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The top training camp storyline for each AFC East team

Posted by Erik Frenz  July 26, 2013 08:00 AM

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tom brady bill belichick.jpg

Photo via Brian Snyder/Reuters

A quick rundown of the top training camp storylines for each AFC East team with the Dolphins having kicked things off on Sunday and the other three teams set to start practices in the coming days:

Who's catching Tom Brady's passes?

Perhaps the biggest question of training camp in the AFC East, and maybe even the NFL, is who will be catching the ball for the Patriots. Wide receivers accounted for 230 receptions last year for the Patriots, and only 21 of those receptions are returning.

It's a sea of new faces. Between free-agent Danny Amendola, rookies Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce, and undrafted free-agents Mark Harrison, Quentin Sims and Kenbrell Thompkins, the Patriots will have a drastically different depth chart from top to bottom.

There is a good deal of upside with this group; for years, the Patriots have been lacking size on the outside, and five of their 12 current receivers are 6'1" or taller: Dobson, Harrison, Sims, Michael Jenkins and Kamar Aiken all fit the bill.

There will be some pressure on Danny Amendola to fit right in and start catching passes from quarterback Tom Brady with ease as the veteran passer looks for his new favorite weapon at receiver.

How will Rex Ryan deploy his defensive front seven?

When the Jets took defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson with the 13th overall pick in the draft, they helped address their need for a pass-rusher. They just didn't do it at the position of greatest need. Their lack of an edge rusher at outside linebacker has been noteworthy for years, as both Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas got older while the Jets failed to provide any young depth behind them.

Now, the Jets have both Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson as capable 3- and 5-technique linemen. Quinton Coples played that role last year, but he's been moving around a bit this offseason, having lined up some at outside linebacker. That doesn't mean he won't be playing with his hand in the dirt, though, according to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News.

If four-man fronts are the future for the Jets defense, expect to see Coples at left end, Wilkerson and Richardson on the inside, and Antwan Barnes at right end. We could see continued use of the 3-4, though, which might feature Wilkerson and Richardson at the ends, Kenrick Ellis at nose tackle, and Coples and Barnes at outside linebacker.

Either way, Rex Ryan has built quite the versatile and athletic front seven in New York, which could help this defense generate more pass rush than years past.

How will the Bills defense line up?

All offseason, we've heard that defensive coordinator Mike Pettine will bring a new-look defense to the fold.

Well, how does that defense look? Is it a 3-4 base, a 4-3 base, or some combination of the two?

Pettine hinted that they will be in the nickel defense quite frequently in 2013, according to Jonah Javad of WGRZ.

But really, the nickel defense doesn't mean anything more than five defensive backs. There are still six defenders up front that Pettine will deploy in multiple ways. Three down linemen and three linebackers? Four linemen and two linebackers? Exotic fronts with two linemen and four linebackers? The possibilities are endless, and so are the blitz packages.

How's the chemistry between Ryan Tannehill and Mike Wallace?

The Dolphins gave wide receiver Mike Wallace a five-year, $60 million contract to give their offense the explosive dynamic it was missing so sorely in 2012.

Now, there is some pressure on quarterback Ryan Tannehill to make the most of his new weapon.

tannehill deep.pngHe's certainly ready, at least if he plays like he did last year.

Although he wasn't one of the most frequent deep passers in the NFL last year, he was one of the most accurate; on passes that traveled 20 yards or more through the air, 43.1 percent of Tannehill's attempts hit their target, being either caught or dropped.

wallace.pngAt that point, it's up to Wallace to make sure those passes are caught. His drop rate has improved since he came into the league, but the game's top receivers can't afford to have such a high percentage of passes bounce off their hands.

Tannehill will be asked to build off a solid 2012, and Wallace will be asked to provide the missing piece from last season. How these two perform, and perform together, will go a long way in determining the trajectory of the Dolphins offense.

Bonus: Patriots in a tight spot at tight end

With Aaron Hernandez already gone, and Rob Gronkowski potentially missing the first six games recovering from back surgery, the Patriots could be counting on their depth at what has become one of the most important positions in their offense of late.

It looks like veterans Jake Ballard, Michael Hoomanawanui and Daniel Fells could get the call until Gronkowski gets back. Ballard represents the mix of pass-catching and solid blocking that the Patriots could lack without Gronkowski, but he missed all of 2012 while recovering from ACL surgery, and colleague Ben Volin had an interesting tweet in that regard.

Fells and Hoomanawanui got the snaps last year, and could reprise those roles, but don't count out undrafted rookies Zach Sudfeld and Brandon Ford. Sudfeld looked good at OTAs, and if he continues to improve, reps with the first team could be in his future, especially if Gronkowski continues to miss time.

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About the author

Erik Frenz delivers analysis of the biggest news with the Patriots, including insight into the AFC East and New England's biggest rivals from a Patriots perspective. Erik is an interactive writer who engages his audience in his posts’ comments sections and on Twitter. Readers are encouraged to share their thoughts and ask questions. More »


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