AFC North: Jonathan Scott

AFC North links: Ed Reed works out

July, 20, 2012
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Baltimore Ravens

Ravens safety Ed Reed proves he's in solid shape; just watch video of him going through drills in Owings Mills. Reed's appearance Thursday is a positive sign that suggests he plans to report for training camp next week.

Single-game tickets for 2012 home games at M&T Bank Stadium went on sale Friday morning, the Baltimore Sun reports.

Cincinnati Bengals

Sixteen Bengals players have taken their offseason conditioning to another step by working out at Ignition APG.

Cleveland Browns

Defensive tackle Billy Winn has taken his talents from Las Vegas High School to Boise State and now to the Browns.

For the first time since 2008, the Browns will end the season at Pittsburgh. ClevelandBrowns.com takes a look at the team's two games against the Steelers.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Jonathan Scott, an offensive tackle who started 14 of the 28 games in which he played for the Steelers in 2010 and '11, has been released from the team.

The Steelers and wide receiver Mike Wallace are in "close contact" on progress toward a new contract deal.

"When you hear stories like (Troy) Polamalu's, you get the feeling the league's precautions might be a case of too little, too late," says the Baltimore Sun's Kevin Cowherd in a blog on players hiding concussions.
Rookie second-round pick Mike Adams is the favorite to be the Steelers' starting left tackle in the season opener at Denver for two reasons: Max Starks hasn't heard from the Steelers and he likely won't be ready for training camp.

Starks, who was re-signed in October to stabilize the left side, is still recovering from knee surgery in January. Coming back to the Steelers this season is in doubt.

“I have not had contact with management or anybody like that,” Starks told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “I guess eventually I will hear something from them … or maybe not.”

He probably won't hear from any team until he can prove he's healthy. Starks, who tore his ACL in the playoff loss at Denver, said it would "be pushing it" to be ready for training camp in late July.

“It is not unfeasible," he said. "Athletes push it to be ready in six months, but my mindset is to be ready to play by Week 1. That’s a realistic goal for me.”

It's the right move to see if Adams can play right away. He was given a first-round grade by the Steelers, so it's not like Pittsburgh is rushing him into the lineup. The biggest question with Adams is his strength.

But the Steelers shouldn't throw Starks' number away. If Adams is hurting the offense a month into the season, the Steelers should consider bringing back Starks just like last season. He is a much-better stop-gap option at left tackle than Jonathan Scott, the current backup who was a liability last season as a starter.
Mike TomlinMichael Hickey/US PresswireMike Tomlin and the Steelers need to tap into their draft magic this year more than many.

Nearly a full month into free agency, the Steelers finally signed their first player Tuesday. It was -- yawn -- Leonard Pope.

Not excited about adding a backup tight end? Well, this is essentially a repeat of last year, when the Steelers' big free-agent signing was wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery. Let's face it, Steelers free agency contains as much action as a Sarah Jessica Parker flick. Everyone knows this, and that's why no one is wringing their Terrible Towel over the inactivity.

The Steelers find players in April, not March. They hit on first-round picks every year -- at least in recent memory -- and develop undrafted prospects into starters. No one has built their team through the draft quite like the Steelers this decade. If the season started today, only one of the projected starters (safety Ryan Clark) joined the Steelers as an unrestricted free agent.

The Steelers need this remarkable track record in the draft to come through for them again. In some ways, this is the most important draft of the Mike Tomlin era. I'm not saying this is a crucial draft in terms of finding immediate starters. But the pressure is on the Steelers to find "potential" starters for the 2012 season.

The organization lost a piece of its history when it parted ways with wide receiver Hines Ward, linebacker James Farrior, defensive end Aaron Smith, nose tackle Chris Hoke and guard Chris Kemoeatu this offseason. Some have downplayed these departures because none were major contributors last season. Farrior was a part-time player, Ward was being phased out, Kemoeatu was benched and Smith and Hoke were both injured. The Steelers, though, could have used their experience as backups this season.

The loss of these veteran safety nets makes injuries a major concern. Two starters -- running back Rashard Mendenhall and nose tackle Casey Hampton -- are candidates to start the regular season on the physically unable to perform list (and miss at least the first six games) after ACL surgeries this offseason. Tomlin has expressed concern about whether right tackle Willie Colon and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders can shake their injury histories. And the Steelers have to be worried about Maurkice Pouncey's ankle, LaMarr Woodley's hamstrings and Doug Legursky's shoulder.

If Hampton is placed on the PUP, the starting nose tackle would likely be an out-of-position Ziggy Hood. If Legursky is hurt, the current top backup at guard is John Malecki. If Colon goes down, the Steelers have to turn to the often-struggling Jonathan Scott. If Sanders can't play, the third receiver would be ... well, no one right now. These are all painful scenarios for the Steelers.

This is where the draft comes into play for Pittsburgh. Taking the right college player has always kept the Steelers in the mode of reloading, not rebuilding. No one knows whom the Steelers will select with the 24th overall pick. It could be Alabama inside linebacker Dont'a Hightower, Georgia offensive lineman Cordy Glenn, Stanford tight end Coby Fleener or someone not even linked to Pittsburgh. Based on the Steelers' history, the only certainty is that the pick will become an impact player.

[+] EnlargeBrett Keisel
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesDefensive end Brett Keisel, taken in the seventh round, is just one of the Steelers' draft finds.
Since 2000, the Steelers' first-round selections have been wide receiver Plaxico Burress, Hampton, guard Kendall Simmons, safety Troy Polamalu, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, tight end Heath Miller, wide receiver Santonio Holmes, linebacker Lawrence Timmons, Mendenhall, Hood, Pouncey and defensive end Cameron Heyward. The only one who didn't quite live up to expectations is Mendenhall, and he is hardly a major disappointment, having led the team in rushing for the past three seasons. This great run is more amazing when you consider that only two (Burress and Roethlisberger) were selected in the top half of the first round. Even the Ravens, who are known for excelling in the draft, have had two busts during this span with quarterback Kyle Boller and wide receiver Travis Taylor.

Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert, one of the underrated decision-makers in the NFL, can't explain this string of success.

"We've been fortunate," he told reporters at the NFL owners meetings. "We are capable as anybody of making a mistake. We never keep score. There's only one score that matters and that's the last game of the year."

If the Steelers had been keeping score, they would realize their success goes beyond the first round. They have come away with current starters in the second round (linebacker Woodley), third round (wide receiver Mike Wallace), fourth round (cornerback Ike Taylor), sixth round (wide receiver Antonio Brown) and seventh round (defensive end Brett Keisel). And don't forget about the undrafted finds like Legursky, right guard Ramon Foster and running back Isaac Redman.

This is why the Steelers don't have to write a $100 million check to free agents. This is why the Steelers can sign one player in the first 28 days of free agency and not sweat about it. Pittsburgh's way of business is about patience and faith. The Steelers believe in their front office to select the right college players and they believe in their coaching staff to develop them. It's a proven system that has led to five AFC North titles in 10 seasons and three trips to the Super Bowl during that span.

As players come and go, the Steelers' goals never change. Like Tomlin always preaches: "The standard is the standard."

"If you have a desire to be in this league for a length of time, you are going to roll with the punches and the ebb and flow, the evolution of the game," Tomlin said at the NFL owners meetings. "Thankfully, I've been in the game long enough to see a little bit of that. Those who are able to sustain success are pliable and flexible."

And the organizations that are able to sustain success are often quiet in free agency and make the most noise in the draft.
Gary Horton of Scouts Inc. broke down the top six needs remaining Insider for each of the AFC North teams. You'll need an Insider subscription to view the entire post, but here's a glimpse of the top three needs:

CINCINNATI BENGALS

Horton's top three needs: Cornerback, guard and safety.

Horton on cornerback: The starters in 2011 were Leon Hall, who will be coming off an Achilles injury, and 32-year-old Nate Clements. When Hall went down, Adam Jones filled in, but none of these three make you comfortable in man coverage. Newly acquired free agent Jason Allen will help, but there is a lot of work to be done here.

Hensley's comment: I wouldn't put cornerback as the top need because the Bengals added Allen and re-signed Jones. Allen is an upgrade over Kelly Jennings. Guard is the bigger concern. If the season started today, the Bengals' starting right guard would either be Otis Hudson, Clint Boling or Anthony Collins (who would shift over from tackle).

CLEVELAND BROWNS

Horton's top three needs: Quarterback, wide receiver and running back.

Horton on quarterback: Right now, their options at QB are starter Colt McCoy and veteran backup Seneca Wallace, but nobody expects it to stay that way. With two first-round draft picks, they will almost surely pick a QB with one of them.

Hensley's comment: You could make a strong argument that quarterback, wide receiver or running back should rank as the No. 1 need. My top need for Cleveland is right tackle. The Browns can at least start McCoy, Greg Little, Mohamed Massaquoi and Montario Hardesty at those other positions. Right tackle was a weak spot for the Browns last season with Tony Pashos and Artis Hicks, both of whom are now gone. The Browns' starting right tackle at this point is Oniel Cousins, a third-round bust from Baltimore.

BALTIMORE RAVENS

Horton's three needs: Inside linebacker, left guard and safety.

Horton on inside linebacker: The Ray Lewis era will be ending soon, and the Ravens need to find his replacement. Jameel McClain was re-signed, and he can play inside or outside, but a three-down linebacker who can play solid pass defense is sorely needed.

Hensley's comment: Left guard is the biggest need on the team, and it's not even close. The Ravens couldn't keep Ben Grubbs and failed to sign Evan Mathis. The fallback option is Jah Reid, a backup offensive tackle last season. Going from a Pro Bowl guard (Grubbs) to a converted tackle (Reid) is a major step down.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Horton's top three needs: Offensive tackle/guard, nose tackle and running back.

Horton on offensive tackle/guard: Center Maurkice Pouncey is the only stable starter on this unit. Veteran tackle Max Starks is coming off an ACL injury and T Willie Colon can't stay healthy, though the coaches hope he can get through a full season at RT with young Marcus Gilbert moving from RT to LT. There is also a big hole at left guard. The Steelers need to get at least one, and maybe two, starters up front.

Hensley's comment: You can't really disagree with this assessment. Left guard Doug Legursky is a backup who performed admirably when Chris Kemoeatu was benched. Gilbert has a good chance of succeeding on the left side, but it's hard to depend on Colon at right tackle with his injury history. The Steelers' options are limited because there is no depth. Jonathan Scott, who has struggled mightily, is the top backup at tackle, and there's no reserves at guard with Trai Essex (free agent) and Jamon Meredith (not tendered as a restricted free agent) off on the roster.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are no longer quiet in free agency.

According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Steelers had their first free-agent visit of the year today, bringing in Bills offensive tackle Demetrius Bell.

He is the best offensive lineman available in what began as a weak free-agent market for tackles. Bell, 27, is an intriguing talent who has played parts of the past two seasons at left tackle.

Drafted in the seventh round by the Bills in 2008, Bell had struggled for the most part before last season. He only started six games in 2011 for the Bills, but those were perhaps his best games with the team. In seven games last season, he only allowed a half of sack and didn't commit a penalty.

There's no guarantees that Bell will continue to play at such a high level, but this could potentially be a strong first move by the Steelers. Pittsburgh is the only team in the AFC North not to sign anyone in free agency, which began 17 days ago.

The Steelers have a connection to Bell. Offensive line coach Sean Kugler spent two seasons working with Bell before leaving Buffalo for Pittsburgh.

Adding an offensive tackle isn't a necessity, but it would bolster the position. Right now, the Steelers are looking to move Marcus Gilbert from right to left tackle, and start Willie Colon on the right side. Colon has played in one game the past two seasons because of injuries, and Jonathan Scott is the top backup.


The results are in from our SportsNation poll and the most disappointing offensive player in the AFC North is ... Peyton Hillis.

The face of Madden NFL 12 was in the minds of voters, who overwhelming selected the Browns running back as the player who has failed to live up to expectations. Hillis, who ranks 26th in the NFL in rushing yards per game (52.8), received 56 percent of the vote in a poll that drew over 7,200 responses.

This continues a bad week for Hillis. Talks on a contract extension are "quiet," according to team president Mike Holmgren, and Hillis might miss Sunday's game with a hamstring injury.

Hillis was expected to build off a breakthrough season, one where he averaged 73.5 rushing yards per game. But he hasn't clicked in first-year coach Pat Shurmur's new offense.

Here's the results:

RB Peyton Hillis, Browns: 56 percent

WR Lee Evans, Ravens: 18 percent

OT Jonathan Scott, Steelers: 16 percent

RB Cedric Benson, Bengals: 10 percent

With three teams having winning records in the division, there are a lot of positives in the AFC North these days. But for the sake of this blog, let's take a moment to look at some players who have yet to live up to expectations this season.

Here are the candidates for the most disappointing offensive players in the AFC North:
  • Bengals running back Cedric Benson: He's been held below 65 yards in four of six games this season. His 3.9 yards-per-carry ranks 36th in the NFL.
  • Browns running back Peyton Hillis: Strep throat forced him to miss one game and a hamstring injury limited him in another. He is averaging 52.8 yards per game, which is 26th in the league.
  • Ravens wide receiver Lee Evans: An ankle injury has made this deep threat a non-factor in the Ravens passing attack. He has two forgettable catches for 45 yards.
  • Steelers offensive tackle Jonathan Scott: He was supposed to hold down the left tackle spot after Pittsburgh cut Max Starks and Flozell Adams. Instead, Scott has allowed 3.5 sacks and has been penalized three times for holding in five games.

So, who is the most disappointing offensive player in the division? Go ahead and register your vote and/or let me know what you think in the comments section below. I'll follow up by the end of the week.
Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:

The Steelers re-signed offensive tackle Max Starks to help their banged-up line, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Wednesday morning.

Starks visited with the team only a few months after the Steelers reportedly released him for being overweight. He has apparently lost 60 pounds and is near his listed playing weight of 345 pounds.

There is a question about Starks' role. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Starks isn't being signed to be an immediate starter. But the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports that it's unclear whether Starks will challenge for a starting job or just provide experienced depth.

Every starter on the Steelers' offensive line has missed practice time at some point this season, and Pittsburgh was without three starters from the season opener this past Sunday in Houston. Starting left tackle Jonathan Scott looks like he will return Sunday after missing the last game with an ankle injury, coach Mike Tomlin said.

Hensley's slant: This whole situation confuses me. Still scratching my head on why the Steelers didn't make this move for Starks earlier, and I'm not sure about the team's continued fascination with Scott. He has given up 18.5 sacks in his past 29 games, including 3.5 in three starts this season. Every team in the AFC North has shored up the blind side (the Browns' Joe Thomas, the Bengals' Andrew Whitworth and the Ravens' Bryant McKinnie) except the Steelers.
  • BENGALS: Cincinnati has started in its opponents' territory 10 times this season, which is tied for the most in the NFL. But the Bengals have only scored two touchdowns after receiving such favorable field position, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. Hensley's slant: The only way the Bengals can take advantage of this surprising start is by capitalizing on these short fields. There should be plenty more opportunities for Cincinnati because its top-ranked defense will continue to force three-and-outs. But at some point, the 23rd-ranked scoring offense needs to start pulling its weight.
  • BROWNS: Head coach Pat Shurmur said he views quarterback Colt McCoy as "almost a rookie." McCoy made the point that he's not the only one who is starting over in a new scheme. "You look across the receiver room, nobody has been in the West Coast in that room," McCoy told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "You look at the tight ends, nobody's been in the West Coast except Alex Smith in Tampa Bay. In a sense, we're all learning -- with a rookie quarterback." Hensley's slant: Starting over with a new system wouldn't be such a big challenge in most years. But the lockout eliminated all the offseason workouts. So, there will be times when the Browns' offense will struggle even though McCoy appears to be a good fit for this system.
  • RAVENS: Outside linebacker Jarret Johnson said the players were "shocked" Monday when coach John Harbaugh gave them the rest of the bye week off. Harbaugh decided that players' rehab was more important than extra practices. Said Johnson via the team's official website: “That just shows the maturity of Coach Harbaugh and this team to say, ‘What’s best for this team?’ … I think it shows a lot of trust on our coaches’ part because they know we’re going to go home and work out and keep in shape and do as much as you can to improve your body going down this stretch.” Hensley's slant: Harbaugh should have faith in his players when it comes to bye weeks. The Ravens are 3-0 under Harbaugh following the bye (which includes an impromptu bye following a hurricane in Houston in 2008), winning by an average margin of 19 points. History says the players have earned that trust.

AFC North injury report impact

September, 30, 2011
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A look at Friday's injury report and what it means:


BENGALS

Out: LB Dontay Moch (foot)

Doubtful: G Otis Hudson (knee)

Probable: DE Jonathan Fanene (knee), DE Robert Geathers (shoulder), S Jeromy Miles (groin), DT Pat Sims (elbow), S Gibril Wilson (knee)

Impact: Of all the issues going on with the Bengals, injuries aren't among them, especially with the return of Geathers. Cincinnati will have running back Cedric Benson in the lineup because there's been no ruling on his three-game suspension. Receiver Jerome Simpson returns to the starting lineup after a drug bust at his house last week. ... The Bills will be without cornerbacks Terrence McGee and Aaron Williams, which further depletes a thin secondary.

BROWNS

Questionable: CB Sheldon Brown (groin), LB Titus Brown (ankle), WR Josh Cribbs (groin), DB Eric Hagg (knee), WR Mohamed Massaquoi (ankle), OT Tony Pashos (ankle), OT Joe Thomas (knee)

Probable: RB Peyton Hillis (illness), LB Chris Gocong (groin), WR Carlton Mitchell (finger)

Impact: The Browns will receive a boost with Pashos starting at right tackle for the first time this season. Pashos is expected to play barring a setback, coach Pat Shurmur said. Cribbs has improved since last week and should go back to handling returns. Of all the questionable players, only Hagg and Titus Brown aren't projected to play.

RAVENS

Out: WR Lee Evans (ankle), S Haruki Nakamura (knee), WR David Reed (shoulder), CB Jimmy Smith (ankle)

Doubtful: LB Dannell Ellerbe (thigh)

Questionable: CB Chris Carr (hamstring), G Ben Grubbs (toe)

Probable: C Matt Birk (knee), DE Cory Redding (toe)

Impact: There is increasing concern at cornerback especially if Carr can't play. He didn't practice Friday, which might indicate a setback. Other than starters Cary Williams and Lardarius Webb, the only other cornerbacks on the roster are rookie fifth-round pick Chykie Brown and recent practice squad player Danny Gorrer. With Evans out, rookie second-round pick Torrey Smith will make his second straight start. He will likely be covered by Jets conerback Antonio Cromartie, who is probable. Grubbs didn't practice Friday after being limited Thursday, which likely means Andre Gurode will start again at left guard. ... Jets center Nick Mangold is questionable.

STEELERS

Out: RG Doug Legursky (shoulder), LT Jonathan Scott (ankle), DE Brett Keisel (knee)

Questionable: LB Chris Carter (hamstring)

Probable: WR Arnaz Battle (knee), DT Steve McLendon (illness), WR Mike Wallace (ribs)

Impact: With two starting offensive linemen out, Ramon Foster will start at right guard and Trai Essex will step in at left tackle. Foster has potential and there might not be much of a drop-off from Legursky. Essex can't do much worse than Scott, who has struggled all season. It'll be interesting to see how this patched-up line holds up against a Texans pass rush that is led by Mario Williams. Ziggy Hood will start his second straight game in place of Keisel. ... Texans receiver Andre Johnson (knee and toe) is probable after being limited in practice the past two days. Running back Arian Foster (probable, hamstring) is expected to have a full workload after missing the last game, coach Gary Kubiak said. Struggling cornerback Kareem Jackson is questionable.
Ben Roethlisberger AP Photo/Nick WassBen Roethlisberger's line is on pace for its sixth straight season of allowing at least 43 sacks.

There could be as many as three Steelers starting offensive linemen listed as questionable on Friday. If you're giving a fair assessment after three games, the play of the entire Pittsburgh offensive line has been questionable, with or without injuries.

The biggest obstacle to the Steelers winning a fourth AFC North title in five years is the Ravens. The next one are those five guys lining up in front of Ben Roethlisberger.

Running back Rashard Mendenhall won't pop many big runs if the offensive line fails to open holes. Roethlisberger won't have the time to find speedy wide receiver Mike Wallace down the field if the line struggles to protect him.

The times when the offense doesn't click can be traced back to the offensive line. It's the main reason why the Steelers rank 26th in the NFL in scoring, averaging 18 points per game.

"The offensive line is definitely the weak link," Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson said. "They really just don’t have very good football players there."

One could argue that the Steelers have been dealing with offensive line problems for years, even the seasons when they went to the Super Bowl. This line is on pace for its sixth straight season of allowing at least 43 sacks.

So, Pittsburgh should be used to covering up for its offensive line and it's no big deal. Wrong.

[+] EnlargePittsburgh's Jonathan Scott.
AP Photo/AJ MastJonathan Scott was one of three starters on the Steelers' offensive line to leave the game against the Colts.
This season is different, and anyone who has watched the past two games knows it. Two weeks ago, Roethlisberger was writhing in pain on Heinz Field because apparently right tackle Marcus Gilbert tripped Seattle's Raheem Brock, who dove into the quarterback's lower leg, instead of blocking him. Last Sunday, Roethlisberger fumbled twice (one of which led to a touchdown return) after getting stripped by the Colts' Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, who had beaten Pittsburgh's offensive tackles.

The ineffectiveness of the offensive line is starting to effect the health of Roethlisberger and impact the scoreboard. You can only imagine what Texans pass-rushers Mario Williams and J.J. Watt were thinking when they watched the Steelers blockers on national television.

"Pittsburgh built an offensive line full of bigger, heavier guys and they still can't make space in the running game, which is a huge problem," Williamson said. "The protection is also terrible though the Steelers did a poor job of helping their poor offensive tackles in protection against Mathis and Freeney, which I don't understand at all."

Steeler Nation began scratching their heads watching the team construct the offensive line. After cutting Flozell Adams and Max Starks at the end of July, Pittsburgh was left with a patchwork group. The only starters from last Sunday with any pedigree are center Maurkice Pouncey, the 18th overall pick in 2010, and Gilbert, a rookie second-round pick.

The others included a former fifth-round pick who never became a full-time starter in Detroit or Buffalo (left tackle Jonathan Scott); a sixth-round pick from 2005 (left guard Chris Kemoeatu) and an undrafted rookie free agent in 2008 (right guard Doug Legursky).

Not investing more money and high draft picks into the offensive line could explain why the Steelers have the 23rd-ranked rushing attack and have allowed eighth-most sacks this season.

"We were not perfect by any stretch," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "We're very much a team in development."

The most interesting decision was going with Scott to protect Roethlisberger's blind side. Every other team has addressed the most important spot on the offensive line, from Cleveland's Joe Thomas to Cincinnati's Andrew Whitworth to Baltimore's Bryant McKinnie. The Steelers, meanwhile, stuck with Scott, who had previously started 14 games in four seasons with the Lions and Bills.

"I was shocked that they settled for Scott at left tackle," Williamson said. "But I guess the logic was that 'Hey, we went to the Super Bowl with him there [so] let’s try it again.' And we do need to remember that left tackles don’t grow on trees. When you pick late in the draft every year like the Steelers do, that is a very difficult position to address. Just ask the Colts."

The Steelers' problems have been compounded by injuries, which surfaced immediately this season. Right tackle Willie Colon, who was the team's best lineman, was lost for the year after tearing his triceps in the season opener.

Injuries continued to hinder the line in Week 2 (Kemoeatu was sidelined) and leading up to the Week 3 game (Pouncey was limited in practice with a hamstring injury). Then, on Sunday, three starters (Scott, Legursky and Gilbert) all left the game in Indianapolis with injuries. Legursky was seen later on the sideline with his left arm in a sling while Scott was walking around on crutches.

Scott and Legursky are considered questionable, and Gilbert will attempt to practice this week. But it doesn't appear as if Adams or Starks are making a return anytime soon.

"Make no mistake, we intend to prepare with the men that we have here," Tomlin said. "Those will be the guys that will help us win this football game. Anyone we add will be simply for the purposes of practice or numbers."

There doesn't appear to be an easy solution.

"At this point, I don’t know what to do to fix it," Williamson said. "I do think [Ramon] Foster is their best guard and for some reason, they don’t start him. Gilbert also is bound to improve with more reps. Overall though, it can’t get much worse."
The news regarding the Steelers' banged-up offensive line is better than expected. At his Tuesday news conference, Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin didn't rule out any starter on the offensive line and classified right guard Doug Legursky (shoulder) and left tackle Jonathan Scott (left ankle sprain) as questionable.

"Their availability will be determined by their ability to practice this week," Tomlin said.

Marcus Gilbert (shoulder) is expected to practice this week and would remain at right tackle, Tomlin said. If Scott is sidelined, Trai Essex would start at left tackle. Ramon Foster filled in for Legursky this past Sunday and would do the same if the right guard can't play.

Upon further review: Steelers

September, 26, 2011
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Revisiting the Pittsburgh Steelers' 23-20 win at the Indianapolis Colts:

The Steelers' struggling offensive line is beginning to break down just three weeks into the season.

Three starters -- left tackle Jonathan Scott, right guard Doug Legursky and right tackle Marcus Gilbert -- left the game with injuries, and their availability is uncertain for Sunday's game at Houston. The injury to Scott, who was beaten repeatedly by Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney, looks to be the most serious.

Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin didn't provide an update after the game and wouldn't specify the injury to Scott. "I don't know what it is," he said. "I am not going to speculate."

It appeared as if Scott sprained his ankle. Gilbert hurt his shoulder, and Legursky separated his shoulder. Because the Steelers only suited up seven offensive linemen, Gilbert had to return to the game when Scott had to be helped off the field.

If Gilbert and Legursky are sidelined, the Steelers would start Ramon Foster at right guard and Trai Essex at right tackle.

To address left tackle, the Steelers might have to reach out to Flozell Adams or Max Starks, both of whom were released by the team at the end of July. Adams, a left tackle who switched to the right side for Pittsburgh last season, would seem to be the preferable option to the team because the Steelers have remained in contact with him.

STAT THAT STICKS: 27 -- Game-winning drives in the fourth quarter that Ben Roethlisberger has delivered (which includes playoffs) in eight NFL seasons.

OVERHEARD: "We walked out of here with a win. Did we play well? No, we know we didn't play well. Do we got to get better? Yes, and we will get better." Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward on the tougher-than-expected win at Indianapolis.

LOOKING AHEAD: The Steelers (2-1) play at the Texans (2-1), who are coming off their first loss of the season (a 40-33 defeat at New Orleans).

Wrap-up: Steelers 23, Colts 20

September, 25, 2011
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Thoughts on the Pittsburgh Steelers' 23-20 win at the Indianapolis Colts:

What it means: It wasn't as easy as many expected, but Pittsburgh did just enough to improve to 2-1. The Steelers are in a three-team tie atop the AFC North with the Ravens and Browns.

Thumbs up: Ben Roethlisberger once again showed why he is one of the best clutch quarterbacks. On the game-winning drive, he completed 3 of 4 passes for 39 yards and scrambled for 11 yards to get the Steelers in range for Shaun Suisham's 38-yard field goal with four seconds left in the game.

Thumbs down: Pittsburgh struggled all game to protect Roethlisberger. Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis both forced fumbles in the first half, which led to a field goal and a 47-yard fumble return for a touchdown.

First takeaway: The Steelers defense finally forced a turnover this season, and it was a timely one. James Harrison stripped Colts backup quarterback Curtis Painter, and Troy Polamalu returned it for a 16-yard touchdown to take a short-lived 20-13 lead in the fourth quarter.

Banged-up line: Pittsburgh had three starters on the offensive line leave the game, including the entire right side at one point. Right guard Doug Legursky and right tackle Marcus Gilbert both had shoulder injuries and were replaced by guard Ramon Foster and tackle Trai Essex. When left tackle Jonathan Scott was forced out late in the fourth quarter with a leg injury, Gilbert had to come back into the game.

What's next: The Steelers play at Houston, which wraps up a stretch of three road games in the first four weeks of the season.

AFC North Stock Watch

August, 22, 2011
8/22/11
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Week 2 of the preseason is in the books for the AFC North division. Let's see who's stock is rising and falling.

Falling

1. Cincinnati Bengals' starters: Cincinnati's first team is getting hammered in the preseason. The Bengals are being outscored 41-10 in the first half when starters get a majority of playing time. That is inexcusable for the preseason. Starting slow is a habit the Bengals need to break. This team is too inexperience and not good enough this year to overcome these kind of deficits in the regular season.

Dalton
Dalton
2. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton: Cincinnati's second-round pick added two more interceptions Sunday night against New York. One interception was a drop and deflection from receiver A.J. Green, and the second was a pass that sailed too high. Dalton also had a poor exchange with tailback Cedric Benson that resulted in a fumble and a 17-yard loss. The growing pains continue for Dalton. He threw for 86 yards, two interceptions and had a 16.4 passer rating against the Jets.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers' offensive line: Via injuries and inconsistent play, the Steelers' offensive line remains a work in progress. Two left tackles -- Jonathan Scott and Marcus Gilbert -- both went down with injuries in Pittsburgh's 24-14 preseason win over the Philadelphia Eagles. Pittsburgh's offensive line also is having trouble keeping players off quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He played well but was sacked twice and hit several more times by Philadelphia.

Rising

1. Steelers' defense: Pittsburgh's first-team defense looked in midseason form with a healthy Troy Polamalu in the lineup. The Steelers baffled Eagles quarterback Michael Vick and forced three interceptions. Pittsburgh treated the first half like a regular-season game and was fast and physical. The Steelers return all 11 starters from last year, which is extremely valuable following the NFL lockout.

McCoy
McCoy
2. Browns quarterback Colt McCoy: Cleveland's second-year quarterback continued his solid preseason with a three-touchdown performance against the Detroit Lions. McCoy didn't throw for many yards (96). But he ran the offense efficiently for the second straight week.

3. Ravens receiver Lee Evans: It was a successful Ravens debut for Evans, who was recently acquired in a trade with the Buffalo Bills. He tied for the team lead with three catches for 68 yards in Baltimore's 31-13 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. The biggest play came on a hookup between Flacco and Evans for 43 yards. But Evans not only showed deep speed, he showed versatility. Evans' two other receptions came on a quick slant and out route for first downs.

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