Raiders-Jets Preview

As a rookie, Geno Smith helped save coach Rex Ryan’s job as the New York Jets surged <a href=""Josh McCown Jersey to an 8-8 finish.
With more weapons at his disposal, Smith and the Jets look for better things in his second season as they host the Oakland Raiders on Sunday.

A second-round pick in 2013, Smith “won” the Jets starting quarterback job after embattled incumbent Mark Sanchez suffered an injury in the preseason. Smith had a rookie’s typical ups and downs, showing signs of promise and making head-shaking errors, but a 3-1 close led general manager John Idzik to reward Ryan with a multiyear contract extension.

Any sparks of a controversy for the second straight year were quickly doused as Smith beat out Michael Vick, who arrived from Philadelphia to push Smith.

“Geno started playing quarterback the way you want to play quarterback,” quarterbacks coach David Lee told the Jets’ official website. “He settled. The more he played, the more confidence he got. He’s not cocky, he’s a humble kid, but boy, he’s a confident quarterback right now.”

Having a legitimate No. 1 wide receiver can help bolster that confidence, and Smith has that in Eric Decker. A key contributor to Denver’s Super Bowl run, Decker had career highs of 87 receptions and 1,288 yards to go with 11 touchdowns.

Producing similar numbers would provide a huge boost considering Jeremy Kerley’s 43 catches were the fewest for any team leader since Jerome Harrison and Mohamed Massaquoi each had 34 to pace Cleveland in 2009, and Smith completed only 57.9 percent of his passes to his wideouts.

Chris Johnson is out to prove he can still be an elite running back after topping 1,000 yards in each of his six seasons with Tennessee. He joins holdovers Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell, who combined for 1,532 yards.
New York’s secondary, however, is in disarray. The departure of Antonio Cromartie started a carousel which spun even faster during preseason due to injuries, ineffectiveness and – in typical Jets fashion – the bizarre. Dee Milliner, the team’s top pick in 2013 who confidently declared himself the league’s best cornerback during training camp, is questionable with a high ankle sprain.

Dimitri Patterson, signed in April as a likely starter opposite Milliner, was cut Saturday after going AWOL for 48 hours around New York’s final preseason game. Third-round pick Dexter McDougle is out for the season with a torn ACL.

The Jets addressed the lack of depth by signing Leon McFadden and Phillip Adams, but Darrin Walls and Antonio Allen will see the bulk of playing time. Allen is transitioning from safety to cornerback – a process slowed somewhat after he suffered a concussion Aug. 22.

”I feel pretty good with my preparation,” said Allen, who allowed receivers to catch 22 passes in the 50 times he was targeted last year. ”Went out there and had a decent day (Tuesday) … just competed well, and hopefully I can do that in the game.

”I wouldn’t say I’m comfortable,” he added, ”but I’m getting there.”

Trying to exploit that back four will be rookie Derek Carr as Oakland comes off its second straight 4-12 season and 11th consecutive non-winning campaign – the longest active streak in the NFL. The second-round pick from Fresno State – and younger brother of 2002 overall No. 1 pick and former quarterback David Carr – beat out Matt Schaub for the starting job.

”As (offensive coordinator Greg Olson) says, ‘Don’t let this moment be your best moment as an NFL moment,”’ said Derek Carr, the only rookie quarterback to be starting in Week 1 this year. ”Just being told you’re a starting quarterback and then everything else is downhill after that. We want to make more great moments but it was definitely a great thing. It definitely was.”

Despite – or because of – the Jets’ secondary issues, Carr can expect Ryan to bring blitzers from all directions. It’s a method with a proven track record – Ryan is 7-1 against rookie quarterbacks as Jets coach, limiting them to a 48.3 percent completion rate and 61.1 rating.

”He’s got a great blitz package,” Carr said. ”He has obviously a lot of different looks that he’ll show. Me being a rookie he’ll probably want to show them all.”

Carr headlines an offensive makeover that also includes wide receiver James Jones and running back Maurice Jones-Drew from Green Bay and Jacksonville via free agency. Jones had 123 catches for 1,601 yards with only five drops the last two years for the Packers Josh McCown Elite Jersey, but he managed three TDs last season after recording 14 in 2012.

The Raiders are hoping Jones-Drew, a three-time 1,000-yard rusher, can form an effective tandem with Darren McFadden, who was limited to 10 games and 379 yards in an injury-plagued 2013.

Oakland revamped its defensive line by adding veterans Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley in front of fifth overall pick Khalil Mack – the starting strong-side linebacker. Seventeen-year veteran safety Charles Woodson, who had a career-high 97 tackles in 2014, leads active players with 56 interceptions and will provide support to newcomers Tarrell Brown and Carlos Rogers at the corners.

New York’s late-season push to .500 started with a 37-27 home win over Oakland on Dec. 8. Smith accounted for 269 total yards, including a season-high 50 rushing, and two touchdowns.

Cardinals work to replace Dockett; Mathieu returns

Men's Carson Tinker Elite White Nike Jersey On the day the Arizona Cardinals went back to work for the first time since Darnell Dockett went down with a knee injury, the impact of losing Will Blackmon Authentic Jersey the big defensive tackle for the season was softened a bit by the return of safety Tyrann Mathieu and nose tackle Alameda Ta’amu.
The ‘Honey Badger’ Mathieu, a crucial component of Arizona’s talented secondary, went down in the 13th game of his impressive rookie season a year ago with a torn ACL and LCL. The massive Ta’amu tore an ACL in the season finale at San Francisco.

With just Frostee Rucker and two rookies at Dockett’s position, the Cardinals signed two free agent defensive linemen on Wednesday – 6-foot-2, 330-pound Isaac Sopoaga and 6-6, 305-pound Ryan McBean.
Sopoaga is a 10-year NFL veteran who split last season with Philadelphia and New England. McBean has been out of football for two years. He played in 48 NFL games, all but one of them with Denver.

The first-string job is going to Rucker, who has played in all 16 games the last three seasons, including 16 as a starter for Cleveland in 2012.

”I’ve been preparing myself since last year, anytime I’m out here, to be the guy,” Rucker said after Wednesday’s practice, ”because I’ve been in this league long enough and I know injuries happen and things happen and you’ve got to prepare yourself and be ready. … I don’t think there’s going to be any drop-off. I’ve just got to make sure and prepare myself to fall in the footsteps of No. 90 (Dockett).”

Dockett, who missed just two games in his 10 NFL seasons, will undergo surgery soon, coach Bruce Arians said.

”He’s obviously done for the season but I plan on having him on the sidelines with us all year long because of his spirit and leadership,” the coach said. ”It’s something we need and don’t want to lose.”

Dockett was hurt Monday in an 11-on-11 drill.

Replacing his impassioned on-field leadership will be a challenge.

”I’ve just got to be more of an emotional leader, more vocal, just making sure that I don’t let the team take plays off,” defensive end Calais Campbell said. ”That was the stuff Dockett was real good at. If we are messing up practice, he’d call timeout and get the whole defense together, and make sure we got it together.”

The loss of Dockett further depletes the middle of an Arizona defense that ranked sixth overall and first against the run in the NFL last season.

”You lost three critical pieces – Karlos (Dansby) and Daryl (Washington) and now Dockett,” Mathieu said. ”That pass rush might not be there this year. We may have to cover a bit longer. That’s why Patrick (Peterson) gets paid, that’s why we brought in (Antonio) Cromartie, and that’s why I’ve got to step up.”

With almost three weeks to go, chances are better than had been expected that Mathieu and Ta’amu will be playing in the season opener against San Diego on Sept. 8, a Monday night game.

Mathieu’s versatility and playmaking ability will be put to use the minute he appears ready for it.

Arians calls Mathieu ”a game-changer” with his ability to tip balls, knock balls loose or intercept them. Versatility adds to his value.

”You don’t have to substitute because he has corner ability. He’s a safety that can cover, he can play in the slot, he can go out wide,” Arians said. ”You can stay in your base package and really you still have three corners out there and also great range in the deep end of the field. He allows us to do a lot of different things.”

Mathieu and Ta’amu will work out individually for a day or two before being eased into practice with the rest of the team.

But, Mathieu said, ”I’m just waiting for that moment where I really get tested, then I’ll know for sure whether I’m the same player or whether I have to pick it up a little.”

Dockett’s entire 10-year NFL career has been with Arizona, but there’s a good chance he has played his last game as a Cardinal.

Next year is the last year on his contract and Dockett, who will be 34 by then, will be scheduled to make $6.8 million with a $9.5 million cap hit – a price the Cardinals might not want to pay.

Mathieu, Abraham in tow as Cardinals end camp

Arizona Cardinals Calais Campbell Men's Limited Red Nike Jersey The Arizona Cardinals wrapped up training camp on Friday, with two important cogs in their defense Mark Barron Authentic Jersey working their way back into the fray.
Safety Tyrann Mathieu has made a speedier-than-expected recovery from a severe knee injury and outside linebacker John Abraham is working his way back into shape after arriving late after taking care of what he termed ”personal stuff.”

Both are critical to an Arizona defense that must make up for the loss of three of its main players – defensive tackle Darnell Dockett and inside linebackers Karlos Dansby and Daryl Washington.

Mathieu, ”Honey Badger” to his fans, was having an outstanding rookie season last year before tearing his left ACL and LCL in week 13.

The 36-year-old Abraham had a team-high 11 1/2 sacks last year and earned his sixth Pro Bowl appearance.
Mathieu said the recovery from the type of surgery he had is supposed to take 12 months. He did it in 8 1/2.

”I think it’s some good luck,” he said before Friday’s practice. ”But I’ve been going really hard in my rehab, just been trying to do everything everybody asks me to do, do some extra when I’m not with the trainers. I think the recovery went great. I’m just looking forward to that day I can get back out there and be able to go at full go.”

He came back at 197 pounds, about 11 or 12 pounds heavier than last year.

In his first workout with the team on Thursday, he knocked a couple of players down while playing safety on the scout team, one of them prize running back Andre Ellington. He joked that the added weight made it harder to stop.

”I thought he was going to throw me out of practice. He doesn’t usually let people hit Andre,” Mathieu said.

The 36-year-old Abraham, entering his 16th season, reported to camp last Friday, explaining that he had been dealing with ”personal stuff.” He was arrested on a charge of driving under the influence in suburban Atlanta in late June.
Coach Bruce Arians immediately said Abraham would be the starting outside linebacker. The team sorely needs Abraham for a pass rush that is questionable without him.

Abraham wasn’t too concerned about whether he would play before the Sept. 8 season opener against San Diego.

Abraham is the NFL’s active career sacks leader with 133 1/2. He ranks ninth on the all-time list and needs 8 1/2 to climb past Michael Strahan into fifth place.

”If I can get up the sacks and disrupt the offenses like I’ve been doing my whole career, I don’t have to worry about anything else,” he said.

The Arizona defense also will benefit from the return of nose tackle Alameda Ta’Amu, who saw considerable playing time last season, his 6-foot-3, 348-pound frame clogging the middle.

Friday’s practice was the last one that was open to the fans. The workouts will shift from the air conditioned comfort of University of Phoenix Stadium to the other side of suburban Phoenix at the Cardinals’ practice facility in Tempe.
Arians said the Arizona first unit will play no more than a half of Sunday night’s home game against Cincinnati. Backup quarterback Drew Stanton will play the third quarter, with rookie Logan Thomas quarterbacking the team in the fourth. Ryan Lindley, competing with Thomas for the No. 3 quarterback job, apparently will not play.

Jay Feely and rookie Chandler Catanzaro will split kicking duties against the Bengals.

Jonathan Cooper (toe) and inside linebacker Kevin Minter (groin) did not practice all week. Arians said their participation would be a game-time decision on Sunday night.

Bills offense gets last preseason test vs Lions

The Buffalo Bills defense can take a break.
However, quarterback EJ Manuel and Buffalo’s sputtering starting offense isn’t expected Lavonte David Authentic Jersey to get much rest in the preseason finale against the Detroit Lions on Thursday night.

”Yes, absolutely, I’m looking to play those guys,” Marrone said this week. ”I think, obviously, we’re much further ahead on (the defensive side) of the ball than we are (on offense).”
Marrone’s concerns on offense came after Manuel and company were booed off the field while trailing 24-0 at halftime of an eventual 27-14 preseason home loss to Tampa Bay on Saturday.

The Bills (1-3) combined for just 82 net yards and six first downs on eight first-half possessions before scoring two touchdowns on consecutive third-quarter drives against the Buccaneers’ second-string defense.

The touchdowns – Manuel’s 14-yard pass to Mike Williams and Fred Jackson’s 8-yard run – were the first Buffalo’s starters had scored after being limited to four field goals on their first 18 drives this preseason.
That’s not good enough for a unit that is 10 days away from opening the season at Chicago on Sept. 7.

”If we want to be a great offense, we have to be able to do it against their starters, not their bench,” running back C.J. Spiller said. ”I wouldn’t say discouraged. We’re disappointed.”

Manuel, last year’s first-round draft pick, still hasn’t shed questions regarding his inconsistencies in going 4-6 last season. And the Bills offensive line is still jelling after Marrone finally identified his starting five last week.

They’ll get one final dress rehearsal against the Lions (2-1), who are seeking to settle their backup quarterback competition between Dan Orlovsky and Kellen Moore.
First-year coach Jim Caldwell hasn’t divulged his plans on whether his starters will play on Thursday. The Lions do have several other competitions for roster spots, including one at receiver between Ryan Broyles, Kris Durham and Kevin Ogletree.
The game features one intriguing subplot with Caldwell’s predecessor, Jim Schwartz, now running the Bills defense.

Schwartz went 29-51 in five seasons with the Lions, including a 10-6 finish in 2011 when Detroit snapped a 12-year playoff drought. He was fired after a 7-9 finish last season, including a loss of six of their last seven.

The Bills hired Schwartz in late January after defensive coordinator Mike Pettine was hired to take over as the Cleveland Browns head coach.

Schwartz inherited a talent-laden defense that was the team’s strength and produced four Pro Bowl selections last season. Buffalo set a franchise record and finished second in the NFL with 57 sacks and also finished second in the league with 23 interceptions.

The only deficiency was stopping the run. Buffalo finished 28th in yards rushing allowed, and gave up 150-plus yards rushing seven times.
Schwartz has a strong track record in devising schemes to stop the run, which has so far carried over in Buffalo. In four preseason games, the Bills starters have allowed 80 yards rushing Lavonte David Elite Jersey on 40 carries.

”We talked about it being a priority,” Schwartz said. ”We’ve still got a long way to go, but the last couple of weeks we’ve seen some real encouraging signs from the guys.”

Lions guard Rob Sims said it’ll be ”weird” seeing his former coach on the other sideline.

”It’ll be hard seeing him over there. He’s still a part of this locker room in some regard. He put a lot of us together,” Sims said. ”We won together. We lost together. He absolutely deserves my respect to go over and say ‘Hi.”’

I was sitting on my couch

Another concussion might have prevented the Chelsea High School grad from having a choice.

After three concussions over the last four years with the Detroit Lions, the 31 year old is returning to Chelsea to help the school’s football program and pursue a local business venture.

The Lions released Scheffler after he suffered the third concussion in a 22-9 loss to Green Bay last year.

“I was sitting on my couch watching all the guys that I had spent months training and playing with,” Scheffler said. “It was strange, and I was still feeling the effects of the hit.”

The time away from football during the season helped him see the game with a slightly different perspective.

“It was an eye-opener,” Scheffler said. “I think when you are playing the game you don’t realize how physical the game can be, how hard some of the hits can be.”

The tight end was drafted out of Western Michigan by the Denver Broncos in the second round of the 2006 draft. He was traded to his hometown Detroit Lions in 2010.

In eight seasons, he had 258 career receptions with 3,207 yards with 22 touchdowns.

During the off-season, he spent months weighing his future. He had workouts with Chicago and Kansas City, but also started to pursue options outside of football.

His young family, including wife Richelle and three children under the age of eight, was also an important factor.

“She (Richelle) was ready for me to be done, and I don’t blame her,” Scheffler said with a chuckle.

With the concussions behind him, Scheffler decided the bright future he had outside of playing wasn’t worth risking.

“I’m young, 31 years old is young, so there was concern (of long term risk of a fourth concussion), but it was still tough,” Scheffler said. “I had some opportunities, but I decided it was time.”

Despite getting knocked out of what turned out to be his last game, Scheffler said he has fond memories of the afternoon.

“My whole family was at that game,” Scheffler said. “I’m not sure why, but we took a lot of pictures that day, so it was weird. It was almost like it was meant to be. The game was at Lambeau, and we just have all these great pictures. I’m OK with how it all turned out.”

They all know about his eight years of NFL experience, and that gives him instant credibility as a new assistant coach for the Bulldogs football team.

“All the kids watch what he does, and listen to everything he says,” longtime Chelsea coach Brad Bush said.

Scheffler came in as a freshman at Chelsea High School the fall of Bush’s first year as coach.

As a senior wide receiver, Scheffler set school records for receiving yards in a season as he helped the Bulldogs go 11-1, and reach regionals in Division 3 where it lost to the eventual state champion Farmington Hills Harrison.

“Tony was a huge part of the early success we had when I came into the program,” Bush said. “What makes Tony coming back so great, is that Chelsea means so much to him.”

When Scheffler asked his former coach for the team’s playbook to prepare for the team minicamp this summer, Bush said it should be pretty familiar.

“I expected him to just give me the playbook, but he just said I should remember most of it,” Scheffler said, laughing. “I had to tell him I’ve had to learn like 30 offenses since high school. After a couple days of camp though, things started to come back a little.”

Scheffler, who has donated money to the athletics program in the past, is coaching strictly on a volunteer basis.

“I was smart with my money, so I don’t need to ask for anything,” Scheffler said. “The sports programs are so important to this community that it’s just a privilege to be able to help out.”

Scheffler knows Chelsea fans want their team to bounce back after missing the playoffs last year for the first time since 1998.

“I think I can bring something to the table,” Scheffler said. “You don’t realize how much you know about the game after playing it until you get in there and start helping out. It’s been fun working with the tight ends, and to work with Brad is the cherry on top. It’s something we have talked about for a while, it was a no-brainer for me.”