AFC North: Bernie Kosar
Bernie Kosar hit all the high notes with the community in a statement he released saying he wanted back on the Cleveland Browns' preseason broadcast team.
He also took the decision to another level by saying he was taken off the preseason broadcasts because of his slurred speech impairment, which is “a direct result of the many concussions I received while playing in the NFL.”
That simple sentence fragment on the decision by the Browns and WKYC-Channel 3 had to raise the eyebrows of many, including concussion attorneys, the NFL and the team. Because Kosar is now saying that concussions led to problems that are keeping him from staying in a job.
And well beyond the decision to remove Kosar, though that alone caused some ripples in Cleveland and among fans -- a reaction that should surprise absolutely no one.
The decision no doubt can be attributed in part to the combination of Kosar making some harmless but critical statements of the Rams in 2013 -- which angered coach Jeff Fisher and the outrage police -- and a DUI that Kosar received in October of 2013. (He pled not guilty.)
The team could be thinking if there is an issue, then perhaps the next mistake Kosar makes on the air could be more serious.
But in sacking Kosar and bringing in Solomon Wilcots, the team did not really recognize the local audience. Instead of adding an ex-Brown who connects to the community, the team went the “national” route when another ex-player might have eased the sting.
Browns fans enjoyed having Kosar on the broadcast, for his acumen and his insight into the game. Kosar was adept at breaking down a play before the play, and explaining what went right and what went wrong. Fans also liked him because of who he is; Kosar’s popularity in Cleveland remains strong.
Kosar played right into that popularity with his statement, which in part read:
“I believe that this decision stems from my slurred speech impairment, which is a direct result of the many concussions I received while playing in the NFL. This is very unfortunate, as I believe my football acumen and ability to describe what is happening on the field, has been well received by Cleveland Browns fans. I love to put the personal touch, the pride in the Browns, and the pride in our Cleveland community into the broadcast.”
He added that “I still bleed Brown and Orange.”
Call it Kosar’s version of a two-handed backhand down the line.
The response from the TV station was that there was no going back, the decision was made, and it was made because as the Browns change the broadcast should change.
In most cases a change like this would draw a yawn.
But not when it comes to Kosar. Not in Cleveland.
Which is why it doesn’t seem like a change was really necessary. The Browns had a guy who connected with the community, who was insightful and football savvy, and they replaced him with a guy with no connection other than he’s connected to the league.
Bottom line: For whatever reason, the Browns and the station clearly decided the risk-reward ratio with Kosar was no longer in their favor.
RAVENS: Why did the Ravens decide to sign tight end Dallas Clark on Sunday? Perhaps it's because of the uncertain status of Ed Dickson (hamstring), who was noncommittal on whether he'll be ready for the Sept. 5 season opener. "I can’t make any predictions but I’m working hard to do that," Dickson said, via The Baltimore Sun. "It's one of those things where it was really sore and I tried to prevent it by doing other things. The doctor said it went all the way through, so it's not lingering through the season so I can get all the way healthy and make me back to 100 percent." Wide receiver Deonte Thompson (foot) won't play in Thursday's preseason game and backup running back Bernard Pierce (knee) hasn't been ruled out.
BENGALS: Wide receiver Marvin Jones returned to practice after missing two weeks with a hamstring injury. Jones, who is battling Mohamed Sanu for the No. 2 receiver job, believes the injury has re-energized him. “Whenever you are out and have to sit on the sidelines, that is the boringest thing ever,” Jones told The Cincinnati Enquirer. “You have to sit there when you want to be out there with your brothers competing and playing. When you are on the sideline it’s no fun. When I got back it was a big old boost of energy.”
STEELERS: Safety Troy Polamalu looked like his old self in the preseason opener, roaming all over the field and being disruptive near the line of scrimmage. But his one crucial mistake -- failing to have deep coverage on a deep pass to Victor Cruz -- resulted in a 57-yard touchdown. "I made a mistake that I know I have to correct and that's huge," Polamalu told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "It's better than making it in Week 1. But there's also part of the preseason where you have to get a feel for what you can get away with and what you can't get away with. So we learned a lot, speaking for the first-team defense, for sure."
BROWNS: Running back Trent Richardson told The Akron Beacon Journal that he's fully recovered from a shin injury and wants to play in Thursday's preseason game. But Richardson understands the Browns' big-picture approach. “The ultimate goal is to make it to Miami, but it’s one day at a time,” Richardson said. “You don’t want to do nothing too crazy to get hurt. At the same time, you want to be on time with everything, with your timing, the game conditioning and everything like that." ... CEO Joe Banner reprimanded former Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar for his "personal and unprofessional approach" during Thursday's broadcast of the preseason game against the St. Louis Rams, but he decided to keep Kosar as a commentator for the remaining three preseason games.
- Coach Marvin Lewis did seem troubled over the latest off-the-field incident involving middle linebacker Rey Maualuga, who has pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge at a Cincinnati bar. Maualuga is the fourth Bengals player since July to have a legal issue, joining wide receiver Jerome Simpson, cornerback Adam Jones and running back Cedric Benson. “There’s a concern," Lewis told reporters at the NFL combine, via the Cincinnati Enquirer. "What [Maualuga] does away from football is important. He has to make good choices and decisions.”
- Benson is not expected to be re-signed by the Bengals, and Lewis' comments about the running back didn't change that perception. As the team website points out, it sounded like Lewis was giving Benson a lifetime achievement award instead of a new contract. “I think we want to improve our running game and if it includes Ced, it includes Ced," Lewis said. "We need to have more explosive running plays. Ced has had a fine career. He’s a physical player and been a big part of our success.”
- Lewis provided encouraging news on two players who are coming off season-ending injuries. Cornerback Leon Hall (Achilles) is ahead of schedule, and wide receiver Jordan Shipley (knee) continues to make “significant progress," Lewis said.
- Coach Pat Shurmur reiterated the Browns want to re-sign starting middle linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, who's scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next month. Shurmur said the team hasn't made a decision whether it will place a franchise tag on Jackson, although the Plain Dealer of Cleveland reported last week that the Browns plan to do so. "We're going to be willing to use [the franchise tag]," Shurmur said. "As you go through signing our free agents, then we'll see what's the best place to use that tag."
- In injury updates, Shurmur said left guard Eric Steinbach is progressing from a season-ending back injury but he didn't commit to the left guard as a starter, according to the Akron Beacon Journal. Jason Pinkston, who replaced Steinbach at left guard, will not move to tackle and will continue to develop at the guard position, according to Shurmur.
- Former Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar attended the combine, but not in an official capacity, a team spokesman told the Akron Beacon Journal.
- Coach John Harbaugh once again expressed confidence about holding onto Ben Grubbs, saying he's "pretty optimistic" about re-signing the Pro Bowl left guard. “I hope that’s not misplaced," Harbaugh said, via the Baltimore Sun. "We’re in the process of negotiating. We’re committed, [owner Steve Bisciotti’s] committed to offering him a really great number. Hey, the market dictates [it], and Ben has to make those kinds of decisions, and you’re really happy for guys. He’s had a great career. He’s had a great number of years here. He’s earned the right to take a look for his family. One thing we’re not doing, we’re not giving him a low number. We’re doing everything we can to try to keep him in Baltimore.”
- In injury news, wide receiver Torrey Smith had surgery to repair a double sports hernia, and cornerback Cary Williams had hip surgery. Both are expected to be ready for training camp.
- Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said the team isn't looking to add a free-agent running back to replace the retired Ricky Williams. He indicated that Anthony Allen, a seventh-round pick from a year ago, will be given the first shot at the backup running back job. The team would add a free agent during training camp if Allen struggles to secure that spot, Newsome said.
- Newsome is happy the team was able to keep director of player personnel Eric DeCosta, who turned down the chance to interview for the general manager positions with the Chicago Bears, St. Louis Rams and Indianapolis Colts. "I think it was very important because of the continuity that allows the organization to maintain people and have the process remain the same," Newsome said, via ESPN Chicago. "It was kind of like Scott Pioli remaining in New England for all those years with Bill [Belichick]. All it does is make you stronger. I'm very thankful that Eric decided to stay."
- Major changes are unlikely to occur to the Steelers' offense under new coordinator Todd Haley, according to general manager Kevin Colbert. The biggest reason is it's tough to do so when the team has been successful and is bringing most of the same personnel back. "So, it's hard to come in and drastically change your philosophy because of the group of players that you have," Colbert said, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "You can't overhaul a whole roster. Nor are we looking to because this group of players has been very successful."
- The hope is that the high-ankle sprains that have hampered Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey the past two years are in the past. "The reports we got and the last time we saw him, he was progressing just fine," Colbert said, via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "High-ankle sprains, they're a different injury and then when you re-injure it sometimes you've got to do some procedures to shore that joint up."
- A Cleveland-based reporter asked Colbert if the team had reached a "breaking point" with linebacker James Harrison, who was suspended last season after he knocked out Browns quarterback Colt McCoy. "No. Absolutely not," Colbert said. "James Harrison is a great player. He tries to play within the rules. Sometimes, the penalty is unavoidable, and he ends up getting a suspension out of it. He served his time. We've all moved on. We know James Harrison plays the game very hard. He plays it within the rules the best he can. Sometimes, circumstances happen in the course of a game, and you have to live with the consequences. But in no way are we ever going to be disappointed with that player."
No. 7: Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore Ravens
2010 stats: 3,622 yards, 25 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 93.6 passer rating
Proving point: Flacco is a unique case, because he doesn't have much to prove in the regular season. The third-year quarterback has improved every year and won an average of 10.7 games per season in Baltimore. But Flacco's proving ground starts in the playoffs, and that is the next step in his maturation process. Fans in Baltimore expected better postseason play right away from Flacco and now are voicing their displeasure. Despite his putting up career highs in yards, touchdowns and passer rating last season, Baltimore's second-round loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers still stings for a Ravens team many expected to get to the Super Bowl. Flacco has a 4-3 postseason record, which isn't bad. But he's only played great football in one of his seven career playoff games. Is Flacco going through the normal growing pains of a young quarterback? Or is he simply not clutch? Next season will go a long way toward answering that question.
No. 6: Ziggy Hood, DE, Steelers
2010 stats: 20 tackles, three sacks
Proving point: Hood took advantage of a luxury not many first-round picks have in the NFL. He was a backup for about a year and a half and was allowed to learn in Pittsburgh before being forced into the starting lineup. Hood became a starter after Pittsburgh veteran defensive end Aaron Smith was lost for the season with a triceps injury. The 2009 first-round pick stepped in admirably, and the Steelers finished with the NFL's No. 2 defense and top-rated run defense. Can Hood be a full-time starter? With Smith returning, it will be interesting to see how the Steelers handle this. Smith, 34, is the prototypical 3-4 defensive end and is still a good player when healthy. But Hood also is a budding talent who looks ready to step up.
No. 5: Michael Oher, LT, Ravens
2010 stats: 16 starts
Proving point: Is Oher a left tackle or right tackle? After two seasons, the Ravens are still trying to figure that out. Oher followed up a stellar rookie campaign on the right side with a so-so 2010 season at left tackle. Baltimore had contract and health issues last offseason with Jared Gaither and decided to make the switch, which is often challenging. Oher had issues protecting Flacco's blind side (no pun intended) at times and suffered too many pre-snap penalties. But Oher remains Baltimore's best offensive lineman. So there is potential to improve on the left side in his third year. Chances are, Oher will get another shot to prove that in 2011 if the Ravens cannot find a better option via the draft or free agency.
No. 4: Jerome Simpson, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
Proving point: After three mostly uneventful seasons, Simpson ended the final two weeks with a bang by posting back-to-back 100-yard games and three total touchdowns. Was the late surge a fluke or a sign that Simpson has finally turned the corner? Injuries to veterans Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens gave Simpson an opportunity to play. Now the Bengals have to figure out if Simpson is worthy of a larger role -- perhaps as a starter -- in 2011. Outsiders have their doubts. Most mock drafts have Cincinnati taking Georgia receiver A.J. Green with the No. 4 overall pick. If the Bengals take Green, that would show a lack of confidence in Simpson and their current group of receivers. Ochocinco also could become trade bait this offseason.
No. 3: Peyton Hillis, RB, Cleveland Browns
2010 stats: 1,177 rushing yards, 61 receptions, 13 total touchdowns
Proving point: Is Hillis a one-year wonder? Following a breakout 2010 season, that is the question Browns fans want answered. Hillis exploded on the scene by leading the Browns in rushing and receiving last year. He was by far the team's MVP. But Hillis needs another great season for the Browns to have a chance in the AFC North. His numbers dipped toward the end of the season, as teams keyed on Hillis and he suffered through some nagging injuries. Expect defenses to be more aware of Hillis from the start next season. It will be interesting to see whether Hillis gets the same number of opportunities. Browns rookie head coach Pat Shurmur is changing to a West Coast offense. So Cleveland is expected to pass the ball a lot more than it did under former coach Eric Mangini. Hillis has good hands and could fit in the system. He's always been productive when given the opportunity, and posting back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons for the first time would be a solid achievement for Hillis.
No. 2: Andre Smith, RT, Bengals
2010 stats: Four starts
Proving point: After two years, many have already written Smith off as a draft bust. Cincinnati took Smith No. 6 overall, despite many red flags and have gotten little out of its investment thus far. The Bengals had high hopes for Smith in his second season but injuries and inconsistent play led to just four starts. Now Cincinnati is considering moving Smith to guard to see if his play improves. The Bengals also have to decide on Smith's contract later this offseason. Cincinnati has to decide whether to keep his contract at four years or pay him for two additional years, which included a $4.75 million option bonus. Based on the first two seasons, it would be surprising if the Bengals paid Smith the additional money.
No. 1: Colt McCoy, QB, Browns
2010 stats: 1,576 yards, six touchdowns, nine interceptions, 74.5 passer rating
Proving point: There is no player in the AFC North with more to prove next season than McCoy, who received a surprising amount of playing time as a rookie. Cleveland intended for McCoy to learn from the sidelines last season. But injuries to veterans Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace led to early playing time. McCoy then performed better than expected and secured the job after eight starts. The quarterback of the future is now the quarterback of the present. The Browns' front office and coaching staff are 100 percent behind McCoy as he tries to become Cleveland's first legitimate franchise quarterback since Bernie Kosar. There is a long list of failures at the position over the past dozen years. If the Browns have any chance of turning the franchise around and competing in the AFC North, McCoy has to be the answer.
- The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey has a broken bone in his ankle and is "highly doubtful" for the Super Bowl.
- With Jeff Fisher leaving the Tennessee Titans, Marvin Lewis of the Cincinnati Bengals is the AFC's second-longest tenured head coach. He is entering his ninth season.
- The Baltimore Ravens are checking out pass-rushers at the Senior Bowl.
- Former Cleveland Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar is looking for an NFL coaching gig.
- Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco is among the newest castmembers of ABC's "Dancing With The Stars."
- Former Pittsburgh Steelers pro scouting coordinator Doug Whaley is hitting the ground running as assistant general manager of the Buffalo Bills.
- Cleveland Browns president Mike Holmgren is determined to solve his quarterback quandary.
- The Baltimore Ravens need to act soon on their restricted free agents.
Here are the most interesting stories Monday in the AFC North:
- With Sunday’s 17-7 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals (6-2), the Baltimore Ravens (4-4) have lost four of their last five and have a lot of unanswered questions.
- Bengals tailback Cedric Benson proved the first time he rushed for more than 100 yards was no fluke.
- The rivalry between the Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers will continue on "Monday Night Football."
- Would former Cleveland Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar be the wrong call as general manager in Cleveland?
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
Here are the most interesting stories Thursday in the AFC North:
- Retired right tackle Willie Anderson, who spent most of his career with the Cincinnati Bengals, was disappointed that he wasn't chosen for ESPN.com's all-decade team.
Morning take: Although Anderson makes a point that the pick for right tackle (Jonathan Ogden) should've been a natural right tackle, I have no problem with ESPN.com's panel choosing the top two players, regardless of the side.
- Should former NFL star Bernie Kosar return to the Cleveland Browns as a quarterback consultant?
Morning take: On the surface, this sounds like a decent idea. But I doubt Cleveland's new regime, led by coach Eric Mangini, welcomes additional assistance.
- The Baltimore Ravens have a lot of depth and competition at cornerback this year.
Morning take: Toward the end of last season, the Ravens were running out of healthy players at this position, which is why it made sense for them to add quality players there such as Domonique Foxworth and Chris Carr in free agency.
- Here is part two of Pittsburgh Steelers rookie Evander "Ziggy" Hood's Q&A.
Morning take: Hood compares his playing style to Tommie Harris, which would be a great addition if Hood reaches that level.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
Here are the most interesting stories Saturday in the AFC North:
- It's only June, but the Tennessee Titans are already talking about the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Terrible Towels.
Morning take: Although it's a little baffling why the Titans are resorting to these tactics so early, this game will be a great way to kick off the 2009 season. It involves two very good teams, a lot of trash-talking and interesting storylines.
Morning take: According to Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston, no. We will have a little more on Marshall's situation later in this weekend's mailbag.
Morning take: This would be good if Cook lives up to that comparison. Based on his scrums in minicamp, Cook is showing a mean streak and perhaps that will give him an edge in the race to be the starting center.
Morning take: Every so often we see former NFL stars hurting for money, especially since the salary structure for the NFL 20 years ago was nowhere near where it is today for former players like Kosar.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
|AP Photo/Tony Dejak|
|Bernie Kosar hopes to bring a championship to Cleveland.|
But 20 and 21 years after "The Fumble" and "The Drive," respectively, Kosar is back in the conference championship game once again -- this time as president of the Cleveland Gladiators of the Arena Football League.
Cleveland will face the Philadelphia Soul Saturday, July 12, for a chance to play in the Arena Bowl.
Many football people believe conference title games can be just as difficult -- and sometimes more difficult -- to win than championship games. Kosar agreed with that assessment based on personal experience.
"Most people think that if you don't win it all, it's not a success," Kosar said Wednesday via conference call. "But basically you're playing the cream of the crop, the best-type teams [in conference championships]. It's not an accident that I believe us and Philadelphia are still playing. And when you're playing at the highest level, somebody has to lose."
Kosar aims to not come up on the short end in the conference championship again this weekend.
The matchup pits two championship-deprived cities. Philadelphia hasn't won a pro sports title since the 76ers were NBA champions in 1983. Cleveland hasn't won a pro championship since the Browns did it in 1964, before the merger.
Although Elway owns an arena team, he is not standing in Kosar's way this weekend. But former NFL quarterback and current ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski is.
Jaworski is president of the Soul and, like Kosar, also is trying to bring another title to the city he once played in.
"We really have two cities that are starving for a championship," Jaworski said. "I can speak for Philly, and I know the Cleveland organization feels the same way. We're very proud to represent our cities."