Friday, May 10, 2013
Eight in the Box: Key offseasons
By Jamison Hensley
╗ NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South ╗ AFC: East | West | North | South
A look at a key player from each AFC North team who needs to show something in offseason sessions:
Baltimore Ravens: Cornerback Jimmy Smith. Most Ravens first-round picks start as rookies. Smith hasn't established himself yet, and he's entering his third season. The 27th overall pick of the 2011 draft, Smith has the size and speed to be a top-tier cornerback. He just hasn't shown the toughness or consistency to warrant a place on the field. Smith's best game last season was the Super Bowl, where he successfully defended San Francisco's final two passes of the game (depending on your interpretation of pass interference). The Ravens are going to need Smith to carry that over into this offseason; Lardarius Webb is coming off a season-ending knee injury and Cary Williams went to the Philadelphia Eagles in free agency. Smith could put himself in position to take over the starting job from Corey Graham.
Cincinnati Bengals: Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. Kirkpatrick needs to show he'll be ready when training camp starts at the end of July. Injuries sidelined him for most of the offseason last year, and a bone spur in his knee limited him to five games (and a total of four tackles) last year. Kirkpatrick had another procedure on the knee four months ago, and the hope is he'll be fully recovered for training camp. It's been a disappointing start to his career, which has been magnified by the fact guard Kevin Zeitler, the Bengals' other first-round pick from a year ago, has looked like a Pro Bowl player already. The Bengals need to know they'll be able to count on Kirkpatrick come summer. He'll have a chance to compete against Terence Newman for a starting job.
Cleveland Browns: Quarterback Brandon Weeden. Many first-round quarterbacks are given some time to develop. That's not the case for Weeden, who wasn't drafted by the current Browns decision-makers. The expectation is that Weeden will enter training camp as the starter. But nothing is guaranteed, especially when Weeden has yet to get a strong vote of confidence from either chief executive officer Joe Banner or head coach Rob Chudzinski. The Browns signed veteran backup Jason Campbell, which puts pressure on Weeden. He'll have to earn the starting job, and the competition begins in these offseason workouts. Weeden has to show growth from last season, when he ranked near the bottom of the league in completion rateá(57.4 percent) and near the top in interceptions (17).
Pittsburgh Steelers: Offensive tackle Mike Adams. Although the Steelers are currently undecided on who will start at left tackle this season, Adams could get the first crack at protecting Ben Roethlisberger's blind side in these offseason camps. The 2012 second-round pick has to prove he can stay healthy. He sprained his MCL in the preseason opener, but to his credit, he returned five days later. Adams' rookie season then ended in November after he suffered an ankle injury. In 10 games at right tackle, he allowed seven sacks and 16 quarterback hurries. If Adams struggles, the Steelers could move him back to right tackle and flip Marcus Gilbert to the left side.