AFC North: Chad Ochocinco

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April, 22, 2014
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Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:

The Ravens are scheduled to work out veteran guard Eric Steinbach on Tuesday, according to CBS Sports.

Steinbach was cut by the Browns on March 14 after he refused to take a pay cut. He has reportedly recovered from back problems that forced him to miss the entire 2011 season.

CBS Sports reports there are other AFC teams interested in Steinbach, 32, who was expected to be ready to work out for teams in mid-July.

Hensley's slant: The Ravens are taking an AFC North approach in solving their left guard spot. If Steinbach is signed, he would battle former Bengals guard Bobbie Williams for the starting job. Both are short-term solutions. This would allow rookie second-round pick Kelechi Osemele time to develop before getting pushed into the starting lineup.

BENGALS: In honor of former Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco officially changing his name back to Chad Johnson, the Cincinnati Enquirer's Joe Reedy gave his "8.5 moments" of the Ochocinco era. The top moment was Ochocinco's appearance on Dancing with the Stars. Hensley's slant: Yes, it's a slow news day for the Bengals when you have to rely on a former receiver changing his name as the news item. If I had to choose a favorite moment, it would be the time when Ochocinco honored the late Chris Henry, who was one of his best friends on the team. After a 49-yard touchdown catch, Ochocinco knelt down in the end zone and said a prayer.

BROWNS: Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden, the last unsigned first-round pick in the AFC North, wants all four years of his rookie contract guaranteed, something that doesn't often happen with picks taken in the bottom third of the first round. "What I'm asking for is not too much. I think it's fair," Weeden told ESPN.com's Lynn Hoppes. "If they see me in their plans as the starting quarterback, it doesn't make sense why they wouldn't do it." Hensley's slant: Weeden might think his demand is "fair" but it's not realistic. Chandler Jones, who was selected one spot ahead of Weeden, had about half of his $1.5 million fourth-year salary guaranteed. David DeCastro, who was taken two spots after Weeden, only had the first three years of his contract fully guaranteed. I would be surprised to see the Browns guaranteeing all four years for Weeden even if it means getting him to training camp on time.

STEELERS: In breaking down the position battles for training camp, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review analyzed the competition between Chris Rainey and Baron Batch for one of the backup running back spots: "Rainey’s speed potentially adds a different dimension to Todd Haley’s offense, but Batch might have been the breakout player of the 2011 camp until he injured a knee." Hensley's slant: Rainey probably won't be in too many position battles because he won't have a specific position. He should be the Steelers' version of Dexter McCluster, who played under Todd Haley in Kansas City. Rainey will line up at running back and wide receiver for the Steelers, who should have specialized packages for him. I still consider Rainey among the biggest steals of the fifth round this year.
A.J. GreenFrank Victores/US PresswireCincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green is hoping to build on a strong rookie season.
CINCINNATI -- A.J. Green is the next Calvin Johnson. Just as important to the Bengals, he's not the next Chad Ochocinco.

With few words and many hours of hard work, Green is primed to take that next step and join the elite wide receivers in this league. He just doesn't need a reality show to announce it. Or his own news network.

Green out-leaped and outran defenders to put up better rookie numbers than Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald, and he did so without a full offseason. Now, as the Bengals conclude their spring workouts this week, he's watching film to improve his game. He's talking (well, it's more like listening) to coaches about refining his route running. He's even going to work out with Fitzgerald next month to pick up some pointers.

There's no diva qualities with Green. It's all about desire and dedication. That's a scary combination considering he has everything you want in a playmaking wide receiver. Speed, check. Size, check. Athleticism and aggressiveness, check and check. Work ethic, a big check.

"He has tremendous ability and he never says a word," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "Every time he watches film, he envisions himself getting better. He envisions himself doing it better than he did it the last time. That’s the key element of him. There’s not a bit of satisfaction in what he’s doing."

Green's debut was extremely impressive. The fourth overall pick of the 2011 draft led all NFL rookies with 65 catches for 1,057 yards and seven touchdowns. His 11 catches of 35 yards or more were the most in the league and the most by an NFL rookie since Minnesota’s Randy Moss had 14 in 1998. As a result, Green became the first rookie wide receiver to make the Pro Bowl since Anquan Boldin in 2003.

His encore would be scintillating if he follows the path of Johnson and Fitzgerald. In their second seasons, Fitzgerald caught 103 passes for 1,409 yards and 10 touchdowns while Johnson produced 79 receptions for 1,331 yards and 12 touchdowns. Those are realistic numbers for Green in 2012.

When talking about where he ranks in the NFL, Green simply says he'll let his play do the talking. Fortunately, his teammates and coaches are more than happy to talk about Green, too.

"He’s by far the best receiver I’ve guarded," Bengals cornerback Adam Jones said.

Does he expect Green's name to be mentioned with the likes of the elite receivers this year? "His name should be up there already," Jones said. "All you have to do is watch him."

Lewis even referred to Green as the best receiver in the NFL on Tuesday, before he quickly qualified it by saying "one of the best."

The moment that defined Green last season was a leaping catch for a 51-yard gain in the final minute that set up the winning field goal over the Cleveland Browns. His clutch play as a rookie shows his importance in the offense. It's not about the number of catches. It's about the significance of them.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, 44 of Green's 65 catches (68 percent) came when the score was within seven points. That ranked 10th among all wide receivers last season.

"When the game is on the line, I want to be the go-to guy," Green said. "I feel like that separates the good from the great receivers."

Part of what separates the good from the great players is their influence on teammates. With veterans Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell gone, Green has become the clear leader of a wide receiver group that averages 2.2 years of experience.

As you would expect from his low-key personality, Green is a leader by example by being the first one in every drill and running it at full speed. According to the Bengals' official website, the receivers say: Whatever A.J. does is exactly what you want to do.

This represents the most drastic difference between Green, the team's current No. 1 receiver, and Ochocinco, the team's all-time leading receiver.

Ochocinco has been described by his former Bengals teammates as a performer who never "shepherded" teammates.

"A.J. is the opposite," offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "Not only is he super talented, but it means a lot to him to be an example [to teammates]. I think he takes that to heart."

While Green is now a leader, that doesn't mean he has stopped learning. The emphasis of this offseason has been to grow as a player.

He is becoming more patient in his route running (he acknowledged he ran most routes at 100 miles per hour last season), which should generate more big plays. He is also learning all three wide receiver spots (split end, flanker and slot), which will allow him to move all over the field and make it more difficult for defenses to double him all the time.

“A.J. is one of those guys who is so gifted athletically, and you find ways to get him the ball," quarterback Andy Dalton said. "Whether it’s early on in the game or the end or in crunch time, you just try and find ways to get him the ball. Once he’s got it, he can do a lot with it. He’s just that kind of receiver."
A late road trip from Cincinnati to Pittsburgh has led to an abbreviated AFC North Wake-up call this morning. I'm providing just the links today, but I plan to touch on some of these topics next week after mandatory minicamps end.

CINCINNATI BENGALS

Cornerback Adam Jones, who has had his share of off-the-field problems, is scheduled to speak every day at the rookie symposium later this month. "The message is, this is not a joke," he said. "At the end of the day, you have to treat it like a business."

The Dolphins didn't call the Bengals about their experience with Chad Ochocinco before signing the veteran wide receiver. It should be noted that Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle was the Bengals' secondary coach for 11 seasons and has a history with Ochocinco. “Well, I’m sure [Kevin] was able to give some input on Chad and about him and so forth,” coach Marvin Lewis said.

CLEVELAND BROWNS

Longtime backup quarterback Seneca Wallace said he doesn't think there's room on the roster for himself, Brandon Weeden and Colt McCoy. He also made it known he and McCoy have no desire to be Cleveland's No. 3 quarterback.

Fullback Owen Marecic is better prepared to hold onto his job after dropping his weight from 255 pounds in 2011 to 240 to 245 pounds now. He has cut sweets and fried foods from his diet.

BALTIMORE RAVENS

Offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie was held out of practice due to concerns about his conditioning. The Ravens picked up McKinnie’s $500,000 roster bonus in March after he assured the team that he would be in better shape. Obviously, he hasn't followed through on that.

Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs announced that he is no longer on crutches and is expected to begin his rehab from Achilles surgery. Suggs said he is "beasting," which I'm assuming is a positive sign.

Recently signed Bobbie Williams worked with the first-team offense at left guard. He's been primarily a right guard throughout his career.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Wide receiver Mike Wallace was an expected no-show at the Steelers' mandatory minicamp. “It’s probably some short-term misery,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.

The Steelers' top two draft choices -- guard David DeCastro and tackle Mike Adams -- rejoined the team after being forced to miss all of the full-team offseason workouts. NFL rules prohibit players from showing up at team facilities until their college classes have graduated.

Ben Roethlisberger said he can't wait to be a father. Roethlisberger and his wife, Ashley, are expecting their first child, a boy, though the quarterback did not divulge the due date. "Family is super important to me," Roethlisberger said.
The Cincinnati Bengals and wide receiver Chad Ochocinco will have a reunion this season after all.

The Bengals didn't sign Ochocinco, but they'll face their all-time leading receiver at Paul Brown Stadium on Oct. 7. That's when Ochocinco and his new team, the Miami Dolphins, play at Cincinnati.

This will mark the first time that the Bengals will face Ochocinco since they traded him to the New England Patriots last year. Ochocinco signed with the Dolphins on Monday night, four days after being released by the Patriots.

No one knows if Ochocinco has anything left after managing 15 catches last season. No one knows if Ochocinco will have any success against a Bengals secondary that has seven former first-rounders (Reggie Nelson, Leon Hall, Nate Clements, Dre Kirkpatrick, Adam Jones, Terence Newman and Jason Allen).

But, if Ochocinco somehow made it into the end zone that game, the touchdown celebration should be a classic one.

ESPNBoston.com is running a poll on where former Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco will land after getting cut by the New England Patriots on Thursday. I don't see a reunion with the Bengals in his future, and it appears others agree with that assessment (the Bengals rank last in the poll at 5 percent while the Miami Dolphins are first at 33 percent).

There's one choice that seems to be missing from this poll -- retirement. I'm not the one calling for it, although you have to wonder about Ochocinco after he managed a career-low 15 catches with New England last season. This suggestion comes from longtime Bengals teammate T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

"If I went with Tom Brady and didn't produce, I'd hang it up," Houshmandzadeh told the Bengals' official website in March. "Are you kidding me? Tom Brady? If you go with a Peyton Manning or a Drew Brees, or an Eli Manning, or Aaron Rodgers, and you don't produce?"

Some say Ochocinco struggled in New England because he had a tough time learning the playbook. But last year wasn't his only down season. From 2002-07, Ochocinco averaged 88.5 catches for 1,339 yards and eight touchdowns. Over the last three seasons (two of which were in Cincinnati), he averaged 64 catches for 806 yards and 5.7 touchdowns.
The Cincinnati Bengals don't have a clear-cut No. 2 wide receiver, and their all-time leading receiver just became available when the Patriots released Chad Ochocinco Thursday.

So, is there any chance Ochocinco reunites with the Bengals? I seriously doubt it, and this goes beyond Ochocinco's lack of productivity last season. I'll give you two reasons why this isn't expected to happen: coach Marvin Lewis and the Bengals' locker room.

Lewis and Ochocinco had a rocky relationship during their time together and it got testy toward the end when both traded jabs through the media. Remember last year when Ochocinco said he would "whup" Lewis? That signaled to many that Ochocinco's time in Cincinnati was over.

Even if Lewis decided to give Ochocinco another chance, he would face a lot of resistance from Bengals players, who believe their turnaround last season was helped by improved chemistry in the locker room. It's not hard to read between the lines when offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth compared the current locker room with the one in 2006.

"The character is different; the priorities are different," Whitworth told the team's official website last month. "We're just not blowing smoke saying we want to be a good football team. A lot of guys actually work that way, prepare that way, have priorities that way and have the character to live that way. It's just different. I think this locker room has proven time and time again it's a strong one. It's a different deal now."

All that the release of Ochocinco signifies for the Bengals is they're officially the winner of last year's trade with the Patriots. The Bengals used the fifth-round pick from New England on wide receiver Marvin Jones and still have a sixth-rounder from the Patriots in the 2013 draft. When it comes to projecting the Bengals' No. 2 wide receiver this year, the talk should be about Jones and not Ochocinco.
Andy Dalton and AJ Green AP Photo/Al BehrmanReceiver AJ Green and quarterback Andy Dalton lead the new-look Bengals.

The Cincinnati Bengals enjoyed the most successful free agency period of any team in the division. The Bengals were applauded by many experts for being among the big winners in the NFL draft.

The question everyone in Who Dey Nation wants answered is how much ground have the Bengals made up on the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers. But that's the wrong question to be asking.

Whether or not the Bengals return to the playoffs isn't about their division rivals. It's about whether this franchise can finally handle success.

The Bengals haven't put together back-to-back winning seasons since 1981-82. To put that into perspective, those were the years when Ronald Reagan was beginning his first term as president, a gallon of gas was going for $1.30 and Marvin Lewis was starting his coaching career at Idaho State.

This doesn't mean Cincinnati has struggled every year. The Bengals have been to the playoffs three times since 2005, the same amount as the Cowboys and one fewer than the Packers over that span. The problem has been following up that success. An AFC North title in 2005, and an 8-8 season in 2006. Another division title in 2009, and a 4-12 season in 2010.

There are few connections to this year's Bengals team and the 2010 one. Only seven players remain starters from Team Ochocinco & T.O., and Andy Dalton, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Thomas Howard had nothing to do with that disaster of a reality show from two years ago. A.J. Green is still A.J. Green ... and not A.J. Verde.

Momentum has clearly been on the Bengals' side since they drafted Dalton and Green last year. Cincinnati went from the NFL's worst team at the start of the 2011 season --according to the ESPN power rankings -- to a playoff one. With the second-most salary cap room in the NFL, the Bengals then used free agency to not only fill holes but upgrade those positions. It was a methodical approach that avoided the pricey big names like Carl Nicks, Robert Meachem and Cortland Finnegan. The theme was solid moves instead of splashy ones.

They signed Green-Ellis, an all-around running back and touchdown machine, to replace Cedric Benson. They added left guard Travelle Wharton, a strong run blocker, to take over for Nate Livings. That should boost a team that ranked 30th in the NFL in yards per rush (3.3) and tied for 21st in touchdown runs (three).

Cincinnati didn't ignore the defense, signing six former first-round picks. The Bengals kept their free-agent priority, safety Reggie Nelson, beating out the New York Jets for him. Cincinnati then added three cornerbacks (Jason Allen, Adam Jones and Terence Newman) and two defensive linemen (Jamaal Anderson and Derrick Harvey).

In the draft, the Bengals landed the best zone cornerback (Dre Kirkpatrick), top run-blocking guard (Kevin Zeitler), the 2011 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year (Devon Still), a top-rated tight end (Orson Charles) and two promising wide receivers (Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones).

"You don’t win games on paper and that's what we have to realize, starting with me," Bengals offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth told the team's website. "We've got to be better. This looks like a good class. But the rookies know it's going to come down to what they do and how they prepare and how they go after it."

This team is clearly better than last year's. The expectations, though, are higher. The pressure will be on to finish better than last year's record of 9-7. The pressure will be on to win the division.

The Ravens lost the NFL Defensive Player of the Year for the start of the season (Terrell Suggs) and likely won't have their running back in training camp (Ray Rice isn't expected to sign his franchise tag anytime soon). The Steelers could be without their starting running back (Rashard Mendenhall) and nose tackle (Casey Hampton) for the first six weeks of the season, and lost long-time leaders (Hines Ward, James Farrior and Aaron Smith) in their salary-cap purge.

While the Bengals have question marks at the No. 2 wide receiver spot and strong safety, the gap is significantly smaller between the traditional AFC North powers and Cincinnati. The Bengals return a Pro Bowl quarterback and wide receiver in Dalton and Green. They bring back a defense that ranked seventh in yards allowed (316.3) and nine in points given up (20.2). This team isn't lacking in talent or chemistry in the locker room, just a proven track record.

The biggest challenge for these young Bengals is beating the best. Cincinnati went 9-0 against non-playoff teams and 0-7 against teams that made the postseason. Maybe that's why the Bengals are ranked No. 16 in the post-draft ESPN power rankings, which is eight spots lower than what they finished last season.

There's going to be doubters, especially for a franchise that has gone three decades without consecutive winning seasons. But, based on what they accomplished in free agency and the draft, these are the new and much improved Bengals. All they have to do is show they can handle the best teams in the NFL, along with their own success.
Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said he wants to keep improving his team's offense but not at the expense of his traditionally tough defense.

“We want to have a better offense, but if you flip the switch too quick, then you’re giving up 27 points per game,” Bisciotti said, via the team's website. “So, I’m not going to be trading Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb for [Cardinals wide receiver Larry] Fitzgerald because that’s the quickest way to get there.”

Baltimore's defense finished third in fewest points allowed for a third straight season. In the AFC Championship Game loss at New England, the Ravens limited Tom Brady to 239 yards passing and no touchdowns and intercepted him twice.

“What our defense did to Tom Brady is something that I want my defense to do to the Tom Bradys and the [Ben] Roethlisbergers of the world going forward, forever,” Bisciotti said.

Hensley's slant: Bisciotti would have to be disappointed if his offense isn't consistently a top-10 one after the investment that he has made and will make. The Ravens signed two Pro Bowl players last year in guard Marshal Yanda and fullback Vonta Leach. The next step is reaching long-term deals with quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Ray Rice. Finishing 15th in offense won't cut it for Baltimore next year.

BENGALS: A day after the Patriots lost the Super Bowl in Indianapolis, former Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco was back in Cincinnati to face the charge of driving with a suspended license and a window tint violation, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. He pleaded guilty Monday to the reduced charge of failure to display a drivers license and was fined a total of $304. “I guess I would have had to issue a larger fine if you would have won last night,” Municipal Court Judge Russell Mock said. Hensley's slant: Ochocinco's quiet Super Bowl (one catch for 21 yards) ended a disappointing 2011 season for him. He went from catching 67 passes for the Bengals in 2010 to catching 15 in the regular season for New England. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for Ochocinco, who is expected to get cut because he's scheduled to make $3 million in 2012.

BROWNS: The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Bud Shaw said the Browns have never been in a better position to find a quarterback. The reason is the Cleveland brain trust of team president Mike Holmgren, general manager Tom Heckert, head coach Pat Shurmur and offensive coordinator Brad Childress, who bring years of quarterback evaluation and development. "If this group can't make the right call, then you might as well give up, wait for Tim Tebow to become a free agent and put your hopes in the option offense and a higher power," Shaw wrote. Hensley's slant: We'll find out in the very near future whether this group can work their quarterback magic in Cleveland. This year should be a key decision at that position for the Browns, who can draft one (like Robert Griffin III), sign one (like Matt Flynn) or stick with Colt McCoy. The one who would provide the most immediate success is Flynn.

STEELERS: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ron Cook believes NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is great for the NFL even though the Steelers disagree. "It's fair to say the Steelers didn't celebrate Goodell's extension," Cook wrote. "[James] Harrison and other Steelers long have complained that Goodell is power hungry and has too much say in the discipline for both on- and off-field discretions. They voted against the new CBA, the only one of the 32 teams to do so. Hensley's slant: Goodell rules with a heavy hand (too heavy at times) especially when it comes to fines and discipline. But everything he has done is to protect the name and the image of the NFL. If we continue to see the high quality of play on the field -- like this year's playoffs -- everyone will remain happy.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The small amount of AFC North storylines in this Super Bowl could dwindle if former Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco doesn't even suit up.

Ochocinco, who had a disappointing 15 receptions for the New England Patriots this season, was inactive for the AFC Championship Game after sitting once in the regular season. The ankle injury to Rob Gronkowski could increase Ochocinco's chances of playing in the first Super Bowl of his 11-year career.

As ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss pointed out, the Patriots don't have a backup tight end. When Gronkowski injured his ankle on a tackle by the Ravens' Bernard Pollard in the AFC Championship Game, New England subbed in wide receiver Julian Edelman to take his place.

Even if Gronkowski plays, there's no guarantee that he will last the entire game. Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney once suffered a high ankle sprain in the playoffs and only played effectively for the first half.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick will want some added depth for the passing game, which could work in Ochocinco's favor. If Gronkowski is out or limited, the Patriots will go with more three-receiver sets.

Asked at the Super Bowl whether Gronkowski's injury affects his status, Ochocinco said, “I don’t know. I haven’t seen the script.”

If the script does include him, Ochocinco might revert back to his flair for the dramatic. During Ochocinco's career in Cincinnati, he was known for creative touchdown celebrations. He's performed the Riverdance, used a pylon to "put" the football and even proposed to a Bengals cheerleader.

Does he have one planned for the Super Bowl?

"I’ve been kind of quiet on the celebrations and the production this year, so if I score this Sunday I might do something," said Ochocinco, who has one touchdown this season. "It’s the biggest stage.”

INDIANAPOLIS — Chad Ochocinco is the biggest disappointment on the New England Patriots team this season. He had 15 catches in 16 games. He scored uno touchdown.

If Ochocinco wanted to vent his frustration, he had the perfect stage at the Super Bowl's media day, even if his presence didn't warrant a podium. But Ochocinco was subdued and soft-spoken. You had to put your recorder right up to his face to even hear what he was saying.

This is not the Ochocinco from Cincinnati. He's not a distraction. He's not complaining about the lack of receptions or the lack of attention.

"If it was emotionally draining, I think I would have spoke out like I did in the past," Ochocinco said today. "I took this as a challenge, as a lesson. Will he be able to handle himself in different circumstances when he’s not that guy, if he’s not that main focal point? Will he be able to handle it? And I think I did extremely well.”

This is by far Ochocinco's worst season. In nine seasons with the Bengals (2002-10), he averaged 80 receptions per season and never caught fewer than 53 during that span.

Now, he's paired with one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history in Tom Brady and he's flopped.

One theory on why Ochocinco hasn't excelled in New England is because he hasn't been his flamboyant self. He can't be a star if he's not the life of the party.

But the real reason is that Ochocinco hasn't meshed in the Patriots' offense. He is an undisciplined route-runner who is a bad fit for the Patriots' "rule-based system," as former coach Eric Mangini described in this video.

Asked whether he would prefer 100 catches or a trip to the Super Bowl, he said, “I’d rather be right here. I’ve already put up all the numbers. I’ve already done that. It’s so much bigger than what everybody else is thinking about. They’re thinking about the individuals. If I would have been thinking like that, I would have got cut Week 3, complaining about the ball. It’s been a joy.”

Few Bengals would describe life with Ochocinco as being "a joy." Many talked about how the locker room got tighter without Ochocinco in it.

So, did Ochocinco detract from that last year?

"I think different guys are distractions in different ways," Bengals offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said earlier this month. "Not necessarily themselves, but the way they're handled, the way different things are done in the locker room, and like I said, for once we had a locker room that was tight, that was together and pulling in the right direction."

Ochocinco, however, looks back at his time with the Bengals fondly.

"Everything about that organization, that city, it was made me what I am today," he said. "The fans were awesome. Coach [Marvin] Lewis [was] like a dad.”
INDIANAPOLIS -- Chad Ochocinco spent $28,000 on gifts for his teammates, but the punchline is truly priceless.

The talkative wide receiver bought 70 pairs of noise-canceling headphones for his fellow New England Patriots, according to The Boston Herald. How many Cincinnati Bengals wished they had that over the past 10 years?

Ochocinco can certainly afford purchasing Beats By Dre headphones, which cost $400 each and were distributed before the team's flight to Indianapolis. He is making $3 million this season for the Patriots. Offensive lineman Nick McDonald posted a picture of them on his Twitter account.
Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:

The Browns have made no commitment to Colt McCoy to be their starting quarterback beyond this season, team president Mike Holmgren said at Thursday's news conference.

"I know it's not healthy to change quarterbacks," Holmgren said via The Plain Dealer. "But you have to find that person. ... Colt is just a pup. He's getting banged around out there. He will play this season and ... we'll evaluate how he does at the end of the season. That's an important part of the equation."

McCoy has averaged 21.6 incompletions over his past three games. His 28.5 QBR is 23rd in the NFL, just above recently benched quarterbacks Donovan McNabb and Rex Grossman.

"[McCoy] is a rookie [actually, a second-year player] with a new coach, new signal-caller, new system," Holmgren said. "Are we committed to him? Absolutely. Does it guarantee him the starting position? I want him to do well. Everyone's rooting for him."

Hensley's slant: This is a major shift from April 2010, when McCoy said Holmgren compared him to Steve Young and Joe Montana because of his intangibles. This vote of no confidence comes after 13 up-and-down NFL starts for McCoy. One of the reasons why the Browns have failed to challenge for the AFC North title consistently is the lack of a franchise quarterback. Until they get one, Cleveland will always be chasing the Steelers and the Ravens.
  • BENGALS: Right guard Bobbie Williams didn't hold back when he compared Andy Dalton to Carson Palmer, who was traded to the Raiders on Tuesday. “Just to be politically correct, Andy brings something that Carson doesn’t -- and I’m not knocking Carson -- a little bit more passion," Williams told the team's website. "I’m not saying Carson isn’t passionate, but Andy brings a little bit more.” Hensley's slant: There have always been questions about Palmer's leadership ability. In his defense, it can be hard to take control of a locker room that has the likes of Chad Ochocinco in it. Still, even as a rookie, Dalton is getting teammates to follow him.
  • RAVENS: The Ravens' secondary got an unexpected surprise when first-round pick Jimmy Smith (high ankle sprain) and Chris Carr (hamstring) both returned to practice, according to MASNSports.com. Smith has been sidelined since the season opener , and Carr has missed the past two games. Three Ravens didn't practice Thursday: wide receiver Lee Evans (ankle), guard Ben Grubbs (toe) and linebacker Jarret Johnson (back). Hensley's slant: There really is no need to rush Smith and Carr back for Monday's game against Jacksonville rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who threw for 109 yards last Sunday in a loss to the Steelers. Baltimore needs both cornerbacks to be at full strength when the Ravens play at Pittsburgh on Nov. 6.
  • STEELERS: Pittsburgh defensive tackle Ziggy Hood told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that if you get to Arizona quarterback Kevin Kolb, you stop wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Kolb has been sacked an average of 3.2 times per game, which is even more than Ben Roethlisberger (3.0). Hensley's slant: It also helps to have a guy who can cover Fitzgerald. Ike Taylor likely draws that assignment after just allowing his first touchdown. The Steelers can't afford to have flashbacks of Fitzgerald from that Super Bowl victory.
Here are the most interesting stories Thursday in the AFC North: Morning take: I grew up in the Washington D.C. area and I don't see it. These two teams do not play enough in the regular season, and they certainly haven't met in big games.
  • The rebuilding Cincinnati Bengals will make their 2011 debut Thursday night at Paul Brown Stadium.
Morning take: This is the first home game of the post-Carson Palmer/Chad Ochocinco era. The youthful Bengals will get a chance to show what they can do in front of their home crowd against rookie quarterback Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers.
  • The Cleveland Browns could be without six starters in the third preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Morning take: That's too bad, because this is the most important preseason game. Injured players like receiver Mohamed Massaquoi (foot) and guard Eric Steinbach (back) have missed a lot of playing time and can use the reps with the offense.
Morning take: Essex is versatile and will provide depth at the guard and tackle spots. He’s one of those players who always seems to find his way into the lineup. Essex has 25 starts in six seasons.

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