AFC North: Alameda Ta'amu

PITTSBURGH – Picking 48 out of 53 is excellent by almost any measure. Projecting 53-man NFL rosters, which I did with the Steelers on Friday, is not one of them. The reason: So many of the players who make the roster are a given before a team's final cuts. Here are my misses and what I was thinking:
  • Jonathan Dwyer, RB: I didn't see this one coming even though Felix Jones' play generated speculation that Dwyer could be in trouble. I thought the final spot at running back would come down to Jones and LaRod Stephens-Howling, since they are similar-type backs. Obviously the Steelers coaches had had enough of the talented but maddening Dwyer.
  • Alameda Ta'amu, NT: The 2012 fourth-round draft pick was beaten out by Hebron Fangupo. I thought the Steelers would keep Ta'amu because they invested a relatively high draft pick in him. He still has practice-squad eligibility, so don't be surprised if Ta'amu is signed there Sunday.
  • Alan Baxter, OLB: This had to be one of the tougher cuts for coach Mike Tomlin and his staff. Baxter was a force rushing the passer in the preseason, but special-teams considerations are why the Steelers kept Chris Carter over the undrafted rookie. Baxter is sure to end up on the practice squad if another team doesn't sign him.
  • Marshall McFadden, ILB: I had the Steelers keeping three backups at inside linebacker, and McFadden was the odd man out as rookie sixth-round pick Vince Williams and Kion Wilson made the team. McFadden still has practice-squad eligibility, so his time in Pittsburgh might not be done.
  • Terry Hawthorne, CB: I put the rookie fifth-round pick on the 53-man roster based on the investment the Steelers made in him but they went with Isaiah Green as their fifth cornerback. Offseason knee surgery really limited Hawthorne during training camp, and he obviously didn't show the coaches enough. Hawthorne is another candidate for the practice squad.
SOMEWHERE IN WESTERN PENNSYLVANIA -- I'm making my way to Pittsburgh Steelers training camp for the last stop on my AFC North tour. For Steelers fans, you know I saved the best for last. Or did I just go in my predicted order of the division? As you ponder that, I have the GPS set for St. Vincent College. If I can get players before practice, I will have a Steelers post on the blog by early afternoon. If not, I will put up a post after the team's afternoon workout. Here's your wake-up call ...

RAVENS: The battle for the starting center position took an interesting turn when the Ravens revealed A.Q. Shipley will start Thursday's preseason game. Gino Gradkowski, who has long been considered the favorite to win the job, started the preseason opener. "The nice thing right now is everybody says, 'Who's the guy?'" Ravens run-game coordinator Juan Castillo said, via The Baltimore Sun. "We're talking to them and we say, 'We need to have some separation, somebody has to come to the top.' The problem is they're both playing real well right now. They're both doing a good job. They're both in the pass protection, both using their hands real well."

BENGALS: Outside linebacker James Harrison still insists there isn't much of a difference going from Pittsburgh's 3-4 defense to Cincinnati's 4-3 scheme. "I’m basically doing the same things, I’m just doing it from a different alignment," Harrison said, via the team's official website. "The hardest part is getting used to lining up stacked off of the line and having to read centers, tackles, guards, all of that, where normally I’m just reading the tackles and tight ends. I don’t rush as much, especially on tackles now, but I’m doing the same things as some point in time that I did in Pittsburgh. Even when we were in our nickel coverages in Pittsburgh, sometimes I lined up stacked. Now I’m just doing it down after down."

STEELERS: Nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu hopes to repay the Steelers for sticking with him after his late-night, drunken-driving rampage 10 months ago. "I just want to keep working and, hopefully, that the next time people start talking it will be about football," Ta'amu told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "I just want to keep quiet and let my work do the noise." Ta'amu added, "All the mistakes were because of me. It's up to me to fix them and try to do better this year."

BROWNS: Running back Trent Richardson will play in his first preseason game for the Browns, according to an Associated Press report. Coach Rob Chudzinski said Richardson, who has been slowed by a shin injury, will be used for "a couple of series. Richardson told reporters after practice: "I kind of had a feeling he was going to say, 'Yeah' today because he had me going in there with starters today. It felt good when I was out there and I'm happy coach told y'all I can play."
The Pittsburgh Steelers have changed one small part of their draft process a year after having off-the-field issues with two picks, nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu and running back Chris Rainey. The Steelers have stepped up their interaction with prospects' families as part of their pre-draft evaluation.

In addressing how the team assesses character, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said the process has remained the same, starting with reports they get from colleges and then conducting interviews, whether it's at the NFL scouting combine or pre-draft visits, as well as background checks. The one change is speaking to the people closest to the prospect.

"Coach [Mike] Tomlin and I did a lot of follow-up work this past spring when we visited the pro days. We actually tried to be a little more proactive in trying to meet families," Colbert said. "It is something that Coach Tomlin started three years ago. After we draft players, we start to bring their families in to get to know the kids that we drafted. Sometimes you get the opportunity at a pro day and sometimes you don’t, depending on where the kid’s family lives. We did try to make a conscious effort to extend the program Coach Tomlin started three years ago."

The Steelers should be more careful this year in taking risks on draft picks after two of their first five selections in 2012 got into legal trouble. Ta'amu, a fourth-round pick, was sentenced to 18 months of probation earlier this month after he pled guilty to reckless endangerment, resisting arrest and drunken driving stemming from a police chase last fall. Pittsburgh suspended him for two games and waived him but re-signed Ta'amu by the end of the season.

Rainey, a fifth-round pick, was released by the Steelers in January hours after he was arrested for a second time on a domestic violence incident. He hasn't been signed by another team and remains a free agent.

Asked about the idea of visiting families, Tomlin said: "I just think it helps us develop a more complete picture about who and what a player is, and maybe more importantly, what he is capable of being. I think the more you look at where they come from and who they come from, it helps you paint that well-rounded picture."
It's no surprise that there's a lot of interest in what the Cleveland Browns will do at the No. 6 overall pick. Browns draft talk dominated this week's chat and included a question about the team's bigger need on defense. Here are the highlights from the AFC North chat ...

Darrell (Dallas Tx): Which need is bigger for the Browns with no second-round pick, free safety or cornerback? They need both.

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): Corner. At safety, they can plug in Tashaun Gipson or Eric Hagg. Having Buster Skrine at corner is a scary thought.

Carlos (Hobbs, NM): With all these vets getting released by the Ravens, are there any more players that you see the ravens cutting?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): If the Ravens need more cap room, they will approach fullback Vonta Leach about taking a pay cut. He is due to make $3 million this year. It could lead to his release.

Bryant (Akron): I'm upset to see the Browns not bringing back Josh Cribbs or Phil Dawson. What do you think was the main reasoning behind the decisions especially Cribbs?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): New regime wants to get fresh start. Dawson and Cribbs have been the faces associated with Browns since their return to the NFL. Also, the Browns wanted to get a younger kicker and they have a replacement for Cribbs in Travis Benjamin.

Quammy (Cincinnati, OH): Given the current uncertainty at the Bengals safety position, courtesy of Taylor May looking like a chicken with his head cut off in coverage, what are the possibilities/interest the Bengals have in Charles Woodson? Seems like this free agency has been filled with bargains, and the Bengals love bargains.

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): Don't see this happening. I get the feeling the Bengals would turn to Chris Crocker again if they can't draft a starting safety.

Joe Routson (Monroe, OH): Is there any chance the Browns pick up a starting CB, ILB, or safety before the draft via free agency or trade?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): There is no corner out there right now. You want Quentin Jammer? I don't see the Browns making any more moves before the draft. If they don't address these spots, they can still go with Robertson at ILB and either Gipson or Hagg at safety.

Duron, Columbus [via mobile]: Thanks for all the work. I know it's probably getting old, but any update on the Bengals resigning Andre Smith? Thanks.

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): When I talked this week to head coach Marvin Lewis, he sounded pretty optimistic that it would get done before the draft.

Jason (Santa Monica): The Steelers must see something in Alameda Ta'amu if they are still keeping him around. Any chance you see him starting at defensive tackle and Steve McLendon moving to Ziggy Hood's spot at DE? Ta'amu was considered a top-three DT in the draft last year

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): There is no chance that Ta'amu is a starter this year. He didn't even get on the field last year. The Steelers will start McLendon this year and have to determine whether they want to invest in him or go with Ta'amu in 2014.

James,nc [via mobile]: What's the thing about Eddie Lacy that make people say he is not a good first-round pick? I would love to see him in Steelers uniform.

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): Lacy lacks the speed that you want for a playmaking running back. He runs tough and has good balance. But Lacy isn't dynamic. He's sort of a poor man's Frank Gore.

Danny sc [via mobile]: Do you think the recent moves by the Bengals at the quarterback position were designed to send a message to Andy Dalton and that this is his make-or-break year?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): If either John Skelton or Josh Johnson is a threat to Dalton, the Bengals are in trouble. Big trouble.
Steelers nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu pled guilty to reckless endangerment, resisting arrest and drunken driving stemming from a police chase last fall. According to police, his SUV struck four parked vehicles, injuring a woman who was sitting in one of them.

What punishment did Ta'amu receive? He was sentenced Thursday to 18 months of probation and will spend four days in a program that's an alternative to jail.

Ta'amu should feel lucky. He actually should feel lucky that he is still with the Steelers.

It looked like team officials were taking a hard stance with him last year when they suspended their rookie fourth-round pick and later waived him. But the Steelers brought him back for the final game of the season.

The Steelers must believe Ta'amu can be the long-term solution to Casey Hampton's spot, because it's hard to justify why he is still with the team otherwise.

I'm all for second chances, and NFL teams couldn't field a full roster these days if they didn't feel the same. But this wasn't a drunken driving incident. Based on the police report, it was a drunken driving rampage.

The judge, on Thursday, found Ta'amu not guilty of fleeing from police after Ta'amu explained that he thought an officer in an unmarked car was an angry motorist chasing him.

"I was a rookie and I was scared. I was a Steeler and I was drunk driving," Ta'amu told the judge. "I wrecked my car and I panicked."

This would be easier to believe if this was Ta'amu's first incident. He was charged with driving under the influence after an incident in 2009 when he was playing for the University of Washington.

So, Ta'amu has two strikes against him. A third one would be a black mark on the Steelers, because Ta'amu shouldn't be on the team.

Mailbag: Doubts about Browns' brass

February, 24, 2013
I will provide my take on all things NFL combine Monday. For now, it's time to tackle some questions sent to the AFC North mailbag ...

Justin from Canton, Ohio: I have no confidence in (Browns vice president of player personnel) Mike Lombardi. I still do not have a clue why the Browns hired him. What will have to happen for him to get fired?

badbrown4life from Honolulu: I'm a true-blue Browns fan, born in Cleveland, living in Hawaii. Imagine all the jokes I suffer. Here are my questions: What has Mike Lombardi done to earn his current job with the Browns? I like the coaching staff, but can they overcome the bumbling of (chief executive officer Joe) Banner & Lombardi combined?

Jamison Hensley from AFC North headquarters: Justin and badbrown4life, you're not alone in your skepticism of Lombardi. But you're going to have to get used to him for a while. When Banner introduced Lombardi at the introductory press conference, Banner showed his commitment to this hire when he said, “There’s no question he’s near or at the top of quality talent evaluators.” So it would look bad on Banner if this marriage ended quickly.

My skepticism of Lombardi is based on a couple of instances. When he was with the NFL Network, Lombardi bashed Tom Heckert's last draft as well as the addition of wide receiver Josh Gordon in the supplemental draft. This is the same draft that produced seven promising prospects (and three immediate starters): running back Trent Richardson, quarterback Brandon Weeden, offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz, defensive linemen Billy Winn and John Hughes, linebacker James-Michael Johnson and wide receiver-returner Travis Benjamin. The other part that puzzles me is the fact Lombari has only received one interview over the past five years and that was the 49ers two years ago. It just doesn't add up for me.

Dave from Kensington, Md.: Which position do you think the Steelers feel most confident with their current (non-free-agent) personnel, and consequently are least likely to spend a early-to-mid-round draft pick on: inside linebacker, nose tackle, quarterback or safety?

Hensley: Dave, in order of least importance, this is how I see it: quarterback, nose tackle, safety and inside linebacker. Yes, it would be beneficial to get a younger backup to develop behind Ben Roethlisberger, but it's nowhere close to being the same need as nose tackle, safety and inside linebacker. At nose tackle, the Steelers lose Casey Hampton but still have Steve McLendon and Alameda Ta'amu (even though he screwed up majorly last season). Pittsburgh should improve its depth at safety considering the age of Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu (and Polamalu's injury history). The biggest need is inside linebacker because, even if Larry Foote comes back, you're not sure if Stevenson Sylvester can start in this league and when Sean Spence can come back from that brutal knee injury.

Ryan from Salt Lake City, Utah: I was wondering about the Bengals' potential linebacker moves coming up to the draft. With Vontaze Burfict's fantastic rookie season and Thomas Howard coming back from knee surgery, I feel like there is potential to get a big, run-stopping middle linebacker that would have a great chance to thrive his rookie season between our leading tacklers for the last two seasons. Thoughts?

Hensley: Ryan, the plan is to move Burfict inside in 2013. There was a report last week that the Bengals would only consider bringing back Rey Maualuga as an outside linebacker because the preference is to go with Burfict in the middle. It's uncertain whether the Bengals will re-sign Howard, who is a free agent in March. He has to prove he is healthy enough to play this season after going down with a season-ending ACL injury in a Week 2 practice.

Dirk from Everett, Wash.: What are the chances the Browns use some of that salary-cap space to try to lure LaRon Landry in at free safety? I'd love to see an experienced playmaker next to T.J. Ward.

Hensley: Dirk, the Browns should be active in free agency. I just don't think Landry is a good fit. He's too similar to T.J. Ward in that he is a physical presence who can make an impact in run support. The Browns need someone who is a free safety and be a factor in coverage. Also, with the amount of money it will take to get Landry, it's a gamble considering his injury history.

Hans from Bel Air, Md.: With the likely departure of Bryant McKinnie (unless he comes back as a bargain basement free agent), does this mean a return of "The Human Turnstile" aka Michael Oher to the Blind(ed) Side?

Hensley: Hans, I know you're not going to like this answer, but I see Oher going back to left tackle. The Ravens won't have the money to go after a legitimate left tackle like Jake Long and they don't draft high enough to get a tackle who can start immediately on the left side. Sure, there is a chance that McKinnie could come back, but the Ravens can't depend on him after his weight issues in minicamp and his absence at the start of training camp. General manager Ozzie Newsome has repeatedly said how much he likes the young guys on the offensive line. I believe he's telling everyone that the guys on the roster now will be the guys who will will start on the offensive line.

Charles from Augusta, W.Va.: So when Mel Kiper's and Todd McShay's second mock drafts came out, I found their picks for the Browns to be interesting. I had no problem with Mel's selection, but in Todd's draft he had Jarvis Jones falling to the Jets. Now I ask you: if Jarvis Jones falls to the Browns at No. 6, why wouldn't they take him? With the Browns' well-documented switch in defensive philosophy, it would seem like Jones would be a perfect fit in our defense now as a pass-rushing outside linebacker opposite of Jabaal Sheard who can also stop the run and drop-back and cover someone. What are your thoughts on this?

Hensley: Charles, I'm in total agreement with you. If Jarvis Jones, the linebacker out of Georgia, is there at No. 6, the Browns would be crazy to pass him up. The big question is his medical history. Jones suffers from a condition called spinal stenosis, which is the narrowing of the vertebrae in his neck. The only way the Browns pass on him is if they're concerned that this condition will hinder his playing career.

Jody from Hastings, Pa.: Should the Steelers consider waiving LaMarr Woodley and keeping James Harrison? I know Woodley is younger but has been more injury-prone. Harrison had surgery late last season and played more games than Woodley. Your thoughts?

Hensley: Jody, there is a zero percent chance of this happening. The Steelers are disappointed in Woodley's season in 2012, but they're not giving up on him this quickly. Plus, the cap hit would be more than $8 million. The Pittsburgh coaching staff wants to keep Harrison. The front office, however, likely won't do it at his current $6.57 million salary. Harrison said he won't take a pay cut. The Steelers have to either be creative with some restructuring or part ways with the 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

Vince from Virginia Beach, Va.: If Ed Reed doesn't come back, what do you think of the idea of Jimmy Smith moving to safety? Lardarius Webb will be back and, with Corey Graham and Chykie Brown stepping up, wouldn't it be a cheaper option to just move Smith to safety?

Hensley: Moving a corner to safety is what you do to an aging player to get a few more years out of him, like a Rod Woodson or Charles Woodson (or anyone named Woodson, it seems). The Ravens still believe in Smith as a cornerback. If they didn't, he wouldn't have been on the field in the Super Bowl when they were backed up against their goal line. Shifting Smith to safety would be a desperation move. Even though Smith has been a disappointment so far, the Ravens are far from that point with him.

Karl from Rapid City, S.D.: Just a note to thank you for blogging the AFC North. I'm a Bengal fan and would prefer the division still be called the AFC Central.

Hensley: Thank for the note. Just hearing AFC Central, it makes me think of Three Rivers, Riverfront and Cleveland Municipal Stadiums. Those places housed good memories, but I don't think even the die-hard fans would like to go there.

The Steelers sent the right message in waiving Chris Rainey and it goes beyond just parting ways with a running back who was arrested for a second time on a domestic violence incident.

Pittsburgh kicked Rainey off the team only hours after he was arrested for, according to witnesses, slapping a woman in the face with an open hand. Along with the swift decision, the Steelers made it clear why they were waiving Rainey.

“Chris Rainey’s actions this morning were extremely disappointing,” Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said in a statement released by the team. “Under the circumstances and due to this conduct, Chris will no longer be a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers."

This is the Steelers' way of telling their current players and future ones that this type of behavior won't be tolerated, and even those who don't like the Steelers have to applaud the team for taking this type of hard stance. Pittsburgh also released nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu in November after his drunken driving arrest, but the Steelers did bring him back for the final game of the season (it was his first off-the-field incident).

It's valid to criticize the Steelers for drafting Rainey in the fifth round after an incident in 2010 when he was arrested for threatening his girlfriend. But, sadly in the NFL, you couldn't field a team these days if you didn't give second chances. The Steelers decided to take a chance on Rainey, and that mistake cost them a fifth-round pick.

Going forward, the Steelers need to either put a bigger emphasis on character or getting a better feel for players before bringing them to Pittsburgh. The arrests of two 2012 draft picks is an indication that something is wrong in the Steelers' pre-draft process.
Chris Rainey's arrest Thursday was the latest issue in what has been a rough rookie season for the Steelers' 2012 draft class:

First round: David DeCastro, G, Stanford. Severely injured his knee in the third preseason game and returned to play the last three games.

Second round: Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State. Placed on injured reserve with an ankle injury after starting six games.

Third round: Sean Spence, ILB, Miami. Tore multiple ligaments in his left knee in preseason finale and placed on injured reserve before regular season started.

Fourth round: Alameda Ta'amu, NT, Washington. Arrested for drunken driving in October, which led to his release a month later. He was later re-signed.

Fifth round: Chris Rainey, RB, Florida. Arrested for simple battery Thursday. He had 162 total yards and two touchdowns as a rookie. (4:12 p.m. ET update: The Steelers have waived Rainey.)

Seventh round: Toney Clemons, WR, Colorado. Signed off Steelers' practice squad by the Jaguars in November.

Seventh round: David Paulson, TE, Oregon. Finished with seven catches for 51 yards in 16 games played for Steelers.

Seventh round: Terrence Frederick, CB, Texas A&M. Waived by the Steelers at the end of the preseason and was later signed by the Giants.

Seventh round: Kelvin Beachum, G, SMU. Surprise of the draft class ended season with five straight starts at right tackle.
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Chris Rainey was arrested Thursday morning in Gainesville for slapping his girlfriend in the face during an altercation over a cell phone, Gainesville Police told the Miami Herald.

Rainey, a fifth-round pick out of Florida who just completed his rookie season for the Steelers, was charged with one count of simple battery (dating violence), a first-degree misdemeanor.

Witnesses told police that Rainey and a female got into an argument because she took his cellphone and got into the vehicle of Rainey's roommate. According to the police report, Rainey went to the passenger side of the car where he pulled the woman out of the car and slapped her across the face. The woman was later identified as Rainey's girlfriend of nine months.

This isn't the first time Rainey has been in trouble. In September 2010, Rainey was arrested and charged with aggravated stalking. He reportedly went to a woman's house and the two spoke for 10 minutes and then the receiver was told to leave. According to a Gainesville, Fla., police officer, Rainey sent the woman a text reading "Time to die," which prompted her call to police. He had been dating the woman on and off for "about three years," according to the report.

Rainey's latest arrest raises character issues with the Steelers' 2012 draft class. Nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu, a rookie fourth-round pick, was involved in an embarrassing drunken driving arrest in October. According to police, Ta'amu was driving an SUV the wrong way at about 2:30 a.m. on Oct. 14 when he fled from officers and crashed into four parked cars, injuring a woman. He then tried to run away before he was restrained by four officers and arrested, authorities said. The Steelers released Ta'amu in November but re-signed him by the end of the season.
The Steelers showed their level of discontent with backup nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu on Monday by waiving the rookie fourth-round pick a month after his embarrassing drunken driving arrest last month.

It could be seen as a tactical move because Pittsburgh signed wide receiver David Gilreath to add depth at that position with Antonio Brown (ankle) sidelined. The Steelers could re-sign Ta'amu or add him to the practice squad if he clears waivers. But the fact that the Steelers are allowing him to get taken by another team shows they're willing to part ways with the 109th overall pick.

Some might consider this a strong reaction to Ta'amu's first offense in the NFL. But this wasn't just a typical DUI. According to police, Ta'amu was driving an SUV the wrong way at about 2:30 a.m. on Oct. 14 when he fled from officers and crashed into four parked cars, injuring a woman. He then tried to run away before he was restrained by four officers and arrested, authorities said.

This was a black mark for a public relations-conscious organization like the Steelers. In a football sense, it was an easy move to make. Ta'amu was drafted as the eventual replacement to Casey Hampton, but he never beat out Steve McLendon for the No. 2 job in training camp. He had been inactive for every game this season.
It seems like there is a lot of talking going on in the division. Steelers rookie Alameda Ta'amu is apologizing. Bengals receiver A.J. Green is doing some mild trash-talking. And new Browns CEO Joe Banner is acknowledging publicly that the team has to decide whether quarterback Brandon Weeden is "the man" in Cleveland going forward.

I don't have much to say outside of my travel plans. I will cover the Ravens-Raiders game Sunday before heading to Pittsburgh to watch the Steelers-Chiefs game Monday night. With that out of the way, here's your wake-up call:

RAVENS: The injuries to Haloti Ngata's right shoulder and right knee are affecting the Pro Bowl defensive tackle, who failed to record a tackle last Sunday. That's only the second time this has happened in Ngata's 102-game career. "Now, it's limiting me," Ngata told The Baltimore Sun. "I just can't do what I want to do most of the time." Ngata plans to play with the injuries, saying taking a week off wouldn't allow him to get back to full strength. He has yet to practice this week.

STEELERS: Rookie nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu apologized after waiving his right to a preliminary hearing on charges stemming from an alleged drunken-driving rampage, according to the Associated Press. He was arrested last month after police said he crashed into several other cars, then ran away from officers. Ta'amu, who was suspended two games by the Steelers, told reporters Thursday, "If there was any other word I would say it, but 'sorry' is the only word I can say right now." This isn't Ta'amu's first run-in with the police. He was arrested for a December 2009 driving-under-the-influence incident while attending the University of Washington, but pleaded guilty to negligent driving.

BENGALS: Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green riled up the Giants on Thursday when he said he saw "a lot of holes" in the defense. "I'll talk with my pads come Sunday. That's how I approach the game. That's how we always approach the game," safety Antrel Rolle said, via "If he sees me, he better duck. That's it." Green's comment is really nothing when you compare it to Giants coach Tom Coughlin, who described the defensive effort as "soft" after the loss to the Steelers. Green also isn't alone in thinking that the NFL's 25th-ranked defense has a lot of holes.

BROWNS: New CEO Joe Banner told The Plain Dealer that he and owner Jimmy Haslam have to decide whether rookie Brandon Weeden is a franchise quarterback over the next seven games. "The only reason I'm leaving the door open is, you could think he's the right answer and a year from now go, "Oh, gee, I thought he was but he isn't,'" Banner said. "So it's not like you're etching it in stone, but you certainly have to at least for your next off-season plan, make a determination as to whether in two years from now, when we're trying to be a championship-caliber team, is he good enough to lead us there?" If the Browns are drafting in the top five in April, they would have an opportunity to take a quarterback like USC's Matt Barkley or West Virginia's Geno Smith.

Rookie snaps in the AFC North

October, 20, 2012
When it comes to getting production from rookies this season, it's a case of one team getting a lot of immediate help and another getting essentially nothing from its draft class.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Browns rank first in number of snaps from rookies this season. Cleveland is averaging 294 snaps per game (not including special teams) from its draft class. The next-closest team is the Vikings, who average 193 snaps from first-year players.

While the Browns rank at the top, the Steelers are close to the bottom in this category. Pittsburgh's rookies are averaging 43 snaps per game. This should be expected since it's basically a redshirt season for this draft class. The Steelers' first-round pick (guard David DeCastro) and their third-rounder (linebacker Sean Spence) both suffered serious knee injuries in the preseason. Their fourth-rounder (nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu) has been inactive for the first five games and has been suspended for two games after his DUI altercation.

The Ravens (average 131 snaps per game) and Bengals (119) both are in the middle of the NFL.

Cleveland's first-round picks, running back Trent Richardson and quarterback Brandon Weeden, have totaled 665 snaps. That is topped by Baltimore's second-round duo, linebacker Courtney Upshaw and offensive tackle Kelechi Osemele, who have combined for 727 snaps -- which is more than 16 teams in the NFL.

One Cincinnati first-round pick, guard Kevin Zeitler, has logged 412 snaps, while the other first-rounder, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, has yet to suit up for a game this season. Pittsburgh's second-rounder, offensive tackle Mike Adams, has 109 snaps.
The wake-up call is a little later this morning because there was some late-night blogging about another Ravens injury. In other words, the Ravens are counting the days to next week's bye. But there are no days off on the AFC North blog during the season. It's going to be a busy one, from a morning blog about a struggling cornerback to a "Double Coverage" piece with AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky that should go up around noon. Now, let's take a look around the division:

RAVENS: Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs practiced for the first time since tearing his right Achilles tendon, but he was extremely limited Wednesday. According to The Baltimore Sun, Suggs jogged from sideline to sideline on an adjacent field and also threw the football around to teammates during the media viewing portion of practice. "He's really the biggest key. We need him right now. It's a huge thing to have him back," linebacker Paul Kruger told the paper. "He's just the type of player that can really change a game and change a season for you. He's also a leader and someone who can really change the attitude and the atmosphere." It's unlikely that Suggs will play Sunday at Houston. Coach John Harbaugh classified him as day-to-day.

BENGALS: For the first time in his brief NFL career, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick wasn't on the injury report. And, for the first time in his career, Kirkpatrick has a shot to play in a game. "That's coach's decision, I'm just playing my role,” Kirkpatrick said, via the team's official website. “When my number is called, it will be called. I'm not going to bug coach with that. It's not my job to ask. I'm ready. Body feels good. Just waiting.” With the Bengals having a bye after Sunday's game, there's a chance that Cincinnati will decide to hold out its first-round pick to give him an extra week to rest the injured knee.

STEELERS: The Steelers rank near the top of the league in penalties per game. They're off to a disappointing 2-3 start. And rookie nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu was arrested after a late-night run-in with police over the weekend. But quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said there's not a lack of discipline under coach Mike Tomlin. “I think people are just comparing him to Coach (Bill) Cowher,” Roethlisberger told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “Every coach is a little bit different. ... Coach Tomlin is a players’ coach. Guys enjoy playing for him. He gets after us. He just doesn’t do it in front of you guys (the media), which is good.”

BROWNS: Vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan stopped by the Browns' complex with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is a lifelong Browns fan. Ryan, though, is definitely not one. When talking to the team, it became apparent that Ryan got his quarterbacks confused, looking at Colt McCoy while talking about Brandon Weeden. "I think he saw the red (quarterback practice) jerseys and got us mixed up," Weeden said. "But he's got more important things on his mind right now than me and Colt. It was a good laugh."
It's been a busy start to the week in the AFC North. Ray Lewis is done for the season. Mike Holmgren is on his way out with the Browns. Troy Polamalu has been declared out for Sunday's game and rookie Alameda Ta'amu has been suspended for two games for his altercation this weekend. So, what do you have for me today, Bengals? This should make for a lively chat today at 2 p.m. But there's still some headlines to address this morning in the wake-up call:

RAVENS: Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs is expected to be activated from the physically unable to perform (PUP) list this week and will participate in practice on a limited basis, according to The Baltimore Sun. The timetable for the NFL Defensive Player of the Year to return is November. "It's going to take time," the source told the paper. "There's no reason to do anything risky with a guy this important. You have to think about the big picture with him." With the number of injuries that have hit the defense, the Ravens could try to speed up Suggs' timetable. But the team wants him to be there for the playoffs and don't want to risk rushing him back.

BENGALS: Apparently coach Marvin Lewis needs to come up with better halftime speeches. The Bengals have been outscored 57-10 in the third quarter this year, according to “I don't have an idea,” Lewis said. “If you look in the past, that's been a strength. I can look at years past, particularly last year, and it was a strength of ours. It was a strength of ours in the preseason. But right now, it's not. And it's not that the defense has been dreadful, it's just that we've been dreadful on offense in the third quarter.” Lewis was right about having success in the third quarter in the past. Last season, the Bengals outscored opponents 86-50.

STEELERS: It was less than a year ago when Steelers linebacker James Harrison became the first player to be suspended for a helmet-to-helmet hit at a time when the NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has attempted to enforce enhanced player safety rules. Now, Harrison is leading the charge to improve protection for the head. After enduring what he estimated as "double digit" bouts with concussion-like symptoms throughout his decade-long career, Harrison began using a special layer of padding inside his helmet last fall and is pleased with the results. "I haven't seen any spots or had any blackouts," Harrison said.

BROWNS: Team president Mike Holmgren might not be the only front-office member on the way out in Cleveland. General manager Tom Heckert is "not optimistic" he'll survive the ownership change, a league source told The Plain Dealer. Heckert worked for Joe Banner, the Browns' new chief executive officer, for nine seasons when they both were with the Eagles. But multiple sources told that Heckert has told people close to him that he believes he'll lose his position with the team at the end of the season. Heckert has done a commendable job in rebuilding the Browns through the draft. If the Browns don't want him, he should have no problem catching on another team's personnel staff in 2013.