AFC North: Brandon Ghee

CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals have lost another defensive player.

Ghee
The San Diego Chargers announced via Twitter on Thursday that Bengals cornerback Brandon Ghee has signed a two-year deal to join their team. An unrestricted free agent this offseason, Ghee spent the last four years in Cincinnati.

A 2010 third-round Bengals draft selection from Wake Forest, Ghee was expected to be a budding defensive star, but injuries got in the way of that progress.

After missing all of the 2012 season with a dislocated wrist, coaches finally started getting convinced he was turning a corner after a strong showing in OTAs last year and through the first few practices of the preseason. He looked poised to challenge for the backup slot corner job. If starter Leon Hall was to go down, he looked to be the first one on the field to replace him.

But a concussion, the second of his career, sidelined him for most of the preseason and the first three games of the 2013 regular season. He took a hard shot during a preseason game at Atlanta. The injury came nearly a full year after he dislocated his wrist.

When Ghee did end up playing last season, filling in for an injured Hall at Cleveland in Week 4, he didn’t look good overall. The Browns rolled to a 17-6 win that included a touchdown reception he allowed.

Ghee appeared in 10 games last season, the most in a single season in his career. He also had seven tackles, and finished with 17 for his Bengals career.

Ghee's departure from Cincinnati comes on the same day that free-agent offensive tackle Anthony Collins rejected a Bengals counteroffer and signed with Tampa Bay, and veteran linebacker James Harrison was cut.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Since Mike Zimmer took over as the Minnesota Vikings' head coach, it's been a popular and sensible exercise to project whether the Vikings might be a good fit for some of the Cincinnati Bengals' pending free agents that Zimmer coached while he was the defensive coordinator there.

On Friday, Zimmer didn't dispute the idea that he'd like to bring some familiar players to Minnesota, but also hoped he'd be able to connect with a number of the players currently on the roster.

"I think the familiarity of guys with me, I think that's always important, but I don't know that I need to do that," Zimmer said when asked about bringing former players to the Vikings. "Hopefully, we have some people in Minnesota that will be 'Zim' guys."

Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson seems like an obvious candidate to get a strong look from the Vikings in free agency this spring, though Johnson will have plenty of offers and could command a sizable offer if he gets to the open market. Cornerback Brandon Ghee could be another name to watch for the Vikings. ESPN Bengals reporter Coley Harvey thinks there's a chance Cincinnati won't bring Ghee back. Though he hasn't taken off like the Bengals had hoped, Ghee is only 26 years old.

If the Vikings didn't land Johnson and decided not to re-sign Jared Allen, could Brian Robison slide over to Allen's old right end spot? "When I get them on the field and when I start seeing them for a day or two, I’ll have a much better idea if Brian can play the right side," Zimmer said. "I don’t know if he can get in a left-handed stance. He’s always been in a right-handed stance. So I just don’t know enough about him."

Kiper mock 1.0 reaction: Bengals

January, 15, 2014
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CINCINNATI -- Most of the Cincinnati Bengals' more pressing needs in this year's draft will come on defense, as they try to maintain the measure of depth they have enjoyed the past three seasons.

In his first mock draft Insider of the new year, ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. went in precisely that direction as he declared Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard the Bengals' selection with the No. 24 pick of the first round.

Dennard was the second cornerback to go in Kiper's mock draft. Justin Gilbert of Oklahoma State, the top-rated corner on Kiper's Big Board, went 10th to the Detroit Lions.

Cornerback is just one of the more glaring weaknesses the Bengals will have entering this year's draft. They also will be looking to shore up their depth at linebacker, safety, defensive end, guard and offensive tackle. At linebacker, a cover player who can slip into one of the outside linebacker positions during nickel situations will be sought. When Emmanuel Lamur was lost for the year after an injury in the last preseason game, the Bengals spent the next month scrambling to find an adequate nickel linebacker. Part of their plans included shifting defensive back Taylor Mays into the spot.

To avoid such scrambling this year, the Bengals would like a true cover linebacker on the roster in case something happens to Lamur or any of the other outside linebackers next season.

While Terence Newman, Leon Hall, Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick will be back next season, the Bengals still need an extra cornerback in the event injuries hit that position like they did in the first part of the 2013 season. They were fortunate Chris Crocker was still in shape and able to come out of retirement and fill necessary gaps due to early-season injuries to Hall, Jones and Kirkpatrick. When Hall was lost to injury near the middle of the season, Crocker's presence became even more necessary.

Two drafts ago, the Bengals spent their first-round pick on Kirkpatrick. While he started showing signs late this past season that he was beginning to make the transition to the NFL, he still had noticeable struggles. He was out of position at times and completely burned at others. By having another young cornerback come in, particularly if Brandon Ghee doesn't get re-signed this offseason, the Bengals could be sending a message to Kirkpatrick to play well more consistently or risk losing his job.

Dennard has played well for all four of his seasons at Michigan State. Football fans in Cincinnati ought to be somewhat familiar with him, too. This past fall, while helping the Spartans go 11-1 and leading them to a Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl victory, he had 59 tackles and four interceptions. He deflected a pair of passes in MSU's Big Ten title game win over Ohio State.

He also has an NFL connection. The Dry Branch, Ga., native is distantly related to Patriots defensive back and former Nebraska standout Alfonzo Dennard. Like many of the Bengals' cornerbacks, Darqueze Dennard played other positions in high school, including receiver. ESPN's draft insiders laud his cover skills and ability to come away with interceptions.

In addition to linebacker and cornerback, another position the Bengals could attempt to draft in the first round is defensive end. With Michael Johnson likely gone because of the high price tag he likely will fetch following a year spent as the team's franchise player, Cincinnati will be looking to replace him. Although Margus Hunt began to impress coaches by the end of 2013, and veterans Wallace Gilberry and Robert Geathers will be back to rotate into Johnson's spot, the Bengals would like to add another body to help with the depth there.

Possible first-round targets include Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt and Oregon State's Scott Crichton. Kiper had the Chiefs taking Tuitt one spot ahead of the Bengals at No. 23, and Crichton going to the Broncos at No. 31.

Bengals' Johnson and Hall are active

October, 13, 2013
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Cincinnati Bengals' defense, one that prevented New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady from throwing a touchdown pass last week, just got stronger ahead of its Sunday afternoon road tilt against the Bills.

Defensive end Michael Johnson and cornerback Leon Hall were declared active for the game after dealing with injuries the past few weeks. Johnson suffered a concussion in the Bengals' Week 4 loss at Cleveland. He was held out of practices from that game until Friday, when he was finally cleared following a battery of tests that he had to go through per the NFL's concussion protocol.

Hall practiced all of last week after suffering a hamstring injury in the Bengals' Week 3 win against the Green Bay Packers.

With Johnson and Hall in the mix, the Bengals' eighth-ranked unit gets a good lift just in time to face a Bills' offense that is in a bit of flux. Buffalo lost starting quarterback EJ Manuel to a knee injury at Cleveland last weekend, causing it to start former practice squad player Thad Lewis. This is Lewis' second-career start.

While Johnson and Hall were declared active, cornerback Brandon Ghee was declared inactive once again as he deals with a thigh injury. He has only played one game this season as he has had to battle through concussion issues, as well.

Here are the full lists of inactives for the Bills and Bengals:

Bengals

RB Rex Burkhead

CB Brandon Ghee

CB Chris Lewis-Harris

OG Tanner Hawkinson

OG Mike Pollak

WR Ryan Whalen

DE Margus Hunt

Bills

QB EJ Manuel

WR Stevie Johnson

CB Justin Rogers

CB Brandon Burton

CB Ron Brooks

LB Ty Powell

OG Antoine McClain

W2W4: Bengals at Browns

September, 28, 2013
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Plain and simple, teams in the AFC North just don't like one another. They can't stand each other. If there is a division in the NFL in which the teams involved have the truest sense of hate for one another, it's this one.

Just think about it. Whenever the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns get together, enormous, vocal crowds usually turn out. Both franchises can enter a particular meeting having a poor season, stumbling to their respective losing records and still, FirstEnergy Stadium or Paul Brown Stadium will be rocking. That's what makes a true football rivalry.

This year, though, neither team appears to be bad. Far from it. The Bengals are a hot pick to end up in the AFC Championship Game, and the Browns, post-Trent Richardson trade, are suddenly the darling upstart of the conference. If there has been an underdog in the AFC to root for the last two weeks, Cleveland has been it.

When the two teams meet for the first time this season at 1 p.m. ET Sunday, here are four things you'll want to watch for:

1. The homecoming. As a teenager in Cleveland, Brian Hoyer attended Browns games, dreaming he'd one day get an opportunity to start a game there as a professional quarterback. That day is on the horizon. It's Sunday. For the first time in his five-year career, the longtime backup will be taking starting snaps for the team he grew up cheering, in the city that raised him. After his impressive performance in last week's win over Minnesota, Hoyer was given the starting nod again this week, playing in place of Brandon Weeden, who has been dealing with a thumb injury. Watch for Hoyer's excitement level. Understandably, it will be high, and a packed home crowd ought to make it even higher. If he's too pumped up, though, it could be a problem for the Browns. If the Bengals can put pressure on him early and fluster him, the homecoming could be a long one for Hoyer.

[+] EnlargeMichael Johnson
AP Photo/Joe RobbinsBengals defensive end Michael Johnson will have his hands full Sunday against the Browns' Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas.
2. The battle in the trenches. Both teams feature offensive and defensive lines with a mix of young, promising talent and cagey, wily veterans. Cleveland's offensive line is anchored by six-time Pro Bowler Joe Thomas. The left tackle will be matched up with Bengals fifth-year defensive end Michael Johnson, who had his best game of the season last week against Green Bay. Among Johnson's more memorable plays from the win was his forced fumble that led to Terence Newman's recovery and 58-yard touchdown return, and his pass deflection on a fourth-and-5 one drive later that iced the win. Cincinnati's offensive line is anchored by Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth. He likely will be paired against defensive end Desmond Bryant. When Bryant isn't giving him trouble, though, rookie outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo could. Mingo and Whitworth hail from the same Louisiana town and college football power (LSU) and have a long friendship that will be put to the test on the field for the first time.

3. Cameron coverage belongs to ... Be on the lookout for where Browns tight end Jordan Cameron lines up on the line of scrimmage, and keep an eye out for which Bengals linebacker gets awarded the responsibility of covering him. Through three games, Cameron already has tied a career high in receptions (20) and set career marks with 269 receiving yards and four touchdowns. At the start of his third season, Cameron is blossoming into another one of the NFL's bright, young, pass-catching talents at tight end. Cincinnati certainly has had its eye on him all week, and the team feels confident it has a game plan that will stop him. Against the Vikings last week, Cameron had six receptions for 66 yards and three touchdowns.

This will be the first such test for the Bengals since the season opener, when Chicago's Martellus Bennett had three catches, including a touchdown in the Bears' 24-21 win. In the Bengals' other two games, injuries kept them from seeing just how effective the tight end could be in those offenses. The Packers' Jermichael Finley went down with a concussion in the first quarter of Cincinnati's 34-30 win last week.

4. Cornerback watch. There may be more attention paid to the Bengals' pregame by their fans than anything else Sunday as they await the fate of their cornerbacks. Three of them, Leon Hall, Dre Kirkpatrick and Newman, were dealing with injuries this week. Safety Reggie Nelson also had his own injury concerns. Only Newman appears set to go, though, after Kirkpatrick, Hall and Nelson were listed as doubtful on the Bengals' injury report Friday. Coach Marvin Lewis is holding out hope that more optimistic news may come Sunday morning, but there is a strong possibility it might not. If it doesn't, look for Brandon Ghee, a young cornerback who is just returning from a concussion that had kept him out since the preseason, to slip into Hall's role. Newly re-signed safety Chris Crocker also could be in the mix to replace Nelson if need be. The cornerback watch will be a captivating one because it could have an impact on the Bengals' efforts at slowing Browns receiver Josh Gordon, who hauled in 10 passes from Hoyer last week.
CINCINNATI -- The health of the Cincinnati Bengals' secondary will end up being a dominant story line this week as Cincinnati tries to prepare for Cleveland's rejuvenated offensive attack when the teams meet at FirstEnergy Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

During their first full practice since beating Green Bay last weekend, the Bengals were without several key defensive backs Wednesday afternoon. Veterans Leon Hall, Terence Newman and Reggie Nelson joined Dre Kirkpatrick in either limited or non-practice capacity. On the heels of arguably the most physical and draining game of the season for the Bengals' defense, it shouldn't be too surprising that they, along with others, were out.

Said linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who did practice Wednesday after playing all 81 snaps last Sunday: "I was exhausted."

Still, just because the four didn't practice, that doesn't mean they won't be ready for kickoff. Coach Marvin Lewis was as optimistic as he has been all season when he provided an injury update during his Wednesday afternoon news conference.

"The sun came up a little bit," Lewis said, jokingly referencing the weather terms he sometimes uses to describe his players' health. "Everybody's doing a lot better than the initial Sunday-afternoon prognosis. We just have to go through the week and see how we do."

Among the good signs the Bengals do have on the injury front are those that concern cornerback Brandon Ghee. The Wake Forest product participated in the practice. It was his first since suffering a concussion in Cincinnati's preseason opener at Atlanta nearly two months ago.

"Definitely good to see him on the field to get some reps," defensive backs coach Mark Carrier said. "He hasn't played since August."

Here's the Bengals' full injury report:

Did Not Practice: CB Leon Hall (hamstring), CB Dre Kirkpatrick (hamstring), S Reggie Nelson (hamstring), G Mike Pollak (knee)

Limited Practice Participation: RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis (ankle), CB Terence Newman (knee)

Full Practice Participation: OT Anthony Collins (knee), CB Brandon Ghee (concussion)
CINCINNATI -- The mandatory minicamps for the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers all begin Tuesday. I'm here in Southern Ohio to get my first look at the 2013 Bengals. Media availability is later in the morning, and practice is in the afternoon. I plan to have my first post from here early in the afternoon. I'm guessing coach Marvin Lewis will be asked about a certain cornerback who is in trouble yet again.

Here's the wake-up call ...

RAVENS: A week after President Barack Obama called Joe Flacco "elite," the Ravens quarterback received praise from one of his newest teammates. “He’s a lot better [than I thought],” Michael Huff said, via the team's official website. “I knew he was good before, but just seeing him every day in practice, just seeing him put the balls here in certain places; I’ll think I have great coverage and somehow he’ll find a way to squeeze it in there.”

BENGALS: Among the standouts in the spring offseason workouts has been cornerback Brandon Ghee, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer's Joe Reedy. Ghee, a third-round pick in 2010, missed all of last season with a broken wrist. "He has the speed and athleticism to stay with the top receivers and looks more fundamentally sound in coverages," Reedy wrote. Ghee has been getting plenty of work with all of the injuries to the Bengals' cornerbacks this offseason. His role could increase more if Adam Jones is disciplined by the NFL for his latest off-the-field incident.

STEELERS: Fullback Will Johnson believes he will be used more in the passing game, especially if tight end Heath Miller hasn't recovered from knee surgery by the start of the regular season. “We are doing a lot more; that's been evident [during OTAs],” Johnson told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “In the red zone, they put some angle routes in there for me. We are doing a lot of things. If they are impressed, they will show me by adding plays where I can get out in some routes, particularly in space. That's how I will know if they are interested in using my hands.” Johnson had 15 catches last year for 137 yards and one touchdown.

BROWNS: John Greco made 11 starts at guard for the Browns last season after Jason Pinkston was lost for the year with a blood clot. With Pinkston back, Greco knows he won't be handed the job. "I'm going to have to earn a spot again," Greco told The Plain Dealer. "We're happy to have (Pinkston) back, he's a really good player. It will be good competition for everyone." Greco, Pinkston and Shaun Lauvao have rotated with the starting offense throughout the spring offseason workouts.
CINCINNATI -- Here are my impressions from the first day of Cincinnati Bengals mandatory minicamp:
  • Starting quarterback Andy Dalton showed a good feel for the pocket, moving up and outside of it when the pass rush closed in. One of his better plays was throwing while running to his left, which is a difficult pass for right-handed quarterbacks.
  • Don't be surprised if defensive end Carlos Dunlap gets his wish of becoming an every-down lineman. If I was the defensive coordinator, I would try to get the four best linemen on the field, which means Dunlap and Robert Geathers at ends and Domata Peko and Geno Atkins at the tackles. Michael Johnson might be the odd man out in the starting lineup.
  • It was a tough day for first-round pick Dre Kirkpatrick. The rookie cornerback was beaten on a double move by Brandon Tate and then got scorched deep by A.J. Green. But having up-and-down days at this time of year is usual for young cornerbacks.
  • The Bengals aren't going to give the starting safety job to Taylor Mays. The team is giving a hard look at Jeromy Miles, who led Cincinnati in special teams tackles last season.
  • The Bengals are stocked with former first-round picks in the secondary. But the cornerback that stood out the most Tuesday was Brandon Ghee, a 2010 third-round pick who has had a solid offseason. He broke up a pass and ran stride for stride with Green on one pass.
  • In the strangest moment of practice, right tackle Andre Smith jumped offside at midfield in a team drill and kept on running until he got to the end zone. He actually looked better than his infamous 40-yard dash at the NFL combine.

Now, it's onward to Pittsburgh.

Warm-up: Is Ray going to play?

November, 20, 2011
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Here's your game-day warm-up:

BALTIMORE -- Will Ray Lewis play today or will the Ravens linebacker miss his first game since 2007?

That's a big question heading into today's Bengals at Ravens game. There was a report that Lewis will be sidelined by a toe injury, but coach John Harbaugh said he wouldn't rule out Lewis because of his history of overcoming injuries. Lewis is officially questionable.

If Lewis can't play, the Ravens would go with Dannell Ellerbe. While the Ravens would miss Lewis' experience, Ellerbe has always had NFL starter talent but his work ethic has been a question mark. That would mean the Ravens' two starting inside linebackers (Ellerbe and Jameel McClain) are undrafted players.

Baltimore would have missed Lewis' leadership if this was a few years ago, but the Ravens are starting to rely on their next generation of leaders in Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata.

As far as ESPN's expert picks, all but one selector had the Ravens over the Bengals. They were split over whether the Browns would beat the visiting Jaguars.

Here are some storylines heading into today's AFC North games:
  • BENGALS: Who replaces Leon Hall? Cincinnati is expected to go with Kelly Jennings, who has good speed but can struggle against bigger receivers. Adam Jones will likely be the third cornerback. Another possibility to replace Hall is Brandon Ghee, who was promoted from the practice squad. He was a third-round pick a year ago and could work himself into some major playing time.
  • BROWNS: The offense would get a big boost if running back Montario Hardesty can return from a calf injury. He is considered a game-time decision. Hardesty, who has starter ability, is a major upgrade from marginal NFL talents in Chris Ogbonnaya and Thomas Clayton.
  • RAVENS: Tom Zbikowski could get a chance to replace struggling David Reed on kickoff returns. The Ravens are looking for someone who will take care of the ball after watching Reed fumble three times in the past two weeks. Chris Carr is another option.
  • STEELERS: The Steelers are at their bye with a 7-3 record, the same mark they had last year when they advanced to the Super Bowl. "I wouldn't necessarily say I'm pleased," head coach Mike Tomlin said of the record. "I'd be pleased if we were 10-0, but we're not. We are what we are."
Everyone in our community is excited following the conclusion of the 2011 NFL draft.

On paper, all four teams did well. But we won't know for sure until these rookies hit the field.

With that said, here are some interesting comments from AFC North blog readers following the 2010 NFL draft.

Enjoy.

Cleveland Browns
  • "Somebody tell me why I should like this T.J. Ward pick? Don't get it. I know we need a safety, but who is this guy?"
  • "I liked Taylor Mays a lot better. He's much bigger and much faster. Probably the best all-around athlete in the draft. You can't teach size or speed, but you can teach a kid how to cover better and how to tackle better. Mays' ceiling is infinite, while Ward's is not."
  • "Love this pick. Montario Hardesty runs mean and nasty like Jamal Lewis did. Very solid back, better than Jahvid Best."
Pittsburgh Steelers
  • "I knew Kyle Wilson was the real deal. He jumps off the screen the way he attacks and plays downhill all the time. I'm still irked he's not gonna be wearing black and gold. Maurkice Pouncey will be good, I hope. Because if he isn't, I'll be ticked if Wilson is as good as advertised."
  • "I was just doing some research, and Jonathan Dwyer in the sixth round? What an unbelievable steal."
  • "Essentially by trading a fifth-round pick for Bryant McFadden and Arizona's sixth-rounder, which was used for Jonathan Dwyer, the Steelers traded Santonio Holmes for McFadden and Dwyer. I love it."
Cincinnati Bengals
  • "Jordan Shipley won't contribute immediately. I keep harping on this, but we're gonna see how much we really missed here with Eric Decker."
  • "I'll say this and then I have to go: Brandon Ghee will be a star for the Bengals."
  • "The Cincinnati Bengals now have the deepest receiving corps in the league by far."
  • "I don't know who your team is but they can't beat the Bengals' receiving corps. Maybe when they make cuts in training camp your team can pickup Bengals' scraps."
Baltimore Ravens
  • "Sergio Kindle will start in more Pro Bowls than Tim Tebow will start regular-season games."
  • "The only beef I have with the Browns' draft is passing on Sergio Kindle in favor of T.J. Ward. This one will come back to bite 'em. They could have taken Ward later on. Kindle is going to be a force and Ozzie Newsome will be dubbed a genius the way he has handled the draft over the years."
  • "Kindle and Terrell Suggs rushing from either side while Haloti Ngata and Terrence Cody clog up the middle. It's gonna be nice."
  • "I think our division had the best draft of all divisions and the competition in our division will once again be great. The Ravens look like they will win the division and I am going to say the Browns will surprise some people this year. Depending on how long Ben Roethlisberger's suspension turns out to be either 4 or 6 games, Pitt might be third or maybe last in the division this year."

Remember last year?

A look inside AFC North injuries

September, 16, 2010
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Here is a look at the key injuries in the AFC North:

Baltimore Ravens (1-0)

Opponent: at Bengals

Inside key injuries: Things are looking promising for cornerback Lardarius Webb, who is coming off major knee surgery but isn't listed on this week's injury report. It looks like there's a good chance he will make his 2010 debut Sunday against Cincinnati. A lot of Ravens are limited in practice, but key members such as linebacker Ray Lewis (foot), receiver Anquan Boldin (thigh), and tight end Todd Heap (shoulder) say they will play. Rookie defensive lineman Terrence Cody is trying to work his way back from knee surgery, but his status remains up in the air. Also, a new injury popped up as linebacker Jarret Johnson (back) missed practice Thursday.

Cincinnati Bengals (0-1)

Opponent: Ravens

Inside key injuries: The Bengals are pretty healthy going into their big game against Baltimore. The exception is defensive lineman Jonathan Fanene (hamstring), who missed his second straight practice and likely won't play Sunday against the Ravens. Linebacker Keith Rivers, who hurt his foot in Week 1, returned to practice on a limited bases Thursday. But I'm hearing Rivers expects to play barring any major setbacks. Running back Cedric Benson (shoulder), receiver Andre Caldwell (groin) and cornerback Brandon Ghee (head) are all fully participating in practice, as well as running back Brian Leonard (foot), who should return this week.

Cleveland Browns (0-1)

Opponent: Kansas City Chiefs (1-0)

Inside key injuries: The big injury here is starting quarterback Jake Delhomme, who missed his second straight practice with an ankle injury. I saw Delhomme hobbling into the locker room with a boot Wednesday. I’m not a doctor. But based on my own eyes, I expect backup quarterback Seneca Wallace to play unless Delhomme forces himself to suit up Sunday at less than 100 percent. After watching Delhomme play hurt the entire second half against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, starting a hurt Delhomme is risky. Browns coach Eric Mangini said he will decide later in the week. Defensive tackle Shaun Rogers also missed his second practice with an old (ankle) and new (hip) injury. He only played limited snaps last week. Browns linebacker D'Qwell Jackson could try to return to practice on Friday, but the team wants to be careful with his pectoral injury.

Pittsburgh Steelers (1-0)

Opponent: at Tennessee Titans (1-0)

Inside key injuries: Starting left tackle Max Starks (ankle) will not play Sunday, which likely leaves backup Jonathan Scott protecting Dennis Dixon's blind side. But Starks' injury isn't as bad as originally projected, so there's a chance he could return within the next couple of weeks. Another injury to watch is Pittsburgh Pro Bowl nose tackle Casey Hampton. He didn't play in the second half against the Atlanta Falcons because of a hamstring injury. Hampton is questionable for Sunday. The Steelers could use him to help stuff Titans Pro Bowl running back Chris Johnson.

Recap of Bengals' preseason victory

August, 21, 2010
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The Cincinnati Bengals had a solid showing Friday with a 22-9 preseason victory against the Philadelphia Eagles. It was the third exhibition for Cincinnati.

Here are some observations:

The Good
  • New Bengals receiver Terrell Owens is fitting in well with the offense. Every exhibition game "T.O." shows you a little more of why the Bengals signed him to a one-year deal right before training camp. On Friday, Owens proved he can still go deep with a 43-yard reception down the sideline from quarterback Carson Palmer. Owens leads Cincinnati with nine preseason receptions for 108 yards.
  • After a series of miscues and poor execution on third down last week against the Denver Broncos, the Bengals made a dramatic improvement in that area against Philadelphia. Cincinnati held the Eagles to 1 of 7 (14 percent) on third-down conversions in the first half, which is when starters and contributors for both teams were still in the game. This was something Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis was very complimentary of Friday night.
  • Cincinnati backup cornerback Morgan Trent made a strong case for playing time with three interceptions in the second half.Trent played decent in stretches as the team's nickel cornerback last season, but the Bengals are looking for more consistency from the position. Cincinnati signed Adam Jones and drafted Brandon Ghee this offseason, but Trent's production puts him right in the mix.
The Bad
  • Despite Cincinnati playing its third preseason game, the starters continue to play sloppy at times. The Bengals had six first-half penalties, which needs to be improved before the start of the regular season. Palmer also threw two first-half interceptions against the Eagles.
  • The Bengals' first-team defense didn't get to the quarterback.Despite pressures, Cincinnati didn't get any sacks on Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb, and had just one quarterback hit the entire first half. Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer has made improving the pass rush a big emphasis this offseason. Cincinnati did record three sacks overall against Philadelphia, but they came from backups in the second half.
  • Cincinnati safety Gibril Wilson suffered a major knee injury and is likely out for the 2010 season. But fortunately for the Bengals, safety is a position where they have a lot of depth, which includes veterans Roy Williams, Chris Crocker and Chinedum Ndukwe.

AFC North links: Bentley sues Browns

July, 23, 2010
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Baltimore Ravens

Star safety Ed Reed told WBAL that the team refused to give him game film when he requested it a few weeks ago.

Backup cornerback Cary Williams has been suspended for two games for violating the league's conduct policy while with the Titans.

Cincinnati Bengals

Cornerback Brandon Ghee, a third-round pick, has signed.

Commissioner Roger Goodell and running back Cedric Benson had a "productive discussion" on Thursday.

Cleveland Browns

Former center LeCharles Bentley, whose career ended after complications from a staph infection, is suing the Browns.

Mike Holmgren is adjusting to life in the front office.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Quarterback Dennis Dixon's agent says his client should be getting more repetitions with the first-team offense than veteran Byron Leftwich.

AFC North post-draft holes

May, 6, 2010
5/06/10
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Baltimore Ravens

Post-draft hole: Cornerback

Analysis: Unless the Ravens' brass knows for sure that cornerbacks Lardarius Webb and Fabian Washington will be ready for Week 1 following knee surgeries, the team may want to explore the free-agent market to see what's out there. If the season started today, Baltimore would be down to its fourth cornerback -- presumably Chris Carr -- in the starting lineup opposite Domonique Foxworth. The nickel and dime roles are even more uncertain. Players like Dre' Bly and Ken Lucas are still available. Perhaps Baltimore is biding its time for now. Because if just one of the Ravens' injured cornerbacks returned in time for training camp or the regular season, that would be a solid boost towards the secondary.

Cincinnati Bengals

Post-draft hole: Secondary depth

Analysis: One of the few weaknesses in Cincinnati's stout defense last season was defending slot receivers and tight ends over the middle. The nickel cornerback, in particular, was a problem area and the Bengals may have addressed that with third-round pick Brandon Ghee. Cincinnati also is in the process of working out a contract with controversial cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones, who is a former first-round pick that was out of football last year. Jones could be a wild card for Cincinnati if he gets his act together. The Bengals also have been looking at free-agent safeties like Ken Hamlin and Gibril Wilson.

Cleveland Browns

Post-draft hole: Wide receiver

Analysis: There are still various question marks on Cleveland's roster. But the biggest glaring need right now is at wide receiver. New team president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert have been diligent to patch up certain areas on the roster. But the one spot the pair failed to really address was receiver, only drafting sixth-round pick Carlton Mitchell. Last year's second-round pick, Mohamed Massaquoi is the only (somewhat) proven commodity on the roster. The cupboard was extremely bare coming into the offseason, so it's understandable that everything couldn't be fixed in one year. But if veteran quarterback Jake Delhomme is going to have a bounce-back season, someone has to step up and catch his passes.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Post-draft hole: Quarterback

Analysis: This is somewhat of a trick answer. But through the first six games, quarterback will be the biggest weakness of the Steelers. Star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will serve a conditional six-game suspension to start the season that could be reduced to four games. Byron Leftwich, Dennis Dixon or Charlie Batch will try to keep the team afloat in the meantime. Besides, perhaps, some depth issues at wide receiver, Pittsburgh doesn't have many holes on its 2010 roster. The front office did a solid job this offseason of patching up questions at offensive line (Maurkice Pouncey) and cornerback (Bryant McFadden).

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