AFC North: Dancing With The Stars

Thoughts on Hines Ward's arrest

July, 9, 2011
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Ward
Ward
Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Hines Ward was arrested and charged with drunken driving early Saturday morning in Georgia. Ward was released on $1,300 bond.

Here are some thoughts on Ward's arrest:
  • This was a surprisingly irresponsible move by Ward, who is 35 and has been a consummate professional with the Steelers. Ward is entering his 14th season and has stayed out of trouble during his career. Ward recently gained a lot of popularity for his success winning "Dancing With The Stars." Now, his name is in the news for the wrong reasons.
  • It's too early to speculate whether the NFL will come down on Ward. The league is in the middle of a lockout and may look into Ward's case once it reaches a new collective bargaining agreement. Ward does not have prior off-the-field incidents, which helps his case.
  • For the third year in a row, the Steelers fail to make it through the offseason without an off-the-filed incident involving a star player. Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was accused of sexual assault two years in a row in 2009 and 2010. This year Ward is being charged for driving under the influence. Ward's situation does not compare to Roethlisberger's, but it still puts a bad light on the Steelers and their team captain.

Taking another break

June, 22, 2011
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After months of covering "Dancing With The Stars," bull riding and the new offseason game of "Everyone bash Joe Flacco," it's time to take an extended vacation this summer. This time I will not return until Tuesday, July 5.

Our resident scout -- Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. -- also will provide in-depth stories that will be must-reads. Hopefully the NFL lockout will be nearing its completion by the time I return.

But before I leave, let's present our AFC North "Homer of the Week."

  • Bob Francis from Washington, D.C., writes: I know you're tired of Steelers fans even mentioning Nnamdi Asomugha, but hear me out. I know the Steelers are not big players in free agency and don't overpay. However, if they're going to have to put down $10 million/year to keep Taylor anyway, why not up the ante and go for Asomugha? They need a veteran corner. Also, would Asomugha take a slight discount to play for a great defense on a team that's been to three of the last six Super Bowls? He's been paid -- now he wants to win. And after nearly winning the SB last year, the Steelers have to feel they're close again, and as you've consistently said, they need corner help, especially against the NEs and GBs of the world. Imagine that solid defense with a true all-world corner!

Keep dreaming, Bob. See everyone soon.

Taking a break

May, 26, 2011
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Since "Dancing with the Stars" is officially over, it's time for me to take an extended vacation. (OK, that was a joke.)

But I am taking a brief hiatus for Memorial Day weekend and will be out until Tuesday, May 31. This time there will be no Cam Newton-to-Bengals threats. It's almost summer and everyone received good grades during the school year. So go crazy if you want at the expense of my buddy "ESPN.com staff."

Before I leave, I do want to present our latest "Homer of the Week" in the AFC North. Enjoy.
Mike from Ashtabula, Ohio, writes: James, I read your post weekly and I'm sure you are wrong on the Browns. Here's how I see the AFC North if there is free agency and football this year. The Steelers always have a bad year after Super Bowls. So I see them finishing 8-8 or worse. The Ravens are getting old and Joe Flacco is going to have head problems after last year's playoff performances. So I see them at 7-9. The Bengals are another story, 5-11 or maybe 6-10. They have a rookie QB and a rookie receiver. It takes time to grow together. So I see the Browns winning the division with Colt McCoy, Peyton Hillis and some new, key additions. Just looking at this realistically and not being bias like you.

See you next week.
It's not quite another Lombardi trophy. But Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Hines Ward can add another piece of championship hardware -- the mirror ball trophy -- to his distinguished collection.

Hines Ward
AP Photo/Adam TaylorHines Ward is this season's "Dancing with the Stars" champion.
Ward, a two-time Super Bowl champion, became just the second NFL player to win the popular "Dancing with the Stars" competition on ABC, joining former running back Emmitt Smith. Ward and partner Kym Johnson had great chemistry from the start and became the prohibitive favorites, and they finished the job Tuesday night with another great performance to beat Kristie Alley and Maksim Chmerkovskiy, who came in second.

Ward and Johnson, wearing the Steelers' black-and-gold colors, performed the Samba and didn't miss a step. He showed fluid moves and sported his trademark smile the entire performance, which scored a perfect 30 points from the judges Tuesday. The final tally was the combined result of the judges and the fans.

To be honest, I didn't expect Ward to win "Dancing With The Stars." Ward is not the fastest or the quickest receiver in the NFL, but his abilities translated very well on the dance floor. Ward admits he never danced before, but he is an intense competitor and you can tell he put his all into winning this competition.

I also had questions about Ward's taking part in this lengthy competition spanning more than two months in the spring, but it turned out to be the right call. Due to the lengthy NFL lockout, Ward didn't miss any offseason activities and was able to do something to stay in shape and further his career after football. Perhaps dancing this offseason will also help Ward become more nimble in the twilight of his career.

Ward may have come up one drive short in Super Bowl XLV against the Green Bay Packers this past February. But credit Ward, a consummate winner, for working hard to bring a different kind of title to Pittsburgh this year.
Here are the most interesting stories Tuesday in the AFC North: Morning take: Quarterback Joe Flacco and other Ravens will get to work during this NFL lockout. This is a big year for Flacco in his fourth season, and he can't let the work stoppage get in the way.
  • Former Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Ken Anderson says it's great that rookie Andy Dalton wants to wear his old No. 14.
Morning take: If Dalton is half as successful as Anderson, the rookie will have a solid career in Cincinnati. Here is some advice for Dalton.
Morning take: Ward has a chance to add another title to his résumé and remains the favorite. Will the offseason dancing help Ward become more nimble next season?
  • The New York Jets' overtime victory over the Cleveland Browns in Week 10 was among last season's most entertaining games.
Morning take: That was an intense contest that was very close to ending in a tie. But a couple of tactical errors down the stretch cost the Browns, and their season went downhill from there.

Morning take: Lockout impact

May, 17, 2011
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Here are the most interesting stories Tuesday in the AFC North: Morning take: Pat Shurmur has to be very eager to coach his players this offseason. Besides film study, the lockout has prevented the rookie head coach from getting to know his roster's strengths and weaknesses.
Morning take: The Bengals have more continuity than the Browns. But Cincinnati still has to integrate a rookie quarterback into a new offense, which will be a challenge.
Morning take: Receiver Torrey Smith is the third Terp to be picked by the Ravens. He follows Jermaine Lewis and Jared Gaither, and both had success. The Ravens hope Smith can be a solid No. 3 receiver this upcoming season.
Morning take: Ward is now the favorite to win it all. If that's the case, he would be just the second NFL player to win the competition, joining Emmitt Smith.
Here are the latest happenings Monday evening in the AFC North:
  • Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer's home is officially sold, leaving Palmer without a residence in Cincinnati where he's currently under contract.
  • Second-round pick and receiver Torrey Smith is happy to join the Baltimore Ravens.
  • Speaking of receivers, here is a video on Hines Ward of the Pittsburgh Steelers on "Dancing With The Stars."
  • What will be Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Dick Jauron's role in free agency?
Here are the most interesting stories Wednesday in the AFC North:
  • After recently trying out for a professional soccer team, Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco now wants to try his luck at bull riding.
Morning take: I'm not sure what made Ochocinco want to ride bulls. But I would much rather see him accept Baltimore Ravens safety Tom Zbikowski's challenge and get in the boxing ring.
Morning take: This is good for a team trying to hit the ground running despite a lot of changes on offense and defense. Cleveland has a lot of ground to make up whenever the lockout ends.
Morning take: At times Johnson is one of Baltimore's best pass-rushers, but that's not his specialty. The Ravens could use another player opposite Terrell Suggs who has double-digit sack potential.
  • Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Hines Ward remains in the lead on "Dancing With The Stars."
Morning take: Ward continues to excel and has surpassed Ochocinco, who finished fourth last year. Can Ward add another title to his many career accomplishments?

Morning take: Polamalu or Suggs?

April, 19, 2011
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Here are the most interesting stories Tuesday in the AFC North:
  • Baltimore Ravens Pro Bowl linebacker/defensive end Terrell Suggs says Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu was the top player from Suggs' 2003 draft class.
Morning take: You have to appreciate Suggs' honesty. There are several great players from the '03 draft, including Suggs, but Polamalu has two rings and is making a strong case for the Hall of Fame.
Morning take: The Browns have a lot of needs, and in most cases, drafting a receiver this high is a bad idea. The defensive line needs an upgrade. But I also would understand Cleveland's want to help second-year quarterback Colt McCoy.
Morning take: For the second time this season I watched Ward on the show, and I was very impressed. Ward performed the rumba better than most people.
  • Is backup cornerback Adam Jones in line to be a starter for the Cincinnati Bengals next season?
Morning take: I would be surprised if the Bengals pay free agent Johnathan Joseph enough money to stay in Cincinnati. Jones showed flashes last year before suffering a season-ending neck injury, and the Bengals may feel he's ready to become the starter.

Morning take: Ravens or Orioles?

April, 9, 2011
4/09/11
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Here are the most interesting stories Saturday in the AFC North: Morning take: I would like to hear from Ravens fans on this one. Growing up near Washington D.C., I recall baseball being huge in Baltimore. There was also a lengthy period without football once the Colts left for Indianapolis.
Morning take: This is a hypothetical question since the Bengals seem content to call Palmer's bluff. But I agree with this article that Cincinnati should, at the very least, explore trade options to see what's available in the event a team is willing to overspend.
Morning take: Georgia receiver A.J. Green could definitely help the Browns and quarterback Colt McCoy. But Cleveland is in desperate need of defensive linemen after switching to a 4-3 defense this season.
Morning take: Ward is a winner. So I'm not surprised he's doing well and putting his all into this competition. If Ward wins, does that give him a one-up on rival Chad Ochocinco, who finished fourth?
The NFL lockout has created some interesting diversions in the AFC North.

Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco recently kicked it with soccer pros. Baltimore Ravens safety Tom Zbikowski is knocking out opponents in the ring, and Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Hines Ward is doing a good job on "Dancing With The Stars."

But which AFC North player has the coolest offseason activity? If you had a choice, which would you prefer?

Thanks to ESPN.com's SportsNation, we can now place live, interactive polls in the blogs. You can participate by simply voting for Ward, Ochocinco or Zbikowski for the best offseason gig and share your comments below.

Let us know what you think.

Ralph Macchio upstages Hines Ward

March, 22, 2011
3/22/11
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The three athletes -- Hines Ward, Chris Jericho and Sugar Ray Leonard -- didn't embarrass themselves on the first night of ABC's "Dancing With The Stars" Monday but they also didn't totally wow the judges.

Ward isn't worried at this point.

"I've never danced before in front of an audience, so I'm going out there to have fun," said Ward, who performed the cha-cha. "I want to win it all. Remember, in football, you don't remember who lost the Super Bowl. Only playing for second place is no consolation."

Page 2's Lynn Hoppes has more.
First it was AFC North receiver Chad Ochocinco who participated on "Dancing With The Stars." Now it's Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Hines Ward.

Ward
Ward
The former Super Bowl MVP continued the trend of having current and former NFL players on the show. He adds to the list of NFL DWTS alumni which includes Ochocinco, Jason Taylor, Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith.

Is this a good idea for Ward? I have some concerns.

Similar to Ochocinco, participating on the spring reality show will take time away from Ward's offseason schedule. Ochocinco had two reality television shows last year, missed all voluntary workouts and had a down year, catching just 67 passes for 831 yards and four touchdowns.

Ward will turn 35 on March 8 and his numbers were also down last season. He caught 59 passes for 755 yards and five touchdowns for the reigning AFC champions.

With a pending lockout, maybe none of this will matter. If a new collective bargaining agreement isn't reached soon, which is very possible, there will be no offseason workout program for teams anyway. Maybe that factored into Ward's thinking, and he decided to take advantage of the spotlight and the opportunity.

But the idea of Ward dancing in Hollywood this spring seems to be an un-Steeler-like move, especially with Pittsburgh coming off a tough loss in Super Bowl XLV and trying to stay focused next season in order to get back to the big game.

Is Chad Ochocinco focused?

June, 15, 2010
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Chad OchocincoAP Photo/Tony TribbleCincinnati's No. 1 receiver Chad Ochocinco has been absent from offseason workouts -- participating in just his first practice Tuesday.
CINCINNATI -- It has been the one topic the Bengals have tactfully avoided this offseason.

Teammates often made light of the situation. Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis also deflected it as a non-issue. But in the final week of organized team activities, quarterback Carson Palmer finally let out what some in Cincinnati may have been thinking in the back of their minds.

"It would be great to have our No. 1 receiver here and working him and building it around him," an honest Palmer told reporters. "We've tried moving guys around. Maybe they're trying to find a new No. 1 receiver because it's hard to work your offense in without that guy around."

"That guy" is Chad Ochocinco. The fact that Palmer didn't refer to him by name may have been a subtle hint that the quarterback wasn't amused that his top target hadn't been around for offseason workouts.

The Bengals are trying to take the next step after last year's quick playoff exit. Meanwhile, Ochocinco has been learning a lot of quick dance steps, spending most of his offseason on the popular television show "Dancing With The Stars." Ochocinco also is in the process of filming a VH1 dating show that will air later this summer, taking even more time away from football.

No. 85 was present Tuesday for the first time during mandatory minicamp. A majority of his teammates have been working out together for months, desperately trying to prove that last year's AFC North division title was no fluke.

[+] EnlargeChad Ochocinco
ABC/Adam LarkeyOchocinco spent part of the offseason on the television show, "Dancing With The Stars."
Ochocinco's offseason decisions make you question if he has that same level of desire this year. But he says anyone who doubts him is making a huge mistake.

"My commitment and dedication is still there. My [trash]-talking is still there," Ochocinco said after practice. "I just want everybody to remember that nothing's changed. That's it. There's always questions when I'm not here in OTAs, when I'm not here period. But I still train."

Of course, Ochocinco didn't stop there.

"I just need everybody to trust in me like birth control," Ochocinco said. "Because I'm always going to be there for you, like, 99.9 percent of the time. That [.1] percent is the Jets [playoff] game."

Ochocinco says he's in good dancing shape but appeared a little winded in his first football practice with the team. The speed and hands were still there, but the Bengals kept him out of some 11-on-11 drills to limit his reps.

The outspoken receiver is certainly capable. Last year Ochocinco had 72 receptions for 1,047 yards and nine touchdowns, making his sixth Pro Bowl. But Ochocinco, 32, was motivated after a down year in 2008. He did a lot of independent training to get back into top form, and even then, Ochocinco's numbers were not as good as they were several years ago while in his prime.

Ochocinco said he will do more boxing training this summer with world champion Floyd Mayweather to keep up his eye-hand coordination. If Ochocinco is focused and everything falls into place, Palmer said "the sky is the limit" for his offense, and there were of flashes of that in minicamp.

Palmer tossed the ball all over the field to Ochocinco, Antonio Bryant and rookies Jermaine Gresham and Jordan Shipley on Tuesday. But there were also instances where Ochocinco looked rusty and the timing with Palmer seemed slightly off.

"Chad and I missed a couple plays today, and we made some plays today," Palmer said. "But it doesn't matter how many years, receptions or completions you have. It takes a little time to get that rhythm back and that timing back."

Added Lewis: "He has to get caught up between now and training camp and get going that way. But he's got to get his football legs back under him."

Both Lewis and Palmer know Ochocinco is the key to making Cincinnati's passing offense go this season. Ochocinco is the team's most consistent and dangerous receiver, and he will draw the attention of the defense and open up the field for other teammates.

Ochocinco used the word "trust" several times Tuesday. Despite not being around, he wants everyone to trust that he will be ready to help the Bengals make another playoff run in 2010.

But if Ochocinco doesn't have another great year, much of the blame probably will be traced back to his offseason filled with non-football related activities. The receiver seems confident that won't be an issue.

"Everybody in general, you shouldn't question when I'm not here," Ochocinco said. "[It] should never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever be a question. Ever! Because you already know how I am when I get here. You know what you get when I'm here."

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