AFC North: Combine 2010

Florida quarterback Tim Tebow is working to refine his throwing motion. Will he play QB or some other position in the NFL? Let's assess his chances of landing in the AFC North.

Baltimore Ravens: Expect the Ravens to at least listen to offers for backup quarterback Troy Smith. If the right deal is out there that benefits Baltimore, the team will not hesitate to make the move. That may open up the possibility to add another backup quarterback, but certainly not in the top half of the draft, which is where Tebow should land. The Ravens also have restricted free agent John Beck, who can step into the No. 2 spot. But the Ravens would lose their Wildcat/Suggs package completely if Smith isn't replaced by another mobile quarterback.

Draft probability: Low

Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals considered adding their variation of the Wildcat last year but couldn't find the right person to do it. That could open the door here for Tebow. It's possible new receiver and former college quarterback Matt Jones has that ability, but Jones is a complete unknown at this point after missing all of last season. It also doesn't hurt Tebow that J.T. O'Sullivan and Jordan Palmer aren't necessarily the strongest tandem of backup quarterbacks. Still, adding Tebow to Cincinnati would be more of a luxury than a necessity.

Draft probability: Low

Cleveland Browns: President Mike Holmgren made some headlines last week when he said it's too late to change Tebow's throwing motion. Take that as a strong sign the Browns are not interested in drafting Tebow. The Browns also have a dynamic utility player in Josh Cribbs for trick plays. So there isn't any room for Tebow on the roster unless he wants to play tight end. Cleveland could use a few of those.

Draft probability: No chance

Pittsburgh Steelers: Depending on the future of pending free agent Charlie Batch, the Steelers could be in the market for a third-string quarterback. That's the only chance of Tebow landing in Pittsburgh. Backup Dennis Dixon has solidified his spot as Pittsburgh's No. 2 quarterback after a solid start on the road against Baltimore last season. So unless Tebow's stock drops well below expected, the Steelers probably won't consider him or any quarterback this year unless it's a flier late in the draft.

Draft probability: Low

Random notes from the combine

March, 2, 2010
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As I'm now settled after my return from Indianapolis, it's a good idea to go through my notebook one last time to make sure I shared all the pertinent information gathered for our readers at the NFL combine.

So here are some random notes that I didn't get to over the past week that may be of interest:
    [+] EnlargeShaun Rogers
    AP Photo/Paul SancyaShaun Rogers suffered a season-ending leg injury in November.

  • Cleveland Browns general manager Tom Heckert said former Pro Bowl nose tackle Shaun Rogers is recovering well from his broken leg and should be ready by spring camps.
  • The Pittsburgh Steelers' three-year deal with Casey Hampton will not preclude them from drafting a nose tackle early if an attractive prospect is available. Steelers GM Kevin Colbert is impressed by this year's crop of defensive linemen, and the organization usually drafts for needs one or two years down the line. Other possibilities for Pittsburgh on the first day include offensive tackle and cornerback.
  • The Baltimore Ravens are being very secretive this offseason. They aren't saying much about anything right now, which throws up my antennas. With their restrictions in free agency with the "Final Eight Plan," don't be surprised if the Ravens have some potential tricks up their sleeves to work around it. Signing receiver Donte' Stallworth was one example of the team getting creative.
  • I'm told Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer's left thumb is doing fine after surgery, and he should be ready for the offseason program.
  • Here is another interesting note: I asked Bengals coach Marvin Lewis about the contract status of tailback Cedric Benson, who is entering the final year of his deal. I got the sense Lewis is in favor of extending Benson but isn't certain if upper management will make it happen. Keep an eye on that development.
  • Although I like both players, I would be somewhat nervous taking receiver Dez Bryant and tight end Jermaine Gresham for the simple fact they missed all or most of the 2009 season. They are obviously great players but will be expected to make an instant impact as high draft picks. What if rust is an issue early and they get off to a slow start next season?

So there are my random, leftover combine notes. Hopefully there was something there for everyone.

By the way, I also provide thoughts, notes and observations like these on our rapidly growing AFC North Twitter account. Feel free to join here and check it out.
Mike HolmgrenHunter Martin/Getty ImagesHolmgren has a history of turning teams around. He won the Super Bowl with Green Bay in 1997 and took Seattle there in 2006.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Cleveland Browns have made the playoffs only once in the past 15 years. Yet new team president Mike Holmgren is confident those dreary days in northeast Ohio are coming to an end.

"I've been involved in turning [teams] around a little bit, I think," Holmgren said. "So I'm kind of approaching it the same way in my mind that, yeah, we can do this. We will do this.

"I'm not going to give a timetable, but it can be done. There's no reason to think [otherwise]."

If Holmgren is correct, the AFC North has a potential problem on its hands.

Three teams in the division finished with winning records in 2009. The Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers also have made the playoffs at some point in the past two seasons.

Is there enough room in the division for four competitive teams?

Previously that wasn't a concern. For the most part, the Browns have been bottom feeders in the AFC North since returning to the NFL in 1999. They were the one team that rarely got it right.

The Steelers and Ravens are consistent playoff contenders, and even the Bengals, under coach Marvin Lewis, have the ability to jump up and bite the rest of the AFC North with a solid season. Most recently Cincinnati swept the division in 2009.

But the Browns are an abysmal 10-32 (.238 winning percentage) against the AFC North since 2003. Cleveland has no chance of turning its organization around for the long term until it builds a team that can compete with the Ravens, Steelers and Bengals twice a year.

Holmgren gives the Browns a chance to do so, because of his football knowledge and experience.

"Adding anybody of Coach Holmgren's caliber to your competition in your own division is only going to make it stronger," Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said. "The AFC North, in my eyes, is very competitive naturally, and has naturally based rivals and really brings out, hopefully, the best in all of us. When you bring anybody of that caliber into the mix it certainly enhances this division."

Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis was once an intern under Holmgren when the two were with the San Francisco 49ers. Lewis also believes the Browns made a good hire.

"Mike is someone I've known for a long time and have respect as a football coach," Lewis said. "He's in a little different position right now. Through his leadership and guidance, he'll be effective."

Holmgren has seen it all before. He's in a very small class of men who have lead multiple teams to Super Bowls.

When Holmgren arrived in Green Bay in 1992, he faced a situation similar to the one he faces in Cleveland. The Packers were a struggling franchise with a rich football history, and Holmgren reinvigorated a rabid fan base by winning the Super Bowl after the 1996 season.

Holmgren also took over the Seattle Seahawks as coach and general manager in 1999. Although he was later stripped of his GM duties, Holmgren still coached the Seahawks to a Super Bowl appearance following the 2005 season. Seattle was a runner-up to Pittsburgh that year.

[+] EnlargeMike Holmgren
AP Photo/Tony DejakHolmgren will have 11 draft picks he can use to help rebuild the Browns.
The difference in Cleveland is that Holmgren is no longer coaching on the sideline. There are persistent rumors that could change, but currently Holmgren's focus is squarely on finding the best available talent for the Browns to compete in 2010.

"How I view it is really setting the table for [Cleveland coach] Eric [Mangini]," Holmgren said. "I want my job to make him the best coach he can, help him as best I can -- getting players, being a sounding board, whatever it is."

Also, the hire of new Browns general manager Tom Heckert should not be overlooked. Heckert is well respected throughout the NFL for helping build the Philadelphia Eagles.

"That’s pretty impressive," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said of Cleveland's front-office pairing. "Tom Heckert, I've worked with him for a bunch of years in Philadelphia and he's one of the best in the business. And Mike Holmgren speaks for himself. So if you look at our division and the quality of general managers and coaches and quarterbacks in this division, it's just very competitive."

The job Holmgren is taking on is not an easy one. Cleveland has questions at most key positions, including quarterback, receiver and tight end on offense, and cornerback, safety and linebacker on defense.

The good news is the Browns have 11 draft picks and money to spend in free agency. That will provide a golden opportunity for Cleveland to close the gap with its AFC North rivals this year, depending on the choices Holmgren and his staff make.

But this much is clear: Holmgren wants to win now, and his track record of doing so has caught the attention of the rest of the division.

"I don't think I'm any more patient in trying to provide a winning atmosphere. I think there has to be an urgency in developing that," Holmgren said. "How I present that to the people around me, that'll be a little bit of a trick. But understand this, I want to do this and I don't want to wait forever."

Seven-step drop (combine edition)

February, 28, 2010
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INDIANAPOLIS -- The AFC North blog is wrapping up its four-day tour of the NFL combine.

Here are seven closing notes and observations on the division:

[+] EnlargeLewis
Frank Victores/US PresswireMarvin Lewis led the Bengals to the AFC North title in 2009.

  • Although it's rare in the NFL, in some ways it seems Marvin Lewis is holding back on a contract extension with the Cincinnati Bengals. Lewis, who was honored as the NFL Coach of the Year, finally has some leverage to get some things how he wants them in Cincinnati. But at the same time, Bengals owner Mike Brown is notorious for rarely giving in and running the team his way. It will be interesting to see how this all works out. I talked to three league insiders at the combine about Lewis' situation and two felt he could definitely land a head-coaching job elsewhere in 2011. The third believed the uncertainty with the CBA and a potential lockout would be Lewis' biggest hurdle. But otherwise, Lewis could quickly land on his feet if he left Cincinnati.
  • Keep an eye on the Pittsburgh Steelers on draft day. I don't think they get enough credit for their propensity to wheel and deal on draft day. The Steelers are in a unique spot where their biggest need (cornerback) may not be available at No. 18. That could mean a trade out of the position for more picks or a trade up to get a player they covet. Pittsburgh GM Kevin Colbert has done both in recent years, which makes the team unpredictable. Last year, the Steelers traded out of the second round completely to get more second-day picks.
  • If I'm a general manager, sign me up for Michigan defensive end/linebacker Brandon Graham. He's not going to impress with his measurables, which is why there are some questions about him at the combine. But on the field, he has an NFL motor, he's productive and he gets to the quarterback. Also during his combine interview, you could tell he has a passion for the game. I want those type of players on my team.
  • Speaking of interviews, in no particular order I was really impressed with Florida State safety Myron Rolle, Tennessee safety Eric Berry, Idaho guard Mike Iupati, Graham and Cincinnati receiver Mardy Gilyard. Interviewing well doesn't necessarily mean they all will be great NFL players. But it can't hurt and shows depth, character and personality.
  • Maybe I'm out of the loop on this one, but I would be surprised if the Baltimore Ravens landed free-agent receiver Terrell Owens. This rumor began to pick up steam at the combine, and was further perpetuated when Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said the team would be interested. Baltimore had a chance to sign Owens last season when he was a year younger, but didn't make a move. I don't get the sense much has changed with Baltimore about Owens, but I could be wrong.
  • But I do believe tailback Thomas Jones could be a potential target in free agency for the Cleveland Browns. Jones was coached by Eric Mangini, who has a fondness for his former players. Mangini doesn't have nearly the same pull in Cleveland. But the Browns have money to spend and a need for another running back to pair with Jerome Harrison, who is a restricted free agent Cleveland intends to bring back.
  • If the Browns don't go the free-agency route, Clemson tailback C.J. Spiller could be a sleeper candidate for Cleveland at No. 7. Already a top-10 player, Spiller solidified, and likely improved, his stock with a blazing (unofficial) 40-yard dash time of 4.28. The Browns drafted Spiller's former Clemson teammate James Davis last season. So rest assured, Cleveland's scouts have spent a lot of time the past two years tracking Spiller's career. Cornerback and safety are obviously bigger needs. But if those positions are taken off the draft board, I would take the top tailback (Spiller) over the top receiver (Dez Bryant) at No. 7 every time.

Berry wants to leave 'no doubt'

February, 28, 2010
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File PhotoTennessee's Eric Berry is aiming to prove that he is the top pick in this year's draft.
INDIANAPOLIS -- University of Tennessee safety Eric Berry is generally regarded as one of the top five prospects in this year's NFL draft.

But according to Berry, his goal by the end of the scouting combine is to prove he's the top player available.

"I really just want to come here and leave no doubt," Berry said. "That's pretty much my whole goal for coming to the combine. For everyone who has that little percentage in their mind that I'm not good enough to be No. 1 or up with there with the other guys, I'm trying to clear that up right now."

Berry likely will be the first defensive back taken in the April draft. In the AFC North, the Cleveland Browns are a potential target for him with the No. 7 overall pick.

The Tennessee safety's ball-hawking skills are often compared to Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed of the Baltimore Ravens. Berry finished his college career with a Reed-like 14 interceptions for 494 interception return yards and three touchdowns.

Berry also said he studies a lot of Reed's game film, in addition to Troy Polamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Bob Sanders of the Indianapolis Colts and former Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor. Berry also was fortunate to play one season at Tennessee under longtime NFL defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, who believes Berry is ready for the next level.

"Monte said I would be a fool to come back," Berry said laughing. "He made me so much of a better player, just from the mental part of the game. He told us exactly why he was calling the play. He didn't just call the play and make us run it...You kind of got in the mind of a defensive coordinator."

Does Tomlin deserve a new deal?

February, 28, 2010
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote an interesting article Sunday on the contract status of Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin.

Dulac mentions the recent four-year extension for former Steelers assistant and current Arizona Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt puts a brighter spotlight on the fact Pittsburgh has yet to do the same with Tomlin.

Tomlin beat Whisenhunt in Super Bowl XLIII and, like Whisenhunt, Tomlin has two playoff appearances in three years. Tomlin also has four more regular-season victories (31) than Whisenhunt (27) but one less playoff win.

It's unknown at this point if the Steelers will enter negotiations with Tomlin this offseason. The team has been hesitant to discuss those matters publicly while preparing for the draft and free agency.

Tomlin is signed through 2011. So perhaps this matter isn't as pressing as other coaches -- like Marvin Lewis of the Cincinnati Bengals -- entering the final year of their deals.

But I agree with Dulac that Arizona's insistence to work out an extension with Whisenhunt after three years might raise some questions if Pittsburgh doesn't do the same.

Honesty helping Mardy Gilyard

February, 27, 2010
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INDIANAPOLIS -- At the NFL combine, where character issues and past transgressions can influence a player's draft stock, University of Cincinnati receiver Mardy Gilyard prefers to be an open book.

[+] EnlargeMardy Gilyard
George Gojkovich/Getty ImagesScouts believe Mardy Gilyard will likely be drafted in the second or third round.
"There's no shame in my game," Gilyard said.

Gilyard is very honest about once losing his scholarship because of academics. He admits at the time he was "a real knuckle-head kid. Arrogant. Cocky. Immature."

The result was about a six-month period when Gilyard was homeless. He lived out of his car -- a 2002 Pontiac Grand Am -- while working four jobs and trying to get back in school and on his feet.

Gilyard is not ashamed to share his story.

"I speak it truthfully and as gracefully as I can," Gilyard said. "I try not to sugarcoat anything. When you get caught up in sugarcoating you might slip in a lie here and there and that's what not what I'm about."

Gilyard's perseverance makes him one of the more intriguing prospects in the NFL draft. No one will question his mental toughness, as he's worked his way from the bottom to become one of the top receivers available.

Scouts Inc. has Gilyard rated as the eighth-rated receiver entering the NFL combine. That likely will land him somewhere in the second or third round, although his draft stock could change after interviews and workouts.

But Gilyard's ability to get deep should be attractive to a lot of teams, including the Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North.

"I think my strengths as a wide receiver are I bring speed and good hands to the game," Gilyard said. "And with that in mind -- I've got speed and I've got hands -- when I do get the ball in my hands, that's what makes me extremely dangerous. I'm good at making those yards after catch."

Notes from Ravens' John Harbaugh

February, 27, 2010
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh met with the media Saturday.

Here are some highlights on what Harbaugh had to say:

Harbuagh
Harbuagh
  • The Baltimore Ravens are interested in signing receiver Derrick Mason for more than one year. Mason, who is pondering retirement, recently said he wouldn't return on a one-year deal, and it appears that won't be an issue for the veteran in free agency.

"He's 36 years old, but he's not physically," Harbaugh said. "As long as he can play, we want him to be a Raven."

  • Harbaugh says he's also impressed by receiver Donte' Stallworth. Baltimore put Stallworth through a "grueling" workout and surprised the team by how good a shape he was in after more than a year away from football.
  • Baltimore seems certain (too certain?) that Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed is coming back to play football in 2010. Reed said he was 50-50 after the team's playoff loss last month and has yet to provide a verbal commitment. But the Ravens are confident the medical issues will check out fine and, thus, Reed will play at least one more season.

"Ed Reed is playing, as far as I know," Harbaugh said. "We've said this before, I think Ed is one of the greatest competitors in football ... I say that I think Ed is going to play, because I think Ed’s going to do everything he can to play."

  • Here is more on receivers: Baltimore is not ruling out signing free-agent receiver Terrell Owens. It's obvious the Ravens are in desperate need of receivers, and Owens is the biggest unrestricted name available. But if you ask me right now whether Owens will sign in Baltimore, I would lean more toward "no" than "yes."
  • In terms of potential trades, Harbaugh believes running back Willis McGahee will be a Raven next season. In talking about the future of backup quarterback Troy Smith, Harbaugh said he wants to keep Smith but understands his desire to be a starter.

"If something would work out where it’s beneficial to the Ravens first from our perspective, and it gives him a chance to be [a starter] down the road somewhere, we're interested in doing that," Harbaugh said. "But Troy is our backup quarterback at this point."

The next LaMarr Woodley?

February, 27, 2010
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Brandon Graham and LaMarr WoodleyGetty ImagesScouts often compare Michigan star Brandon Graham to his former teammate and Steelers' linebacker LaMarr Woodley.
INDIANAPOLIS -- University of Michigan defensive end/linebacker Brandon Graham remembers how, as a freshman, former teammate LaMarr Woodley was constantly in his ear about working hard.

The Pro Bowl linebacker took Graham under his wing with the Wolverines before being drafted in the second round by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2007.

Three years later, Woodley happens to be the player Graham is most often compared to by scouts leading into April's NFL draft. The non-stop motor and ability to get to the quarterback are all traits both players share, and Graham credits a lot of that to Woodley.

"That was somebody who taught me a lot and showed me the ropes when I first got up [to Michigan]," Graham said. "I thank him, because a lot of older guys won't really help you as much as he helped me. So I [owe] a lot to him.

"I feel good that they compare me to him, because he's doing great in the league."

Graham was a standout on a Michigan defense that wasn't as dominant as recent years. But a stellar performance in the Senior Bowl put Graham on the map as a likely first-round pick.

The knock on Graham is his size, but teams love just about everything else.

Graham has the versatility to switch to outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense and could be a potential target for teams like the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens. His passion for football also shows on film and in interviews.

"I'm going to give it 100 percent every play," Graham said. "No matter what size I am, I'm going to get to the ball and I'm going to cause havoc."

Sounds a lot like his mentor in Pittsburgh, doesn't it?

Gresham, Hernandez could help AFC North

February, 27, 2010
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INDIANAPOLIS--As we've pointed out this week, the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens need big-play receivers.

But a big-play tight end wouldn't be a bad second option for both teams, either.

Gresham
Gresham
Hernandez
Hernandez
Enter University of Florida's Aaron Hernandez and Oklahoma's Jermaine Gresham. This athletic duo could be the answer to a lot of the offensive problems facing Baltimore and Cincinnati.

The Bengals and Ravens both struggled with "splash" plays last season, which often is defined as passing plays of 20-30 yards or more. Long gains from the tight-end position certainly were few and far between.

Gresham and Hernandez, the top-rated tight ends in this year's draft, have the ability to stretch the field. Both players are projected to run in the range of 4.5 or 4.6 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine.

"I'd like to be like a Tony Gonzalez, just be great like that, in a sense," Gresham said. "You know, he played in so many Pro Bowls year in and year out. He's a great player, he puts numbers up, he's productive."

As with most pass-catching tight ends, blocking at the next level is the biggest unknown for both players.

Gresham missed all of 2009 with a knee injury and wasn't known for his blocking even before that. Hernandez, who played in Florida's spread offense, was rarely asked to block at the point of attack.

"I don't think I'm a horrible blocker," Hernandez said. "But I feel like I definitely have room to improve a lot of things in my game and that's one of them."

Gresham also admitted that improved blocking is "a personal goal for myself." If either tight end gets drafted in the division, run blocking will be a large part of their responsibilities as Baltimore, Cincinnati and the Pittsburgh Steelers all had 1,000-yard rushers last season.

But the strengths of Gresham and Hernandez -- catching and running with the football -- are certainly needed in the AFC North. That makes them prime candidates for Cincinnati, picking No. 21, and Baltimore, picking No. 25.

Combine notes on Holmgren, Browns

February, 26, 2010
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Cleveland Browns president Mike Holmgren wrapped up his combine news conference Friday.

Holmgren
Holmgren
Here were Holmgren's thoughts on a variety of issues:

  • Let's start with the quarterbacks since that is the hottest topic in Cleveland. Although a final decision hasn't been made, Holmgren was very candid in saying it's a "long shot" that Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn will both be on the roster next season. If one has to go, it's likely Anderson, who is due a $2 million roster bonus next month.
  • Here is an interesting note: Defensive end Julius Peppers is on Cleveland's radar in free agency. ESPN's Chris Mortensen recently mentioned the Browns as a sleeper team for Peppers, who is arguably the biggest unrestricted free agent on the market. Cleveland also has the money to spend. "When we talk about possible free agents, Julius is one of the guys we talk about," Holmgren admitted.
  • Although he didn't want to provide a timeline, Holmgren is confident that he can turn Cleveland around. Three teams in the AFC North had winning records last season. So the division would be extremely tough if Cleveland also gets up to par.
  • The contract situation with Pro Bowl returner Josh Cribbs isn't settled, according to Holmgren, but both sides are making progress. Reportedly, Cribbs was expected to have a deal in place by the end of the week. But Holmgren believes it will take longer than that. "It's moving," Holmgren said. "We're not quite there yet. But actually I'm very, very pleased with both sides talking."
  • Cleveland plans to retain restricted free agent Jerome Harrison. The tailback led the team in rushing, but the Browns also want to get him some help so the smallish Harrison won't take the same pounding he did last season.

Is Tate golden for Ravens, Bengals?

February, 26, 2010
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Few receivers in the draft were bigger playmakers than Notre Dame's Golden Tate last season. He recorded 93 receptions for 1,496 yards and 15 touchdowns as a junior.

[+] EnlargeGolden Tate
Matt Cashore/US PresswireGolden Tate proved to be a big-play receiver at Notre Dame, catching 93 passes for 1,496 yards and 15 touchdowns last season.
With both the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals searching for a big-play receiver, would Tate be a golden match?

Tate said he has scheduled interviews with the Ravens, Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers this week at the NFL combine. But he doesn't have a preference.

"I want to play for whoever thinks I can help them next year," Tate said. "Whoever thinks I can come in, make a difference right away and help them go to a Super Bowl, that's who I want to play for."

Despite having two strong-armed quarterbacks in Baltimore's Joe Flacco and Cincinnati's Carson Palmer, the deep ball was very limited on those teams last season. Meanwhile, Tate averaged 17.2 yards per reception in his three-year career at Notre Dame.

On the field, Tate believes his skills are similar to Carolina Panthers receiver Steve Smith and Percy Harvin of the Minnesota Vikings, who are definitely big-play receivers. If Tate's projections are correct, he could be a potential prospect who could add excitement and playmaking ability that the Bengals and Ravens currently lack.

"I'm the kind of a guy who's going to go out there and make plays," Tate said. "I try my best to catch it and turn a 3-yard gain into a first down, or a 20-yad gain, or maybe even a touchdown."

Bengals' Lewis talks extension

February, 26, 2010
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INDIANAPOLIS -- One of the most interesting yet undercover storylines with the Cincinnati Bengals this offseason is the contract status of head coach Marvin Lewis.

[+] EnlargeMarvin Lewis
Icon SMIMarvin Lewis was named the NFL's Coach of the Year.
With only one year left on his deal, Lewis is coming off a successful 2009 season in which he led the Bengals to the playoffs and was honored as the NFL Coach of the Year. But both sides have yet to reach a long-term agreement.

"Well, we've talked about it in October and we've talked about it again after the season," Lewis said. "We'll see what happens. Hopefully, it will be something that gets worked out."

Without actually saying it, Lewis confirmed in a roundabout way what many NFL insiders are already aware of: Coaching the Bengals can be a tough gig at times due to the heavy-handed ownership of Mike Brown.

There has been a constant back-and-forth struggle behind the scenes between ownership and Lewis and his coaching staff over football decisions. Some of that was documented in HBO's popular "Hard Knocks" television series last summer.

Ownership tends to be very hands-on with personnel and sometimes makes head-scratching decisions. Over the years Lewis and his coaches have had to make it work.

But the difference this year is Lewis is heading into the final year of his deal with a lot of leverage after winning the division and being honored as the league's best coach.

Obviously, both sides are talking years and money. But also expect some philosophical things to be up for discussion before Lewis signs on the dotted line.

"There's a lot of things [in terms of] what we're doing and how we're doing things -- all of those things are important to me," Lewis said candidly. "There were things that when I started this job in 2003 that were important, and we can't change those.

"We have to stay on track and I have to make sure that we're continuing to progress that way. Those are the things that are as important to me as anything."

Tebow mania expected in Indy

February, 26, 2010
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INDIANAPOLIS -- University of Florida's Tim Tebow is expected to be among the quarterbacks interviewing with the media Friday at the NFL combine.

Tebow
Tebow
This means a lot of hype and a lot of stern questions will come Tebow's way.

Tebow has been a lightning rod for discussion during the NFL draft process. He is arguably the most accomplished collegiate player of all time, yet many question if Tebow's skills will translate at the NFL level.

Expect Tebow to be grilled on his delivery, his poor performance at the Senior Bowl, and his choice not to throw at the combine. Currently Tebow is working on changing his mechanics in an attempt to improve his draft stock. The next time he will throw in front of scouts will be during his individual workout.

Either way, it should be an interesting day in Indianapolis with Tebow as one of the headliners. Other high-profile quarterbacks scheduled to meet with the media Friday include future first-round picks Sam Bradford of Oklahoma and Jimmy Clausen of Notre Dame.

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