As the Patriots prepare for their preseason opener on Thursday, the story lines in Foxborough have centered on the lingering questions surrounding Tom Brady and Bill Belichick’s relationship, a receiving corps with holes to fill, and the potential for Sony Michel to emerge as a three-down weapon.
New England’s ability to manage those story lines in their favor will go a long way toward deciding how they do this season — especially in six games against AFC East opposition.
Here are a few story lines from the other teams in the division:
Bill running back LeSean McCoy “very confident” he will play this season despite ongoing investigation
Delicia Cordon told police she believed her ex-boyfriend, Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy, “set [her] up” for a July 10 home invasion in Milton, Georgia. She was allegedly struck in the head with a firearm during the attack.
An attorney for Cordon told ESPN that her client suspects McCoy played a role in the attack but was not directly accusing McCoy of being behind it. Police have not named any suspects in the case.
The running back, who has made the Pro Bowl in each of his first three seasons in Buffalo, believes he will join his teammates on the field in Baltimore for Week 1.
“I’m here right now, so I feel very confident,” McCoy said on the first day of training camp.
The NFL is reviewing the matter but has not changed McCoy’s status. If the 30-year-old is placed on the commissioner’s exempt list, he would not be able to practice or play while the league investigated a potential violation of the personal conduct policy.
Bills general manager Brandon Beane noted the organization has communicated with the NFL and done their “due diligence” on the incident.
“We feel comfortable that LeSean is going to be here and ready to roll,” Beane said. “We don’t see that changing.”
“Tannehill 2.0” and Teddy Bridgewater are returning from knee injuries
Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill will wear a knee brace this season that bears an appropriate label: “Tannehill 2.0.” The sticker simply differentiates between his handful of backup braces, but it doubles as a new moniker as the signal-caller returns from a dislocated knee injury.
“I learned a lot over the past 16 months through the injury,” Tannehill said, per ESPN. “I learned a lot through the process, and I have a better appreciation of being out here. Not taking the little things for granted. I do what I love and have people around me that I care about.”
As he makes his way back onto the field, Tannehill has a promising addition to his receiving corps: former Patriot Danny Amendola.
“He knows how to manipulate situations so that he can get open,” Tannehill said of his new teammate. “It doesn’t take a whole lot of space for him to get open and make those catches in tight windows.”
There’s another AFC East quarterback returning from an even longer absence. New York’s Teddy Bridgewater missed the entire 2016 season after suffering a gruesome knee injury, then played only a handful of snaps last year. At this juncture, Bridgewater projects at No. 2 on the Jets’ depth chart behind Josh McCown, though he will likely be passed by Darnold — if the team decides to keep him instead of trading away a $6 million backup.
“Right now, I’m doing everything I dreamed of doing — and that’s waking up and continuing to play football,” Bridgewater said. “It’s a wonderful feeling. It gives me chills right now to think about it, knowing how the previous two years were.”
The first-round quarterbacks are showing flashes, limitations
AFC East clubs selected two quarterbacks in the first 10 picks of the 2018 NFL Draft. The Jets added Sam Darnold with the third selection, while the Bills picked up Josh Allen at No. 7 overall.
The early social media reviews for Josh Allen at training camp were not positive.
Allen took some first-team snaps during the opening days of camp, but has been relegated to the third team this week. A.J. McCarron and Nathan Peterman are currently competing for the starting position ahead of the Bills preseason game against the Carolina Panthers.
Buffalo head coach Sean McDermott said his approach to Allen’s workload is “calculated,” emphasizing that “we’re not rushing this.” Allen talked about his “trials and tribulations” and noted Peyton Manning struggled in his first campaign before becoming one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game.
In New York, the Jets reportedly believe Darnold will win the starting job by the time Week 1 rolls around. He’s displayed the requisite maturity and ability to process information, and the team has rewarded him with the bulk of the first-team reps during camp.
Darnold threw five touchdowns on Tuesday, though he did get picked off on two occasions.
Leaked Dolphins policy on national anthem leads to shelved rule
A single sentence in a nine-page internal Dolphins document led to an uproar and a freeze on rules related to the national anthem in the NFL.
In July, the Associated Press obtained a document that outlined a new team policy under the “Proper Anthem Conduct” section. The policy would have allowed Miami to suspend players who protest on the field during the anthem for up to four games and classified the protests as “conduct detrimental to the club.”
Although the Dolphins reportedly didn’t plan to impose suspensions and was using the policy as a placeholder, the leaked paperwork caused significant backlash. In response, the league decided “no new rules relating to the anthem will be issued or enforced for the next several weeks” while the NFL and the Players Association held discussions.
Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills had kneeled in each of the last two seasons to protest police brutality and racial inequality. If he does so again in Miami’s preseason opener, he most likely will not face discipline from the team.
“I’m not instructing anybody for anything,” head coach Adam Gase said, per the Miami Herald, when asked how the Dolphins would respond to a player kneeling on Thursday.
Dolphins rookie Mike McCray decided to retire
Mike McCray, who had 79 tackles for Michigan in his senior season, was set on proving evaluators wrong after going undrafted in April. Miami added the rookie linebacker, who impressed during OTAs and looked like he might have a chance at making the final roster.
However, the 23-year-old announced that he was officially ending his football career two days before training camp opened. The Dolphins placed him on the reserve-retired list.
“I am so much more than just an athlete,” McCray wrote. “For some time now, I have been playing the game of football for the wrong reasons and during this time I sacrificed my happiness and well-being. I want to encourage those reading this to do what feels good on the inside and not what looks good on the outside.”