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Friday, April 5, 2013
Eight in the Box: Under the radar

By Jamison Hensley

NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at the top under-the-radar move made by each AFC North team thus far this offseason:

Baltimore Ravens. Marcus Spears, defensive end. When it comes to Baltimore's defensive line, the big-name signing in free agency was Chris Canty. The addition of Spears didn't generate much buzz because he never reached expectations of a first-round pick with the Cowboys and ended his time in Dallas as a backup. But Spears will make a significant contribution to the Ravens' run defense, which finished No. 20 in the NFL last season. Spears will be asked to handle the unforgiving job of taking on double-teams, which allows Haloti Ngata and the inside linebackers to be more effective. The Ravens' defensive line won't wear down as it did last season, because Spears gives Baltimore experienced depth.

Cincinnati Bengals. Aaron Maybin, linebacker. Some may be asking: When did Maybin join the Bengals? That's the definition of being under the radar. Technically, Maybin wasn't signed during the free-agency period. He was added in late January. Maybin was a first-round bust in Buffalo, but the Bengals have had success with reclamation projects (see safety Reggie Nelson). He is also still young; he turns 25 on Saturday. Maybin, who has six sacks in 48 career games, will get a shot to redeem himself in Cincinnati. The Bengals have a need at outside linebacker after the team let Manny Lawson sign with the Bills and didn't re-sign Thomas Howard (which could still happen down the road). If the Bengals don't address the linebacker position in the draft, Maybin will compete against Emmanuel Lamur, Dontay Moch and Vincent Rey for a starting job.

Cleveland Browns. Quentin Groves, linebacker. The addition of Groves got lost in the Browns' fast start in free agency, when they signed linebacker Paul Kruger and defensive lineman Desmond Bryant. Although Groves won't be a starter like Kruger or Bryant, he will serve an important role behind the scenes. Groves will help in the Browns' transition to Ray Horton's 3-4 defense after playing under him last season in Arizona. It was obvious that Groves clicked with Horton. A 2008 second-round pick by the Jaguars, Groves struggled in his two years in Jacksonville and two years in Oakland. In his first season with Horton, Groves recorded career highs in tackles (46) and sacks (four). He will try to repeat that success for the Browns.

Pittsburgh Steelers. Larry Foote, linebacker. All of the Steelers' moves fall into the under-the-radar category because they don't have the salary-cap room to make any other kind. And, by most standards, Foote is an under-the-radar type player. Outside of those Terrible Towel-waving fans, few knew the leading tackler for the NFL's top-ranked defense was Foote. It was key for the Steelers to re-sign Foote a few hours before he was set to hit the free-agent market. There was speculation he was headed for Arizona. The Steelers didn't miss longtime starter James Farrior in 2012 because of Foote's surprisingly strong season. In 16 starts, Foote finished with a career-high 113 tackles and tied a career best with four sacks.