AFC North: Chris Owens

CB Chris Owens visited Steelers

March, 20, 2014
Mar 20
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PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers hosted veteran cornerback Chris Owens for a visit this week, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Caplan.

Owens played 13 games last season, recording 58 tackles and 2 sacks. The 5-foot-9, 180-pounder also broke up three passes.

Owens played 12 games for the Browns before hurting his knee. The Dolphins signed the fifth-year veteran in December after the Browns released Owens following an injury settlement, and he played one game for Miami.

Owens has played for three NFL teams, including the Falcons, who took him in the third round of the 2009 draft, six picks ahead of former Steelers cornerback Keenan Lewis.

The Steelers need to add depth at cornerback and Owens, 27, would fit the profile of the kind of player they are looking to sign.

In other Steelers’ news:
  • ESPN.com Panthers writer David Newton reported that wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery's two-year deal with Carolina could be worth as much as $5 million. Good for Cotchery, but that price proved to be too far out of the Steelers’ range. Team president Art Rooney II told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that despite the loss of Cotchery and other free agents he is “happy with the progress” the Steelers have made. “I’m satisfied with the progress we've made in general to this date, the signings we've made,” Rooney said. "We have more work to do. It's early in the game as far as preseason preparations. I'm happy with the progress we've made so far.”
  • The Steelers were well represented at Notre Dame Pro Day on Thursday. Both general manager Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin attended the workout for Irish draft prospects, according to Yahoo Sports’ Eric Edholm. Notre Dame nose tackle Louis Nix III and defensive end Stephon Truitt could be targets for the Steelers early in the draft.

AFC North depth chart musings

August, 5, 2013
8/05/13
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Three of the four AFC North teams released their "unofficial" depth charts because the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns kick off their preseason Thursday. The Pittsburgh Steelers, who open their preseason Saturday, haven't put out a depth chart.

Here are some thoughts on how the teams have their players stacked up ...

BALTIMORE RAVENS
CINCINNATI BENGALS
  • The biggest surprise on the Bengals' depth chart was George Iloka being listed as the starting strong safety. Taylor Mays and Shawn Williams are behind him, in that order. The Bengals have been rotating Iloka, Mays and Williams throughout training camp. Most expect Williams, a rookie third-round pick, to eventually come out on top at some point this season.
  • At cornerback, just like last season, Leon Hall and Terence Newman are the top cornerbacks. Dre Kirkpatrick, last year's top pick, is behind Newman and Brandon Ghee. Kirkpatrick, who's had a strong camp, should figure into the team's nickel defense.
  • The name that stuck out on offense was Orson Charles. The converted tight end is already ahead of John Conner on the fullback depth chart. Charles, who is more of an H-back, has been among the most pleasant surprises this camp. Chris Pressley, last year's starter, is on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list with a knee injury.
  • On special teams, Adam Jones is ahead of Brandon Tate on punt returns. Jones and Tate split time at this spot last season, but I always thought Jones was the more explosive and dangerous returner.
CLEVELAND BROWNS
  • Brandon Weeden listed as the starting quarterback. He is followed by Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer. This is how I foresee the depth chart looking heading into the regular season.
  • Not a good sign for 2011 fourth-round pick Owen Marecic. Chris Ogbonnaya, a third-down back for his career, is currently the starting fullback. He offers more versatility in Norv Turner's offense than Marecic, who was benched last year by the former coaching staff.
  • On the offensive line, the Browns have co-starters listed at left guard (John Greco and Jason Pinkston) and right guard (Pinkston and Shawn Lauvao). Given that the Browns signed Greco to a new contract, he is considered the favorite at left guard. Pinkston and Lauvao will compete for the right guard spot.
  • On defense, Jabaal Sheard is ahead of rookie first-round pick Barkevious Mingo at outside linebacker and Buster Skrine and Chris Owens are listed as co-starters at right cornerback. Rookie third-round pick Leon McFadden is behind Joe Haden at left cornerback. I project Owens and McFadden will continue to split time at right cornerback, and Skrine will get snaps at the slot corner.
For a full transcript of this week's AFC North chat, you can click right here. For some highlights, just read on ...

BALTIMORE RAVENS

Sebastian (Baltimore): Do you think the Ravens will make the playoffs?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): While some will accuse me of drinking the purple Kool-Aid, I still believe the Ravens are a playoff team. There's no question that the loss of Dennis Pitta (hip) for the season hurts the Ravens. But this isn't like 2001, when the Ravens lost running back Jamal Lewis. The defense will be better than last year, especially against the run, and the Ravens will still be able to run the ball with [Ray] Rice, [Bernard] Pierce and [Vonta] Leach.

Brad (Baltimore): In your guess how do you see the Ravens WR depth chart unfolding?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): My projection is this: Torrey Smith, Tandon Doss, Jacoby Jones, Deonte Thompson and either David Reed or LaQuan Williams for that last spot (which is really a special-teams spot). I feel Doss complements Smith more than Jones. Plus, Jones can be the full-time returner if he's the No. 3 receiver like last year.

CINCINNATI BENGALS

Ricky (Cincinnati): What are the odds that George Iloka actually starts opposite Reggie Nelson this year for the Bengals?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): My pecking order for the Bengals' strong safety spot is Shawn Williams, Taylor Mays and George Iloka. I like Iloka and the Bengals do as well. His style of play is better suited for free safety. Williams is smart and has good instincts. He could start as a rookie.

Michael (Canton, OH): Living in Canton and all the festivities that have been happening, I've been wondering if any player from the Bengals will join Anthony Munoz in the Hall of Fame?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): As long as the Bengals can figure out a way to keep him there long term, A.J. Green will be a Hall of Fame receiver if he continues on this path. He is clearly the best player on the Bengals' team. But he's only in his third season. There's a lot of football to be played by Green.

CLEVELAND BROWNS

Browns Fan (Living in Cincy): I am very curious who you think will be lining up at CB across from Joe Haden and who will lining up at the other saftey position next to Ward? Thanks.

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): I'm pretty confident in saying Tashaun Gipson will be the free safety lining up next to T.J. Ward. The cornerback position is more up in the air. The Browns want rookie third-round pick Leon McFadden to win the job. But, if the season began today, the Browns would start Chris Owens.

Charles (Columbus, OH): Look into your crystal ball for me. Is Barkevious Mingo be a boom or bust in Cleveland?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): I believe Mingo will be a very effective pass-rusher. I still have questions on whether he will hold up against the run.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Luke (Carlisle, Pa.): Any news or updates on the Sean Spence front?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): Spence is on the PUP [physically unable to perform] list and can't practice in training camp. It's going to be a long road back from that devastating knee injury. But Spence has tested it out cutting and has gained some of his speed back.

Greg (Williamsport, PA): Any updates on Heath Miller? When do you expect him back this year?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): Miller told the team's website that he can run and make cuts, but he gave no timetable on his return from ACL surgery. If the Steelers believe he can play in October, they will take him off PUP. If they see him out for a longer period, the Steelers will keep him on PUP, which sidelines him for at least the first six weeks.
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

One key positional battle for each AFC North team as training camps get underway.

Baltimore Ravens: No. 2 wide receiver. The Ravens are hoping Jacoby Jones steps up and wins this job. Baltimore named him the No. 2 receiver going into training camp, but there's no guarantee he will remain there. Jones is the most experienced option in a battle that includes Tandon Doss, Deonte Thompson, David Reed, LaQuan Williams and Tommy Streeter. But Jones has never produced more than 562 receiving yards in any of his six NFL seasons. The Ravens believe Thompson has the talent to develop into a productive receiver at this level, and Doss looks much improved from last season. Thompson is a speed receiver like Jones, but Doss is a better route-runner. David Reed is also in the mix, too.

Cincinnati Bengals: Strong safety. While there will be competition at the cornerback spot opposite Leon Hall, the strong safety position is the most unsettled area on what could be one of the top defenses in the NFL. It's been a trouble spot for years, and the Bengals didn't address it in free agency or in the first two rounds of the draft. Shawn Williams, a third-round pick, is considered the early favorite. The Bengals have been impressed with his ability to pick up the defense and feel he has the physical presence needed to excel at this position. George Iloka is the dark horse in the competition after having a strong offseason. But he might be a better fit at free safety, where the Bengals already have Reggie Nelson. Taylor Mays failed to win the job last season, so it's difficult to project him winning it this year.

Cleveland Browns: Cornerback. The Browns have one of the top young cornerbacks in the NFL in Joe Haden on one side and a major question mark on the other. It will come down to rookie Leon McFadden, Chris Owens and Buster Skrine. McFadden, a third-round pick, has been running primarily with the second team during offseason workouts, but he is the most talented defender in this battle. Even though he lacks size, he is extremely confident and competitive. Owens has been getting time with the starters despite struggling with consistency for most of his career. He was benched at times last season, when he was the nickel back for the Atlanta Falcons. Skrine has the speed you want at this position. He just doesn't have the technique down. Skrine continually put himself in bad situations last season, committing nine penalties.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Running back. While the Steelers have yet to name a starter, there's a feeling that this is rookie Le'Veon Bell's job to lose. The Steelers used a second-round pick on Bell because they felt Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman failed to get the job done last season. Bell was a workhorse in college and brings more big-play ability than Dwyer and Redman. His strength is generating yards after contact. This could end up being more of a competition for the backup job. Dwyer and Redman are both similar running backs, and the Steelers likely will only keep one. LaRod Stephens-Howling, a free-agent pickup from the Arizona Cardinals, will factor in as a third-down back and a returner. He essentially replaces Chris Rainey, who was released in January after getting arrested for a second time on a domestic violence incident.
A look at the one move each team in the AFC North needed to make but didn't:

Baltimore Ravens: Sign a veteran wide receiver in free agency. The Ravens addressed all the losses from their Super Bowl team except one. Baltimore traded Anquan Boldin, its leader in receiving yards the past three seasons, to the San Francisco 49ers and didn't sign a receiver in free agency or draft one until the seventh round. Even though Boldin was never a 1,000-yard receiver for the Ravens, Joe Flacco depended on him in clutch situations. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Boldin led the Ravens with 43 targets on third down this season (including the playoffs) and ranked seventh among wide receivers with 29 catches on third down. The Ravens are banking on Jacoby Jones to replace Boldin, but that could reduce Jones' role as a returner. Tight end Dennis Pitta will likely absorb Boldin's production in the passing game.

Cincinnati Bengals: Add a proven starter at strong safety. This is a move the Bengals have needed to make for a couple of seasons. Cincinnati has talent and depth throughout a defense that should end up being one of the top five in the NFL this season. The soft spot on defense is at safety, where the Bengals will start Taylor Mays, Shawn Williams or George Iloka. This was a trouble spot last season when the Bengals shuffled Mays, Jeromy Miles and Nate Clements at strong safety for the first four games before re-signing Chris Crocker. The Bengals passed on a free-agent safety in his prime, Dashon Goldson, even though they were among the teams with the most salary-cap room entering free agency. At this point, the Bengals have a top-notch free safety in Reggie Nelson and a big question mark at strong safety.

Cleveland Browns: Bring in a starting cornerback. There was no criticism over the Browns not bringing back Sheldon Brown, who started the past three seasons for Cleveland. The second-guessing comes from the fact that the Browns did the minimum to replace him. They drafted Leon McFadden in the third round and didn't sign an established starter in free agency. The most high-profile cornerback signed by the Browns was Chris Owens, who was benched last season when he was the Atlanta Falcons' nickelback. Like the Bengals, Cleveland had the salary-cap room to make a significant upgrade. The Browns had free agent Brent Grimes in for a visit before he signed with the Miami Dolphins, and they didn't actively pursue the likes of free agents Sean Smith, Keenan Lewis, Antoine Cason, Chris Houston and Aqib Talib. There is a big drop-off from Joe Haden to the rest of the cornerbacks.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Add a tight end as insurance for Heath Miller. Some have speculated that the Steelers' ignoring of the tight end position this offseason is a sign the team expects Miller to be ready for the start of the season. Miller, who had a resurgence in Todd Haley's first season as offensive coordinator, tore knee ligaments late in the season and had surgery Jan. 2. The last word on Miller came in late May, when there was a report he was running 100-yard sprints. Still, it's unknown whether Miller will be suiting up for the Sept. 8 opener against the Tennessee Titans. The Steelers have put themselves in a predicament if Miller is sidelined for an extended period. The Steelers signed Matt Spaeth in free agency, but he's a run-blocking tight end. He has averaged eight catches per season. The only other tight end with any experience is David Paulson, who had seven catches last season as a rookie. This combination isn't going to replace Miller's 71 catches and eight touchdowns from a season ago.
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

How does each AFC North team look in the secondary, and what still needs to be done?

Baltimore Ravens: I expect the Ravens’ secondary, like the rest of their defense, to be vastly improved from a year ago. Of course I realize that nine-time Pro Bowler Ed Reed is gone, along with fellow starting safety Bernard Pollard and starting cornerback Cary Williams. I felt Williams’ value was overblown during the Ravens’ Super Bowl run, and, while he is an enforcer, Pollard is a liability in coverage. As for Reed, well, he isn’t what he once was, but of course his ability to quarterback the secondary and make plays on the ball is still very valuable. Reed and Pollard were replaced by veteran Michael Huff and Matt Elam, the 32nd overall pick of the draft. Expect Huff to more often than not play the Reed role, as a deep middle player, but Huff also has cornerback skills and can play man coverage against wide receivers. Elam is a great hitter like Pollard, but is much younger and has tons more upside. Baltimore’s safeties are better in 2013. But the key here is the return of Lardarius Webb, one of the best corners in football who no one seems to know. Corey Graham was very solid for the Ravens last year, but it is Jimmy Smith who needs to step up. If that happens, this secondary should be among the league’s best, but depth here overall isn’t great.

Cincinnati Bengals: Overall, this looks like a fine group, with a lot of able bodies and depth. The safety spot next to Reggie Nelson, who has played at a Pro Bowl level since arriving in Cincinnati, might have been the Bengals’ worst starter in 2012, but the drafting of Shawn Williams in the third round should improve that situation. Expect Williams to unseat Taylor Mays before long. At corner, Leon Hall is the top guy, but the Bengals also get 2012 first-round pick Dre Kirkpatrick back from injury, so this will more or less be his rookie season. Terence Newman should start if Kirkpatrick isn’t ready; Newman proved to have quite a bit left in the tank during the 2012 season. Adam Jones obviously entered the NFL with a ton of physical ability. At this stage of his tumultuous career, Jones has established himself as one of the top No. 3 cornerbacks in the league. There might not be a true star on the back end of Cincinnati’s defense, but overall it is a quality, well-coached unit with a good blend of veterans and youth. If Kirkpatrick hits big, this secondary could be exceptional.

Cleveland Browns: Joe Haden is the star here. He is a top-five-type corner and is capable of shutting down the opponent’s No. 1 wideout -- and could get better. The only other top-flight member of Cleveland’s secondary is T.J. Ward, a very capable two-way safety who could be on the verge of a true breakout in 2013. Beyond Haden and Ward, the Browns’ secondary has a lot of question marks. Third-round cornerback Leon McFadden is a good-looking prospect, and Cleveland picked up Chris Owens on the cheap for cornerback depth. Is McFadden ready for a starting role that will be sure to attract attention from every quarterback the Browns face? Also in the mix is Buster Skrine, who is best suited as a third corner. Several players will be fighting for playing time at safety alongside Ward, with sixth-round pick Jamoris Slaughter possessing the most long-term upside of that group of relative unknowns. Overall, the Browns’ secondary might be a major priority for upgrade after the 2013 season, but at least Cleveland looks to have significantly improved its pass rush, which could mask some coverage problems.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Keenan Lewis emerged at cornerback for the Steelers last season, but he is now playing for the Saints. Pittsburgh also allowed its depth safeties, Ryan Mundy and Will Allen, to depart via free agency. The only prominent secondary signing was former Steeler William Gay, who is obviously familiar with the system. Gay isn’t starting caliber, but he can play outside or in the slot as a third or fourth cornerback. Ike Taylor often shadows the opponent’s top wideout and overall has done a very good job. He rarely secures the interception, but Taylor is a high-end coverage player. The Steelers are counting on Cortez Allen to replace Lewis opposite Taylor. From what we saw from Allen in 2012, he should be ready for full-time action. Lewis, Gay, Taylor and Allen were all Pittsburgh mid-round picks that the Steelers developed. This past draft they again used a mid-round pick on the position with Terry Hawthorne. They did the same in 2011 with Curtis Brown. As most of these mid-rounders do, Hawthorne will likely "redshirt" during his rookie season, but Brown’s role could increase. At safety, the Steelers have one of the best starting pairs in the league -- when Troy Polamalu is healthy. Still a superb player, Polamalu just has to stay on the field. The Steelers’ defense with and without Polamalu is remarkably different. Ryan Clark has been Polamalu’s partner in crime for some time and has somewhat quietly put together a very impressive career, including an excellent 2012 season. Wisely, the Steelers drafted Shamarko Thomas, who could be Polamalu’s successor -- or his injury replacement. In the meantime, expect this young heat-seeking missile to be a dominant special-teams player.
Many believe, myself included, that rookie third-round pick Leon McFadden is going to start at cornerback for the Cleveland Browns this season. That could end up being a wrong assumption.

Chris Owens, a free-agent pickup from the Atlanta Falcons, has been running with the first-team defense for the last three weeks of offseason workouts, according to the Akron Beacon Journal. In some instances, Owens has been lining up outside and Buster Skrine has been covering the slot, which has put McFadden on the second team.

"You win positions in training camp. I think everybody knows that," Owens told the Beacon Journal. "So we don’t know who’s starting yet. I’m definitely going to compete my butt off, and we’ll see what happens come August.”

Owens, 26, hardly made headlines when he signed a one-year contract with the Browns on March 22, a deal that included $300,000 guaranteed. He was a nickelback for the Falcons last year and was benched at times because of his struggles. The biggest questions are his durability and playmaking skills. He's missed five games over the past two seasons because of two concussions and a hamstring injury.

Owens hasn't displayed much ball skills recently. Over the past two seasons, he's broken up a total of seven passes and hasn't intercepted a pass. His last interception came against Derek Anderson on Sept. 19, 2010.

Of course, as Owens said, it's too early to project who will start at cornerback opposite Joe Haden. The Browns could be bringing McFadden along slowly and end up giving him more first-team reps in training camp.

A month ago, The Plain Dealer's Terry Pluto reported that McFadden and Owens will split time as the second starting corner.

Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski is familiar with Owens because he spent the past two seasons going against him as the offensive coordinator with the Carolina Panthers.

"He has really good feet, mirror skills and cover skills," Chudzinski said of Owens. "He was a guy that we wanted to bring in and put into the mix with our corners to get a chance to compete. In this league, you need corners and you need to have good corners. Chris has been doing a nice job out there."
The rookie minicamps are over for the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers. I wrote up posts on Ravens third-round pick Brandon Williams trying to make a mark as a Division II player and why Steelers first-rounder Jarvis Jones is happy he slid down to No. 17 in the draft. The Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals hold their rookie minicamps later this week. For now, it's time for the wake-up call ...

RAVENS: Head coach John Harbaugh called the return of offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie "a big plus." He indicated that McKinnie will report to the team next week for the offseason conditioning program. Harbaugh didn't specifically answer the question about whether he's talked to McKinnie about his conditioning and his workouts this offseason. "I’m always pleased with conversations with Bryant McKinnie," Harbaugh said with a laugh, according to The Baltimore Sun. "I enjoy talking to Bryant. He’s one of my favorite guys. He’s a sterling conversationalist. We talk a lot about stuff -- a lot of different things, broad range of topics. I always enjoy that. I think he does as well.”

BENGALS: Head coach Marvin Lewis has been able to visit colleges during the pre-draft process the past two years because the current collective bargaining agreement pushed back the start of offseason workouts for NFL teams to the middle of April. This year, one of Lewis' stops was North Carolina, where he got an up-close look at future Bengals running back Giovani Bernard. “I think the draft is easy in my opinion, but you have to stay to your work and don’t deviate from it,” Lewis told The Cincinnati Enquirer. “I evaluate the guys the same way when I put on the tape. I don’t care what this guy says about him, I want to judge it for myself. Duke (Tobin) has done a tremendous job of moving into the role and directing this, integrating the coaches’ opinions and being more efficient at selections. It’s tight, it works.”

STEELERS: Outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette he's "getting after it" with his offseason conditioning. Nearly three months ago, an unnamed teammate called out Woodley, saying the reason he was always hurt was because he was out of shape. Woodley said Saturday that he's been training since the middle of February. "My thing was during the season when I hurt my ankle, I said that I wanted to come back stronger next year," Woodley said. "Some injuries you can't predict or avoid, but, during the season, I said this offseason I'd be determined to get after it."

BROWNS: According to The Plain Dealer's Terry Pluto, the goal is for rookie third-round pick Leon McFadden and Chris Owens to split time as the outside cornerback opposite Joe Haden. The Browns want Buster Skrine to focus on covering slot receivers in their nickel defense. This played a factor in the Browns choosing McFadden over Tyrann Mathieu. The Browns saw Mathieu more as a nickelback and a returner. Also, "0ne top operative" with the Browns told Pluto that the team traded two picks in this year's draft (ones in the fourth and fifth rounds) because they didn't like the players available, not because they didn't trust the scouts hired by Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert.
The Cleveland Browns weren't expected to re-sign Ben Watson, but many thought the team would address tight end early in free agency. It became obvious that the position wasn't a priority as the team passed on Brandon Myers and Dustin Keller. There were even reports of the Browns getting close to signing Fred Davis, but nothing has materialized.

The Browns settled on Kellen Davis, a free agent from the Chicago Bears. According to the Akron Beacon Journal, Cleveland signed Davis to a one-year deal.

The addition of a tight end like Davis doesn't preclude the Browns from taking a tight end in the draft or going with Jordan Cameron as the starter. Davis, a two-year starter for the Bears, is considered an underachiever. He has size, athleticism and strength but it hasn't translated on the field. Davis is a solid run-blocker who was a productive red zone target in 2011. Then, in 2012, he caught 19 passes and two touchdowns.

By the Browns signing Kellen Davis and not Fred Davis, the best pass-catching tight end on the roster is Cameron. A fourth-round pick in 2011, Cameron has 26 receptions in limited playing time over the past two seasons.

In other news, the Browns also signed a Falcons free-agent cornerback, but not the one everyone was expecting. While Brent Grimes remains unsigned, Cleveland picked up Chris Owens, who struggled at times as a backup for Atlanta. Owens lost his nickelback job last season and served as the Falcons' dime back (fourth corner). Over his four-year career, he's made 11 starts and has three interceptions.

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