AFC North: Hall of Fame Game

AFC North roster bubbles

August, 31, 2010
8/31/10
2:22
PM ET
Jones, Williams & VeikunAP PhotosMatt Jones, Demetrius Williams and David Veikune are among the AFC North players in danger of not making their teams' final 53-man rosters.
With teams required to cut down to 53 players by Saturday, it's time to focus on the final rosters in the AFC North.

Expect plenty of chatter internally this week among general managers, scouts and coaches throughout the division on who should make the team. This is always one of the most intriguing weeks of the NFL season.

With that said, here are several noteworthy players on the bubble in the AFC North:

1. Matt Jones, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

Analysis: The Jones experiment probably will end this week. The Bengals took a chance on Jones, who was out of football in 2009 for off-field issues, to see if he had anything left. Except for a few flashes, such as the Hall of Fame Game, the former first-round pick has been injured and not nearly the same explosive player he was several years ago. Jones also signed a team-friendly, one-year contract, which makes him easy to release. The Bengals have a lot of depth at receiver, and Jones doesn't appear to be in their plans.

Cut-O-Meter: 80 percent

2. David Veikune, LB, Cleveland Browns

Analysis: Despite entering only his second season, this was a very important training camp for Veikune. The former second-round pick was a major disappointment in his rookie season. Veikune hasn't stepped up so far and is having another nondescript preseason. His best chance to make the Browns is his high draft status. But first-year president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert added their own linebackers and have no personal investment in Veikune.

Cut-O-Meter: 80 percent

3. Demetrius Williams, WR, Baltimore Ravens

Analysis: Placing Williams on the roster bubble has become an annual tradition in Baltimore -- and every year he survives. This year could be the same for Williams, who has a lot of ability but has yet to live up to his potential. Williams received a lucky "break," both literally and figuratively, when veteran receiver Donte' Stallworth suffered a broken foot in the third preseason game. Stallworth will be out approximately two months, increasing Williams' chances of making Baltimore's 53-man roster.

Cut-O-Meter: 35 percent

4. Justin Hartwig, C, Pittsburgh Steelers

Analysis: Hartwig struggled at center last year and lost his job this preseason to first-round pick Maurkice Pouncey. The Steelers believe Pouncey is a star-in-the-making, which leaves Hartwig's future in limbo. Despite the benching, there is no question Hartwig is one of Pittsburgh's best 53 players. That should be enough. But Hartwig also is scheduled to make a little more than $2 million this season. He's being paid as a starting center and that's no longer his role. There's a chance Hartwig could compete at right guard or simply be the first center/guard off the bench in the event of injury. Hartwig's experience and versatility help his case.

Cut-O-Meter: 30 percent

5. Jerome Simpson, WR, Bengals

Analysis: Simpson is another second-round pick who is running out of chances. Despite coming from small-school Coastal Carolina, the Bengals were enamored with his physical abilities and reached for Simpson in the second round of the 2008 draft. But the Bengals tired of waiting for Simpson to develop and made several offseason additions at receiver, which included signing Terrell Owens and drafting Jordan Shipley in the third round. But Antonio Bryant's surprising release helps Simpson's chances.

Cut-O-Meter: 50 percent

6. James Davis, RB, Browns

Analysis: It's funny how quickly things can change in the NFL. Last summer, Davis was the talk of Cleveland after he led the Browns in rushing during the preseason as a rookie. This year, Davis is on the bubble after a lot of offseason additions at running back. The top three tailbacks for Cleveland are locks: Jerome Harrison, Peyton Hillis and Montario Hardesty. The question now is how many running backs Cleveland will keep. If the answer is four, Davis and Chris Jennings are battling for the final spot. I give Davis the edge.

Cut-O-Meter: 40 percent

7. David Reed, WR, Ravens

Analysis: Reed, a fifth-round pick, burst on the scene in Baltimore with a stellar spring. But since then he's been inconsistent and is back on the bubble. Like Williams, Reed also benefits from Stallworth's injury and the extra roster spot available at receiver. That increases Reed's chances to make it. Otherwise, the Ravens would love to develop him on the practice squad.

Cut-O-Meter: 50 percent

[+] EnlargeJonathan Dwyer
AP Photo/Jack DempseyJonathan Dwyer led the Steelers in rushing against the Broncos, but will it be enough to earn him a roster spot?
8. Jonathan Dwyer, RB, Steelers

Analysis: Dwyer made a strong push late for a roster spot in Pittsburgh. After a disappointing training camp, Dwyer led the Steelers in rushing with 89 yards and a touchdown in Sunday's preseason loss to the Denver Broncos. Running back Isaac Redman has been stellar and secured the third running back job that was intended for Dwyer. Thursday's preseason finale will be vital for the sixth-round pick.

Cut-O-Meter: 55 percent

9. Brett Ratliff, QB, Browns

Analysis: Do not believe the hype in Cleveland involving third-round pick Colt McCoy being on the bubble. From everything we're told, there is no truth to the speculation. This means Ratliff, barring injury, is probably spending his final week with the Browns. Ratliff will play a half Thursday in Cleveland's final preseason game against the Chicago Bears. That could be a nice showcase for Ratliff to try to latch on with another team. Browns coach Eric Mangini traded for Ratliff as part of the draft-day deal with the Jets to be a developmental project last year. But Holmgren is calling the shots now and drafted his own developmental project: McCoy.

Cut-O-Meter: 95 percent

10. Maurice Purify, WR, Bengals

Analysis: Purify is one of Cincinnati's top special-teams players. But the Bengals' immense depth at receiver and Purify's one-game suspension for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy make it very unlikely he makes the cut. There is no reason for Cincinnati to take a roster spot away from a player who will be available for the start of the regular season to keep Purify.

Cut-O-Meter: 95 percent

Here are five additional names to watch:

Here are the most interesting stories Wednesday in the AFC North:
  • Safety Troy Polamalu looks healthy and ready to help the Pittsburgh Steelers' defense this year.
Morning take: When Polamalu is in the lineup, Pittsburgh's defense is arguably the NFL's best. He's the player offenses must watch at all times.
Morning take: Washington's potential return in Week 1 would help soften the blow of losing teammate Domonique Foxworth.
  • With his contract done, Cincinnati Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham is making up for lost time.
Morning take: The first-round pick will play in Sunday's Hall of Fame Game. So these next few days are important to get up to speed.
  • At 37, receiver Bobby Engram believes he can help the Cleveland Browns.
Morning take: Engram recorded 94 receptions just three years ago, so maybe he has something left. But a 35-year-old quarterback (Jake Delhomme) throwing to a 37-year-old receiver (Engram) doesn't sound like a dependable formula.
GEORGETOWN, KY. -- The Cincinnati Bengals continued their 2010 training camp Tuesday, and the AFC North blog stopped by to check out the reigning division champs.

Here are some notes and observations:

  • [+] EnlargeBengals Camp
    AP Photo/Al BehrmanThe competition between Chad Ochocinco, left, and Johnathan Joseph has been fierce.
    My favorite part of practice Tuesday was watching the great receiver-cornerback battles between Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens against Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall. Neither side is backing down and there is some high-quality football being played, especially for early in training camp. In the end, expect all four players to be better off for providing each other stout competition.
"He's all about his business," Joseph said, complimenting Owens. "He comes in, he works hard in practice, and I think it's a great pickup for this team. I think it will pay off big for us."

  • Overall, the defense won Tuesday's practice. The unit was very physical, and I saw at least three noticeable hits by safety Gibril Wilson and linebackers Keith Rivers and Brandon Johnson. In addition, safety Roy Williams got an interception in the middle of the field off quarterback Carson Palmer in team drills. The defense also stopped the offense from scoring in two-minute drills.
  • Cincinnati first-round pick Jermaine Gresham made his training camp debut after signing a five-year deal. The Bengals aren't wasting time with the rookie tight end. He is projected to start in Week 1 and will play in Sunday's Hall of Fame Game against the Dallas Cowboys. Due to a knee injury, Sunday will mark his first game action in more than a year.
"If you have something you really love taken from you, you appreciate everything about it," Gresham said. "It's not just one specific thing, it's everything. Just being out there with your guys. Being able to play football with each other, laugh, joke, be tired with each other. You even miss that. It's everything in itself that you miss about football."

  • Another note on Gresham: He spent the past couple of weeks working out with No. 1 overall pick Sam Bradford of the St. Louis Rams while both were waiting on contracts. Bradford and Gresham were former college teammates and a dangerous quarterback-tight end duo at Oklahoma.
  • Among the players who didn't practice Tuesday were linebacker Rey Maualuga (hamstring), rookie defensive end Carlos Dunlap (concussion) and receiver Matt Jones, who was seen wearing a boot. Receiver Antonio Bryant (knee) also worked independently on the side.
  • There is a lot of competition at receiver, and for one day at least, Andre Caldwell didn't help himself. He had two drops Tuesday. Jordan Shipley and Jerome Simpson did make a few nice grabs. Expect all to have their ups and downs as they compete for roles on the team.
NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Does participating in five preseason games impact regular-season success?

Brad from Atlanta sent an interesting thought to our AFC North inbox. He wondered if the Hall of Fame game had a positive or negative impact on teams in the regular season.

Because of the risk of injuries, there is some debate whether it is fair to ask only two NFL teams to play five exhibition games during the summer, while the other 30 teams play four preseason games. But the Hall of Fame game has a rich history, and it is an honor to represent the league in the first preseason game of the year.

On Aug. 8, the Cincinnati Bengals will play the Dallas Cowboys in Canton, Ohio. Cincinnati wanted to participate in this game for years because of the deep connection between Bengals founder Paul Brown and northern Ohio. Also, Dallas has Cowboys great Emmitt Smith being inducted in what should be a tremendous, weeklong celebration for its franchise.

On the field, there hasn't been any significant impact one way or the other with teams playing a fifth preseason game. The overall record of the last 10 Hall of Fame game participants is 83-77, which is slightly above .500. Five of those teams had winning records, three had losing records and two finished 8-8.

That means Bengals and Cowboys fans shouldn't worry. If they have a good team, like the 2008 Indianapolis Colts and 2007 Pittsburgh Steelers, the latest Hall of Fame game participants will make the playoffs this year. If they don't have a good team, like the 2009 Buffalo Bills, the postseason won't be in their future.

But there's no statistical proof that playing an additional preseason game will cause Dallas or Cincinnati to have a poor season.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider