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AFC North mailbag

8/22/2008

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

John from Manchester, NJ writes: What do you think about the Steelers defense this season. They have to corner I would consider a #1 guy and their defensive line is old. Do you think they will be as dominant as last season?

James Walker: Thanks for the question, John. In watching both preseason games the easy answer is that Pittsburgh will not be as dominant as it was last year. But I don't overreact to what I see in the preseason. Pittsburgh's defense will bring pressure and be physical like it always has. They're just not doing it when the games don't matter. The age on the defensive line is a concern, but the Steelers will simply rotate a lot of players in and out. The key will be in young players such as LaMarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons, or even someone like Bryant McFadden, to step up and fill key roles.


James from Orangevale, Calif. writes: James love your blog. I watched every scrap of video on the net I could find on Rashard Mendenhall and his highlights look like his preseason - lots of speed with no power. Running between the tackles is not his forte & I doubt he will develop a 'taste' for it. The steelers lost their ability to impose their will on a defense when Cowher left, your thoughts?

James Walker: That is a very good observation, James. And great name by the way! One of the few knocks on Mendenhall coming in was that he didn't run hard enough between the tackles and relied on his athleticism too often, as opposed to just lowering his shoulders and getting the tough yards. In the NFL, everyone is athletic. So Mendenhall will have to learn to make just one cut and lower his pads. But he's a young back with tremendous physical gifts. He just needs to adjust to the pro game and be coached up a bit in that department. Keep representing our good name, James.


Dave from Baltimore writes: With the current QB situation in Baltimore, would it be beneficial for Baltimore to consider bringing in Culpepper for a visit?

James Walker: This is a great question, Dave. Bringing in a starting quarterback right before the regular season could be a major undertaking for a team, especially if it's not an injury or emergency situation. But at the same time Baltimore's three quarterbacks continue to tread water. From being around the team at different times this offseason, I get the sense they will stick with what they have and hope for the best.


Mario from Pittsburgh, PA writes: The Steelers' O-Line troubles are well documented. I've heard rumors of the Steelers signing former Brownies' center LeCharles Bentley and moving him over to guard to fill the massive shoes left by Alan Faneca. Any truth to the rumors?

James Walker: Super Mario, it is true that the Steelers showed preliminary interest in Bentley when he was first released in June. But "preliminary" interest in the NFL doesn't mean much more than the team asking around to see how is Bentley's knee, and what type of asking price is he looking for? Bentley has not worked out or taken a physical with Pittsburgh, so until it reaches that point it's just speculation. But I think Bentley is on the short list of a lot of teams -- including the Steelers -- if an interior offensive lineman goes down.


Kris from Fairfield, Ohio writes: I was just wondering what your take on the supposed move of Bobbie Williams to center and then sliding Andrews to guard putting Willie back in. I have coached offensive line at the high school level for years and I am a believer in putting the best five on the field and in my opinion the best five does not include Eric Ghichic(sp?). What are your thoughts on this?

James Walker: The Bengals have been discussing it, Kris. They also used it a tiny bit in the preseason. But until I see Marvin Lewis use it consistently, it's difficult to tell if this is a viable option for the Bengals in the regular season. Andrews has experience at guard and obviously he is a great right tackle when healthy. So the key is if Bobbie Williams can make the adjustment from guard to center.


John from Cleveland writes: Even as a Browns fan, i won't deny that the Monday Night Football game was a terrible outing for Cleveland. Penalties, careless mistakes, and big plays by the Giants all crushed the Browns. Do you think that these resulted from the fact that they were on preseason prime-time?

James Walker: It was more the team they were playing than the bright lights in the stadium, John. I live in Cleveland, and that one-plus quarter of preseason football has been the talk of the town all week. The fact that the starters didn't show up was somewhat of a wake-up call. But it's not a reason to think the Browns will go 4-12.


Ken from Ann Arbor writes: If the charges against C Henry are dropped and he was suspended for those particular charges, will the league still up-hold his 4 game suspension, or will he be reinstated for the opener?

James Walker: Yes, Ken. The NFL is its own entity and will uphold Chris Henry's suspension. In fact, Henry had a pending year-long suspension revoked because charges were dropped. So he's lucky to be serving just four games. The league can make its own judgments as it sees fit. Basically, the league used Henry's past transgressions and the fact that he placed himself in a precarious position as reasons to slap him on the wrist.


Derick Young from Casper, WY writes: What do you think of the re-signing of Farrior? Also, what is your insight with the hold off with Marvel Smith, why not sign him?

James Walker: I'm a little surprised by the James Farrior signing, Derick. It bucked two trends for the Pittsburgh Steelers. First, they usually do not extend aging players. Second, Pittsburgh has a talented young linebacker in Lawrence Timmons waiting his turn to fill Farrior's spot. But this is an indication that Farrior's locker room leadership means a lot to the organization, plus he's still a good player. As far as Smith goes, the team doesn't want to pump any more money into the offensive line, because a major overhaul may be in order for 2009 if this unit struggles again.