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Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Wake-up: Lining up LeBeau successor

By Jamison Hensley

Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:

In a surprising twist, Pittsburgh linebackers coach Keith Butler decided not to interview for the Indianapolis Colts' defensive coordinator position and remain with the Steelers, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Butler was the clear frontrunner to take over the defense under new Colts coach Chuck Pagano and had a meeting planned for Tuesday in Indianapolis. But the interview was canceled after Butler met Monday with team president Art Rooney II and head coach Mike Tomlin, the Post-Gazette reported.

According to the paper, Butler was told two years ago that he will be the team's defensive coordinator when Dick LeBeau retired and received a handshake agreement when he turned down the Miami Dolphins' defensive coordinator job.

Hensley's slant: Butler's loyalty was likely rewarded with a substantial raise and a more definitive timetable on when he's replacing the 74-year-old LeBeau. Continuity is a valuable commodity to the stable and winningest franchises. The Steelers know there will be a seamless transition with Butler. Now, if Pittsburgh could only fill their vacancy at offensive coordinator as quickly. It's assumed that the Steelers will hire from within for this position as well, but there's increasing questions the longer it takes to Pittsburgh to fill this opening.

BENGALS: While Cam Newton is the frontrunner to be the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year, the Bengals' Andy Dalton outplayed the Carolina quarterback in Sunday's Pro Bowl. The difference was turnovers and accuracy. Newton got picked off three times while Dalton had no interceptions and misfired on two of his nine passes. “I’ve been able to do a lot given some great opportunities, but I feel like it’s just the beginning, though,” Dalton told the team's website. “We’ve got a lot of young talent. We just have to get it all together.” Hensley's slant: Newton had the superior stats (35 total touchdowns). Dalton had more wins and played against tougher defenses. The only thing anyone can agree on is it's nearly impossible to compare the two quarterbacks. They have different styles but those styles work for them. It'll be interesting to see how they compare five years down the road.

BROWNS: The Browns are interested in re-signing running back Peyton Hillis, a league source told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Hillis, who is an unrestricted free agent on March 13, impressed the Browns enough over the final six games on and off the field to change the team's mind about keeping him at the right price, the paper reported. Hensley's slant: This just reeks of desperation on the Browns' part. When a player reportedly needs an intervention-style meeting from teammates, it's a strong sign that he has become a distraction. Sure, the Browns need playmakers on offense in the worst way. But building the right chemistry in the locker room has to become a priority, too.

RAVENS: Backup running back Ricky Williams intends on playing next season, which will be his 12th in the NFL. Williams, who turns 35 before next season, had career lows in carries (108) and total rushing yards (444) in 2011. “My body feels good and I know I’m going to train hard and so I’m excited about next year,” Williams said, via the team's website. “I’ve grown a lot, kind of falling into a new role and a new city and a new organization, and I’ve gotten better. And like everyone else, I feel like I have something to build on for next year.” Hensley's slant: The Ravens eventually have to look for a long-term backup to Ray Rice, whether that's Anthony Allen or someone else. The key is finding a compliment to Rice, a big-back like Williams or Le'Ron McClain. But Williams, who is under contract for one more season, can hold down the job for 2012.