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Behind enemy lines: A front-runner emerging in Jets quarterback battle?

Posted by Erik Frenz  August 2, 2013 08:00 AM

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AP Photo/Mel Evans

With every team in the AFC East nearly a full week into training camp, some front-runners are beginning to emerge.

That statement applies to the battle to be the Jets starting quarterback, one of the most closely watched battles in the league between rookie Geno Smith and veteran Mark Sanchez.

The battle to be the Bills starting quarterback has been under the microscope, as well, with rookie EJ Manuel battling journeyman Kevin Kolb.

The Dolphins have finally found their quarterback of the future in Ryan Tannehill, but now, they just have to hope they can keep him upright. It looks like their stability issues on the offensive line have continued through the first week of camp.

Here are all those updates and more across the rest of the division.

New York Jets

Those words are a far cry from the outcry of confidence from Sanchez prior to training camp.

"When it's a straight-up competition for the job, let's roll," Sanchez told ESPN New York. "It really doesn't bother me at all. It really doesn't affect my confidence or anything like that. We're competing for something. All right, I'm going to win. That's just how I am."

Sanchez has every right to feel some pressure, since all indications are Geno Smith is picking up the offense and looks more comfortable than earlier in the offseason.

In fact, it appears they may have more of a role for this backup than they had for the previous one.

The Jets hardly ran the read-option when they had Tim Tebow on the roster. If they plan to use it with any frequency with Geno Smith as the quarterback, it could be seen as one way of helping him learn how to drive an NFL offense and eventually handing him the keys to the car.

The read-option was not a big part of the West Virginia offense, either, but Geno did spend a majority of his time working out of the shotgun, so the use of read-option could be one way of making his transition a bit easier and putting his 4.59 40 speed to use.

Miami Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins question marks at offensive tackle remain front and center.

They had an opportunity to re-sign left tackle Jake Long, but lost out when Long chose the Rams over the Dolphins. They were then faced with two options: either replace Long at left tackle, or move Martin to left tackle and find a new right tackle.

They went with the latter, signing free-agent tackle Tyson Clabo and putting Martin in the all-important left tackle spot. Martin, however, has been about as stable as Amanda Bynes at right tackle. He allowed 47 pressures, four hits and six sacks on Dolphins quarterbacks last year, and ranked 64th out of 72 offensive tackles in pass protection according to stats website Pro Football Focus.

While some might dispute the value of a left tackle being greater than a right tackle, it doesn't matter where the pressure is coming from if Tannehill has no time in the pocket.

The Dolphins drafted Florida running back Mike Gillislee in the fifth round, two years after drafting Daniel Thomas in the second round and one year after drafting Lamar Miller in the fourth round. With speedy, shifty backs like Gillislee and Miller, the writing is on the wall for Thomas, who was drafted by Tony Sparano to help run the ball between the tackles, behind a man-blocking offensive line.

Thomas averages 3.5 yards per carry and dealt with knee and ankle injuries as well as a concussion in 2012. His durability is questionable. There's a role for Thomas as a short-yardage back, so don't count him out of the Dolphins roster just yet, but he'll have to stay healthy and produce if he wants to keep that role.

Buffalo Bills

The Bills made arguably the most noise of the undrafted free-agency period by signing Da'Rick Rogers, who had been regarded as a potential mid-round pick leading up to the draft.

There were doubts about his overall character, and although we wouldn't anticipate Marrone would be bashing his players at this early stage, it's encouraging that the signs have been positive for him.

With this news, the Bills receiving corps is shaping up nicely. We all know Stevie Johnson is a talented receiver, and Robert Woods has been impressing his teammates as well.

Whether it's EJ Manuel or Kevin Kolb leading the charge, they'll have plenty of targets in the passing game.

"Kolb had a decent day throwing the ball, about even with rookie EJ Manuel," Gaughan writes. "But Manuel looked pretty impressive running the ball. On the sixth play of 11-on-11 drills, Manuel saw all of his receivers covered and took off around left end for what would have been a gain of at least 10 yards. It was a play that a quarterback with average physical tools would not make. Manuel will be a threat if pass rushers don't stay in their rush lanes. Manuel looked good bursting off right end on a read-option running play at the end of the second 11-on-11 session."

Thus, we have our answer: The Bills will do whatever is necessary to make life as easy as possible for EJ Manuel if and when he takes the starting job. Having him run the read-option is the best way to take advantage of his great physical tools as a 6'5", 237-pound quarterback who runs a 4.65-second 40-yard dash.

If the two quarterbacks are even when it comes to throwing the ball, and Manuel has a sizable advantage as a running quarterback, the choice is obvious for who should be the starter.

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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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