Share this article

print logo

AFC TEAMS SHUFFLE, BUT FEW HAVE FULL DECK

It's the NFL's traditional spring break for the owners' meeting, so let's take a look at how the AFC has changed since the Super Bowl two months ago.

East

NEW ENGLAND -- The Pats haven't made a major stir, but some subtle adjustments may help. The most important of those was the hiring of Ernie Zampese from Dallas as the new offensive coordinator. He isn't going to bring about miracles but Pete Carroll did not put together a sterling staff when he replaced Bill Parcells as head coach, so Zampese is a major upgrade.

The Pats got the young fullback they wanted, beating Buffalo and others to Tony Carter. More important, they re-signed their own stars, including left tackle Bruce Armstrong and pass rusher Willie McGinest.

Carroll may have to look for another third-down back considering Dave Meggett's major problems with the law in Toronto. Remember that the Krafts, owners of the Pats, forced Parcells to dump draft choice Christian Peter after his off-the-field problems at Nebraska surfaced.

MIAMI -- Jimmy Johnson still hasn't made a big splash. He was spurned by both Zampese and Joe Bugel so he had to promote his running backs coach, Kippy Brown, who has never been a coordinator anywhere, to run the offense.

The Dolphins did sign a tough guy guard, Kevin Donnalley from the Oilers, and a new free safety, Brock Marion from Dallas. There is still a possibility Sean Gilbert, Washington's reluctant defensive lineman, can be signed later. If so that would give JJ three monsters, Gilbert, Tim Bowens and Daryl Gardener, with whom he might checkmate Buffalo's ambitions for its running game.

JETS -- Parcells made two moves to improve his offensive line, signing Seattle center Kevin Mawae and Bears guard Todd Burger. Signing veteran fullback Keith Byars might help the attack but a quarterback is still needed.

His trade of pass rusher Hugh Douglas to Philadelphia gives him a second-round draft choice, which he was missing. The Jets gave it up as part of the reparations to New England for high-jacking the Tuna.

BUFFALO -- The Bills concentrated on juicing up an offense that scored fewer points than any team in the AFC.

The trade for quarterback Rob Johnson could be a landmark deal. Joe Panos gives right guard a warrior mentality for the running game and tough guy Sam Gash is the first actual fullback aboard since Jamie Mueller retired. Signing return ace Kevin Williams, also a wide receiver, was important.

There is no sugar-coating the loss of defensive starters Bryce Paup at outside linebacker, Jeff Burris at cornerback and Damien Covington at inside backer. Re-signing nose tackle Ted Washington was the defensive event of the winter and keeping outside backer Sam Rogers was vital.

The most welcome change could be a new approach with a younger, more energetic coaching staff that must deal with a younger team.

INDIANAPOLIS -- The big news was the trading of Jim Harbaugh, which makes room for a rookie starter at quarterback, presumably Peyton Manning of Tennessee.

Burris was the big-name free agent, but new GM Bill Polian also brought in useful guard Tom Myslinski from Pittsburgh and reacquired linebacker Jeff Herrod from Philly. The question is where does new kicker Mike Vanderjagt from the Canadian League fit? Cary Blanchard went to the Pro Bowl in '96, then slumped last year.

Polian also spent big money to re-sign backup tight end Marcus Pollard, which means the Colts may use a lot of double tight end with Pollard and Ken Dilger. Howard Mudd, the veteran offensive line coach hired by new head coach Jim Mora, decided to switch his two promising kids to new positions. Tarik Glenn moves from left guard to left tackle and Adam Meadows from right tackle to right guard.

Central

PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers always get raided by free agency. This time it was their top receiver, Yancey Thigpen, plus starting left tackle John Jackson and a valuable guard, Tom Myslinski.

The scales were balanced somewhat by the signing of Vikings' corner DeWayne Washington. Ex-Jet Roger Duffy, who plays center and guard, should replace Myslinski.

JACKSONVILLE -- Bryce Paup was the big-ticket signee, but unless the Jaguars switch their defense to a 3-4 alignment they aren't going to get their money's worth. Quentin Neujahr, who played center and guard for the Ravens, was the only other free agent of note signed although they remain in the Sean Gilbert sweepstakes.

They haven't replaced Natrone Means in the backfield and they also lost fullback Ty Hallock.

TENNESSEE -- The Oilers think they got the wide receiver they needed in Pro Bowler Thigpen. The other expensive signee was Green Bay punter Craig Hentrich. The major loss was guard Kevin Donnalley.

CINCINNATI -- The Bengals, tired of Big Daddy Dan Wilkinson's underachieving and whining, traded him to Washington. They signed Michael Bankston of Arizona to replace him in the defensive line.

There is a new worry. Running back Corey Dillon, who came into the NFL with a past full of arrests and other assorted troubles, was recently arrested on DWI charges. Dillon had a fabulous second half, finishing with 1,129 yards and 10 touchdowns. Now the Bengals have to upgrade Ki-Jana Carter's rehabilitation.

BALTIMORE -- There is a new backfield -- Jim Harbaugh at quarterback, ex-Buc Errict Rhett at running back and recycled Roosevelt Potts at fullback. The top free agent is once-great Rod Woodson at cornerback.

There were two major free-agent losses: Wide receiver Derrick Alexander, who caught 1,000 yards worth of passes the last two years, and cornerback Antonio Langham.

West

DENVER -- The Super Bowl champs lost two starters, right guard Brian Habib and middle linebacker Allen Aldridge. The free-agent additions are low key -- ex-Jet defensive lineman Marvin Washington, ex-Bill wide receiver Justin Armour and New Orleans quarterback Jeff Nussmeier. Nussmeier was signed because Jeff Lewis, seen as eventual successor to John Elway, suffered torn knee ligaments in a pickup basketball game.

KANSAS CITY -- The Chiefs keep fortifying their offense, signing Derrick Alexander from the Ravens. He's averaged 16 yards a catch over his career, had two straight 1,000-yard seasons and pairs with another dangerous wideout, Andre Rison, which helps quarterback Elvis Grbac.

Offensive coordinator Paul Hackett left to become head coach at USC. Promoted to replace him is Jimmy Raye, a 21-year NFL coaching veteran who has coordinating experience with four other teams.

SEATTLE -- New owner Paul Allen opened the treasury to sign a bunch of new assistant coaches and five new players: Philadelphia running back Rickey Watters, Detroit's Pro Bowl center Kevin Glover, Denver guard Brian Habib, Philly linebacker Darrin Smith and Miami guard Chris Gray.

The major loss was center Kevin Mawae.

OAKLAND -- New coach Jon Gruden, the Raiders' third in three seasons, is the biggest news. Al Davis traded for New Orleans cornerback Eric Allen but Allen says he doesn't want to be a Raider. The only loss so far is guard Lester Holmes.

SAN DIEGO -- The Chargers had to have a new quarterback, so that's why they gave a fortune to Arizona for the second pick, who is likely to be Ryan Leaf of Washington State.

Joe Bugel, the new offensive line coach, gets two new starters, ex-Steeler left tackle John Jackson and ex-Green Bay left guard Aaron Taylor. Jackson's arrival allows Bugel to switch Vaughn Parker, the former St. Joe's star, to right tackle, where he is more comfortable. Running behind the newly shuffled line is Natrone Means, once a force for the Chargers and later Jacksonville.

Return whiz Eric Metcalf and young linebacker Patrick Sapp went to Arizona in the big trade. Kicker Greg Davis left, but he was replacing the injured John Carney, who returns.

Coming soon: The NFC.

There are no comments - be the first to comment