lines up next to DeCoud, and the team is hoping that Chris Owens or Brent Grimes soon steps forward opposite Robinson. Some of the team’s issues on the back end were on display with Randy Moss having his way during points of practices with the Falcon DBs. The hope is that the secondary grows around Robinson and DeCoud. The Saints’ presence in the NFC South – Drew Brees threw for 604 yards on Atlanta last year – magnifies the importance of this area.

The defensive interior: Atlanta feels like it has its answer at middle linebacker for the next decade, in Curtis Lofton. Now the issue is getting players in front of him. Peria Jerry, the team’s first-round pick in 2009, could be one big piece, given he can return to form as works his way back from last year’s season-ending knee injury. Next to him will be Jonathan Babineaux, once he comes off his suspension for the season opener, and rookie Corey Peters. The Falcons need to improve in two areas with this group – Helping Lofton make plays and creating interior pressure to help a crew of pass-rushers headlined by John Abraham.

Ryan’s development: Matt Ryan showed a lot of toughness and guile in fighting through injury in 2009, even while his numbers dipped a little from the year before. But it’s clear that this team will go as far as No. 2 takes them. The running game remains stout behind Michael Turner, but the offense is loaded at the receiver spots and built for the quarterback. Ryan is now is a place of elevated leadership, as well, and if he can move from the “very good” to “elite” level, this could well be an NFC Super Bowl contender.

TYING IN THE PATRIOTS

The Patriots integration of first- and second-year players, and expected reliance on them, is not unlike what the Falcons just went through with a crew of 2008 and ’09 draftees. The team overhauled its offense two years ago and its defense last year, and some of the growing pains felt could provide an example of some of the bumps the Patriots might go through with their own youth. Despite some of those struggles, Atlanta is awfully proud of how it grinded out a three-game win streak to finish the year, even after being eliminated from the playoff picture. It also shows how the Patriots could wind up being a much better team in December than they are in September.

THE QUOTE THAT CAPTURES

“I think the expectation levels have ramped up, and they should if you’re going in the right direction and the arrow’s pointing up. Your expectations should be much, much higher in Year 3.” -- Coach Mike Smith

TRAVEL MISHAPS

Amazing just how big this capital of the South really is, from a geographical standpoint, and what a travel hub it has become. I got off the plane at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport at 10 p.m. last night. It was 11:35 p.m. by the time I got to my hotel room, and that was without any lines or traffic or anything, and without leaving the Atlanta metro area. About 40 minutes from the gate to baggage claim to the rental car center to the wheel of my car. And then another 55 minutes to the SpringHill Suites in Buford. I think that reflects how massive the airport is, and how vast the city’s suburbs are.

THE GUY TO WATCH

S Thomas DeCoud. Last year, the club had some doubts the 2008 fourth-round pick could start. By season’s end, he was a foundation piece for the club’s future in the secondary. Big, rangy, long and instinctive, DeCoud is doing more reacting and less thinking on the field now, and will be counted on to lead on the back end, like Lofton has on the front end. “Once you get comfortable with your own defensive scheme and knowing the game better, you can react to plays and anticipate things as well,” DeCoud said. “I know the game a lot better. I saw of things last season that I hadn’t seen before, being a first-year starter. So it was building off those things, knowing what I didn’t do last year and making those things strengths as well.”

PASSING THOUGHTS

If you want a Falcon to root for, fifth-round rookie Kerry Meier wouldn’t be a bad pick. The receiver’s brother Dylan fell to his death on a hiking trip during draft week, and the family buried two days after the Falcons took Kerry. Meier has impressed during camp, and could be another young piece for the receiving corps. … There’s little question that the offense will keep going to Michael Turner in key spots. But if they’re going to find a way to lighten his load a bit this year, many of those carries will likely go to fullback Jason Snelling, who played some tailback in Turner’s place last year. Seems like the team has determined that game-breaker Jerious Norwood is more of a specialist for them. … The tunnel-vision focus of training camp is here, but it’s pretty apparent that Atlanta’s folks feel like a foundation’s in place for years to come. And that’s a credit to owner Arthur Blank, who tried to hire Bill Parcells (wouldn’t have been a bad choice) in 2008, then fell back on less flashy choices in Dimitroff and Smith. It’s clear that, in the wake of the Bobby Petrino/Michael Vick mess of 2007, Blank knew how to find the right people to right the ship. Amazing that less than three years after that mess, this has the look of a model franchise.

Breer's training camp tour: Dolphins

Posted by Albert Breer August 16, 2010 06:38 PM
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Globe NFL writer Albert Breer is visiting select training camps around the East Coast, and will report from each one he visits.


THE SCENE

The Dolphins camp at their facility in Davie, Fla., just West of Fort Lauderdale. A lovely place to be in December in January. Not so much in August. It's sticky hot here, and the truth is that the organization likes it that way. Today's workout is inside the club's air-conditioned practice bubble, but most are on the putting-green practice field behind the main building.

This club likes the built-in edge it has with the South Florida humidity early in the season, and it could well come into play for critical Week 3 and 4 showdowns with the Jets and Patriots, respectively. And that's a big reason for working in the heat as much as the Dolphins do.

At the end of practice on this day, the players shed their pads and ran sprints - hard sprints -- like a high school team would. This is a club built on size and strength, but Ton Sparano and Co. are sure it's in shape, too.

marshalldolphins.jpg To review his previous reports, check out his training camp tour page.

All this work is getting down in front of sparse crowds, which kind of fits. Even as new owner Stephen Ross has tried to add glamour to the franchise, the football-centric environment remains.

THREE THINGS TO SORT OUT

Leadership: The Dolphins went to great pains this offseason to get younger, and if you look at their roster, almost every key piece is 28 or younger. They spent big money to sign Karlos Dansby, invested cash and draft picks in Brandon Marshall, and paid the premium because the emphasis was on bringing ascending players, rather than stopgaps. And that bodes well for the next half-decade in Miami, but will pose questions this year. What happens when the team hits a rut, as everyone does? Who will put the squad together if there's a rash of injuries, as there was last year? The Dolphins are expecting much of Dansby on the defensive side of the ball and Jake Long on the offensive side in this regard. But how a young team weathers storms is always a worthy question, until it actually goes through one.

The defensive front: Miami figures to have five new starters in its front seven, with Channing Crowder and Kendall Langford the only players set in their 2009 spots. That's a lot of turnover, without even getting to the installation of a different scheme under new coordinator Mike Nolan. The idea, for Miami, is be more aggressive and attacking from an Xs-and-Os standpoint, an approach that seems to tailor-made for a younger team. The question becomes whether or not the Dolphins can generate the kind of pass rush to make it work. Nolan engineered a big-time turnaround last year in Denver, but he'll have to find a new Elvis Dumervil in Miami, or assimilate that kind of production with the young edge-rushing duo of Cameron Wake and Koa Misi.

The offensive line: Sparano was among the league's most respected line coaches prior to getting the head job in Miami, so you have to think he'll figure this one out. The Dolphins have managed to assemble a nice slew of skill players around Chad Henne. Marshall gives them the bona fide No. 1 receiver to match with complementary pieces Brian Hartline, Davone Bess and Greg Camarillo, the tight ends are solid, and the backfield should be fine. So the primary issue comes between cornerstone tackles Long and Vernon Carey. There are a total of six players competing for the three interior spots, though rookie John Jerry seems to have one nailed down. How that shakes out, and Miami's ability to get the right mix in general up front, could determine whether Miami can hold on to its smashmouth identity.

TYING IN THE PATRIOTS

Some may not believe Henne to be championship-ready. Some don't call Foxborough their workplace. The Dolphins upset of New England last December featured the first-year quarterback besting his career high in completions by 9, attempts by 16 and yards by 94. When it was over, Henne made every key throw he needed to in order to sneak out a 22-21 win, and showed his offensive teammates he was capable to carrying the day in a victory over a quality opponent. "What that came down to was when plays were out there, we made plays," Henne said. "There were a couple plays in there where we didn't do well. But overall I thought we kept grinding, we went down and had different situations - two-minute, in the red area - and I think we executed well there."

THE QUOTE THAT CAPTURES

"There's not gonna be any excuses for us. We want to win games right now."

-- Coach Tony Sparano on the team's youth

TRAVEL MISHAPS

You get to know Marriott properties pretty well in this job. And here's one you should get to know: The Harbor Beach Marriott on Fort Lauderdale Beach. This is where the Colts stayed prior to the Super Bowl in February and, now that I got a better look at it, it's real easy to see why this is a pretty attractive destination. Nice gym. A 90-second walk to the beach. Sizable pool. Outdoor restaurant area. Jet Ski rental right there. And the price really wasn't bad at all. Then, there's this: On my way out, I was expecting to pay the $50 parking fee for the two nights, only it didn't show up on the bill they slipped under the door. I went to the front desk to clarify, and the lady said, "Don't worry about it." Telling you, if you're coming down here for the Oct. 4 game with the Patriots, you could find worse places to stay.

THE GUY TO WATCH

NT Randy Starks. The Dolphins moved Starks inside following the drafting of rookie Jared Odrick, a prototype (size-wise) 3-4 defensive end, and the move seems to be working out. Jason Ferguson fit the profile of what Bill Parcells long looked for in his nose tackles, but plenty in the Miami brass, while still in Dallas, had their eyes opened by the emergence of the smaller, quicker Jay Ratliff at the position. Ratliff, similarly, was pressed into the position in 2007 after an injury to Ferguson, and thrived because of his versatility and three-down capability. The hope is that 305-pound Starks can flash similarly in the interior pass-rush area, and defend the run like Ratliff did. Now, this isn't to compare Starks to the two-time Pro Bowler. It's just to say the idea of Starks playing there now isn't that different than Ratliff moving was then. And the early returns are good.

PASSING THOUGHTS

Some teams get excited when acquiring a piece like Marshall and quickly scramble to rework their offensive approach. Here? Seems like guys are most excited about what the 6-foot-5, 230-pound terror will do to open things up in the running game. Tells you that Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams will still be the engine for this offense. ... Ikaika Alama-Francis is an interesting story, a 2007 second-round pick who washed out of Detroit, signed with Miami last November and hasn't played in a game since 2008. Alama-Francis dropped some 15 pounds, getting down to 275, to play linebacker in 2010 and has impressed with his athleticism. He could provide depth for the Dolphins in a place it's needed - Outside linebacker. ... This team is excited about young corners Vontae Davis and Sean Smith, but keep an eye on their 2009 draft classmate Chris Clemons at free safety. That position has been a question mark for Miami this offseason, but the club has had high hopes for Clemons all along. ... While the Dolphins are more than happy with three of their top five picks from the 2009 draft (Davis, Smith, Hartline), it's clear they need to get more out of the other two, second-rounder Pat White and third-rounder Patrick Turner. There's a chance that neither makes the team here. ... Sparano lost a staggering 58 pounds in the offseason, looking like a much different guy than the one I covered in Dallas or the one who prowled the Miami sidelines the last two years. The Connecticut-raised coach says he got into a workout program after undergoing knee surgery, kept with it after his rehab was finished, and has gotten real results.

Breer's training camp tour, Day 8: Eagles

Posted by Albert Breer August 9, 2010 07:28 AM
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300eagles.jpgGlobe NFL writer Albert Breer is touring select training camps around the East Coast, and will report from each one he visits. To review his previous reports, check out his training camp tour page.

THE SCENE
It took me three years of covering training camps , but I finally made it yesterday morning to Bethlehem, Pa., to see one of the league’s signature summer sites. And I can confirm that the Eagles and Lehigh do put on one of the more intimate, fan-friendly settings in football.

The people are very, very close to action – close enough where us media types are routinely asked to move over for a minute so they can get a picture of the action on the field. Mountains surround the practice facility, which is in the middle of Lehigh’s pretty extensive athletic complex.

The Eagles really got after it in the morning, coming out in full pads and spending much of the sessions in full team drills, 9-on-7s and 7-on-7s. Practice is efficient, as you’d expect from Andy Reid, and competitive. During a one-on-one drill, one coach chided Asante Samuel – matched against super-sized rookie Riley Cooper – asking if he could find a smaller receiver for the corner. Samuel responded later, “I brought my big-boy pads today, coach.”

THREE THINGS TO SORT OUT
Putting the defensive pieces together:
The Eagles defense dealt with a lot last year (not the least of which was the death of respected coordinator Jim Johnson), and finished a respectable 12th in the NFL. But things fell apart against Dallas in the regular-season finale and wild-card playoff round, and the Eagles have invested big to upgrade. First-round pick Brandon Graham might start, fellow rookie Daniel Te’o-Nesheim is playing with the first defensive group in nickel looks, and Seahawks import Daryl Tapp has opened some eyes as well. Adding that depth to established rusher Trent Cole gives second-year coordinator Sean McDermott a lot of freedom to dial up the kind of blitz packages his predecessor was known for.

On top of that, the talented but uneven Ernie Sims gets a fresh start at linebacker, joining middle man Stewart Bradley, who is making a comeback, and rookie Nate Allen has been a revelation at safety. How will all these moving pieces fit? That’s what camp’s for. But two things seem certain now – they’ll blitz a ton and the talk of switching to more 3-4 fronts was a bit overblown in the offseason.

“Yeah, tell people we run a 3-4,” joked Bradley. “We have a lot of different packages, that’s for sure. But I think at the end of the day, if we’re gonna play one base defense, it’s gonna be 4-3.”

FULL ENTRY

Breer's training camp tour, Day 7: Redskins

Posted by Albert Breer August 7, 2010 06:06 PM
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Globe NFL writer Albert Breer is touring select training camps around the East Coast, and will report from each one he visits. To review his previous reports, check out his training camp tour page.
THE SCENE

The Redskins may not be winning like they used to, but they certainly always have been able to draw a crowd. More than 29,000 fans descended on the team’s facility in the Virginia suburb of Ashburn, and new coach Mike Shanahan addressed the masses at the end of practice, then signed autographs for more than an hour.

Outside of that, this is a very business-like atmosphere. The buildings at Redskins Park look like nothing fancy, and the grass field in back, where the team practices, are surrounded by woods and swampland. The team’s old tradition was to ramp up at Dickinson College, the Carlisle, Pa., home of Redskins training camp from 1963-94 and again in 2001 and ’02.

FULL ENTRY

Breer's training camp tour, Day 6: Ravens

Posted by Albert Breer August 6, 2010 06:16 PM
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Globe NFL writer Albert Breer is touring select training camps around the East Coast, and will report from each one he visits. To review his previous reports, check out his training camp tour page.

THE SCENE
The Ravens have staged training camp at McDaniel College in Westminster, 20 minutes from their Owings Mills facility, prior to each of their 15 seasons, carrying over the traditional site from the old Baltimore Colts. And even as it becomes harder to move a whole football operation off-site, don’t expect the Ravens to move this thing any time soon.

Owner Steve Biscotti used to make the trek to McDaniel as a kid to see his beloved Colts, and having coming from humble beginnings, he knows how camp can be a conduit to all fans for a team. His memories of McDaniel, and the lack of room for fans to park in Owings Mills, will likely keep the team on this Maryland countryside campus for years to come.

This, to Biscotti, has become where the Ravens connect with their people. Ed Reed and Ray Lewis often spend 45 minutes signing for kids, and the team’s new policy to make autograph areas for those 15-and-under has been a roaring success. “This is fantastic,” said coach John Harbaugh. “There are kids out here everywhere.” Pretty cool scene overall, with the team lodged at the nearby Best Western.

THREE THINGS TO SORT OUT

The injuries: The Ravens’ secondary dealt with injuries a year ago. So it’s not like this is uncharted territory. But this early? Corner Fabian Washington, coming off a torn ACL, returned earlier this week, and the hope is bookend Lardarius Webb, who also tore an ACL in 2009, can return for Week 1. Though just as those guys were on the mend, Domonique Foxworth blew out, yes, an ACL last week. On top of that, All-Pro safety Ed Reed could miss the first six weeks of the season on the PUP list. All this will test a stellar front seven. In the end, though, if Webb, Washington and Reed can come back strong, it’s possible all this becomes a rallying point for Baltimore.

FULL ENTRY

Breer's training camp tour, Day 5: Colts

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff August 5, 2010 05:24 PM
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Globe NFL writer Albert Breer is touring select training camps around the East Coast, and will report from each one he visits. To review his previous reports, check out his training camp tour page.
THE SCENE
The Colts brought training camp back to Anderson University, a religious institution about an hour from downtown, this summer and the town is, to say the least, excited. There’s blue-and-white everywhere. The Perkins actually had “Thanks for visiting Perkins, Eric Foster” on the marquee. That’s DT Eric Foster, in case you’re wondering, whose stop-in merited mention by Tiger Woods’ favorite breakfast spot.

Anderson hosted Colts from the first year in Indianapolis, after the move from Baltimore, until Peyton Manning’s rookie year, and has seen better days than the times since. It’s too far from Indianapolis to be considered suburban, not quite in the Hoosier State’s “Amber Waves of Grain” countryside, and stocked with chain restaurants down the main strip, State Route 9. Unemployment is way up, and it’s clear that the Colts have given this town something to latch on to.

FULL ENTRY

Breer's training camp tour, Day 4: Bills

Posted by Albert Breer August 4, 2010 01:34 PM
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Globe NFL writer Albert Breer is touring select training camps around the East Coast, and will report from each one he visits. To review his previous reports, check out his training camp tour page.

THE SCENE

One of the NFL’s hidden gems of a training camp site, St. John Fisher’s beautiful campus tucked into suburban Rochester lets fans get close to action, gives them an opportunity to run across guys on campus before and after practice, and sets a nice distinctly Western New York scene.

Last year, this camp was, in essence, The Terrell Owens Show. This year has been far more about business with the Bills. Feels like GM Buddy Nix and coach Chan Gailey are pouring concrete into the foundation right now – Very business-like, no-complaining, get-the-job-done tone. That’s good for this franchise, provided they give this regime time, since there’s been far too much upheaval over the last decade.

300jetscamp.jpg
THREE THINGS TO SORT OUT

The team’s identity: You get the feeling that this team is trying to see itself as the 2008 Dolphins – An overlooked bunch coming off a horrific season using a base of fundamental football and relying on the pigskin simplicity of beating opponents up and wearing them out to win. Will it work? Well, Miami did have Chad Pennington fall into its lap, and quarterback remains an issue for Buffalo. But it’s clear that the intention is to be a physically imposing squad. The Bills were in pads from Day 1 of practice, are regularly enduring 150-minute sessions and both Nix and Gailey are impressed by the no-nonsense approach the players have taken to it. Buffalo has trouble at the tackle spots, but could be very good from guard-to-guard and has an impressive stable of backs. Add that to a defense with a solid secondary and interior, and you can see a team built for slugfests with the Dolphins and Jets. Facing the Patriots’ aerial show might be a bit more difficult for these guys.

The quarterback: For now, it’s Trent Edwards and it’ll be interesting to see how the fourth-year field general plays under more stable circumstances. Early in his second year, Edwards had plenty of people thinking Buffalo might have finally found its first franchise guy since Jim Kelly. Then he was concussed, making for a lost 2008, and all the tumult last year (offensive coordinator fired in September, major injury issues on an already questionable line) put Edwards in a tough spot. We’ll see. The Bills could benefit next year from a deep quarterback class in the draft, and it might make more sense that way anyway, since this certainly could be a hazardous situation for a young quarterback. Edwards knows all about those, and if he can navigate this one, there might still be hope for him. He’s gotten the first-team reps in practice, with Brian Brohm and Ryan Fitzpatrick splitting time with the 2s.

The pass rush: The defense actually might not be so bad, if it can finish games better than it did last year, but with Aaron Schobel on the way out, the Bills will have to find a way to get pressure off the edge. Aaron Maybin, the club’s first-round pick in 2009, certainly should have his chances as the team’s outside nickel rusher, with Chris Kelsay and Reggie Torbor handling the outside linebacker duties on early downs. Buffalo has the makings of a sturdy interior, with nose tackles Kyle Williams and Torell Troup, and ends Marcus Stroud and Dwan Edwards fronting Paul Posluszny, Andra Davis and Kawika Mitchell at inside linebackers. But as it stands now, this team looks like it can be thrown at on early downs, given the lack of natural rushers, and that figures to be issue for an offense that will have problems playing from behind.

TYING IN THE PATRIOTS

The Patriots were the first team to take an Oregon defensive back in the 2009 NFL draft, tabbing safety Patrick Chung. The Bills got their Duck eight selections later, taking Jairus Byrd with the 42nd overall pick. Byrd had nine picks last year. Chung had one start. But the book’s not closed on this one yet, and Byrd thinks that when people see Chung’s best, there won’t be any buyer remorse. “He’s a tackling machine,” said Byrd. “He can cover, he can play the deep middle, he can do it all. He’s a very versatile player. I have nothing but respect for Pat. He’s a hard worker. If something’s lacking, he makes sure he covers it and gets in there and gets the job done.” Byrd followed by noting that Chung went through the natural maturation process (like most rookies) behind the scenes, while his growth came on the field, and added that both had a ways to go. But Byrd also is expecting big things from a guy who was the traffic controller of his college secondary. “Once he gets things right, he’s a leader back there. And he will,” Byrd said. “He’ll be great. There’s no doubt in my mind he’ll do a great job, it’ll happen naturally.”

THE QUOTE THAT CAPTURES

“It’s a motivation, everybody thinks we’re not gonna be so great, probably win two or three games this year. We’re keeping our head, trying to prove everyone wrong.”

-- CB Leodis McKelvin

TRAVEL MISHAPS

One of my biggest pet peeves of air travel: What seems like a totally unnecessary waste of time. People waiting until the last possible second to pull their 50-pound bag from the overhead, and clogging the line off the plane. The guy who holds up the line going on the plane so he can set everything up in his seat perfectly. And so on. Get on, get off, be done with it. Anyway, this morning in Detroit, on my layover, the plane gets to the gate around 9:25 or so after taxiing. We wait. And wait. And wait. They explain to us they need a jetbridge. Whatever. It took until 10 to get off the plane, and I had to rush to my other gate, killing valuable work time. Is it really impossible to plan for how planes, y’know, are scheduled to come in? Would’ve been absolutely infuriating if I had a tighter connection. On a positive note: Great drive through the Finger Lakes and really cool little town called Skaneateles I’d never heard of before and, of course, I did get a trip to Duff’s in when I got to Buffalo after practice.

THE GUY TO WATCH

TE Shawn Nelson. A fourth-round pick in 2009, Nelson managed just 17 catches last year, and struggled with the mental part of the transition to the NFL, but the coaches seem to have big plans for him. He can really, really move for a big guy (6-4, 250), and there’s no better friend to an inexperienced quarterback on a run-first team than a tight end than can get down the seam. If Nelson can grasp the offense well enough, and block well (a must for Gailey), he could present problems in play-action for defenses.

PASSING THOUGHTS

Maybe Nix and Gailey are the right guys. Maybe they aren’t. But I think they do have the right idea – Too much was broken here to try and go for quick fixes like this franchise has in the past. Nix is committed to building through the draft (he had a stellar record in San Diego leading their college scouting department) and Gailey is fixated on giving the players he’s given a foundation. It’ll take a lot more than that to get it right here, but that’s a start. … Another guy in the organization not to be overlooked is assistant GM Doug Whaley. Long considered one of the bright under-40 personnel guys in the league with Pittsburgh, Whaley did what many thought he wouldn’t, bolting his hometown Steelers for a new professional challenge. If this is the group to turn it around, Whaley will be a big part of it. … Look for McKelvin as a possible bust-out defender. A broken leg finished his 2009, but he’s got the qualities to be a top-notch corner. Paired with Byrd, it looks like this deep, talented secondary could be in good hands for years to come. … C.J. Spiller’s holdout isn’t a positive, of course. But because his position isn’t one with the steepest learning curve, the tailback should be a factor for the offense. Jets coach Rex Ryan, when talking about the division the other day, singled Spiller out – “The draft pick they’ve got has the chance to be a superstar.”

Breer's training camp tour, Day 2: Jets

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff August 2, 2010 08:38 PM
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300jetscamp.jpgGlobe NFL writer Albert Breer is touring select training camps around the East Coast, and will report from each one he visits. To review his previous reports, check out his training camp tour page.
THE SCENE
Old school meets new school. Cortland’s State University of New York campus is set about 15 minutes from nowhere, and the town reflects that with its mom-and-pop shop feel. The school itself is decidedly cookie-cutter state school, but the foothills surrounding it make this place distinctly upstate New York.

On the other hand, the Jets’ well-manicured, natural-grass practice fields, adjacent to the two FieldTurf expanses of the stadium, are covered with ads for Madden NFL ’11, MetLife and JetBlue, and canvassed by HBO cameramen, who are filming the network's "Hard Knocks'' program. So on the one end, you have the Jets selling their business. And on the other side, there’s the quiet, bucolic environs that give Rex Ryan the football-first camp he wants.

THREE THINGS TO SORT OUT
Darrelle Revis’s contract:
Jets owner Woody Johnson came up to the press box after lunch to answer questions from the media. Anyway, the always straightforward Johnson went for 10 minutes and every single question pertained to Revis’s holdout. Total compensation, not guaranteed money, is what Johnson said was the issue. But contract structure has been an issue with everyone looking for a new deal this offseason. Johnson said he was disappointed that Revis rejected both short-term and long-term offers from the Jets.

Meanwhile, the players and coaches say it won’t be a distraction. “If he signs a contract one day before the first game, Darrelle will be starting,” Rex Ryan said. “It’s as simple as that.”

The offense’s diversity: The Jets started their first training-camp practice with a middle drill, which basically is a mano-a-mano short-yardage showdown between the offense and defense. No passing allowed. It sent a pretty powerful message that despite the addition of Santonio Holmes (which because of his suspension won’t happen until Week 5) and the subtraction of running back Thomas Jones, this will remain a run-first operation, based on physically beating down the opposition. That makes second-year tailback Shonn Greene’s ability to carry the load paramount.

But at some point, quarterback Mark Sanchez will have to be able to win a game or two, and his development could be the difference between this being a good team or a great one. Teammates say Sanchez is bringing more swagger to the table this year, and having veteran Mark Brunell as a sounding board – an element that Drew Brees lauded in New Orleans – is said to be helping the young quarterback.

The circus: You could put this camp in a cow pasture (I’m sure there’s one pretty close to here), and it wouldn’t matter. There’s simply a lot going on with these Jets, which means the players have plenty of potential potholes to navigate. There are the high expectations, the added attention from HBO, and plenty of proud veterans who will be counted on to take on reduced roles and younger veterans in contract years. The bottom line is, talented as this team might be its ability to get through the normal ruts of this six-month marathon could define its season.

“Whether or not people picked us to win, we think we’re a pretty good team,” Jason Taylor said. “We’re not just going to go out there and roll our helmets out on the field. We’re going to prepare and go out and play. But the spotlight’s fine with me. Sometimes, it’s good to be the hunted.”

PATRIOTS CONNECTION
What’s interesting is the seeming role reversal that’s taken place between these two franchises over the last six months. For the last half-decade, the Jets were the team loaded with young players whose development would guide the franchise’s future, and the Patriots were stocked with proven veterans to lean on. New York’s current roster doesn’t have the championship pedigree of the past Patriots, but it does have a lot of guys with track records of performing on a high level.

Meanwhile, the Patriots have to hope that their first- and second-year guys come along the way that guys like Revis, Nick Mangold and David Harris have for the Jets. A big reason the Jets were able to make their run to the AFC title game last year was because of much of their youth came of age simultaneously. The Patriots have to hope for a similar result with guys like Patrick Chung, Darius Butler, and Sebastian Vollmer this year.

THE QUOTE THAT CAPTURES
“I think [high expectations reflect] our own expectations. That’s why we feed off of it. It’s our own mentality, that Super Bowl champion mentality. That’s what we want and that’s why we’re striving for. We really feed off of Rex [Ryan]. He makes us feel like we’re all ready.” -- QB Mark Sanchez
THE GUY TO WATCH
Here’s another local tie for you guys – keep an eye on offensive lineman Vladimir Ducasse, the second-round pick out of UMass who’ll move inside after playing tackle in college. He’s assumed to be the answer at Alan Faneca’s old left guard position, but at this early juncture, he’s still rotating with 2009 sixth-round pick Matt Slauson. And the idea that the Jets are easing in rookies doesn’t wash when you see first-round pick Kyle Wilson getting a massive amount of reps with the starting defense.

Faneca had certainly lost something, but he still had that road-grading quality that helped set the tone for the league’s most dominant running game in 2009. Ducasse doesn’t need to be Faneca, but it’s fair to say that he’ll need to be pretty good for the offensive line to remain the team strength it has been.

PASSING THOUGHTS
Ryan continues to push his belief Vernon Gholston, the sixth pick in the 2008 draft, will have a long NFL career, but concedes now that his time to prove it with the Jets is running short. He’ll move inside to play end in Ryan’s 3-4 defense, and actually looked pretty decent in pass-rush drills this morning, but has plenty to prove … Rookie RB Joe McKnight’s barfed in rookie minicamp, failed his first crack at the team’s conditioning run, and has had his toughness questioned. Tough start. But you could see a little attitude this morning, as he appeared to be seeking out contact, maybe to dispel what people have said. Bottom line is that he’s got a ways to go to replace Leon Washington as the offense’s passing-down back … Rookie FB John Conner, on the other hand, looks like the kind of jackhammer of a lead blocker that fits the Jets' running game … Antonio Cromartie comes to New York with plenty of baggage, but it’s impossible to get around the obvious physical ability he has. He’s pretty adamant, too, that Ryan’s defense is his kind of scheme (heavy on man-to-man), and wants to shoot down the idea that he’s shy in the face of contact.

“Rex makes you want to play for him, run in to a wall for him, so that’s something that I’m going to love to do,” Cromartie said. “I’m going to pick up my game from the physical standpoint and just go out and play football.”

Breer's training camp tour, Day 1: Giants

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff August 1, 2010 09:38 PM
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300giants.jpgGlobe NFL writer Albert Breer is touring select training camps around the East Coast, and will report from each one he visits. To review his previous reports, check out his training camp tour page.
THE SCENE
The Giants do pack up and go away to a college campus, but the University at Albany isn’t exactly Latrobe, Pa. or Flagstaff, Ariz. The grounds here feature a maze of big, bland cement buildings set about a 40-yard dash away from Interstate 90.

Big Blue is in its 15th year camping here, but with the gleaming, one-year-old Timex Performance Center sitting in the parking lot of the club’s new stadium in Jersey, speculation remains that there might not be too many more trips to upstate New York coming. As things are now, Albany provides the Giants with a vast array of practice fields, a business-first atmosphere and, from a business standpoint, a chance to connect with a part of the fan base living hours away.

THREE THINGS TO SORT OUT
The running game:
Brandon Jacobs has taken a pounding and has fought through knee problems, and watched his per-carry average dip to 3.7 yards after posting consecutive season averaging 5.0 yards a carry. Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride says the team needs to find a way to get Jacobs to the hole quicker and into the open field, where he’s like a runaway freight train, but questions remain as to whether he’s lost the burst to do that. On top of that, Ahmad Bradshaw had multiple offseason surgeries, so the Giants have to find someone to re-establish what was once the league’s most fearsome run game.

The pass rush: It’s amazing that two years after the Giants rode a relentless pass rush and run game to a championship that those are this team’s issues. But that happens to be the case.

“That wasn’t Giant football last year,” general manager Jerry Reese said coming off the practice field. “We didn’t run the ball well and we didn’t rush the passer well, and those are two staples for us that we pride ourselves on.”

The hope is that a healthier Osi Umenyiora can return to form, and monstrously athletic but raw first-round pick Jason Pierre-Paul can develop quickly to fix the problem.

Leadership: Michael Strahan called Justin Tuck out a few weeks back, saying that his former teammate had all the capabilities to be a great leader, but needs to assert himself more. Tuck isn’t alone. Reese named just about every defensive lineman on the roster in enumerating the potential leadership types, and said that if the linemen are guiding the defense, the other potential issues (at linebacker and safety) will work themselves out. The team’s training camp T-shirts read “Leadership = World Champions”.

The Giants have a handful of 20-something vets counted on to step in those roles. And they’d better. There’s a feeling internally that shortcomings in the leadership department were a part of an injury-fueled late-season tailspin.

PATRIOTS CONNECTION
By my rough count, there were more T-shirts out in Albany that read “18-1” than “Super Bowl XLII Champions.” And one even said “Beli-lieve It”, referencing Patriots coach Bill Belichick. Guess those guys don’t remember the dominance of the championship defense of 1986, or the Super Bowl game plan from January 1991 that is now immortalized in Canton, huh? It is kind of interesting to see that even as some memories of the 2007 Patriots’ 16-0 regular season fade, the significance of the Giants’ title that year remains so tied to whom they were able to beat.

THE QUOTE THAT CAPTURES
“You always learn more from losing than from winning. And we certainly learned a lot more last year than we would’ve liked.” -- C Shaun O’Hara

TRAVEL MISHAPS
Bad start to your training camp trip – The rental-car place is out of cars when you arrive. That’s what happened this morning to me at the Park Plaza Hertz. They told me they were waiting for more to come from the airport.

So I said, “What if I just take a cab to the airport?” The lady at the counter said that was fine, so I went to Logan and they transferred the reservation. When I got to the airport, though, my rate was higher. Airport tax, I was told. So my choices: Wait for hours for the cars to get to Park Plaza or pay for cab, then pay more for a rental car. So why did I make this reservation in the first place? Eventually, the manager at the Logan Hertz counter worked out the price for me. But I did get to Albany late.

THE GUY TO WATCH
Tempting to say supersized second-year receiver Ramses Barden, because of how he physically stands out, but he was impressive in camp last year. You could also say Hakeem Nicks, but he did plenty to warrant attention last year. So let’s go with Michael Boley. Linebacker is an issue for the Giants, and Boley could well have answers. The 27-year-old signed a five-year, $25 million contract with the Giants in 2009. Injuries limited him to 11 games last year, but he showed the potential in that action to, if he stays healthy, be the kind of playmaking the force the team needs on the second level of its defense.

PASSING THOUGHTS
Veteran MLB Keith Bulluck, discarded by the Titans and coming off a torn ACL in his and surgery to fix that, the 33-year-old has a chance to be the kind of veteran pickup that can energize a defense. He looked spry in drills yesterday and, even if he is on the back nine, looks like someone young players can still learn from. … New defensive coordinator Perry Fewell has added some energy on the defensive side, and seems to be instilling a real emphasis on turnovers. His players started their first training camp practice with a football version of “Hot Potato” and then went into ball-drill stations after that. … Really remarkable how deep this team has become at receiver, just one year after the “How are they going to replace Plaxico Burress?” questions were such a dominant training camp storyline. … Look out for tight end Travis Beckum. The Giants think he could be the kind of versatile “move” weapon that could make their passing game even more diverse.

Tomorrow: A report from Jets camp

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