AFC North: Dermontti Dawson

PITTSBURGH -- Given a chance to lobby for a tall wide receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger took a pass.

Roethlisberger
"Anything to help this team," Roethlisberger said on 93.7 The Fan when asked who he thinks the Steelers should draft in the first round. "That’s the mindset we all need to be in because 8-8 is not good enough and we need to get back to the playoffs and the Super Bowl. Whatever the higher powers decide can help this team that’s what I’m going for."

General manager Kevin Colbert has said the Steelers plan to maximize Roethlisberger’s remaining years with the team -- Big Ben said earlier this week that he feels like he can play five to seven more seasons -- by surrounding him with talent.

One former Steelers great said the best way to do that is to bolster the unit that protects the Steelers’ franchise quarterback.

"I think in order for Ben to be successful we have to solidify the offensive line," said Pro Football Hall of Famer Dermontti Dawson. "We have to get a big-threat receiver and we have to get a running game back."

The Steelers won’t take a running back until the third day of the draft since Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount are poised to get the bulk of the carries in 2014. They could take a wide receiver in the first round, though the position is so deep I think the Steelers wait a little later in the draft before addressing it.

Would the Steelers take an offensive tackle with their first-round pick?

The top three tackles in the class -- Auburn’s Greg Robinson, Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews and Michigan’s Taylor Lewan -- are unlikely to slip to No. 15 in the draft. But Notre Dame’s Zack Martin could be available there, and he may be one of the safer picks in the draft as teams love his temperament and versatility.

ESPN analyst Todd McShay ranks Martin as the ninth-best player in the draft. He also has five tackles among his 16 highest-rated players in the draft (Virginia’s Morgan Moses is the other one).

It’s hard to see the Steelers using the first-round pick on a tackle given how many other needs they have.

But players they weren’t expecting to be available in past drafts have slipped to them so nothing can be ruled out here.
Dermontti Dawson and Jack Butler, the two newest Steelers to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, went in with a touch of class Saturday night.

Dawson, a seven-time Pro Bowl center, paid tribute to the player he replaced, the late Mike Webster, who is also a Hall of Fame center.

[+] EnlargePittsburgh's Jack Butler and Dermontti Dawson
Charles LeClaire/US PRESSWIREJack Butler, left, and Dermontti Dawson, right, became the latest Steelers to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
"Mike taught me how to be a true professional, whether he knew it or not," Dawson said. "I observed Mike each day and saw how he approached every aspect of the game. Mike used to be the first ones in the weight room in the mornings, first ones in the meetings."

Dawson added, "I tried to emulate everything Mike did. Mike had a profound impact on my life and even today I still try to lead by example and be like Mike. Thank you, my friend, for playing and living with honor. We miss you."

Butler, one of the best cornerbacks in the 1950s, could have stood on stage for as long as he wanted considering he waited 52 years to be enshrined. But his speech was the shortest of the night. It was 337 heartfelt words (as compared to Cortez Kennedy's 2,943-word soliloquy that included a shout-out to his childhood doctor).

"I never envisioned being here in Canton," Butler said. "This induction is the highest honor I have achieved in my professional career."

The 84-year-old Butler wrapped up by saying, "I am grateful and very proud to be part of this great Class of 2012, and I congratulate the five tremendous men who join me here. I am thankful to God for all that I have been given throughout my life. I am thankful for the support of my family and friends. ... Heck, I'm thankful I'm here."

To read the entire speeches, you can click here for Dawson and here for Butler.
CANTON, Ohio -- Dermontti Dawson, the fifth of six Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinees to speak Saturday night, thanked his parents for the guidance they provided over the years.

The other modern-day finalists preceding Dawson at the podium -- Willie Roaf, Chris Doleman and Cortez Kennedy -- made similar comments.

Curtis Martin, the final enshrinee scheduled to speak, will tell a different story. He'll surely pay tribute to his mother, but so many other factors in his life worked against him. His father left the family when Martin was 4. His grandmother was stabbed to death in brutal fashion when Martin was 9.

Martin never dreamed of the Hall of Fame; at one point, his goal while growing up in a rough Pittsburgh neighborhood was simply reaching age 21. The speech he delivers Saturday night has the potential to pack a different type of emotional punch.
Dermontti Dawson becomes the 12th center enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the first since Dwight Stephenson in 1998.

This solidifies his legacy as one of the best centers to play in the NFL. But is he the best?

[+] EnlargeDermontti Dawson
US PresswireSome football minds, like Steelers coordinator Dick LeBeau, say Dermontti Dawson was the best to ever play center in the pros.
It's a difficult argument for me because I never saw Jim Otto (1960-74) play and remember Mike Webster (1974-90) at the end of his career. My two thoughts on Dawson are: he's the best center over the past two decades and he revolutionized the position.

Dawson, the Steelers' center from 1989 to 2000, had a unique combination of being tough and athletic -- something that had never been seen before at that position. He was durable, playing 170 consecutive games, the second-longest streak in Steelers history. He was also agile enough to get to the outside after snapping the ball and fast enough to get downfield to block safeties.

"To me he was the best athlete to ever play that position," Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. "He was very powerful and explosive, just a rare combination of quickness, explosion, and he was a very dependable player."

Dawson was named to seven straight Pro Bowls (1992 to 1998) and was a six-time first-team All-Pro.

"He redefined the position," former Steelers coach Bill Cowher said. "When you look at the numbers we had in the running game, everything we did worked from the inside out, and to have a guy like Dermontti and such stability, that was a staple of every offense we had.”

Even before Dawson was voted into the Hall of Fame, his legacy has been honored by Pittsburgh. While the Steelers don't officially retire numbers, they haven't given out Dawson's No. 63 since he left in 2000, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

"You never had a center pull until Dermontti Dawson," said Merril Hoge, a former Steelers running back who is now an ESPN analyst. "He revolutionized and changed how teams ran the football in the NFL. ... Who knows if the Steelers would have evolved to where they are today in terms of running the football? It was because of him."

The one thing Dawson was unable to accomplish was winning a championship. In fact, none of this weekend's enshrinees won a Super Bowl.

"I think people put too much emphasis on winning championships as far as being validated and being selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame," Dawson told Pro Football Weekly. "I don’t think that should even be in the criteria. I think it should be what a person brings to the game, how they play the game and how consistent he was. I think it should be based on those factors as opposed to winning championships. A person makes a difference in a game, changes a game in a certain way, he’s contributed to the game. But, yeah, I think too much emphasis is put on winning championships to make that a validation for being considered for the Pro Football Hall of Fame."

AFC North links: Bold move by Browns

July, 13, 2012
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Baltimore Ravens

In a conversation with Matt Vensel of the Baltimore Sun, Aaron Schatz, the editor-in-chief of Football Outsiders, sticks up for Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.

Outside linebacker Michael McAdoo will miss his third consecutive season, but is focused on recovering and returning, writes Garrett Downing of the team's website.

Cincinnati Bengals

Former Bengal Terrell Owens continues to push for an NFL job as training camp approaches, writes Dan Hanzus of NFL.com.

Cleveland Browns

Browns GM Tom Heckert discusses the team's decision to use its second round pick in 2013 to select receiver Josh Gordon in the supplemental draft, and Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal has the transcript.

Heckert is confident top 2012 picks Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden will sign in time for training camp, writes Ulrich.

Gordon says the Browns won't regret using a second-round pick to select him, writes Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Baylor coach Art Briles says Gordon would've been a first-round pick this year, and that he can start as a rookie, writes Cabot.

The Browns deserve credit for making a bold move to get Gordon, writes Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer.

Pittsburgh Steelers

With his induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame just a few weeks away, former Steelers center Dermontti Dawson is among the latest former NFL players to file suit against the league for head injuries suffered while playing professional football, writes Dan Gigler of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Linebacker Larry Foote claims he is the victim of a scheme to defraud him out of more than $400,000.
The NFL announced that 33 former star players will announce the second- and third-round picks for their teams on Friday. Here are the ones representing AFC North teams:

BENGALS: Wide receiver Isaac Curtis. The four-time Pro Bowl player finished with 7,101 receiving yards, which was a franchise record until broken by Chad Ochocinco in 2007.

BROWNS: Wide receiver Gary Collins. A member of the NFL's all-decade team for the 1960s, he remains the Browns' leader in career receiving touchdowns with 70.

RAVENS: Kicker Matt Stover. A member of the Ravens' Ring of Honor, Stover holds the record for most points scored with one franchise.

STEELERS: Center Dermontti Dawson. A member of the 2012 Hall of Fame class, Dawson as named to seven straight Pro Bowls (1992 to 1998) and was a six-time first-team All-Pro.
Jerome Bettis' best shot at making the Hall of Fame so far comes next year.

In his first two years of eligibility, he had been blocked by other running backs -- Marshall Faulk in 2011 and Curtis Martin this past weekend. Bettis will have the best résumé of any running back among next year's candidates.

The former Steelers running back ranks sixth on the NFL's all-time rushing list, which seems to weigh heavily for voters. The top four (Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders and Martin) are all in the Hall of Fame, and LaDainian Tomlinson (who is fifth) is still playing.

So, unlike the logjam that exists at wide receiver, Bettis has the benefit of not competing against another running back. The only notable back added to the ballot next year is Priest Holmes, who put together three great years but finished 39th on the all-time rushing list.

This isn't to say that Bettis is a lock to make the Class of 2013. The ballot will add some big names next year: Larry Allen, Jonathan Ogden and Michael Strahan. If all three of them are elected, that would leave two spots. Another could be taken by one of the wide receivers (Andre Reed, Cris Carter and Tim Brown).

Under that scenario, Bettis would be fighting for the last spot. His competition would be Bill Parcells, Will Shields, Charles Haley and Warren Sapp.

Bettis was one of the 15 modern-era finalists for the Hall of Fame this year, but he failed to make the cutdown to 10. The Steelers did get two players, center Dermontti Dawson and defensive back Jack Butler, elected to the Hall of Fame on Saturday. That brings the number of Steelers in the Hall of Fame to 22.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Dermontti Dawson was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame tonight and Jerome Bettis was not. The reason: Dawson stood out because he redefined his position.

Dawson
Dawson, the Steelers' center from 1989 to 2000, had a unique combination of being tough and athletic -- something that had never been seen before at that position. He was durable, playing 170 consecutive games, the second-longest streak in Steelers history. He was also agile enough to get to the outside after snapping the ball and fast enough to get downfield to block safeties.

"It’s a great honor to be elected into the Class of 2012 Hall of Fame," Dawson said. "But it caused my phone to tie. I had a hundred-plus texts and phone calls since it happened. But it’s a good day."

Dawson becomes the seventh pure center of the modern era to reach the Hall of Fame. But his impact on the position hasn't been an immediately recognized one by the Hall of Fame selectors. This was his eighth year of eligibility.

Playing center was filled with pressure for Dawson. He followed Hall of Fame center Mike Webster, and he outperformed him in many ways. Dawson was named to seven straight Pro Bowls (1992 to 1998) and was a six-time first-team All-Pro.

Before moving to center, Dawson played guard as a rookie in 1988 next to Webster at center.

"I knew I had big shoes to fill. I never would have thought I would be in this position after my career," Dawson said. "I was very blessed to play at a high level. It was just an honor to learn from Mike. A lot of things that Mike did, I tried to emulate throughout my career."

For Bettis, this is the second straight year that he failed to make the Hall of Fame. He was one of 15 modern day finalists but he didn't make the cutdown to 10 finalists. Bettis ranks sixth all time in the NFL with 13,662 yards rushing. Curtis Martin, the fourth all-time leading rusher, did get voted into the Hall of Fame.

The Steelers had a second member in the Hall of Fame Class of 2012 with defensive back Jack Butler. A senior nominee, he was a four-time Pro Bowl player in the 1950s and was named one of the 33 greatest Steelers of all-time in 2008.

Butler and Dawson increase the number of Steelers in the Hall of Fame to 22. The last time the Steelers had two players elected into the Hall of Fame in one year was 1990 (Jack Lambert and Franco Harris).
Four Steelers made the cut as Hall of Fame finalists: running back Jerome Bettis, center Dermontti Dawson, linebacker Kevin Greene and defensive back Jack Butler (who is one of two senior nominees).

Between four to six enshrinees are selected the day before the Super Bowl on Feb. 5. A finalist must receive 80 percent of the vote to be selected. Safety Donnie Shell didn't make the finalist cut.
  • Bettis ranks fifth on the NFL rushing list with 13,662 yards in 13 seasons
  • Dawson, a finalist in 2008 and 2009, was selected to the first-team All-Pro team six times.
  • Greene ranked among the top 10 sack leaders 10 times, including leading the NFL twice
  • Butler was a four-time Pro Bowl player in the 1950s and was named one of the 33 greatest Steelers of all-time in 2008
Former Steelers running back Jerome Bettis is among 26 modern-era semifinalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, it was announced Tuesday.

Bettis, who ranks fifth on the NFL rushing list with 13,662 yards in 13 seasons, is one of four Steelers to make the cut. The others are: center Dermontti Dawson, linebacker Kevin Greene and safety Donnie Shell.

The one Browns player who made the cut was Clay Matthews, a four-time Pro Bowl linebacker who played in Cleveland from 1978 to 1993.

Former Browns and Ravens owner Art Modell, who was on the original list of 103 candidates, wasn't among the semifinalists. He hasn't been a finalist for the Hall of Fame since 2001.

The list will be reduced to 15 modern-era finalists and announced in early January, and between four and seven enshrinees will be announced Feb. 4, the day before the Super Bowl.
[+] EnlargeJerome Bettis
Allen Kee/NFL/Getty ImagesDuring his 13-year career Jerome Bettis topped 1,000 yards a season eight times.
The AFC North will not have a representative in the 2011 Hall of Fame class. The division's two finalists -- Jerome Bettis and Dermontti Dawson -- failed to make the cut Saturday.

Bettis was one of the league's great running backs, spending most of his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers and rushing for 13,662 yards and 91 touchdowns. He did not make it beyond the cut of 15 players. Dawson was a stalwart center for Pittsburgh for 13 seasons, but failed to make it to the final five.

I knew it would be tough going for both players this year as Deion Sanders and Marshall Faulk were first-ballot locks, leaving just three slots for 13 great players. But the time element makes the situation for Bettis and Dawson different.

I agree with the committee that Bettis is not a first-ballot Hall of Famer. But I think Bettis has a solid chance to get in eventually. He's fifth on the NFL's all-time leading rusher list, a six-time Pro Bowler and has a Super Bowl ring. But Bettis has to wait his turn like many outstanding players before him.

A seven-time Pro Bowler, Dawson has been on the ballot since 2005 and year after year he's left on the outside looking in. It appears his candidacy has improved this year. But several quality first-ballot candidates will continue coming down the pike and not leave many slots available for Dawson.

This year's class includes Sanders, Faulk, defensive end Richard Dent, tight end Shannon Sharpe and Ed Sabol of NFL Films. Linebackers Chris Hanburger and Les Richter made it as senior nominees. Sharpe played two seasons with the Ravens but was primarily known as a Denver Bronco.
The NFL will announce its 2011 Hall of Fame class Saturday and former Steelers and Rams running back Jerome Bettis is on the list of 15 finalists.

[+] EnlargeJerome Bettis
Harry How/Getty ImagesJerome Bettis finished his career with 13,662 rushing yards.
Here are some early thoughts on Bettis' chances this weekend:

  • Only five players get in, which means it could be a rough numbers game this year for Bettis, who is on the ballot for the first time. In my opinion, there are two first-ballot locks in this year's class: Deion Sanders and Marshall Faulk. Both likely will be voted in this weekend, which leaves just three slots open for 13 players.
  • I do not have a vote so it's hard to gauge the temperature of who's hot and who's not with the committee. Cases will be presented and opinions will be formulated. But from the outside looking in, it may be an either-or scenario between Bettis and Curtis Martin. Both were great running backs. But to elect Martin and Bettis this year would mean the 2011 class would have four first-ballot Hall of Famers, including Sanders and Faulk. That's not the norm and the committee may want to get in some great players who have waited their turn much longer to get inducted into Canton. There's also a chance neither Bettis nor Martin get in on the first ballot.
  • Also keep in mind longtime Steelers center Dermontti Dawson is a finalist. He's been on the ballot since 2005 and failed to make the cut each time. Similar to Bettis, this could be another tough year to get in with only three legitimate slots available.
Here are the most interesting stories Monday in the AFC North: Morning take: A good postseason game was a big step in Flacco's maturation process, and he passed it with flying colors. Flacco's next step is seeing if he can beat Pittsburgh Steelers counterpart Ben Roethlisberger for the first time in his career.
Morning take: Dawson has been close a few times and this is Bettis' chance to get in on the first ballot. Both will know if they get into the Hall during Super Bowl weekend.
  • ESPN's Chris Mortensen is reporting St. Louis Rams offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur is becoming a front-runner for the Cleveland Browns’ coaching vacancy.
Morning take: I don't see it, but stranger things have happened. Shurmur would be a tough sell to a Cleveland town starving for a big name.
Morning take: This has become a good scouting tool for the Bengals. Several drafted players by Cincinnati over the past few years have come from this game.

Seven-step drop: Carson Palmer's future

November, 29, 2010
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Here are seven notes and observations from Week 12 in the AFC North:
    [+] EnlargeCarson Palmer
    AP Photo/Bill KostrounCincinnati quarterback Carson Palmer's production has continued to fall this season.
  • Expect plenty of behind-the-scenes conversations at Cincinnati Bengals headquarters regarding quarterback Carson Palmer's future. The face of the franchise is no longer playing like it, and the Bengals have to decide if it's worth continuing to make Palmer the team's highest-paid player. Palmer, who has five multi-interception games this season, is due a base salary of $11.5 million in 2011. That puts him near the top of the entire NFL, despite a stark decline in production. In our opinion, still paying Palmer like an elite quarterback wouldn't make much sense for the Bengals. Cincinnati also could ask Palmer to take a pay cut, but there's no guarantee Palmer would accept, especially for a rebuilding team. That would back Cincinnati into a corner to either pay the high salary or release Palmer and allow him to become a free agent for the first time in his career. This will be one of the biggest offseason decisions in the entire division.
  • Cincinnati's call on Palmer also will weigh heavily on the team's draft plans. If the Bengals keep Palmer, don't expect them to draft a quarterback in the top five, which is where Cincinnati is expected to land. Palmer already has a $118.75 million contract with the team, and a top-five pick next year could command anywhere between $50-$75 million. That's too much money tied into one position, which is why the Bengals have to decide one way or the other between Palmer or starting over next year with a rookie quarterback.
  • Speaking of quarterbacks, Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens continues to show growth in his third season. In Sunday's win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Flacco threw for 289 yards, two touchdowns and had a 103.2 passer rating. It was the sixth time this season that Flacco has eclipsed a 100-plus passer rating. Baltimore is 5-1 in those games, with the only loss coming in overtime to the New England Patriots.
  • If you're looking for a major difference between last year and this year with the Ravens, the team has been fortunate to avoid major injuries. The Ravens are one of the healthier NFL teams heading into December. They dodged a few scares, including Sunday when left tackle Michael Oher (knee) and safety Dawan Landry (concussion) were knocked out of the game. Both players were in the locker room Sunday evening and said they will be fine for Sunday's showdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
  • At some point, the Steelers have to take better ownership in cleaning up their penalties. The past two weeks have been atrocious, as the Steelers recorded 24 penalties for 270 yards. Yes, there have been questionable calls in that span -- Steelers linebacker James Harrison earned another debatable personal foul Sunday against Buffalo -- but many of those two-dozen flags are legit. Giving up this many free yards likely will get Pittsburgh beat next week.
  • Is Cleveland Browns running back Peyton Hillis Pro Bowl worthy? The AFC North blog thinks it's time to strongly consider his candidacy. Hillis added another 131 yards rushing and three touchdowns in a win over the Carolina Panthers. He has 905 rushing yards, leads the Browns in receptions (46) and became only the third running back in team history to record 11 or more rushing touchdowns in a season. But there is stiff competition at running back in the AFC. Hills has no chance of winning the fan voting because he isn't a household name and plays for a losing team. So his nod would have to come from opposing players and coaches, who select the reserves.
  • Finally, we want to give a special "Seven-step drop" congratulations to AFC North alums Jerome Bettis, Art Modell, Dermontti Dawson and Kevin Greene. They were all selected as semifinalists for the Hall of Fame Class of 2011. Finalists will be chosen at a later date and the selection process will continue through Super Bowl week in February, when the 2011 class is announced.

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