AFC North: Bryant McFadden

video
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- In stark contrast to Ray Rice's awkward news conference in May, the Baltimore Ravens running back showed Thursday that he finally understood the weight of his actions from the alleged altercation with his then-fiancée in February.

He delivered the correct message, one the NFL failed to do last week with the two-game suspension, by not only apologizing to his wife, Janay Palmer, but also expressing a desire to become an advocate for domestic-violence causes.

Rice was compelling in his contrition, calling it the biggest mistake of his life. He stood in front of the microphone alone, without his wife standing by his side, and took full responsibility for the incident. Perhaps more importantly, Rice actually said the words "domestic violence," which weren't heard in his statement two months ago.

"My actions were inexcusable," Rice said. "That's something I have to live with the rest of my life."

Before anyone pats Rice on the back, this is what he should have said the first time when he broke his silence in May. Instead, Rice nervously fumbled through notes on his phone and apologized to team officials and his sponsors. That debacle of a news conference came across as damage control to his image.

His 17-minute news conference Thursday hit the right tones. He apologized to all women affected by domestic violence. He accepted the blame for losing the respect of fans. Rice came across as genuinely sorry.

"I let my wife down, I let my daughter down, I let my wife's parents down, I let the whole Baltimore community down," Rice said.

Rice's biggest misstep was not talking about what happened in the elevator. He was asked twice about it and declined to answer both times. His stance against domestic violence would have resonated stronger if he had explained his transgressions.

"I'll be honest: Like I said, I own my actions," Rice said. "I just don't want to keep reliving the incident. It doesn't bring any good to me. I'm just trying to move forward from it. I don't condone it. I take full responsibility for my actions. What happened that night is something that I'm going to pay for the rest of my life."

The only way Rice can move forward from this incident and show he's truly sincere is through his actions. It's not by his words. It's not by a hefty donation, which is merely a gesture. It's by proving this will remain a "one-time incident" and by supporting domestic-violence causes.

Thursday represented a small step forward for Rice. But it was an important one.
I've given my grades out to all the AFC North teams after the first wave of free agency was complete. Now, it's your turn.

SportsNation

What grade would you give the Pittsburgh Steelers so far in free agency?

  •  
    12%
  •  
    12%
  •  
    24%
  •  
    18%
  •  
    34%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,253)

Give me your grade and a two-line assessment (good, bad or indifferent) of how the Steelers have fared so far this offseason. You can also send your grade and comment to the AFC North mailbag.

This is our final installment of the week-long series, and I will post a fans' report card on Monday.

Here's a recap of the Steelers' offseason:

KEY PLAYERS RE-SIGNED

None

KEY PLAYERS ACQUIRED

None

KEY PLAYERS LOST

WR Hines Ward, LB James Farrior, DE Aaron Smith, CB William Gay, NT Chris Hoke, G Chris Kemoeatu, CB Bryant McFadden, WR Arnaz Battle, P Daniel Sepulveda.
Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:

The Pittsburgh Steelers are about $25 million over the salary cap and need to cut about 20 percent of their payroll by the March 13 deadline, according to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

But the Steelers aren't panicking, at least not publicly.

"It's not a situation where we're looking to tear things apart and start over," team president Art Rooney II told Pittsburgh reporters yesterday.

Rooney, though, acknowledged there will be "some tough decisions."

"I would say it's probably as big an issue as we've had to face," Rooney said. "There will probably have to be some contracts that get restructured and things like that. No question, there's a lot of work to be done."

In the half-hour state-of-the-team interview, Rooney said wide receiver Mike Wallace will be among the priorities this offseason. He becomes a restricted free agent March 13.

The Steelers will also add 3,000 seats to Heinz Field after the 2012 season.

Hensley's slant: Those "tough decisions" will likely come down to players such as nose tackle Casey Hampton ($4.8 million salary in 2012), wide receiver Hines Ward ($4 million), guard Chris Kemoeatu ($3.5 million), inside linebackers Larry Foote ($3 million) and James Farrior ($2.8 million) and cornerback Bryant McFadden ($2.5 million). If these players don't take a pay cut, they probably will be released. The good news for the Steelers is that they bring back their core with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, three young receivers (unless Wallace goes elsewhere as a restricted free agent), two top-notch pass rushers and Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu.

BENGALS: Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer was considered one of the front-runners for the Dolphins head coaching job earlier this week. Now he is out of the running for it, according to the Miami Herald. The search has been narrowed down to Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and Dolphins interim coach Todd Bowles, the paper reported. Hensley's slant: Based on the candidates remaining, it appears that the Dolphins want an offensive-minded coach, which eliminated Zimmer from consideration. This is bad news for Zimmer but a good development for the Bengals. While Zimmer still has a chance to get the head-coaching position with the Buccaneers, the Dolphins job was considered his best shot.

BROWNS: The Akron Beacon-Journal's Marla Ridenour was envious of the playoff teams' tight end play over the weekend. This is what Ridenour wrote: "Against Denver, the Patriots got 261 yards (200 receiving) and four touchdowns out of [Rob] Gronkowski and [Aaron] Hernandez. The Browns’ four tight ends — Ben Watson, Evan Moore, Alex Smith and rookie Jordan Cameron — totaled seven touchdowns all season. Hernandez also had a 43-yard run against the Broncos, longer than any Browns’ rush in 2011." Hensley's slant: The Browns are also trailing the rest of the division when it comes to tight ends. Cleveland was the only AFC North team not to have a tight end catch more than 50 passes. The Bengals' Jermaine Gresham (56 catches, six touchdowns), the Ravens' Ed Dickson (54 catches, five touchdowns) and the Steelers' Heath Miller (51 catches, two touchdowns) are all important pieces in the passing game.

RAVENS: I will be at the Ravens' facility where I will post blogs this afternoon. There will be a Joe Flacco column posted at some point today, and the featured blog yesterday was the Double Coverage segment.

AFC North mailbag

January, 14, 2012
1/14/12
8:00
AM ET
If you have a question about the AFC North, send it to my mailbag. It's Saturday morning, so let's open up some mail ...

Jac, from Ohio, writes: Lately you have been saying that the Bengals need a No. 2 receiver, if and when Jerome Simpson leaves. I would think that Jordan Shipley would fill the No. 2 role in the slot behind A.J. Green. Or would Shipley be more of a No. 3 working the slot? And if Andrew Hawkins improves in the offseason, that would be a plus, right?

Jamison Hensley, from AFC North headquarters, responds: Shipley and Hawkins are more on the level of being No. 3 receivers. That was the Bengals' biggest problem in the passing game. They had top targets in Green and tight end Jermaine Gresham. But the rest (Simpson and Andre Caldwell) are No. 3 receivers on many teams. Both are very athletic but both struggle with route-running, which can be a big problem, especially for a developing young quarterback like Andy Dalton. Cincinnati needs to look in free agency for an upgrade.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Chris, from Milford, Conn., writes: Just wondering what your thoughts are on the Steelers rebounding next season after that awful loss to Denver. Also, how can the Steelers be $20 million over the salary cap when they never sign any big free agents and don't have that many mega-deals with current players?

Hensley responds: The Steelers will always be competing for the division title if Ben Roethlisberger and his young receivers are healthy and the core of the NFL's top-ranked defense remains intact. And the reason why the Steelers are projected to be over the cap is because many veterans are entering the point of their contracts where the salaries escalate. Players with high salaries for 2012 are: outside linebacker James Harrison ($5.3 million), guard Chris Kemoeatu ($3.5 million), inside linebackers Larry Foote ($3 million) and James Farrior ($2.8 million), defensive end Brett Keisel ($2.8 million) and cornerback Bryant McFadden ($2.5 million). Those players represent $19.9 million. Some could be facing the decision of restructuring to stay with the team or getting released.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Bryan, from Wickliffe Ohio, writes: I was just wondering what you think the Browns' chances are of drafting Robert Griffin III. To me it just seems like he is too much of a talent to pass up. No disrespect to Colt McCoy, but let's face it -- he's not going to win us any games based primarily on his skill level and I see RG3 as somone who can do that.

Hensley responds: It's really to early for teams to lock into one player. There are still all-star games, combine workouts and interviews as well as private workouts. Players will rise and fall up and down teams' draft board from now until April. There's no doubt that the Browns need a playmaker. But don't forget that the Bengals drafted wide receiver A.J. Green in the No. 4 spot last year — so you can see the level of impact player that Cleveland can get if it hits on the right prospect. At this point, Griffin has to be on the Browns' radar. But it's too early to say that he's their man with the fourth overall pick.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Dave, from Burke, Va., writes: With the Bucs and Dolphins in the mix for Mike Zimmer's services, what are the chances that he returns as Cincinnati's defensive coordinator?

Hensley responds: It's a very real possibility that Zimmer could be hired elsewhere, particularly since Jeff Fisher spurned Miami and went to St. Louis. Both the Buccaneers and the Dolphins needed big-name splashes to generate some interest with apathetic fan bases. But there are really no buzz-worthy candidates left. That's why Zimmer has a legitimate shot at both places. If Zimmer goes, the Bengals can promote defensive backs coach Kevin Coyle, who has been on the staff since 2001. There's also been some talk that former Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio could take over as defensive coordinator. But Del Rio is still owed $5 million next season, so he doesn't need to find a job.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Lucas from Severn, Md., writes: I've been watching the Ravens closely all season and there have been some real flashes of greatness by Joe Flacco. There have also been some of his worst passing games as a quarterback (the Jets and Jags games specifically). Other than the playoff game against Kansas City last year, he hasn't proven to be solid in the playoffs. What are the chances that he will have a breakout game against Houston if the Texans choose to focus on stopping the run?

Hensley responds: Flacco has been extremely ragged when it comes to the playoffs. He's averaged 150 yards passing in seven games, throwing four touchdowns and seven interceptions. But remember that all of those games were on the road and three of them came when he was a rookie. This is the time for Flacco to shine. He's at home where he has thrown 29 touchdowns and eight interceptions in his past 19 games (97.6 rating). And he threw for 305 yards against the Texans three months ago in Baltimore. So to answer the question, all indications point to a strong effort by Flacco on Sunday.

Wake-up Call: Week 3 in Review

September, 26, 2011
9/26/11
7:30
AM ET
Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:

To sum up the third week in the AFC North: There were three first-quarter touchdowns by a Ravens rookie (wide receiver Torrey Smith), two last-minute game-winning scores (by the Steelers and Browns) and one missing offense (at least that's the rumor in Cincinnati, where there were 20,000 empty seats for a home opener).

As a result, there's a three-team tie atop the AFC North with the Browns, Ravens and Steelers all sporting 2-1 records. The Bengals have lost two straight to fall into sole possession of last place.

At this moment, no other division has three teams in first place, although that could change in the NFC East if Dallas beats Washington on Monday night.
  • BROWNS: In filling in for running back Peyton Hillis (illness), Montario Hardesty ran 14 times for 67 yards and caught three passes for 19 yards. His 10-yard catch on fourth-and-4 was a key play on the game-winning touchdown drive, as the Canton Repository pointed out. Hensley's slant: There's no question that the Browns need Hillis to return. But Hardesty's play should have earned him some more well-deserved playing time.
  • BENGALS: With running back Cedric Benson possibly serving a three-game suspension from the NFL, the Bengals are bringing in Larry Johnson for a tryout, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. Johnson was signed in 2009 by the Bengals after Benson suffered a hip flexor injury. Hensley's slant: Losing Benson for a three-game stretch would be a substantial blow to Cincinnati. After watching Andy Dalton suffer through some growing pains Sunday, it's apparent that he can't carry the team, especially in third-and-long situations.
  • RAVENS: Baltimore decided to replace injured left guard Ben Grubbs (toe) with Andre Gurode instead of Mark LeVoir, and the results were much better than last Sunday's outing in Tennessee, according to The Baltimore Sun. Unlike a week ago, the offensive line opened big enough holes to allow running backs to average 9.3 yards per carry and gave Joe Flacco enough time to find Smith deep downfield. Hensley's slant: Gurode is one of the most accomplished backup offensive linemen that the Ravens have ever had. The only surprise is that Baltimore waited one week before putting him in the lineup to fill in for Grubbs.
  • STEELERS: Cornerback Bryant McFadden was scratched for the second time in three games because of a hamstring injury, according to The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. William Gay started in McFadden's place. Hensley's slant: The Steelers had better get their secondary in order before playing next week against Matt Schaub and the Texans. That includes Ike Taylor, who got saved by an overthrown pass after getting faked out on a double move.
Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:

William Gay will make his second start for the Steelers at cornerback even though Bryant McFadden is no longer on the injury report.

Gay made the start last Sunday because McFadden, who has been dealing with a nagging hamstring injury, had been questionable all week. McFadden, though, has had full participation in practice this week.

Asked why McFadden wouldn't start, defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau told The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: "I think it's a reflection of his health right now."

Also, center Maurkice Pouncey (hamstring) had a full practice Thursday after being limited the day before.

Hensley's slant: The Steelers are going against quarterback Kerry Collins, who has struggled and is dealing with a sore throwing shoulder this week. As long as Pittsburgh puts pressure on Collins, it doesn't really matter who is lining up at cornerback.
  • BENGALS: Authorities are sorting out who to prosecute and what charges will be filed in Tuesday's marijuana incident involving starting wide receiver Jerome Simpson, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Justice told The Cincinnati Enquirer. Since the drugs crossed state lines, federal and felony charges are likely and would probably include prison time, the spokeswoman added. Hensley's slant: Bengals coach Marvin Lewis declined comment on the game-day status of Simpson, who was excused from Thursday's practice. It seems unlikely that Simpson would play, which probably means Andre Caldwell will start against San Francisco.
  • BROWNS: Running back Peyton Hillis has watched left tackle Joe Thomas, tight end Evan Moore and defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin all get contract extensions this year. Hillis, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, said he won't be distracted by negotiations during the season. "When people say they want to stop negotiating, that's just because they want to play better and they don't want the figure to hang over their heads," Hillis told The Cleveland Plain Dealer. "To me, if they want to come back and talk, I'm more than open. It's just whenever." Hensley's slant: It was only two weeks ago when team president Mike Holmgren said the Browns were "trying like crazy" to sign Hillis to an extension. If you buy into Holmgren's words, Hillis won't hit the free-agent market this offseason.
  • RAVENS: Torrey Smith hasn't caught a pass in the first two games, but The Baltimore Sun's Mike Preston contends that it's too early to give up on the rookie wide receiver. The second-round pick could be making his first NFL start Sunday at St. Louis if Baltimore rests Lee Evans (ankle). "I think if you go back, you'll see that even Jerry Rice struggled in his first year," Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome told The Sun. Hensley's slant: The knock on Smith leading up to the draft was other wide receiver prospects were more polished than he was, so his slow start should not be startling. The Ravens have to figure out a way to boost his confidence. Perhaps some quick bubble screens will get him back on track.
Here's your game-day warm-up:

The Steelers and the Ravens are among the unanimous selections in the Week 2 picks by ESPN's experts.

Pittsburgh is playing in its home opener against the Seattle Seahawks, which is 1-10 in games played in the Eastern time zone since 2007. The Seahawks have lost by an average of 15.4 points.

Baltimore is looking to improve its 18-1 mark against losing teams under coach John Harbaugh when it plays at Tennessee.

Here are some pregame notes for the AFC North teams ...
  • BROWNS: They're hoping to get off to a good start, or at least a smoother one than their trip. The Browns' trip to Indianapolis was delayed almost four hours after their plane got stuck in the mud.
  • BENGALS: Even though Denver cornerback Champ Bailey could be sidelined or limited today, Cincinnati is expected to attack the Broncos on the ground. The Bengals are 11-2 when running back Cedric Benson runs for 100 yards.
  • RAVENS: The Ravens' offensive line, which was banged up in the preseason, will undergo another change. Left guard Ben Grubbs, who is doubtful with a toe injury, is expected to be replaced by Andre Gurode, a five-time Pro Bowl center.
  • STEELERS: It will be interesting to see if cornerback Bryant McFadden will be able to start. He is questionable with a hamstring injury. The Steelers split reps in practice between backups Keenan Lewis and William Gay.

AFC North injury report impact

September, 16, 2011
9/16/11
8:50
PM ET
A look at Friday's injury report and what it means:

RAVENS

Out: CB Chris Carr (hamstring), CB Jimmy Smith (ankle)

Doubtful: G Ben Grubbs (toe)

Probable: WR Lee Evans (ankle), FB Vonta Leach (foot)

Impact vs. Tennessee: Grubbs' absence would mean five-time Pro Bowl center Andre Gurode would start at left guard. Gurode was signed on Sept. 4 as insurance for banged-up center Matt Birk. The injuries at cornerback means Domonique Foxworth will be the nickel back behind starters Cary Williams and Lardarius Webb. Rookie fifth-round pick Chykie Brown should be active for the first time. As far as the Titans, safety Chris Hope (shoulder) is out and will likely be replaced by Jordan Babineaux.

BENGALS

Out: LB Dontay Moch (foot)

Doubtful: DE Robert Geathers (shoulder), G Otis Hudson (knee), S Taylor Mays (knee)

Probable: QB Andy Dalton (right wrist), CB Kelly Jennings (hamstring), DE Michael Johnson (groin), DE Frostee Rucker (illness), OT Andrew Whitworth (knee).

Impact vs. Denver: As expected, Dalton will start and try to build on a solid first-half performance in his NFL debut. Geathers is expected to be replaced by either Carlos Dunlap or Jonathan Fanene in the starting lineup. For Denver, starting weak-side linebacker D.J. Williams is out. Four other Broncos starters are questionable: CB Champ Bailey, DE Elvis Dumervil, RB Knowshon Moreno and WR Brandon Lloyd. Only Lloyd practiced this week.

BROWNS

Out: LB Titus Brown (ankle), S Eric Hagg (knee), OT Tony Pashos (ankle)

Probable: WR Mohamed Massaquoi (hamstring), WR Carlton Mitchell (finger), CB Dimitri Patterson (ankle), S T.J. Ward (hamstring), S Usama Young (hamstring).

Impact vs. Indianapolis: It's no surprise that Pashos was ruled out, and there's a chance he could be out for an extended period. Artis Hicks, who is better suited at guard, will start at right tackle and rotate with Oniel Cousins. Hicks could catch a break with Colts pass-rusher Robert Mathis, who is questionable with a neck injury. Mathis didn't practice Friday after being limited on Thursday. Along with quarterback Peyton Manning, one other Indianapolis starter has been ruled out, middle linebacker Gary Brackett (shoulder).

STEELERS

Out: WR Jerricho Cotchery (hamstring)

Questionable: G Chris Kemoeatu (knee), CB Bryant McFadden (hamstring)

Probable: CB Curtis Brown (ankle)

Impact vs. Seattle: Kemoeatu and McFadden, both starters, are questionable after being limited Thursday and Friday in practice. There's a better chance that Kemoeatu will play than McFadden. If McFadden is sidelined, Keenan Lewis would take his spot. Lewis is a 2009 third-round pick who has played in 12 career games but no starts. For the Seahawks, wide receiver Sidney Rice was ruled out. Seattle left guard Robert Gallery (knee) should play despite being questionable.

AFC North Stock Watch

August, 15, 2011
8/15/11
12:00
PM ET
Week 1 of the preseason is in the books. So let's see who's stock is rising and falling after the first batch of preseason games.

Falling

1. The Cincinnati Bengals: I rarely make too much of the preseason. But I didn't like the way the Bengals came out to start their 2011 season. It's a new era and a fresh start in Cincinnati. But the Bengals didn't play with much energy or effort in a 34-3 loss to the Detroit Lions. It's difficult to lose a preseason game by 31 points. Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis has a lot of work to do. I want to see how the Bengals rebound this week against the New York Jets.

Oher

Oher


2. Baltimore Ravens' offensive tackles: Baltimore allowed six sacks in its 13-6 preseason defeat to the Philadelphia Eagles. At least three sacks came against starting offensive tackles Michael Oher and Oniel Cousins. Pass protection has been a year-long problem in Baltimore. Oher had a great rookie campaign on the right side but has been average as a left tackle. Cousins hasn't shown much on the right side. The Ravens are now considering moving Cousins to right guard. There don't seem to be any easy answers to this issue.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers' pass defense: In Pittsburgh's first game since Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers had a field day in Super Bowl XLV, Washington Redskins quarterback Rex Grossman (207 yards, one touchdown) also did well in limited action. Should this be a concern? Bryant McFadden was out and cornerback Ike Taylor broke his thumb. Taylor is expected to miss the rest of the preseason at an already thin position. It's way too early to panic. But Pittsburgh's corners need to start covering better this summer to erase concerns of last season's Super Bowl loss.

Rising

McCoy

McCoy


1. Cleveland Browns quarterback Colt McCoy: There is a lot of pressure on McCoy to show growth this year as the full-time starter. He made a great first step with a near-perfect performance against the Packers. McCoy was 9 of 10 for 135 yards and a touchdown. He led two touchdown drives -- one against Green Bay's starters and the other against the Packers' second unit. This should give McCoy and the first-team offense things to build on in the preseason.

2. Browns coach Pat Shurmur: The Browns looked solid and played with energy in Shurmur's head-coaching debut. Shurmur was solid in his dual role as head coach and offensive coordinator. The Browns looked prepared and the offense moved the ball. His play calling went a long way to giving McCoy and his younger players confidence.

3. Ravens linebacker Paul Kruger: Kruger had his best game as a Raven, albeit in the preseason. He recorded five tackles and a sack against Philadelphia. Kruger was active and looks much better now that he's lost the extra bulk. Baltimore tried converting him to a full-time defensive end in 2010, which didn't work. Now, the Ravens hope Kruger can provide more quickness and speed-rushing on the outside.
Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin announced four key players will be out for Friday's preseason opener. Steelers guard Chris Kemoeatu, cornerback Bryant McFadden, receiver Emmanuel Sanders and rookie Cortez Allen will not play against the Washington Redskins.

Veteran receiver Hines Ward was not ruled out by Tomlin. Ward practiced in training camp for the first time on Monday following thumb surgery.

Tomlin added that it's possible Ward and other players could be ruled out closer to game time if needed.
LATROBE, Pa. -- At his best, cornerback Keenan Lewis says he can be a "miniature-Ike Taylor" for the Pittsburgh Steelers this season.

If that is the case, Pittsburgh's cornerback position isn't as thin as people think.

[+] EnlargeKeenan Lewis
AP Photo/John RussellCornerback Keenan Lewis has a chance to earn more playing time this season.
Opposite fellow corner Bryant McFadden, Lewis opened the first two days of Steelers training camp with the No. 1 defense. Lewis is gaining valuable experience this weekend, while holding the seat warm for Taylor, who signed a four-year contract but cannot practice until next week.

Still, this is a good opportunity for Lewis to prove his worth to the coaching staff and potentially earn a role as a nickel corner after two rocky seasons in Pittsburgh. Lewis is getting the first shot in what should be a deep competition with young teammates Crezdon Butler and rookies Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen.

"It feels good and it shows that I've learned my playbook now," Lewis said after practice Saturday. "I feel more experienced. It's my third year, and I'm just trying to do the best that I can to show all these fans who I really am."

Lewis has always been a natural athlete. The former third-round pick has good size and feet -- two things the Steelers covet -- but he hasn't been able to put it together.

Last year Lewis spent the season in coach Mike Tomlin's doghouse after a poor preseason game against the Denver Broncos. After the game, Lewis showed immaturity in the locker room by punching and shattering glass with is hand, which upset the organization.

Lewis said he's watch the tape of that Denver game plenty of times to learn from those mistakes. He also admits one of the biggest keys this season is to get tougher mentally.

"Last year taught me how to keep a cool head when facing adversity," Lewis said. "When people feel down on you, you can't get down on yourself. You have to keep going. No matter what the situation is, you have to keep getting better everyday."

Here are some additional notes from Steelers camp:

  • In addition to Plaxico Burress, the Steelers also met with free-agent tight end Daniel Graham on Saturday. Former backup tight end Matt Spaeth signed with the Chicago Bears, which leaves a spot open as the No. 2 tight end. Tomlin described both as "great meetings."
  • Despite the lockout, Pittsburgh's passing offense looks sharp early. Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and the rest of the receiving corps made several nice catches. Even running back Rashard Mendenhall got into the act with a couple nice grabs out of the backfield.
  • Free-agent running back John Clay has really good size, but it's hard to evaluate him without contact. I'm looking forward to seeing him run in pads.
  • Speaking of which, Sunday will be the first full-contract practice of training camp, which Tomlin was very excited about. "It's football," Tomlin said. "We're going to come out with pads on and we're going to play football."
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?
ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. provided his final mock draft Insider with plenty of interesting selections.

Here is how Kiper views Thursday night's NFL draft in the AFC North:

Cincinnati Bengals (No. 4)

Kiper's pick: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia

Analysis: Everyone knows that I'm against taking receivers this high in the draft. But I do like Green's talent, and I think he could be a good NFL receiver. If the Bengals take Green at No. 4, the next challenge would be finding a quarterback to throw him the football. Unless Cincinnati knows for sure it can land a quality veteran, the team should not leave this draft without a highly rated rookie to compete with Jordan Palmer.

Cleveland Browns (No. 6)

Kiper's pick: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama

Analysis: Kiper pegged Jones to Cleveland in his last two mock drafts, but I have my doubts about this pick. Yes, the Browns need receivers. But this is a reach to take the second-rated player at the position with the No. 6 overall pick. If the Browns cannot trade down, getting help on the defensive line would make more sense here. If Cleveland drafts a receiver at six, it should be Green. Otherwise, the Browns could help their front seven on defense, which is very thin.

Baltimore Ravens (No. 26)

Kiper's pick: Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA

Analysis: For months, Kiper had the Ravens drafting a cornerback in this slot but changed his mind at the last minute. I think it's a wise move. Baltimore's biggest needs all along have been at right tackle and getting someone to rush the passer. Ayers can help with the latter. I think there are better pass-rushers available in the first round, but Ayers is both versatile and well-rounded.

Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 31)

Kiper's pick: Aaron Williams, CB, Texas

Analysis: Williams has been a Pittsburgh favorite in mock drafts for quite some time. The Steelers are short on cornerbacks, and Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert said Monday he's operating as though none of his free agents will return. That means Colbert is drafting under the assumption top corner Ike Taylor will not re-sign. Top reserve William Gay also is a free agent, leaving Bryant McFadden as the only experienced corner on the roster. Williams would fill Pittsburgh's biggest need.

AFC North mailbag: Fab 40 fallout

February, 28, 2011
2/28/11
4:00
PM ET
Our second annual "Walker's Fab 40" drew a strong reaction from our community. Let's answer some questions about it from our division inbox and AFC North Twitter page.

Brian from Washington, D.C., writes: Did you forget Todd Heap? Heap had five TDs as opposed to Heath Miller's two, as well as more receiving yards.

James Walker: I didn't forget Heap, Brian. He made last year's list, but we listed him among 10 potential snubs for this year. In fact, Miller was the only tight end to make "Walker's Fab 40," with Heap, Ben Watson and Jermaine Gresham all in strong contention. That's just the way it turned out this year. There are 53 players on each team. So when you narrow down 212 AFC North players to 40, some good ones are going to be left off. Heap was definitely one of them. As far as Miller, you can't only look at this year's statistics. Miller remains the most complete tight end in the division, despite suffering injuries and not putting up great numbers. He also played a quarter of the season without starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who was suspended the first four games.


Potter_Law via Twitter writes: How do you put Ray Rice above Peyton Hillis and Rashard Mendenhall? Rice had a very mediocre year to be in your top 10.

Walker: Again, Potter, not everything is based on this past season's stats. But if you want to go there, Rice had 43 more rushing yards than Hillis and 40 more receptions than Mendenhall. All three tailbacks are very good. That is why they were all ranked in the top 13, which is impressive considering all the great players in the AFC North. But Rice gaining 1,776 total yards from scrimmage in what's considered a "down year" is proof of how dynamic a talent he really is.


Kovacs from Santa Monica, Calif., writes: I hate to criticize such an arbitrary list like the Fab 40, but you are wrong for having Joe Haden as the fourth best CB in the division.

Walker: Haden (No. 33) had a good rookie year, Kovacs, but he still has to prove it over a longer period. Haden was a second stringer for the first half of the season. His production took off once he replaced Eric Wright in the starting lineup. Veterans like Johnathan Joseph (No. 19), Ike Taylor (No. 20) and Leon Hall (No. 31) have been consistently good throughout their careers, and that's what I'm looking for from Haden in upcoming years.


Charlie from Chardon, Ohio, writes: What are the chances the Browns bring back my favorite player and best fullback in the league: Lawrence Vickers?

Walker: Vickers' future in Cleveland is definitely in question, Charlie. I talked with him shortly after the season and he didn't know if he was coming back with the coaching and scheme changes on offense. The Browns will do a lot more passing this year with a West Coast offense. So they have to determine if spending money on a top power fullback is worth it to them. Vickers will land somewhere, because he's a good player.


David from College Park, Md., writes: Do you see any chance the Ravens let Willis McGahee walk and resign Le'Ron McClain?

Walker: McGahee is more likely to return than McClain, David. Baltimore would love to have McGahee back at a reduced rate but don't want to pay $6 million for a backup tailback, which makes sense. It will be up to McGahee to decide if he wants to return for less or explore other opportunities. I don't think the chances of McClain coming back are great. The Ravens are fine keeping McClain in his same role as a blocking back, but that's not what he wants. McClain wants to carry the ball a lot more, which he did when he led the Ravens in rushing in 2008. That won't happen in Baltimore with Rice as the feature back.


WyllysInVA via Twitter wants to know if there's any chance the Steelers go after Joseph.

Walker: Pittsburgh does not go after other team's high-priced free agents. The Steelers are more focused on keeping theirs -- with LaMarr Woodley and Taylor being this year's priority -- while building through the draft. Plus it looks like the going rate for corners is shooting through the roof.


Algiff via Twitter writes: Do you think Joseph will be more expensive than Taylor in the free-agent market?

Walker: Yes, I do. Joseph is four years younger, and that alone could lead to more years and more money on the contract. In my opinion, Joseph also is a more dynamic playmaker in terms of intercepting the ball and creating big turnovers. There's a chance, too, that Taylor will take a hometown discount to stay with the AFC champion Steelers. Joseph likely won't do the same to remain with the downtrodden Bengals.


Mike from Ewa Beach, Hawaii, writes: Is it possible that the Steelers can extend the contracts of LaMarr Woodley, Ike Taylor, Willie Colon, Lawrence Timmons, and Troy Polamalu?

Walker: I don't believe all five players will be addressed in the offseason, Mike. The Steelers will definitely negotiate with Woodley and Taylor and see where that ends up. Colon's situation with Pittsburgh is more uncertain as he works to get back to 100 percent. Two players you mentioned -- Timmons and Polamalu -- are still under contract until 2012. The Steelers usually let draft picks play out their full contracts (see Woodley), so Timmons would have to wait. I wouldn't rule out a Polamalu extension, but only after the team's immediate needs are taken care of.


Comment and complaint department

Ben from Pensacola, Fla., writes: Ike Taylor in the top 20 AFC North players? Not buying it. The only reason he's not the worst starter on the Steelers' D is because Bryant McFadden is playing across from him. He's a solid corner overall, but he's also inconsistent and drops a lot of potential INTs. Him being ranked ahead of elite DLs like Brett Keisel and Aaron Smith is laughable.

Michael H from San Antonio writes: I had to read over your Fab 40 a couple times to make sure I wasn't missing it, but I think you skipped over someone. Cleveland's TE Ben Watson. Last season's 68 REC, 763 YDS, and three TDs are a monster stats for a TE. I think his career in New England shows his "culmination of career consistency" and should continue to succeed under a west coast offense.

Walker: Ben, Taylor had another solid season for Pittsburgh and has consistently been the team's No. 1 corner. He's not flashy because he doesn't make a lot of interceptions. But Taylor consistently does a good job against opposing No. 1 receivers, and it's noticeable the amount of times teams throw away from him in favor of testing McFadden and William Gay. Michael, on Saturday we wrote that Watson was our biggest Fab 40 snub. He was No. 41 and the first player out. It came down to Watson and Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff, who got the nod after a historic and Pro Bowl season.


Cooper from Baltimore writes: As a die-hard Ravens fan, this is excellent Carson Palmer wants out. Palmer has the ability every Sunday to beat top teams, as proven against the two best defenses in the Ravens and Steelers. Cincy's best option is to take him seriously and get what they can for him while he still has it.

Dzip11 via Twitter writes: As a Bengals fan, if they don't get Johnathan Joseph resigned it gets even harder to defend their moves.

Walker: Cooper, you bring up a good point. The Steelers and Ravens will not shed a tear over Palmer potentially leaving the division. Palmer had some success against both defenses, particularly Baltimore's. Dzip11, were you defending Cincinnati's personnel decisions before?


Kevin from Arlington, Va., writes: You can't label Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi misses yet. They simply were not used properly by Eric Mangini and Brian Daboll! You can’t make plays when there’s very little emphasis on getting the ball to you! Let's see what happens next year, assuming there is a next year, before deciding these guys can't play.

Walker: Fair point, Kevin. I do have a hard rule that I will not label any player a draft bust after their rookie season. The NFL is too difficult for everyone to "get it" right off the bat. Polamalu is a great example. But after two seasons all bets are off. At that point I think you have a good idea about a player in most cases, especially if they received playing time like Massaquoi and Robiskie have. Occasionally a player will surprise and become a late bloomer. But from what I've seen over two seasons, I would be surprised if Robiskie and Massaquoi develop into Pro Bowl-caliber receivers.

If you have any questions, comments or complaints, please send them to our AFC North inbox.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider