AFC North: Jonathan Martin

PITTSBURGH -- Was a Steelers player prepared to lobby Pittsburgh to sign guard Richie Incognito had the Dolphins cut him in the aftermath of bullying allegations that generated national headlines?

Consider what Steelers free safety Ryan Clark said Wednesday morning on ESPN’s "First Take."

"The only person that I know that knows Richie Incognito personally said the day after (the story broke), ‘If Richie Incognito gets cut I’m walking upstairs and telling coach to pick him up,’ " Clark said. "He’s like, 'That’s the type of football player I want to play with. All of that stuff in the locker room, that’s how they act, that’s how they talked but as far as playing football I want you to play nasty, I want you to be like that.’ "

Clark did not reveal the name of the player who told him that, and it could well have been someone on other team with whom the veteran free safety is friendly. But it is reasonable to assume that there is a good chance Clark’s conversation took place with a Steelers teammate.

Would the Steelers have given any consideration to signing Incognito had the Dolphins released him last November? Not a chance.

But Clark's revelation shows a different side of NFL locker rooms, one in which players are able to separate or overlook behavior, no matter how coarse it is, from the business of winning games.

It is also consistent with how a significant number of players in the Dolphins’ locker room felt after offensive tackle Jonathan Martin abruptly left the team last October and later leveled bullying charges against Incognito.

The accusations led to Incognito’s suspension -- it was lifted earlier this week -- and a host of Dolphins teammates defended him and backed Incognito’s claim that he and Martin were friends.

The recent release of text messages between the two, bawdy as they were, appear to support what Incognito has maintained all along and that there may have been a rush to judgment.

Clark did not defend Incognito or the offensive language he used freely around teammates.

But he questioned whether the physical and psychological stress of playing football had led to Martin breaking down and then scapegoating Incognito for his hasty exit from the Dolphins.

Clark recalled a conversation he had with former Dolphins executive vice president of football operations Bill Parcells in 2010 when he nearly signed with Miami as an unrestricted free agent.

"He said ‘One day Ryan you’re going to walk out of the huddle, it happens to every player, and you’re not going to want to hit the person on the other side of the ball and when that happens it’s time to let it go,’ " Clark said. "I just think Jonathan Martin got there earlier than most people do."

As for the NFL futures of both players, Clark said, "I think (Incognito) will get a chance before Jonathan Martin. The way he behaves is genuinely who he is where Jonathan Martin behaves more to me like a person who is being advised."

Dolphins' offensive line in shambles

November, 17, 2013
The hits keep coming for the offensive line of the Miami Dolphins.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports starting center Mike Pouncey (illness) will not play in Sunday’s game against the San Diego Chargers. Both teams have 4-5 records, so Sunday's meeting should serve as an elimination game of sorts in the AFC playoff race.

The Dolphins are now without three starters on the offensive line Sunday: Pouncey, Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin -- due to a combination of illness and in-house controversies. Top reserve Will Yeatman also suffered a significant knee injury in practice Wednesday and was put on injured reserve.

Miami’s offensive line is in shambles. This is the same group that was a part of a franchise-low 2 rushing yards in last week’s 22-19 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The offensive line has been Miami’s biggest weakness all season, and Pouncey was easily its best player up front. Not having Pouncey will impact both quality of play and communication between the linemen and second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

The Dolphins have two choices to replace Pouncey against San Diego. Miami can either start backup center Sam Brenner, who was just called up from the practice squad on Saturday. Or, the Dolphins can shift starting guard Nate Garner to center and start backup Danny Watkins at guard. Neither choice is ideal.
CINCINNATI -- An anonymous, unscientific survey of 72 NFL players conducted this week by's team reporters revealed that Miami Dolphins offensive tackle Jonathan Martin was overwhelmingly viewed as the more favorable teammate in the now nine-day-long saga involving him and teammate Richie Incognito.

Incognito, who has been suspended indefinitely by the Dolphins for his part in a bullying scandal that has swept over the league and saw Martin leave the team, has received public support from many of his teammates in recent days, including quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

Support for Incognito has run thin in other locker rooms, though. The survey, which was released Friday afternoon, found that only 21 percent of NFL players would consider Incognito a good teammate. Another 47 percent believe Martin was the better teammate.

And then there's that other 32 percent who don't side with either one. In their eyes, both Martin and Incognito were at fault in this situation that has already spilled over into its second week of games. Their thinking, it seems, is that Martin could be tougher, and that Incognito should have had a better grasp on what specifically he was saying or doing to a particular teammate.

"It's all about knowing personalities," was the way one Cincinnati Bengals player put it.

To that player, who was one of the 23 respondents who said both Martin and Incognito were poor teammates, there were no "real men" in this incident.

"That's the thing about this locker room," he said, speaking of the Bengals. "We have real men in here. There's none of this fake, facade thing where you don't know what you're getting. If I have a problem with one of my teammates, I let him know. We all let each other know. You've got to talk."

Both Martin and Incognito would make bad teammates, according to this Bengals player, because "one was too soft and one was too aggressive." The player bemoaned the fact that there was seemingly no middle ground between Martin and Incognito. Since neither appeared to properly hold the other in check, he didn't feel comfortable saying he wanted either to be his teammate.

His sentiments were echoed by another Bengals player who also questioned Martin's ability to stand up for himself, while also wondering how Incognito thought it was OK to leave the type of messages laced with racial epithets and profanities on Martin's phone that he did.

In addition to the bullying issue, the issue of hazing, both financially and physically, has come up this week because of the scenario that's playing out in South Florida.

The first Bengals player said he felt a measure of hazing occurred in the league, and that when he was a rookie, he spent as much as $10,000 on dinners purchased for teammates. He said he viewed the purchases as the equivalent of "a tax write-off."

"It will all come back to you," the Bengals player said. "That's the thing you have to realize is that it'll all come back."

Asked to explain that comment, the player said that form of hazing was just one way of having the young players feeling they belonged to something bigger than themselves. Near the end of the year, he said players on that team all bought one another Christmas presents as a way of making sure no one on the team felt they were investing so much externally without feeling that they weren't part of the team.

It should be pointed out that this player did not begin his career in the Bengals organization. Other players who did had vastly different and much less expensive rookie seasons. The other Bengals player mentioned above said he helped pitch in to buy chicken from Popeye's for veterans when he first arrived to Cincinnati. He figured he might have spent $50 helping with the whole meal.

With so much still unknown in the Incognito-Martin story, it's tough to say who is completely right and who is completely wrong at this point. What is known, though, is that there are a lot of NFL players who wouldn't lose any sleep if either player never stepped foot in another locker room again.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith says hazing and bullying doesn't exist on the team, even though he didn't believe it at first.

After watching the rough initiations on HBO's Hard Knocks, Smith prepared for the worst when he reported to training camp two years ago.

"To my surprise, I came in and Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, [Terrell] Suggs, Haloti [Ngata] took us right in [saying], ‘Alright, we need you to be ready to play. We don’t have time to haze. You’ve got to sing, buy Popeye’s, but that’s it,'" Smith said. "It’s more so about a family atmosphere and welcoming you in instead of tearing you down and trying to isolate you. I don’t get how hazing even brings a team closer. It’s stupid to me.”

Hazing and bullying has become hot topics in NFL locker rooms since Miami Dolphins guard Richie Incognito was suspended Sunday amid allegations he bullied a younger teammate, Jonathan Martin, who left the team and recently checked himself into a South Florida hospital to be treated for emotional distress.

Multiple sources confirmed to ESPN on Monday that Incognito used racial epithets and profane language toward Martin on multiple occasions.

"It's surprising for me to see any player using these kinds of remarks and these kind of attacks in this day and age; even going back to the Riley Cooper thing back in the beginning of the season," defensive end Chris Canty said. "It's unfortunate this is continuing to take place. I do want to commend the Miami Dolphins for setting the precedent in the course of action they've taken as opposed to what the Philadelphia Eagles decided to do, giving Riley Cooper a slap on the wrist. I think that emboldens people to continue to use those kind of slurs, make those kind of remarks and have those kind of texts."

Does Canty believe there's a place in the NFL for Incognito?

"Playing in the NFL is a privilege, not a right and I think it should be treated as such, and I don't think there's any place for racism, racially charged attacks," Canty said. "I don't think there's a place for it."

Smith was among those Ravens who defended Martin's actions for coming forward.

"Guys are going to say that (blame the victim) because football's a manly sport, a sport that's typically about dominance and you're going to hear guys react that way -- stand up for yourself, fight back," Smith said. "But at the same time, if he did that, where would it have gotten him? We don't know if it would've worked."

Smith added, "People don't bully the strong links. So clearly there was something that he saw that he took advantage of. You don't just bully anyone, and it's very unfortunate. I'm not going to disrespect their locker room, I don't know anything about it. But if you have great leadership in there, you can see what's clearly a problem where it goes from being fun to a problem, which it escalated to and hopefully they'll get it right."
PITTSBURGH -- Ryan Clark applauded the restraint Jonathan Martin showed in dealing with alleged harassment from a Miami Dolphins teammate.

But the outspoken Pittsburgh Steelers free safety would not have faulted Martin had he reacted in an extreme manner after enduring bullying from Richie Incognito.

“I honestly wouldn’t have had any problem with Jonathan Martin hitting Richie Incognito in the head with a weight,” Clark said, “but that’s illegal and he’d go to jail and he shouldn’t do that. I think he handled it the right way by not being physical, by not causing more trouble by making a rash, emotional decision to retaliate with physical action.”

Martin abruptly left the Dolphins last week, setting in motion a story that has transfixed the nation because of its many layers, including NFL locker-room conduct and the issue of bullying happening in the most unlikely of places.

Steelers right guard David DeCastro is good friends with Martin -- the two started on Stanford’s offensive line for three seasons together -- and he said he has talked to his former Cardinal teammate.

“I just called him to make sure he was alright,” DeCastro said. “I could care less about football. I just wanted to make sure he was OK as a person and he is so that’s good, that’s what’s important.”

When asked if he thinks Martin still has the desire to play football, DeCastro said, “That’s up to him.”

Clark said the atmosphere that caused Martin to leave the Dolphins -- and put his football future in question -- needs to be addressed with some sort of league guidelines.

But, Clark conceded, a uniform policy is tricky since there can be such a fine line between what is considered a rite of passage for a young player and hazing -- or bullying in the extreme case that the NFL and Dolphins are sorting through right now.

“It’s not like a helmet-to-helmet hit that’s obvious where something like this you have to look subjectively and say, ‘Ah, this is how egregious I think this is,’ and that’s extremely hard,” Clark said. “I think some guidelines should be set in place. No one should have to endure that in their workplace whether they work for IBM or for the Miami Dolphins.”

Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson agreed.

“It’s a tough issue but at the end of the day you’ve got to respect each other man,” Johnson said Wednesday during a conference call with Pittsburgh reporters. “That’s what it comes down to.”

BEREA, Ohio -- The Colt McCoy era is over. A new one -- make that older one -- began Thursday night when the Cleveland Browns selected Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden with the 22nd overall pick.

The Browns have gone from a weak-armed quarterback to a geriatric one by NFL standards. At 28 years, 195 days, Weeden is the oldest player ever to be taken in the first round of the Common Draft era, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Weeden is only two years younger than Ben Roethlisberger. He's one year older than Brady Quinn, the last quarterback taken by the Browns in the first round.

Drafting running back Trent Richardson in the first round was a no-brainer. And, even though I think Weeden can be a quality starter in this league, taking him in the first round makes little sense for a team that is not a quarterback away from contending for a Super Bowl.

The Browns have too many other needs on offense to reach for a failed minor-league pitcher. The Cleveland front office believes it found a franchise quarterback in Weeden, but you have to wonder who is going to block for him at right tackle and who is going to catch the long passes from Weeden's big arm. The Browns are right that Weeden will be an upgrade over McCoy. But, like McCoy, he might have trouble reaching that potential with the holes surrounding him.

In a span of a few hours, the Dawg Pound went from high-fiving over the selection of Richardson to scratching their heads over Weeden.

Why didn't the Browns take a wide receiver like Georgia Tech's Stephen Hill? Why didn't Cleveland pick up Iowa offensive tackle Riley Reiff or Stanford guard David DeCastro? Why did a rebuilding franchise select an older quarterback?

"We went through the process of evaluating him, we became very fond of him," Browns coach Pat Shurmur said. "We all did, from Randy [Lerner, owner] to Mike [Holmgren, team president] to Tom [Heckert, general manager] to myself. I came away saying this is a guy we'd like to have on our team. That's where we're at right now."

It was interesting that Shurmur pointed out that the owner had input on this decision. The pressure is on, and the clock is ticking.

At his age, Weeden has to start immediately. There's no time to let him sit and learn. And, because of his age, the expectation is to win immediately.

Browns officials shrugged off Weeden's age as being an issue. The number they concentrated on is 22, which is Weeden's wins in 25 starts in college.

"We feel like the kid's a winner," Shurmur said. "I wasn't concerned about his age."

The arrival of Weeden could mean the end of McCoy's days in Cleveland. The Browns gave McCoy a major vote of no confidence when they aggressively tried to trade up for Robert Griffin III last month.

The question now isn't whether McCoy will compete for the job. It's whether McCoy will even be on this team. Heckert didn't deny the possibility that the Browns could trade McCoy this weekend.

"To be honest, we haven't thought about that. We really haven't," Heckert said. "That's something we'll talk about tonight and tomorrow."

If it wasn't for Weeden's age, he would have been a top-10 pick. He has a strong arm. He's got a quick release. He is a hard worker. He is a respected leader.

There's a good chance that Weeden will be a productive quarterback and might end the string of other "franchise" quarterbacks like Tim Couch, Derek Anderson and Quinn. The problem is, teams draft quarterbacks in the first round to be the starter for the next decade. The odds are against that with Weeden, who will turn 30 in October next year.

The Browns have done such a great job in rebuilding the defense in the past two drafts that you want to give them the benefit of the doubt that they'll do the same on offense. When it came time for the Browns to pick at No. 22, Heckert said there was no decision to make especially after Baylor wide receiver Kendall Wright was drafted by Tennessee at No. 20.

"Brandon was by far the best player for us," Heckert said. "There wasn't really even an afterthought. As soon as a couple of guys went, we knew we were going to take him."

Weeden might have been the best player available at that point. He was just not the right player for the Browns.
The live ESPN Blogger Mock Draft just wrapped up, and I'll give you my picks and my thoughts behind them:

4. Browns: RB Trent Richardson, Alabama. Not buying into the Browns' interest in wide receiver Justin Blackmon or quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Richardson is clearly the best offensive player in the draft outside of Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. The Browns' struggling offense needs an identity, and Richardson can instantly give it a tough one.

17. Bengals: DE Quinton Coples, North Carolina. Things didn't go as planned in the first half of the draft for the Bengals, who watched guard David DeCastro, safety Mark Barron and cornerback Stephon Gilmore all get taken in the top 15. Defensive end is a major need for the Bengals, but it would be hard to resist taking a talent like Coples. Even though Coples has boom-or-bust potential, this is a pick based on best player available.

21. Bengals: G-T Cordy Glenn, Georgia. The decision here came down to Glenn, wide receiver Kendall Wright or cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. You could argue wide receiver is the bigger need, but Glenn is the better prospect. After failing to get DeCastro at No. 17, the Bengals turn to Glenn to make an immediate impact at right or left guard.

22. Browns: OT Jonathan Martin, Stanford. This was a tough call because the Browns need speed at wide receiver, and Wright and Stephen Hill are sitting there. But that's the reason the pick is Martin. There are so many more wide receiver prospects available than offensive tackles, so the Browns have a better chance of a wide receiver falling to them early in the second round (perhaps South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery).

24. Steelers: NT Dontari Poe, Memphis. Could the Steelers have envisioned a better draft unfolding than this? Pittsburgh would've been happy with Dont'a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw or even Amini Silatolu. Instead, Poe falls into their laps. He becomes the heir apparent to Casey Hampton.

29. Ravens: OLB Courtney Upshaw, Alabama. The Ravens are always looking for pass rushers, and Upshaw gives them another tone-setter on defense. He replaces Jarret Johnson in Baltimore's base defense and plays opposite Terrell Suggs as an edge rusher in passing situations. Upshaw has drawn comparisons to LaMarr Woodley, so you know he's an AFC North-type of player.
We're heading into the homestretch in our "You make the call" feature.

Once we get through all six first-round selections, I will compile an AFC North fans' mock for the Bengals, Browns, Ravens and Steelers.


Who should the Browns take with the 22nd overall pick?


Discuss (Total votes: 2,284)

Today's pick is the Cleveland Browns and the 22nd overall pick. Here are the choices:

WR Stephen Hill, Georgia Tech: An intriguing deep threat, Hill can outrun defensive backs and outleap them for the ball. He could take some time to develop because he ran limited amount of routes in his college offense.

OT Jonathan Martin, Stanford: A three-year starter in college, Martin has excellent awareness and good size. He isn't a polished pass-protector.

QB Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State: He has an outstanding arm and works hard off the field. The biggest knock is his age. He turns 29 during the season.

WR Kendall Wright, Baylor: A big playmaker, Wright has the speed to beat defenders deep and the sudden stop-and-go movement to elude tacklers after the catch. At 5-foot-10, he lacks ideal height and strength.
ESPN's Todd McShay offered the fifth version of his 2012 mock draft Insider this week. It's a little different than his previous ones because he discusses the different scenarios facing each team. 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

Current pick: Richardson

Hensley's comment: I've been on board for the past few weeks with this selection. McShay brings up the possibility of the Browns taking Blackmon or quarterback Ryan Tannehill here. For me, Richardson is the clear-cut choice. Blackmon lacks elite speed and Tannehill is too much of a risk.

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

Current pick: DeCastro

Hensley's comment: McShay believes the decision to take DeCastro would be tougher if Alabama safety Mark Barron was available here, too. My feeling is the Bengals don't think twice about taking DeCastro here unless wide receiver Michael Floyd surprisingly falls (which won't happen).

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

Current pick: Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor

Hensley's comment: Like McShay, I could see the Bengals addressing corner at this spot if someone like Kirkpatrick is still on the board. But taking Wright makes sense. His speed and playmaking ability would prove troublesome to defenses focusing their attention on A.J. Green.

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

Current pick: Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford

Hensley's comment: Not sure I would go with Martin, especially with Georgia Tech wide receiver Stephen Hill on the board. The Browns can get an offensive tackle like Bobby Massie early in the second round.

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

Current pick: Hightower

Hensley's comment: I can see Georgia offensive lineman Cordy Glenn being tempting at this pick for the Steelers, but McShay has him going at No. 18 to San Diego. 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

Current pick: Smith

Hensley's comment: If Smith is the best player available here, I can see the Ravens trying to move back. There's also a chance that the Ravens could try to move up if Hill slips down around their range. One name that McShay mentioned -- Wisconsin guard Kevin Zeitler -- is another possibility here.