Work in Sports
AFC East faces toughest road to championship
Posted: Tuesday July 04, 2000 11:05 AM
By B. Duane Cross, CNNSI.com
ATLANTA -- While all roads lead to Tampa's Raymond James Stadium, the toughest route goes through the AFC East. The division's five teams are raked in the top six in strength of schedule, including the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, Indianapolis Colts and the New York Jets as Nos. 1-4. The New England Patriots have the sixth-toughest schedule.
Still, strength of schedule is only part of the title equation. The games are played on the field -- not inside a computer equation based on opponents' won-loss record from the previous season.
"I'm looking at this as my one chance," said Fiedler, who completed 64.9 percent of his passes and had an 83.5 passer rating with the Jacksonville Jaguars last season. "This is my opportunity to be a starting quarterback in this league. This is what I've worked for, what I've spent all this time for."
Baltimore Ravens head coach Brian Billick thinks Fiedler's chances are good. "He's a lot better athlete than you would expect from an Ivy League kid," said Billick, who coached Fiedler in 1998 as the Minnesota Vikings' offensive coordinator. "You know he's going to be smart, so you get caught in that stereotype. But after you see Jay for a while, you notice how good an athlete he really is."
The Bengals, who drafted Florida State wide receivers Peter Warrick and Ron Dugans in the first and third round, respectively, to complement 1999 club receiving leader Darnay Scott, would like a taste of that offensive success. "[Three wides] will be part of our package," Bengals head coach Bruce Coslet said. "It's fun to watch guys like that, because you never know when they're going to strike. It could be on a deep ball or a three-yard hitch."
"That would be great," Warrick said. "All three of us could just go out and make plays. It would make our team more efficient."
"...For us not to win this year," second-year quarterback Akili Smith recently said on a Bengals Web site, "would be a slap in the face to the city, to [team owner] Mike Brown, to the coaches, to everybody. ...We've got a state of the art stadium, and now it's time to win."
The club's plans are exciting the big men up front. "That's the type of offense every lineman dreams of having," Bengals tackle Willie Anderson said.
How do you attempt to stop Luther Elliss, John Randle and Warren Sapp? Move one of your best linemen -- Ross Verba -- from tackle to guard. That's how the Green Bay Packers plan to defend themselves against three of the game's best defensive tackles -- who also happen to be in their division.
Known for his aggressive and physical play, Verba dominated his new position at a recent mini-camp.
"I felt very confident, very comfortable there," Verba said. "Every play [at guard] you're hitting hard, whereas at tackle sometimes you can hit or you can pad it up a little bit just because that's the play. But that aspect [hitting hard] is my game. I enjoyed it. I loved it."
Verba's play was so dominating that he surprised his coaches and raised their expectations. "We're looking for it right away, that he becomes one of the top guards in the National Football League," offensive line coach Larry Beightol said. "It just shocked me how into it he was. I'm so pleased."
Beightol says having a dominant guard can improve the offense by freeing up running backs from blocking assignments. "You don't have to chip at them [defensive tackles] as much and you can get your backs out in the passing game," Beightol said. "There's so much more you can do. In the running game, you couldn't block Sapp or Randle or Luther Elliss."
"I have great confidence," Verba said. "I came out of this thing real strong. I was able to dominate all camp. This was a major hurdle. I enjoyed left tackle but I'm consumed by left guard."
"This is probably the tightest team at this time of year since I've been here," linebacker Jessie Armstead said.
Among the activities the Giants organized to improve team chemistry and morale were a cruise around Manhattan Island and a team golf tournament friendly enough to cater to players who had never teed it up before.
"I think it will translate on the field, I really do," quarterback Kerry Collins said. "I don't want it to be just rhetoric. I think the mindset will carry into the season."
Time will tell.