By Steve Silverman
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The start of training camp has been tumultuous in the AFC East.
This division has been in the hands of the New England Patriots for eight consecutive seasons, and it looks like a ninth straight division title is inevitable.
That was not the case a week or more ago when the Miami Dolphins still had starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill playing for a team that made the playoffs last year. Tannehill’s knee injury has forced the Dolphins into an emergency mode, and head coach Adam Gase went to retired Jay Cutler to keep the team’s chances afloat.
The Cutler-Gase association in Chicago was positive, as Gase was the Bears’ offensive coordinator in 2015 when Cutler had a solid year, competing 64.4 percent of his passes and throwing 21 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions.
The Bears were not a winning team even though Cutler was praised for his play that season, and it was clearly Cutler’s best season since 2010, when the Bears reached the NFC championship game.
That season ended badly for Cutler, as he was injured in the conference title game against the Green Bay Packers. He took quite a bit of criticism for coming out of the contest, and much of that was unfair since he had suffered an MCL sprain and could not move effectively.
But Cutler’s usual expression is one of general mopery, and he has displayed very little of the leadership skills that the best quarterbacks in the game show on a weekly basis. While some of his teammates have defended him over the years, Cutler often comes off as a mercenary. His paycheck is what motivates him, and the winning that is so essentially a part of football doesn’t seem to matter to Cutler.
Gase is willing to accept Cutler’s attitude because he still has the physical skills to lead a competitive team. But even if he can hit the ground running in Miami, it’s difficult to see Cutler getting rid of all the personality traits that made him one of the most disappointing quarterbacks over the whole of his career.
Gase had a memorable rookie head coaching season, but if he can convert Cutler into a full-season leader, he will ascend the coaching ladder to a sensational height. Don’t bet on it, though.
THE REST OF THE EAST
The Bills took far less time to get sick of coach Rex Ryan than the Jets did, and they have moved on to Sean McDermott. They are hoping to make the playoffs for the first time since 1999, but that seems unlikely as they rebuild yet again.
The hope is that quarterback Tyrod Taylor makes progress this summer, and the Bills can add some big-play ability to their offense. Taylor has some skill and is a fine athlete, but Ryan did not want him making mistakes. That kind of recipe rarely works out in the NFL unless the defense is otherworldly, and the Bills don’t have that kind of defensive unit.
They do have one of the most dangerous running backs in the league in LeSean McCoy and a potential game-breaking receiver in Sammy Watkins, but unless Taylor can transform himself into a game-changing quarterback, the Bills are likely to miss the playoffs again.
The Patriots, meanwhile, had issues at this point last year because quarterback Tom Brady had to miss the first four games of the season, and that was uncharted territory. The Pats went 3-1 in his absence and eventually pulled off the most remarkable comeback in the history of the Super Bowl to win their fifth championship of the Bill Belichick-Brady era.
Belichick makes the most out of training camp, and by bringing in the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Pats have an opponent to hit and measure themselves against. They will also match up with two other opponents – the Houston Texans and Detroit Lions – and the Pats will be closer to full speed at the start of the season vs. the Kansas City Chiefs on Sept. 7 than any other team in the league.
That is obviously not the case for the Jets, who saw their best wide receiver, Quincy Enunwa, go down and out with a neck injury. He won’t play this season, and the Jets have very little at the position after parting company with diva Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker in the offseason.
The open quarterback competition is clearly going in the direction of Josh McCown, but it is going to be next to impossible for him to find downfield targets.
Robby Anderson is their best receiver remaining, and he is coming off a season in which he caught just 42 passes for 587 yards and two touchdowns. He flashed some skill, but he is not strong enough to dominate. And the rest of the receivers are completely unproven.
Coach Todd Bowles may have the most difficult job in the NFL, and it’s only going to get harder from here.
Follow Steve on Twitter at @Profootballboy