AFC East Links: Gronk, Dolphins, Saunders

Rob Gronkowski‘s impact on the Patriots’ offense is undeniable, but ESPN’s Kevin Seifert wonders, “Are we obsessing over the right issue? Rather than trying to pinpoint Gronkowski’s return to full strength, perhaps it would be more productive (and realistic) to gauge whether the Patriots are any better equipped to play without him than they were last season.” Seifert spoke to colleague Matt Williamson, who is optimistic the Pats are better prepared this year if/when they’re without a healthy Gronk.

Here’s a handful more AFC East links:

  • Dolphins defensive tackle Jared Odrick is a bargain, says ESPN’s James Wilder, but it doesn’t appear the fifth-year defensive tackle should expect a contract extension this season.
  • Rookie defensive tackle Anthony Johnson hopes to be a teammate of Odrick. While the undrafted free agent faces an uphill battle to secure a roster spot,’s Alain Poupart profiles Johnson and calls him one of team’s most intriguing rookies. A highly coveted recruit out of high school, Johnson looked like a budding star as a sophomore at LSU, but he did not have a strong junior season. Additionally, concerns about his character and work ethic contributed to him tumbling out of the draft despite being considered a second- or third-round talent by some evaluators. If there’s a silver lining for Johnson’s outlook, by virtue of his status as an undrafted free agent, the “boom-or-bust” prospect now becomes a low-risk, high-reward proposition for the Dolphins.
  • The Jets are hoping fourth-round receiver Jalen Saunders establishes himself as a dangerous punt returner, writes ESPN’s Rich Cimini. A smallish, underpowered slot receiver/punt returner, Saunders flashed speed and quickness to flip the field in college. However, Cimini cautions fans there’s no guarantee Saunders’ skills will translate: “I remember when Aaron Glenn came out in 1994 and everybody was raving about his punt-returning prowess in college. Well, he was a bust as a returner.” While Glenn, a first-round pick, was a much more ballyhooed draftee, the Jets will be satisfied if Saunders can provide a spark on special teams and allow Jeremy Kerley to focus on his slot receiver duties.
  • On the Bills website, A.J. Devine looks at five training camp position battles to watch, including the offensive line, where “An influx of young, powerful linemen was one of the highlights of the Bills offseason. It seems as though head coach Doug Marrone has left every position along the line open for competition and will give everyone the opportunity to fight for a starting spot.”
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