AFC North: Doug Martin

Good morning from Baltimore

November, 11, 2012
BALTIMORE -- Sunday will start an AFC North doubleheader for me in Week 10. I will begin with the Raiders-Ravens game today and head to Pittsburgh on Monday for the Chiefs-Steelers game.

As for Sunday's game at M&T Bank Stadium, this one will likely be decided by the backfields. The Ravens' struggling run defense catches a break with the Raiders' top two running backs, Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson, out with high-ankle sprains. Oakland will rely on fullback Marcel Reece and third-string running back Taiwan Jones.

In what doesn't seem fair, the Ravens still have Ray Rice, who will go against a Raiders defense that gave up 251 yards rushing to Buccaneers rookie Doug Martin last Sunday.

"Obviously, you look at it and you start to get excited when you see it happening," Rice said. "Anybody goes over 200 yards, you have to figure there is a problem there."

Last Sunday, the Raiders allowed three touchdown runs of 40-plus yards. Since the start of the 2010 season, the Raiders have allowed 12 rushing touchdowns of at least 40 yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That's by far the most in the NFL The next three teams on the list have 12 combined.

While I will be attending the Ravens' and Steelers' games, I won't forget about the Giants-Bengals game, which kicks off at 1 p.m. I will file a wrap-up to the Bengals game after I get done with the Ravens locker room.

Weekend mailbag: Mendenhall's future

September, 15, 2012
When I opened up the mailbag, I received a lot of congratulations for the birth of my son. I really appreciate every one of the kind notes. It's nice to see the sensitive side of the roughest division in football. Now, let's get to some questions ...

Matt, from Sparks, Md., writes: Congrats on the new addition. I have a 8-month-old myself so I know that answering these questions on your amount of sleep is close to impossible. A few questions: Will the Ravens' new offensive line be able to last the full season and why did they restructure instead of cut Bryant McKinnie if he wasn't going to play? Also, headed to the Linc on Sunday. Is wearing a Ray Lewis jersey a good idea or should I go undercover?

Jamison Hensley, from AFC North headquarters, responds: The offensive line has a better chance to last the full season because the Ravens went younger with left guard Ramon Harewood and right tackle Kelechi Osemele. McKinnie has been durable at his age, but his recent off-the-field issues were a red flag about his dependability. The reason why the Ravens were more agreeable to cutting his pay by $1 million over cutting him from the team is insurance. If Michael Oher got hurt, the Ravens don't have anyone else who they trust to protect Joe Flacco's blind side. Spending $2.2 million might be a little expensive for a backup but it beats the alternative of trying to pick up an unsigned veteran who is a bigger question mark than McKinnie. As far as your attire to the Eagles game, go undercover. Lincoln Financial Field doesn't have a jail anymore, but that doesn't mean fans will greet you with a cheesesteak.

Auto4Short, from Elgin Air Force Base, Fla., writes: First off congratulations JH! But my question is what is the word on Dre Kirkpatrick? Starting to look like the Bengals need all the depth they can get at cornerback.

Jamison Hensley, from AFC North headquarters, responds: There is very little to report on Kirkpatrick, Cincinnati's first-round pick, which continues a disappointing first chapter to his Bengals career. After being sidelined for nearly all of the offseason workouts and all but one training-camp practice, Kirkpatrick suffered a setback late in the preseason, which is why he hasn't practiced for the first two weeks of the regular season. The hope is he'll return to practice either in Week 3 or the following week. Kirkpatrick felt good after rehabbing on the field Thursday and Friday. If you saw how Flacco picked apart the Bengals' secondary, Cincinnati needs to get Kirkpatrick into the mix. He was expected to be at least the team's nickelback before injuries got him off track.

Jack, from Cleveland, writes: More likely true of the Browns' Week 1 performance: The defense really is that good, or the offense really is that bad? Don't say somewhere in the middle, the offense will improve and the defense played over its head but is a good unit. Take a stand! Don't hedge in 2012!

Jamison Hensley, from AFC North headquarters, responds: The defense has proven to be very good, but it's not a game-changing one. Michael Vick's average play at quarterback (he's thrown 20 interceptions in his past 16 starts) has made a lot of defenses look better recently. The Browns offense, though, will have many games where it will look that bad. This is a young Cleveland offense, starting with rookies at quarterback and running back. Mistakes are bound to happen. There were indications in the preseason that Brandon Weeden would throw a high number of interceptions this season. It goes back to his gunslinger mentality and the fact that the Browns receivers will run ragged routes, which will lead to turnovers. Cleveland has a good foundation on offense, but this year will feature weekly growing pains. Hope that meets your "Don't hedge" approval.

Jacob, from Kansas City, Mo., writes: Do you think Rashard Mendenhall has any kind of a shot to get an extension from the Steelers after this season?

Jamison Hensley, from AFC North headquarters, responds: At this point, I would say the odds are against it. There were rumblings before the draft that the Steelers could take a running back (like Doug Martin) as early as the second round. It wouldn't surprise me if the Steelers look to the future and put running back high on their priority list for the 2013 draft. Of course, that's not set in stone because no one knows how this season will unfold. The Steelers will likely ride the hot hand at running back, whether it's Jonathan Dwyer or Isaac Redman. When Mendenhall has fully recovered from ACL surgery, he will get his chances as well to prove he should be in next year's plans. Mendenhall has been a consistent running back, averaging 1,103 rushing yards and scoring 29 touchdowns over the past three seasons. But Mendenhall didn't hit the holes hard last season and preferred to bounce runs to the outside -- not the Steelers' style of running. My guess is another team will be willing to pay him more than the Steelers next offseason, when Mendenhall is a free agent.

HomeoftheBRavens, from Baltimore, writes: Are you ready to backpedal from your "Ravens will finish third in the division and miss the playoffs" prediction yet?

Jamison Hensley, from AFC North headquarters, responds: You couldn't help but be impressed by the Ravens in the season opener. I have said all along that Flacco is primed for a career season. My question is whether this defense can hold up against the more experienced and explosive offenses in the NFL. But it would be foolish to jump to conclusions on any team after one game. Last season, the Redskins beat the Giants in Week 1 and you know how that turned out. In 2003, the Patriots lost their season-opening game 31-0 to the Bills and went on to win the Super Bowl. In other words, ask me this question after a few more games.

Most assume the Cleveland Browns will take running back Trent Richardson with the fourth overall pick. But, at this point, the Browns can't assume he's going to be available when they're on the clock.

The Minnesota Vikings could be the Browns' worst enemy because they're apparently shopping the third overall pick.

One team that the Browns apparently don't have to worry about is the New York Jets. A day after speculation started that the Jets could be interested in trading up 13 spots to take Richardson, ESPN's Sal Paolantonio reported Thursday that there is a "zero-point-zero percent chance" the Jets will make such a move.

A bigger threat to take Richardson away from the Browns is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who currently have the No. 5 pick. This would be an easier trade to work out, but the Buccaneers might not be willing to give up any picks. Tampa Bay has several needs and only six draft choices.

Another team to watch is the St. Louis Rams, who are at No. 6. ESPN's Todd McShay estimated that there's a 20 percent chance that the Rams would trade up for Richardson.

"They are infatuated with Trent Richardson," McShay told ESPN's "Mike & Mike In the Morning", "and would at least consider it or try to see if they would get a good deal to move up."

If a team trades up to get Richardson, the Browns will have an opportunity to move down because there will teams interested to move up for offensive tackle Matt Kalil. According to the NFL Network, the Buffalo Bills are thinking of jumping from No. 10 to get Kalil and would give up their second-round pick (41st overall) to do so (which would almost satisfy the draft-pick value chart). The Browns could fall back to that spot and get Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd.

It's also possible that the Browns don't care if Richardson is there or not. Cleveland could be targeting Oklahoma wide receiver Justin Blackmon or LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne at No. 4. In that scenario, the Browns would take a running back like Boise State's Doug Martin with their second first-round pick (22nd overall) or their second-round one (No. 37).
As this blog gets posted, it's officially 12 hours before the first round of the NFL draft begins. This will be a special edition of "Wake-up Call" where we survey what the local beat writers are predicting for the teams in the division.

Everyone in the division believes the Browns will take running back Trent Richardson at No. 4 except the Browns' beat reporter. Likewise, everyone has the Browns take wide receiver Kendall Wright with the 22nd overall pick except the Browns' reporter.

There were a few surprises in these mock drafts. Two reporters had wide receiver Michael Floyd sliding to the Bengals at No. 17, and two reporters had the Ravens taking offensive tackle Mike Adams, who reportedly tested positive for marijuana.

Here are the mock drafts from the local reporters:

Joe Reedy, Cincinnati Enquirer

4. Browns: RB Trent Richardson, Alabama

17. Bengals: CB Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama

21. Bengals: DE-OLB Courtney Upshaw, Alabama

22. Browns: WR Kendall Wright, Baylor

24. Steelers: NT Dontari Poe, Memphis

29. Ravens: G Kevin Zeitler, Wisconsin

Mary Kay Cabot, Cleveland Plain Dealer

4. Browns: WR Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State

17. Bengals: WR Michael Floyd, Notre Dame

21. Bengals: CB Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama

22. Browns: RB Doug Martin, Boise State

24. Steelers: ILB Dont'a Hightower, Alabama

29. Ravens: OT Mike Adams, Ohio State

Matt Vensel, Baltimore Sun

4. Browns: RB Trent Richardson, Alabama

17. Bengals: ILB Luke Kuechly, Boston College

21. Bengals: CB Janoris Jenkins, North Alabama

22. Browns: WR Kendall Wright, Baylor

24. Steelers: G-T Cordy Glenn, Georgia

29. Ravens: ILB Dont'a Hightower, Alabama

Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

4. Browns: RB Trent Richardson, Alabama

17. Bengals: WR Michael Floyd, Notre Dame

21. Bengals: DE-LB Courtney Upshaw, Alabama

22. Browns: WR Kendall Wright, Baylor

24. Steelers: NT Dontari Poe, Memphis

29. Ravens: OT Mike Adams, Ohio State

AFC North Sunday mailbag

April, 15, 2012
Teams can begin their voluntary offseason workout programs Monday, but that doesn't mean we're taking the day off here on the AFC North blog. Let's buckle up our helmets and open some mail ...


DogPound32 (Rocky River, Ohio) writes: Call me crazy, Jamison, but why in the world would any Browns fan want us to draft a QB, unless it was a late late round pick? Give my boy [Colt] McCoy a chance and surround him with [running back Trent] Richardson, [wide receiver Stephen] Hill, and [offensive tackle Bobby] Massie in this year's draft. Then if you want to pick up a QB in the seventh round, pick up Kellen Moore and call it a day. Wasting anything more than a late round pick on a QB is not worth it for the Browns this year. Moore may be smaller, but he's a proven winner with ice in his veins. He can definitely be a solid backup for Colt this year and it comes at a low risk. Thoughts?

Jamison Hensley from AFC North headquarters: You're not crazy. That is, unless your real name is DogPound32. Your argument, however, is a valid one. I see two franchise quarterbacks in this draft, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. After failing to get RG3, the Browns should focus their energy on upgrading the surrounding talent on offense. That would put Cleveland in the best position to go all-in for a franchise quarterback next season. I do have to admit that Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden intrigues me more and more as the draft approaches. But getting Weeden at the bottom of the first round or early in the second would mean missing out on a wide receiver or offensive tackle. And that doesn't make sense to me.

Ben (Pensacola, Fla.) writes: Even if the Steelers draft a guard in the first round, they should pass on a running back to draft another guard in the second. Somehow I doubt any back in the draft is going to help much if Big Ben gets injured again. Doug Legursky and Ramon Foster are nice backups, but neither belongs as a starter. Frankly, I'd be perfectly happy if the Steelers passed on Dont'a Hightower to grab guards in both the first and second rounds: Amini Silatolu in the first and Kelechi Osemele in the second. Isaiah Pead would be worth a look in the fourth round, but that's the earliest I would go for a running back with the bigger needs on the roster.

Jamison Hensley from AFC North headquarters: Silatolu is my sleeper pick for the Steelers in the first round. He's a nasty offensive lineman who has Pro Bowl potential. I agree that Legursky needs to be replaced; his strength is being a versatile backup. But Foster is serviceable at right guard, so you don't need to draft a guard in the second round. I think a back who is tougher and more decisive than Rashard Mendenhall could make this line look a lot better. I like the idea of taking Virginia Tech's speedy David Wilson or Boise State's powerful Doug Martin in the second round.

Brian (Cincinnati) writes: What are the chances the Bengals have an All-Stanford first round this year with guard David DeCastro at No. 17 and tight end Coby Fleener at No. 21? The Bengals desperately need a No. 2 tight end in Jay Gruden's offense. Considering the free agents available and the fact that this draft class is not deep at all at tight end, why not take the best available?

Jamison Hensley from AFC North headquarters: The Bengals are bringing back their top three tight ends after re-signing Donald Lee. Like you, I would like to see another pass-catching tight end, but I wouldn't classify Cincinnati as desperate for one. The Bengals just took a tight end (Jermaine Gresham) in the first round in 2010, so it's highly unlikely they would use one on another tight end so soon. If the Bengals draft DeCastro, which would be a great move for the Bengals, the second first-round pick can be used on a wide receiver, safety, cornerback or outside linebacker. Those are bigger needs than a No. 2 tight end.

Ben P (Boston) writes: What do you think are the chances that the Ravens trade up to the 23rd or 22nd pick in the first round? Both Detroit and Cleveland are probably just looking for best available players at that point and so they might be willing to trade back for extra picks. It would give Baltimore a chance to fill a need and keep a really good player like offensive lineman Cordy Glenn or linebacker Dont'a Hightower away from the Steelers.

Jamison Hensley from AFC North headquarters: I would say there is a greater chance of the Ravens moving back than moving up. Baltimore covets draft picks and it only has eight, which is the fewest among AFC North teams this year. The only way the Ravens trade up -- and they indicated they would only go as high as No. 19 -- is if one of their top 15 prospects slides into the 20s. I got the impression from the team's pre-draft press conference that the Ravens want more picks, which means moving back.

The Steelers received a surprising visit Wednesday, and it wasn't from a free agent or a draft prospect. This one was more special than that.

Running backs coach Kirby Wilson made his first appearance at the team's facility since he was severely burned in a fire only days before Pittsburgh's wild-card game against the Denver Broncos, according to a report in the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette.

Football is a sport that often tests people's ability to recover, whether it's from a broken bone or torn ligament. Few in this league have had to fight like Wilson.

He sustained burns on 45 percent of his body and also suffered from smoke inhalation after his house caught fire while he was sleeping on Jan. 6. The remarkable part is that he showed up at the Steelers' facility only three months after being put in a medically induced coma.

"He is attacking the rehabilitation," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said at last week's NFL owners meetings. "He is an extremely tough guy. ... We are excited about getting him back at some point."

Wilson, 50, is officially planning to come to work by the end of April, a source told ESPN's Josina Anderson on Wednesday.

He was reportedly in line to succeed Bruce Arians as offensive coordinator before the accident, but he will still play an integral role on this year's team. The Steelers are looking to replace their leading rusher for three seasons (Rashard Mendenhall had ACL surgery in January) and could use a draft pick as high as the second round on a running back like Virginia Tech's David Wilson or Boise State's Doug Martin.

According to the Post-Gazette, the Steelers greeted Wilson with cake in a team meeting room. Here's hoping he was greeted with a strong round of applause as well.

AFC North weekend mailbag

April, 1, 2012
It's been a quiet weekend so far in the AFC North and that's not surprising. We're at that point in the offseason where the first wave of free agency is over and the draft is more than three weeks away.

But there are still some unanswered questions based on what's in the mailbag. Let's take a look ...


Charlie (Fort Campbell, Ky.): Bengals fan and daily blog reader here. Great job on keeping me updated on my favorite (and least favorite) teams. Anyway, my question is this: Where do you foresee Keith Rivers fitting in with the Bengals' linebacking corps once he returns?

Jamison Hensley from AFC North headquarters: Right now, Rivers doesn't have a spot in the starting lineup. His starting job at weak-side linebacker -- the one he held for 2 1/2 years -- was taken by Thomas Howard, who was the Bengals' most consistent linebacker last season. The Bengals have yet to address Rivers this offseason and might give him a chance to compete for that spot. I see his impact coming on special teams this season. It's certainly a luxury to have the ninth overall pick of the 2008 draft sitting on your bench. The strongside linebacker position is one that the Bengals will need to figure out next season because Howard and Rivers are free agents after this season.

Matt S. (Warren, Ohio): The Browns have talked about trading back a few spots to acquire more picks. I think it is very possible we might see them trade back the sixth pick with the Rams in return for an additional second-rounder and later round picks. This ensures that the Browns have a chance to at least get Morris Claiborne with the sixth pick (the fourth going to Justin Blackmon and the Rams, and fifth going to Trent Richardson and Tampa Bay). Claiborne is a freakish athlete and will solidify the secondary for years to come. This leaves us with the 22nd pick and two second round picks to help the offense with starting potential. Do you think this is a possibility?

Jamison Hensley from AFC North headquarters: I can definitely see this as a possibility. If the Browns believe LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne is the best player available at No. 4, they should try to trade down with the Rams. That way, the Browns can get their targeted player in Claiborne and gain additional picks. I agree that the Rams will take Oklahoma State receiver Blackmon and the Buccaneers will grab Alabama running back Richardson. But this isn't the move I would make. The Browns desperately need a playmaker on offense. It would be a mistake to pass on a talent like Richardson.

Rick (Baltimore): If the Steelers address a need on offensive line or defensive line with their first-round pick, could you see them spending a second-round pick on a quality running back? David Wilson and Doug Martin come to mind. I would love to see Wilson in the Black and Gold on Sundays. He is an underrated freak athlete.

Jamison Hensley from AFC North headquarters: It's like you were reading my mind. I don't see the Steelers going for a running back in the first round, but there will be good value for that position at the bottom of the second. Expect at least one of the second-tier backs like Wilson (Virginia Tech), Martin (Boise State) and Lamar Miller (Miami) to be available at No. 56 for the Steelers. While I like Martin's toughness in between the tackles, it's hard to overlook the big-play ability of Wilson. The Steelers have a tough runner with Isaac Redman, and Wilson would be a great compliment in the backfield.

Heath (Shreveport, La.): There has been a lot of talk about the Ravens adding a kick returner, but is there any chance they will give Phillip Livas a chance? He was a late-season addition last year and tied an NCAA record at Louisiana Tech with eight returns for touchdowns.

Jamison Hensley from AFC North headquarters: Livas was signed to the Ravens' practice squad during the playoffs and will be kept around for offseason camps and training camp. The Ravens will give him a look, but he's not among the team's top options. Livas was cut by the Miami Dolphins in September even though the 5-foot-7 wide receiver returned a punt 75 yards for a touchdown in the preseason. He didn't catch on with another NFL team until the Ravens picked him up in January.

The Ravens want an upgrade in the return game, which became obvious when they brought in Ted Ginn Jr. for a free-agent visit. Drafting a returner is a good possibility for Baltimore. The top returners are: Florida International's T.Y. Hilton, Alabama's Marquis Maze, Fresno State's Devon Wylie and Stanford's Chris Owusu.
One of the big question marks surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers is at running back.


Who do you think should be the starting running back for the Steelers in the season opener?


Discuss (Total votes: 5,802)

With Rashard Mendenhall expected to start the season on the physically unable to perform list (PUP), the Steelers have to find someone to replace their leading rusher for the past three seasons.

Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said this week that the Steelers aren't going to stay put with their current group of running backs. "I am sure we are going to get another running back, whether it’s in free agency or in the draft," he said. "We will address it."

Earlier in the week, general manager Kevin Colbert supported backups such as Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer to replace Mendenhall. "With the young guys we have [at running back], we feel confident someone will emerge who can fill that [starting] role," he said.

Who do you think will end up being the Steelers' starting running back in Week 1?

Here are the top options:
  • Go with Redman. In his two-year career, he has one career start in the regular season and 162 carries. But he stepped up in a starting role in last season's playoff game in Denver, where he ran for 121 yards.
  • Take a chance with Dwyer. A sixth-round pick in 2010, Dwyer has shown flashes but he has limited experience (25 carries in eight career games). He turned heads in Week 5 last season, when he totaled 107 yards rushing against the Titans, including 76-yard run.
  • Start a rookie. The Steelers aren't expected to take a running back in the first round, but they could be tempted to do so in the second. Boise State's Doug Martin and Miami's Lamar Miller have good value at the Steelers' No. 56 spot.
  • Sign a veteran free agent. This wasn't a deep running back class to begin with, much less two weeks into free agency. The top choices left are: Cedric Benson, Ryan Grant, Joseph Addai and Ronnie Brown.