AFC North: Jerrod Johnson

This is one of my favorite days of the football calendar. It's the end of the preseason. It's the end of watching a lot of players who won't be on the team by the end of this week run around for quarter after meaningless quarter. To celebrate, I will put together an observation roundup of all four preseason finales involving AFC North teams by the end of the night. Wait, I forgot to say good morning. And there is no better way to start your morning than with the AFC North wake-up call ...

BENGALS: Shifting from cornerback to safety and back to cornerback during games is starting to grow on Nate Clements. He told the team's official website that he noticed Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Woodson roaming at strong safety at the age of 35 during last week's game against the Packers. "It’s exciting. I never know where I'm going to be," said the 32-year-old Clements. "You're put in a position where you can do a little bit of everything. Moving around in different positions is fun. (Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer will) come up with something different. That's what keeps it exciting." Clements should embrace this hybrid role. If he wants to extend his career, playing safety has to be in his future.

BROWNS: The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Bill Livingston thinks the Browns should play Brandon Weeden in the preseason finale instead of sitting the rookie quarterback. "[I]t’s not as if there is any guarantee that Weeden won’t get hurt eventually," Livingston wrote. "It’s also not as if Weeden has seen it all and doesn’t need any more fine-tuning. He is a remarkably poised and mature rookie, able to control his emotions much better than most first-year players due to the years he spent as a pitcher in the minor leagues. But he needs every chance to adjust to NFL speed and aggression, even if it’s in the fourth and final exhibition game." Livingston isn't the only one saying Weeden should play. His preseason stats say it, too. He's completed fewer than half of his passes and has yet to throw a touchdown pass.

RAVENS: Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron agrees that the heightened expectations of the offense puts more pressure on him. “I hope so,” he said, via the Baltimore Sun. “I really do. If you don’t thrive on that. ... You talk to the coaches that retire, you talk to the players that retire -- that’s what they miss. That’s what you would miss. I get to actually do it. I’m not behind a microphone on TV talking about it." During Cameron's four years with the Ravens, his game plan didn't need to be aggressive because Baltimore's defense was so strong. Now, with the defense expected to take a step back, Cameron and the Ravens' offense need to score more points if Baltimore wants to make the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season.

STEELERS: The Steelers will have some tough decisions in trimming down the roster to 53 players on Friday, especially if they plan to carry two injured players (guard David DeCastro and running back Rashard Mendenhall) who won't play for an extended period. One longtime Steeler who probably will suffer is quarterback Charlie Batch, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The Steelers can go with Byron Leftwich as the backup to Ben Roethlisberger and put Jerrod Johnson on the practice squad, which makes Batch expendable in the last major cutdown. "There's always a problem getting to that 53," coach Mike Tomlin said. "That is the challenge that is the National Football League. We understand it and embrace it, and I think our guys do as well."
While most of the attention focused on the Steelers getting the best guard available (Stanford's David DeCastro), they quietly made an important addition even before the draft began. Pittsburgh agreed to terms on a one-year deal with quarterback Byron Leftwich.

Leftwich
Leftwich
Bringing back Charlie Batch less than two weeks ago was an insurance policy if the Steelers couldn't keep Leftwich. Now, Leftwich is the favorite to be the primary backup to Ben Roethlisberger, as long as he remains healthy. He has started 49 games and passed for 10,260 yards and 58 touchdowns.

Leftwich, 32, is five years younger than Batch, and is a more viable option to lead an offense if Roethlisberger went down for an extended period. The Steelers have always preferred Leftwich to Batch. Leftwich was supposed to start for the suspended Roethlisberger in 2010, but he hurt his knee in the final preseason game. He was also projected to be the team's No. 2 quarterback last season before breaking his arm in the preseason.

The Steelers now have five quarterbacks on the roster: Roethlisberger, Leftwich, Batch, former Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith, and Jerrod Johnson. Striking a deal with Leftwich decreases the chances of Pittsburgh drafting a quarterback in the later rounds.
The Baltimore Ravens are among three teams interested in Steelers free-agent quarterback Dennis Dixon, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The St. Louis Rams and Denver Broncos are also in the running for Dixon, who is not expected to return to Pittsburgh.

The Ravens have been inconsistent in how they've addressed the backup quarterback position recently. In 2010, Baltimore spent $3.8 million on Marc Bulger to have veteran insurance behind Joe Flacco. In 2011, the Ravens went with rookie sixth-round pick Tyrod Taylor.

One reason why the Ravens could go with Bulger in 2010 was the uncapped year, but it's definitely a major philosophical switch to go from a playoff-tested quarterback in Bulger to a raw prospect like Taylor. Of course, Baltimore hasn't needed a backup, because Flacco has never missed a start in his four-year career (64 straight, the third-longest current streak in the NFL). But the Ravens' playoff chances would get decimated if Flacco got hurt, and the team had to turn to Taylor for an extended period.

Dixon, 27, the No. 3 quarterback last season for Pittsburgh, has made three career starts in his four seasons with the Steelers. He has a 2-1 record, with one touchdown and two interceptions. Dixon's first start came against the Ravens in 2009, when his interception in overtime set up the winning field goal.

Here are the backup quarterback situations for the rest of the AFC North:

BENGALS: Cincinnati is set with journeyman Bruce Gradkowski. When Andy Dalton was hurt in last year's season opener, Gradkowski rallied the Bengals to a 27-17 win at Cleveland.

BROWNS: At this point, the Browns are going with Seneca Wallace, the team's backup for the past two seasons. But the depth chart could get moved around if Cleveland drafts a quarterback in the early rounds. If the Browns don't take a quarterback, Wallace won't be competing with Colt McCoy for the starting job, the team said.

STEELERS: Besides Ben Roethlisberger, the only quarterbacks on the roster are Troy Smith and Jerrod Johnson. The Steelers likely will bring back Byron Leftwich or Charlie Batch. The favorite to return is Leftwich, who reportedly drew interest from the Colts.

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