A quick look at what's happening around the AFC North as the NFL combine continues in Indianapolis. I will provide my take on many of these issues and topics in the days to come, but I wanted to pass along the information.
Coach Marvin Lewis did seem troubled over the latest off-the-field incident involving middle linebacker Rey Maualuga, who has pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge at a Cincinnati bar. Maualuga is the fourth Bengals player since July to have a legal issue, joining wide receiver Jerome Simpson, cornerback Adam Jones and running back Cedric Benson. “There’s a concern," Lewis told reporters at the NFL combine, via the Cincinnati Enquirer. "What [Maualuga] does away from football is important. He has to make good choices and decisions.”
Benson is not expected to be re-signed by the Bengals, and Lewis' comments about the running back didn't change that perception. As the team website points out, it sounded like Lewis was giving Benson a lifetime achievement award instead of a new contract. “I think we want to improve our running game and if it includes Ced, it includes Ced," Lewis said. "We need to have more explosive running plays. Ced has had a fine career. He’s a physical player and been a big part of our success.”
Lewis provided encouraging news on two players who are coming off season-ending injuries. Cornerback Leon Hall (Achilles) is ahead of schedule, and wide receiver Jordan Shipley (knee) continues to make “significant progress," Lewis said.
Coach Pat Shurmur reiterated the Browns want to re-sign starting middle linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, who's scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next month. Shurmur said the team hasn't made a decision whether it will place a franchise tag on Jackson, although the Plain Dealer of Cleveland reported last week that the Browns plan to do so. "We're going to be willing to use [the franchise tag]," Shurmur said. "As you go through signing our free agents, then we'll see what's the best place to use that tag."
In injury updates, Shurmur said left guard Eric Steinbach is progressing from a season-ending back injury but he didn't commit to the left guard as a starter, according to the Akron Beacon Journal. Jason Pinkston, who replaced Steinbach at left guard, will not move to tackle and will continue to develop at the guard position, according to Shurmur.
Coach John Harbaugh once again expressed confidence about holding onto Ben Grubbs, saying he's "pretty optimistic" about re-signing the Pro Bowl left guard. “I hope that’s not misplaced," Harbaugh said, via the Baltimore Sun. "We’re in the process of negotiating. We’re committed, [owner Steve Bisciotti’s] committed to offering him a really great number. Hey, the market dictates [it], and Ben has to make those kinds of decisions, and you’re really happy for guys. He’s had a great career. He’s had a great number of years here. He’s earned the right to take a look for his family. One thing we’re not doing, we’re not giving him a low number. We’re doing everything we can to try to keep him in Baltimore.”
Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said the team isn't looking to add a free-agent running back to replace the retired Ricky Williams. He indicated that Anthony Allen, a seventh-round pick from a year ago, will be given the first shot at the backup running back job. The team would add a free agent during training camp if Allen struggles to secure that spot, Newsome said.
Newsome is happy the team was able to keep director of player personnel Eric DeCosta, who turned down the chance to interview for the general manager positions with the Chicago Bears, St. Louis Rams and Indianapolis Colts. "I think it was very important because of the continuity that allows the organization to maintain people and have the process remain the same," Newsome said, via ESPN Chicago. "It was kind of like Scott Pioli remaining in New England for all those years with Bill [Belichick]. All it does is make you stronger. I'm very thankful that Eric decided to stay."
Major changes are unlikely to occur to the Steelers' offense under new coordinator Todd Haley, according to general manager Kevin Colbert. The biggest reason is it's tough to do so when the team has been successful and is bringing most of the same personnel back. "So, it's hard to come in and drastically change your philosophy because of the group of players that you have," Colbert said, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "You can't overhaul a whole roster. Nor are we looking to because this group of players has been very successful."
The hope is that the high-ankle sprains that have hampered Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey the past two years are in the past. "The reports we got and the last time we saw him, he was progressing just fine," Colbert said, via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "High-ankle sprains, they're a different injury and then when you re-injure it sometimes you've got to do some procedures to shore that joint up."
A Cleveland-based reporter asked Colbert if the team had reached a "breaking point" with linebacker James Harrison, who was suspended last season after he knocked out Browns quarterback Colt McCoy. "No. Absolutely not," Colbert said. "James Harrison is a great player. He tries to play within the rules. Sometimes, the penalty is unavoidable, and he ends up getting a suspension out of it. He served his time. We've all moved on. We know James Harrison plays the game very hard. He plays it within the rules the best he can. Sometimes, circumstances happen in the course of a game, and you have to live with the consequences. But in no way are we ever going to be disappointed with that player."