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Saturday, July 16, 2011
Weekend mailbag: Steeler Nation reacts

By James Walker
ESPN.com

I'm still ducking black and gold tomatoes thrown my way after picking the Baltimore Ravens to win the AFC North this week. There are a lot of questions, so let's check it out.

Josh from Shiloh, IL, wants to know what are the chances the Pittsburgh Steelers cut ties with linebacker James Harrison following his explosive comments.

James Walker: Nothing is official, but I would be surprised if the Steelers let go of Harrison, Josh. Some are comparing this to Santonio Holmes' situation last year, but that is not an accurate comparison. Holmes violated the NFL's drug policy and was suspended by the league. That impacted the team and the front office. Harrison made comments against two teammates, and I think the locker room is where it will be mostly handled. Harrison didn't say anything bad about the Steelers' organization. Therefore, I expect coach Mike Tomlin and the players to smooth things over.


Davis from KCMO writes: Will the Steelers' locker room back Ben Roethlisberger or James Harrison?

Walker: Davis, this is exactly what the Steelers want to avoid. Harrison's comments toward two key members of the offense have the potential to divide a locker room. But it will be up to Tomlin and the players to make sure that doesn't happen. The Steelers have a really good locker-room culture. So I think this gets addressed quickly before it gets worse.


Rawleigh Brown from Birmingham, Alabama, writes: I can give Ward a pass considering this is his first encounter with law, but is it possible for you tell my Steelers to stay away from Georgia all together?

Walker: Ward lives in Georgia and is from there, Rawleigh. You can't blame the state of Georgia for his arrest.


Will from Nashville, TN, writes: After the Cincinnati Bengals decide what they will do about Johnathan Joseph and Cedric Benson, what positions do you see them going after in free agency?

Walker: A veteran quarterback is probably the first priority, Will. The Bengals need someone with experience behind Andy Dalton, Jordan Palmer and Dan LeFevour, who combine for zero NFL starts. Don’t expect a big name. The Bengals are rarely major players in free agency, although if there are mandatory spending requirements in the new CBA, that could change this year. I think Bruce Gradkowski and Jim Sorgi are the kind of veteran quarterbacks Cincinnati may target.


Anthony from New York wants to know if the Bengals plan to go with a committee at running back.

Walker: Anthony, many teams are going that way, but not the Bengals. They want Cedric Benson to be their workhorse and, health permitting, he will get a lion's share of carries. Bernard Scott is a speedy backup and will get some opportunities. But a committee is closer to a 50-50 split, and Cincinnati won't lean that way.


Eric from Princeton, NJ, writes: Do you see any likelihood of the Cleveland Browns going for a right tackle in free agency?

Walker: The Browns have spoken highly of right tackle Tony Pashos this offseason. Pashos was injured last year, so it's hard to say how well he fits in Cleveland. He was considered an average and serviceable tackle in his most recent stops with the San Francisco 49ers and Jacksonville Jaguars. That may be enough for the Browns, who are very stout on the left side.


Matt Suydam from Hudson, Ohio, writes: Do the think the Browns have a chance of making the playoffs this year, or will they have better chances in the next few years?

Walker: Browns fans hate when I say this, but Cleveland will not be a playoff team this year. The Browns are at least two years away from contending and still have some major talent gaps on their roster. President Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert are doing a good job of adding talent. But it's not going to happen overnight.


Max from Wildwood, N.J., wants to know how the Baltimore Ravens' offensive line will perform this year?

Walker: It has to be better than last season, Max, because the Ravens were very inconsistent in both the running and passing games. It was probably the worst year I've seen from a Baltimore offensive line since I began covering the team three years ago. Right tackle is a huge question mark that the Ravens must fill. Rookie third-round pick Jah Reid may not be ready, and from what I've seen, I don't think Oniel Cousins or Tony Moll are the answer. Re-signing guard Marshal Yanda will be important, as well.


Jimmy from Utah writes: Let's see if you stand by that Baltimore prediction in January?

Walker: No problem, Jimmy. We run a full-accountability blog. If I'm wrong, I will own up to it. I promise.


Comment and complaint department

Here are the latest comments and complaints from our AFC North community.

Mike from Ewa Beach, Hawaii, writes: I mean this from the bottom of my black and gold heart -- thank you for picking the Ravens over the Steelers. Regardless of what's going on, Mike Tomlin, the Rooneys and the players will find a way to make this season a success. Tomlin has gone 10-6, 12-4, 9-7, and 12-4. The players and coaches will fix the locker room issues and management (Kevin Colbert and Omar Khan) will figure out the roster/salary cap issues. You're a fair and objective dude, but I think a lot of people are making a mountain out of a mole hill. Taker easy, JW.

Mingo from Killeen, Texas, writes: Mr. Walker, go ahead and jump in the bandwagon with the Ravens. You keep forgetting we have one of the best coaches in the league when it comes to discipline and players ego. The NFL does not has perfect player or teams. It how the come together and execute during the season.

MikeGirts via Twitter writes: Fair analysis, James. But I'm not worried until Baltimore shows it can beat Pittsburgh when #7 is on the field.

TonyD_12 via Twitter writes: JW, you should know by now not to make predictions in July. The Ravens actually have to beat the Steelers to win the division.

Walker: I knew my column this week wouldn't sit well with Steeler Nation. Usually, I wait until the end of training camp to make my annual prediction. But after a wild and crazy week with the Steelers, the timing felt right to do it early this year. By the way, I also predicted the Steelers won't win their seventh Super Bowl this season. Why is no one bashing me for that?

Caleb from Pittsburgh writes: Is it just me or does it seem like the Steelers have been almost out of control ever since Bill Cowher left and Dan Rooney became Irish Ambassador? Nothing against Tomlin, but every offseason we have more and more Steeler problems, and it needs to change. How much more of Harrison's mouth and these other problems can we take in Pittsburgh?

Walker: Caleb, I don't have official numbers, but there definitely has been bigger controversies and issues in Pittsburgh the last few years. Ben Roethlisberger had his issues under Cowher, such as his motorcycle accident. But his two sexual assault allegations resulted in a suspension and possibly kicked off the team. Holmes was a big deal and resulted in a trade, and this offseason we've seen three separate issues, although they're all different. I can't put a finger on why, but it needs to change in Pittsburgh.

Ben from Pensacola, Fla., writes: I thought Ryan Clark was supposed to be a smart guy. Why does he feel the need to give the Ravens even more bulletin board material than LaMarr Woodley did? I'm sick and tired of seeing Steeler after Steeler make a fool of themselves because they couldn't keep their mouths shut. Where is Mike Tomlin to muzzle these guys? Enough is enough!

Walker: Ben, although I disagree with what Clark said, I understand his point. He doesn't believe the Ravens and Steelers are a true rivalry, because Baltimore hasn’t won enough games in recent years. Normally, that's a valid argument. But I believe the games have been so close and so physical that wins and losses don't accurately gauge how intense and competitive these recent games have been. With Tomlin, coaches cannot have contact with players until a new collective bargaining agreement is reached.

AFC North "Homer of the Week"

If there was any week I thought we'd avoid "Nnamdi-to-Steelers" talk, it was this week. I was floored when the following letter came in our AFC North inbox.

TShell from Mason, Ohio, writes: James, I know you've tried to close the book on Nnamdi Asomugha coming to the Steelers, but now there's a twist. Honestly, I don't see the Rooneys being too happy with Hines and Harrison right now. What if they make an example of Harrison and trade him, thus being able to land Asomugha? The guy has gone too far and it seems as though he keeps shoving his foot farther into his mouth as time goes on. The Steelers have a reputation to uphold and the kind of language and disparaging remarks, and Harrison has really crossed the line.

Walker: TShell, this isn't really a homer comment. But since you're one of the few Steelers fan who still believe Asomugha has a chance of coming to Pittsburgh, I made you our "Homer of the Week" anyway. Congrats.

AFC North "Hater of the Week"

As expected, there were a bevy of haters this week. But this one took the cake.

Matt from South Lake Tahoe, Calif., writes: James, I think your blog sucks because you write it. Every year you pick against the Steelers only to watch them dominate the AFC North once again. So quit your day job and start a blog covering women's soccer in the "Mistake On the Lake" area. I see more people hating on you than enjoying you. Wait till the Ravens actually beat the Steelers with Big Ben at the helm before you start throwing in all your pathetic predictions. I'll be looking forward to the day when it's someone else's picture I see on the AFC North blog and not you. P.S. Colt McCoy sucks. Get over it. Please stop talking up the Browns! They are a joke.

Walker: I appreciate the love, Matt. I can tell you're not a regular reader of this blog if you feel I hype up McCoy and the Browns. Congrats on being our latest AFC North "Hater of the Week."

If you have any additional questions, complaints, homer or hater comments, feel free to send them to our AFC North inbox.