AFC North: Bruce Gradkowski

PITTSBURGH -- Jonathan Dwyer will play in the Steelers’ final preseason game as he had hoped. Isaac Redman won’t get a chance to suit up at Carolina on Thursday despite his best lobbying efforts to do so.

Coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday that the Steelers will use the preseason finale to take a long look at Dwyer, LaRod Stephens-Howling and Felix Jones.

Dwyer figures to get the least amount of work of the three considering how extensively he has played in the Steelers’ past two games. Stephens-Howling is returning to action after missing the past two games because of a mild knee sprain. Jones, meanwhile, will get one final opportunity to prove to the Steelers coaches that he belongs on the 53-man roster, which has to be finalized by 6 p.m. ET on Saturday.

“Obviously we’ve got a lot of backs we need to sort through so we’re going to look at some of those others,” Tomlin said.

That Redman (stinger) won’t play actually bodes well for the fourth-year veteran opening the season as the Steelers’ starting running back. The coaches apparently don’t need to see any more from Redman, who played in just one preseason game and gained 7 yards on two carries.

Whether Dwyer, Stephens-Howling and Jones are competing for two spots remains to be seen.

Rookie Le’Veon Bell, who is nursing a foot sprain, is a lock to make the team. So too is Redman.

I’ve got to think Dwyer and Stephens-Howling are safe and that the decision on Jones will come down to whether the Steelers carry an extra running back on the 53-man roster until Bell returns.

Also notable from Tomlin’s news conference:
  • Rookie outside linebacker Jarvis Jones (chest) has been ruled out for Thursday night. The Steelers are being cautious with Jones, who spent last Saturday night in the hospital after an awkward fall at the end of an interception return.
  • Tomlin did not say how much the starters will play against the Panthers. If history (and common sense) is any guide most of the starters won’t play more than a series.“The healthy guys are going to play in some capacity,” Tomlin said. “I might select a guy or two to minimize because I want to see others.”Two of those are likely to be quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and backup Bruce Gradkowski as rookie Landry Jones will “get the big bulk of the action,” Tomlin said.
  • There don’t appear to be many roster spots on the line Thursday night. One thing Tomlin has emphasized to his players, particularly the young linebackers who are fighting for jobs, is what they do on special teams will be more important than anything else against Carolina.“I think we need more consistent, above the line effort from some of those guys in that regard,” Tomlin said.

Observation deck: Steelers-Chiefs

August, 25, 2013
8/25/13
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The Pittsburgh Steelers easily played their best game of the preseason in a 26-20 overtime loss to the Kansas City Chiefs Saturday night at Heinz Field, but it was hardly a Picasso.


  • The Steelers committed nine penalties for 98 yards, allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown as well as a blocked field goal and let the Chiefs go right down the field at the end of the first half and score a game-tying touchdown. Strong safety Troy Polamalu was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct on Kansas City’s 72-yard drive at the end of the first half for launching himself at Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith. “We were penalized on drives that they scored on, and if we remain penalty-free defensively we’re a tough team to drive the ball on,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “We’ve got to be cleaner.”
  • The Steelers’ biggest scare of the evening came late in the fourth quarter when rookie outside linebacker Jarvis Jones stayed down after returning an interception 22 yards. (The pick was negated by a pass-interference call.) Jones, who made his presence felt at outside linebacker and on special teams against the Chiefs, sustained what Tomlin called an upper-body injury. But, as the coach pointed out, Jones trotted off the field under his own power, so the injury doesn’t appear to be serious. Jones is seriously pushing Jason Worilds for the starting job at right outside linebacker.
  • Worilds started against the Chiefs but Jones replaced him for the Chiefs’ second possession of the game. Worilds returned to the game for Kansas City’s third offensive series, but to spell left outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley as Jones stayed in the game.
  • Tomlin wasn’t pleased with some of the penalties called against his team, including a chop block on running back Jonathan Dwyer, Dwyer said after the game that the Steelers' coaches told him it was a clean play. With Isaac Redman (stinger) and LaRod Stephens-Howling (knee) sidelined, Dwyer started Saturday night and rarely came off the field in the first half. He rushed for 25 yards on eight carries. Felix Jones actually led the Steelers in rushing as he gained 29 yards on eight carries despite joining the team Friday via a trade with the Eagles. The Steelers have a week to take a good look at Jones and see if he can help them, particularly with depth an issue at running back.
  • If I am Tomlin there is no way I let Ben Roethlisberger do anything but hand off in the Steelers’ final preseason game Thursday at Carolina. Roethlisberger is ready for the regular season. Against the Chiefs he completed 13 of 19 passes for 166 yards and a touchdown before giving way to Bruce Gradkowski after halftime. Roethlisberger’s best throw of the night actually came on one of his six incompletions. He showed exquisite touch on a pass down the right sideline to Emmanuel Sanders. The play would have gone for a 34-yard touchdown but the ball squirted out of Sanders’ arms after he landed in the end zone. With the final preseason game a throwaway for starters anyway, there is no use in risking anything when it comes to Roethlisberger at Carolina.
  • The same goes for Polamalu. The oft-injured safety is healthy and has been active as ever this preseason. There is no need to allow him anywhere near the field on Thursday night. Polamalu was all over the field against the Chiefs, making four tackles and recovering a fumble in two-plus quarters of work. Polamalu disrupted a fourth-and-1 run by Jamaal Charles in the first quarter after perfectly timing the snap, and the Chiefs' Pro Bowl running back was stuffed for no gain. Even on the unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty, Polamalu showed impressive closing speed in nearly chasing down Smith. He appeared to hit Smith above the shoulders before the latter threw a pass, and Polamalu said he understood why the play drew a flag. “Obviously if Ben was in that position I’d want them to make that same call,” Polamalu said.
  • Starting cornerback Cortez Allen missed an open-field tackle on the second play of the game and was later penalized for a late hit out of bounds. (Another penalty against him, for illegal contact, was declined.) He still played a terrific game, especially since Allen has practiced sparingly this preseason after having knee surgery at the beginning of August. The Chiefs threw at Allen early and often, and the 6-foot-1, 196-pounder more than stood his ground. Allen led the Steelers with six tackles and was also credited with one pass defended. Barring a setback with his knee Allen looks ready to build on the season he had in 2012, when he showed immense promise after injuries thrust the Citadel product into the starting lineup.
  • A handful of cornerbacks are vying for roster spots and at least one of them didn’t help himself against the Chiefs. Journeyman Josh Victorian missed an open-field tackle that allowed Knile Davis to return a kickoff 109 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter. A pass-interference call against Victorian in the fourth quarter wiped out the interception by Jones. Victorian played well enough last season when injuries decimated the Steelers’ secondary, but missing a tackle he was in position to make on special teams isn’t something that Tomlin easily forgets. “Obviously we can’t give up kickoff returns for touchdowns,” Tomlin said.
LATROBE, Pa. -- It's a busy Thursday in the AFC North. I will wrap up my visit with the Pittsburgh Steelers and put together a Camp Confidential post, which will run Friday. Plus, there's two teams in the division, the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns, who will play their second preseason game tonight. Let's begin, though, with the wake-up call ...

RAVENS: Outside linebackers Elvis Dumervil and Courtney Upshaw have rotated with the first-team defense throughout training camp and in the preseason opener. They're also listed as co-starters on the depth chart. “They’ll all play,” Baltimore defensive coordinator Dean Pees said, via The Carroll County Times. “They all have a role on this team, and we’ll just see. … It’s a game-to-game thing, and a lot of it depends on the packages that we have in and what we’re doing for that particular game. They’re all good players, and they’re all going to play.”

BENGALS: Wide receiver A.J. Green returned to practice after sitting out nearly three weeks with a bruised knee. He participated in non-contract drills only, and likely won't play in Saturday's preseason game. "I am back to 100 percent," Green said, via The Associated Press. "They just don't want to throw me back just like this. As the days go on, I am going to work my way back into them." Green bruised his left knee while trying to make a sideline catch during the first practice of training camp on July 25.

STEELERS: Bruce Gradkowski, a Pittsburgh native, is replacing Charlie Batch, who was the backup for the hometown team for the past 11 seasons. "Everyone loves Charlie Batch," Gradkowski told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "I'm not trying to come in and take anyone's place or be anyone else. Even my mom and them say, 'We love Charlie.' Charlie is a great guy, I asked him for advice in the past. He's a guy to lean on." Gradkowski has bounced around five teams over the past seven years before returning home.

BROWNS: The injury woes continue for backup running back Montario Hardesty. The 2010 second-round pick will miss the first two to three regular-season games after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee Thursday, a source told The Plain Dealer. Coach Rob Chudzinski declined to speculate about Hardesty's future. "We'll just to see when he gets back and balance that with the other guys and how they're doing and how they've done in the next couple of weeks," he said. Dion Lewis is expected to become the primary backup to Trent Richardson.

Links: Arthur Brown working his way back

June, 17, 2013
6/17/13
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Baltimore Ravens

Rookie inside linebacker Arthur Brown is working his way back after sports hernia surgery.

Steve Spagnuolo is enjoying his new role as a senior defensive assistant with the Ravens.

Cincinnati Bengals

Terrell Owens visited his former Bengals teammate Chad Johnson in the Broward County, Fla., jail on Saturday.

The Bengals will be in the spotlight again as the team will be featured on HBO's "Hard Knocks."

Cleveland Browns

Father's Day has a special meaning for Norv and Scott Turner.

Mary Kay Cabot of The Plain Dealer dips into her mailbag to discuss all things Browns related.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Quarterback Bruce Gradkowski is excited about how things went for him this offseason.

Mike Golic Jr. was the recipient of some sound advice before signing with the Steelers.
My tour of the division minicamps begins next week. I will make a stop over at the Ravens tonight, when the coaches and players receive their Super Bowl rings. The plan is to have a post from the event later tonight. In the meantime, here's the wake-up call ...

RAVENS: The Ravens are expected to ask Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach to take a pay cut, according to The Baltimore Sun. Leach is scheduled to make $3 million this season and has a $4.33 million salary-cap number. The Ravens drafted fullback Kyle Juszczyk in the fourth round in April. "We're both still here, so we'll see how it goes," Leach said. "Hopefully, it can work out for both of us. If it don't, I feel like I still can play in this league and I'll have a job somewhere." The last player who didn't take a pay cut ended up getting traded (Anquan Boldin).

Also, linebacker Courtney Upshaw has to improve his eating habits, according to coach John Harbaugh. Upshaw recently indicated that he weighs 285 pounds. "Courtney’s weight issue – which he does need to lose some pounds – is that he doesn’t eat right," Harbaugh said. "Courtney eats too much, and he doesn’t eat all the right foods. He knows that, and that’s something that he’s going to have to get a handle on or he’s not going to be the best he can be. He’s aware of it. We have everybody in our building involved in it. He’ll be in fighting shape, I promise you that."

BENGALS: Coach Marvin Lewis confirmed that offensive tackle Andre Smith will attend next week's mandatory minicamp. Smith hasn't participated in the nine voluntary workouts this spring because of personal reasons. "I'm sure any time you're away from the guys that guys will mess with him about stuff, but they’ll be happy to have him here," offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth told The Cincinnati Enquirer. "He's part of this team and he's going to be a key to what kind of season we have. You hope he's doing everything he needs to do to this point, just as every guy in this locker room has and we’ll be where we need to be." Smith is unlikely to receive the $100,000 workout bonus that was included in the three-year, $18 million contract he signed in April.

STEELERS: Minor knee surgery isn't expected to keep starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger from missing the start of training camp. So, backup Bruce Gradkowski savored the snaps with the first-team offense Thursday in the team's only scheduled practice at Heinz Field this offseason. "It's a great opportunity to be here,” Gradkowski, who played the past two seasons with the Bengals, told The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “Their goal is to win a championship. You can talk about that all you want at other places, but here it's a reality.” Coach Mike Tomlin didn't offer any significant updates on Roethlisberger, who had surgery Wednesday. "There's nothing new to add,” Tomlin said. “He's resting comfortably at home. We will get him in the building next week and proceed.”

BROWNS: Tight end Jordan Cameron will have to prove he's durable enough to be a starter in the NFL. He sat out the final practice of the Browns' offseason workouts Thursday with a hamstring injury that he suffered in Wednesday's practice. Cameron also missed time last week with a groin injury. Coach Rob Chudzinski said Cameron will be ready for training camp. "I'm not concerned at this point right now about that,"Chudzinski said, via The Plain Dealer. "That position is a demanding position. As we get into the season, we will make sure we are practicing and getting those guys the right amount of reps and things like that."
Leading up to the start of the NFL draft (it's only 10 days away), the AFC North blog will evaluate each position and where it stands as a need for each division team. Let's start with the quarterbacks, which is an intriguing draft talking point in the AFC North.

The Cleveland Browns are the only AFC North team without an established starter, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see the other division teams use a mid-to-late round pick on a quarterback. While I list the Browns as having the biggest draft need at quarterback, you can make a case for the Bengals, Ravens and Steelers being No. 2.

This is the ranking in terms of needing to draft a quarterback:

1. Cleveland Browns: I don't see Cleveland taking a quarterback with the No. 6 overall pick. The Browns, though, could take one as early as the second round if they trade back in the first round and acquire a pick in the second. Cleveland has taken an up-close look at most of the top quarterbacks, from Geno Smith to Matt Barkley to E.J. Manuel to Ryan Nassib. All of the options are open for the Browns, who can draft a quarterback to compete with Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell or select one to develop behind them.

2. Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals have Josh Johnson and John Skelton as backups to Andy Dalton. I wouldn't say they are set at quarterback. Johnson and Skelton have a combined 8-14 record as starters. The Bengals have worked out Manuel and Nassib, which shows they're doing their homework on some of the top quarterbacks in the draft. Still, it would be a surprise to see Cincinnati draft a quarterback in the first three rounds. The Bengals may take one in the middle rounds if the right quarterback is there.

3. Baltimore Ravens: This may raise some eyebrows because the Ravens have gone with Tyrod Taylor as the backup to Joe Flacco for the past two seasons. There has been a sense that the Ravens would like to upgrade the backup spot. Baltimore brought in Curtis Painter to compete with Taylor last offseason. Taylor also didn't instill confidence in a sporadic performance in the regular-season finale at Cincinnati. The Ravens have multiple picks in the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh rounds. In other words, they have enough to take a flier on a quarterback.

4. Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers have been questioned in recent years about when they're going to draft a quarterback to develop behind Ben Roethlisberger. With Roethlisberger turning 31 last month, those questions will only increase. The Steelers created some buzz when they had dinner with quarterback Tyler Bray before attending his pro day. Pittsburgh is set at backup quarterback after signing Bruce Gradkowski this offseason. The Steelers, though, can draft a quarterback to compete with John Parker Wilson for the No. 3 spot.
I have received a couple of notes in the AFC North mailbag about why the blog has been dominated by Ravens coverage lately. The purpose of this blog is to offer a take on news. So if a team is more newsworthy, it gets more attention.

Over the past few days, the Ravens became the first defending Super Bowl champion to start the season on the road since 2003, they lost a future Hall of Famer in Ed Reed and agreed to terms with the best free-agent pass-rusher available in Elvis Dumervil. Therefore, there are going to be more posts written about them. But there was a post on Friday when the Browns signed tight end Kellen Davis and one on Saturday when the Bengals signed returner Brandon Tate.

I hope that clears it up and we can move on to the wake-up call ...

RAVENS: Linebacker Terrell Suggs called the addition of Dumervil "awesome." Having Dumervil on the other edge will take pressure, as well as some attention, off of Suggs. "It shows we’re still in the business of winning," Suggs told The Baltimore Sun, "and we have the best [general manager] in the world.” Before reaching an agreement with Dumervil, the Ravens had a visit scheduled with former Steelers linebacker James Harrison, according to The Sun.

BENGALS: Owner Mike Brown told Cincinnati reporters that the team plans to spend cap money and intends on using it on their own players. “I think what we’re trying to do is grow in the best way possible," Brown said. “There is no single silver bullet. We’re shooting a lot of small shots. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t going to cost the same amount of money. And it doesn’t mean we aren’t going to have the best team possible.” Cincinnati has kept 11 of its own unrestricted free agents this offseason including three starters (linebacker Rey Maualuga; defensive ends Michael Johnson and Robert Geathers) and signed one free agent from another team (backup quarterback Josh Johnson).

STEELERS: The Steelers signed Bruce Gradkowski to be their backup quarterback this offseason, but they had someone else in mind, according to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette. The paper reported that the Steelers wanted Brian Hoyer until the Cardinals placed a second-round tender on him. Pittsburgh signed Hoyer last year after injuries to quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich. The Steelers released him with four weeks left in the regular season. Pittsburgh couldn't bring him back because of the tender placed by the Cardinals and coach Bruce Arians, who knows how the Steelers think after being their offensive coordinator for five years.

BROWNS: Owner Jimmy Haslam is pleased with his team's offseason moves but doesn't expect overwhelming success right away. “We’ve won 23 games in the last five years, won 14 games in the last three, so we’re not going to go 13-3 next year,” Haslam said, via The Akron Beacon Journal. “I think what I’ve stated back to Aug. 3 [during my introductory news conference] is we’re going to do this the right way. We didn’t spend all our money in free agency this year." Also, running back Trent Richardson has been sued by two women who say they were assaulted at his home last year.
Owners and coaches continue to provide some notes from the NFL owners meetings, which are beginning to wind down in Arizona. Here's another packed edition of the wake-up call ...

BALTIMORE RAVENS
  • Owner Steve Bisciotti told The NFL Network that he has a gut feeling that safety Ed Reed will remain with the Ravens.
  • The Ravens are interested in a handful of free-agent pass-rushers: Elvis Dumervil, James Harrison, Osi Umenyiora and Dwight Freeney. "We’re never going to walk away from a good player, and there just happens to be some pass rushers available right now,” coach John Harbaugh said, via the team's website.
  • Baltimore is planning to meet with Raiders free-agent safety Michael Huff by the weekend, according to The Baltimore Sun. Huff, 30, is seen as a fallback option if Reed signs with the Texans, the paper reported.
  • The Ravens' "aura" led Marcus Spears to sign with Baltimore in free agency, the former Cowboys defensive end told the Ravens' official website. The Chiefs, Jaguars and Patriots showed interest in him.
CINCINNATI BENGALS
  • Head coach Marvin Lewis told the Cincinnati Enquirer that getting to the postseason isn't good enough. The Bengals have made the playoffs three of the past four seasons but have yet to win a postseason game. "We’re not satisfied at all," Lewis said. "There was a perception they never got to the playoffs, now there is the perception we are satisfied with it. Someone is putting words in people’s mouths again.”
  • Lewis told the team's official website that he doubts he'll move Rey Maualuga, who recently re-signed with the team, from middle to outside linebacker. "We're very comfortable how we played on defense and all we do is keep getting better with those kids," Lewis said. "Rey had to manage KinderCare out there and he did a good managing it," Lewis said. "I never said we would move (Vontaze Burfict) to the middle before."
PITTSBURGH STEELERS
  • Head coach Mike Tomlin delivered a strong message to those who doubt the Steelers can be a playoff team this season after losing the likes of linebacker James Harrison, cornerback Keenan Lewis and running back Rashard Mendenhall. "That's March talk," Tomlin said, via The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "I'll see you at stadiums in the fall."
  • Tomlin isn't a believer in the read-option offense. "I think it's the flavor of the day," Tomlin said, via NFC East blogger Dan Graziano. "We will see if it's the flavor of the year. We'll see if guys are committed to getting their guys hit." In the Steelers' only game against the read option, they held the Redskins to one touchdown and limited Robert Griffin III to 185 yards of total offense.
  • Team officials said there is a chance that Charlie Batch could return next season even though the Steelers signed Bruce Gradkowski to be the primary backup to Ben Roethlisberger, according to the Tribune-Review. Batch has played the past eight seasons in Pittsburgh.
CLEVELAND BROWNS
  • It's unclear if the Browns made kicker Phil Dawson an offer or how hard they tried to keep him before he signed with the 49ers, The Plain Dealer reported. This is part of the Browns' statement on Dawson: "We know how much Phil meant to our organization and our fans, and he will always hold a special place in our franchise's history and with the city of Cleveland. We want to wish Phil and his family the best of success in San Francisco."
  • The Plain Dealer's Terry Pluto believes the Browns are taking a calculated risk in letting Dawson sign with the 49ers. "(D)on't be surprised if the Browns look for a young kicker, be it low in the draft or perhaps someone who has been cut once or twice -- as Dawson was back in the late 1990s," Pluto wrote.
  • Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown will have a formal role with the Browns again, owner Jimmy Haslam told the Akron Beacon Journal. Haslam wouldn't elaborate on the specifics of Brown's responsibilities. An announcement will be made over the next couple of weeks.
  • The Cardinals are waiting for Josh Cribbs' surgically repaired meniscus to heal before continuing talks with the Browns' free-agent wide receiver/kick returner, his agent told multiple media outlets.
Here's a recap of the first two days of free agency in the AFC North: the Browns signed players, the Ravens lost starters, the Bengals focused on re-signing their own players and the Steelers created more salary-cap space. If you want more details about Day 2 in free agency, take a look at the wake-up call ...

BALTIMORE RAVENS
  • The Baltimore Sun's Kevin Cowherd believes fans shouldn't panic over the Ravens' loss of players. "There has to be a plan in place that's dictating these recent moves," Cowherd wrote.
  • The Ravens envision recently signed Chris Canty to play a role similar to the one defensive end Cory Redding had a couple of years ago. “I’m excited about that," Canty told Baltimore reporters, via the team's website. "I’m very confident that I’d be able to come in and do that job at a very high level and help provide this defense with an opportunity to be aggressive and to be a dominant defense.”
CINCINNATI BENGALS
  • Bengals coach Marvin Lewis thinks the recent signings of two right tackles (Phil Loadholt and Gosder Cherilus) will help the team wrap up a deal with Andre Smith. "We're working hard to get Andre and a couple of deals are done now, and that ought to make things easy," Lewis said, via The Cincinnati Enquirer.
  • According to the team's website, Lewis seemed unfazed that the Bengals lost three backup players who didn't fit into their long-term future: Defensive tackle Pat Sims (Oakland), outside linebacker Manny Lawson (Buffalo), and backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski (Pittsburgh). "Nothing has changed," Lewis said. "I'm happy for Manny and that's a great thing for him. Our plans are set the way they are set."
PITTSBURGH STEELERS
  • Gradkowski, who was signed by the Steelers on Wednesday, has been a backup throughout his career but this time it's a different situation for him. "There's a great franchise quarterback here," Gradkowski said, via The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "To get to play with him and be a part of this is amazing. I haven't had that yet, to be somewhere where that guy is the guy. Ben (Roethlisberger) is the guy."
  • The Steelers re-signed long-snapper Greg Warren, who has spent his entire seven-year career with the Steelers. Also, Beanie Wells visited the Steelers and took a physical, according to The Post-Gazette.
CLEVELAND BROWNS
  • Outside linebacker Paul Kruger wants to be an every-down player and not a pass-rush specialist. "That's the biggest thing I want to change, is just being somebody you can rely on during the whole game," Kruger said at his introductory news conference, via The Plain Dealer. "I think that I was deemed as a pass-rusher only and it's something I think I'll be able to show people, I can be effective on every snap."
  • The deal that will land receiver-returner Josh Cribbs in Arizona should be finalized Thursday morning, according to The Plain Dealer.
Here are some news and notes from around the division:

RAVENS: The $1 million roster bonus for receiver-returner Jacoby Jones is expected to be picked up this week, according to The Baltimore Sun.

BENGALS: The Bengals need to find a new backup quarterback after Bruce Gradkowski signed a three-year deal with Pittsburgh. ... Outside linebacker Manny Lawson, a starter for the past two seasons for the Bengals, signed a four-year deal with the Bills. He had 91 tackles and 3.5 sacks in his Bengals career. The Bengals weren't expected to bring him back this season. ... Kicker Josh Brown signed with the Giants.

BROWNS: The Browns added tight end Gary Barnridge, according to the Charlotte Observer. He caught six passes for 78 yards and one touchdown last season, when he played for Rob Chudzinski and the Panthers. ... Some details for Paul Kruger's five-year, $10.5 million deal. It includes a $6.25 bonus this year and guaranteed base salaries in 2013 ($700,000) and 2014 ($7 million).
The Steelers upgraded their backup quarterback spot by agreeing to terms on a three-year contract with Bruce Gradkowski, according to NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

Pittsburgh wanted to get younger at that spot after Charlie Batch (38 years old) and Byron Leftwich (33) both struggled filling in for Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers were able to do that with Gradkowski, who turned 30 in January, and didn't sacrifice on experience. Gradkowski has played seven years in the NFL and this is his third stop in the AFC North after a short stint in Cleveland and a two-year run as Andy Dalton's backup in Cincinnati.

With Gradkowski, the Steelers aren't expected to bring back Batch or Leftwich, both of whom are free agents. Batch completed his 11th year in Pittsburgh, which is the second-longest current tenure of any quarterback with the same team after Tom Brady.

This was a move the Steelers had to make, especially after Batch and Leftwich combined for one touchdown and five interceptions last season.

Gradkowski is a better backup than his 6-14 record as a starter would indicate. Two years ago, Gradkowski led the Bengals to a come-from-behind win over the Browns after replacing an injured Dalton. Last preseason, Gradkowski threw three touchdowns and no interceptions for a 96.0 passer rating.

The backup quarterback position is an important one for Pittsburgh considering Roethlisberger's history. Roethlisberger has missed five games over the past five seasons because of an injury. He was sidelined three games last year with a shoulder/rib injury and missed a game in 2011 because of an ankle injury.
It was a fast start to free agency. It was so hectic that 20-plus posts weren't enough to cover everything in the AFC North on Tuesday. Time to hit the other news happening in the division ...

BALTIMORE RAVENS
CINCINNATI BENGALS
PITTSBURGH STEELERS
CLEVELAND BROWNS
  • The Browns and Buccaneers have expressed interest in trading for Patriots backup quarterback Ryan Mallett, a source told The Boston Herald. But the paper said no deal is imminent.
  • Browns receiver-returner Josh Cribbs is leaning toward signing with the Cardinals, according to Fox Sports. The Patriots are also interested in Cribbs.
  • Cardinals outside linebacker Quentin Groves, another pass rusher, is scheduled to visit the Browns, according to The Plain Dealer.
» NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Welcome to Eight in the Box, an NFL Nation feature that will appear each Friday during the offseason. This week’s topic: How each AFC North team needs to address the quarterback position.

Baltimore Ravens: The biggest issue with Baltimore is whether it will reach a long-term deal with Joe Flacco by Monday or use the franchise tag on him to keep him off the free-agent market. If the Ravens use the tag, it will likely be the exclusive one to stop Flacco from negotiating with other teams. It's safe to say the Super Bowl MVP will remain the Ravens' starter in 2013. There is more uncertainty with the backup spot. Tyrod Taylor has been Flacco's backup the past two seasons, but there was a sense that Baltimore tried to upgrade the spot when it signed Curtis Painter last offseason. It wouldn't be a surprise if the Ravens used a late-round pick on a quarterback or signed a veteran free agent to compete with Taylor again. The backup quarterback position hasn't been an important spot for the Ravens because Flacco hasn't missed a game in five NFL seasons. UPDATE: The Ravens and Flacco agreed to a long-term deal Friday night.

Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals can't be happy that Andy Dalton had four interceptions returned for touchdowns last season and flopped in the playoffs for a second consecutive year. But Cincinnati still has confidence in Dalton and isn't expected to bring in anyone who will threaten his hold on the starting job. There is a decision to be made at the No. 2 spot because Bruce Gradkowski is a free agent. The Bengals will probably look to re-sign Gradkowski, who is familiar with Jay Gruden's offense. If the team decides to go in a different direction, the Bengals could add another veteran backup (which has been head coach Marvin Lewis' preference) or use a late-round pick on a quarterback.

Cleveland Browns: This is the one starting quarterback job that is up in the air in the division. The Browns' new regime will have a competition in training camp, but Brandon Weeden is still considered the favorite to remain the starter. There's a chance that the Browns will trade for Patriots backup Ryan Mallett, a rumored favorite of vice president of player personnel Mike Lombardi. Cleveland, though, would prefer not to give up a draft pick after using a second-round one on wide receiver Josh Gordon in last year's supplemental draft. And it doesn't sound as though the Browns intend to draft a quarterback like Geno Smith with the No. 6 overall pick. The Browns can provide some competition for Weeden by signing the Dolphins' Matt Moore or the Saints' Chase Daniel out of a weak free-agent class.

Pittsburgh Steelers: As long as Ben Roethlisberger stays healthy, there's no question that he's the starting quarterback. Roethlisberger, though, hasn't played a full season since 2008, which puts more emphasis on the backup position. This could be the year when the Steelers look for a younger quarterback in the mid-to-late rounds to develop. Zac Dysert, a Miami (Ohio) quarterback like Roethlisberger, is expected to go in the fourth or fifth round. The Steelers went with more experienced backups last season in Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich, both of whom are free agents and whose returns are uncertain. Batch is 38 years old, and Leftwich is not durable. Even if there was a better free-agent backup available, Pittsburgh doesn't have the cap room to sign him.
The Browns are down to third-string quarterback Thad Lewis after starter Brandon Weeden and backup Colt McCoy sat out Wednesday's practice with shoulder injuries.

This could be a case of history repeating itself.

The Browns faced an eerily similar scenario in 2008, when Cleveland was forced to start Bruce Gradkowski in the season finale at Pittsburgh after placing its top three quarterbacks -- Brady Quinn, Derek Anderson and Ken Dorsey -- all on injured reserve.

The result: the Browns lost 31-0. Gradkowski completed 5 of 16 passes for 18 yards with two interceptions. He didn't complete a pass for nearly 27 minutes and finished with a whopping 1.0 passer rating. General manager Phil Savage was fired immediately after the game and head coach Romeo Crennel was dismissed the next day.

Four years later, the Browns are dealing with another run of injuries at quarterback and uncertainty in the front office. Many expect the Browns to let general manager Tom Heckert and coach Pat Shurmur go soon after the 2012 season ends.

If this is the end for this regime, there was improvement in the talent level even though it didn't translate in more wins. The Browns have a much better roster now than they did in January 2010, when Heckert took over.

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