AFC North: Jordan Shipley

Our weekly AFC North chat came from Steelers training camp in Latrobe. Pa. Not sure if it was the location but this was one of the more entertaining chats of the year. If you want more than some highlights, click here for the full transcript.

Corey (Fantasy Land): J.H...How's it feel to step foot in Steeler country, honestly?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): Honestly, it's the first time this summer when it's felt like training camp. I'm not a fan of holding camp at the team's facility. St. Vincent College is a great place. Sorry it took me so long to make it up here.

AFCN RULES (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania): Can you tell us what NFL team you root for and as far as the fighting in the AFCN chat rooms we like to settle it with a hard core double ladder death match.:)

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): Growing up in Baltimore, I rooted for the Colts. When the Colts left, I really didn't latch onto a team. I hated that the Redskins were shoved down Baltimore's throats. Now, as a reporter, I root for good games and story lines. That really makes my job so much fun.

Brian (Frostburg, Maryland): Why in the world is Coach Harbaugh so quick to lean towards naming Billy Cundiff as placekicker when Justin Tucker is obviously outperforming him in camp? What happened to best man wins?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): Going with an undrafted rookie kicker would take a lot of moxie.

Spraven882 (Baltimore): What is the chance that Tucker starts in front of Cundiff?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): At the start of camp, I would say the chances were very slim. Now, I say he has a fair shot, not a great one.

Dan (Pasadena, CA): Jamison, I was just wondering what your take on the Bengals' WR battle is. Do you think Jordan Shipley makes this team at all? It would tough to lose him when he was so good his rookie year. Could they possibly trade him instead? Also, after one game, it seems that the coaches favor Armon Binns over Brandon Tate. Thoughts on the outcome?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): Shipley looks like a long shot right now. I see Binns ahead of Tate right now.

Adam (DC): Do you think the Steelers defense will be able to force more turnovers this year?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): Honestly, not to be funny, but the Steelers couldn't force much less. It really boils down to a consistent pass rush and cornerbacks who can make plays. Ike Taylor has said he's worked on improving his hands.

Sam (NJ): Will Carlos Dunlap be back vs Ravens week 1?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): I would doubt it, which is a shame. Dunlap was having a monster camp.

Ryan W (Ragtown): Who do you think is the most feared player in the AFC North?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): James Harrison. And the person who says anything different is lying.

AfootballFan22 (Chat room): Who do you think will be the starters on the Ravens offensive line?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): By the end of the season: LT McKinnie, LG Osemele, C Birk, RG Yanda, RT Oher.

Cloud1902 (Ohio): If Richardson stays healthy, can you see him rushing for more than 1,000 yards?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): He'd better. Gaining 1,000 yards isn't really anything special. The better barometer is 1,500 yards.

Cincy (AFCN Champions): Are you attending the Monday night football opener, Ravens vs. Bengals? And if so, if I send you a Bengals shirt will you wear it? I triple dog dare you.

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): Depends on when my wife gives birth. If the baby is born on kickoff weekend, I will be watching from home.

Matt (Charlotte): To date, who is your favorite interview in the AFCN?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): By team ... Steelers: Brett Keisel. Ravens: Terrell Suggs. Bengals: Thomas Howard (also Leon Hall). Browns: Joe Thomas.
Here's what is happening around the AFC North:

BENGALS: Slot receiver Jordan Shipley was released two years after leading AFC rookies in receiving yards. He continually had trouble separating from defensive backs, a result from last year's knee surgery. “He still has a little bit of a lingering effect in his mind, but I think that will be eliminated shortly," offensive coordinator Jay Gruden told the Cincinnati Enquirer. "It’s just that right now we feel good about where we are at wide receiver.” Andrew Hawkins has taken control of the slot receiver position.

BROWNS: Injuries have made it a problem for quarterback Brandon Weeden to develop chemistry with his targets. In Thursday's preseason game, the Browns were without starting receiver Mohamed Massaquoi (concussion), rookie receiver Travis Benjamin (undisclosed), starting tight end Ben Watson (undisclosed) and second-team tight end Jordan Cameron (bone bruise in back). "That's the one challenging thing," Weeden told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "Being a rookie, I'm still learning the guys as well as they're learning me. There's a lot of guys cycling through — and I think that's good for us (in preseason). But once you get to the regular season, you want to be throwing to the same guys all of the time."

RAVENS: Bryant McKinnie worked at left tackle with the second-team offense for the second straight preseason game. McKinnie lost his starting job when he failed to report to training camp on time because he said he fell at his South Florida home. The Ravens haven't given him a timetable on when he could rejoin the starters. “I’m doing everything I’m supposed to do," McKinnie told the Baltimore Sun. “It just takes time. There’s no rush. They’re just letting me go out here and do my plays, and actually, I’m getting more reps and making up for the time I was gone. So I don’t have any problem with that.”

STEELERS: Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said last week that he expected running back Rashard Mendenhall (knee) to start the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list. Then, on Friday, Pittsburgh removed its leading rusher from PUP. What changed? "The trainers felt that he had progressed as far as he could in doing what they were doing," Colbert told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "and the kid felt confident that he was ready to take the next step. Now, the next step is being able to practice, and where that leads to nobody knows at this point."
CINCINNATI -- I've arrived in town for my two-day visit at Bengals training camp. Practice is from 3:15 p.m. to 5 p.m., so I will fire a late afternoon/early evening post from what I see. But that's for later. Right now, it's time for your wake-up call, which is in a different format today in order to get all of the news and notes.

CINCINNATI BENGALS

Among the losers in Sunday's mock game was wide receiver Jordan Shipley, according to CBS Sports. "The receiver still appears sluggish coming off his ACL injury and ran with the second team all weekend," CBS Sports' Paul Dehner Jr. wrote. "Andrew Hawkins is the current starter at the slot position and unless Shipley finds his burst soon, it could mean he ends up on the chopping block come final cuts." My take is there's plenty of time for Shipley to recover. How these receivers fare in the preseason will go a long way in determining the depth chart.

CLEVELAND BROWNS

Colt McCoy doesn't believe there was a fair quarterback competition with Brandon Weeden, who was named the team's starting quarterback Monday. McCoy certainly has an argument because he worked consistently with the second-team offense in training camp. That is, until the final two-minute drill of Monday's practice, when he dropped to third and Seneca Wallace took over the second team. He declined to say whether he'll ask to be traded or released. "Look, I learned the news just like you did," McCoy said, via the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "I learned right before practice, I came to practice, I worked hard and got better. I'm excited about the preseason and we'll see what happens."

Defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin fully participated in Monday's practice and is targeting to play Friday in the preseason opener against the Detroit Lions. It is believed he had surgery to repair a torn pelvic muscle. “I’m pretty sure I’ll probably be in the game Friday,” Rubin told the Akron Beacon Journal. “I don’t feel [any] limitations. I don’t feel bad or nothing like that. I feel 100 percent, so I’m ready to go.”

BALTIMORE RAVENS

The Ravens' news magnet, aka left tackle Bryant McKinnie, will have half of his eligible wages garnished this season, according to a settlement he reached with Pro Player Funding. In what has become an offseason to forget for the one-time Pro Bowl lineman, the Baltimore Sun is reporting McKinnie owes the New York-based company more than $4.5 million for loans he took out to cover costs during the NFL lockout last year. According to the NFL players association, McKinnie is scheduled to earn a base salary of $3.2 million this season.

The Sun's Mike Preston was impressed with how defensive tackle Haloti Ngata practiced, even though he described the defensive tackle being about 10 to 15 pounds above his listed weight of 340 pounds. "He ran plays down from the backside," Preston wrote. "A couple of times he tossed offensive linemen aside like used paper towels."

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Backup safety Ryan Mundy will start in the season opener in Denver, where Ryan Clark has to sit out because of a blood condition that is affected by the altitude. Taking over Clark's role, Mundy will have to call out the defensive plays against Peyton Manning's no-huddle attack. "Throughout his career he's had some strong tendencies like the hurry-up offense, no-huddle-type stuff," Mundy told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "We all know he's a very cerebral player. Once the preseason gets going, we'll have to turn on the game film to see exactly what we're getting ready for. I'm sure we can't wait for that. We know it's going to be a big challenge for us."

Starting cornerback Ike Taylor was extremely complimentary of Cortez Allen, who is competing for the job opposite Taylor. “This dude could be way better than me -- if he can stay healthy," Taylor told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "He knows what it takes, and he wants it. He wants to get better. The good thing I like about Cortez is he doesn’t say much, he comes to work and he does what he needs to do." Based on Taylor's assessment, Allen could be overtaking Keenan Lewis for the starting spot any day now.
Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:

Wide receiver Jordan Shipley and cornerback Nate Clements are off the physically unable to perform (PUP) list after participating in Monday's practice. Both took part in drills except for the full-team ones.

Clements, who started 15 games in his first season with the Bengals, said he was cleared to practice Monday morning after missing the offseason workouts due to an abdominal strain.

“I had been going pretty hard the last couple days in shoulder pads on the other field to really work it, push it and it felt great. So they cleared me [Monday],” Clements told Cincinnati reporters, via the Cincinnati Enquirer. “I was able to get out there and participate a little bit. It felt good just being competitive, going up against the guys. It was a good thing.”

Shipley, who tore the ACL in his left knee last Sept. 18 at Denver, will compete with Andrew Hawkins and Mohamed Sanu to be the team's slot receiver.

“Honestly, I didn’t really know what the plan was. I didn’t make the plan, obviously. They re-evaluated me today and said it looked like it was time to go,” Shipley said. “I think [Tuesday] I’m full, like everything.”

Hensley's slant: The big news here is the return of Shipley because it was just a matter of time before Clements suited up for practice. There was some thought that Shipley would remain on PUP to start the season, a move that would've sidelined him for the first six games. Shipley is considered the favorite to win the slot receiver job and should see a lot of snaps in the preseason.

BROWNS: Browns rookie linebacker James-Michael Johnson made two interceptions in Monday's practice. “He looked good on the goal line and the linebackers crew, much like the O-line and D-line, where you might say before you put the pads on, that there are all these guys bunched up,” Browns coach Pat Shurmur told the team's official website. “I think the pads tend to separate the linebackers in what we think and he’s had a couple good days. He really has.” Hensley's slant: Johnson has a good chance to make an immediate impact for the Browns if he continues this growth. With Scott Fujita suspended for the first three games, Johnson can be a starter for the season opener by beating out Kaluka Maiava. Selected in the fourth round three months ago, Johnson has impressed early with his athleticism.

RAVENS: The Ravens gained one player and lost one on Monday. Offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie reported to training camp but didn't practice, and No. 2 tight end Dennis Pitta likely broke his hand. Pitta is expected to be sidelined until the Sept. 10 season opener against the Bengals, according to the Carroll County (Md.) Times. Davon Drew will likely move into the backup role. Hensley's slant: The first major injury of Ravens training camp didn't sideline a starter, but it did hurt one of the team's most valuable backups. Pitta, one of Joe Flacco's closest friends on the team, ranked second on the Ravens with 17 catches on third down last season. He also scored three touchdowns in his final six games.

STEELERS: Outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley is still surprised that the Steelers ranked first in the NFL in total defense, pass defense and points allowed. "The ranking was high and I don't even think we played good defense last year," Woodley told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "We didn't get that many turnovers, we didn't get to the quarterback that much, so I don't know how we were ranked that high. If we were ranked that high last year, we're definitely going to make some big stuff happen this year." Hensley's slant: The two areas where the Steelers have to improve are sacks and turnovers. They ranked 17th in the NFL with 35 sacks and finished last in the AFC with 15 takeaways. Increasing the pressure on quarterbacks will lead to more hurried throws, which will lead to more turnovers.
Here's what is happening around the division:

BENGALS

Head coach Marvin Lewis has banned his players from using Twitter after consulting with some of the team's veterans. The Twitter ban will last at least through training camp. “I think people have to have the maturity and wherewithal to be able to handle it,” Lewis said.

The Bengals placed cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (leg) on the Non-Football Injury list and linebacker Brandon Joiner, who is in a Texas jail on robbery charges, on the reserve/did not report list. There were four players placed on the Physically Unable to Perform list: cornerback Nate Clements (abdomen), wide receiver Jordan Shipley (knee), kicker Mike Nugent (undisclosed) and defensive tackle Pat Sims (ankle).

BROWNS

The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Terry Pluto says potential new Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and his family know how to get things done. They own 550 Pilot and Flying-J truck stops and convenience stores across the country. In 2011, Forbes magazine rated Pilot Flying J as the 11th-largest privately held United States company with $18 billion in revenue and 19,000 employees.

Defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin and tight end Evan Moore were the notable players who didn't practice Friday. “There are going to be a couple of days before they are back out there,” said coach Pat Shurmur, who declined to divulge the nature of the injuries that sidelined them.

RAVENS

Offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie is being fined by the Ravens for missing training camp, according to the Carroll County (Md.) Times. Under the terms of the NFL collective bargaining agreement, McKinnie is being fined $30,000 per day (he's missed two practices). Coach John Harbaugh said he has yet to speak to McKinnie because it was a chiropractor who notified the team of McKinnie's absence.

Second-round rookie Kelechi Osemele (back) was activated off the PUP list and worked with the first-team offense at right tackle. "This was a good day to get him back,” Harbaugh said. "We were not going to put him in full force. We wanted to ease him in, just to make sure the back didn’t cramp up on him. It looks like he got through pretty well.”

STEELERS

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review is reporting that wide receiver Mike Wallace turned down a five-year deal in the range of $50 million from the Steelers. Wide receiver Antonio Brown agreed to a five-year, $42 million extension Friday.

Steelers tight end Weslye Saunders told the Tribune-Review that he doesn’t know whether his four-game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs will be reduced. He said he was using Adderall, a prescription drug used to treat hyperactivity. “I’m still waiting to hear back,” Saunders said. “Obviously, some guys around the league already had their suspensions lifted or reduced. I’m still hoping.”

As I discuss in the Blogger Blitz video above, the biggest hole in the Cincinnati Bengals' starting lineup is the No. 2 wide receiver position.

With Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell gone, Cincinnati returns the fewest amount of catches (96), receiving yards (1,361) and touchdowns (seven) by a wide receiver group in the AFC North. Besides Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green, the only other receiver currently on the roster who caught more than four passes last year was Andrew Hawkins.

The other candidates for the job include: Jordan Shipley, whose season ended after two games because of a knee injury; Brandon Tate, who is in his first full offseason with the Bengals; and two draft picks, Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones.

This appears to be an open competition, and the Bengals could rely on a receiver by committee this season at the No. 2 spot.
It's only days removed from the draft, and no AFC North team has taken the field for a practice yet, but that won't stop us from looking ahead. Each day this week, we'll project the starting lineup for a team in the division. Let's start with the Cincinnati Bengals:

OFFENSE

QB Andy Dalton: The Who Dey Nation asks, Carson who?

RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis: He's the prize of the Bengals' free-agent period.

FB Chris Pressley: Agreed to a two-year extension in March.

WR A.J. Green: He's been working out with Larry Fitzgerald this offseason.

WR Jordan Shipley: The No. 2 wide receiver job is wide open, but I'm giving the nod to Shipley if he's fully recovered from his knee injury.

TE Jermaine Gresham: First Bengals tight end since Dan Ross from the early 1980s to post two seasons of 50 receptions or more.

LT Andrew Whitworth: He often goes overlooked in a division with Joe Thomas in it.

LG Travelle Wharton: A free-agent signing from the Carolina Panthers, where he started 99 games in eight years.

C Kyle Cook: Enters fourth season as the Bengals' starting center.

RG Kevin Zeitler: First-round pick was possibly best run-blocking guard in the draft.

RT Andre Smith: The big question is whether he can continue the progress he made last season.

DEFENSE

LDE Robert Geathers: Recorded 29 tackles last season, his lowest since his 2004 rookie season.

NT Domata Peko: Led defensive line in tackles for second straight year.

RDT Geno Atkins: Topped all NFL interior linemen with eight sacks last season.

RDE Michael Johnson: Regains his starting job after Frostee Rucker signed with the Browns in free agency.

SLB Manny Lawson: Returned to Cincinnati for a one-year, $2.1 million deal.

MLB Rey Maualuga: He could be facing a suspension from the NFL for his latest off-the-field incident.

WLB Thomas Howard: Led team in tackles in first season with the Bengals.

LCB Nate Clements: He has to fight off first-round pick Dre Kirkpatrick to keep his starting job.

SS Taylor Mays: His job looks safe after the Bengals didn't take a safety in the first four rounds of the draft.

FS Reggie Nelson: Re-signed with the Bengals this offseason for $18 million over four years.

RCB Leon Hall: If Hall (Achilles injury) isn't ready to start the season, Bengals can turn to Kirkpatrick, Terence Newman or Adam Jones.
Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:

It appears that I'm not the only one who thinks the Browns should take Alabama running back Trent Richardson. His college coach, Nick Saban, feels Richardson would be a great fit for Cleveland.

"He'd be great in the community, he'd be a great player for them and he's somebody that I think a lot of young people could really relate to for the kind of person he is, the example he sets," Saban told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "If they wouldn't be excited, they really should be."

At Alabama's pro day, Saban talked about Richardson to Browns coach Pat Shurmur, who was an assistant under Saban at Michigan State for three seasons.

"He's one of the lowest-maintenance great players I've ever had the opportunity to coach," Saban said.

Hensley's slant: I'm not among those buying reports that the Browns are deciding between wide receiver Justin Blackmon and quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Richardson has the toughness to play in this division and the elusiveness to spark the Browns' offense.

BENGALS: Wide receiver Jordan Shipley is still recovering from a torn ACL in his left knee that occurred in September. He hopes that he'll be able to practice when minicamps begin on May 22 and is confident he'll be ready for training camp this summer. “I’m planning on doing all the workouts with the guys," Shipley told the Cincinnati Enquirer. "Some days I feel really good and other days I feel close. At this point in the process, it is based on how you feel that day. Some days I am 100 percent.” Hensley's slant: The Bengals didn't add a wide receiver in free agency, which means Shipley has a shot at the No. 2 job if he can get healthy. But the odds of him winning that spot decreases significantly if the Bengals draft a wide receiver in the early rounds.

RAVENS: The team will work out three quarterbacks on Thursday: Kyle Boller, a 2003 first-round pick by the Ravens; Dennis Dixon, the Steelers' third-string quarterback last season; and Curtis Painter, who started eight games for the Colts last season before getting benched. The Ravens are likely to sign one of the three quarterbacks based on the workout results, according to the Baltimore Sun.“Everybody competes for every spot every year, every practice, and [backup quarterback] Tyrod Taylor is no different,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said earlier this month.”But we like him a lot.” Hensley's slant: If the Ravens want the backup with the most upside, they should sign Dixon. If they are looking for the most experienced backup, they should go with Boller. But don't discount Painter, even though his 2011 stats were horrible. He played last season under Jim Caldwell, who is now Baltimore's quarterbacks coach. That might give the edge to the 27-year-old Painter.

STEELERS: Steelers free-agent offensive tackle Max Starks said his recovery from ACL surgery is ahead of schedule and he's getting his strength back. He suffered the injury in the playoff loss at Denver. Starks posted on his Twitter account that he will "be playing for someone this season, but I know it won't be until I'm 100% structurally sound. I'm on pace to be ready by Mid July for play!" Hensley's slant: Starks saved the Steelers last season when he returned, and he would probably be a fallback option for the team again this season. My take is the Steelers are looking to get younger on the offensive line and will take a tackle at some point in the draft. But, if Starks is healthy enough to play, he would be a upgrade over backup Jonathan Scott.

AFC North news and notes

February, 25, 2012
2/25/12
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A quick look at what's happening around the AFC North as the NFL combine continues in Indianapolis. I will provide my take on many of these issues and topics in the days to come, but I wanted to pass along the information.

CINCINNATI BENGALS
  • Coach Marvin Lewis did seem troubled over the latest off-the-field incident involving middle linebacker Rey Maualuga, who has pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge at a Cincinnati bar. Maualuga is the fourth Bengals player since July to have a legal issue, joining wide receiver Jerome Simpson, cornerback Adam Jones and running back Cedric Benson. “There’s a concern," Lewis told reporters at the NFL combine, via the Cincinnati Enquirer. "What [Maualuga] does away from football is important. He has to make good choices and decisions.”
  • Benson is not expected to be re-signed by the Bengals, and Lewis' comments about the running back didn't change that perception. As the team website points out, it sounded like Lewis was giving Benson a lifetime achievement award instead of a new contract. “I think we want to improve our running game and if it includes Ced, it includes Ced," Lewis said. "We need to have more explosive running plays. Ced has had a fine career. He’s a physical player and been a big part of our success.”
  • Lewis provided encouraging news on two players who are coming off season-ending injuries. Cornerback Leon Hall (Achilles) is ahead of schedule, and wide receiver Jordan Shipley (knee) continues to make “significant progress," Lewis said.
CLEVELAND BROWNS
  • Coach Pat Shurmur reiterated the Browns want to re-sign starting middle linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, who's scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next month. Shurmur said the team hasn't made a decision whether it will place a franchise tag on Jackson, although the Plain Dealer of Cleveland reported last week that the Browns plan to do so. "We're going to be willing to use [the franchise tag]," Shurmur said. "As you go through signing our free agents, then we'll see what's the best place to use that tag."
  • In injury updates, Shurmur said left guard Eric Steinbach is progressing from a season-ending back injury but he didn't commit to the left guard as a starter, according to the Akron Beacon Journal. Jason Pinkston, who replaced Steinbach at left guard, will not move to tackle and will continue to develop at the guard position, according to Shurmur.
  • Former Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar attended the combine, but not in an official capacity, a team spokesman told the Akron Beacon Journal.
BALTIMORE RAVENS
  • Coach John Harbaugh once again expressed confidence about holding onto Ben Grubbs, saying he's "pretty optimistic" about re-signing the Pro Bowl left guard. “I hope that’s not misplaced," Harbaugh said, via the Baltimore Sun. "We’re in the process of negotiating. We’re committed, [owner Steve Bisciotti’s] committed to offering him a really great number. Hey, the market dictates [it], and Ben has to make those kinds of decisions, and you’re really happy for guys. He’s had a great career. He’s had a great number of years here. He’s earned the right to take a look for his family. One thing we’re not doing, we’re not giving him a low number. We’re doing everything we can to try to keep him in Baltimore.”
  • In injury news, wide receiver Torrey Smith had surgery to repair a double sports hernia, and cornerback Cary Williams had hip surgery. Both are expected to be ready for training camp.
  • Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said the team isn't looking to add a free-agent running back to replace the retired Ricky Williams. He indicated that Anthony Allen, a seventh-round pick from a year ago, will be given the first shot at the backup running back job. The team would add a free agent during training camp if Allen struggles to secure that spot, Newsome said.
  • Newsome is happy the team was able to keep director of player personnel Eric DeCosta, who turned down the chance to interview for the general manager positions with the Chicago Bears, St. Louis Rams and Indianapolis Colts. "I think it was very important because of the continuity that allows the organization to maintain people and have the process remain the same," Newsome said, via ESPN Chicago. "It was kind of like Scott Pioli remaining in New England for all those years with Bill [Belichick]. All it does is make you stronger. I'm very thankful that Eric decided to stay."
PITTSBURGH STEELERS
  • Major changes are unlikely to occur to the Steelers' offense under new coordinator Todd Haley, according to general manager Kevin Colbert. The biggest reason is it's tough to do so when the team has been successful and is bringing most of the same personnel back. "So, it's hard to come in and drastically change your philosophy because of the group of players that you have," Colbert said, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "You can't overhaul a whole roster. Nor are we looking to because this group of players has been very successful."
  • The hope is that the high-ankle sprains that have hampered Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey the past two years are in the past. "The reports we got and the last time we saw him, he was progressing just fine," Colbert said, via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "High-ankle sprains, they're a different injury and then when you re-injure it sometimes you've got to do some procedures to shore that joint up."
  • A Cleveland-based reporter asked Colbert if the team had reached a "breaking point" with linebacker James Harrison, who was suspended last season after he knocked out Browns quarterback Colt McCoy. "No. Absolutely not," Colbert said. "James Harrison is a great player. He tries to play within the rules. Sometimes, the penalty is unavoidable, and he ends up getting a suspension out of it. He served his time. We've all moved on. We know James Harrison plays the game very hard. He plays it within the rules the best he can. Sometimes, circumstances happen in the course of a game, and you have to live with the consequences. But in no way are we ever going to be disappointed with that player."

AFC North mailbag

January, 14, 2012
1/14/12
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If you have a question about the AFC North, send it to my mailbag. It's Saturday morning, so let's open up some mail ...

Jac, from Ohio, writes: Lately you have been saying that the Bengals need a No. 2 receiver, if and when Jerome Simpson leaves. I would think that Jordan Shipley would fill the No. 2 role in the slot behind A.J. Green. Or would Shipley be more of a No. 3 working the slot? And if Andrew Hawkins improves in the offseason, that would be a plus, right?

Jamison Hensley, from AFC North headquarters, responds: Shipley and Hawkins are more on the level of being No. 3 receivers. That was the Bengals' biggest problem in the passing game. They had top targets in Green and tight end Jermaine Gresham. But the rest (Simpson and Andre Caldwell) are No. 3 receivers on many teams. Both are very athletic but both struggle with route-running, which can be a big problem, especially for a developing young quarterback like Andy Dalton. Cincinnati needs to look in free agency for an upgrade.

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Chris, from Milford, Conn., writes: Just wondering what your thoughts are on the Steelers rebounding next season after that awful loss to Denver. Also, how can the Steelers be $20 million over the salary cap when they never sign any big free agents and don't have that many mega-deals with current players?

Hensley responds: The Steelers will always be competing for the division title if Ben Roethlisberger and his young receivers are healthy and the core of the NFL's top-ranked defense remains intact. And the reason why the Steelers are projected to be over the cap is because many veterans are entering the point of their contracts where the salaries escalate. Players with high salaries for 2012 are: outside linebacker James Harrison ($5.3 million), guard Chris Kemoeatu ($3.5 million), inside linebackers Larry Foote ($3 million) and James Farrior ($2.8 million), defensive end Brett Keisel ($2.8 million) and cornerback Bryant McFadden ($2.5 million). Those players represent $19.9 million. Some could be facing the decision of restructuring to stay with the team or getting released.

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Bryan, from Wickliffe Ohio, writes: I was just wondering what you think the Browns' chances are of drafting Robert Griffin III. To me it just seems like he is too much of a talent to pass up. No disrespect to Colt McCoy, but let's face it -- he's not going to win us any games based primarily on his skill level and I see RG3 as somone who can do that.

Hensley responds: It's really to early for teams to lock into one player. There are still all-star games, combine workouts and interviews as well as private workouts. Players will rise and fall up and down teams' draft board from now until April. There's no doubt that the Browns need a playmaker. But don't forget that the Bengals drafted wide receiver A.J. Green in the No. 4 spot last year — so you can see the level of impact player that Cleveland can get if it hits on the right prospect. At this point, Griffin has to be on the Browns' radar. But it's too early to say that he's their man with the fourth overall pick.

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Dave, from Burke, Va., writes: With the Bucs and Dolphins in the mix for Mike Zimmer's services, what are the chances that he returns as Cincinnati's defensive coordinator?

Hensley responds: It's a very real possibility that Zimmer could be hired elsewhere, particularly since Jeff Fisher spurned Miami and went to St. Louis. Both the Buccaneers and the Dolphins needed big-name splashes to generate some interest with apathetic fan bases. But there are really no buzz-worthy candidates left. That's why Zimmer has a legitimate shot at both places. If Zimmer goes, the Bengals can promote defensive backs coach Kevin Coyle, who has been on the staff since 2001. There's also been some talk that former Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio could take over as defensive coordinator. But Del Rio is still owed $5 million next season, so he doesn't need to find a job.

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Lucas from Severn, Md., writes: I've been watching the Ravens closely all season and there have been some real flashes of greatness by Joe Flacco. There have also been some of his worst passing games as a quarterback (the Jets and Jags games specifically). Other than the playoff game against Kansas City last year, he hasn't proven to be solid in the playoffs. What are the chances that he will have a breakout game against Houston if the Texans choose to focus on stopping the run?

Hensley responds: Flacco has been extremely ragged when it comes to the playoffs. He's averaged 150 yards passing in seven games, throwing four touchdowns and seven interceptions. But remember that all of those games were on the road and three of them came when he was a rookie. This is the time for Flacco to shine. He's at home where he has thrown 29 touchdowns and eight interceptions in his past 19 games (97.6 rating). And he threw for 305 yards against the Texans three months ago in Baltimore. So to answer the question, all indications point to a strong effort by Flacco on Sunday.

Another hit to Bengals receivers

September, 22, 2011
9/22/11
1:28
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The Bengals could be down a second wide receiver Sunday when they play the San Francisco 49ers.

During the same week in which Cincinnati placed slot receiver Jordan Shipley (knee) on injured reserve, the availability of starting wide receiver Jerome Simpson is unknown after he was excused from practice Thursday. Simpson was detained Tuesday along with backup offensive tackle Anthony Collins after 2.5 pounds of marijuana arrived at Simpson’s home and another six pounds of marijuana were found in the residence.

If Simpson is held out Sunday, Andre Caldwell would leap from the No. 4 receiver to a starting role in a matter of days. The Bengals' No. 3 receiver would either be Brandon Tate or rookie sixth-round draft pick Ryan Whalen, who happened to play under 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh at Stanford last year.

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis addressed the investigation on SiriusXM Radio on Thursday. “I’ve been appraised of the situation for a few days now and unfortunately Anthony’s name got put into it for no reason," Lewis said via The Cincinnati Enquirer. "It was at Jerome’s house and it’s an investigation that’s going on. He’s cooperating and doing what he can to help in the investigation.”

Losing Shipley won't hurt Bengals

September, 19, 2011
9/19/11
5:24
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Slot receiver Jordan Shipley still factors into the Bengals' future plans. But losing him for the season shouldn't derail quarterback Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati passing attack.

Shipley was placed on injured reserve Monday after he tore the ACL in his left knee in Sunday's loss at Denver. He made a minimal impact in both games this season (four catches for 14 yards) after leading AFC rookies last season in receiving yards (600).

The transition is a small one for Cincinnati because Shipley had already been splitting reps with Andre Caldwell. Five minutes after Shipley got hurt, Caldwell caught a 10-yard touchdown.

After years of going with Chad Ochocinco and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, the Bengals are establishing a new look at wide receiver with emerging rookie A.J. Green and Jerome Simpson. Green is already starting to make those highlight reel catches, and Simpson has three 100-yard receiving games in his five starts the last two seasons.

Wrap-up: Broncos 24, Bengals 22

September, 18, 2011
9/18/11
11:11
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Thoughts on the Cincinnati Bengals' 24-22 loss at the Denver Broncos:

What it means: The Bengals missed an opportunity to take a one-game lead on the whole division because they couldn't complete the dramatic comeback against the banged-up Broncos. It would have been a strong start for a team that many predicted to finish at the bottom of the AFC North this season. This marked Cincinnati's ninth straight loss in Denver.

Dalton watch: Andy Dalton continued to show promise in his second NFL start as he tried to rally the Bengals from a 14-point deficit in the second half. The rookie second-round pick came in with an injured right wrist, but he continually took advantage of the short-handed secondary. Dalton finished with 332 yards passing and two touchdowns.

Thumbs up: Wide receiver A.J. Green is validating the Bengals' decision to use the fourth overall pick on him. He caught nearly everything thrown his way, making 10 receptions for 124 yards. His 5-yard touchdown grab showed great concentration and athleticism as he dragged his foot while falling out of bounds.

Thumbs down: The Bengals flopped on third down, failing to convert 10 of 11 chances. Cincinnati's secondary had trouble keeping up with Denver wide receiver Eric Decker, who scored two touchdowns. His final one was embarrassing because two Bengals defenders collided, which allowed Decker to walk into the end zone untouched.

Injury update: After the game, wide receiver Jordan Shipley walked on crutches while wearing a brace on his left knee.

What's next: The Bengals play their home opener next Sunday when they host the San Francisco 49ers.

Bengals claim receiver Brandon Tate

September, 4, 2011
9/04/11
1:46
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The Cincinnati Bengals added depth to their young group of receivers Sunday. ESPN's Adam Schefter reports Cincinnati claimed former New England Patriots receiver Brandon Tate off waivers.

Cincinnati is going young at the position and Tate, 23, fits the description. He was productive as New England's third receiver last season, catching 24 passes for 432 yards three touchdowns.

I'm curious to see where Tate fits in Cincinnati.

The Bengals already have a good No. 3 receiver in Jordan Shipley, who caught 52 passes primarily from the slot in 2010. First-round pick A.J. Green is the team's No. 1 threat, and Tate would have to beat out Jerome Simpson to crack the starting lineup. Otherwise, Tate enters the regular season as the No. 4 or No. 5 receiver on Cincinnati's depth chart, next to Andre Caldwell.

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