AFC North mailbag: Special teams

July, 2, 2009

Posted by's James Walker

Let's see what's on the minds of AFC North readers this week.

Ryan from Kalamazoo, Mich., writes: James, the Pittsburgh Steelers special teams have been shaky for several seasons; any reason to expect different this season?

James Walker: Yes, there are several reasons, Ryan. The first reason is Pittsburgh punter Daniel Sepulveda is healthy again. If he returns to form, that would be a huge boost for the Steelers after just getting by on special teams last season. Second, the Steelers drafted several players who are versatile enough to return kicks, such as receiver Mike Wallace and cornerback Joe Burnett. Therefore, if the team doesn't find a better return game this year it won't be for a lack of effort.

Warren Johnson from Baltimore writes: I have not heard a lot being said of the open kicker spot for the Baltimore Ravens. Is this Graham Gano's job to lose, or is there still a chance we will see Matt Stover before the end of the summer?

James Walker: Gano and Steve Hauschka are being given every chance to win the job, while Stover remains on call. Ideally, the Ravens hope one of the two kickers currently on the roster wins the job in training camp, because Baltimore doesn't want to spend (waste?) two roster spots on a kicker and a kickoff specialist. Stover is 41 and struggles on deep kickoffs, which is ultimately why he wasn't brought back this year. Like most teams, the Ravens prefer both duties to be filled by one player.

Austin Blunt from Charleston, SC, writes: James, please save and letters or quotes that say the Cincinnati Bengals will finish better than the Ravens. They will be great for the feature you run at the end of the year that has all of the dumb stuff Bengals and Browns fans were saying during the offseason.

James Walker: No problem, Austin. I run a very accountable AFC North blog. Our community is extremely knowledgeable and rightfully holds me to a high standard. So it's only natural that I do the same with my fellow bloggers.

Nick from Cincinnati, Ohio, writes: With the Bengals drafting inside linebacker Rey Maualuga, will he sit behind starter Dhani Jones or be moved to left outside linebacker so he can start?

James Walker: Because Jones is one of the most important pieces to Cincinnati's defense, the Bengals have worked Maualuga primarily as an outside linebacker this offseason. Although he may return to his natural position of middle linebacker later in his career, Maualuga's best chance to see the field as a rookie is on the outside. There is really no left or right outside linebacker in the NFL. It's more so strongside and weakside as the tight end shifts back and forth. The Bengals have been playing Maualuga on the strong side, opposite of Keith Rivers. The problem is Maualuga may struggle in coverage when he faces tight ends and running backs in open space.

James Walker | email

ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter



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