Jets Notebook: Vilma could be facing big challenge

Jonathan Vilma

There is a good chance the AFC East will be a two team race.

With Buffalo starting a quarterback with no pro experience, and Miami in a rebuilding year, it looks like it's going to come down the Jets and New England.

Former Bills nose tackle, Pat Williams, now with Minnesota, doesn't think second-year signal-caller J.P. Losman is up to the job this year.

"The young guy they have, I don't think he's ready," said Williams.

Also losing Williams, released this off-season for salary cap reasons, is really going to hurt the Bills. He did a great job of tying up opposing offensive linemen so the Bills talented linebackers could make plays. His potential replacements, Tim Anderson and Ron Edwards, don't seem to be as good at tying up linemen as the 330-pound Williams.

"I don't care who they have, they don't have anyone to replace Pat Williams," said Williams.

And another potential problem for the Bills is their left tackle spot. They let Jonas Jennings leave in free agency (San Francisco), and they are attempting to replace him with former Chicago Bear Mike Gandy, who is probably a better guard than tackle. If defensive end John Abraham plays for the Jets this year, he should be able to dominate this guy.

As for Miami, they potentially could have the worst secondary in the NFL. The knee injury suffered by cornerback Will Poole in a spring minicamp was a devastating blow to the Dolphins. Right before this injury, the Dolphins had decided to trade starting cornerback Patrick Surtain to Kansas City because they thought Poole was ready. Now they are being forced to start rookie fourth round pick Travis Daniels. Most scouts considered Daniels a nickel back candidate, not really a starting quality cornerback. He lacks ideal speed.

Plus, the Dolphins aren't particularly strong at safety either. They signed former New Orleans safety Tebucky Jones, who Saints coach Jim Haslett couldn't wait to get rid of. He's a force in run support, but a liability in coverage. The team's other starting safety is slated to be journeyman Tavares Tillman, who hurt his knee in minicamp. While Tillman should be back for training camp, he's has yet to distinguish himself in the NFL with stops in Buffalo and Atlanta.

Another big problem for the Dolphins could be a quarterback. They are going to with Gus Frerotte or A.J. Feeley. Frerotte is probably better suited for a backup role, and Feeley is now in his third offense in three years. Feeley is likely going to struggle early on getting comfortable with the playbook.

So if Chad Pennington's shoulder is okay, the Jets and New England should battle for the AFC East title . . .

A big concern for the Jets entering training camp is finding an adequate replacement for nose tackle Jason Ferguson. If they don't, it could have a negative trickle-down effect on their defense. Ferguson did a terrific job of tying up offensive linemen so his fellow defensive linemen could make plays. But more importantly, he kept undersized middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma clean to make plays. The Jets don't know if they have a nose tackle who can keep Vilma clean, and if they don't, this could cause some big problems for the 228-pound linebacker. Not only won't he be able to make as many plays as last year, he could get banged-up if he gets knocked around by offensive linemen, many who outweigh him by 100 pounds.

"For him to perform well, it starts up front," said Jets coach Herman Edwards.

Do they have an adequate replacement for the steady Ferguson? Free agent addition, Lance LeGree, who came over from the Giants, has a terrific motor, but he's not particularly big, measuring about 6-1, 295 pounds. While he has good quickness which enables him to make plays in the backfield, but he's not a space-eater who can tie up a couple of linemen like Ferguson. 2005 third round pick Sione Pouha at 6-3, 325 pounds, is much better equiped to act as Vilma's body guard. But some scouts thought he was inconsistent at Utah, and might not be ready to contribute right away. The Jets disagree. They think the negative scouting reports about him prior to the draft were inaccurate. If the Jets are right, Pouha could be end up being the perfect guy to replace Ferguson. Pouha claims his role at Utah was to tie up offensive linemen so the three technique tackle, and linebackers could make plays. Since that is exactly what the Jets are looking for, they can only hope he's a precocious rookie, and can play a significant role from the get-go.

If Pouha doesn't get up to speed fast, the Jets could be in trouble.

Another player to keep an eye on at nose tackle is Tim McGill. The Illinois product, who spend last season on the Jets practice squad, could turn into one of the surprises of training camp. He played well this spring, making first team All-NFL Europe. At a thickly-built 6-1, 330 pounds, he certainly has the size for the job . . .

Negotiations with second round pick, placekicker Mike Nugent, will begin next week.

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