AFC North: Chris Gocong

The Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens will hold their mandatory minicamps this week, and I plan to make a stop at every one. Yes, three camps in three days. Along the way, I will see how the teams look (except for Pittsburgh, where they only allow local reporters to watch practice) and pick up some good grub (ribs are my staple in Cincinnati). Hopefully, my AFC North tour won't resemble anything like a road trip from the movies. My first stop is tomorrow in Cincinnati. Here's your wake-up call ...

RAVENS: Running back Ray Rice believes he's ahead of where he was last year, when he skipped offseason workouts after being given the franchise tag. He signed a five-year, $35 million contract last July and has been a fixture at Ravens headquarters this year. "I only missed one OTA for a family reason. I’ll be here for mandatory minicamp," Rice said, via The Baltimore Sun. "I wasn’t playing football at this time last year. That was totally different. I’m picking up right where I left off. It took me about a week and a half into camp to get my football stuff back. Now that I’m actually playing football, when training camp comes, start throwing stuff at me again, I will be able to pick up on it right away.”

BENGALS: Veteran center Kyle Cook has been mentoring the young players who are filling in for injured starters at the offseason workouts. But Cook knows he will have to battle Trevor Robinson for the starting center job in training camp, when Robinson is expected to recover from a shoulder injury. “If anything it is one more challenge for me to overcome. You do whatever you can to make this team and yourself better,” Cook told The Cincinnati Enquirer. “I don’t have a say, but if it is up to the way I play, perform and lead, I would like to think I will still be here.” Cook has made 53 starts, including the playoffs, over the past four seasons.

STEELERS: Coach Mike Tomlin doesn't believe the Steelers' 2012 team was fit and he didn't like how that team closed out games, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Five of the Steelers' eight losses were decided by three points. Tomlin has preached the importance of conditioning this spring, players told the paper. “Four games we should have won. Do that, and we're 12-4, but that's how the league goes,” linebacker Larry Foote said. “The year before, we made the playoffs and we could have lost four games. The bottom line is we lost some games that we should have won and we didn't.”

BROWNS: When the Browns cut linebacker Chris Gocong earlier this offseason, it was assumed that the team would replace him with either Craig Robertson or James-Michael Johnson. According to The Plain Dealer's Terry Pluto, the starting inside linebacker is Robertson and the backups are L.J. Fort and Tank Carder. "James-Michael Johnson seems nowhere in the plans and is likely to be cut," Pluto wrote of the Browns' fourth-round pick from a year ago. "He was considered a starter by the previous coaching staff. He had some injuries and missed six games. He did play 45 percent of the snaps when he was healthy. But he is lost in this system."
Some had projected that Chris Gocong would start at inside linebacker next to D'Qwell Jackson, and Usama Young would remain at free safety. Those projections were wrong.

The Cleveland Browns released Gocong and Young on Tuesday, wiping out $6.6 million in salary and creating more needs in the process. Neither move is a major surprise, because Gocong and Young were brought in by the previous regime.

The Browns now have two holes on defense, and they can't fill all of them in this month's draft. Cleveland has one pick in the first 67 selections in the draft.

Gocong, who started every game for the Browns in 2010 and 2011, didn't play last season because of an Achilles injury and was due $4.55 million in salary this season. The top candidates for left inside linebacker now are Craig Robertson and L.J. Fort. Robertson, who went undrafted in 2011, finished second on the Browns last season in tackles.

Young struggled last season in 10 starts at free safety and one at strong safety. He was scheduled to earn $2.1 million in the final year of his contract. Tashaun Gipson and Eric Hagg would compete for the spot if the Browns don't address it in the draft.

The Browns also announced the signing of free-agent kicker Brandon Bogotay, who went undrafted out of Georgia last year. In college, he was the kickoff specialist behind Vikings kicker Blair Walsh, who went to the Pro Bowl last season as a rookie.
So, 53 days after owner Jimmy Haslam announced there would be a battle for the starting quarterback job, the Cleveland Browns finally brought in the competition for Brandon Weeden.

Campbell
Jason Campbell was signed to a two-year contract Tuesday night, the team announced. This is a good fit for the Browns because offensive coordinator Norv Turner wants to stretch the field and Campbell has a big arm, the best in a weak free-agent class.

Campbell, who was considered one of the top three quarterbacks available when free agency began, is a legitimate threat to Weeden because of his experience and ability to read defenses. Unlike last season, when no one really bought into Colt McCoy overtaking Weeden, the battle between Weeden and Campbell isn't for show.

The new regime of chief executive officer Joe Banner and coach Rob Chudzinski didn't draft Weeden, so it should be a more level playing field. Even if Campbell doesn't win the job, he'll push Weeden to play better. The signing of Campbell likely ends McCoy's Browns career.

This marks Campbell's fourth team in five years. He was drafted by the Washington Redskins, where he went 20-32 as a starter, and had success with the Oakland Raiders in 2011 before suffering a broken collarbone on a tackle by Browns linebackers Scott Fujita and Chris Gocong. In his only start last season for the Chicago Bears, Campbell struggled against the San Francisco 49ers, throwing for 107 yards and two interceptions.

“Jason is an established leader who has started a number of games in this league and has had success,” Chudzinski said in a statement. “He brings us a veteran presence and a good set of physical tools. He played in a similar system when he was in Oakland and that will help in his transition.”

Campbell, 31, is entering his ninth NFL season and is only two years older than Weeden. If Campbell beats out Weeden, he would become the 19th starting quarterback for the Browns since they returned to the NFL in 1999.
Like every morning in the AFC North blog, here's your wake-up call ...

RAVENS: Even though Cam Cameron was fired as Ravens offensive coordinator during the regular season, he remained close with John Harbaugh and even texted the Ravens coach through the playoffs to give his support. "In my mind, he is definitely going to get a ring," Harbaugh told Sports Illustrated. "He deserves a ring." This is a good-will gesture by Harbaugh and the Ravens. Perhaps the Ravens will give one to Broncos safety Rahim Moore as well.

BENGALS: Hue Jackson, who was named the team's running backs coach, said the key to a successful running game is a mindset. "But Jay (Gruden, offensive coordinator) will set that tempo for the offensive football team and whatever he needs me to do to assist him that way," Jackson told the team's official website. "There is no question that I think being able to run the ball is the nuts and bolts of any football team. We have to make sure whatever runs that he wants have to be oiled up and ready. Whether it be the running back or the offensive line, the wide receiver, we all play a part in that."

STEELERS: Pittsburgh is one of six teams who have expressed interest in tackle-guard Jovan Olafioye, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Olafioye was honored as the best offensive lineman in the Canadian Football League but was turned down by the Packers medical staff recently because he requires medication to control hypertension. The Ravens recently gave him the parameters of an offer that Olafioye said “wasn’t even in the ballpark of what I was thinking of getting.”

BROWNS: The Akron Beacon Journal's Marla Ridenour believes the Browns must make defense the top offseason priority. "To blitz as much as (defensive coordinator Ray) Horton prefers will make another top cover cornerback a high priority, perhaps the No. 1 priority," Ridenour wrote. "They also must find a starting free safety, several linebackers and a Pro Bowl-caliber pass rusher. They must decide if third-year defensive end Jabaal Sheard can play outside linebacker, if linebacker Chris Gocong, who ruptured his Achilles Aug. 4, can be counted on and figure out what to do with massive defensive tackle Phil Taylor."

Rough start for AFC North defenses

September, 19, 2012
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The AFC North is a division known for its defenses. Last year, all four teams finished in the top 10 in defense and there was a point during the season when they held the top four spots.

The 2012 season has been a complete turnaround so far. Three teams -- the Ravens, Browns and Bengals -- rank in the bottom six in defense. They're all giving up more than 400 yards per game. The Steelers, who had the top-ranked defense a year ago, are currently at No. 7.

There hasn't been a major turnover in starting lineups. Each team that has dropped in the defensive rankings didn't return two starters: Bengals (defensive end Frostee Rucker, safety Chris Crocker), Browns (defensive end Jayme Mitchell and safety Mike Adams) and Ravens (defensive end Cory Redding and linebacker Jarret Johnson).

What has really hurt these defenses has been injuries. Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, is out indefinitely with an Achilles injury for the Ravens. For the Browns, outside linebacker Chris Gocong (Achilles) is out for the season and defensive tackle Phil Taylor (torn pectoral muscle) will miss at least the first six games. And the Bengals have been without defensive end Carlos Dunlap (knee) for two games and won't have outside linebacker Thomas Howard (knee), last year's leading tackler, for the rest of the season.

The Steelers, whose defense hasn't plummeted like the rest of the AFC North, had two former defensive players of the year (James Harrison and Troy Polamalu) on the sideline Sunday.

The loss of those starters has impacted the statistics and the results of games. The Ravens' defense, which has gone from No. 3 to No. 27, gave up the winning touchdown to Michael Vick with 1:55 remaining last Sunday. The Bengals' defense, which has fallen from No. 7 to No. 30, has allowed its first two opponents to gain more than 400 yards for the second time since 1981, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. And the Browns' defense, which has dropped from No. 10 to No. 29, surrendered the winning touchdown pass from Vick with 1:18 left in the season opener.

I thought this was going to be a tougher year for defenses in this division just based on the schedule. Unlike last year, when they faced mediocre offenses in the NFC West and AFC South, the AFC North defenses are lining up against Vick, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Tony Romo. But no one predicted such a rough start for a division that prides itself on dominating defenses.

AFC North's $5 million-plus club

September, 3, 2012
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Ever wonder who gets paid the most in the AFC North? Well, Labor Day is your lucky day. Let's take a look at the players who average more than $5 million per season over the life of their contract. That includes salary, signing bonus, workout bonuses, etc.

The AFC North team with the most members in the $5 million-plus club is the Steelers with nine. The Bengals have the fewest with six. Only one quarterback in the division, Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger, is at this level. Baltimore's Joe Flacco, who averages $4.76 million, will move up in 2013 whether it's with a new contract or the franchise tag.

Here's a look at the highest-paid players in the AFC North (average per season over life of contract):

BENGALS

CB Leon Hall: $9.7 million

LT Andrew Whitworth: $6 million

DT Domata Peko: $5.5 million

CB Nate Clements: $5.2

DE Robert Geathers: $5.1

RT Andre Smith: $5.1 million

BROWNS

LT Joe Thomas: $11.5 million

DT Ahtyba Rubin: $8.83 million

CB Joe Haden: $8 million

LB D'Qwell Jackson: $7.7 million

LB Chris Gocong: $5.6 million

CB Dimitri Patterson: $5.35 million

RB Trent Richardson: $5.1 million

RAVENS

DT Haloti Ngata: $12.2 million

LB Terrell Suggs: $10.4 million

WR Anquan Boldin: $8.3 million

CB Lardarius Webb: $8.3 million

RB Ray Rice: $7 million

OT Marshal Yanda: $6.4 million

LB Ray Lewis: $6.3 million

S Ed Reed: $6.3 million

STEELERS

QB Ben Roethlisberger: $14.6 million

LB LaMarr Woodley: $10.2 million

S Troy Polamalu: $9.8 million

LB Lawrence Timmons: $9.5 million

LB James Harrison: $8.7 million

WR Antonio Brown: $8.3 million

CB Ike Taylor: $7 million

TE Heath Miller: $6.7 million

G Willie Colon: $5.8 million
Nearly all the AFC North teams played it safe in Thursday night's preseason finales. Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco and Brandon Weeden all sat out and watched the backup quarterbacks play.

The only starter who played, the Bengals' Andy Dalton, left in the first quarter with an injury but it's not considered serious. Dalton said his hand went "a little numb" after getting hit in the arm but it's "no problem at all." Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said, "Andy’s fine. He’ll be fine for Baltimore. He would have gone right back in this game if it had been the regular season.” So, crisis averted.

If you couldn't watch all four division teams play simultaneously, you're in luck. I had my eye on each one and here are some observations:

BENGALS AT COLTS

In the 20-16 loss at Indianapolis, Dalton was hurt on the opening drive after getting sandwiched. Offensive tackles Andrew Whitworth and Dennis Roland both got beaten for sacks on the play. It hasn't been a great preseason for Whitworth, who is the second-best left tackle in the division.

The Bengals didn't play their top two running backs, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Bernard Scott, because both are recovering from injuries and are getting ready for the regular-season opener. For once, Cincinnati's run game didn't suffer. Brian Leonard ran hard and broke tackles for 27 yards on three carries. Cedric Peerman, who makes more of an impact on special teams, looked good on a 13-yard run up the middle.

No one wants to see Dalton hurt. The Bengals, though, have to feel comfortable with backup Bruce Gradkowski. He finished 12 of 19 for 95 yards and led his fourth touchdown drive of the preseason.

Rookie wide receiver Marvin Jones displayed some resiliency in the second quarter. On the same drive in which he dropped a touchdown pass, he came back to catch a back-shoulder throw from Gradkowski and ran into the end zone. Jones is making a push for some playing time this year.

BEARS AT BROWNS

In the 28-20 loss to Chicago, Colt McCoy watched his strong preseason take a nosedive. In his first start this summer, McCoy was 2 of 5 for 16 yards for a 9.1 quarterback rating. That's going to put a dent into McCoy's 119.1 rating from the first three games. McCoy was also intercepted on a high pass that was thrown with no pressure around him. The Browns will let everyone know what they plan to do with McCoy on Friday.

The Browns have a concern at linebacker after rookie James-Michael Johnson left with an oblique injury. With Chris Gocong out for the season with an Achilles injury and Scott Fujita facing a three-game suspension from the NFL, Cleveland planned to depend on Johnson and Kaluka Maiava. The Browns might need Fujita to win his appeal to avoid going deeper on the depth chart. Johnson was having a strong performance before getting injured on an open-field tackle.

Backup running back Montario Hardesty had trouble getting back to the line of scrimmage because he got little help from his blockers. He finished with 24 yards on six carries and he didn't fumble for the first time since the preseason opener. Brandon Jackson fared much better, gaining 48 yards on seven carries.

Cornerback James Dockery was flagged twice for pass interference in the second quarter. The second one eventually led to a touchdown. Rookie cornerback Trevin Wade was physical and had good coverage in allowing the first touchdown of the game.

As if the Browns needed something else to worry about, they have to iron some things out on special teams. Reggie Hodges got his second punt blocked this preseason.

RAVENS AT RAMS

In a 31-17 loss at St. Louis, Sergio Kindle hurt his chances of surviving Friday's cutdown. He hit quarterback Sam Bradford a full second late, drawing a roughing-the-passer penalty to help the Rams convert third-and-22. Kindle, a 2010 second-round pick, was on the bubble entering this game.

Continuing Thursday night's trend of rookies getting hurt, second-round pick Courtney Upshaw will have an MRI for his strained shoulder, according to coach John Harbaugh. Upshaw has been backing up Albert McClellan at outside linebacker.

Veteran linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo had his worst game with the Ravens. Working with the first-team defense because most of the starters sat, Ayanbadejo struggled against the run and got lost in coverage. It was so bad that he apologized for his performance on Twitter.

What I like the most about Tyrod Taylor, who started in place of Flacco, is his ability to make plays with his legs. Even though he focused more on being a pocket passer, Taylor wasn't hesitant to take off for a 22-yard scramble. He did get stripped from behind earlier in the game, but it was the result of a third-string lineman (Cord Howard) getting beat by a former first-round pick (Robert Quinn).

Looking at Curtis Painter's up-and-down performance, I'm not sure he convinced the Ravens to keep three quarterbacks. He threw two touchdowns and was intercepted three times. One interception was returned 76 yards for a touchdown.

Justin Tucker missed his first kick of the preseason, but it's difficult to be critical of him. It was a 57-yard attempt. He later hit a 49-yarder in the third quarter.

PANTHERS AT STEELERS

If this was Charlie Batch's last game with the Steelers, he made it a memorable one, or at least as memorable as the preseason gets. In the 17-16 victory over Carolina, he completed 11 of 14 passes for 102 yards. Batch showed great touch in leading Emmauel Sanders out of double coverage for a 37-yard touchdown. The new rule regarding injured reserve helps Batch's chances of sticking around Pittsburgh for an 11th season, but there's no guarantee that he'll make the cut.

For the second consecutive week, a Steelers draft pick went down with a serious knee injury. With two minutes left in the third quarter, linebacker Sean Spence hyperextended his knee while chasing quarterback Jimmy Clausen. Spence's knee bent awkwardly underneath him, and the third-round pick needed to be carted off the field. Spence was expected to make an impact on special teams this season and could have received playing time if there were injuries at inside linebacker. Unlike David DeCastro's knee injury, this one happened on the natural grass of Heinz Field.

This isn't a newsflash, but rookie running back-receiver-returner Chris Rainey is a game-changer. He twice scored on punt returns in one quarter, only to have both brought back because of penalties. This would've given him the touchdown trifecta. The fifth-round pick had scored on a 41-yard run and a 57-yard catch this summer.

Nose tackle Casey Hampton made his preseason debut after having ACL surgery in January. His presence was felt immediately as he got off a block from guard Mike Pollak and made a tackle. Hampton's return was good to see for the Steelers, even though Steve McLendon has played well enough to start.

Jonathan Dwyer solidfied himself as the primary backup to Isaac Redman, and the Steelers could need him based on Redman's durability. Dwyer was physical (even delivered a stiff-arm) and showed good feet to elude tacklers. He finished with 63 yards on 13 carries, a 4.8-yard average.

Predicting win total: Browns

August, 29, 2012
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The AFC North blog is revisiting the "More or Less" post all this week, the one where ESPN's John Clayton predicted the win total for every team in the NFL.

Clayton made his predictions in June, and a lot has changed with the teams since that time. The next team up is the Cleveland Browns, who are forecasted to go 4-12.

SportsNation

How many games will the Browns win this season?

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While the injury to defensive tackle Phil Taylor was known at that time, the Browns have had to deal with other issues as well over the past couple of months. Running back Trent Richardson, the team's top pick, hasn't played this preseason after having his knee scoped early in training camp. He is hopeful about playing in the season opener, although he will probably be limited.

The most serious injury was sustained by linebacker Chris Gocong, who was put on injured reserve after tearing his Achilles. The Browns also might be losing cornerback Joe Haden, who is facing a four-game suspension from the NFL for a failed drug test.

On a positive note, the Browns add wide receiver Josh Gordon from the supplemental draft since the original prediction. He would be the fourth rookie starting on offense for Cleveland.

So, will the Browns finish with more or less than four wins this season? Record your vote in the poll and give me feedback on your prediction by writing to the mailbag.
The biggest challenge for defensive coordinator Dick Jauron is to patch up the Browns' dismal run defense. It's become even more difficult to do so because Cleveland is trying to patch up holes in the starting lineup as well.

Only two starters in the Browns' front seven are healthy and expected to play in Thursday's preseason game against the Packers. Outside linebacker Chris Gocong is out for the season with an Achilles injury, and defensive tackle Phil Taylor is expected to miss at least the first six games of the season after having surgery on a torn pectoral muscle. The others who will likely be sidelined Thursday are: outside linebacker Scott Fujita (left leg), middle linebacker D'Qwell Jackson (shoulder) and defensive end Frostee Rucker (right knee).

The depleted Browns defense gave up 115 yards rushing in the first half at Detroit a week ago. The Browns showed no containment on outside runs and got gashed on runs up the middle.

This was reminiscent of last season, when teams averaged 147.4 yards on the ground per game against Cleveland. Only St. Louis and Tampa Bay had worse run defenses in 2011.

“I know we are a better defense, a deeper defense, and I believe we are a tougher defense than we were a year ago," Jauron said. "How that translates statistically, I don’t have a clue.”

No regrets for new Browns owner

August, 9, 2012
8/09/12
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New Browns owner Jimmy Haslam III has received a rude welcome to life in the NFL.

In the seven days since he bought the Browns for $1 billion, linebacker Chris Gocong has gone down with a season-ending Achilles injury, top draft pick Trent Richardson has been scheduled for surgery to clean out his left knee and cornerback Joe Haden has reportedly failed a drug test, which could lead to a four-game suspension.

SportsNation

What's the biggest concern for the Browns right now?

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    10%
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A change in ownership apparently hasn't changed the Browns' run of bad luck. Haslam, though, isn't expressing buyer's remorse.

"That's part of football," Haslam told reporters at Family Fun Night practice at Cleveland Browns Stadium on Wednesday night. "I'm confident listening to everybody that we have a good, young team that's headed in the right direction."

Many have assumed that Haslam will want to put his stamp on the franchise and overhaul the major decision-makers on the team, which Browns fans are quite used to over the years. While Haslam hasn't made any decisions yet, he hinted that he won't make a change simply to make a change.

"They've averaged a new coach once every 2.8 years [since the franchise returned to Cleveland in 1999],'' Haslam told Sports Illustrated's Peter King, "and that's just not a good recipe."

Haslam added, "One thing I learned from watching the Steelers is the importance of consistency in coaching, and how much it sets you back when you're always making a change. When you change coaches, it can be a three- or four-year deal to get back."
Browns cornerback Joe Haden could receive a four-game suspension from the NFL, sources told WKNR in Cleveland.

Haden
One source told WKNR that Haden tested positive for the prescription drug Adderall, a banned substance in the NFL that is commonly prescribed to treat attention deficit disorder and narcolepsy, during a routine offseason test.

The site is reporting that Haden has been notified of a positive first test and would be suspended if a second test from the original sample shows up positive.

Spokesmen for the Browns and the NFL declined to comment on the report.

Haden is considered one of the top young cornerbacks in the league. This would be the latest hit to a defense that might be without three starters in the season opener. Outside linebacker Chris Gocong (Achilles) is out for the season, defensive tackle Phil Taylor (pectoral muscle) is expected to be sidelined for at least the first six games and outside linebacker Scott Fujita (suspension) is scheduled to miss the first three games.
This offseason has made it tough for the Browns to get their run defense on track.

Gocong
The Browns' latest setback came Saturday, when coach Pat Shurmur confirmed that outside linebacker Chris Gocong is out for the season. He tore his right Achilles tendon and will undergo surgery Monday, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

"We're disappointed he got hurt," Shurmur told the paper. "I'm very fond of Chris and the effort he puts into being a good football player. Anytime a good football player like that gets hurt, unfortunately there's a loss there."

Shurmur added, "The challenge for us is to cover it up with the guys that are on this roster. I talked to Chris, he's fine. Unfortunately we're moving on and he understands that."

The Browns will move forward, but the question is whether the run defense will take a step backward. It was three months ago when defensive tackle Phil Taylor had surgery on his pectoral muscle. He is expected to miss at least the first six games.

Cleveland will also be without outside linebacker Scott Fujita, who has been suspended for the first three games because of his role in the Saints bounty scandal.

So the Browns will go with two backups at outside linebacker, likely Kaluka Maiava and rookie James-Michael Johnson, for the first part of the regular season. Stopping the run will become a bigger challenge for Cleveland, which had the NFL's third-worst run defense last season.

The Browns' first three regular-season opponents this year are Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Buffalo. The Eagles and Bills both ranked in the top half of the league in rushing in 2011.

Gocong, 28, who is scheduled to make $4.5 million this year, made 67 tackles last season, which ranked third on the Browns.
The Cleveland Browns suffered their first major injury of training camp and it could be a "huge hit" to their defense.

The Browns fear that outside linebacker Chris Gocong injured his Achilles and is out for the season, sources told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Gocong, who was carted off the field, will undergo an MRI on Saturday.

"It would be a huge hit," linebacker D'Qwell Jackson told the Plain Dealer. "Chris is a great player."

While this is the first serious injury of Browns training camp, this isn't the first issue for the Cleveland defense. If Gocong is out, the Browns likely will start three backups in their front seven for the first part of the regular season.

Defensive tackle Phil Taylor is on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list and is expected to miss at least the first six games of the regular season. Strong-side linebacker Scott Fujita has been suspended by the NFL for the first three games for his role in the Saints' bounty scandal.

Now, with Gocong hurt, the Browns have to determine what to do at linebacker. One option is to start Kaluka Maiava, who started the last five games in 2011, and rookie fourth-round pick James-Michael Johnson, who has been impressive in camp, at outside linebacker.

This is just the latest Achilles injury to hit the division. Bengals cornerback Leon Hall tore his Achilles on Nov. 13. The Ravens have had two linebackers go down with Achilles this offseason: Terrell Suggs and Michael McAdoo. The Browns lost punter Reggie Hodges for the season after he injured his Achilles in last year's training camp.
Browns linebacker Scott Fujita's appeal was rejected by the NFL, which should come as a surprise to no one. But there was one interesting turn: there's still a chance that the suspensions could get reduced.

In the league's announcement of upholding the decision, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told Fujita and the three other players disciplined by the bounty scandal (Jonathan Vilma, Anthony Hargrove and Will Smith) that he still wants to hear what they have to say.

"While this decision constitutes my final and binding determination under the CBA, I of course retain the inherent authority to reduce a suspension should facts be brought to my attention warranting the exercise of that discretion,” Goodell wrote to the players. “The record confirms that each of you was given multiple chances to meet with me to present your side of the story. You are each still welcome to do so.”

Don't expect Fujita's suspension to get cut down. I would categorize his chances as slim at best. He received the lightest suspension among the players disciplined and he was the most vocal during the process, calling the NFL investigation "a smear campaign." Fujita also didn't endear himself to the commissioner when he shook hands with him during the hearings only to ask, "'What the hell are you doing, Roger?"

If Fujita misses the first three games of the season, the Browns have a couple of options. Like they did when Fujita was hurt last season, the Browns could move Chris Gocong from weak to strong-side linebacker and start Kaluka Maiava on the weak side. Cleveland could also use rookie fourth-round linebacker James-Michael Johnson at Fujita's spot.

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