AFC North: Gary Russell

Posted by's James Walker

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

  • A team source tells the Baltimore Sun that the Ravens are only willing to give up a first- or second-round pick for Arizona Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin.

Morning take: Well, this puts the Ravens behind the pack unless they're willing to sweeten the pot. Arizona wants a first and third and another team may be willing to provide it.

  • According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Browns have set up last-minute workouts with multiple receiver prospects.

Morning take: Last minute? Sounds like the Braylon Edwards insurance policy is being put together before our eyes.

Morning take: Does anyone find it odd the official team Web site writes about arguably Cincinnati's biggest bust just days before the draft?

Morning take: As we wrote Monday, NFL insiders were curious how Pittsburgh fit linebacker James Harrison's large, $51.175 contract extension under the cap without much room. With the team trying to save Russell's relatively small amount, the Steelers obviously have more work to do.

AFC North evening links

April, 17, 2009

Posted by's James Walker

Here are the latest developments Friday in the AFC North:

  • The Pittsburgh Steelers hosted a trio of prospects Friday, including Cincinnati cornerback Mike Mickens.
  • Contrary to reports, Cleveland Browns quarterback Derek Anderson did not have offseason knee surgery.
  • The Cincinnati Bengals re-signed linebacker Rashad Jeanty to a one-year tender Friday and claimed former Steelers tailback Gary Russell off waivers.

Gary Russell joins Cincy

April, 17, 2009

Posted by's James Walker


It didn't take long for former Pittsburgh Steelers tailback Gary Russell to find a new home.

About 24 hours after being cut by the defending champions, Russell was claimed off waivers by the Cincinnati Bengals, the team announced Friday.

Russell was Pittsburgh's short-yardage back last season. He earned playing time after the season-ending shoulder injury to former first-round pick Rashard Mendenhall. But with Mendenhall's return this year, Russell became expendable.

The Bengals, meanwhile, are looking for a running back to add depth behind starter Cedric Benson. Russell is a third-year player who has 35 career carries for 98 yards.

Posted by's James Walker

Here are links to the latest happenings in the AFC North division Thursday.

AFC North mailbag

February, 12, 2009

Posted by's James Walker

We have lots of mail to catch up on, and I'm trying to answer as many as possible.

Let's dig into some more questions.

Jason from Knoxville, TN writes: Hey James, with the Pro is it that the Ravens' defense got more players into the Pro Bowl over the Steelers' #1 rated defense? Lamarr Woodley not going? Ike Taylor gets hidden in the shadows? What's the deal James?

James Walker: What's up, J. Mills? Overall ranking is not the only determining factor. Pittsburgh was the No. 1 defense in the NFL, but Baltimore was No. 2. I don't think it's an injustice that the Ravens got one more player into the Pro Bowl than the Steelers. The swing vote went to Baltimore linebacker/defensive end Terrell Suggs, who just beat out Steelers outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley. Otherwise, Pittsburgh would have had one more defensive player in Hawaii.

Gregory from White Plains writes: Everette Brown: Todd McShay has the Browns taking Brown with the 5 overall pick. Please please please tell me they are not actually considering this. We already tried this with Wimbley and it clearly has not worked out. They wouldn't really try to convert another pass rushing DE from Fl St. to an OLB again would they? I think we've endured enough pain as fans without doing this twice. On a better note: any ideas about who they might be looking at, or even if they might be trying to trade down?

James Walker: It's hard to tell what the new regime in Cleveland is thinking at the moment, Gregory, because it's still putting together a coaching and scouting staff. So I would assume this team is still far from decided its direction in the draft, especially before the combine. But Brown is a possibility because Cleveland needs dynamic talent on defense. Brown is versatile and can play both defensive end and outside linebacker, and you need those players in a 3-4 defense. Just because he's from Florida State, that shouldn't be held against him.

Matt from Rancho Cucamonga, CA writes: Hey James, love the coverage you give to the AFC North. With the free agents for the steelers i see them resigning McFadden and either Max Starks or Chris Kemoatu. My question is who do you see them signing as the back up quarterback, Leftwich or Batch or neither?

James Walker: Thanks, Matt. Byron Leftwich likely will not return as he is seeking a starting job or at least a chance to start elsewhere. Charlie Batch is a good possibility to sign a one-year deal. He knows the system. The only question is where is his health at this point coming off a collarbone injury?

Todd from Encinitas, CA writes: Mr. Walker, any guesses on what happens with LeCharles Bentley in 2009? Thanks

James Walker: Todd, it's probably a 50-50 chance Bentley returns to football. His life was literally in danger in Cleveland dealing with the multiple surgeries resulting from staph, and going through that plus the business side of football has really soured him on returning. Teams also are questioning his health, which makes it a two-way street.

Brian from Latrobe writes: What are the Steelers chances of getting Larry Johnson? I know the Steelers usually don't get "trouble makers" but Johnson is the type of back they need.

James Walker: I don't see it, Brian. Johnson's downhill style would fit, but he costs a lot of money and doesn't seem to fit the Pittsburgh mold inside the locker room. Plus, the Steelers already have a deep running back core with Willie Parker, Mewelde Moore, Gary Russell and the return of 2008 first-round pick Rashard Mendenhall, who should develop into a solid player in his second year.

Seven-step drop

December, 8, 2008

Posted by's James Walker

 Geoff Burke/US Presswire
 Ed Reed created three turnovers in Sunday's 24-10 win over the Redskins.

It was an exciting weekend of games in the AFC North.

Here are seven observations from Week 14:

  • This could be the finest season to date for Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor. He had another great game, often with help over the top, in holding Dallas Cowboys Pro Bowler Terrell Owens to just three catches for 32 yards and a touchdown in Sunday's 20-13 victory for Pittsburgh. Even on the touchdown Taylor allowed to Owens, Taylor covered well until quarterback Tony Romo bought a lot of time and made a terrific throw on the run to beat the coverage.
  • The biggest concern for Pittsburgh right now has to be the team's struggles to find a consistent running game. That was something the Steelers always could rely on in the past. But now tailbacks Willie Parker, Mewelde Moore and Gary Russell are joining the rest of the offense as hot-and-cold players. Against Dallas, all three tailbacks combined for just 53 yards on 21 carries. It was particularly uncharacteristic to see Pittsburgh not punch it in on third-and-goal and fourth-and-goal from Dallas' 1-yard line. This is something to monitor closely as the Steelers attempt to make a deep postseason run.
  • With the physical ailments Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed (shoulder, neck) is dealing with this year, he is making it up twofold in mental ability. Reed is arguably the smartest defensive player in the NFL and known as a gambler in the secondary. This year, Reed seems to guess right on most chances he takes. Reed single-handedly created three turnovers in a 24-10 win over the Washington Redskins by going in for a strip, which caused a fumble, and picking off two passes by reading the eyes of Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell.
  • Despite its offensive turnaround this year, Baltimore is not running the ball as effectively as it would like. The three-headed monster of Willis McGahee, Le'Ron McClain and Ray Rice has had breakout games, but as a team the Ravens are averaging just 3.8 yards per carry. Only Rice (4.1) is above four yards per carry this season, which is ideal for a running back.
  • After one start this year, it is clear that Cleveland Browns starting quarterback Ken Dorsey's lack of arm strength is his biggest weakness. Dorsey is a smart quarterback who knows the offense as well as any player on the team. He knows the play and where to go with the football. But there were so many occasions in Sunday's 28-9 loss to the Tennessee Titans where Dorsey didn't have the physical ability to make the proper throws that Cleveland needed to score points. The Browns had short fields on several occasions against Tennessee and settled for field goals.
  • Speaking of field goals, in our estimation Browns head coach Romeo Crennel showed another lapse in game management Sunday. The Browns were down 15 points in the fourth quarter, which makes it a two-possession game. They were on Tennessee's 22-yard line on fourth down and elected to kick a field goal to make the score 21-9. This essentially makes a two-possession game a three-possession game because the Browns still need two scores. In fact, Cleveland needed a pair of touchdowns whether the team kicked the field goal or not. So why not go for the touchdown while deep in Titans territory?
  • The Bengals are clearly outmanned, but in the NFL it is difficult to be outscored 69-6 in two games. You wonder if there is any fight left in this team? There are other basement teams around the league like the Seattle Seahawks (2-11), Kansas City Chiefs (2-11) and Detroit Lions (0-13) that are still fighting week to week. But Cincinnati appears to be the most disinterested team in the league down the stretch.

Steelers gradually pulling away

November, 20, 2008

Posted by's James Walker

PITTSBURGH -- It took three quarters, but the Steelers are finally asserting their will against the Cincinnati Bengals.

In a grinding, defensive struggle, tailback Gary Russell scored on a 2-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter to give Pittsburgh a 20-7 lead. It was the first touchdown of Russell's career.

The Bengals have played hard for three quarters but appear to be wearing down and are simply out-manned on the road. The Steelers' defense has been stellar since giving up a first-quarter touchdown drive and will likely force Cincinnati to throw the ball a lot to try to overcome a double-digit deficit.

Posted by Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson

With rookie RB Rashard Mendenhall (shoulder) and veteran RG Kendall Simmons (Achilles') now headed for injured reserve, Pittsburgh's depth and resourcefulness is about be tested.

On the surface, the injuries seem like deal-breakers. With RB Willie Parker already out, Mendenhall's injury obliterates Pittsburgh's depth at the position. And because the rookie was the team's only legitimate power back, there isn't a viable replacement on the roster equipped for short-yardage situations. And though Simmons has been no better than an average NFL starter for a few years now, he's smart and experienced -- two qualities that seem to be lacking on the Steelers' offensive line lately.

Still, these developments shouldn't break this team -- or even significantly affect how the Steelers go about their business. RB Mewelde Moore is set to start at Jacksonville on Sunday, and though he's a bit small and should be Pittsburgh's No. 3, he's a better runner than his numbers against Baltimore (13 yards on eight carries) indicate. He has good vision and instincts and, despite his 209-pound frame, is tough enough to run inside. He lacks Parker's burst and breakaway speed and Mendenhall's power and measurables, but Moore is, at worst, a capable emergency starter. He's also an excellent receiver and a solid contributor in pass protection -- an asset Pittsburgh needs now more than ever.

With Simmons done, the Steelers likely will turn to backup RG Darnell Stapleton, which is a mistake. Stapleton isn't a bad player, but the team has better options. RT Willie Colon could slide inside to guard and OT Max Starks could start on the edge. Starks is talented and underrated and Colon -- who took reps at guard in training camp each of the last two years -- could handle the move with a little coaching. In this scenario, Pittsburgh's offensive line would be bigger and more experienced than if Stapleton replaces Simmons.

The Steelers won't change their scheme much to accommodate the new starters, but in any case they need to get better at what they already do. Coordinator Bruce Arians has taken some heat for his play calling, and rightfully so. Against blitz-happy Philadelphia and Baltimore defenses the last two weeks, he didn't do enough to aid an offensive line that struggles in protection and a quarterback who tends to hold on to the ball a beat or three too long. To preserve QB Ben Roethlisberger, give the linemen a hand and make the most of Moore's abilities, Arians needs to use more screens, draws and the like against pressure defenses (the Jaguars and Giants, two of the Steelers' next three opponents, certainly qualify).

Additionally, FB Carey Davis' ankle injury could limit Arians' flexibility, though it won't dramatically affect an offense that already prominently features two-tight end and multiple-receiver sets. RB Najeh Davenport likely will be brought back for depth and short-yardage work, and RB Gary Russell is a wild card who could spell Moore.

In the end, Pittsburgh may throw a bit more often and align Moore in the slot or split wide at times, but the core offense will remain unchanged. Mendenhall's and Simmons' replacements should be fine, but the pressure on Big Ben's shoulders and a stout Steelers defense just got turned up a little more.

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