AFC North: Evander Hood

Morning take: Ed Reed's decision

October, 23, 2010
10/23/10
8:00
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Here are the most interesting stories Saturday in the AFC North:

  • Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed (hip) is still unsure if he will play Sunday against the Buffalo Bills.
Morning take: After putting Jared Gaither on injured reserve, a roster spot is waiting for Reed if he wants to play. But Reed also has the luxury of sitting Sunday and getting two more weeks to heal.

  • The running game of the Cincinnati Bengals could be pivotal against the Atlanta Falcons.
Morning take: The Bengals need to leave Atlanta with a win any way they can. If a ball-control offense is the way to go, Cincinnati tailback Cedric Benson needs a big day.
Morning take: As we mentioned earlier this week, Wright is in a slump and giving up too many big plays. This is a big game for him against the New Orleans Saints, because the Browns will re-evaluate everything during their bye week.

  • Pittsburgh Steelers backup defensive end Nick Eason will start in place of the injured Brett Keisel (hamstring) against the Miami Dolphins.
Morning take: Eason and Evander Hood have been in the rotation all season as backups. Look for both to share plenty of reps at defensive end Sunday.

Seven-step drop

August, 26, 2009
8/26/09
7:42
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Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Here are seven notes and observations from the second week of preseason games:









Chris Gardner/US Presswire



Ziggy Hood collected two sacks last Saturday against the Redskins.


A rookie who is quietly having a great preseason is Pittsburgh Steelers first-round pick Evander "Ziggy" Hood. He recorded a sack in his preseason debut against the Arizona Cardinals and added two more sacks last Saturday in a 17-13 loss to the Washington Redskins. Hood is fitting right in with Pittsburgh's 3-4 scheme and is expected to be the first defensive end off the bench this season. The early returns indicate that Hood is prepared to fill that role. It was surprising to see the Steelers commit so many mental errors against Washington. Pittsburgh committed 13 penalties for 89 yards, and many came in the first half when the starters were on the field. Maybe it was the absence of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (Achilles). Maybe it was the foggy conditions. But whether it's a legitimate concern or just an anomaly might be something to monitor in the final two preseason games. The chemistry between Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco and top receiver Derrick Mason has returned quickly. Mason missed an early portion of training camp due to a brief retirement. But in the second preseason game it looked like old times as Mason caught three passes for 68 yards in a 24-23 victory over the New York Jets. Mason and Flacco orchestrated a beautiful double-route where Flacco had to pump to bait the secondary, then place the football in the open area of the defense for a 43-yard gain. Although it was just one play, it displayed the type of chemistry often required by some of the top QB-WR tandems. The Ravens will have a quick turnaround for the final two exhibition games. After a short week, the Ravens will be back on the field Saturday in Carolina to play the Panthers. Their next game also will be on the road against the Atlanta Falcons five days later on Sept. 3. The Ravens will try to get a lot of practice in very little time before those two games. But after that period, Baltimore will have 10 days to prepare for its regular-season debut against the Kansas City Chiefs. Is it too early to worry about the running game of the Cincinnati Bengals? There are some early warning signs that this could be an issue. Starting tailback Cedric Benson is off to a slow start, recording just 56 yards on 18 carries in two preseason games. He's averaging 3.1 yards per attempt and also fumbled twice, losing one. It's only the preseason. But if the Bengals want to compete in the AFC North this year, they will have to do a much running the football. Cleveland Browns coach Eric Mangini employed an interesting mental strategy with Derek Anderson that paid off last week. Despite committing to rotating his starting quarterbacks earlier in the preseason, Mangini briefly reneged on that commitment after Anderson went 0-for-2 with an interception against the Green Bay Packers. That kept Anderson sharp and competitive during the week. So when Mangini went back to his original plan and named Anderson the starter, he was ready and responded with 130 yards passing to place himself firmly back in the quarterback race. Browns rookie tailback James Davis continues to make a strong impression. Davis created significant buzz in the spring and summer, and last weekend he rushed for 116 yards on 12 carries against the Detroit Lions. Davis likely moved ahead of Jerome Harrison, who has been injured, for the backup role behind starter Jamal Lewis with that performance. Both Harrison and Davis have the ability to make the big runs but will need to work on their blitz pickups in passing situation. Davis has the most potential in that regard, which is another reason Mangini could feel more inclined to give Davis the second-team reps.

Steelers happy with preseason debut

August, 14, 2009
8/14/09
12:59
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  Rick Stewart/Getty Images
  Limas Sweed hauls in one of his two receptions in Thursday night's game.

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was pleased with his team's preseason debut, and his satisfaction went much deeper than the final score.

The Steelers defeated the Arizona Cardinals, 20-10, in a Super Bowl rematch at Heinz Field. The game doesn't count in the standings but it did provide some insight into what to look forward to in the coming months.

Here are five observations:

1. Sweed up to speed

Perhaps the biggest winner in Pittsburgh's preseason opener was second-year receiver Limas Sweed. After struggling with drops and concentration during his rookie year, Sweed has a lot to prove this summer as he tries to fill a role in the Steelers' offense.

Sweed made an early and convincing claim for the vacant No. 3 receiver spot by recording two catches for 56 yards. Both were difficult receptions, as the first was leaping over the middle in traffic and the second was a 45-yard reception where Sweed made a late adjustment.

"Just like in practice," said Sweed, who has made plays throughout training camp. "I saw the ball, got it at the highest point and made a play."

2. Rookies are productive

When you think of high-profile draft classes, the Steelers are not the first team to come to mind. Coming off a Super Bowl victory, they had the final pick in most rounds and made just one selection on the first day.

But Pittsburgh's 2009 rookie class looked strong against the Cardinals. First-round pick Evander "Ziggy" Hood recorded a sack in the second half. Third-round receiver Mike Wallace caught two passes for 35 yards and returned a kickoff for an additional 35 yards, and rookie cornerback Joe Burnett intercepted a pass that set up a fourth-quarter touchdown.

"I feel like I did pretty good," Wallace said of his NFL debut. "But I still missed a couple things. I need to go back to training camp in Latrobe, watch this film, learn from it and not make the same mistakes next week."

3. Sepulveda boosts special teams

 Sepulveda

Punter Daniel Sepulveda was all smiles after being back on the field for the first time in about 20 months with a knee injury. The home crowd of 58,330 was excited, too. Sepulveda received one of the biggest ovations of the night when he stepped on the field.

"It's nice to be well-received liked that," Sepulveda said afterwards. "But I'm surprised they didn't wait until after the kick."

Sepulveda stayed busy during his first game back with six punts averaging 49.5 yards per attempt. Two of his kicks were placed inside the 20. It was the type of punting not seen in Heinz Field during last year's Super Bowl run.

4. Offensive line still looks shaky

Although the offense played just two series, that was long enough to see a few missed assignments on the offensive line. Arizona's starting defense was able to get decent pressure on Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who finished 4-for-6 for 33 yards. He wasn't sacked but had to scramble on occasion.

"We still have some things to work on," Pittsburgh left tackle Max Starks said. "We need to shore up some protection things."

The running game also didn't look stout early as Rashard Mendenhall had nine carries for 24 yards (2.7 average) with the starting offense. On several of Mendenhall's carries, he was hit at or behind the line of scrimmage.

5. Dixon gets extended look

It was obvious that Pittsburgh's coaching staff wanted to get an extended look at second-year quarterback Dennis Dixon. He played nearly three quarters and finished 10 of 19 for 112 yards.

Dixon showed some good things. He had good chemistry with backup receiver Shaun McDonald (six catches, 69 yards) in the second half. But it's clear Dixon still has some work to do if he wants to be the No. 2 quarterback this season.

Veteran Charlie Batch was 1 of 2 for 45 yards and has the edge right now to backup Roethlisberger. Batch played sparingly Thursday after throwing in his first game since breaking his collarbone last season.

 
  Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
  Veteran receiver Hines Ward promises the Steelers will stay focused this season.

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

LATROBE, Pa. -- University of Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari knows a title contender when he sees one.

Fantasy Football: 32 Questions
ESPN.com fantasy expert Christopher Harris wonders why the Super Bowl champs don't have more fantasy stars. Story
Calipari, who has led two different programs to the Final Four, was in Steelers training camp this week to see what he could incorporate into his program.

"They are a championship organization because of the people," said Calipari, a native of suburban Pittsburgh. "That means the people that own it, the people that manage it and the people that coach it. They make sure the players are quality people and they take care of everybody. That's why they are what they are."

After returning 20 of 22 starters, Pittsburgh is in a prime position to become the first group since the 2003-04 New England Patriots to win back-to-back Super Bowls. But it won't be easy.

They have a shot if they can answer "yes" to these key questions.

Camp Confidential: AFC North
Bengals: Sun., Aug. 2
Steelers: Fri., Aug. 7
Browns: Mon., Aug. 17
Ravens: Sat., Aug. 22
Training Camp index

Key questions

1. Will the offensive line improve in 2009?

The knee injury this week to guard Darnell Stapleton already hurts the depth of a unit that has struggled in recent years. Stapleton, who started in the Super Bowl, will have arthroscopic knee surgery Friday and will miss a good portion of the preseason.

Pittsburgh's offensive line remains one of the team's few glaring weaknesses. The Steelers have allowed quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to be sacked an astounding 139 times the past three seasons. The running game, normally a Steelers staple, stalled in 2008.

Knowing that Roethlisberger cannot continue to take a pounding at this clip, the Steelers have been working on improving pass protection this summer. Although Stapleton is injured, the Steelers return all five starters from the Super Bowl and hope another year together improves chemistry and helps the line's overall performance.

Pittsburgh also has backups who have the potential to contribute, including versatile guard/tackle Trai Essex and rookies Kraig Urbik and A.Q. Shipley, who were taken in the third and seventh rounds, respectively.

2. Can Pittsburgh handle distractions?

In terms of distractions, the Steelers did not get off to a glowing start. About a week before camp opened, Roethlisberger was hit with a civil lawsuit alleging sexual assault in Nevada. Pittsburgh's offseason was relatively quiet up until that point, and Roethlisberger apologized to his teammates and the organization last week for shifting the attention from football.

Whether the Steelers learned anything from 2006 remains to be seen. That was the last time the Steelers were coming off a Super Bowl victory, and the wheels came off quickly and completely as distractions, injuries and poor play led to a 2-6 start and an 8-8 finish.

But this group seems very business-like in its approach. Key veterans such as receiver Hines Ward, linebacker James Farrior and safety Troy Polamalu were also on that disappointing team in 2006 and claim to have learned from that humbling experience. Training camp practices have been crisp and players, including Roethlisberger, appear focused.

3. Will the special teams be good?

The Steelers don't have many holes, so we're just nitpicking. But Pittsburgh's special teams were the weakest of the three units (offense, defense, special teams) last season.

  Reed

Kicker Jeff Reed, in the final year of his contract, is solid. But beyond that, Pittsburgh's special teams were weak.

The Steelers are trying to find a boost in the return game. In camp, Pittsburgh is working out several new players at returning kicks, including former CFL running back Stefan Logan and receiver Shaun McDonald. The goal this year is to take every-down players such as Santonio Holmes off special teams to help the offense.

Perhaps the biggest addition to special teams will be the return of punter Daniel Sepulveda, who missed all of 2008 with a torn ACL in his knee. Pittsburgh's punting was one of the league's worst last year and Sepulveda should change that. The team also is giving Sepulveda an occasional day off from punting in camp to make sure he doesn't rush back.

Market watch

Second-year receiver Limas Sweed was an enigma last season. First, he couldn't find his way on the field. Then when his number was called late in the year, Sweed wasn't ready.

But last season's disappointment led to Sweed become one of the hardest-working players on the team this offseason. In camp, the former second-round pick looks more confident and continues to make plays.

Sweed has the inside track to open the season as Pittsburgh's No. 3 receiver and knows his number will be called early if he holds onto the job. This time Sweed believes he's prepared to produce.

 
  AP Photo/Michael Conroy
  Rookie defensive tackle Evander Hood should have time to prove himself this season.

Newcomer to watch

The Steelers do not often take defensive linemen high in the draft, but they broke that mold with first-round pick Evander "Ziggy" Hood.

Pittsburgh likes Hood's motor and versatility. He is expected to spell both starters at defensive end and possibly play some nose tackle.

The three starting defensive linemen for the Steelers are all over 30, so it will be vital for Hood to provide depth and inject some youthful exuberance. The fact that he's not expected to start puts him in a good spot to produce without the normal pressures of a first-round pick.

Observation deck

Roethlisberger is struggling with his arm strength early in camp. After taking a pounding and playing so deep into the postseason, Roethlisberger didn't do any throwing independently away from the Steelers this offseason, choosing to rest instead. But many of his deep throws are coming up short and intercepted. With the preseason starting next week, it will be interesting to see how long it takes for Roethlisberger to regain his form. ... Tailback Rashard Mendenhall appears to have recovered from his season-ending shoulder injury. The former first-round pick lost significant weight in his upper body last year because he was unable to lift weights after surgery. But he has regained his bulk and looks more sure of himself in his second training camp. ...Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is using inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons in a variety of ways now that the former first-round pick is a full-time starter. Timmons has great range to patrol the middle of the field. But LeBeau also likes Timmons' skills as a pass-rusher and has been turning him loose in pressure packages. ...Look out for rookie receiver Mike Wallace. The third-round pick from Mississippi is making a good impression in camp. Teammates are already calling him one of the fastest players on the team.

Thought of the Day finale

July, 29, 2009
7/29/09
4:00
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Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

In our latest version of "Thought of the Day" in the AFC North, our community got a chance to play virtual general manager of the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers.

With limited cap room, Pittsburgh likely has a chance to give an extension to one more veterans before the start of the regular season. But with many key players in the final year of their deals -- such as Heath Miller, Ryan Clark, Casey Hampton and Willie Parker -- the Steelers have to be selective.

Here are the best responses from our AFC North inbox:

Mike Mazur from Copley, Ohio writes: Excellent (and scary) topic. Heath Miller is a MUST resign. He does everything well and is entering his prime. The same cannot be said regarding any of the other players. Brett Keisel and Hampton are as good as gone. Parker has a 50% shot of resigning. After Miller is resigned, PLAN B should be Ryan Clark and PLAN C is Jeff Reed.

Steve from Ridgway, Pa. writes: James, this may come as a shock to a of people, but I would sign Ryan Clark because he is the only player position without depth. Brett Keisel and Casey Hampton have Evander "Ziggy" Hood at their position now. Matt Spaeth has proved that he can come up big at the TE position, and we really don't know anything about Rashard Mendenhall at RB. And Reed, well there are plenty of kickers out there in the FA pool. I'd even take [Mike] Vanderjagt.

Brendan from Maryland writes: I think it has to be Casey Hampton. He's one of the best nose tackles in the league and from what I've heard, "Ziggy" Hood is better suited to replace Keisel rather than Hampton. I'm going to hate to see Keisel go, but Hampton is more valuable in my opinion.

Craig from LWood Ohio writes: Hey J-Dub. I can't even fathom having to make a decision like this in real life. But if I had to make this tough decision, I would choose to extend Willie Parker's contract. They can sign him while his value is a bit lower than in other years. Also, he is the least likely to be loyal to the Steelers based on his actions and whining in the past. Miller, Clark, Keisel and Reed seem like they would resign with the burgh, especially if they repeat or go deep in the playoffs, and 'Big Hamp' is about at the end of his career.

Johnny D from Baltimore writes: Great Job covering the AFC North! In response to the thought of the Day. I say sign Jeff Reed first. He has been an accurate and reliable kicker in the clutch and is overlooked. Willie Parker has durability issues and will likely be replaced by Mendenhall. Casey Hampton is more committed to good eating then staying in shape and Hoke fills in and the d-line doesn't miss a beat. Ryan Clark is an option to re-sign, however he may be expensive. Same is true for Miller, he is a great TE, however I don't feel the Steelers truly utilize his talents and Spaeth can fill the void without the high price. Keisel is also an option, however he is aging. His price tag should be more affordable and could only be a 3 year contract. I still say Reed though for his consistency and accuracy. Not everyone can kick at Heinz field and I think he often times gets taken for granted.

Derick Young from Kalispell, MT writes: Heath Miller--He is a very underrated TE in the league, solid blocking on every down, has soft hands, and is young. He is exactly the type of player the Steelers want and need to keep. Blue-collar guy that plays hard every play. Keep him for another five years at least.

Matt Rippin from Pittsburgh writes: I put Ryan Clark first on the list. He figures to be the most affordable of the group, and the free safety is a badly underrated position in Dick LeBeau's defense (especially with someone as active as Troy Polamalu at SS). I'll put Miller just behind him, because he's the best player of the bunch. Keisel goes at the bottom of the list. He's over 30 and the Steelers just drafted his replacement. Thank you sincerely for your efforts, Brett.

R. Andrews from Pittsburgh, Pa. writes: If you're just picking one before the season starts it would be Hampton, because Hood is not ready to be a starter plus you have all season and the off-season to sign the rest of them and Hampton is the most marketable.

Turtle from Chicago, IL writes: James, love the blog. I'm looking forward to your extensive coverage throughout training camp. I think when you factor in value, age and importance of position you have to extend Heath Miller before all others. Casey Hampton is old and wearing down and another team will break the bank on him. Ryan Clark is solid but replaceable, same with Keisel now that we drafted Hood. Heath may be our best blocker on a shaky line on top of his value as a great pass catching tight end. He also is rarely injured and this will only be his fifth year in the league.

Wayne from Columbia, SC writes: I would definitely sign Ryan Clark. He is a beast at safety and makes receivers scared to catch the ball, and that is what Steelers football is all about. I think without him last year, the defense would have been significantly worse.

AFC North final say

James Walker: The Steelers would like to re-sign at least two players off this list, but that seems unlikely before the start of the regular season. Considering money is always a factor, Clark is the AFC North blog's pick to be next in line for a new deal. Miller is in his prime but also comes with a heavier price tag -- one that might eat up nearly every bit of cap space Pittsburgh has left this year. Since teams like to have a little wiggle room entering the season due to injury -- remember the Byron Leftwich signing? -- Pittsburgh may prefer the value pick in Clark.

Thanks to everyone for participating. If you have any future "Thought of the Day" topics, feel free to send to the AFC North inbox.

Thought of the Day: Steelers

July, 28, 2009
7/28/09
11:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

In our latest version of "Thought of the Day," we give you a chance to play virtual general manager of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Here is the situation: The defending champions just signed their final rookie (Evander Hood) over the weekend and, with limited cap space, now must decide which 2010 free agent to lock up long term before the start of the regular season.

You only have one choice, virtual GMs.

The impressive list includes starters such as defensive tackle Casey Hampton, tailback Willie Parker, safety Ryan Clark, tight end Heath Miller, defensive end Brett Keisel and kicker Jeff Reed. Here is a link if you want to see a chart with the age of each player to help make your decision.

Another option is to sit tight and not sign anyone, if you choose.

This is currently what Pittsburgh management is discussing behind closed doors on the South Side. But our doors in the AFC North blog are always open for our community to voice its opinion.

So send your thoughts on which Steelers veteran you would sign long-term and why to our division inbox or comment section below, and we will run the best responses in the blog throughout the week.

Are Oher and Smith next?

July, 27, 2009
7/27/09
10:00
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Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

It was a solid weekend in the AFC North for first-round draft picks as Cleveland Browns center Alex Mack and Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman Evander Hood both agreed to five-year deals.

Rookie Check-up
As of Monday, here is the current list of unsigned rookies in the AFC North:
Team Player Pos. Round
Baltimore Michael Oher RT 1
Cincinnati Andre Smith RT 1
Cincinnati Rey Maualuga LB 2
Cincinnati Michael Johnson DE 3
Cincinnati Chase Coffman TE 3
Cleveland Brian Robiskie WR 2
Cleveland Mohamed Massaquoi WR 2

But that still leaves two highly-touted, first rounders unsigned in Michael Oher of the Baltimore Ravens and Andre Smith of the Cincinnati Bengals. Both right tackles are expected to start in Week 1 for their respective teams and would hurt themselves and the club with rookie holdouts.

With the Ravens having rookies report today and their first practice on Tuesday, there is more urgency right now in Baltimore. Oher, the No. 23 overall pick, should have an easier contract to put together than Smith and already said he doesn't intend to miss time. By no means does that guarantee anything. But with Mack, the No. 21 pick, already signed the Ravens at least have solid parameters to work out a deal with Oher.

Smith's situation could be more troublesome. In fact most league observers would be surprised if the No. 6 overall pick makes it to training camp on time by Friday's report date or the first practice on Saturday.

Only two rookies in the top 10 have reached deals as of Monday morning: Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions and Mark Sanchez of the New York Jets. And both are quarterbacks which makes it difficult for other rookies, because the premium of the position often inflates the total value of the contract.

Overall, expect a flurry of rookie deals to be completed as a majority of NFL teams open training camp this week. But it will be interesting to see if Oher or Smith will be among the first-year players to sign on time.

Steelers, 'Ziggy' Hood agree

July, 25, 2009
7/25/09
3:42
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Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

In what is suddenly turning out to be a busy weekend for rookie news, the Pittsburgh Steelers became the second AFC North team to agree to terms with their top draft pick Saturday.

According to ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton, rookie defensive lineman Evander "Ziggy" Hood agreed to a five-year deal with the Steelers. The No. 32 overall pick likely will not sign the contract until next week when Hood arrives in Pittsburgh.

The defending Super Bowl champions now have every rookie under contract and ready to go when the team opens training camp in Latrobe, Pa. on Aug. 1.

Morning take: Suggs workout plan

June, 30, 2009
6/30/09
9:40
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Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Here are the most interesting stories Tuesday in the AFC North:

  • Baltimore Ravens Pro Bowl linebacker/defensive end Terrell Suggs is using a grueling tire workout to stay in shape for the upcoming season.

Morning take: In the NFL, players use all kinds of techniques to get an edge. It's all about what program works best for the individual.

Morning take: There are some interesting surprises on this list, including Jeremi Johnson taking his old post as the first-team fullback. He's been battling weight issues all offseason.

Morning take: Two years ago, Derek Anderson was a fantasy surprise on his way to the Pro Bowl. But I'm not sure there will be any statistical studs from Cleveland's offense this year.

  • The Pittsburgh Steelers have one more draft pick left to sign in first-rounder Evander "Ziggy" Hood.

Morning take: All indications are Hood will be no problems, meaning Pittsburgh could look to extend a veteran before the start of the regular season.

Who's next in Pittsburgh?

June, 29, 2009
6/29/09
1:25
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

After spending much of the offseason close to the salary cap, the Pittsburgh Steelers finally have some much-needed relief following a recent four-year contract extension with starting left tackle Max Starks. The agreement lifted the $8.451 million franchise tag off Starks and provided about $3 million in salary-cap space for this season.

In for the long haul?
Here is a look at Pittsburgh's key 2010 free agents:
Player Pos. Age
Heath Miller TE 26
Willie Parker RB 28
Ryan Clark S 29
Brett Keisel DE 30
Jeff Reed K 30
Casey Hampton NT 31

Now the question in Pittsburgh is, "Who's next?"

Most people are aware of the high-profile Steelers playing in the final year of their deals such as tight end Heath Miller, safety Ryan Clark, tailback Willie Parker and starting nose tackle Casey Hampton. The 2010 class also included Starks, receiver Hines Ward and Pro Bowl linebacker James Harrison until Pittsburgh took care of those players with long-term deals this offseason.

The first order of business for Pittsburgh likely is getting rookie Evander "Ziggy" Hood under contract before players report to training camp on July 31. Hood is the only unsigned draft pick left for the Steelers.

But once that part is complete, expect the Steelers to attempt to lock up at least one more key cog -- maybe Miller or Clark -- long-term before trying to make another title run.

Steelers sign Urbik

June, 29, 2009
6/29/09
10:54
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

The Pittsburgh Steelers wasted little time getting back to business this week. The defending Super Bowl champions signed third-round pick Kraig Urbik to a three-year deal, the team announced Monday morning.

Urbik, who played both guard and tackle at Wisconsin, is expected to provide much-needed depth on the offensive line this year. He registered 50 career starts for the Badgers.

Overall, Pittsburgh now has every draft pick from this year under contract with the exception of first-round selection Evander "Ziggy" Hood. The Steelers are due to report to training camp on July 31.

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Here are the most interesting stories Thursday in the AFC North:

Morning take: Although Anderson makes a point that the pick for right tackle (Jonathan Ogden) should've been a natural right tackle, I have no problem with ESPN.com's panel choosing the top two players, regardless of the side.

Morning take: On the surface, this sounds like a decent idea. But I doubt Cleveland's new regime, led by coach Eric Mangini, welcomes additional assistance.

Morning take: Toward the end of last season, the Ravens were running out of healthy players at this position, which is why it made sense for them to add quality players there such as Domonique Foxworth and Chris Carr in free agency.

Morning take: Hood compares his playing style to Tommie Harris, which would be a great addition if Hood reaches that level.

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Here are the most interesting stories Monday in the AFC North:

Morning take: As Anquan Boldin and the Arizona Cardinals also found out, most teams have smartened up on the going rate for receivers. I've said for a long time that offenses should be built from the inside out, and thus receivers are final link in the chain -- not the most important. It appears the days of getting a first- and third-round pick for that position could be nearing an end.

  • The Cincinnati Bengals have a new motto for this season: "Fight back!"

Morning take: And I saw a lot of fighting at last week's three-day minicamp. Sure, it was amongst teammates. But it could help make the Bengals a tougher team in the long run.

  • Former Baltimore Ravens return specialist B.J. Sams was taken last week in the UFL draft by San Francisco.

Morning take: Sams was an exciting returner in Baltimore until breaking his leg in 2007. Let's see if he's able to jumpstart his career again outside of the NFL.

Morning take: First-rounder Evander "Ziggy" Hood and third-rounder Kraig Urbik are those two players, and no one expects any issues with them in the next six weeks.

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Here are the most interesting stories in the AFC North:

Morning take: Every time a receiver becomes available, the Ravens seem to flock to the top of the list. Terrell Owens didn't land in the Ravens' nest. Neither did Anquan Boldin. Will Marshall make it 0 for 3?

Morning take: There are high hopes for the Bengals' defense in 2009, which didn't get much help from the offense and still was rated No. 12 in the NFL. It will be interesting to see what their defense can do with some points on the board.

Morning take: Hood says he got better every day during the offseason, which is a good sign for the defending champs.

Morning take: To no surprise, Costanza is familiar with Browns coach Eric Mangini when he signed with the New York Jets in 2006.

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