AFC North: Courtney Upshaw

The Baltimore Ravens have traded back in the first round in 2008, 2010 and 2012. Could they do it again in 2014?

The Ravens will likely have the opportunity to do so. In the past, teams have wanted to trade up in the draft because of quarterbacks. This year, teams will be looking to move up to the Ravens' No. 17 spot for a wide receiver, especially if LSU's Odell Beckham Jr. is sitting there.

The Philadelphia Eagles (No. 22), New Orleans Saints (No. 27) and San Francisco 49ers (No. 30) are potential trade partners with the Ravens. What could the Ravens expect to get in return? The Eagles would need to give up a third-round pick to move up five spots, and the Saints and 49ers may need to hand over second-rounders.

Still, is trading back worth it for the Ravens? Let's look at the three previous times they moved back in the first round:

2008 DRAFT

The Ravens dropped from No. 8 to No. 26 and received two third-round picks (Nos. 71 and 89) and a fourth-round one (No. 125) from the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Ravens needed to trade one of those third-round picks (No. 89) to move back up to No. 18 to make sure they got quarterback Joe Flacco.

The net result of moving back was linebacker Tavares Gooden (No. 71 pick overall) and cornerback Fabian Washington (acquired for the No. 125 pick from the Oakland Raiders). Gooden started 12 games in three injury-filled seasons with the Ravens, and Washington started three seasons before being benched.

2010 DRAFT

The Ravens moved out of the first round, going from No. 25 overall to No. 43. In return, the Ravens got a third-round pick (No. 70) and a fourth-round one (No. 114) from the Denver Broncos.

Those extra picks became tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta, both of whom were fixtures in the offense for the past three seasons. While Dickson is considered a disappointment, Pitta has become one of Flacco's go-to receivers.

But the top picks didn't work out for the Ravens or the Broncos. Denver traded up to get quarterback Tim Tebow, and the Ravens selected linebacker Sergio Kindle in the second round. Kindle was the worst top pick in Ravens' history.

Still, the Ravens likely wouldn't have fared much better if they stayed in the first round. The Ravens were eyeing pass rusher Jerry Hughes, who struggled his first three seasons before recording 10 sacks last season.

2012 DRAFT

Like the Ravens did in 2010, they moved out of the first round. This time, the Ravens fell just six spots from No. 29 to No. 35 and received a fourth-round pick (No. 98) in return.

The Ravens were still able to get linebacker Courtney Upshaw, their possible selection in the first round, even though they dropped into the second round. That fourth-round pick became center Gino Gradkowski, who started last season but is expected to be a backup this year.
Here's your morning briefing on the Baltimore Ravens beat with the wake-up caw ...
  • Tight end Ed Dickson told The Baltimore Sun he isn't frustrated by his slow start. He's motivated. "Things may have gotten off to a rocky start but it is a long season," Dickson said. "As a team, it is working the way we want it to go. We want to keep getting better and I want to get better. Who knows? This might be a big week for me." Dickson's inability to catch the ball consistently has hurt the Ravens, and I would think twice throwing the ball to him. But he's too athletic to write off this quickly. He'll emerge again in the game plan.
  • Continuing our tight-end storyline, Dallas Clark told USA Today that his improvement comes from extra film study with quarterback Joe Flacco. "Joe has us in there and goes over where he wants us, what he expects on each play," Clark said. "That's a huge help so everyone can see the big picture of where they belong, what their responsibilities are."
  • Daryl Smith's sure tackling has impressed the Ravens. “When that guy grabs you, you go down,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said, via Comcast SportsNet. “I can’t say enough good things about the guy." Smith is one of three linebackers with at least 25 tackles, one sack and one interception this season.
  • A year after injuries limited his game plans, Pees is enjoying being more creative with his personnel groupings this year. “It’s a lot of fun,” Pees said, via the team's official website. “I think it gets boring to me as a coach and I think it’s boring as a player if you go out and every week it’s the same dang-gone thing. ... You put in little tweaks here and there. I think the players like it, and I like it.”
  • Matt Vensel of The Baltimore Sun broke down the snaps of the outside linebackers, which show the Ravens have been keeping their top pass-rushers fresh. Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil and Courtney Upshaw have played at least 60 percent of the defensive snaps. Suggs, the team’s starting rush linebacker, has played 161 out of a possible 191 snaps. Dumervil, who usually splits time with Upshaw at strongside linebacker, has played 125. Upshaw has been on the field for 119 plays.
  • Former Ravens defensive lineman Trevor Pryce doesn't agree with Ray Lewis that the "party bus" incident means there is a leadership void in Baltimore. "Here's the thing about the Ray Lewis leadership thing, when you start telling the media that things would be fixed if you were there, that can be a little self-serving," Pryce told The Baltimore Sun.

It was 236 days ago when Joe Flacco threw that fateful, 70-yard touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones, leading the Baltimore Ravens to a double-overtime playoff win at the Denver Broncos. The Ravens went on to win the Super Bowl, and the Broncos were left to think of what might have been. Flacco and the Ravens return to Denver's Sports Authority Stadium on Thursday night to kick off the 2013 season in a rematch of two of the top teams in the AFC.

The stakes are different, and so are the teams. Gone are Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Anquan Boldin from the Ravens. Baltimore is expected to have 10 different starters from the team that hoisted up the Lombardi trophy, and that doesn't include former Broncos defensive standout Elvis Dumervil, who is expected to play in passing situations.

The Broncos won't have Dumervil or Von Miller, who has been suspended for six games, rushing after Flacco this time. But Peyton Manning is back, along with the addition of Wes Welker to an already dangerous wide receiver group.

Broncos team reporter Jeff Legwold and Ravens team reporter Jamison Hensley discuss whether the opener will be a repeat of that memorable AFC divisional playoff game.

Hensley: Much has been made of the 50-foot Flacco banner hanging at the Broncos' stadium. Flacco has embraced the hate, saying it's not a bad thing for opposing fans to dislike you. The Ravens' focus, as it has been all offseason, has been to move forward. It's the start of a different era in many ways for the Ravens in their first game without Lewis and Reed. But it's easier to move forward when you're the ones sitting on top of the football world. How much will the "revenge factor" play into this game for the Broncos?

Legwold: Broncos coach John Fox, much like John Harbaugh with his "What's Important Now" mantra to leave the championship season behind, has tried to leave the past in the past. But questions about the kneel-down in the waning seconds despite Manning at quarterback and two timeouts in hand, as well as a third-and-7 running play late in the game, have trailed him all through the offseason. A lot of the Broncos players are willing to say memories of the playoff loss pushed them through the tedium of May and June. But over the past two weeks, they've stuck to the script -- that it's a new year, a new team -- but deep down they all know they let a potential Super Bowl trip, home-field advantage and a seven-point lead with less than a minute to play get away. And Dumervil's departure does add a little spice as well. How has Dumervil fit in and what kind of year do you think he'll have?

Hensley: Terrell Suggs has talked about Dumervil having the right mentality to play for the Ravens, and Harbaugh commented how Dumervil is already taking a leadership role. He really is a perfect fit for the Ravens on the field, too, where they have never had an elite pass-rusher to pair with Suggs. Over the past six seasons, Suggs has had only one teammate record more than seven sacks in a season. And being a pass-rusher is Dumervil's primary role. The Ravens will use Courtney Upshaw on early downs to set the edge against the run, which should keep Dumervil's legs fresh in pass-rushing situations. The Ravens have a familiarity with Dumervil because inside linebackers coach Don Martindale was Denver's defensive coordinator in 2010 and was Dumervil's position coach in 2009, when the linebacker-end led the NFL with 17 sacks. Baltimore is catching a break Thursday night with Dumervil now wearing purple and Miller serving his suspension. How are the Broncos going to generate a pass rush on Flacco?

[+] EnlargeElvis Dumervil
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyPass-rusher Elvis Dumervil was one of the Ravens' high-profile offseason acquisitions, and has become a leader on the field and off for Baltimore.
Legwold: That is the $380,687.50 question, which is how much of Miller's base salary he'll surrender during the six-game suspension. But without Miller (18.5 sacks in '12) and Dumervil (11.0 last season), the Broncos will mix and match on a variety of down-and-distances. Derek Wolfe is a key player, because of his ability to play inside and outside along the defensive line and still create matchup problems. Jack Del Rio believes Wolfe is ready to take an enormous step in his development, and among the defensive linemen only Dumervil played more snaps up front than Wolfe did as a rookie last year. The Broncos will ask Shaun Phillips, who they think has plenty left to give after 9.5 sacks for the struggling Chargers last season, to be a spot rusher. And Robert Ayers, who was a first-round pick in 2009, has always said he could put up the sack numbers if given the chance. He's played through four different coordinators -- Del Rio is his first to be on the job for two consecutive seasons -- but has just 6.5 career sacks. Now is his time. On Flacco, how has he dealt with all that comes with a Lombardi trophy and a nine-digit contract?

Hensley: The money and increased notoriety haven't really affected Flacco. If anything, he's become more vocal. There was a playful trash-talking exchange during training camp between Flacco and Suggs, who told his quarterback that the defense's "swag is on a thousand million." Flacco responded: "Then what's my swag at? I get paid more than you. A lot more!" What has really changed is the wide receiver group around Flacco. This unfamiliarity led to four interceptions in six quarters of work this preseason. His top two receivers from a year ago won't be there Thursday. Boldin was traded to San Francisco, and tight end Dennis Pitta is out indefinitely with a dislocated hip. They accounted for 36 receptions in the postseason, which was nearly half of Flacco's completions. That being said, it was Torrey Smith and Jones who did the most damage in the playoff game in Denver. The Ravens are hoping wide receiver Brandon Stokley can move the chains on third downs and tight end Ed Dickson (hamstring) can contribute in the season opener. There has to be more confidence in the Broncos' passing attack with Manning and his bunch of talented receivers.

Legwold: There is plenty of confidence in what the potential can be with Welker in the mix. The Broncos loved Stokley as a slot receiver, but Welker is younger and offers a bigger upside in terms of production. Welker will also have the best receivers to his outside shoulders in Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas, the best combo he's had since the Patriots decided they didn't want Randy Moss around any longer. The 229-pound Thomas and the 214-pound Decker make the Broncos a tough matchup for any secondary. In the preseason, teams simply backed off into coverage and took their chances they could allow the catch and make the tackle before too much damage was done. The pace, especially at altitude, is a little something new as well. The Broncos ran 49 plays, excluding penalties, in the first half alone against the Rams in the preseason. They won't always go that fast, but if they get the look they want from a defense, they'll put the pedal to the floor and not allow a substitution. The key issue will be protection: Left tackle Ryan Clady missed plenty of the preseason after offseason surgery, and Denver has surrendered pressure in the middle of the field at times. The three-wide look is what the Broncos want their base formation to be on offense, but they can't do it if they can't protect Manning. It has to be a strange thing for a Baltimore defense that has been the franchise's signature for so long to have so many changes.

Hensley: There were a lot of changes to the Ravens' defense, but there were necessary changes. The Ravens weren't a top-10 defense for the first time since 2002. This defense had slumped to No. 17 in the NFL. It's never easy to part ways with the likes of Lewis and Reed. But the Ravens aren't replacing two Hall of Fame players in their prime. Baltimore had to replace two aging players who weren't the same playmakers from a few years ago. The additions of Dumervil, defensive lineman Chris Canty, linebacker Daryl Smith and safety Michael Huff have made this a stronger and more athletic defense. The Ravens' defense is going to be significantly better in two areas: stopping the run and pressuring the quarterback. The biggest concern, especially when you're starting two new safeties, is the communication in the secondary. One mistake there and Manning will burn you for a touchdown. How is the Broncos' secondary holding up this summer?

Legwold: The Broncos would feel better if Bailey felt better. Bailey did not practice Sunday or Monday because of a left foot injury he suffered in the preseason loss in Seattle and is still a major question mark for Thursday's game. Bailey has been on the field for practice, but has not participated in any of the drills. The end result means Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie would likely line up much of the time in Bailey's left cornerback spot. Rodgers-Cromartie is one of the more athletic sidekicks the Broncos have had for Bailey since Bailey arrived in 2004. Chris Harris and Tony Carter, the player who gave Jones a free release off the line of scrimmage on the game-tying bomb last January, will play in the nickel and dime as well. But overall the Broncos kept 11 defensive backs -- six corners, five safeties -- and can mix and match for almost every situation. They have flexibility and use it, so every defensive back in uniform Thursday night could see some action in the defense.

LATROBE, Pa. -- It's a busy Thursday in the AFC North. I will wrap up my visit with the Pittsburgh Steelers and put together a Camp Confidential post, which will run Friday. Plus, there's two teams in the division, the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns, who will play their second preseason game tonight. Let's begin, though, with the wake-up call ...

RAVENS: Outside linebackers Elvis Dumervil and Courtney Upshaw have rotated with the first-team defense throughout training camp and in the preseason opener. They're also listed as co-starters on the depth chart. “They’ll all play,” Baltimore defensive coordinator Dean Pees said, via The Carroll County Times. “They all have a role on this team, and we’ll just see. … It’s a game-to-game thing, and a lot of it depends on the packages that we have in and what we’re doing for that particular game. They’re all good players, and they’re all going to play.”

BENGALS: Wide receiver A.J. Green returned to practice after sitting out nearly three weeks with a bruised knee. He participated in non-contract drills only, and likely won't play in Saturday's preseason game. "I am back to 100 percent," Green said, via The Associated Press. "They just don't want to throw me back just like this. As the days go on, I am going to work my way back into them." Green bruised his left knee while trying to make a sideline catch during the first practice of training camp on July 25.

STEELERS: Bruce Gradkowski, a Pittsburgh native, is replacing Charlie Batch, who was the backup for the hometown team for the past 11 seasons. "Everyone loves Charlie Batch," Gradkowski told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "I'm not trying to come in and take anyone's place or be anyone else. Even my mom and them say, 'We love Charlie.' Charlie is a great guy, I asked him for advice in the past. He's a guy to lean on." Gradkowski has bounced around five teams over the past seven years before returning home.

BROWNS: The injury woes continue for backup running back Montario Hardesty. The 2010 second-round pick will miss the first two to three regular-season games after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee Thursday, a source told The Plain Dealer. Coach Rob Chudzinski declined to speculate about Hardesty's future. "We'll just to see when he gets back and balance that with the other guys and how they're doing and how they've done in the next couple of weeks," he said. Dion Lewis is expected to become the primary backup to Trent Richardson.
My tour of the division minicamps begins next week. I will make a stop over at the Ravens tonight, when the coaches and players receive their Super Bowl rings. The plan is to have a post from the event later tonight. In the meantime, here's the wake-up call ...

RAVENS: The Ravens are expected to ask Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach to take a pay cut, according to The Baltimore Sun. Leach is scheduled to make $3 million this season and has a $4.33 million salary-cap number. The Ravens drafted fullback Kyle Juszczyk in the fourth round in April. "We're both still here, so we'll see how it goes," Leach said. "Hopefully, it can work out for both of us. If it don't, I feel like I still can play in this league and I'll have a job somewhere." The last player who didn't take a pay cut ended up getting traded (Anquan Boldin).

Also, linebacker Courtney Upshaw has to improve his eating habits, according to coach John Harbaugh. Upshaw recently indicated that he weighs 285 pounds. "Courtney’s weight issue – which he does need to lose some pounds – is that he doesn’t eat right," Harbaugh said. "Courtney eats too much, and he doesn’t eat all the right foods. He knows that, and that’s something that he’s going to have to get a handle on or he’s not going to be the best he can be. He’s aware of it. We have everybody in our building involved in it. He’ll be in fighting shape, I promise you that."

BENGALS: Coach Marvin Lewis confirmed that offensive tackle Andre Smith will attend next week's mandatory minicamp. Smith hasn't participated in the nine voluntary workouts this spring because of personal reasons. "I'm sure any time you're away from the guys that guys will mess with him about stuff, but they’ll be happy to have him here," offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth told The Cincinnati Enquirer. "He's part of this team and he's going to be a key to what kind of season we have. You hope he's doing everything he needs to do to this point, just as every guy in this locker room has and we’ll be where we need to be." Smith is unlikely to receive the $100,000 workout bonus that was included in the three-year, $18 million contract he signed in April.

STEELERS: Minor knee surgery isn't expected to keep starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger from missing the start of training camp. So, backup Bruce Gradkowski savored the snaps with the first-team offense Thursday in the team's only scheduled practice at Heinz Field this offseason. "It's a great opportunity to be here,” Gradkowski, who played the past two seasons with the Bengals, told The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “Their goal is to win a championship. You can talk about that all you want at other places, but here it's a reality.” Coach Mike Tomlin didn't offer any significant updates on Roethlisberger, who had surgery Wednesday. "There's nothing new to add,” Tomlin said. “He's resting comfortably at home. We will get him in the building next week and proceed.”

BROWNS: Tight end Jordan Cameron will have to prove he's durable enough to be a starter in the NFL. He sat out the final practice of the Browns' offseason workouts Thursday with a hamstring injury that he suffered in Wednesday's practice. Cameron also missed time last week with a groin injury. Coach Rob Chudzinski said Cameron will be ready for training camp. "I'm not concerned at this point right now about that,"Chudzinski said, via The Plain Dealer. "That position is a demanding position. As we get into the season, we will make sure we are practicing and getting those guys the right amount of reps and things like that."
Here's what is happening this week: the Cleveland Browns hold their mandatory minicamp, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals wrap up their voluntary workouts and the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens visit the White House to meet President Barack Obama. I will be attending one of them, if I pass the security clearance. Now, please let me see some IDs before we proceed to the wake-up call ...

RAVENS: Outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw said he's up to 285 pounds, which is 13 more pounds than his listed playing weight. Upshaw explained why he hasn't been able to train regularly at Ravens headquarters this season. "My offseason has been kind of hectic," Upshaw told The Baltimore Sun. "I had a personal issue where I had to handle that. Right now, I’m trying to get back into football shape. I was back and forth between Alabama and Baltimore, just real personal issues that I had to handle. Just trying to drop a couple pounds and get ready for the season." This isn't the first time that weight has been a problem for Upshaw, who failed a conditioning test before his first training camp.

BENGALS: According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, one of the biggest contributions made by first-year defensive assistant Adam Zimmer, the son of coordinator Mike Zimmer, was putting together a PowerPoint presentation before the start of offseason workouts on the coverages for each Bengals defensive back. It showed how they lined up and what they should be doing. “I didn’t want to be that guy that was just there because my dad was there," Adam Zimmer said. "I’ve been on staffs where that was the case, and they had no credentials to be a coach, but they followed their dad around from here to here to here. I didn’t want to be one of those guys. I kind of wanted to learn how to do things my way and not just the way he does it. Kind of get my own personality as a coach before I got on the same staff with him.”

STEELERS: The Steelers want the Ziggy Hood who made 24 tackles over a five-game span in December and not the defensive lineman who recorded four one-tackle games and was held without a tackle against the Titans despite playing 62 snaps. The emphasis is on improving Hood's technique. “You are always going to have things to work on; I am not going to deny that,” Hood told The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “Last year was a good step for me. It wasn't the season that I would say was the best, but the positives outweighed the negatives.” Hood, a first-round pick in 2009, is in the final year of his contract.

BROWNS: Being a more hands-on owner was one reason why the Browns fan base was excited that Jimmy Haslam taking over for Randy Lerner. The Plain Dealer's Bud Shaw believes everyone should be skeptical of that after Haslam contends he didn't know about the rebate fraud at his family-run Pilot Flying J, where he is CEO. "All that 'due diligence' Haslam mentioned in building an organization -- from the hiring of Joe Banner, to the head coaching search, to the hiring of Mike Lombardi as GM -- all that is tossed under the microscope for closer review now that Haslam claims ignorance about his own company's dealings," Shaw wrote.
There's no question that linebacker James Harrison is interested in playing for the Baltimore Ravens. He'd get to stay in the familiar surroundings of the AFC North and get to face the Pittsburgh Steelers, the team that released him after he refused to take a pay cut, two times this season.

But are the Ravens interested in the soon-to-be 35-year-old pass-rusher? Harrison's agent and Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome talked this week and plan to do so again Saturday.

"Their timeline is a little slower at this point, but Ozzie's going to have to sign at least a couple of linebackers," Bill Parise, Harrison's agent, told The Baltimore Sun. "I know where we stand. He's made it clear that there's interest from the Ravens, and we have an interest. We would like that very much for James to wind up a with great organization like the Ravens. So, we'll wait and see where it goes."

Going against Harrison's signing is the fact that the Ravens have bigger priorities on defense. Baltimore needs a safety and inside linebacker more than an outside linebacker. The Ravens did lose Paul Kruger to Cleveland in free agency, but they probably want to expand Courtney Upshaw's role in the 2013 season.

What helps Harrison's case is the fact that Newsome believes getting to the quarterback is the key to defense, and he'll consider any opportunity to improve the pass rush. Newsome, though, would only sign Harrison at the right price -- and that's probably nowhere near the $6.57 million salary Harrison was scheduled to make this season in Pittsburgh.

Parise said he has spoken to six other teams regarding Harrison. At this point, no deal is imminent with any of them. Teams are becoming more wary of spending on free agents older than age 30. Harrison will likely have to wait a little while longer to see whether the Ravens, or any other team, are interested enough to offer him a contract.
Here are the inactives for the Bengals (who play the Cowboys), the Browns (who face the Chiefs) and the Ravens (who play the Redskins):

BENGALS: K Mike Nugent, CB Dre Kirkpatrick, RB Cedric Peerman, TE Richard Quinn, DE Devon Still, S George Iloka and DT Brandon Thompson. Note: Josh Brown will kick for the Bengals.

BROWNS: DT Ronnie Cameron, S Eric Hagg, RB Brandon Jackson, FB Owen Marecic, G Jarrod Shaw, CB Trevin Wade and WR Josh Cooper. Note: CB Dimitri Patterson is active after missing seven games.

RAVENS: LB Terrell Suggs, LB Dannell Ellerbe, TE Ed Dickson, CB Jimmy Smith, OL Ramon Harewood, DT Bryan Hall and WR Deonte Thompson. Note: Courtney Upshaw is expected to replace Suggs, and Brendon Ayanbadejo and Albert McClellan will fill in for Ellerbe.
It's Wednesday and you know what that means: It's time to get some feedback from you. The weekly AFC North poll will get posted later today and we'll sit down for our usual midweek chat at 2 p.m. Speaking of our routine, it's time for your wake-up call, which deals with three rookies and a departing executive:

RAVENS: After getting fined nearly $20,000 this season for weighing more than 270 pounds, rookie outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw has shed weight via diet and exercise to get down to 266 to 268 pounds, according to The Baltimore Sun. Upshaw told the paper that he hasn't been fined since Week 5 of the season, which was just earlier this month. "I didn't even look at the fines," Upshaw said. "I just knew they were taking my money. That started getting me down." Upshaw, who has started seven games this year, is trying to avoid becoming the latest second-round disappointment on the defensive side of the ball. Sergio Kindle, who is on the practice squad, and Terrence Cody, who lost his starting job, were drafted in the second round in 2010.

STEELERS: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette brings up the possibility that rookie second-round pick Mike Adams could remain the starting right tackle even when Marcus Gilbert recovers from an ankle injury. Adams has performed well in seven quarters since replacing Gilbert and drew rare praise from coach Mike Tomlin, who usually doesn't give out such compliments to rookies. "We're optimistic about his talent level and what he's capable of being," Tomlin said. "He didn't do anything to hurt that assessment. I think he's continuing to be a guy on the rise. I think his performance was a solid one. I thought he was good in the run game. I thought he was good on the second level, some combination blocks, and I thought he represented himself well in pass pro[tection]. It's a nice next step for him."

BENGALS: With the Bengals short on wide receivers (Armon Binns has an ankle injury and Marvin Jones is out with a knee injury), rookie Mohamed Sanu will see increased playing time at the No. 2 spot. He recorded his first career catch Sunday night, which interestingly enough came a month after he completed his first pass. “The thing I've always said about Mo is he's a gamer,” wide receiver coach James Urban told CBS Sports. “I thought that coming out of college. The more football the kid plays, I'm talking about game football on Sundays, the more you'll like him.” Sanu's size and strength compliments Andrew Hawkins, the Bengals' slot receiver.

BROWNS: The Plain Dealer's Terry Pluto believes Mike Holmgren was never comfortable in his undefined role as team president. "So this franchise with its amazingly loyal and beat-down fan base continues to wait for someone to give them a real reason to believe in a winning future for the orange helmets," Pluto wrote. "It's now in the hands of (Jimmy) Haslam (a rookie owner who oozes passion and love for his adopted city) and Joe Banner (an experienced football CEO). It's a promising combination. Now, maybe, just maybe, things will change ... and change for the better. If nothing else, Browns fans can always hope so."

Rookie snaps in the AFC North

October, 20, 2012
When it comes to getting production from rookies this season, it's a case of one team getting a lot of immediate help and another getting essentially nothing from its draft class.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Browns rank first in number of snaps from rookies this season. Cleveland is averaging 294 snaps per game (not including special teams) from its draft class. The next-closest team is the Vikings, who average 193 snaps from first-year players.

While the Browns rank at the top, the Steelers are close to the bottom in this category. Pittsburgh's rookies are averaging 43 snaps per game. This should be expected since it's basically a redshirt season for this draft class. The Steelers' first-round pick (guard David DeCastro) and their third-rounder (linebacker Sean Spence) both suffered serious knee injuries in the preseason. Their fourth-rounder (nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu) has been inactive for the first five games and has been suspended for two games after his DUI altercation.

The Ravens (average 131 snaps per game) and Bengals (119) both are in the middle of the NFL.

Cleveland's first-round picks, running back Trent Richardson and quarterback Brandon Weeden, have totaled 665 snaps. That is topped by Baltimore's second-round duo, linebacker Courtney Upshaw and offensive tackle Kelechi Osemele, who have combined for 727 snaps -- which is more than 16 teams in the NFL.

One Cincinnati first-round pick, guard Kevin Zeitler, has logged 412 snaps, while the other first-rounder, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, has yet to suit up for a game this season. Pittsburgh's second-rounder, offensive tackle Mike Adams, has 109 snaps.
The Ravens' Paul Kruger is inactive for today's game at Philadelphia with a back injury.

That means the Ravens will be without Kruger and Terrell Suggs, the two projected starting outside linebackers for this season. Suggs tore his Achilles this spring and is out indefinitely.

Courtney Upshaw, the team's top pick in the 2012 draft, is expected to replace Kruger. Upshaw was considered the front-runner to replace Suggs after he was taken in the second round, but he was beaten out by Albert McClellan for that spot. Sergio Kindle, who is active, could also be a factor as a pass-rusher.
Joe Flacco and A.J. Green Getty ImagesBaltimore's Joe Flacco, left, and Cincinnati's A.J. Green could hold the keys to victory Monday.
Thanks to Marvin Lewis, the Cincinnati Bengals match up pretty well against the Baltimore Ravens.

The Ravens have been a perennial playoff team, but Lewis, the Ravens’ defensive coordinator from 1996 to 2001, builds his Bengals roster to counter that of his division rival. Because he helped hand-pick several of the top defensive players who have helped make the Ravens one of the best defenses in the league, the Bengals usually know they can give the Ravens a game.

Since 2006, this competitive series has had only two games in which the margin of difference was bigger than 10 points. In fact, Lewis has a 10-8 career record against the Ravens. Since John Harbaugh arrived in Baltimore in 2008, though, he has won five of eight against the Bengals.

Here’s what to watch for in this competitive Monday night game:

Baltimore Ravens

1. Will the Ravens have a pass rush? The loss of linebacker Terrell Suggs was huge for the Ravens. His Achilles tendon injury has created an Achilles’ heel for their defense. They need a pass rush, and this goes beyond replacing Suggs’ 14 sacks. In the preseason, the Ravens didn’t show they were consistently getting to the quarterback. Second-round linebacker Courtney Upshaw is still getting his feel for the NFL but might offer some hope. The pressure will fall on Paul Kruger, who takes over Suggs’ spot. The Ravens are blessed with good coverage cornerbacks, which might allow them to try some blitzes.

2. More will fall on the arm of Joe Flacco: Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron plans to let Flacco take more leadership on the field and let him use more no-huddle. Although the Ravens don’t plan to abandon the run, they will be running a quicker offense. Normally, the Bengals play the Ravens to low-scoring games in which both teams end up scoring in the teens. Last season, offense became more of a factor. The Ravens won those games 31-24 and 24-16. Flacco would love to get three or four touchdown drives against the Bengals.

3. More speed at wide receiver: One of the reasons the Bengals and Lewis keep the scores low against the Ravens is the Bengals use plenty of man-to-man schemes. In the past, the Ravens didn’t have a lot of speed at wide receiver. This year, they have speed. Torrey Smith, in his second season, is now a complete receiver with speed instead of being only a deep threat like in his rookie year. Jacoby Jones adds a sub-4.4 threat. LaQuan Williams is fast. Watch to see whether the Ravens' receivers can win the battle against the Bengals' cornerbacks.

4. Are the Ravens solid up front? The Ravens are fielding one of the oldest offensive lines in football. Left tackle Bryant McKinnie is 32. Guard Bobbie Williams is 35. Center Matt Birk is 36. One of the keys to the running game is how Williams and Birk will do against defensive tackle Geno Atkins. If Atkins’ quickness beats the aging legs of Birk and Williams, the Ravens might have trouble running the football up the middle. They might also be vulnerable to inside blitzes.

5. Will Ray Rice’s role change? Rice has carried the Ravens' offense for years, but the subtle changes in this year’s offense could adjust his role. First, will the no-huddle limit some of the runs Rice could make? Second, if the Ravens have problems in the middle of the line, will he have to bounce more plays to the outside? Rice is a threat running and receiving, but the new emphasis on throwing the ball could make him more of a threat through the air.

Cincinnati Bengals:

1. Problems in the middle of the Bengals' offensive line: The Bengals lost guard Travelle Wharton and center Kyle Cook for the season, and they have to make do with Clint Boling at left guard and Jeff Faine at center. Faine is an established NFL veteran, but he sometimes has trouble against big 3-4 defensive tackles. How he handles Terrence Cody, Haloti Ngata and Ma'ake Kemoeatu could be the key to the game for the Bengals. If the pocket collapses in the middle of the field, it could be a tough day for quarterback Andy Dalton.

2. Establishing the man-to-man matchups: Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is a master of matching up his cornerbacks against receivers. He has plenty of options. Nate Clements and Leon Hall are the starters, but also at his disposal are longtime Cowboys cornerback Terence Newman, Adam “PacMan” Jones and Jason Allen.

3. Making sure Taylor Mays has a good game: Mays won the strong safety job, so this will be his most extensive playing time as he enters his third year in the league. Mays has cornerback speed and is a big hitter, but he is still raw at the position. The Ravens will try to challenge him by sending tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta in his direction. Flacco also will try to get him out of position with play-action fakes that could free up Torrey Smith for some deep completions.

4. Establishing a running game: The Bengals had a solid running back with Cedric Benson. Now, the BenJarvus Green-Ellis era begins. Green-Ellis is a smart player who doesn’t fumble, but he has yet to prove he can be an every-down back week in, week out. The Bengals still have a young quarterback in Dalton, so it would be nice if he could count on Green-Ellis getting 16 to 18 carries a week.

5. Sorting out the receiving corps: Everyone knows A.J. Green has established himself as one of the best young receivers in football. Tight end Jermaine Gresham is a big-play target. But the Bengals have revamped everything behind him. Andrew Hawkins takes over as the slot receiver. Brandon Tate is the starter at wide receiver for now, but third-round pick Mohamed Sanu is an intriguing prospect. With defenses figuring to double-team Green, Dalton has to see who can establish themselves as dependable pass-catching options.
Injuries, suspensions and even contract disputes (the Ravens' Bryant McKinnie) have taken over the headlines in the AFC North leading up to the season opener. If you're anything like me, you're always kind of "questionable" in terms of getting out of bed. Well, I hope today's wake-up call will get you on the right track ...

BENGALS: As expected, the Bengals placed center Kyle Cook (high ankle sprain) on the new injured reserve-recall list. Under that designation, Cook will be eligible to return to practice as early as Week 7 and will be eligible to play as early as Week 9. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, Cook had started the last 50 regular-season and postseason games, which had been tied with left tackle Andrew Whitworth for the team's longest current streak. The Bengals recently signed Jeff Faine to fill in for Cook, who hasn't disclosed a timetable to return.

BROWNS: While cornerback Joe Haden awaits word on his suspension, there is a chance that linebacker Scott Fujita could be removed from the suspended list this week. The NFL Players Association has asked a federal judge for a temporary restraining order that would allow players suspended in connection with the NFL's bounty investigation to rejoin their teams in time to play regular season openers. Fujita has been suspended for three games for his alleged role in the Saints' bounty scandal.

RAVENS: Injuries to Terrell Suggs (Achilles) and Courtney Upshaw (sprained shoulder) played a role in Sergio Kindle making the season-opening roster. “Sergio’s potential as a pass rusher is something that’s really important,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said, via The Baltimore Sun. Kindle, the team's top pick in the 2010 draft, has yet to show the same potential since he fell down two flights of stairs before his rookie training camp. “He’s got some talent, obviously," Harbaugh said. "He’s still probably on his way back from a really bad brain injury. It’s remarkable how far he’s come, and we’re not ready to give up on him. We never would ‘give up on him’ -- that’s probably a bad choice of words -- but we’re still looking at him as a pass-rusher and a physical edge-setter as an outside linebacker.”

STEELERS: Linebacker James Harrison has never been known as a conversationalist. That's why it wasn't surprising to hear how he communicated the status of his knee. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Harrison, who wasn't wearing a brace on his knee, gave the "A-OK" sign when he was asked how it reacted to treatment. "I know that if it's within his power to be there and perform and, particularly for his teammates, he will be," coach Mike Tomlin said. "I have had no reservations about him in that regard. The issue is just whether or not he gets a clean bill of health from our medical staff. He has to this point in terms of being able to practice. We'll see how his body responds to that work and let that be a determinant about how we move forward."
It's a quick turnaround after watching four preseason games at once Thursday night. I'm not complaining about my job, especially not today. By the end of Friday, there will over 80 football players currently in this division who will be without theirs. Every team has to get its 75-man roster down to 53 players by 9 p.m. Some might get picked up elsewhere and others could rejoin the team by signing with the practice squad. The AFC North blog will have an analysis of the final cutdown for the Bengals, Browns, Ravens and Steelers when the moves are announced. But you know the daily drill. It's on to the wake-up call:

BENGALS: There are no signs that the Bengals are worried about Andy Dalton's bruised arm, which forced the quarterback to the sideline after six plays. According to the team's official website, Dalton had no ice or towel or anything on the arm. The most encouraging news is that coach Marvin Lewis said he would've put Dalton back into the game if the game counted. "I'll be fine," Dalton said. "I would have done everything I could to stay in. Fortunately I didn't have to worry about that this week. I'm ready for next week."

BROWNS: In an exclusive interview with The Plain Dealer, Browns new owner Jimmy Haslam was asked if he would have a hand in football decisions. "When I’ve gone to see the other owners, that’s the kind of question I’ve asked them," he said. "I asked [Giants owner] John Mara, because he’s got a great coach, a great GM, what is your role in those decisions? He said, ‘I sit in a lot of the meetings and I’m the tiebreaker.’" Haslam continued to decline to talk about front office and coaching decisions until he takes over, which presumably will happen in late October.

RAVENS: Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he is "concerned" about linebacker Courtney Upshaw's right shoulder, which was reinjured in the second quarter. According to The Baltimore Sun, the Ravens' top pick of the 2012 draft jogged off the field favoring his shoulder and did not return to the game. Upshaw is scheduled for an MRI on Friday. He was expected to help the Ravens' pass rush in the absence of Terrell Suggs. Upshaw didn't talk to reporters after the game but he posted this on Twitter: "From here on out, I'm approaching everything I do in a way where when I'm done, I know no one out-worked me on and off the field."

STEELERS: Head coach Mike Tomlin called Sean Spence's left knee injury "significant" after the game. Spence, a rookie third-round linebacker, was carted off the field in the third quarter and was transported to a local hospital, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. That leaves the Steelers without their top two backups at inside linebacker. Stevenson Sylvester sprained the MCL in his knee in the final training camp practice and is not expected to return until at least the second game of the season. Brandon Johnson, a special-teams player who moved from outside to inside linebacker for the second preseason game, is likely the top backup.