AFC North: Haruki Nakamura

ESPN's Todd McShay offered the fourth version of his 2012 mock draftInsider this week. Here's a look at the AFC North part of it:

4. Cleveland Browns

Version 1.0: Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama

Version 2.0: Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor

Version 3.0: Richardson

Version 4.0: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State

Hensley's comment: I agree with version 3.0 more than 4.0. Blackmon doesn't have the speed that the Browns really need at wide receiver. That's why the Browns should go with Richardson at this spot.

17. Cincinnati Bengals

Version 1.0: David DeCastro, G, Stanford

Version 2.0: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama

Version 3.0: Kirkpatrick

Version 4.0: DeCastro

Hensley's comment: It will be a tough decision for the Bengals if DeCastro and Kirkpatrick are still available at this spot. DeCastro would make more of an immediate impact for the Bengals, who have done a nice job of adding veteran cornerbacks this offseason.

21. Cincinnati Bengals

Version 1.0: Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska

Version 2.0: Lamar Miller, RB, Miami

Version 3.0: Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State

Version 4.0: Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina

Hensley's comment: If the Bengals want to take a cornerback here, the choice is between Gilmore or Janoris Jenkins. While Jenkins has better coverage skills, Gilmore doesn't have the same character issues as Jenkins. Don't rule out a wide receiver at this spot either.

22. Cleveland Browns

Version 1.0: Kevin Reddick, OLB, North Carolina

Version 2.0: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame

Version 3.0: Michael Brockers, DT, LSU

Version 4.0: Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State

Hensley's comment: Version 4.0 is a better prediction than Brockers, because the Browns have a big need at right tackle. But there are concerns, because Adams lacks a mean streak, which is a must-have in the AFC North. The Browns might wait until the second round to take a right tackle.

24. Pittsburgh Steelers

Version 1.0: Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia

Version 2.0: Adams

Version 3.0: Dont'a Hightower, ILB, Alabama

Version 4.0: Hightower

Hensley's comment: This still seems like a no-brainer to me. Hightower would step into the void left by James Farrior. Pittsburgh could also take an offensive lineman or cornerback in the first round.

29. Baltimore Ravens

Version 1.0: Adams

Version 2.0: Vontaze Burfict, ILB, Arizona State

Version 3.0: Peter Konz, C-G, Wisconsin

Version 4.0: Harrison Smith, S, Notre Dame

Hensley's comment: There is a definite need at safety. Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard are entering the final years of their contact, and longtime backups Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura signed elsewhere this offseason. Smith, who had been pegged as a second-round pick, has been rising up boards recently. I'm just not completely sold on his playmaking ability.
Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:

The second day of free agency was more active for the AFC North, although the division found itself on the losing side of the ledger.

Five key players -- Browns running back Peyton Hillis and four defensive players -- ended up signing with other teams Wednesday. That's in addition to the Browns releasing starting left guard Eric Steinbach. The only addition to the division wasn't really an addition, as defensive end Frostee Rucker went from the Bengals to the Browns in what will prove to be an important but underrated move.

Most of these losses were expected. The parting of the ways with Hillis was projected during his tumultuous 2011 season. The Ravens knew it was going to be a challenge to keep linebacker Jarret Johnson and defensive end Cory Redding, two dependable starters in Baltimore's front seven. The only mild surprise was seeing Rucker and defensive lineman Jonathan Fanene (who signed with the Patriots) go elsewhere when both were considered among the Bengals' top priorities.

Let's see what Day 3 brings to the AFC North. There has to be some free-agent signings at some point, right?

BENGALS: The Bengals believe they lost Rucker to the Browns and Fanene to the Patriots because those teams could offer more playing time. According to the team's official website, Rucker played about 45 percent of the Bengals' defensive snaps, mainly on running downs, while Fanene participated in 45 percent of the snaps, primarily as a pass-rusher. Rucker played in every game for the first time in his six seasons with the Bengals and led team in tackles for loss (11). Fanene recorded a career-high 6.5 sacks and was third in quarterback pressures with 13. "Frostee and Jon have had productive careers here and have been great teammates, and their contributions in our line rotation have made them attractive to other clubs," coach Marvin Lewis said in a statement, via the team's official website. "They both seem to have the opportunity to play a larger role with their new clubs, and we understand that. We wish them well and we look forward to being able to replace their snaps with the depth we have and with players we may acquire through the draft or free agency."... Dolphins defensive lineman Kendall Langford, 26, a third-round pick in 2008, is visiting the Bengals this week, and it's believed they have visits set up with at least two other linemen, according to the team's official website ... Nate Livings, the Bengals' starting left guard for the past two seasons, is scheduled to visit the Cowboys today, according to ESPNDallas.com.

BROWNS: Even though Hillis said he would take a hometown discount to remain with the Browns, the running back signed with the Kansas City Chiefs without receiving an offer from Cleveland, a league source told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The Browns spoke with Hillis' agent before he agreed with the Chiefs, but no proposal was made. Hillis posted on Twitter: "Appreciate all my fans in Cleveland for the support given to me in my time there. Can't wait to get back on the field and go to work in K.C." ... The Browns agreed to terms with Rucker, and the team is expected to make an official announcement when he signs today. ... The Plain Dealer's Terry Pluto believes the Browns should use the $10 million in cap savings from cutting Steinbach and offensive tackle Tony Pashos to sign an impact right tackle like Eric Winston, Levi Brown or Demetrius Bell. ... The Plain Dealer's Bud Shaw says the patience of the Browns' front office leaves fans forever awaiting next year. "Let's put it this way. If things don't work out for the regime in Berea, we can probably scratch certain occupations from [Mike] Holmgren's and [Tom] Heckert's next job search," Shaw wrote.

RAVENS: While Redding followed former Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano to Indianapolis, Jarret Johnson joined Pagano's brother John, who is the defensive coordinator with the Chargers. “That’s part of what made it so easy,” Johnson said in a statement released by the Chargers. “Chuck and I have been tight ever since he got there. I met John before one of the games a couple years ago and he’s what made this decision so easy. I knew him, I knew about him, I know the kind of guy his brother is, so he’s definitely the type of coach you want to play for." ... The Ravens will meet with Eagles guard Evan Mathis today while left guard Ben Grubbs continues to test the free-agent market. Baltimore has also scheduled a visit with former Texans right tackle Eric Winston sometime this week. Winston, who was in Miami Wednesday, will come to Baltimore after traveling to Kansas City and St. Louis. "I want to win right now," Winston told the Carroll County (Md.) Times. "That's what's important to me. That's the kind of team I'm looking for." If the Ravens signed Winston, they would likely release Bryant McKinnie and move Michael Oher from right to left tackle. ... Backup safety and special teams standout Haruki Nakamura is making his first free-agent visit, traveling to meet the Carolina Panthers, according to the Carroll County Times.

STEELERS: Pittsburgh still sits about $1.5 million under the cap, which means there won't be much activity until the NFL draft. That's 42 days away, if you're counting. ... Steelers free-agent wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery said two teams have expressed interest in him, but he declined to name them other than to say the Steelers want him back. The Jets have shown interest, according to the New York Daily News. "Yeah, I'm open to it," Cotchery told ESPNNewYork.com on a possible return to New York, where he played for the Jets for seven seasons. "I'm open to all possibilities. I don't close doors. I'm not that type of dude."
The AFC North is running a series where every position will be ranked and what could change at that position.

DEFENSIVE BACKS

1. STEELERS: Pittsburgh had the top-ranked pass defense, and it wasn't all about the pass rush this time. Actually, the pass rush was extremely inconsistent this season, so that No. 1 ranking is more of a reflection of the Steelers' secondary. Cornerback Ike Taylor and free safety Ryan Clark had career years. Taylor's season, though, was marred by a late-season decline that ended with him getting stiffed-armed by the Broncos' Demaryius Thomas on the touchdown that ended the Steelers' season. Clark had the best season of any safety in the division, which is saying a lot when Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed are in the AFC North. He finished second in the division with 100 tackles. Polamalu was solid, but didn't play up to his usual spectacular level. William Gay was a pleasant surprise, taking back the starting cornerback job that he lost in 2010. What could change: Gay is an unrestricted free agent, but it shouldn't take much to retain him. Look for rookie cornerbacks Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown to make more of an impact in their second seasons.

2. RAVENS: This group exceeded expectations, and did so in a surprising manner. Instead of starting Domonique Foxworth and Chris Carr at cornerback, the Ravens finished fourth in pass defense with Lardarius Webb and Cary Williams. Webb was the division's top cornerback, recording five interceptions and breaking up 20 passes (and that doesn't include three interceptions in the playoffs). Williams was a physical presence at corner. The biggest disappointment was Reed, who intercepted three passes -- his fewest in a season where he played more than 12 games. The Ravens' other safety, hard-hitting Bernard Pollard, provided more of an impact than Reed. First-round pick Jimmy Smith endured an up-and-down rookie season. What could change: Smith should take over for Williams as a starting cornerback this season. Foxworth is expected to get cut, and the same could happen to Carr. Both backup safeties, Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura, are free agents, but I suspect Nakamura will get re-signed.

3. BROWNS: Joe Haden showed signs of being a shutdown corner, even though he failed to make an interception. He held his own against some of the best receivers in the NFL, from Larry Fitzgerald to Brandon Marshall. His worst games came against Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green. While Haden is among the division's best cornerbacks, Sheldon Brown was the worst starting corner in the AFC North. Brown's biggest asset is the experience he provides to a young secondary. The defensive backfield was hurt by the loss of strong safety T.J. Ward, who missed the final 10 games with a foot injury. Teams took advantage of Ward's replacement, Usama Young. Free safety Mike Adams beat out Young for a starting job in training camp. Dimitri Patterson was a reliable nickelback, breaking up a dozen passes. What could change: The Browns might replace Adams, who is a free agent, and they could give rookie seventh-round pick Eric Hagg a shot at doing so. Cleveland is very interested in bringing Patterson back. It wouldn't be a surprise if Patterson starts in place of Brown.
4. BENGALS: Leon Hall is perhaps the most valuable cornerback in the division. In the first nine games with Hall, the Bengals gave up eight touchdown passes. In the last seven regular-season games without him (he had a season-ending Achilles injury), they allowed 12 touchdown passes. The Bengals replaced Hall with Adam Jones, who was extremely erratic in coverage. The Bengals value the veteran leadership of Nate Clements, but the cornerback is looking past his prime. Only nickelback Kelly Jennings struggled on a more consistent basis. Safety Reggie Nelson allowed some big plays early, but he was stingy in pass defense late in the season. The other safety, Chris Crocker, had trouble covering the more athletic tight ends in the league. What could change: The Bengals need to draft a cornerback in the first round to press Clements for a starting role and become his eventual replacement. Nelson is a free agent, but he is considered a priority to get re-signed. The Bengals are expected to part ways with Jones, who is a free agent.

Feb. 20: Special teams

Feb. 21: Defensive line

Feb. 23: Linebackers

For Monday: Offensive line

Football Outsiders Insider analyzed the biggest holes facing each AFC North team going into the offseason. While I can't reveal everything because it's an Insider post, I'll provide the most interesting nugget of information for each team.

BENGALS: Running back, guard. This is a no-brainer because the starting running back (Cedric Benson) and the three guards that started the most games (Nate Livings, Mike McGlynn and Bobbie Williams) are unrestricted free agents. Best note from Football Outsiders: Livings and McGlynn combined to blow seven run blocks that directly resulted in negative yardage.

BROWNS: Running back. Honestly, Football Outsiders could have named every position on offense. Running back stands out because of injuries and ineffectiveness. Peyton Hillis, Montario Hardesty and Chris Ogbonnaya all failed to provide big plays in the running game. Best note from Football Outsiders: The Browns ranked 30th (2010) and 32nd (2011) in second-level yards by running backs. They also ranked 24th (2010) and 31st (2011) in open-field yards.

RAVENS: Interior offensive line, special teams. Everyone knows the Ravens could have major holes with center Matt Birk and left guard Ben Grubbs becoming free agents. The best observation was the struggles of the special teams, especially the coverage teams. It could get worse because four of Baltimore's top five tacklers on special teams are set to become unrestricted free agents: Tom Zbikowski, Haruki Nakamura, Brendon Ayanbadejo and Jameel McClain. Best note from Football Outsiders: According to Football Outsiders, the Ravens' special teams went from a No. 4 ranking in 2010 to 30th this season, which has to bother a former special-teams coach like John Harbaugh.

STEELERS: Defensive line. Nose tackle Casey Hampton is coming off ACL surgery, and defensive end Brett Keisel severely hurt his groin in the playoff loss at Denver. Backup nose tackle Chris Hoke retired and defensive end Aaron Smith could be next. Best note from Football Outsiders: Early indications suggest that Ziggy Hood will slide over to nose tackle in place of Hampton, Cameron Heyward will start in Hood's old spot on the strong side, Keisel will return at right defensive end.
Here are the latest happenings Tuesday evening in the AFC North:
Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson breaks down the safeties of each AFC North team. Today: Baltimore Ravens.

In my opinion, Ed Reed is the second-best safety in the league. Reed is a sure Hall of Famer, and his overall playmaking ability is off the charts. After spending the first six games of last season on the PUP list, Reed stormed back to lead the league with eight interceptions. There isn't a more dangerous defender in the league with the ball in his hands. He is a student of the game who baits quarterbacks and breaks on the ball extremely well. Reed’s body might not hold up the way it once did, and he isn’t quite as inclined to throw himself into the action as he once was, but he is still a fantastic player.

Dawan Landry is the starter at strong safety, but he could hit the open market in free agency. More teams are in the market for free safeties, but Landry is improving in coverage and had a heck of a season for the Ravens. He should command a large contract.

Tom Zbikowski might be ready to step in if Landry departs. Zbikowski is a smart and physical player who can hold up against the run and in coverage, and he continues to improve. If Landry does move on, though, the Ravens would be wise to add a free agent to the mix, preferably a younger player just coming off his first contract.

Haruki Nakamura is a core special teams player for Baltimore, but on defense he is a liability in coverage and takes more penalties than he should. Still, for a fourth safety, you could do a lot worse.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com. Follow Matt Williamson on Twitter @WilliamsonNFL
Here are the most interesting stories Tuesday in the AFC North:
  • Cleveland Browns left tackle Joe Thomas was ranked No. 43 on the NFL Network's survey of more than 400 players.
Morning take: After Ben Roethlisberger's No. 41 ranking and Thomas at No. 43, I'm seriously questioning the validity of these ratings. There will always be surprises on any list, but these are major whiffs.
Morning take: That is a tremendous turnout for one team. The lockout likely will go into July and it's time for teams to do all it can to hit the ground running.
Morning take: I don't think the odds are even that high. The Steelers have more than enough receivers and don’t need to get older at the position.
Morning take: Zbikowski is the favorite entering training camp but Nakamura will not roll over. Either way Baltimore will have depth at the position.

Grading the Ravens' 2008 draft

May, 13, 2011
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Here is the final installment of our series grading the 2008 drafts in the AFC North. It's often said it takes three years to evaluate a draft, so we took an in-depth look this week at each team's picks at that time.

We conclude with the 2008 draft class of the Baltimore Ravens.

Picks: QB Joe Flacco (first round), RB Ray Rice (second), LB Tavares Gooden (third), Tom Zbikowski (third), Oniel Cousins (third), WR Marcus Smith (fourth), G David Hale (fourth), Haruki Nakamura (sixth), WR Justin Harper (seventh), RB Allen Patrick (seventh)

Analysis: Without a doubt, this turned out to be the best draft of 2008 in the division. The Ravens found their franchise quarterback and starting running back in the first two rounds with Flacco and Rice. Both players are now the young centerpieces Baltimore is building its offense around. Rice, who recorded back-to-back 1,200-yard seasons, has already been to one Pro Bowl. Baltimore also picked up Zbikowski in the third round. He's a part-time starter at safety and may be a full-time option this upcoming season. Later picks such as Cousins and Nakamura have found their way on the field and contributed the past three seasons. The only disappointment from this draft is Gooden. The former third-rounder has been plagued by injuries and never developed into a reliable starting linebacker next to future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis. Other than that, this was a stellar draft by general manager Ozzie Newsome and Co. from top to bottom.

AFC North blog draft grade: A-

In case you missed it, here are the 2008 draft grades for the Browns, Bengals and Steelers.

Top AFC North draft classes

March, 11, 2011
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Throughout the week, the AFC North blog has gone through every draft class of the past decade for the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers. Now it's time to rank the best of the best.

In our final installment, here are the top three drafts in the division since 2000:

No. 3: Steelers class of 2007

Best picks: LB Lawrence Timmons (first round), LB LaMarr Woodley (second round), TE Matt Spaeth (third round), P Daniel Sepulveda (fourth round), CB William Gay (fifth round)

Analysis: Pittsburgh's 2007 class finished third overall with a good combination of stars and depth. Timmons and Woodley are projected to be key cogs in Pittsburgh's linebacking corps for a long time. And Spaeth and Gay both play key backup roles in Pittsburgh, last season's AFC champions. Sepulveda has been an interesting case, because he's a solid punter when healthy. But a pair of ACL tears have cut two seasons short.

No. 2: Ravens class of 2008

Best picks: QB Joe Flacco (first round), RB Ray Rice (second round), S Tom Zbikowski (third round), S Haruki Nakamura (sixth round)

Analysis: Flacco has led the Ravens to three consecutive playoff appearances. He is getting better every year and looks like the first long-term solution at quarterback for Baltimore in franchise history. Rice has already developed into one of the NFL's top running backs and has been to one Pro Bowl. He posted back-to-back seasons of at least 1,200 rushing yards in 2009 and 2010. Zbikowski and Nakamura are important reserves in the secondary and may compete for a starting job next season. Zbikowski started the first six games in 2010 and played solid football while Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed (hip) was on the physically unable to perform list.

No. 1: Bengals class of 2001

Best picks: DE Justin Smith (first round), WR Chad Johnson/Ochocinco (second round), RB Rudi Johnson (fourth round), WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh (seventh round)

Analysis: Surprise! The top draft class of the past decade in the division comes from the Bengals, whose infamous track record with personnel decisions have led to zero playoff victories in 21 years. But Cincinnati hit it big in 2001, landing four quality starters in Smith, Ochocinco, Johnson and Houshmandzadeh. This core led to Cincinnati's first of two playoff runs last decade in 2005. But the Bengals failed to take advantage and time eventually ran out for this stellar class. Smith, Johnson and Houshmandzadeh all bolted via free agency. Ochocinco remains the only player on the Bengals' roster from the 2001 draft, and he could be traded this offseason.

Top Ravens drafts since 2000

March, 9, 2011
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The AFC North blog continues its series on the top draft classes of the past decade in the division. Wednesday we take a look at the Baltimore Ravens.

No. 3: Class of 2003

Suggs
Suggs
Best picks: DE/LB Terrell Suggs (first round), LB Jarret Johnson (fourth), DL Aubrayo Franklin (fifth round), FB Ovie Mughelli (fourth round), OT Tony Pashos (fifth round)

Analysis: The Ravens hit big early in 2003 and also did well in the middle rounds. Suggs is the jewel of this class in the first round. Suggs had top-five talent, but his lack of straight-line speed helped him fall to the Ravens, who had no problem taking him at No. 10. He was part of a two-player first round for Baltimore that also included a bust in quarterback Kyle Boller (No. 19). Baltimore also found long-time starting linebacker Johnson in the fourth round. Johnson has been one of the most consistent and durable players for the Ravens. Other contributors such as Franklin, Mughelli and Pashos have contributed in Baltimore, but eventually moved on to get more playing time with other teams.

No. 2: Class of 2006

Best picks: DL Haloti Ngata (first round), OL Chris Chester (second round), S Dawan Landry (fifth round), P Sam Koch (sixth round)

Ngata
Analysis: I remember sitting in the Cleveland Browns' media room while covering the team in 2006 when the No. 12 pick came up. Ngata was still on the board, and so was linebacker Kamerion Wimbley. I liked Ngata for Cleveland, but I also knew the Browns liked both players. So Cleveland traded the pick to a division rival, allowed the Ravens get Ngata, and I immediately knew it was a mistake. I even wrote in the opening graph of my story that Cleveland "walked into dangerous territory" with that trade, which you can see here. The Ravens have a player who, five years later, is arguably the best defensive lineman in the NFL. Baltimore also hit on Landry, a starting safety, in the fifth round, and Koch in the sixth round. Koch is one of AFC's top punters.

No. 1: Class of 2008

Best picks: QB Joe Flacco (first round), RB Ray Rice (second round), S Tom Zbikowski (third round), Haruki Nakamura (sixth round)

Flacco
Flacco
Analysis: It's still early, but the 2008 draft is filled with talent, depth and young players who will only improve. Anytime you land a franchise quarterback in the NFL draft, that weighs extra. Flacco has led Baltimore to the playoffs all three years in the league, and set career highs in yards (3,622), touchdowns (25), and passer rating (93.6) this past season. Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome is one of the league's best talent evaluators, but he's struggled finding quarterbacks in the draft until selecting Flacco. Rice has posted back-to-back seasons of at least 1,200 rushing yards and has been to one Pro Bowl. The Ravens also added depth and part-time starters in the later rounds with offensive tackle Oniel Cousins and young safeties Zbikowski and Nakamura. All three draft classes are pretty close, because the Ravens are consistent. But if Flacco and Rice continue to get better and eventually lead Baltimore to the Super Bowl, that will separate the 2008 class.

On Thursday, we will take a look at the best draft classes of the Cleveland Browns. Then, on Friday, we will rank the top classes of the past 10 years in the division.

Seven-step drop

August, 30, 2010
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With the preseason coming to a close this week, here are seven notes and observations on the AFC North:

  • Are the Pittsburgh Steelers lacking discipline? Their first-team defense uncharacteristically had four personal fouls Sunday in a 34-17 loss to the Denver Broncos. Two were by second-year cornerback Keenan Lewis, who was subsequently benched and earned a spot in coach Mike Tomlin's doghouse. Lewis also made a bad situation worse by reportedly punching through a glass sign after the game. If you add cornerback Ike Taylor's fight last week against the New York Giants that cost him $10,000, Pittsburgh is having problems keeping its cool lately.
  • [+] EnlargeFarrior
    Ron Chenoy/US PresswireJames Farrior lost his helmet during a play in Sunday night's game.

  • I'm noticing an unusual amount of players losing their helmets this preseason. The two most high-profile occurrences were with New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning and Sunday with Steelers linebacker James Farrior. Both players suffered cuts to the head and were knocked out of the game. These are not isolated incidents. I've seen several preseason games this summer where helmets are dangerously flying off at an alarming rate.
  • Baltimore's pass protection is not as sharp as expected. The Giants recorded five total sacks against the Ravens Saturday and the pocket overall wasn't consistently solid. At times, it was miscommunications. Other times New York simply outplayed Baltimore up front. We're not convinced Tony Moll is the answer at right tackle. Giants defensive end Justin Tuck had his way with Moll on several occasions. Baltimore tackles Oniel Cousins and/or Jared Gaither need to get healthy quickly.
  • We liked what we saw from Haruki Nakamura covering receivers in the slot. For a safety, he has pretty quick feet to keep up with receivers and make plays on the ball. Nakamura is considered an experiment in the slot until Baltimore's secondary gets healthy. But based on his performance, it's looking pretty good so far.
  • The Cleveland Browns have an update on safety Nick Sorensen. The bad news is he suffered a concussion Saturday against the Detroit Lions. But the good news is he is improving. Sorensen was not at practice Monday, and according to Browns coach Eric Mangini he will be resting for "a while."
  • Speaking of Mangini, this will be his first year putting together a 53-man roster with new president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert. Cleveland currently has a mix of players leftover from the previous Mangini-George Kokinis regime and the new Holmgren-Heckert regime, setting up an interesting dynamic this week. Mangini will have his input and opinion on who stays and who goes, but Heckert and Holmgren will have the final say.
  • Cincinnati's receiver position is somewhat clearer now with Antonio Bryant's release. Cincinnati has a lot of depth at receiver, where six (maybe seven) could make the team. Chad Ochocinco, Terrell Owens, Jordan Shipley and Andre Caldwell are four locks. But at least two roster spots remain open for receivers Quan Cosby, Jerome Simpson, Matt Jones and Dezmon Briscoe. An educated guess is Cosby is in, making it a three-way tossup between Simpson, Jones and Briscoe.

Morning take: LeBeau and HOF

February, 3, 2010
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Here are the most interesting stories Wednesday in the AFC North:

  • Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's chances are looking good this week to get into the Hall of Fame.
Morning take: Many, including myself, would say this honor is long overdue.

  • Former Steelers coach Bill Cowher believes the Cincinnati Bengals are here to stay.
Morning take: Cowher and your AFC North blogger have something in common. We both picked the Bengals as sleepers in 2009.

  • Baltimore Ravens safety Haruki Nakamura already is working out in the offseason.
Morning take: Nakamura is coming off an ankle injury and could be a solid contributor next season if healthy.

  • Indianapolis Colts kicker Matt Stover had a chance to return to the Cleveland Browns this season but declined.
Morning take: Stover waited for the right opportunity and it eventually came with the AFC champs. It looks like he made the right call.

Ravens' Nakamura has broken ankle

November, 16, 2009
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CLEVELAND -- It was just announced in the press box that Baltimore Ravens reserve defensive back Haruki Nakamura has a broken right ankle.

Nakamura suffered the injury on the opening play of the game between the Ravens and Cleveland Browns. He was carted off the field.

This type of injury confirms that Nakamura will be out for the remainder of the 2009 season.

First play, first injury

November, 16, 2009
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CLEVELAND -- It didn’t take long for the first injury in the game between the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens.

On the opening kickoff, Baltimore's reserve defensive back Haruki Nakamura suffered a severe right leg injury and was carted off the field. The injury halted play for several minutes.

Nakamura is one of the team’s top special teams players, but based on his reaction he could be lost for the season.

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