Around the NFL: It never snows on June dreams

Steve Doerschuk

You won’t get Buffalo fans to cry about losing four straight 1990s Super Bowls.

At least, you shouldn’t. Not now.

In hindsight, such suffering seems heavenly. The Super Bills of Levy and Kelly went 13-3, 13-3, 11-5 and 12-4 in their anything-but-regular seasons.

Today’s Bills slouch two more flimsy falls away from a decade without a single playoff game.

Since scrapping to a wild-card berth in 1999, the Bills have gone 8-8, 3-13, 8-8, 6-10, 9-7, 5-11, 7-9 and 7-9.

Most of the league’s worst stumblers have sneaked in at least one year better than 9-7.

That includes the expansion Browns (3-13, 7-9, 9-7, 5-11, 4-12, 6-10, 4-12, 10-6). It includes the infamously bungling Bengals (4-12, 6-10, 2-14, 8-8, 8-8, 11-5, 8-8, 7-9).

It’s better than aimless Arizona (3-13, 7-9, 5-11, 4-12, 6-10, 5-11, 5-11, 8-8). It’s better than the feckless Lions (9-7, 2-14, 3-13, 5-11, 6-10, 5-11, 3-13, 7-9).

It isn’t very fulfilling. Yet, June is to NFL was February is to MLB.

The Bills are unbeaten.

Allen Wilson, who wrote the Buffalo team feature for The Sporting News’ 2008 NFL yearbook, says “anything short of a playoff berth will be a disappointment.”

Why?

The 2007 Bills lost five of their last seven games. One of the wins was over the dreary Dolphins.

Why?

The Bills finally have a suitable replacement for Jim Kelly in ... Trent Edwards?

Why?

It’s June. Heat wilts rationality.

Yes, the Bills are banking on Edwards, picked late in the third round last year. God bless them for seeming to love him, but quarterbacks drafted in third rounds seldom pan out. We suspected that and, we think, proved it amid heavy 2007 research of Charlie Frye, the Round 3 QB whose rise and fall in Cleveland was swift.

A No. 92 overall pick, Edwards started roughly half his rookie year and posted a weak 70.4 passer rating.

Rich Gannon tells us young quarterbacks are almost impossible to read. He should know. The CBS analyst was a No. 98 overall pick in 1987 who didn’t break through until his latter years, winning the NFL MVP trophy ion 2002.

“You never know until a quarterback has been out there a while,” Gannon said Friday. “My experience tells me young quarterbacks all go through a period when something bad happens, and they’re sent down to the principal’s office. It’s not a lot of fun when it happens.”

The Bills hope to beat the odds. Head Coach Dick Jauron is a brainiac from the Ivy League. Edwards is a sharp cookie from Stanford. New Offensive Coordinator Turk Schonert likewise is a Stanford man.

Yet, does it matter how deep your think tank is when New England’s blitz breaks through for a rib shot from the blind side?

The Bills should have a much-improved defense after signing tackle Marcus Stroud and spending a Round 1 pick on cornerback Leodis McElvin.

They’ll need more than that. In a 38-7 loss at New England, Edwards was out-gunned by Tom Brady 311 yards to 97. In the rematch, a 56-10 New England win at Buffalo, Brady bested J.P. Losman 373 yards to 173.

But why rain on Buffalo’s parade?

Not so long ago, the Bears were coming off a 5-11 year with a head coach named Jauron and a quarterback named nobody. They surprised everybody with a 13-3 season.

If you can’t dream along those lines in June, when can you?

Ends game

The Giants hate playing the waiting game with Michael Strahan, but it’s not as if they’re ready to throw him off the George Washington Bridge. He missed the 2007 offseason and training camp, but came back and was a key part of their Super Bowl run.

If he feels like blowing off the 2008 training camp, the Giants likely will let him — even though they have two other Pro Bowl-caliber defensive ends in Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck.

The Sporting News came out with its defensive ends rankings this week, pegging the Giants, Packers and Vikings as the best groups in the NFL, in that order.

Ends game, continued

The Sporting News says New England owns the best defensive ends group in the AFC, followed by the Colts and Browns.

Jason Taylor hasn’t lost his moves, according to TSN, which ranks the top five AFC ends as: 1, the dancing Dolphin, Taylor; 2, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Titans; 3, Mario Williams, Texans; 4, Dwight Freeney, Colts; 5, Aaron Schobel, Bills.

TSN’s top five NFC ends: 1, Jared Allen, Vikings; 2, Patrick Kerney, Seahawks; 3, Umenyiora, Giants; 4, Trent Cole, Eagles; 5, Aaron Kampman, Packers.

Ranking ends and tackles gets tricky because so many teams run three-man fronts, in which an end’s responsibility is more like a tackle’s in a 3-4.

Back in action

Look for running back Steven Jackson to have a monster year with the Rams.

His new offensive coordinator, NFL long-timer Al Saunders, developed Larry Johnson into a big star in Kansas City.

Jackson already proved he can be a load in 2006, 2,334 yards from scrimmage. He still looked frightening when he was healthy in 2007, but a game against Cleveland was typical. He was unstoppable as the Rams built a quick 14-0 lead. He got hurt, and the Rams stumbled to a loss.

It’s hard to believe Jackson is just a month older than his former Oregon State teammate, young Cleveland quarterback Derek Anderson. Jackson could be motivated by imminent free agency. He has the size and talent to be a league MVP.

Adding Anthony Becht, a good blocking tight end, will help.

Extra points

- Adding former Super Bowl head coach Bill Callahan as an offensive coach should help the Jets, especially if Kellen Clemens winds up ahead of Chad Pennington in the quarterback race. Clemens’ skill set fits the West Coast Offense Callahan ran as head coach at Nebraska. It remains to be seen how Callahan, 51, will mix with 34-year-old offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.

- By now, it doesn’t matter that Rex Grossman was drafted three rounds higher than Kyle Orton. It matters just as much that Orton is three inches taller than Grossman. The Bears would play Oprah at quarterback if there was evidence the offense was migrating toward consistency. The guess here: Orton will enjoy at least a mild breakthrough as a fourth-year pro, beating out Grossman.

- Brian Urlacher was wise not to press his contract dispute by skipping the Bears’ mandatory minicamp. This won’t count as a show of leadership, though, unless he also sticks around for what’s left of voluntary pre-training-camp practice.

Reach Repository sports writer Steve Doerschuk at (330) 580-8347 or e-mail steve.doerschuk@cantonrep.com