NFP’s camp countdown: AFC East

More: NFC East

As the offseason nears its end, here are the top storylines for each AFC East team heading into training camp.

Buffalo Bills: The leadership of Edwards
Looking at the Bills this summer, it’s hard not to wonder what the season holds for them. They have talent at the skill positions, some question marks on the offensive line and a defense that can make plays if it gets to the quarterback. However, the bottom line for this team is quarterback Trent Edwards(notes) and his ability to act as a leader in the locker room and the huddle.

Photo Edwards threw for 2,699 yards last season.
(Joel Auerbach/US Presswire)

We all know that having Terrell Owens(notes) is a double-edged sword: You get the production, but there’s always the risk of unwanted drama that can split a team right down the middle. Edwards is young and could be playing for his future in Buffalo – and, in fact, is playing for head coach Dick Jauron’s immediate future. Somehow, he has to keep it all together. We can all agree that Edwards has to play better on Sundays – and produce in the red zone – but it’s his leadership that will be tested every day, starting with the first practice of training camp.

NFL teams always look to the quarterback when adversity strikes, and with T.O., the Marshawn Lynch(notes) suspension and the future of Jauron on the line, the time is now for Edwards to act and play like a leader because there are sure to be plenty of distractions this summer in Pittsford, N.Y.

Miami Dolphins: The White experience
Pat White(notes) will be the featured attraction for Dolphins fans at training camp this summer because he brings something different to the table. And because of that, we are still talking about a player who doesn’t really have a position.

What White does have is an electricity to his game, and that’s why we want to keep an eye on the Dolphins and the ways they use him in camp. However, don’t expect the Dolphins to put on a show with White for the public. His role will be reduced when practices are open to the fans, and you will most likely see him under center from time to time, maybe in the slot, and even in the backfield. But the special packages – the ones the Dolphins will save for September – will be put on the shelf until practices are closed and the team can start game planning for the regular season.

Still, he will have a role for the Dolphins in 2009 because he’s a talent, and the Dolphins will find a way to use him.

New England Patriots: All eyes on Brady
No surprise that we’re talking about Tom Brady(notes) when it comes to the Patriots, but I still think there’s plenty to learn from watching him practice in pads this summer.

How does his knee respond to two-a-days? Will there be swelling that will force him to miss time? How does he look in the pocket? Does Bill Belichick give him enough time in preseason games to take some hits and test the knee? Yes, I agree that Brady will be the same quarterback come September that he was in 2008 before the ACL injury, but we still want to see how he practices, how he moves against the competition in the preseason games and what he does with a rusher in his face.

Most likely, I’m writing about nothing here, but there is always the possibility that a player coming off knee reconstruction takes time to progress back to his old self. In Brady’s case, I doubt this will happen, but we still have to see him in pads. It should be a media circus for the Pats this summer.

New York Jets: The defensive progression
The Jets and coach Rex Ryan are going to play good defense in 2009, but it has to start early – on the first day of practice – and this unit needs to set a tone that will carry into the regular season.

Great defenses are made in August, and this team – which has been watching Baltimore tape all offseason – has a chance to develop over the month of August into a dominant defense. However, it will take time. It helps that safety Jim Leonhard(notes) and linebacker Bart Scott(notes) came north with Ryan from Baltimore because there’s a reason the Ravens are one of the top defenses in the league year after year – and it starts in practice. Great defenses practice a certain way, hit a certain way and prepare a certain way each day in August. Expect the competition in New York this summer to rise, as will the intensity and the violence of the hitting.

For a rookie quarterback like Mark Sanchez(notes), there’s no better way to develop than by facing a great defense in camp. This is exactly what he’s going to get, as will the rest of the Jets’ offense. Training camp at the NFL level is about competition, and that’s what Ryan has brought to town with this defense – and it starts soon.

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