AFC North: Kaluka Maiava

Upon Further Review: Browns

October, 29, 2012
Revisiting the Cleveland Browns' 7-6 win over the San Diego Chargers:

The Browns put together an outstanding defensive performance, holding the Chargers without a touchdown and 18 points below their season average. What makes it more outstanding is the fact the Cleveland defense did this without four starters in its front seven.

Rookies John Hughes (third round) and Billy Winn (sixth round) replaced veteran defensive tackles Phil Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin. Rookie James-Michael Johnson (fourth round) and Kaluka Maiava have taken over for outside linebackers Scott Fujita and Chris Gocong, both of whom are on injured reserve.

In Sunday's win, Johnson forced a fumble that Winn recovered. Then, on the Chargers' final play of the game, another backup stepped up. Cornerback Buster Skrine tipped away Philip Rivers' fourth-and-10 pass to preserve the victory.

"Let's not kid anybody here, our defense won us that football game," quarterback Brandon Weeden said. "You know field position was a struggle, the weather was a struggle but games like that in those conditions to have our defense play like they did, they won the football game for us. If I had a game ball I'd give it to those guys. They played their tails off and made play after play against a really good offense."

The Browns' defense, which had allowed 27.1 points in its first six games, has now given up three field goals in its past six quarters.

STAT THAT STICKS: 5 -- Rushing touchdowns for Trent Richardson in eight games. That's the most by a Browns rookie since William Green in 2002.

OVERHEARD: “I haven’t had a game like that since ’06 when I played with the Royals,” quarterback (and former minor-league pitcher) Brandon Weeden said of the 7-6 score.

WHAT'S NEXT: The Browns (2-6), who have won two straight at home, play host to the Ravens (5-2), who have won nine straight over Cleveland.
Defending against Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick on Sunday might have just become slightly easier for the Cleveland Browns.

An appeals panel has overturned the three-game suspension of Cleveland outside linebacker Scott Fujita as well as the suspensions of New Orleans linebacker Jonathan Vilma, defensive end Will Smith and former New Orleans defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove. There could be more legal wrangling, but the NFL has said that, as of now, all the players are eligible to play immediately.

That’s a huge boost for the Browns. When it looked like Fujita wasn’t going to be able to play, their linebacker corps was in disarray, aside from D'Qwell Jackson. Rookie James-Michael Johnson has an oblique injury that could force him to miss several games. It appeared as if the Browns would have to use inexperienced linebackers Kaluka Maiava, L.J. Fort and Craig Robertson against the Eagles. Some or all of those guys still could play, but Fujita suddenly has brought some stability back to the linebacker situation.

Fujita never has been the world’s most gifted linebacker. He gets by on intellect and effort. Now that he’s 33, Fujita’s not a real threat to run Vick down. But you can count on him to do the things he’s supposed to do and not make huge mistakes.

You also can count on him to help make sure the younger linebackers are lined up correctly and know what they’re doing.

With Fujita back in the mix, Cleveland’s defense suddenly looks a lot better than it did a few hours ago.

Fujita nearby, ready to help Browns

September, 7, 2012
Scott Fujita wasn’t far from the Browns.

“Weirdest thing about training at Baldwin Wallace this week is hearing the whistles/horns at my team's practice, literally a qtr-mile away,” he tweeted at lunchtime on Friday.

He doesn’t need to train at Baldwin Wallace College any longer, as a three-member appeals panel has overturned the NFL’s suspension of four players commissioner Roger Goodell implicated in a bounty program with the New Orleans Saints.

The Browns have fourth-round rookie James-Michael Johnson at strongside linebacker, where Fujita started 10 games last year before a season-ending hand injury. Kaluka Maiava is at weakside linebacker.

Browns coach Pat Shurmur declined to talk about a possible return for Fujita earlier in the week, according to Tom Reed of the Plain Dealer. But the coach ultimately said he thought he would use the linebacker if he returned.

"I think we're talking hypothetical stuff," Shurmur said. "I'll cross that bridge when we get to it. We've got up until right before game time to put the roster together, but I don't see any reason why he can't play."
Nearly all the AFC North teams played it safe in Thursday night's preseason finales. Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco and Brandon Weeden all sat out and watched the backup quarterbacks play.

The only starter who played, the Bengals' Andy Dalton, left in the first quarter with an injury but it's not considered serious. Dalton said his hand went "a little numb" after getting hit in the arm but it's "no problem at all." Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said, "Andy’s fine. He’ll be fine for Baltimore. He would have gone right back in this game if it had been the regular season.” So, crisis averted.

If you couldn't watch all four division teams play simultaneously, you're in luck. I had my eye on each one and here are some observations:


In the 20-16 loss at Indianapolis, Dalton was hurt on the opening drive after getting sandwiched. Offensive tackles Andrew Whitworth and Dennis Roland both got beaten for sacks on the play. It hasn't been a great preseason for Whitworth, who is the second-best left tackle in the division.

The Bengals didn't play their top two running backs, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Bernard Scott, because both are recovering from injuries and are getting ready for the regular-season opener. For once, Cincinnati's run game didn't suffer. Brian Leonard ran hard and broke tackles for 27 yards on three carries. Cedric Peerman, who makes more of an impact on special teams, looked good on a 13-yard run up the middle.

No one wants to see Dalton hurt. The Bengals, though, have to feel comfortable with backup Bruce Gradkowski. He finished 12 of 19 for 95 yards and led his fourth touchdown drive of the preseason.

Rookie wide receiver Marvin Jones displayed some resiliency in the second quarter. On the same drive in which he dropped a touchdown pass, he came back to catch a back-shoulder throw from Gradkowski and ran into the end zone. Jones is making a push for some playing time this year.


In the 28-20 loss to Chicago, Colt McCoy watched his strong preseason take a nosedive. In his first start this summer, McCoy was 2 of 5 for 16 yards for a 9.1 quarterback rating. That's going to put a dent into McCoy's 119.1 rating from the first three games. McCoy was also intercepted on a high pass that was thrown with no pressure around him. The Browns will let everyone know what they plan to do with McCoy on Friday.

The Browns have a concern at linebacker after rookie James-Michael Johnson left with an oblique injury. With Chris Gocong out for the season with an Achilles injury and Scott Fujita facing a three-game suspension from the NFL, Cleveland planned to depend on Johnson and Kaluka Maiava. The Browns might need Fujita to win his appeal to avoid going deeper on the depth chart. Johnson was having a strong performance before getting injured on an open-field tackle.

Backup running back Montario Hardesty had trouble getting back to the line of scrimmage because he got little help from his blockers. He finished with 24 yards on six carries and he didn't fumble for the first time since the preseason opener. Brandon Jackson fared much better, gaining 48 yards on seven carries.

Cornerback James Dockery was flagged twice for pass interference in the second quarter. The second one eventually led to a touchdown. Rookie cornerback Trevin Wade was physical and had good coverage in allowing the first touchdown of the game.

As if the Browns needed something else to worry about, they have to iron some things out on special teams. Reggie Hodges got his second punt blocked this preseason.


In a 31-17 loss at St. Louis, Sergio Kindle hurt his chances of surviving Friday's cutdown. He hit quarterback Sam Bradford a full second late, drawing a roughing-the-passer penalty to help the Rams convert third-and-22. Kindle, a 2010 second-round pick, was on the bubble entering this game.

Continuing Thursday night's trend of rookies getting hurt, second-round pick Courtney Upshaw will have an MRI for his strained shoulder, according to coach John Harbaugh. Upshaw has been backing up Albert McClellan at outside linebacker.

Veteran linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo had his worst game with the Ravens. Working with the first-team defense because most of the starters sat, Ayanbadejo struggled against the run and got lost in coverage. It was so bad that he apologized for his performance on Twitter.

What I like the most about Tyrod Taylor, who started in place of Flacco, is his ability to make plays with his legs. Even though he focused more on being a pocket passer, Taylor wasn't hesitant to take off for a 22-yard scramble. He did get stripped from behind earlier in the game, but it was the result of a third-string lineman (Cord Howard) getting beat by a former first-round pick (Robert Quinn).

Looking at Curtis Painter's up-and-down performance, I'm not sure he convinced the Ravens to keep three quarterbacks. He threw two touchdowns and was intercepted three times. One interception was returned 76 yards for a touchdown.

Justin Tucker missed his first kick of the preseason, but it's difficult to be critical of him. It was a 57-yard attempt. He later hit a 49-yarder in the third quarter.


If this was Charlie Batch's last game with the Steelers, he made it a memorable one, or at least as memorable as the preseason gets. In the 17-16 victory over Carolina, he completed 11 of 14 passes for 102 yards. Batch showed great touch in leading Emmauel Sanders out of double coverage for a 37-yard touchdown. The new rule regarding injured reserve helps Batch's chances of sticking around Pittsburgh for an 11th season, but there's no guarantee that he'll make the cut.

For the second consecutive week, a Steelers draft pick went down with a serious knee injury. With two minutes left in the third quarter, linebacker Sean Spence hyperextended his knee while chasing quarterback Jimmy Clausen. Spence's knee bent awkwardly underneath him, and the third-round pick needed to be carted off the field. Spence was expected to make an impact on special teams this season and could have received playing time if there were injuries at inside linebacker. Unlike David DeCastro's knee injury, this one happened on the natural grass of Heinz Field.

This isn't a newsflash, but rookie running back-receiver-returner Chris Rainey is a game-changer. He twice scored on punt returns in one quarter, only to have both brought back because of penalties. This would've given him the touchdown trifecta. The fifth-round pick had scored on a 41-yard run and a 57-yard catch this summer.

Nose tackle Casey Hampton made his preseason debut after having ACL surgery in January. His presence was felt immediately as he got off a block from guard Mike Pollak and made a tackle. Hampton's return was good to see for the Steelers, even though Steve McLendon has played well enough to start.

Jonathan Dwyer solidfied himself as the primary backup to Isaac Redman, and the Steelers could need him based on Redman's durability. Dwyer was physical (even delivered a stiff-arm) and showed good feet to elude tacklers. He finished with 63 yards on 13 carries, a 4.8-yard average.
This offseason has made it tough for the Browns to get their run defense on track.

The Browns' latest setback came Saturday, when coach Pat Shurmur confirmed that outside linebacker Chris Gocong is out for the season. He tore his right Achilles tendon and will undergo surgery Monday, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

"We're disappointed he got hurt," Shurmur told the paper. "I'm very fond of Chris and the effort he puts into being a good football player. Anytime a good football player like that gets hurt, unfortunately there's a loss there."

Shurmur added, "The challenge for us is to cover it up with the guys that are on this roster. I talked to Chris, he's fine. Unfortunately we're moving on and he understands that."

The Browns will move forward, but the question is whether the run defense will take a step backward. It was three months ago when defensive tackle Phil Taylor had surgery on his pectoral muscle. He is expected to miss at least the first six games.

Cleveland will also be without outside linebacker Scott Fujita, who has been suspended for the first three games because of his role in the Saints bounty scandal.

So the Browns will go with two backups at outside linebacker, likely Kaluka Maiava and rookie James-Michael Johnson, for the first part of the regular season. Stopping the run will become a bigger challenge for Cleveland, which had the NFL's third-worst run defense last season.

The Browns' first three regular-season opponents this year are Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Buffalo. The Eagles and Bills both ranked in the top half of the league in rushing in 2011.

Gocong, 28, who is scheduled to make $4.5 million this year, made 67 tackles last season, which ranked third on the Browns.
The Cleveland Browns suffered their first major injury of training camp and it could be a "huge hit" to their defense.

The Browns fear that outside linebacker Chris Gocong injured his Achilles and is out for the season, sources told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Gocong, who was carted off the field, will undergo an MRI on Saturday.

"It would be a huge hit," linebacker D'Qwell Jackson told the Plain Dealer. "Chris is a great player."

While this is the first serious injury of Browns training camp, this isn't the first issue for the Cleveland defense. If Gocong is out, the Browns likely will start three backups in their front seven for the first part of the regular season.

Defensive tackle Phil Taylor is on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list and is expected to miss at least the first six games of the regular season. Strong-side linebacker Scott Fujita has been suspended by the NFL for the first three games for his role in the Saints' bounty scandal.

Now, with Gocong hurt, the Browns have to determine what to do at linebacker. One option is to start Kaluka Maiava, who started the last five games in 2011, and rookie fourth-round pick James-Michael Johnson, who has been impressive in camp, at outside linebacker.

This is just the latest Achilles injury to hit the division. Bengals cornerback Leon Hall tore his Achilles on Nov. 13. The Ravens have had two linebackers go down with Achilles this offseason: Terrell Suggs and Michael McAdoo. The Browns lost punter Reggie Hodges for the season after he injured his Achilles in last year's training camp.
Browns linebacker Scott Fujita's appeal was rejected by the NFL, which should come as a surprise to no one. But there was one interesting turn: there's still a chance that the suspensions could get reduced.

In the league's announcement of upholding the decision, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told Fujita and the three other players disciplined by the bounty scandal (Jonathan Vilma, Anthony Hargrove and Will Smith) that he still wants to hear what they have to say.

"While this decision constitutes my final and binding determination under the CBA, I of course retain the inherent authority to reduce a suspension should facts be brought to my attention warranting the exercise of that discretion,” Goodell wrote to the players. “The record confirms that each of you was given multiple chances to meet with me to present your side of the story. You are each still welcome to do so.”

Don't expect Fujita's suspension to get cut down. I would categorize his chances as slim at best. He received the lightest suspension among the players disciplined and he was the most vocal during the process, calling the NFL investigation "a smear campaign." Fujita also didn't endear himself to the commissioner when he shook hands with him during the hearings only to ask, "'What the hell are you doing, Roger?"

If Fujita misses the first three games of the season, the Browns have a couple of options. Like they did when Fujita was hurt last season, the Browns could move Chris Gocong from weak to strong-side linebacker and start Kaluka Maiava on the weak side. Cleveland could also use rookie fourth-round linebacker James-Michael Johnson at Fujita's spot.
Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:

Bengals cornerback Nate Clements could be a candidate to get cut June 1 after the team drafted Dre Kirkpatrick in the first round, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer's Joe Reedy.

Clements is in the last year of his contract and has a cap number of $5.5 million this season ($4.3 million base, $1 million prorated bonus and $200,000 reporting bonus). In addition to drafting Kirkpatrick, the Bengals signed three cornerbacks (Adam Jones, Terence Newman and Jason Allen) in free agency.

Hensley's slant: I still see Clements with the Bengals this season. It doesn't look good that the Bengals used a first-round pick on a cornerback and signed all those veterans in free agency. But it's unknown whether Leon Hall (Achilles) will be ready to start the season and Clements is better than Jones, Newman and Allen. Head coach Marvin Lewis values Clements' leadership and the Bengals don't need to unload any contracts.

BROWNS: Linebacker Scott Fujita, who was suspended three games by the NFL for his participation in the Saints' bounty system, remains in the team's plans for 2012, according to head coach Pat Shurmur. In a statement issued by the Browns, Shurmur called Fujita "a valued member" of the Browns and said the team looked forward "to his participation in our offseason program and training camp." According to WKNR radio in Cleveland, Chris Gocong is expected to move to Fujita’s strongside spot and rookie fourth-round pick James-Michael Johnson could compete with Kaluka Maiava for the weakside job. In other news, the Browns were awarded punter Spencer Lanning off waivers from Jacksonville. An undrafted rookie last season, he was cut by the Bears before the season and signed with the Jaguars this offseason. Hensley's slant: Fujita is in the final year of his contract, so the Browns have to think about the future of that position. Maiava has the edge to win the job this season, but Johnson has a better shot at being the long-term answer at outside linebacker.

RAVENS: Second-round draft pick Kelechi Osemele primarily played left tackle at Iowa State, but he's focused on winning the spot at left guard. The Ravens currently have Jah Reid penciled in that spot. “I know there is a spot open," Osemele told the team's official website, "and honestly my goal is to come in there and try to take it." Hensley's slant: Every team in the division -- the Browns, Bengals and Steelers -- improved their offensive line either in free agency or the draft. The Ravens are taking a step back at left guard. They're going from a Pro Bowl player in Ben Grubbs to a converted tackle (either Osemele or Reid). Baltimore tried to fill that spot in free agency but it was unable to lure Evan Mathis away from the Eagles.

STEELERS: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette points out that rookies have a history of starting on the Steelers' offensive line, such as Alan Faneca, Kendall Simmons, Marvel Smith, Maurkice Pouncey and Marcus Gilbert. His projection on how the Steelers' starting line will look like: LT Mike Adams, LG Willie Colon, C Maurkice Pouncey, RG David DeCastro and RT Marcus Gilbert. In other news, the Steelers released two players from their offseason roster -- running back Chad Spann and cornerback Antonio Smith. Hensley's slant: The biggest concern is whether Colon can hold up for an entire season after being limited to one game over the past two years. The Steelers already gave Colon $3.8 million upfront when they restructured his contract, so they need to play him. Ramon Foster, a restricted free agent, would be the top backup at guard.

Browns linebacker Scott Fujita was suspended three games for his participation in a bounty system while he was a member of the New Orleans Saints.

He was one of four players who were disciplined by the NFL on Wednesday, and he received the smallest penalty. Fujita will have the opportunity to appeal. Based on his $3.65 million salary this season, he will lose around $645,000 if the three-game suspension stands. He can participate in all offseason activities including preseason games.

Here's what the league had to say about Fujita in the official release:
The record established that Fujita, a linebacker, pledged a significant amount of money to the prohibited pay-for-performance/bounty pool during the 2009 NFL Playoffs when he played for the Saints. The pool to which he pledged paid large cash rewards for “cart-offs” and “knockouts,” plays during which an opposing player was injured.

There was talk that Fujita would be fined but not get suspended by the NFL. Fujita, a member of the NFL Players Association's executive committee, previously admitted to paying teammates for big plays while in New Orleans, but not for hurting opponents and not as part of the bounty pool.

The Browns have played without Fujita before. When the team placed him on injured reserve last November with a hand injury, weakside linebacker Chris Gocong moved to Fujita's spot on the strong side and backup Kaluka Maiava started on the weak side.

Second-year studs or duds?

May, 18, 2010
Smith/Robiskie/KrugerGetty Images/US PresswireSecond-year players Andre Smith, Brian Robiskie and Paul Kruger need to step it up this season or risk getting passed over.
Before free agency and the "win-now" mentality that dominates today's NFL, there was a time when teams could groom players for several years before they finally hit the field.

Those days are a distant memory. With coaches and general managers being hired and fired regularly, the learning curve for young players is shorter than ever in the NFL.

Many get one "redshirt" season to struggle in their rookie year before it's time to produce. If not, teams usually move on to the next player who can help.

With that said, here are seven second-year players in the AFC North who need to become studs for their respective teams this season.

1. Andre Smith, OT, Cincinnati Bengals

2009 draft status: First round

Analysis: Cincinnati recently made various upgrades to its skill positions on offense. But one of the biggest additions this year could be a healthy and productive Andre Smith. The Bengals swept the AFC North in 2009 with little impact from their No. 6 overall pick. A broken foot sidelined Smith for 10 games until he was healthy enough to contribute mostly as a backup later in the year. Additional foot surgery has kept Smith from doing team drills this offseason, but he is optimistic that his foot problems will soon be a thing of the past. With the Bengals expected to air it out more this year, quarterback Carson Palmer could use the additional pass protection.

Stud/dud importance rating (scale of 1 to 10): 9.5

2. Brian Robiskie, WR, Cleveland Browns

2009 draft status: Second round

Analysis: The Browns desperately need someone (anyone?) to step up at wide receiver this year. Last year's leading receiver was Mohamed Massaquoi, who caught only 34 passes. This presents a golden opportunity for Robiskie, who had only seven receptions for 106 yards in his rookie year. Robiskie entered the NFL with a reputation of being one of the draft's most NFL-ready players, but he struggled to fit in with Cleveland's offensive scheme. Cleveland quarterback Jake Delhomme will need someone to throw to next season. This is Robiskie's time to step up.

Stud/dud importance rating: 8

3. Paul Kruger, DE/OLB, Baltimore Ravens

2009 draft status: Second round

Analysis: Kruger didn't contribute much until late last season. His inability to play on special teams only highlighted the fact that he wasn't on the field for most of the year. The drafting of pass-rush specialist Sergio Kindle puts Kruger in an odd spot this season. The Ravens were not expecting Kindle to be on the board in the second round, but they took a dynamic prospect who could potentially fill the role Baltimore's coaching staff once had in mind for Kruger. The Ravens are trying to figure out how Kruger can best assist the team in his second season and there has been some discussion of him adding weight to help more as a defensive end.

Stud/dud importance rating: 7.5

4. Ziggy Hood, DE, Pittsburgh Steelers

2009 draft status: First round

Analysis: Hood had a typical rookie year for the Steelers. On a veteran-laden team, he was able to get his feet wet in the defensive-line rotation without the pressure of being a starter. Hood played in all 16 games as a reserve and recorded eight tackles, one sack and two passes defensed. Barring injury, Hood will remain a backup this year but still needs to increase his production. Ideally, Hood will be able to earn more snaps and be able to keep starting defensive ends Brett Keisel and Aaron Smith fresh in the trenches.

Stud/dud importance rating: 7

5. David Veikune, LB, Browns

2009 draft status: Second round

Analysis: Ten games, zero tackles. That is not a good stat line for any rookie, let alone a second-round pick who arrived in Cleveland with decent expectations. Veikune had a forgettable rookie year that included struggling to learn the NFL game and eventually being passed over for playing time by fellow rookie (and Cleveland's fourth-round pick) Kaluka Maiava. The Browns added veterans Scott Fujita and Chris Gocong this offseason to fill key roles at linebacker. That means it's even more important for Veikune to be ready to show Cleveland's coaching staff what he can do when his number is called.

Stud/dud importance rating: 5

6. Lardarius Webb, CB, Ravens

2009 draft status: Third round

Analysis: Webb had a solid rookie year for the Ravens. He contributed on special teams and eventually worked his way into the starting lineup before a knee injury ended his season. That same knee injury is a cause for concern this season. Webb was hurt so late in the year that it's questionable whether he will be ready for the start of training camp or even Week 1 of the regular season. Webb recently began running, which is good progress. If healthy, Webb could be a starter in a Baltimore secondary that has struggled in recent years. A healthy and productive second season for Webb would put a lot of those concerns to rest.

Stud/dud importance rating: 8.5

7. Chase Coffman, TE, Bengals

2009 draft status: Third round

Analysis: Despite Cincinnati recently drafting tight end Jermaine Gresham in the first round, the team could still benefit from a healthy Coffman. Gresham and Coffman, who didn't play a game in the regular season last year, could be two additional weapons in the passing game that Cincinnati didn't have last season. Most project Gresham to beat out Coffman for a starting job. The Bengals also re-signed veteran tight end Reggie Kelly, who is one of the better blocking tight ends in the NFL. That probably leaves a limited amount of playing time for Coffman, who has to make the most of his opportunities.

Stud/dud importance rating: 5
The Cleveland Browns have an interesting situation brewing at inside linebacker.

[+] EnlargeFujita
Kevin Hoffman/US PresswireThe signing of Scott Fujita likely means Cleveland will part ways with either Eric Barton or D'Qwell Jackson.
Sunday's free-agent signing of Scott Fujita adds to a mix of veterans and youngsters competing at the same position. In the end, there may not be enough room for all of them.

Fujita joins Eric Barton, D'Qwell Jackson, Kaluka Maiava and the versatile Jason Trusnik as players who spent time starting at middle linebacker for Cleveland last season.

A starter for the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints, Fujita didn't come to Cleveland to be a backup. So let's assume he's a starter next fall. That leaves four players -- Jackson, Barton, Maiava and Trusnik -- competing for one starting job.

Barton signed a four-year deal last season and is a favorite of head coach Eric Mangini. But Barton is coming off neck surgery and his health is in question. Jackson has been one of Cleveland’s most productive defenders, but he's also coming off a season-ending pectoral injury. Jackson has a second-round tender and could generate some interest in the trade market.

Maiava and Trusnik both are young players who can provide depth.

Because the Browns play a 3-4 defense, they would probably prefer to keep a large surplus of linebackers. But Fujita, Barton and Jackson are a particularly odd trio with tons of combined starting experience and just two jobs available.

Fujita isn't going anywhere. So an educated guess is Cleveland's front office, led by new president Mike Holmgren, likely has to decide between keeping Barton or Jackson this offseason.

Draft Watch: AFC North

February, 24, 2010
NFC Busts/Gems: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: Busts and late-round gems.

Baltimore Ravens

Busts: The Ravens have one of the most consistent front offices in the NFL, so you have to look all the way back to 2005 to really find an underperforming first-round pick in Mark Clayton. The receiver has shown flashes with several big games in Baltimore. But Clayton never developed the consistency to become a No. 1 receiver. In the second round, linebacker Dan Cody was another miss in 2005. His career never got off the ground, because he couldn't shake the injury bug. Also, it's too early to determine the status of 2009 second-round pick Paul Kruger. But the linebacker/defensive end was mostly a non-factor in his rookie season. Gems: Baltimore has several contributing players that were found in the late and middle rounds. Most recently, 2009 third-round cornerback Lardarius Webb looks like a potential starter and has the ability to return kicks. Pro Bowl fullback Le'Ron McClain was another great, under-the-radar pick in the fourth round in 2007. Starting left tackle Jared Gaither was found in the supplemental draft in 2007 and started 26 games the past two seasons. Other key contributors include starting safety Dawan Landry and punter Sam Koch, who were fifth- and sixth-round picks in 2006, respectively.

Cincinnati Bengals

Busts: It's well-documented that Cincinnati doesn't put nearly the same resources into scouting as most teams, and it shows in its list of draft busts. Eight players the Bengals selected in the first three rounds since 2004 are no longer with the team. Several -- such as first-rounders Chris Perry and David Pollack and second-rounders Odell Thurman and Kenny Irons -- are out of the NFL. Most recently, the career of 2009 No. 6 overall pick Andre Smith got off to a poor start. But he has time to turn things around. Receiver Jerome Simpson, who was a second-round pick in 2008, is running out of chances and may not make the 53-man roster next fall. It's difficult to maintain a steady level of success when you're missing this often in the first and second rounds. Gems: Seventh-round pick Chinedum Ndukwe was not highly touted out of Notre Dame but continued to make plays for the Bengals until coaches had no choice but to play him. Defensive tackle Domata Peko was a fourth-round pick in 2006 who developed into one of Cincinnati's most important players. Last year's sixth-round pick, tailback Bernard Scott, showed flashes as a rookie.

Cleveland Browns

Busts: The Browns are on their third regime in three years. With that kind of turnover, you can expect a lot of misses in the draft as the team continues to switch philosophies. The Phil Savage-Romeo Crennel era began in 2005 with receiver Braylon Edwards and safety Brodney Pool. Edwards didn't live up to expectations and was traded to the New York Jets last season. Pool likely will be let go to free agency. It has been three years, and we still don't know exactly what to make of 2007 first-round pick Brady Quinn. The new regime led by Mike Holmgren doesn't seem too impressed, as the team continues to explore its options at quarterback. Receiver Brian Robiskie and linebacker David Veikune, both second-round picks in 2009, also need to step up for Cleveland in 2010. Gems: Starting fullback Lawrence Vickers, a sixth-round pick in 2006, was another great find. He paved the way for Jamal Lewis to have back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2007 and 2008. Vickers also helped tailback Jerome Harrison (862 rushing yards), another late gem, put up career highs last season. Most recently, 2009 fourth-round pick Kaluka Maiava may turn out to be a decent linebacker from the middle rounds.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Busts: Similar to the Ravens, the Steelers do not make a lot of mistakes at the top of the draft. Six of Pittsburgh's past seven first-round picks are starters. That includes quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, safety Troy Polamalu, receiver Santonio Holmes and tailback Rashard Mendenhall. Pittsburgh has had some issues in the second round. In 2008, the Steelers were hoping Limas Sweed could be the big receiver they were looking for, but that hasn't panned out. In 2004, second-round cornerback Ricardo Colclough had zero starts in four years before being released. Gems: Last year's third-round pick Mike Wallace already is a significant addition to Pittsburgh's offense. His deep speed was needed, and he had 39 receptions for 756 yards and six touchdowns as a rookie. Pittsburgh also has been fortunate to find starting offensive linemen late in the draft. Offensive tackle Willie Colon and guard Chris Kemoeatu were taken in the fourth and sixth rounds, respectively. Dennis Dixon, who was taken in the fifth round in 2008, also could develop into a solid backup quarterback.
Here are the most interesting stories Wednesday in the AFC North: Morning take: I definitely see the similarities. But I'm not sure the Jets can finish the job like the Steelers did four years ago.
Morning take: Although it's unknown what position Jackson is interviewing for, it's hard to imagine him interested in anything less than offensive coordinator. Jackson has done a great job with quarterback Joe Flacco and should be a hot commodity this offseason.
Morning take: Maiava was the least-heralded of the Trojan linebackers in last year's draft. But for the Browns, he was one of their most productive rookies.
Morning take: That's a hypothetical question. But like the Jets, the Bengals would have traveled to play the San Diego Chargers. That's a good matchup for Cincinnati, but it's no guarantee the Bengals would've won that game.

D'Qwell Jackson out for the season

October, 20, 2009
Posted by’s James Walker

All was quiet on the trade front for the Cleveland Browns Tuesday, but the team lost one of its top defenders for the 2009 season.

The Browns put linebacker D’Qwell Jackson on injured reserve. Jackson hurt his shoulder in Sunday’s loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Jackson was a defensive and locker room leader in Cleveland. He recorded 59 tackles and one forced fumble in six games.

One of Cleveland’s rookie linebackers will have to step up in Jackson’s absence. Fourth-round pick Kaluka Maiava played in the second half when Jackson was injured. Second-rounder David Veikune has been slow to develop but may get more opportunities to show what he can do down the road.

Browns coach Eric Mangini had this to say:

“It’s disappointing any time you lose a player for the season, and this is especially true with someone like D’Qwell, who has proven to be an outstanding leader for us both on and off the field.”



Sunday, 12/21
Monday, 12/22