AFC North: Brett Ratliff
Mangini pointed at player after player after player after player. These were the guys he once coached. As he rattled them off, he tacked the phrase "was with me" after each name. Mangini articulated the names with an emphasis that reflected their importance to him.
"You go right on down the list," Mangini said from his spacious office that overlooks the Cleveland Browns' practice fields. "It's a core group of guys, and you know so much about these guys. You've had so many shared experiences with them, and now you're playing against them."
Mangini is in between games against his previous employers, referring to these two weeks as his personal version of the film "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past."
He gleefully embarrassed the New England Patriots last week and will coach against the Jets for the first time since joining the Browns on Sunday.
Mangini unwillingly departed the Jets 22 months ago. They fired him after a 9-7 season that began with a promising 8-3 start and Super Bowl chatter but disintegrated along with Brett Favre's right arm.
An outsider might assume the games create similar feelings for Mangini. They don't.
Mangini has faced his former mentor, Bill Belichick, several times. They've exchanged many frigid handshakes. Mangini, a former defensive assistant ruled a turncoat for joining the Jets, has a long history with the Patriots. The subsequent Spygate scandal drove the wedge deeper.
Still, the Patriots and Belichick are in his coaching DNA. Mangini is from them, of them.
"Being with Bill as long as I was there," Mangini said, leaning back in his leather chair and eating purple grapes from a cup, "you understand things change and parts change there each week, but philosophically it doesn't change."
His three years with the Jets were more of an association. Unlike his time with the Patriots, though, he had ownership of the Jets' roster. Those were his guys, and many of them remain on Rex Ryan's squad.
"Those are guys that I was instrumental in bringing in and developing and coaching and teaching," Mangini said.
"I told those guys when I left -- I got to address the team -- and I said 'Look, fellas, we were close here, and we made mistakes. There's a new head coach coming in here, and you guys have worked too hard to fight that guy and set yourself back. Embrace that guy and allow him the opportunity to achieve things we could have achieved.'"
Mangini didn't know at the time the Jets would hire Ryan, a gregarious figure who made the transition easier for the players. Most of them quickly embraced Ryan on his own merits, but the fact that he was a stark contrast to Mangini's austerity helped.
It must be noted Mangini played a significant role in giving Ryan a roster to work with. Still, Mangini insisted he's not bitter about his exit. He has acknowledged the concept of the fall guy, and one was necessary. He remains close friends with Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum.
"It's cool to see them doing as well as they're doing," Mangini said.
Mangini claimed that what's happening in Cleveland has made this week's preparations for the Jets less emotional for him.
Mangini barely survived his first season with the Browns. They went 5-11 but won their last four games. The Browns hired Mike Holmgren to oversee football operations. Holmgren stripped Mangini of some duties, but the product seems to be improving.
The Browns are 3-5 and enter Sunday's game against the Jets with back-to-back victories over the New Orleans Saints and Patriots.
"This has been pretty satisfying," Mangini said. "Getting the job was great because it meant somebody recognized the great work we did in New York. We had a tough last year, but we developed. This year, we're competitive and we're making more steps. It's starting to pay off to some degree."
Mangini's disparate feelings for the Jets and Patriots are evident in his personnel moves.
He and Tannenbaum have made notable trades.
The Browns sent Braylon Edwards to the Jets last year for receiver Chansi Stuckey, linebacker Jason Trusnik and two draft picks. The Jets were able to get quarterback Mark Sanchez through a blockbuster draft-day trade that sent quarterback Brett Ratliff, defensive end Kenyon Coleman, safety Abram Elam and two picks to the Browns for the fifth overall selection.
Mangini, whether with the Jets or Browns, never made a trade with Belichick.
That fractured relationship is unlikely to heal.
"I appreciate what he did for me," Mangini said. "He was a huge part of my life. We were very close friends for a long time. When things started to go south, it sucked.
"Whether it'll ever get to that stage where we're close friends again, I don't know. Maybe, maybe not. But at no point will I ever stop appreciating what he's done. I feel I know who the guy is as a person, and hopefully at some point the friendship will resume."
That's why the Jets and Patriots are different for Mangini.
But he wants to beat them just the same.
Marcus Wyche from Baltimore wants to know if Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer should have had Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.
James Walker: Palmer decided not to have that surgery on his elbow in 2008. Tommy John surgery is not typically done on NFL players, and it would have been a risk to go with that procedure. When Palmer is asked about his health now, he says he's 100 percent. I take Palmer at his word and evaluate his performance mostly as though health is not an issue.
Matt from Syracuse writes: JW, isn't it a little too early to look back on the Bengals?
Walker: The point wasn't to say Cincinnati (2-3) is done, Matt, because it's a long season. The point was to highlight how quiet Bengals fans have been on the blog recently. Cincinnati fans were quite vocal here just a few weeks ago. In running this blog for three seasons, "Bengaldom" disappears and reappears on the blog more than any other fan base. That is not good fandom, in my opinion. This week's silence is another example of that.
Ryan from Dayton, Ohio, writes: How long can the Bengals keep playing like this before someone takes a fall?
Walker: Slow down, Ryan. It's too early for Bengals fans to go overboard. The team is 2-3 and still in it. There is still plenty of time to get back into the race and it starts for the Bengals next week against the Atlanta Falcons (4-1). If Cincinnati wins that game, people will feel good again.
Derek Davison from Chicago writes: As a Steelers fan, should I be worried that Rashard Mendenhall is on pace for 356 carries this season?
Walker: Impressive math, Derek. Mendenhall is on pace to shatter his career high for carries, but using him a ton was the only way Pittsburgh could win games without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. With Roethlisberger's return, the Steelers' offense will be more balanced and Mendenhall won't have to carry the offense on his back. Pittsburgh must be careful, though, not to stray too far away from their hot hand.
Eddie from Beaufort, S.C., writes: If the Ravens beat Steelers and Jets on the road, how are the Ravens still behind the Steelers in the Power Rankings?
Walker: I got this question a lot in the AFC North mailbag, Eddie, and it's a legitimate debate. But the consensus of the Power Rankings, which I am a part of, is Pittsburgh is a stronger team with Roethlisberger back. I also outlined why the Steelers are the NFL's most dominant team entering Week 6.
RJ from Altoona, Pa., writes: It seems to me that you media folks are digging deeper and deeper to find reasons to praise the Ravens. So they beat a mediocre team (Denver) after playing the Steelers, that makes them mature? Come on, man.
Walker: RJ, the Ravens are playing great football and look to be finally playing to their talent level. It's a long season, but there is no debating that the Ravens are one of the NFL's top teams.
Ron from Qalat, Afghanistan, wants to know if San Diego Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman could fit the with Baltimore.
Walker: Ron, first thank you for your service. There's a chance that Merriman, a Washington D.C. native, could land with the Washington Redskins or Ravens once he is released. But it's way too early to speculate, because Merriman is weeks away from being healthy.
Dave from Cleveland writes: The Browns need to go ahead and take the leash off Colt McCoy for this week's game against the Steelers. With Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace injured, it just makes sense.
Walker: The Browns don't have a choice, Dave. If the team felt Brett Ratliff were a better option, it would have cut McCoy in training camp and kept Ratliff. McCoy will get his chance against the stiffest test imaginable.
Don Dietz from Ashtabula, Ohio, writes: Is it a fair assessment to say that the Browns' defense has controlled the run game of their opponents?
Walker: Well, Don, the Browns have been decent. Last week, they allowed Atlanta's Michael Turner to rush for 140 yards, which isn't good. But overall, the defense has held its own. The Browns have much bigger issues than run defense. More problems reside on the offensive side of the ball.
(There will be no complaint department this week. The AFC North community whined waaaay too much.)
- Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin expects Ben Roethlisberger to get a warm reception in the quarterback's first game back from suspension.
- Cincinnati Bengals receivers Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens start their own cable show tonight.
- The Baltimore Ravens are forcing opponents into penalties.
- The Cleveland Browns officially announce the signing of backup quarterback Brett Ratliff.
This was not in the plans for Browns president Mike Holmgren and head coach Eric Mangini, who didn't provide specifics on the quarterback situation Monday. Both have said they expect McCoy, a third-round pick, to sit at least one year to learn from the sidelines. But very little has gone according to plan for the struggling Browns (1-4), and now McCoy looks to get the nod just six weeks into the season.
If McCoy is viewed as the future of the Browns, they must be very careful about the long-term impact of this decision. Throwing McCoy out there at Heinz Field against Dick LeBeau's defense is a recipe for disaster. In fact, it's the last defense I would pick a rookie quarterback to face in his first NFL start, especially against a hungry Steelers' defense coming off a bye week.
Expect the sharks for Pittsburgh -- James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, Troy Polamalu, Casey Hampton, Aaron Smith, James Farrior, Lawrence Timmons, etc. -- to be out in full force Sunday. I'm sure a wide-eyed McCoy is excited for the opportunity, but in reality he's just fresh meat.
I said in training camp that if McCoy starts, that's a sign Cleveland's 2010 season is over. I picked the Browns to finish last in the AFC North this year, but this ship is sinking faster than expected.
Biggest surprise: The biggest surprise is that Cleveland waited until after 9 p.m. ET Saturday to announce its moves. Supposedly, it was a strategic decision so other teams were not aware of players the Browns made available. I don’t think it makes a difference, especially because the Browns are not a team rich with talent to begin with. As far as players, Browns cornerback Brandon McDonald's name stood out most on this list. His career has been up and down, but he brought a wealth of starting experience (27 starts) to a young secondary. McDonald may have helped seal his own fate when he made negative headlines this summer for an offensive tweet aimed at Cincinnati Bengals receiver Terrell Owens. The Browns were not pleased with McDonald’s poor judgment.
No-brainers: Quarterback Brett Ratliff had no shot of making this team, because the Browns already have their three players at the position in Jake Delhomme, Seneca Wallace and rookie Colt McCoy. New Browns president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert made several additions at cornerback this offseason, including veteran defensive back Sheldon Brown and rookie first-round pick Joe Haden. That made it very tough for young corners such as Coye Francies to make the team. Receiver Syndric Steptoe has talent and may get interest elsewhere, particularly as a kick returner. But with Pro Bowl returner Josh Cribbs in Cleveland, the Browns have no use for Steptoe.
What's next: Despite Cleveland establishing its 53-man roster, the Browns should still be active on the waiver wires. This roster overall is not very deep, especially compared to its AFC North counterparts. So the Browns could make some additions in several areas to improve the bottom of their roster. Backups shouldn’t get too comfortable in Cleveland.
Expect plenty of chatter internally this week among general managers, scouts and coaches throughout the division on who should make the team. This is always one of the most intriguing weeks of the NFL season.
With that said, here are several noteworthy players on the bubble in the AFC North:
1. Matt Jones, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
Analysis: The Jones experiment probably will end this week. The Bengals took a chance on Jones, who was out of football in 2009 for off-field issues, to see if he had anything left. Except for a few flashes, such as the Hall of Fame Game, the former first-round pick has been injured and not nearly the same explosive player he was several years ago. Jones also signed a team-friendly, one-year contract, which makes him easy to release. The Bengals have a lot of depth at receiver, and Jones doesn't appear to be in their plans.
Cut-O-Meter: 80 percent
2. David Veikune, LB, Cleveland Browns
Analysis: Despite entering only his second season, this was a very important training camp for Veikune. The former second-round pick was a major disappointment in his rookie season. Veikune hasn't stepped up so far and is having another nondescript preseason. His best chance to make the Browns is his high draft status. But first-year president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert added their own linebackers and have no personal investment in Veikune.
Cut-O-Meter: 80 percent
3. Demetrius Williams, WR, Baltimore Ravens
Analysis: Placing Williams on the roster bubble has become an annual tradition in Baltimore -- and every year he survives. This year could be the same for Williams, who has a lot of ability but has yet to live up to his potential. Williams received a lucky "break," both literally and figuratively, when veteran receiver Donte' Stallworth suffered a broken foot in the third preseason game. Stallworth will be out approximately two months, increasing Williams' chances of making Baltimore's 53-man roster.
Cut-O-Meter: 35 percent
4. Justin Hartwig, C, Pittsburgh Steelers
Analysis: Hartwig struggled at center last year and lost his job this preseason to first-round pick Maurkice Pouncey. The Steelers believe Pouncey is a star-in-the-making, which leaves Hartwig's future in limbo. Despite the benching, there is no question Hartwig is one of Pittsburgh's best 53 players. That should be enough. But Hartwig also is scheduled to make a little more than $2 million this season. He's being paid as a starting center and that's no longer his role. There's a chance Hartwig could compete at right guard or simply be the first center/guard off the bench in the event of injury. Hartwig's experience and versatility help his case.
Cut-O-Meter: 30 percent
5. Jerome Simpson, WR, Bengals
Analysis: Simpson is another second-round pick who is running out of chances. Despite coming from small-school Coastal Carolina, the Bengals were enamored with his physical abilities and reached for Simpson in the second round of the 2008 draft. But the Bengals tired of waiting for Simpson to develop and made several offseason additions at receiver, which included signing Terrell Owens and drafting Jordan Shipley in the third round. But Antonio Bryant's surprising release helps Simpson's chances.
Cut-O-Meter: 50 percent
6. James Davis, RB, Browns
Analysis: It's funny how quickly things can change in the NFL. Last summer, Davis was the talk of Cleveland after he led the Browns in rushing during the preseason as a rookie. This year, Davis is on the bubble after a lot of offseason additions at running back. The top three tailbacks for Cleveland are locks: Jerome Harrison, Peyton Hillis and Montario Hardesty. The question now is how many running backs Cleveland will keep. If the answer is four, Davis and Chris Jennings are battling for the final spot. I give Davis the edge.
Cut-O-Meter: 40 percent
7. David Reed, WR, Ravens
Analysis: Reed, a fifth-round pick, burst on the scene in Baltimore with a stellar spring. But since then he's been inconsistent and is back on the bubble. Like Williams, Reed also benefits from Stallworth's injury and the extra roster spot available at receiver. That increases Reed's chances to make it. Otherwise, the Ravens would love to develop him on the practice squad.
Cut-O-Meter: 50 percent
Analysis: Dwyer made a strong push late for a roster spot in Pittsburgh. After a disappointing training camp, Dwyer led the Steelers in rushing with 89 yards and a touchdown in Sunday's preseason loss to the Denver Broncos. Running back Isaac Redman has been stellar and secured the third running back job that was intended for Dwyer. Thursday's preseason finale will be vital for the sixth-round pick.
Cut-O-Meter: 55 percent
9. Brett Ratliff, QB, Browns
Analysis: Do not believe the hype in Cleveland involving third-round pick Colt McCoy being on the bubble. From everything we're told, there is no truth to the speculation. This means Ratliff, barring injury, is probably spending his final week with the Browns. Ratliff will play a half Thursday in Cleveland's final preseason game against the Chicago Bears. That could be a nice showcase for Ratliff to try to latch on with another team. Browns coach Eric Mangini traded for Ratliff as part of the draft-day deal with the Jets to be a developmental project last year. But Holmgren is calling the shots now and drafted his own developmental project: McCoy.
Cut-O-Meter: 95 percent
10. Maurice Purify, WR, Bengals
Analysis: Purify is one of Cincinnati's top special-teams players. But the Bengals' immense depth at receiver and Purify's one-game suspension for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy make it very unlikely he makes the cut. There is no reason for Cincinnati to take a roster spot away from a player who will be available for the start of the regular season to keep Purify.
Cut-O-Meter: 95 percent
Here are five additional names to watch:
Here are some early notes and observations from the first practice:
- It was an inconsistent showing for quarterbacks. There were several good throws. But overall, starter Jake Delhomme and backups Seneca Wallace, Colt McCoy and Brett Ratliff looked shaky in team drills. Delhomme, in particular, made a really poor throw behind the tight end that was intercepted by Ray Ventrone and nearly returned for a touchdown. Plenty of other throws from Cleveland’s quarterbacks were off-target in the first practice.
- Browns kicker Phil Dawson and fullback Lawrence Vickers took different approaches to discussing their contract situations. Dawson, who is under contract but wants a raise, didn’t want to discuss the particulars. Vickers, a restricted free agent, was more open about his situation. "You just have to make the right situation for yourself," Vickers said. "This is a business. Sometimes we just look at it as just going out and playing football. But there is a business side to it. So you always have to make sure business is handled correctly."
- As mentioned earlier, safety Abram Elam and linebackers Matt Roth and D’Qwell Jackson were absent from minicamp. The trio are restricted free agents who did not sign their tenders. So there is no penalty.
- A player that impressed Thursday was rookie receiver Carlton Mitchell. He’s big, can move, and made several nice catches in practice. I don’t like to overrate minicamp, but at the very least he looks the part early. "The one thing I like about Carlton is he’s gotten a little better each day," Browns coach Eric Mangini said. "With those guys [rookies], they may take a step forward and a step back. But he’s a hard-worker."
- Play of the day goes to receiver Mohamed Massaquoi, who beat first-round pick and cornerback Joe Haden on an under-thrown ball for a big gain. Massaquoi got behind the defense, but Delhomme’s pass was short and forced Massaquoi to adjust and fight off Haden for the nice catch.
- On the injury front, Browns second-round pick T.J. Ward was dressed but the safety did not participate in team drills. According to Mangini, Ward has “tightness” but may practice later in minicamp. Starting cornerback Eric Wright also didn’t return but should be OK. Running back Peyton Hills is still sick but may rejoin the team as early as Friday night, Mangini said.
The Browns are counting on veteran quarterback Jake Delhomme to be the starter this season. It also appears career backup Seneca Wallace is the early No. 2 candidate.
Holmgren said the decision will be up to the coaches. But everyone within the Browns' organization seems to be on the same page with how to nurture McCoy.
"I am completely comfortable with a quarterback coming in and spending time to develop his craft," Browns head coach Eric Mangini added.
Cleveland is a town that has been looking for a franchise quarterback for a long time. Delhomme, who threw 18 interceptions last season, is not the long-term answer. Neither is Wallace nor Brett Ratliff, which leaves only one option in McCoy as Cleveland's hope for the future.
The acquisition of McCoy has already created some buzz and excitement. But beyond the preseason, that excitement in Cleveland will have to wait.
But there is one name that never comes up in the conversation: Brett Ratliff.
"Ratty" was brought to Cleveland last year in a trade with the New York Jets. Some felt Ratliff might eventually earn a starting role in Cleveland if Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson faltered.
Well, Quinn and Anderson are no longer with the Browns. Yet, Ratliff is lost in the mix and not in the conversation. The reason is Ratliff is a Eric Mangini favorite and a product of the head coach.
With new Browns president Mike Holmgren now running the show, he has no connection or personal investment in Ratliff. The third-year quarterback is just a third-stringer to Holmgren, currently sitting behind expected starter Jake Delhomme and No. 2 quarterback Seneca Wallace.
If (or when) the Browns draft a rookie quarterback next month, Ratliff will find himself competing for a roster spot with three others at the same position. Delhomme and Wallace are safe, and Ratliff's chances of beating out a Holmgren draft pick are extremely slim, especially if it's a well-regarded prospect such as Colt McCoy or Dan LeFevour, for example.
With Anderson and Quinn already moved, would anyone really be surprised if Holmgren completed the trifecta by adding three new quarterbacks to the roster in 2010?
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
The acquisition of former Jets backup quarterback Brett Ratliff raised some eyebrows when he was recently reunited in Cleveland with new Browns coach Eric Mangini.
On a team with two quarterbacks with starting experience, many wondered why Mangini would seek more throwers? Could Ratliff be groomed to eventually compete for the No. 1 or No. 2 job? Does Ratliff's rapport with Mangini help his status?
There is certainly some mystery surrounding Ratliff, and this week the AFC North blog and Cleveland media caught up with him to get his thoughts on several topics.
1. What is your role here in Cleveland?
Brett Ratliff: Whatever they want me to do, I'm going to do. If they want me, like my rookie year, to be on the practice squad and play receiver, I'll do that. It doesn't matter what they want me to do. I'll accept any role. I just want to be on the team and help out any way that I can.
2. Before the Jets drafted rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez in April, did you expect to compete for the starting job in New York?
Ratliff: They had told me that I was competing. But that's all history. I can't focus on that. All I can focus on is what's happening right now. I'm trying to find my way into a spot right here, whatever spot that is.
3. How much playing time do you expect Saturday night in the preseason opener against the Green Bay Packers?
Ratliff: I have no idea. I know there is a competition between Brady [Quinn] and Derek [Anderson]. Any time that I get, I hope that I can do well and have fun with it.
4. Did your attitude of competing for a starting job change when you arrived to Cleveland?
Ratliff: Never. There's always a competition. No matter what the position is, you're always competing for something. So you can't change your mindset. It doesn't matter what spot you're competing for. Your goal is always to try and be a starter, and that's what I'm going to compete for.
5. Does knowing Mangini give you any kind of edge over Quinn and Anderson?
Ratliff: It doesn't give me any edge. I know he knows who I am. I've worked my way up from the bottom, and I know that he likes that because he did that himself. But I'm just trying to keep working and keep trying my hardest to help the team out any way that I can.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
BEREA, Ohio -- The Cleveland Browns wrapped up their first practice Tuesday at the team's training facility.
Here are some notes and observations:
- No better place to start than with the quarterbacks. Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn both had solid practices Tuesday morning. Anderson made a pair of deep completions in team drills to receiver Braylon Edwards and tailback Jerome Harrison. Quinn, who received the first-team reps Tuesday, completed most of his throws with quick reads over the middle. Browns coach Eric Mangini says he wants to see how the week goes before naming a starter for Saturday's preseason opener against the Green Bay Packers.
- Mangini threw a curveball at the end of practice by giving third-string quarterback Brett Ratliff a chance to work with the starters during two-minute drills. Ratliff led the team down the field for a rare touchdown in the drill when he connected with Edwards for a catch-and-run of 40-plus yards. Both Anderson and Quinn have struggled in two-minute drills so far in camp.
- Cleveland fullback Charles Ali was back in practice but couldn't finish the session. The Browns do not discuss injuries, but it appears Ali may have suffered a concussion. He wore a special helmet upon his return Tuesday.
- Sunday's hero, Lance Leggett, didn't carry his momentum into the latest practice. The receiver had three drops and was on the exercise bike during the second half of practice with an unknown ailment. He caught a 51-yard touchdown from Quinn in Sunday's team scrimmage.
- Former University of Michigan football coach Lloyd Carr was in town to visit the Browns. It was a little strange to see a longtime Wolverines coach in Ohio State Buckeyes' territory. But Carr initiated the visit, Mangini said. Edwards also is one of Carr's top former players.
- Browns linebacker D'Qwell Jackson looks active and appears to be one of the better players in camp. He is getting the defense down pretty quickly and flows fast to the football against the run and pass.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
Let's see what is on the minds of ESPN.com readers this weekend.
Robert from Latrobe, Pa., wants to know if Deshea Townsend or someone else will be the third cornerback this year for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
James Walker: I've learned a long time ago not to write off "Big Play" Deshea, Robert. Every year he seems to be on his last legs yet finds a way to contribute to the team when it counts. I think ideally the Steelers are hoping Keiwan Ratliff or one of the rookies with young legs will step up for the nickel role, while the team could use Townsend's smarts and experience in the dime. But Townsend's knowledge of the system always means you cannot rule him out.
Tim from Toledo, Ohio, spends his lunch time reading the AFC North blog and wonders if the Cleveland Browns will make any more pickups on defense.
James Walker: Thanks for checking in during lunch, Tim. What about breakfast and dinner, too? Browns coach Eric Mangini says he's always looking at the transaction list to see if he can improve the team. I think we will see a couple of moves, but nothing too drastic involving big names. The Roderick Hood signing was solid and could be one of the last significant names to join Cleveland's defense before the 2009 season.
James Walker: Larson is in a tough spot, because there are only 32 punting jobs in the league and a majority of teams have that position settled. Jones, on the other hand, should get an opportunity at some point this summer, especially if a key preseason injury takes place, which usually happens. But staying away from practices this offseason may actually help Jones, because it gives him a chance to rest his knee.
Eric from Baltimore wants to know if this is the year the Ravens "take over the AFC North."
James Walker: The Ravens certainly have a chance, Eric. They were only a few plays away in nearly every game against Pittsburgh last season. Two big keys will be how the new starters fit in, such as cornerback Domonique Foxworth and center Matt Birk, and the progress of quarterback Joe Flacco in his second year. Flacco had his struggles with Pittsburgh's complicated defense last year. But if he figures it out and plays well this year against the Steelers, it could help signal a shift of power in the division.
Ethan from Versailles, Ky., wants to know if a motivated Chad Ochocinco and an "unbelievable defense" makes the Bengals Super Bowl contenders.
James Walker: Slow down, Ethan. What's the deal with all the predictions this week? It's only June. "Bengaldom" should be excited and optimistic about this season. This is a talented team on paper, and I believe I was one of the first in the national media to label Cincinnati a sleeper candidate for 2009. But fans should worry about succeeding in the AFC North first, because the Steelers and Ravens are going to be brutally tough to overcome as long as they stay healthy this year.
Aaron from Bloomington, Ill., wants to know what the chances are for Steelers receiver Hines Ward to make the Hall of Fame.
James Walker: I don't have a vote, Aaron, so my opinion doesn't matter. But if I did have a vote, I would put Hines Ward into the Hall of Fame. He has longevity, two championships and better stats than people think. Despite playing on a run-oriented team his entire career, he has 800 catches, nearly 10,000 yards, 72 touchdowns and four Pro Bowls. He's also the most devastating blocker ever at the receiver position, which makes him unique. My guess is he gets in. By the way, here is a story I wrote recently on Ward and his chances for the Hall of Fame before Super Bowl XLIII.
Joseph is a Browns fan and wants an update on quarterback Brett Ratliff.
James Walker: It is clearly a two-horse race in Cleveland between Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson, Joseph. Ratliff was acquired in a trade because Mangini likes his work ethic and knowledge of the offense. But he hasn't stood out much in the practices open to the media. I think people read too much into the acquisition by automatically assuming Ratliff would be part of the quarterback competition. That is not the case. Ratliff is more of a long-term project that Mangini began in New York and wants to continue working on in Cleveland.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
BEREA, Ohio -- The Cleveland Browns wrapped up another two-a-day Friday during their mandatory minicamp.
|AP Photo/Tony Dejak|
|Rookie center Alex Mack (55) runs drills during minicamp on Friday.|
Here are several notes and observations:
- Browns quarterback Derek Anderson was seen limping during the afternoon practice and was held out of team drills. Anderson wore a sleeve over his right calf, which hints that he suffered a right leg injury at some point Friday. Quarterbacks Brady Quinn and Brett Ratliff took the majority of the snaps in the second session while Anderson watched from the sidelines.
- The competition on the offensive line is heating up. Rookie first-round pick Alex Mack played exclusively with the first team Friday morning. Incumbent starter Hank Fraley has played mostly with the starters in the practices open to the media and did so again in the evening. But the first session may be an early sign that the rookie is starting to close some ground on the veteran. Also, left guard Eric Steinbach practiced with the second team behind Rex Hadnot. Browns coach Eric Mangini says he doesn't have a timetable on determining his starting five up front.
"Once we determine which five we're going to go with, then we will settle," Mangini said. "But even at that point, we're going to have to have those guys be able to work other spots, because there's the possibility of injuries and the possibility of moving things around."
- Cleveland's projected starting tight end, Robert Royal, had a tough day at the office Friday. He had three drops in the morning practice.
- Backup tailback Jerome Harrison says he is working hard on his blitz pickups, because that is part of what kept him off the field the past three seasons. Listed at 5 feet 9 inches tall, weighing 205 pounds, Harrison struggled taking on hard-charging linebackers on third downs.
"It's a knock on smaller backs," Harrison said. "But it's something you got to get over. It's part of life. I always can get better. I wasn't asked to do it in college."
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
BEREA, Ohio -- In the midst of writing about the dozens of college rookies joining the AFC North this weekend, we didn't expound much on the three new players the Cleveland Browns gained from the New York Jets during their blockbuster trade.
Cleveland traded its No. 5 overall pick to New York for the trio of players and its first- and second-round picks. The Jets ended up taking USC quarterback Mark Sanchez with Cleveland's fifth pick. In all, the Browns now have seven former Jets on their team from last season.
Here's a breakdown of the newest crop of arrivals:
Kenyon Coleman, DE, eight years experience
How he fits: Coleman is a solid 3-4 defensive end who will not give you a lot in terms of pass rush, but he is good in run support and filling his gap assignments. He made 136 tackles the past two years as the starting defensive end for the Jets. The eight-year veteran is the most proven player of the three Jets and likely will start at defensive end for Browns in 2009.
How he fits: Elam was a player Browns coach Eric Mangini coveted in free agency. Mangini signed the once restricted free-agent safety to an offer sheet in March that the Jets matched. Now Cleveland acquired Elam in a trade. Elam is versatile. He had 69 tackles, two sacks and one interception last season. Elam has a very good chance of starting at safety opposite Brodney Pool.
Brett Ratliff, QB, two years experience
How he fits: There isn't much known about Ratliff, who hasn't thrown a pass in the NFL. But the 23-year-old quarterback caught the eye of Mangini in New York with his work ethic, which is a quality Cleveland's coach really likes in his players. The Browns had an opening for a third quarterback behind Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson, and those two are set to compete for a starting spot. Ratliff is mostly considered a project.
In addition, Cleveland added first-round pick Alex Mack, a center from the University of California, and defensive end/linebacker David Veikune with New York's second-round selection (No. 52 overall).
Sanchez has the potential to be a star in the NFL. But the Browns chose strength in numbers in hopes that Cleveland's five new players can be solid next season.