AFC North: Dave Zastudil
Zastudil had offseason surgery, but his right knee was not responding well this summer. He spent last week in Colorado getting it checked out.
Zastudil has been the Browns' punter for the past four years and now Reggie Hodges is punting in his place.
- The status of Baltimore offensive tackle Jared Gaither (back) is still in limbo.
- Cincinnati rookies Jordan Shipley and Geno Atkins are getting up to speed.
- Cleveland punter Dave Zastudil's return from a knee injury is uncertain.
- It's been a tough gofor Pittsburgh rookie tailback Jonathan Dwyer so far in training camp.
Here are some final notes and observations:
- Everyone wants to talk about the quarterbacks, so let's get right to it. I thought the quarterback play was decent but inconsistent. There were days like Thursday when it appeared they didn't deserve to be on the field. But there were also days like Friday and Saturday when the group was solid. Veteran Jake Delhomme was clearly the best of the lot. Delhomme made some really nice throws that I haven't seen from a Browns quarterback during practice in a while. Backup Seneca Wallace made some plays with his feet but was also shaky at times. Third-round pick Colt McCoy looked like a rookie playing in his first minicamp and was mostly throwing to players who won't make the team. "I'm very happy with where I'm at, I will say that," Delhomme said. "I've spent a lot of time here before we even started OTAs, trying to learn it, because you want to get respect from your teammates. You want to be a leader, and the first way you do it is by knowing your stuff, knowing what you're doing and making the right calls."[+] EnlargeAP Photo/Amy SancettaQuarterbacks Seneca Wallace (left) and Jake Delhomme were inconsistent during minicamp.
- Cleveland running back Peyton Hillis returned to the team Saturday but didn’t practice. He sat out of minicamp with an illness. Browns cornerback Eric Wright, who didn't participate in team drills Friday, returned to full practice on Saturday.
- As a disclaimer, I usually like to point out that you can only tell so much from football in shorts, or "skirts," as Delhomme put it. But two rookies that stood out most in minicamp were tailback Montario Hardesty and receiver Carlton Mitchell. First, they look the part coming through the door. They both have great size and can move. Second, both rookies made plays when they had the opportunities. Hardesty, who sat out Saturday, ran the ball well and knew his assignments. Mitchell had nice bursts and showed surprisingly good footwork, for a rookie, to get open against coverage. "It takes different guys different time periods [to get ready to play]," Mitchell said. "After a while, the more you do things, as far as watching film, correcting your mistakes and going out and taking reps, you start to feel more relaxed."
- Speaking of rookies, Browns cornerback and No. 7 overall pick Joe Haden reiterated Saturday that "it's real important" that he gets his contract done and arrives to training camp on time. First-rounders, and particularly players selected with a top-10 pick, are always in danger of arriving to training camp late. But Haden is expected to be an important part of the defense and doesn't want to fall behind.
- Predicting the right side of the offensive line will be tough with the way Browns coach Eric Mangini is rotating players and positions. Right now, an educated guess is Floyd Womack and Tony Pashos will be the right guard and right tackle in Week 1, respectively. But this pairing has been used on the first- and second-teams throughout minicamp. Mangini also played Pashos at right guard and Womack at right tackle. Offensive linemen John St. Clair and rookie Shawn Lauvao were getting a look on the right side, as well. Mangini is a big believer in building depth and versatility on the offensive line. "What usually happens is those guys all play," Mangini said.
- Wallace said he's looking forward to Cleveland's Wildcat package with Josh Cribbs. Having both on the field at the same time could be a dangerous change of pace to add to the offense. Cleveland was ranked last in total offense in 2009.
- Mangini believes defensive lineman Shaun Rogers (leg), linebacker Eric Barton (neck surgery) and punter Dave Zastudil (knee) are all "on track" for training camp. The trio did not participate this week in minicamp.
Here is our AFC North all-decade team.
Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh Steelers)
Analysis: You can really start and stop this argument with Roethlisberger's two Super Bowls wins in the decade. In terms of starting quarterbacks, Roethlisberger trails only the New England Patriots' Tom Brady, who won three titles in the decade. Outside of Carson Palmer of the Cincinnati Bengals, no one was even remotely close for consideration, unless you wanted to reach for quarterbacks who had one or two good seasons in the decade, such as Kordell Stewart, Joe Flacco or Derek Anderson.
Other considerations: Palmer (Bengals)
Running backs: Jamal Lewis (Cleveland Browns/Baltimore Ravens) and Jerome Bettis (Steelers)
Analysis: Typical of the AFC North, our all-decade backfield is as physical and heavy duty as it gets. Lewis, who retired after the 2009 season, registered 10,607 total rushing yards as a member of the Browns and Ravens. He had a 2,000-yard season with Baltimore in 2003. Bettis played six seasons (2000-05) in the decade with the Steelers and rushed for 5,199 yards in that span. Both players won Super Bowls and will be considered for the Hall of Fame. Although we don't have a traditional fullback, Bettis is versatile and big enough for the position.
Other considerations: Willie Parker (Steelers), Rudi Johnson (Bengals)
Analysis: We have a good mix at receiver. Ochocinco came to Cincinnati as a raw second-round pick who worked his way to become a six-time Pro Bowler and one of the biggest personalities in the NFL. Ward, a four-time Pro Bowler in the decade, was a former college quarterback who now is one of the toughest and smartest players in the league.
Other considerations: T.J. Houshmandzadeh (Bengals), Derrick Mason (Ravens)
Tight End: Todd Heap (Ravens)
Analysis: When you look at the total numbers over the past decade, Heap was the clear choice as the top tight end in the division. Heap caught 427 passes over that span and made two Pro Bowls. Pittsburgh's Heath Miller, who has 244 receptions, is two years younger and may eventually match Heap's production. But Heap has the better numbers to date. Former Browns tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. also put up impressive numbers in just three full seasons with Cleveland.
Other considerations: Miller (Steelers), Winslow Jr. (Browns)
Offensive line: OT Jonathan Ogden (Ravens), OT Willie Anderson (Bengals/Ravens), G Eric Steinbach (Browns/Bengals), G Alan Faneca (Steelers), C Jeff Hartings (Steelers)
Analysis: Besides leaving off three-time Pro Bowler Joe Thomas, putting the offensive line together was easier than I thought. Anderson of the Bengals got the edge over Thomas for two reasons: He's a natural right tackle and played nine years last decade at a high level. Thomas, with just three years, doesn't have the same longevity.
Other considerations: OT Thomas (Browns), OT Levi Jones (Bengals), C Rich Braham (Bengals)
Specialists: K Matt Stover (Ravens), P Chris Gardocki (Steelers/Browns), KR Josh Cribbs (Browns), LS Ryan Pontbriand (Browns)
Analysis: Stover made the Pro Bowl in 2000, and his 93.3 field goal percentage in 2006 led the NFL. He's been consistent for a very long time, which is all you ask from kickers. Gardocki and Dave Zastudil is a toss up. But Gardocki led the NFL in punts two years in a row (2000 and 2001) as well as punting yards in 2000. Zastudil cannot boast those claims. Cribbs was a no-brainer, and teammate Pontbriand made two Pro Bowls as Cleveland's long-snapper.
Other considerations: K Phil Dawson (Browns), K Jeff Reed (Steelers), P Zastudil (Ravens/Browns), B.J. Sams (Ravens)
Defense line: Casey Hampton (Steelers), Aaron Smith (Steelers), Justin Smith (Bengals)
Analysis: It's only fair that the AFC North all-decade defense runs a 3-4 scheme. Since 2001, Hampton has embodied what a 3-4 nose tackle looks like and plays like. He has five Pro Bowls in the decade, including this past season. Aaron Smith also is a prototype for 3-4 defensive ends. He's always put personal numbers aside so other defenders in Pittsburgh could flourish. Justin Smith of Cincinnati never quite lived up to his lofty draft status. But he was a consistent player for the Bengals.
Other considerations: DT Kelly Gregg (Ravens), DE Kimo von Oelhoffen (Steelers), DE Trevor Pryce (Ravens)
Analysis: You can win a lot of games with this group. You have intelligence and physicality in the middle, and plenty of pass-rush ability on the outside. Lewis, a future Hall of Famer, is the captain and emotional leader of the all-decade defense. Farrior also has the smarts to keep everyone in line, while Suggs and Porter can fly around and wreak havoc on the quarterback. There were several very good candidates at outside linebacker. But Porter and Suggs were dominant forces in the AFC North for a longer period.
Other considerations: OLB James Harrison (Steelers), OLB Adalius Thomas (Ravens)
Defensive backs: CB Chris McAlister (Ravens), CB Ike Taylor (Steelers), S Troy Polamalu (Steelers), S Ed Reed (Ravens)
Analysis: Polamalu and Reed are two of the all-time great safeties, so there is no debate there. Also, fans may recently remember the aging and injured McAlister who was cut by the Ravens last year. But at one point "C-Mac" was the most physically dominant cornerback in the division. Taylor won two Super Bowls with the Steelers and is the best of what's left at cornerback. I also considered Anthony Henry, who played in Cleveland for four years during the decade and had one stellar season when he led the NFL with 10 interceptions in 2001.
Other considerations: CB Henry (Browns), S Rod Woodson (Ravens)
The team put two key veterans on season-ending injured reserve Wednesday in punter Dave Zastudil (knee) and tight end Steve Heiden. The team also claimed former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Arnold Harrison and Green Bay receiver Jake Allen off waivers.
"Steve and Dave worked extremely hard this year, and you don’t like to see anyone’s season end prematurely because of an injury," Browns coach Eric Mangini said in a statement. "They both provided a veteran presence that will not be easy to replace."
Heiden played in seven games this year and caught 10 passes for 73 yards and a touchdown. Zastudil was one of Cleveland's steadiest players with an average of 44.7 yards per punt.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
CLEVELAND -- The Baltimore Ravens are winning the field-position battle early and the game, 3-0.
The Browns went three-and-out on their first possession and punter Dave Zastudil had an awful kick off the side of his foot for 20 yards. That set up a short field for Baltimore to get a 41-yard field goal to take an early lead at the 10:40 mark of the first quarter.
So far both defenses are playing hard. The Browns were only able to get three plays in during their first possession, and the Ravens were only able to get 19 yards on nine plays before scoring.
|The Browns need Derek Anderson (3) and Braylon Edwards (17) to step things up if Cleveland is going to be successful in 2008.|
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
BEREA, Ohio -- This week was a classic, gloomy Monday in Browns Town.
Coming off a 10th consecutive loss to their biggest rival, the first player Cleveland Browns head coach Romeo Crennel singled out for praise was the punter.
The statement pretty much summed up the first two weeks for the 0-2 Browns. There aren't many kudos to go around for a group that hasn't resembled the 10-6 team of a year ago.
In fact, name five of the NFL's most disappointing teams so far, and Cleveland is likely on everyone's list. Just a month ago the Browns were the trendy pick to wreak havoc in the AFC.
Now Cleveland is wreaking havoc only on itself.
Here is a snapshot of what's gone wrong:
- Star players have underperformed, particularly on offense. Pro Bowlers Braylon Edwards and quarterback Derek Anderson are well below their projected numbers. Anderson's 57.1 passer rating isn't getting it done, and Edwards has as many drops (five at least) as catches (five for 46 yards) through two games. It also appears Edwards has lost some confidence.
"I think Braylon is trying pretty hard when a ball comes his way because last game he dropped some," Crennel said. "Sometimes when you try hard, you tighten up a little bit and you don't relax. I think he's got to get to the point where he can relax and look the ball in and let it come to him the way it used to."
- The offensive line has struggled. The Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers had their way with the right side of Cleveland's line, which has failed to dominate the way it did a year ago. The unit was widely considered one of the best entering the 2008 season.
"It's a lack of execution," Browns left tackle Joe Thomas said. "One or two guys on each play are not getting on the right guy and that's what happens when drives are stalling."
- The coaching staff also deserves some of the blame. It's been well publicized this week that Crennel has struggled with his decision-making and clock management in the first two games. Also, offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski strategically is failing to stay one step ahead of the defense. For example, having 5-foot-9 receiver Syndric Steptoe attempt to block the Steelers' front seven was a disadvantage for Cleveland every time. Steptoe, playing the role that the larger Joe Jurevicius normally plays, was unable to execute several seal blocks on running plays. That's an important part of the Browns' offense. And continuing to call plays for Edwards when he doesn't have it going only complicated matters. It's vital for Chudzinski to find his rhythm as well.
- Health was a big reason they won 10 games last year and it's a big reason the Browns aren't producing right now. Defensive lineman Robaire Smith (Achilles) and linebacker Antwan Peek (knee) are lost for the season, and tackle Ryan Tucker (hip) and receivers Donte' Stallworth (quad) and Joe Jurevicius (knee) have yet to play. Starting tailback Jamal Lewis (hamstring) and return specialist Joshua Cribbs (ankle) also are playing hurt.
But the positive news for the Browns is it's extremely early.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
In part two of our Monday series, we take a look at our preseason picks for the All-AFC North on defense and special teams.
Skinny: With three teams in the division playing a 3-4 defense full-time or at some points in games, it's hard to pick two impact defensive ends. Smith of Pittsburgh and Cleveland's Williams are the two players that somewhat fit the description. Both will have to play well and stay healthy for their units to perform at its peak.
Honorable mention: Robert Geathers, Cincinnati Bengals
Skinny: Despite his prior reputation, Rogers has shown no signs of slacking in Cleveland. If the Browns get 16 games of all-out effort from Rogers he will be the most dominant tackle in the division. Baltimore's Ngata nudges Casey Hampton for the second spot on our team, because Hampton needs time to work his way into shape and could get off to a slow start.
Honorable mention: Casey Hampton, Pittsburgh Steelers
|Kevin Terrell/Getty Images|
|Ray Lewis is still the premier middle linebacker in the division.|
Skinny: If Suggs didn't play angry enough, he's searching for a new contract and will take it out on his opponents this year. Harrison is a late bloomer but knows how to get to the quarterback with ease.
Honorable mention: Bart Scott, Baltimore Ravens
Middle linebacker: Ray Lewis, Baltimore Ravens
Skinny: Lewis remains the best middle linebacker in the division. Lewis will have to be all-world for the Ravens to win games this year, so expect him to be in top form.
Honorable mention: James Farrior, Pittsburgh Steelers
Skinny: Yes, the best young cornerback in the AFC North resides in Cincinnati. Joseph should have a stellar year even if the Bengals' defense does not. McAlister was banged up in 2007, but makes a world of difference in Baltimore's scheme when healthy.
Honorable mention: Ike Taylor, Pittsburgh Steelers
Skinny: These two are no-brainer picks as long as injuries do not get in the way. Polamalu is battling a hamstring injury but should be fine. Reed's shoulder injury is a bigger concern in Baltimore.
Honorable mention: Sean Jones, Cleveland Browns
Kicker: Shayne Graham, Cincinnati Bengals
Skinny: This was a very tough decision because there is not much that separates a solid group of four kickers in the AFC North. A case could be made for each kicker to earn the top spot, but we're going with "Money Graham" this season by a slight margin.
Honorable mention: Jeff Reed, Pittsburgh Steelers
Punter: Sam Koch, Baltimore Ravens
Skinny: Koch is quietly off to a solid start to his career and has the potential to get better. With that offense in Baltimore, Koch will have a lot of opportunities to put up great numbers this season.
Honorable mention: Dave Zastudil, Cleveland Browns
Return specialist: Joshua Cribbs, Cleveland Browns
Skinny: It's scary to think that Cribbs started returning kicks just three years ago. Some of the best returners in the league have done it throughout college and high school, but Cribbs got a late start and found his football calling. Cribbs, who Cleveland likes to call the 12th man on offense, has gotten better each year and could be even more dangerous in 2008.
Honorable mention: Yamon Figurs, Baltimore Ravens