The party's over for Johnny Manziel.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsThe Browns would do well to give Johnny Manziel time to develop instead of thrusting him in as a starter.
The offseason of Vegas-Austin-Mexico-Los Angeles clubs and beverages/bottles has concluded. The social media photos with rolled bills are complete. Manziel reported for his first NFL training camp on Wednesday in Cleveland to try to become the Cleveland Browns' starting quarterback. On Thursday, workouts begin. It's not exactly a brave new world for the Browns' first-round draft pick -- he did manage himself quite well in college during the season while having a good time in the offseason, thank you very much -- but it is a more challenging situation than anything he has dealt with in his life. The young wunderkind who was simply always better than those around him finds himself at a whole new level, having to earn his place in the world of professionals.

But while attention will be homed on his every move, his coach has made no secret he'd prefer Manziel not be the team's immediate starter. Coach Mike Pettine told SI.com that in his "ideal world," Manziel would not start on opening day.

Go figure.

The Browns, a team in need of a new image, excite the area and the football world by drafting the most exciting player eligible, and they want him to wait.

But there's sound logic and strong precedent behind Pettine's thinking.

He talks about success stories for people who wait to start -- Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Carson Palmer -- and compares them to guys he has seen rushed into the starting lineup too soon -- Kyle Boller -- for a team not good enough to support them.

That's a scenario Cleveland fans know all too well, as they have seen quarterback after quarterback forced into the lineup, only to struggle with a bad team and fail: Tim Couch, Brady Quinn, Charlie Frye and Brandon Weeden among them.

The other cycle that has been repeated in Cleveland is that a quarterback ballyhooed as a savior watches as the team drafts another. The public and media -- and eventually the team -- grow weary of the first "savior" struggling because the team is not equipped to help him. This starts the clamor for the next guy. He then is rushed in and struggles for the same reasons the first guy did.

Savior after savior has flamed out, quickly. Heck, a year ago in Cleveland, Jason Campbell was briefly considered a savior. He finished 1-7 as a starter.

"It's a bad cycle," Pettine said, "until you get the team around him."

Pettine has to balance a lot, starting with hype and expectation (multiplied exponentially because it's Manziel) that comes with any quarterback drafted in the first round. But he also has to balance what he has seen -- that a quarterback will struggle if the team around him struggles.

"There's no doubt [the quarterback is] the most important guy on the field," Pettine said. "But he's so much the product of his supporting cast."

In many past years, the Browns built the team from the inside out. Start with the quarterback and hope to add pieces. It can work, but the danger in that process showed constantly as a lack of a supporting cast left each young quarterback battered, shell-shocked and fragile.

Pettine wants to build from the outside in while still working with the best quarterback he can find.

That's why in the offseason the Browns rebuilt the running game with personnel and system. It is why they bolstered the offensive line, and why they've implemented a defensive scheme that has been successful everywhere it has been used. It's also why they brought in prominent defensive veterans Donte Whitner and Karlos Dansby, guys used to winning who might change the vibe in a locker room accustomed to losing.

The final piece was a quarterback to compete with Brian Hoyer. In Manziel, the Browns got a guy who threw for 7,800 yards and 63 touchdowns at Texas A&M, a guy who for whatever reason has become a social media phenomenon.

"I don't think even he can get a handle on the why," Pettine said

At this point in his NFL career, Manziel has done nothing but be successful in college. As any Browns fan can attest, college success and/or a college resume does not automatically translate to wins in the NFL.

Pettine said Manziel was a great teammate in the previous time he was in Cleveland, calling him "very humble." The typical litany of positives followed: good in the weight room, attentive in meetings, smart.

Pettine then added this tidbit: "I think he's ahead of the learning curve."

In the world of hype, parsing and interpreting what has formed around Manziel, that comment would translate on the conversion chart to: "Holy smokes this guy is good."

But there are many factors at play, not the least of which are the beliefs and principles of the head coach. In organized team activities and minicamps, Manziel had his moments but never consistently looked like a no-brainer to be the starter. He never played like a guy who immediately had to be put in the lineup. Manziel himself admitted the Browns' offense is a lot more complex than the one he ran in college, where he didn't even have a playbook. There's the reality that the Browns open in Pittsburgh and then play at home against the New Orleans Saints and the Baltimore Ravens. Those are three very tough, physical and aggressive defenses that might make a team hesitate to start a rookie.

Two things are steadfastly true, though. First is that if Manziel doesn't turn out the lights, his on-field party will be over. Because he won't be able to succeed on the field if he's living the extreme high life off it. Pettine said he expects the off-field to be a "non-story" soon.

The second is that Pettine is determined to not give Manziel the job simply because of who he is.

"It's very simple for us," Pettine said. "Who gives us the best chance to win?"
PITTSBURGH – Derek Moye spent all of last season on the Steelers' 53-man roster and two of the wide receivers ahead of the Penn State product signed with other teams during the offseason.

Moye
Despite this, it is hard not to wonder if Moye actually lost ground in his bid to make an impact this season. Moye, as it turns out, will have a hard time simply making the team again because of the crowd that the Steelers have at wide receiver.

They signed veterans Lance Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey in March and drafted Clemson’s Martavis Bryant in the fourth round. The Steelers also saw 2013 sixth-round pick Justin Brown, who spent last season on their practice squad, make a significant jump during offseason practices.

So where does all of that leave Moye? Pretty much in the same position as last season when the former undrafted free agent had to play his way onto the 53-man roster.

“That’s the way it is,” Steelers wide receivers coach Richard Mann said. “He knows that. Each time he gets on the field he gets better. He has a chance.”

The good news for Moye, who caught just two passes for 25 yards and a touchdown last season, is that the competition at wide receiver won’t really start until Monday when the Steelers wear pads for the first time.

Also, the 6-foot-4, 210-pounder made the team last season after entering camp as a long shot. There is no reason to think Moye can’t do it again with another strong camp and playing well in the preseason games.

Here are four other players who also need to flash during training camp.

OLB Chris Carter. The Steelers’ lack of depth at outside linebacker gives the 2011 fifth-round draft pick an inside track to making the 53-man roster. But Carter is vulnerable because he played primarily on special teams in three seasons and has yet to record a sack for the Steelers. Carter received praise from linebackers coach Keith Butler during offseason practices. He has to show the Steelers during camp that he can play extensive snaps at outside linebacker in the event of an injury.

TE David Paulson. He has just 13 catches for 153 yards in two seasons and Paulson isn’t going to make the team as a blocking tight end. The 2012 seventh-round pick has to show he can become a bigger part of the passing game as he is a prime candidate to fall victim to a numbers crunch. The Steelers return four tight ends from last season and they added to the position by drafting Rob Blanchflower in the seventh round and signing Eric Waters as an undrafted free agent.

DE Nick Williams. Williams did very little during offseason practices because he was still recovering from a knee injury he sustained almost a year ago. The Steelers like Williams’ potential but the 6-4, 309-pounder needs to get on the field during camp and get as much work as possible at a position that is hard for young players to master. The Steelers, meanwhile, need an end to emerge from a young group that includes Williams, Brian Arnfelt and undrafted free agent Josh Mauro.

P Brad Wing. His talent is undeniable and the Steelers think he has matured since going undrafted out of LSU in 2013 and failing to make the Philadelphia Eagles’ team last season. That he is a lefty helps – coach Mike Tomlin seems to prefer those kinds of punters – but Wing has to beat out veteran Adam Podlesh, who signed a one-year contract with the Steelers in April. Since Podlesh has a track record in the NFL Wing will have to clearly outplay him in training camp and preseason games to make the team.
CINCINNATI -- When he saw his big outside linebacker loaded onto a cart and leaving the Cincinnati Bengals' final 2013 preseason game in obvious pain, for one split second, Paul Guenther felt lost.

"I almost fainted," the assistant coach recalled earlier this week.

[+] EnlargeVontaze Burfict
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesBengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said LB Emmanuel Lamur, No. 59, is high on skill and smarts.
Exactly 11 months and six days ago, Guenther and the rest of Cincinnati's coaching staff were left wondering where they ought to turn as the haunting reality began to settle in: Emmanuel Lamur, one of their top cover linebackers and most knowledgeable young defenders, was lost for the season. A shoulder injury in the first quarter of the preseason finale against Indianapolis led to their concern, and forced Guenther's stomach to churn.

What a difference time can make.

Now a year later and some weeks shy of another series of preseason games, Guenther, the former Bengals linebackers coach who was elevated to defensive coordinator earlier this offseason, is excitedly welcoming a fully healed Lamur back into the fold.

"There's a lot of things you can do with him," Guenther said. "He can play safety, he can cover tight ends. And as we all know now in the league there are a lot of pass-receiving tight ends that we're going to face, particularly probably in the first ball game."

Along with facing in Week 1 Baltimore's Dennis Pitta, who also will be returning from his own serious injury, the Bengals are set to see tight ends Jordan Cameron, Delanie Walker, Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, Julius Thomas, Coby Fleener, Greg Olsen and Heath Miller, among others this year. Cameron, Graham, Olsen and Thomas were among the top 8 receiving tight ends last season, and despite missing more than half the season, Gronkowski wasn't too far down the list, either, ranking 14th. As a frame of reference, the Bengals' top tight ends, Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert, were 22nd and 24th despite having played 14 and 15 games, respectively.

With a lineup full of that many well-regarded tight ends, the Bengals will take all the help they can to cover them.

Hence, Guenther's happiness over Lamur's return.

Safety Taylor Mays, who spent part of the first few weeks of last regular season filling Lamur's shoes before his own injury, also could be an option for the Bengals in certain tight end-defensive back matchups. He has the type of athleticism and size that makes him a better fit for such coverage assistance than any other Bengals safety. That's one of the many reasons the veteran, who could be considered on the 53-man bubble, actually has a shot to make it onto the full roster.

Back to Lamur. Along with assisting in coverage downfield, Guenther lauded the linebacker's intelligence. Vontaze Burfict, who will continue making calls and checks at the line this season, knows Guenther's defense better than any other player, the coach said. But he quickly added that Lamur wasn't far behind. With a chance to get back on the field and play this fall, Guenther believes Lamur's football intelligence will only increase.

"He gives you great ability to change the look of the fronts," Guenther said. "He's a smart player. He's a player who knows the defense. Maybe not as much as Burfict because he was out last year, but he's that kind of guy that understands the big picture. Having him back is a big advantage for us."
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Brian Hoyer took a grand total of five days off this offseason.

He probably would have done the exact same thing had the Cleveland Browns not taken Johnny Manziel in the first round of the NFL draft.

"He's a gym rat," coach Mike Pettine said.

The phrase is timeworn, but accurate. Because it sums up the work ethic and dedication of the Cleveland-area kid trying to hold off the challenge of the first-round pick to live his dream of starting for his hometown team.

In the team's first minicamp before the draft, Hoyer was a confident guy, talking about the Browns being his team until he was told otherwise. The night of the draft, he was part of the Manziel maelstrom, and affected by it much more personally than anyone. By the team's organized team activities, he was saying that the best thing he could do as a teammate would be to be the best quarterback he could be. By the end of OTAs, he was eager and anxious to have limitations removed as he recovers from a torn knee ligament that ended a promising 2013 season too soon. In the time between minicamp and training camp, he took a brief respite from rehab and work. But only a brief one.

He enters training camp as the Browns' starter, but he's as aware as anyone what it means to not only be competing with a first-round draft pick, but a first-round pick with significant cachet, resume and achievements.

Pettine, though, has seen no sign that any of the public chatter over Manziel has affected Hoyer.

"I think he's confident," Pettine said, "and I think he's getting his confidence through his preparation."

Which is where it all begins and ends with Hoyer, who learned from the best as Tom Brady's backup. Last season when he had three starts, he talked about being as prepared as he could be. This offseason, with or without Manziel, he's taken the same approach.

The Browns believe Manziel's presence will help Hoyer, will make him better by forging his competitive juices and focusing his already-strong drive.

"The alternative would be that we didn't draft Manziel and we took somebody in the fifth round," Pettine said. "Would Brian Hoyer be as good then as he would be after taking Manziel and having to deal with the circumstances that we're in?"

It's one of his core foundations -- competition makes people better. He has that at running back with Terrance West and Ben Tate, at cornerback with Justin Gilbert and Buster Skrine, at guard with four guys fighting for two spots. And at quarterback.

"There's no substitute for it, and there's no better motivator than competition," Pettine said. "If you're not willing to compete, then you shouldn't be here."

Hoyer seems to relish it. On a recent radio interview on ESPN's "Mike & Mike," he called the drafting of Manziel "a relief" because he then understood what he was facing. Manziel has talked about wanting to start, but while Hoyer has been spending time with his family and children, Manziel has been on the party circuit. Whether that matters remains to be seen.

Pettine does not hide from the reality of what it means to take a quarterback in the first round, especially one like Manziel. But he also understands why he was hired.

"We can't lose sight as a staff that it's very simple for us: Who gives us the best chance to win this coming Sunday?" he said.

He points out that nobody from the Browns on draft night said they had drafted their starting quarterback.

"There's so much credibility when he earns it on the field," Pettine said. "Sure, [Manziel] comes in here with an incredible background of being a playmaker and having success. But there's the question of getting it to translate to the NFL level.

"We're confident that will happen. That's the reason we took him. But at the same time we feel we have a quarterback here in Brian who can win games for us."

Pettine values mental toughness. And Hoyer has shown no sign of being rattled or shaken by the hoopla over the rookie. In fact, it might have honed his desire.

"To me," Pettine said, "you have to be the strongest guy on the field mentally if you're the quarterback. To me, if he had issues with that mentally then you would question, ‘Does he have the wherewithal to be an NFL quarterback?' If he's going to let that bother him, you would question it.

"I'm not worried about it. I think that cream rises to the top."
CINCINNATI -- As the news of longtime owner Pat Bowlen's departure from the Denver Broncos made headlines early Wednesday, I was reminded of a few comments Cincinnati Bengals president Mike Brown made about his own ownership status just Tuesday.

Bowlen, 70, is stepping aside after 30 years while he battles Alzheimer's disease.

The 78-year-old Brown isn't battling with health issues, but there are signs his time in charge of the Bengals has started nearing its end. Daughter Katie Blackburn has in the past few seasons been more of a behind-the-scenes player for the organization, as has head coach Marvin Lewis.

[+] EnlargeKatie Blackburn
AP Photo/Al BehrmanBengals president Mike Brown, left, shown in 2011 with his daughter, executive vice president Katie Blackburn. When Brown, now 78, relinquishes control of the team, Blackburn will take over.
Blackburn's work with recent contract negotiations make it clear she is pulling some of the team's most important strings. Lewis' work with the organization's scouting department has helped Cincinnati have some of the league's best draft classes in recent seasons.

When the day comes that Brown decides to relinquish control, the Bengals are well-placed for a good transition. That is primarily because the transition has been in motion for many years now. When the Bengals were moving into Paul Brown Stadium (named, naturally after Brown's father, the legendary NFL coach) in 2000, they started making it known the organization would one day be Blackburn's to run. Here is a story from June of that year about how Cincinnati was laying the foundation for that transition, written by former Cincinnati Enquirer Bengals reporter Mark Curnutte.

Back to Tuesday and the 47th installment of the Bengals' preseason media luncheon. Just before the event at the stadium, Brown relayed his thoughts on how the transition has gone of late.

"Oh, you can tell I'm getting old," Brown said. "When you get old, your children get impatient with you. Just the way it works in life. I have been blessed to have been able to work with my two kids and my father. That's something that is unusual in America these days, and I realize that roles change. My role changed with my father, just as Katie's role with me changes.

"One time I went up. Now I'm going down and that's just the way it is."

The Bengals have truly been a family organization for the life of their existence. Paul Brown ran the organization in some capacity every year from the time he founded it in 1968 until his death in 1991. Mike Brown has been in charge the 23 years that have followed, and he has been joined in the front office over the years by his brother, Pete, his son, Paul, and Blackburn and her husband Troy Blackburn.

Asked if he felt the transition with his son and daughter has gone as well as the transition between he and his father, Mike Brown said: "I like to think so."

Among the recent decisions he's most proud of, Mike Brown said he was glad he could give Lewis another year on his contract this offseason.

"Marvin's a solid coach and a good guy," Brown said. "I've gotten to know him through thick and thin. He's brought us to a good level. We're a winning team. And when you have that coach that can do that for you, I think you'd be foolish to be unsatisfied with him."

Before Lewis took over as head coach in 2003, the Bengals had gone through six straight losing seasons, and 12 straight seasons where they won eight games or fewer. As Lewis enters his 12th season, the Bengals are hoping to make their sixth playoff berth since 2005, and are looking to build on the nine-, 10- and 11-win totals they have amassed in the past three seasons.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The biggest challenge for many rookies is adjusting to the speed of the NFL. Inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, on the other hand, believes he can speed up his game in training camp.

That's why the Baltimore Ravens' first-round pick has circled Saturday on his schedule. It's the first day of full-contact practices in this year's camp.

[+] EnlargeRavens' C.J. Mosley
AP PhotoRavens first-round pick C.J. Mosley believes that he will be able to play faster in training camp.
“One thing that I always had going into wherever I played at was just me being fast to the ball and making plays in the passing game or running sideline-to-sideline making tackles," Mosley said. "One of the good things when I get in pads, I don’t have to be as slow as I’ve been just in shoulder pads, or just in our shells where you can’t really go as fast or fit up on blockers, things like that. So when we get pads on, it’ll kind of just be free football. You have to execute your plays; at the end of the day you have to be athletic and make your plays. So I feel like when we get in pads, I’ll be able to do that.”

Mosley is coming off an impressive offseason. He has shown good instincts, leaping ability and a strong grasp of the defense.

This is why he was running with the starters in the final practices of the offseason last month. Ravens coach John Harbaugh, though, isn't ready to hand over the starting job to Mosley just yet.

"He’s in a fight now for playing time, and he has a lot to learn," Harbaugh said. "He’s just beginning, so we’ll see where it goes. It’s going to be fun to see. [After] the first week we’ll know a lot more about these guys."

The Ravens already know about Mosley's pedigree. It led them to selecting him with the 17th overall pick in this year's draft.

Mosley won the Butkus Award as the nation's top linebacker in 2013 and was the SEC defensive player of the year. He finished as Alabama's leading tackler for a second consecutive season.

"He is a natural, man," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "He looks like he covers ground out there really well. It’ll be interesting, once we get the pads on, to see some of the running backs and [Mosley] and some of our other guys go toe to toe a little bit."

The inside linebacker spot beside Daryl Smith became open this offseason when Jameel McClain, a four-year starter, wasn't re-signed and Rolando McClain flopped in his workout with the Ravens. Mosley will have to hold off Arthur Brown, a second-round pick from a year ago, to become only the third rookie draft pick since 2007 (safety Matt Elam and linebacker Courtney Upshaw were the others) to start a majority of the games.

"The competition is going to start as soon as we get our pads on," Mosley said. "So, I’m just ready to get in pads and show these coaches that they picked me for a reason.”
CINCINNATI -- Bengals president Mike Brown, who very rarely addresses reporters these days, may have decided to discuss quarterback Andy Dalton's looming contract extension before a kickoff luncheon at Paul Brown Stadium on Tuesday, but his head coach is done discussing the issue.

Lewis
Dalton
Dalton
Apparently Dalton is, too.

"We're not going to talk about it anymore, thank you," Lewis said, stopping one questioner who was curious about when the deal needed to get done. "That's the same thing he's [Dalton] going to tell you when he gets to tell you. We've talked enough about it. It'll get settled, and when it gets settled it will be done. We don't need to continue to ask the questions, and I've asked [head of Bengals media relations] Jack [Brennan] to share that with you, to quit asking about it.

"And when the national people come in that aren't here, it's the same thing. We've talked enough about it. It's part of professional sports so just let it go."

Well, there you have it. The public conversations about Dalton's contract are officially over, as far as Lewis is concerned. That sentiment echoes other comments Lewis has made this summer. After spending his availability sessions at the combine and owners' meetings discussing the contract situation, Lewis shied away from talking about it when asked during the end of the organized team activity practices in June.

Dalton is set to make nearly $1.7 million this season, which concludes his rookie contract. He could earn more than $18 million annually on a deal that would put him a little closer to the top of quarterback heap. To that end, he'd arguably be a second-tier quarterback, although he has been regarded a tier 3 quarterback, according to a recent ESPN Insider survey Insider featuring general managers, scouts, players and coaches. ESPN's Ron Jaworski also recently dubbed Dalton the No. 18 player on his list of NFL quarterbacks Insider.

Lewis contends fans don't care about the minutia involved with extensions like Dalton's. He believes they only care once the ink has dried on the contract.

"They only care about it when it's signed," he said. "It will be a big day, so save some space for that."

Maybe that day is on the preseason horizon? If so, Lewis' lips won't be staying sealed on the matter for too long.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is beginning his seventh NFL training camp with a new playbook, a new veteran receiver and two new starters on the offensive line.

What he doesn't want to hear is excuses, and what he doesn't want to see is repeated mistakes.

In a span of a year, Flacco went from being the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player to the quarterback of the NFL's 29th-ranked offense, which was the team's worst offensive ranking in nine years.

[+] EnlargeJoe Flacco
AP Photo/Duane Burleson"I don't care if its' a new offense or not. I expect to come out there and be precise and operate at a high level," Joe Flacco said.
Flacco is putting the pressure on the Ravens to not only grasp Gary Kubiak's new offense but run it effectively and efficiently.

"I don't care if its' a new offense or not. I expect to come out there and be precise and operate at a high level," Flacco said two days before the Ravens' official start of training camp. "This is where it counts. We've got a couple of weeks and we're going to be playing real games. We have to execute at a high level in order to win those because they're going to come down to little things like that. That's why we can't expect and make little mistakes."

Flacco and his teammates had 13 offseason practices to learn the new system, and the offense has been installed three different times. Now, the Ravens have 16 days until their first preseason game and 47 days until the regular-season opener against the AFC North defending champion Cincinnati Bengals.

A lack of productivity with the Ravens offense hurt the team's chances of a seventh straight trip to the playoffs. In the Ravens' eight losses, they averaged 17.7 points and scored 20 or fewer points seven times.

This led to an offseason of change on the offensive side of the ball. The Ravens hired Kubiak as their offensive coordinator, signed wide receiver Steve Smith in free agency and added center Jeremy Zuttah and right tackle Ricky Wagner to the starting lineup.

"Yeah, we're still going to make mistakes but they have to be corrected quickly and you can't keep making them again and again," Flacco said. "You have to come out here right after that, and that mistake should be gone. I think we can expect a pretty high level of pace and I think we can expect a pretty high level of precision being that we've done it for a couple of months. That's what I'm going to expect."

Flacco said learning a new offense for the first time in his NFL career is "fun" and "exciting." When driving over to the Ravens' facility, he and Tyrod Taylor were jokingly reciting the cadence to make sure they remembered how to say it.

"I think we've passed the test," Flacco said with a smile.

Flacco acknowledged that the toughest part about adjusting to a new offense is wiping out everything that had become second nature in the old offense. He believes he has the athleticism to run bootlegs and can make all the throws required in the new system. The mental part, especially absorbing the terminology, remains the biggest hurdle.

Like Flacco said, there is little time to waste. And there's not an easy game for the offense in the first month of the season.

The first four defenses the Ravens face this season all ranked in the top half of the NFL: Cincinnati Bengals (No. 3), Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 13), Cleveland Browns (No. 9) and Carolina Panthers (No. 2).

That's why confidence is going to be key, Flacco said.

"If I show everybody else that they should execute at a high level and they will execute at a high level, I think we'll get that confidence to go out there on Sundays and kind of play with a little bit of swagger," Flacco said. "I think that's what it's going to take."
CINCINNATI -- When Cincinnati Bengals president Mike Brown said Tuesday that some parts of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's contract extension was intriguing to him and his front office, he sent a message worth paying attention to.

"There's always something that cuts for the team or cuts for the player," Brown said. "In Kaepernick's case, there's some things we like."

Like Kaepernick, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has been the subject of contract extension talks this offseason. As the 35th overall (Dalton) and 36th overall (Kaepernick) picks in the 2011 draft, the two have been linked ever since they got in the league. Both were targeted by the Bengals ahead of the 2011 draft, causing some fans to wonder what might have been for the Bengals had they picked Kaepernick instead of Dalton.

[+] EnlargeCincinnati's Andy Dalton
AP Photo/Al BehrmanCould a new contract extension for Andy Dalton include incentives for winning playoff games like Colin Kaepernick's new deal does?
It's not much of a surprise that Brown likes Kaepernick's contract considering its tiered, play-for-pay structure benefits his franchise. All owners and team presidents ought to have been intrigued by such a deal. San Francisco reserves the right to release Kaepernick after each season if his performance isn't up to par. He also likely won't see the full amount of his six-year deal.

In order to see the full amount of his contract, Kaepernick would need to play nearly like a Hall of Famer over the next seven seasons. It will be difficult for him to sustain that level, offering one reason many think the deal greatly favors the team. On the flip side, it could be argued that the deal was good for Kaepernick because he has already gathered his fair share of accolades, and shouldn't have too much trouble earning his full annual salary.

Based on his track record of success, Kaepernick has to feel good about his chances of seeing a significant chunk of money from the contract that is scheduled to pay him about $19 million each season through 2020.

Don't be surprised if you see something similar come down the pike for Dalton when he finally signs.

"Kaepernick's a good player. He's been successful," Brown said. "We tend to think our deal [with Dalton] should be something in that rang, not way beyond it."

"Way beyond it" would put Dalton in a performance-based contract that's in the territory of $20 million a year, with an average cap value that's dramatically closer to what the elite passers in the league are making. Drew Brees, Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers are the only quarterbacks making more than $20 million annually. They also have three Super Bowl rings between them, and all four have been to conference championship games.

The Bengals haven't been out of the first round of the playoffs since 1991. As you well know, Dalton has taken them to that game each of the three seasons he's been in Cincinnati, but his six postseason interceptions have helped push the Bengals to each early exit.

Still, his lack of playoff success notwithstanding, Dalton, who is set to make nearly $1.7 million this year, has been just solid enough in the regular season. He's helped the Bengals -- a franchise that not so long ago saw a 14-season stretch in which it couldn't win more than eight games -- get 30 wins in his brief career, and has been a key figure behind their overall dramatic turnaround. Brown was quick to mention that Tuesday.

"I like him on the field," Brown said. "He's Steady Eddy. He competes. He doesn't do stupid things. We might not outshine everybody. We are the turtle in the race, if you will, but don't count us out. We are going to keep on chugging. That's what he does for us. He keeps us focused. He makes us a winning team. I don't discount that. I hold that in high regard."

Make no mistake, Brown holds something else in high regard, too: winning in the playoffs.

"[Dalton] knows and we know -- everybody knows -- we didn't win in the playoffs. We have to get over that hump," Brown said. "That is going to be difficult but we are counting on him to get us to that point. We'll see."

We'll also see when the Bengals move on extending Dalton. While the sides have been talking more of late, and are trying to get closer to an agreement before the season begins, Brown said he had no deadline for when a deal needed to get done.

"These negotiating things take their course," Brown said. "This one has been going on for some while. We have had numerous discussions and I think it will -- like most of these matters -- find an ending soon enough. But I am not going to stand here and predict exactly when that is going to be. I don't really know."

Brown added he was content letting Dalton playing the season out and hoping he can get a better deal next offseason or later.

"He will have to make a choice, we will have to make a choice," Brown said. "One of the options is he plays this year. One of the options is that we franchise [tag] him for the following year. So, you can count on one thing: he's going to be the quarterback here for the immediate future."

If the Bengals franchise Dalton next year, he could be looking at upward of $16 million for 2015. This year's franchise tag for quarterbacks was $16.2 million. That figure is expected to increase next offseason.

Regardless of when Dalton's deal comes, keep Kaepernick's contract in mind.
CINCINNATI -- Many of the plays Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson cued on the projection screen during unit meetings back in May and June ended with one player receiving a compliment: running back Rex Burkhead.

"That joker," fellow back Giovani Bernard said, "he's a good player."

Bernard apparently considers Burkhead to be so good, Bernard has made it his mission to copy one aspect of Burkhead's game in particular. That's right, Cincinnati's do-everything starting running back who was in the running for the NFL's Rookie of the Year Award last season wants to emulate the backup who might not even make the team this training camp.

"It's just his effort," Bernard said. "You can't teach that. That's something you kind of have to have in yourself."

[+] EnlargeRex Burkhead
AP Photo/Al BehrmanRunning back Rex Burkhead has the type of attitude Bengals coaches love to see.
Routinely in practices you will see Burkhead finish runs or catches 30, 40, even 50 yards beyond where the whistle blew and the play ended. That is the effort Bernard has been slightly envious of. It is the same effort Jackson has been quick to point out when he re-watches practice film, and it is the effort other coaches referenced when they brought up the mantra of the minicamp and organized team activity portion of the offseason: "finish."

Back in June when organized team activities were winding down, receivers coach James Urban told ESPN.com just how much "finishing" had been stressed as the team started implementing Jackson's new offensive scheme.

"There was a lot of talk about finish," Urban said. "Talking about doing things down the field. Most of these guys have been with me, been with us, for the last four years or so. So they know what to expect, and we've done great things. So how do you get their attention? We get their attention by overemphasizing finishing, overemphasizing getting off the ball and getting out of the huddle and getting set."

Jackson said Burkhead was a great example of that.

"I can always in the meetings point to something he's doing that's giving us a chance to have success," Jackson said. "It's every day. There's not a day that goes by. And that's what matters to me: that guys are playing hard, finishing and taking care of business. He does that, there's no question about that."

There is also no question that as he enters his second season, Burkhead finds himself mired in one of the more intriguing position battles of the Bengals' training camp which begins Thursday. He's fighting for the team's third or fourth running back spot with BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Cedric Peerman, James Wilder Jr. and Nikita Whitlock. The universal belief is that the Bengals likely will end up using Bernard and rookie Jeremy Hill as their top two running backs, and that Peerman's more expansive special teams background and experience makes him an ideal candidate for the No. 3 spot. That would mean Burkhead and Green-Ellis will be dueling for the other roster spot as Wilder and Whitlock likely duke it out for a possible practice-squad job.

Burkhead has played the various scenarios in his head. He has a strong understanding of what is at stake for him right now. He knows he's not the fastest back on the team, and he knows he might not be the most powerful. But he still believes he has what it takes to stick with the club.

"I love the competition," Burkhead said. "I feel like it brings out the best in me and helps me improve as a player. So whenever my opportunity comes, I'll be ready for it because I've already been practicing at that level. This competition, it makes us all better. It makes the team better and that's what wins you championships, is having that high level of competitiveness around you."

Burkhead didn't contribute statistically to the Bengals' division championship last season. Declared inactive for all but one game, he was primarily a practice body. But he was a practice body that still commanded attention.

"This game, it's tough. It's tough to win, it's tough to score. It comes down to inches," Burkhead said. "That's what finishing plays is. Hopefully I can set that example, and if I can help someone do that, too, that's what I'm going to do."

So far, he's at least rubbed off on Bernard.

"It's effort like that that Coach Hue really sees and that he wants the whole offense to follow," Bernard said.

Burkhead, 24, wasn't the only one Jackson singled out regularly in his practice-film review sessions with the offense. Veterans like 32-year-old Pro Bowl offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth showcased some of what Jackson has been pleading for since he took over as offensive coordinator in January.

Bernard said Jackson showed a couple of times where Whitworth was running downfield on routine practice plays to block for receivers.

"If all the linemen could do that, if all the running backs could do that, if all the receivers could do that, the quarterbacks could do that, that'll show and it'll prove to everybody how much better we really are," Bernard said.

As camp opens, stay on the lookout for how well effort translates to roster spots and offensive identity.
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers report to training camp in three days and it looks like coach Mike Tomlin has pre-ordered heat and humidity, two of his favorite ingredients for the practices that will take place at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

Here is a different kind of primer for camp, and it is the first of two posts recapping the Steelers' offseason in the words of the coaches and the players.

Here is what the players said during the offseason practices.

Polamalu
“We could put Usain Bolt and the whole track team out there but that doesn't make us a good football team. So, we'll see how everything works out.” – strong safety Troy Polamalu on what an infusion of speed will mean for the defense

“I’m excited about this team and the direction we’re headed. I think that we have a lot of speed. That’s running the ball, that’s throwing the ball, whatever. I want us to be fast and to put a lot of points on the board. I feel younger than ever." – quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on expectations for the offense after the Steelers averaged just under 28 points in their final eight games last season

“You see guys finishing to the end zone, the whole defense running to the ball, everyone coaching each other. I think we’re just a hungry young group that’s aspiring to win games. When you’ve got a young motivated group that everyone bought into what we’re trying to do it just speaks highly when you see it on the practice field.” – Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown on the urgency the Steelers showed during offseason practices

“I’m in his head every day, always asking questions, always trying to figure out the best way to do it. He’s always on my butt about just grinding. Not saying that I don’t push myself, but there’s always a next level and that’s what he’s brought to our whole unit.” – outside linebacker Jarvis Jones on new defensive assistant Joey Porter

Miller
“I expect to be better than last year for sure. That’s better because I should be able to put more preparation in, should be able to work like I’m used to working. Last year was about trying to find a new normal for myself and I’m a creature of habit so that wasn’t easy for me.” – tight end Heath Miller on participating in offseason practices after missing them the previous year while recovering from a torn ACL

“You’ve got a few guys and there time is right now. Cortez Allen is one of those guys. Will Gay is still one of those guys regardless of what people don’t want to say about him. The man’s real solid.I think last year was the best year of his career. And Cortez Allen toward the end was breaking out to what we all thought he could be -- a ball hawk.” – veteran Ike Taylor on the Steelers’ cornerbacks

“It’s nothing right now and I say that in the sense that that’s been talked about the last few years. The talent is there but if we come out here and [falter] we’ll be saying the same thing next year. You can’t just say because we have the high-round talent or guys that have experience that it’s supposed to be special. We’ve got to make it that way.” – left guard Ramon Foster on the whether offensive line’s strong finish in 2013 will translate into a big season for the unit this year

“He’s one of my better friends on the team now. It’s crazy the relationship I built with him over the last couple of months. He’s a lot like I am, outgoing, more jokes. Dri is the same way. It’s crazy how we all mesh together and get along.” – starting running back Le'Veon Bell on new backfield additions LeGarrette Blount and Dri Archer


“Think about it. You’ve got a Hall of Famer in waiting and I’m coming in to play right after him. That’s pressure. Everybody knows what Casey was. He’s on a top five defense his whole career. I’ve seen the man play. There’s nothing else like him. I’m far from Casey. I’m never going to try to be Casey. The only thing I can do is work every day, do my best and just be the best Steve that I can be.” – nose tackle Steve McLendon on replacing five-time Pro Bowler Casey Hampton last season

Mitchell
“I don’t really care about Pro Bowl. I want to be All-Pro. I have to do what I did last year again plus get better. A lot of times last year people were talking about the front seven I played with and they were very talented but this defense here is very talented. Sometimes you’re overlooked but that’s just another chip to put on my shoulder and play football.” – new free safety Mike Mitchell on his goal for this season

“He’s like a sponge right now. The coaches tell him, ‘Don’t say much at all. Just try and soak everything up right now.’ It’s going to be tough on him but he’s the type of athletic he can do it. He’s willing and able to do whatever it takes.” – inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons on first-round draft pick Ryan Shazier

“I feel like I was overlooked by a lot of teams. A lot of guys that went ahead of me aren’t even on teams right now so that gives me a chip on my shoulder every day. When I get to the point where I’m that No. 1 guy and I’m an All-Pro cornerback I’m going to think back to the days when I was sad because I didn’t get drafted.” – cornerback Antwon Blake on what drives him

“I’ve gotten a chance to see who wore this number before me and the person who wore the number before me was a great player for the Steelers. With that comes a great opportunity to become the best and that’s somebody I want to become as great as or greater than. I love pressure. I thrive off that.” – rookie defensive end Stephon Tuitt on wearing No. 91, Aaron Smith’s old number

“Ben is strong-armed with a sense of boldness. He’s going to throw some balls that maybe some other guys wouldn’t, even guys with strong arms. I love that as a receiver.” – new wide receiver Lance Moore on playing with Roethlisberger

“He’s like Paul Bunyan. He’s huge. He’s thick but he’s definitely agile. I think we can get a lot out of him. His potential is out of the roof. It’s about getting him to the next level.” – defensive end Cameron Heyward on rookie defensive tackle Dan McCullers
Johnny Manziel's stock continues to soar.

The NFL announced Monday that Manziel jerseys outsold all others for sales from April 1 through July 17.

Manziel
Imagine when the Cleveland Browns rookie completes a pass.

Meanwhile, another former NFL great weighed in with thoughts on Manziel.

This time it was Brett Favre's turn to answer a question, as the former Packers, Jets and Vikings great told ESPN 1000 in Chicago that Manziel is “a superb talent” who is “fun to watch” but also must understand it’s now about the team.

"It’s not about him,” Favre said, stressing he does not know Manziel. “It has been about him, and rightfully so. He’s been fun to watch and won the Heisman Trophy as a freshman. My goodness, the spotlight is on you.

“But you have to try to deflect that as much as possible and just be team player. I’m not saying he isn’t; again I don’t know him.

“But there’s a lot of excitement around Cleveland right now, and what he is capable of doing. I would just say do all you can to make that team better, and again, it’s all about the team.”

In a nutshell, these statements and the jersey sales illustrate what Mike Pettine will deal with in his first training camp with the Browns.

A guy drafted in the first round who has had it be all about him in college now must make it about the team -- while his jersey is the most popular one in the NFL.
Examining the Cincinnati Bengals' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (3)
The Bengals were content with having just two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster last season, but expect them to take three this year. McCarron would be the odd man out, but since they drafted him this year and made him a de facto heir apparent to the position in case something happens with Dalton in the next few seasons, they probably won't cut him or place him on the practice squad. In Campbell, the Bengals also get a tried and true veteran who could step in if Dalton's play is unsatisfactory, or if he gets hurt.

RUNNING BACKS (5)

This grouping includes Charles at H-back, meaning the Bengals are more likely to take four true running backs. I'd argue that neither Green-Ellis, Peerman nor Charles is a lock right now to make the team, but there are compelling reasons for each being part of the 53-man roster. Rex Burkhead and James Wilder Jr. also have real chances to be part of the full roster.

RECEIVERS (5)

The top three on this list are locks to make the team. The true battle during training camp will be for the other two spots. If this group holds, that means veterans Brandon Tate and Jasper Collins, former Bengals practice squad player Cobi Hamilton and undrafted rookies Colin Lockett and Alex Neutz won't make the team. Tate would be the real notable cut here after performing well as a kick returner and filling in at punt returner last year. With a fully healthy secondary around him, though, expect Adam Jones to get back to returning punts. While the Bengals will give Tate opportunities to contribute in the passing game (he's had only 14 catches in three seasons with Cincinnati) this preseason, Sanzenbacher can also do much of what Tate can. Sanzenbacher has been more consistent in the passing game and could fill in as a returner on punts or kickoffs. Hamilton's size (6-foot-2) and leaping ability make him a possible pick to make the team, but performance would be a reason for cutting him. Wright's special-teams background and his strong showing in minicamp and organized team activities make him a possibility too.

TIGHT ENDS (3)

Gresham is entering a contract year, and expectations have never been higher for him. The Bengals believe he can play better than he has in recent years and hope to get that type of production out of him. An offseason hernia surgery might have Gresham out of the mix early in training camp, but he ought to make the team, just like Eifert and Smith, who re-signed this spring to help bolster the position group after Gresham's injury.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)

It's possible the Bengals end up taking only nine linemen so they can fit additional players at other positions. For instance, they could end up taking another running back or another receiver. It's common for most teams to have nine or 10 linemen, and this group seems to provide the versatility coaches are seeking. Hopkins, an undrafted rookie, was used at a variety of spots in the spring. Of the undrafted free-agent linemen the Bengals signed this year, Trey Hopkins -- a versatile guard who was used in a variety of ways this spring -- has the best shot to make the team, but even he's just barely left off this list.

DEFENSIVE LINE (9)

The only player on this list who wasn't on last year's 53-man roster is Will Clarke. The rookie was drafted in the third round in May. He effectively takes the roster spot of Michael Johnson, who signed with Tampa Bay in the offseason. This may be the most set group on the team.

LINEBACKERS (6)

Like the receivers, the top spots at linebacker are pretty much squared away. In this case, it's a veritable lock that Vontaze Burfict, Emmanuel Lamur, Vincent Rey and Rey Maualuga will make the team. The two remaining linebackers, on the other hand, will be part of one of the better position battles on the team. DiManche and Flowers have the best chances among the rest of the outside linebackers to make the team, but they'll have to fend off Sean Porter, Brandon Joiner and James Davidson too. Dontay Moch could make the team because of his versatility as a stand-up defensive end and hybrid linebacker. J.K. Schaffer was snubbed on this list at middle linebacker, but there's a lot about his drive and internal makeup that could make him a repeat roster surprise.

CORNERBACKS (6)

The top four positions are effectively locked down. Kirkpatrick runs the risk of being cut for performance reasons, but it's unlikely he will be dismissed because the Bengals would take a $1.2 million cap hit if they let go of the former first-round pick. The sixth cornerback spot will be a battle between Hampton, R.J. Stanford, Lavelle Westbrooks, Chris Lewis-Harris and Onterio McCalebb. Hampton has some versatility and ability the Bengals like, as well as special-teams leanings.

SAFETIES (4)

This may end up being one of the tougher cuts Bengals coaches have, if they end up keeping just four safeties. Taylor Mays would be the odd man out in this situation, which might come as a surprise given how well his spring practices seemed to go. Nelson and Iloka are virtual locks, Manning seems like a good possibility and Williams appears to factor into the team's future at the position.

SPECIALISTS (3)

These guys aren't going anywhere. The punter, kicker and long snapper will make the team.
Examining the Pittsburgh Steelers' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (3)
The Steelers are set at their No. 1 and No. 2 spots on the depth chart. Rookie Brendon Kaye has an outside shot of beating out Jones, but the undrafted free agent is likely using the preseason games to audition for other teams.

RUNNING BACKS (4)

This is the one position where someone under the radar has a chance to play his way onto the 53-man roster. The Steelers can probably afford to go with three running backs -- Johnson is a fullback/tight end -- and stash a back or two on the practice squad in the event of injuries.

WIDE RECEIVERS (5)
Darrius Heyward-Bey makes the team if the Steelers keep six wide receivers because of his ability to play special teams. The Steelers may need an extra spot at wide receiver this year if Bryant isn’t ready to contribute as a rookie.

TIGHT ENDS (3)

I went a little light here because Johnson could play a significant amount at tight end this season. David Paulson and Michael Palmer are incumbents but neither has shown enough to hold off Blanchflower, who could be another late-round find for the Steelers.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)

I could see the Steelers going with eight offensive linemen if they think they can sneak Johnson, a fifth-round draft pick, onto their practice squad. This group will be among the hardest to crack given how many returners the Steelers have up front.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (7)

Yep, I see Keisel making the Steelers' 53-man roster, whether the Steelers re-sign the 12th-year veteran before the start of training camp or during it. A surprise player or two always makes the team. I’m thinking Lapuaho has a chance to be that guy with sixth-round pick Daniel McCullers needing a year on the practice squad.

LINEBACKERS (8)

The Steelers could have some tough choices at linebacker, especially if Spence’s knee holds up during training camp and the former third-round pick looks as good practicing in pads as he did in shorts. Terence Garvin may be the odd man out inside while veteran outside linebacker Chris Carter could get bumped from the roster by Zumwalt.

CORNERBACKS (6)

McCain could be in trouble here if the Steelers go with five cornerbacks because Blake is so valuable on special teams. Richardson is no lock to make the roster after Terry Hawthorne, the cornerback the Steelers drafted in the fifth round in 2013, didn’t even make the practice squad last year.

SAFETIES (5)

I think the first four safeties are set barring injury. A couple of spots are reserved every year based solely on special-teams play. That’s how Golden makes the 53-man roster again this season.

SPECIALISTS (3)

The only battle is at punter where Podlesh will try to hold off Brad Wing. The latter is an intriguing prospect because of his physical ability and his past work at LSU. Given that Podlesh has a track record in the NFL, Wing will have to clearly outperform him to make the team.

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