AFC North: Charles Woodson

It's no surprise that there's a lot of interest in what the Cleveland Browns will do at the No. 6 overall pick. Browns draft talk dominated this week's chat and included a question about the team's bigger need on defense. Here are the highlights from the AFC North chat ...

Darrell (Dallas Tx): Which need is bigger for the Browns with no second-round pick, free safety or cornerback? They need both.

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): Corner. At safety, they can plug in Tashaun Gipson or Eric Hagg. Having Buster Skrine at corner is a scary thought.

Carlos (Hobbs, NM): With all these vets getting released by the Ravens, are there any more players that you see the ravens cutting?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): If the Ravens need more cap room, they will approach fullback Vonta Leach about taking a pay cut. He is due to make $3 million this year. It could lead to his release.

Bryant (Akron): I'm upset to see the Browns not bringing back Josh Cribbs or Phil Dawson. What do you think was the main reasoning behind the decisions especially Cribbs?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): New regime wants to get fresh start. Dawson and Cribbs have been the faces associated with Browns since their return to the NFL. Also, the Browns wanted to get a younger kicker and they have a replacement for Cribbs in Travis Benjamin.

Quammy (Cincinnati, OH): Given the current uncertainty at the Bengals safety position, courtesy of Taylor May looking like a chicken with his head cut off in coverage, what are the possibilities/interest the Bengals have in Charles Woodson? Seems like this free agency has been filled with bargains, and the Bengals love bargains.

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): Don't see this happening. I get the feeling the Bengals would turn to Chris Crocker again if they can't draft a starting safety.

Joe Routson (Monroe, OH): Is there any chance the Browns pick up a starting CB, ILB, or safety before the draft via free agency or trade?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): There is no corner out there right now. You want Quentin Jammer? I don't see the Browns making any more moves before the draft. If they don't address these spots, they can still go with Robertson at ILB and either Gipson or Hagg at safety.

Duron, Columbus [via mobile]: Thanks for all the work. I know it's probably getting old, but any update on the Bengals resigning Andre Smith? Thanks.

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): When I talked this week to head coach Marvin Lewis, he sounded pretty optimistic that it would get done before the draft.

Jason (Santa Monica): The Steelers must see something in Alameda Ta'amu if they are still keeping him around. Any chance you see him starting at defensive tackle and Steve McLendon moving to Ziggy Hood's spot at DE? Ta'amu was considered a top-three DT in the draft last year

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): There is no chance that Ta'amu is a starter this year. He didn't even get on the field last year. The Steelers will start McLendon this year and have to determine whether they want to invest in him or go with Ta'amu in 2014.

James,nc [via mobile]: What's the thing about Eddie Lacy that make people say he is not a good first-round pick? I would love to see him in Steelers uniform.

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): Lacy lacks the speed that you want for a playmaking running back. He runs tough and has good balance. But Lacy isn't dynamic. He's sort of a poor man's Frank Gore.

Danny sc [via mobile]: Do you think the recent moves by the Bengals at the quarterback position were designed to send a message to Andy Dalton and that this is his make-or-break year?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): If either John Skelton or Josh Johnson is a threat to Dalton, the Bengals are in trouble. Big trouble.

While I don't see Dwight Freeney landing in the AFC North, another recently released big-name defensive player could end up in the division. There's a chance that the Ravens and Bengals will show interest in veteran defensive back Charles Woodson, who was cut by the Packers on Friday.

ESPN's John Clayton predicted the Ravens and Patriots as possible destinations for Woodson. Baltimore would only go after Woodson if it can't re-sign Ed Reed, who is an unrestricted free agent. But Woodson wouldn't be the ideal replacement for Reed, outside of his leadership and cheaper price tag. The Ravens have a thumper in strong safety Bernard Pollard and need someone to fill Reed's role as the center fielder on defense. Woodson's cover skills have declined, which is why he made the move from cornerback to safety in 2012.

A more viable option for Woodson is the Bengals. Cincinnati couldn't find a strong safety to start opposite Reggie Nelson last season and ended up re-signing Chris Crocker. Even though Woodson is 36 years old and isn't the same player who was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2009, he would bring a leader from a championship team to a Bengals team that hasn't won a playoff game since the Bush administration (and I'm talking George H.W. Bush).

Unlike other teams, the Bengals have the salary cap room to make this move. Woodson can match up against tight ends, something that the Bengals struggled with last season. The Bengals have become a more attractive landing spot for free agents after reaching the playoffs the past two seasons. And, as everyone knows, the Bengals love to bring in former first-round picks to their defense. Just ask linebacker Aaron Maybin, cornerbacks Terence Newman, Adam Jones and Jason Allen, Nelson, defensive lineman Jamaal Anderson and defensive end Derrick Harvey.
This is one of my favorite days of the football calendar. It's the end of the preseason. It's the end of watching a lot of players who won't be on the team by the end of this week run around for quarter after meaningless quarter. To celebrate, I will put together an observation roundup of all four preseason finales involving AFC North teams by the end of the night. Wait, I forgot to say good morning. And there is no better way to start your morning than with the AFC North wake-up call ...

BENGALS: Shifting from cornerback to safety and back to cornerback during games is starting to grow on Nate Clements. He told the team's official website that he noticed Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Woodson roaming at strong safety at the age of 35 during last week's game against the Packers. "It’s exciting. I never know where I'm going to be," said the 32-year-old Clements. "You're put in a position where you can do a little bit of everything. Moving around in different positions is fun. (Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer will) come up with something different. That's what keeps it exciting." Clements should embrace this hybrid role. If he wants to extend his career, playing safety has to be in his future.

BROWNS: The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Bill Livingston thinks the Browns should play Brandon Weeden in the preseason finale instead of sitting the rookie quarterback. "[I]t’s not as if there is any guarantee that Weeden won’t get hurt eventually," Livingston wrote. "It’s also not as if Weeden has seen it all and doesn’t need any more fine-tuning. He is a remarkably poised and mature rookie, able to control his emotions much better than most first-year players due to the years he spent as a pitcher in the minor leagues. But he needs every chance to adjust to NFL speed and aggression, even if it’s in the fourth and final exhibition game." Livingston isn't the only one saying Weeden should play. His preseason stats say it, too. He's completed fewer than half of his passes and has yet to throw a touchdown pass.

RAVENS: Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron agrees that the heightened expectations of the offense puts more pressure on him. “I hope so,” he said, via the Baltimore Sun. “I really do. If you don’t thrive on that. ... You talk to the coaches that retire, you talk to the players that retire -- that’s what they miss. That’s what you would miss. I get to actually do it. I’m not behind a microphone on TV talking about it." During Cameron's four years with the Ravens, his game plan didn't need to be aggressive because Baltimore's defense was so strong. Now, with the defense expected to take a step back, Cameron and the Ravens' offense need to score more points if Baltimore wants to make the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season.

STEELERS: The Steelers will have some tough decisions in trimming down the roster to 53 players on Friday, especially if they plan to carry two injured players (guard David DeCastro and running back Rashard Mendenhall) who won't play for an extended period. One longtime Steeler who probably will suffer is quarterback Charlie Batch, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The Steelers can go with Byron Leftwich as the backup to Ben Roethlisberger and put Jerrod Johnson on the practice squad, which makes Batch expendable in the last major cutdown. "There's always a problem getting to that 53," coach Mike Tomlin said. "That is the challenge that is the National Football League. We understand it and embrace it, and I think our guys do as well."
Terrell Suggs added to his growing list of honors by being named AFC Defensive Player of the Month for December and January.


The Ravens outside linebacker recorded five sacks, four forced fumbles and 22 tackles to win the second player-of-the-month award in his nine-year career (November 2010 was the other time). He has been named AFC Defensive Player of the Week three times this season.

Suggs is considered a strong contender for the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award. His strongest competition will come from Minnesota's Jared Allen, Green Bay's Charles Woodson, New York Giants' Jason Pierre-Paul, Dallas' DeMarcus Ware and Philadelphia's Jason Babin.

Will Ravens' Reed play in Pro Bowl?

January, 21, 2010
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While multiple players are pulling out of the Pro Bowl, one very interesting name remains: Ed Reed.

Reed
The Baltimore Ravens safety is contemplating retirement following last weekend's 20-3 postseason loss to the Indianapolis Colts. Because of a nerve condition in his neck, Reed says he’s "50-50" on returning next season. Yet, as of Thursday, Reed is still on the AFC roster and scheduled to take the field again in less than two weeks.

But I don't expect that to happen.

Reed will visit with doctors soon to help determine his playing future, and it's highly unlikely playing in the Pro Bowl will be recommended. In addition to his neck, Reed also suffered groin and foot injuries during the season.

Numerous players, such as Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson, Miami Dolphins offensive tackle Jake Long and quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tom Brady of the New England Patriots, have backed out of the Pro Bowl to recover from injuries.

With so many thoughts on health, family and retirement, Reed probably didn't get to his decision just yet. But look for Reed to soon join a long list of Pro Bowl players this year who said "Thanks, but no thanks."
We tapped into Scouts Inc.’s Matt Williamson to assess three terrific Week 15 performances in the AFC North:

Harrison

Harrison

Small man, big game

Cleveland Browns tailback Jerome Harrison rushed for 286 yards -- the third most all time -- in a 41-34 win over the Kansas City Chiefs. Entering the game, the 5-foot-9 Harrison had just 301 yards rushing. He found his groove after halftime, rushing for three touchdowns.

"People forget this guy led the NCAA in rushing not too long ago," Williamson said of Harrison, who attended Washington State. "He knows how to accumulate yards, and he’s a very good runner who doesn’t get enough credit. Part of the problem is the Browns don’t trust him in pass protection."

Harrison's 34 carries Sunday were a career high. With tailback Jamal Lewis (concussion) on injured reserve, Harrison will continue to get more opportunities.
Cribbs

Cribbs

Cribbs takes it to the house

The price tag continues to rise for Browns kick returner Joshua Cribbs. He scored touchdowns on kickoff returns of 100 yards and 103 yards Sunday, giving Cribbs an NFL-record eight for his career.

Cribbs has 2,336 all-purpose yards this year and needs 323 more yards to break the NFL season mark held by receiver Derrick Mason (2,659 yards) in 2000.

Cribbs has a special mix of skills. He has the field vision of a quarterback, the speed of a receiver and the strength of a running back to break through tackles. The combination makes Cribbs arguably the NFL's most dangerous returner.

"I think he’s clearly the best right now," Williamson said. "Part of it is because Devin Hester has taken a back seat. He’s trying to be a full-time receiver, so Chicago doesn’t use him as a returner like they used to. But that’s not to take anything away from Cribbs. Cribbs is terrific, and I think he’s clearly the best all-around special-teams player in the league."

The Browns and Cribbs have been in a contract dispute for two seasons, but it appears he will have his contract redone after another great year.
Roethlisberger

Roethlisberger

Big day for Big Ben

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger passed for 503 yards, the 10th-best performance in NFL history, in a 37-36 win over the Green Bay Packers. Pittsburgh needed every yard as Roethlisberger’s 19-yard touchdown throw to receiver Mike Wallace won the game with no time remaining.

Roethlisberger has had big games before, but none more explosive than this one. His first throw was a 60-yard touchdown pass to Wallace.

"I thought they had a really great game plan against Green Bay," Williamson said. "It was the first time that I can really say [Packers cornerback] Al Harris has been missed. Charles Woodson is great, but the other corners can be exposed, and Pittsburgh exposed them."

Roethlisberger has another chance for a big game Sunday against the depleted secondary of the Baltimore Ravens (8-6). Ravens cornerbacks Lardarius Webb and Fabian Washington are out for the season with knee injuries, and safety Ed Reed has missed the past three games with groin and foot ailments.

How I See It: AFC North Stock Watch

October, 27, 2009
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NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker

Falling
Anderson
1. Derek Anderson, Browns quarterback

Anderson has the lowest passer rating (40.6) of any NFL starting quarterback. JaMarcus Russell (47.2) of the Oakland Raiders is second, and he was pulled over the weekend.

Yet, the Browns stuck with Anderson throughout their 31-3 loss to the Green Bay Packers. He played every snap and completed 12 of 29 passes for 99 yards and an interception. Anderson also will start Sunday against the Chicago Bears. The good news is the Bears allowed 45 points last week to the Cincinnati Bengals.
Robiskie
2. Brian Robiskie, Browns receiver

It hasn't been a good start to the season for rookie Brian Robiskie. It took Robiskie weeks to work his way off the inactive list, and now that he’s playing he hasn’t made any impact.

Last weekend, Green Bay Packers cornerbacks Charles Woodson and Al Harris schooled the second-round pick. Robiskie struggled to get open and was shut out for zero catches, despite being targeted five times.

It was a good learning experience for Robiskie, who has to keep working at his craft to help get the Browns out of their offensive struggles.
Gay
3. William Gay, Steelers cornerback

It was a tough day for the Pittsburgh Steelers' secondary in general against the Minnesota Vikings. But Gay had the toughest day in a 27-17 victory for Pittsburgh.

Vikings quarterback Brett Favre (334 passing yards) tested Gay, who had nine tackles and one pass defensed. But the toughest play for Gay was Minnesota tailback Adrian Peterson trucking him to the ground in what will surely be a season highlight. It was the football equivalent of being "posterized" in basketball.

Rising

1. Pittsburgh Steelers

The defending Super Bowl champions made a huge statement by being the first team to knock off the Minnesota Vikings (6-1). The Steelers (5-2) did it in unconventional fashion by scoring two defensive touchdowns.

But the game marked the biggest victory of the season for Pittsburgh and its fourth win in a row. After a slow start, the Steelers appear to be rounding into form. Pittsburgh now has a bye week to get healthy and prepare for its next game against the Denver Broncos on Nov. 9.
Palmer
2. Carson Palmer, Bengals quarterback

Palmer had the most efficient game of his career in Cincinnati’s 45-10 thrashing of the Chicago Bears. He completed 20 of 24 passes for 233 yards and five touchdowns. Palmer's passer rating of 146.7 was a career high.

It’s scary to think of the numbers Palmer could’ve put up if he hadn't been pulled early in the fourth quarter. He was in the zone in terms of reading coverages and getting the ball to his receivers with pinpoint accuracy. It will be interesting to see if Palmer maintains this momentum following Cincinnati's bye week.
Benson
3. Cedric Benson, Bengals running back

Benson was equally as good running the football for the Bengals. He was motivated to have a big game against his former team and set a career high with 189 yards and a touchdown on 37 carries.

The Bengals had no problem giving Benson every opportunity to stick it to his former team. It will probably be a game Benson will never forget. With Palmer airing it out and Benson running the ball, Cincinnati’s offensive performance against Chicago was as close to a perfect game as you will find in the NFL.

Ochocinco's checklist

September, 23, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker


CINCINNATI - Bengals star receiver Chad Ochocinco said Wednesday that he's looking forward to making Pittsburgh Steelers cornerbacks William Gay and Ike Taylor "kiss the baby."
ESPN’s James Walker
Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco is ready to make the Steelers "kiss the baby."

Cincinnati (1-1) hosts the reigning champion Steelers (1-1) Sunday in a big AFC North showdown at Paul Brown Stadium. Ochocinco is off to a good start this year with nine catches for 180 yards and a touchdown in two games. He’s averaging 20 yards per catch.

Ochocinco also has his infamous checklist back in full swing. I took a picture of it at his locker on Wednesday. It’s titled "Dulce Venganza," which is Spanish for "Sweet Revenge."

"Basically everybody is going to have to [pay] for everything that happened last year," Ochocinco explained. "It’s going to be interesting. We all know how the list goes up to this point. There’s no need to discuss who gets checked off. We all know everyone has been checked off so far. Ike Taylor and William Gay will be the next two to get checked off."

Ochocinco took the time to mark opposing cornerbacks off his list for the first time Wednesday. Ochocinco checked cornerbacks Al Harris and Charles Woodson of the Green Bay Packers after Cincinnati’s 31-24 win, as well as Andre Goodman of the Denver Broncos.

One player that wasn't marked was Champ Bailey of Denver. Ochocinco said he is showing his respect for the veteran corner. Denver won its season opener over Cincinnati, 12-7.

Looking ahead, will Ochocinco get the best of Taylor and Gay this weekend and therefore mark them off his list? Or will Ochocinco and the Bengals’ offense be stymied by Pittsburgh’s defense?

Bengals-Packers halftime notes

September, 20, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker


GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Packers and Cincinnati Bengals are tied in a shootout, 21-21, at intermission.

Here are some halftime notes:
  • Cincinnati tailback Cedric Benson is playing some of his best football as a Bengal. He is breaking tackles on first contact and often getting to the next level. Benson has 78 rushing yards in the first half.
  • Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer doesn’t seem to have all of his timing back at this point in the season. Some of his throws are great and some are baffling, such as his two picks to Packers cornerback Charles Woodson. On the first turnover, Woodson played under receiver Chad Ochocinco and Palmer failed to read it properly. On the second pick, Woodson baited Palmer and broke on the football for a pick six.
  • Cincinnati’s defense has been decent against Green Bay’s high-powered offense. Palmer’s picks have accounted for 14 of Green Bay’s 21 points so far. But the Packers have only notched one lengthy drive in the first half.
  • Both teams played a sloppy first half. For Cincinnati, the team continues to have patches of mental errors on offense. There have been a rash of false start penalties and holding calls negating big plays.
  • Packers safety Nick Collins injured his shoulder late in the second quarter and didn’t return. He walked off the field on his own and went into the locker room early. His return is questionable for the second half.

Pack attacks fast

September, 20, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker


GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Just when the Cincinnati Bengals gained some early confidence by scoring the first touchdown, the Packers quickly responded with back-to-back touchdowns to end the first quarter.

Green Bay receiver Donald Driver caught a 3-yard touchdown to tie the score. Then Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer made a poor read on the coverage and threw an interception to Charles Woodson to set up another touchdown to give the Packers a 14-7 lead.

The running game is working well as Bengals tailback Cedric Benson is off to a good start with 59 yards in the first quarter. Palmer has been decent minus that one bad throw, but quarterbacks can’t make those type of mistakes on the road if Cincinnati wants to pull the upset.

(Update: Shootout in Green Bay? The Bengals score their second touchdown on a Palmer quarterback sneak to tie the score, 14-14.)

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

The Cincinnati Bengals will open their 2008 preseason against the Green Bay Packers Monday night on ESPN at 8 p.m.

While most eyes will be on Packers staring quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the Bengals also have several major questions.

Here are some things to look for:

  • First and foremost, take a close look at Cincinnati's new-look defense under assistant coach Mike Zimmer. The unit is very young and in the process of trying to learn a new scheme. The good news is Rodgers, considering the circumstances, likely will play more than one series. So the Bengals should get a decent look from Green Bay's first-team offense.
  • Speaking of Cincinnati's defense, rookie linebacker Keith Rivers will make his debut tonight. The No. 9 overall pick was a late arrival to training camp and is trying to catch up to speed. He has a reputation as one of this year's most NFL-ready rookies, and he will get a chance to show that before a national audience.
  • Ben Utecht is expected to add another dimension to Cincinnati's offense as a pass-catching tight end. Utecht spent three years as a backup with the Indianapolis Colts but will be a full-time starter with the Bengals. It will be interesting to watch how his role begins to develop.
  • Starting receiver Chad Johnson would be higher on this list of what to watch, but reports out of Cincinnati indicate that he will be a game-time decision. Johnson recently returned to practice following June ankle surgery. Johnson would face a good test with Green Bay cornerbacks Al Harris and Charles Woodson if he decides to play.
  • Also watch the race for the No. 3 receiver spot. A plethora of players, which include Marcus Maxwell, Antonio Chatman and rookies Andre Caldwell and Jerome Simpson, will get an extended look to see who will step up. This will be one reason to watch closely in the second half while all of the starters are on the sidelines.

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