- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
Let's see what is on the minds of ESPN.com readers this weekend.
Robert from Latrobe, Pa., wants to know if Deshea Townsend or someone else will be the third cornerback this year for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
James Walker: I've learned a long time ago not to write off "Big Play" Deshea, Robert. Every year he seems to be on his last legs yet finds a way to contribute to the team when it counts. I think ideally the Steelers are hoping Keiwan Ratliff or one of the rookies with young legs will step up for the nickel role, while the team could use Townsend's smarts and experience in the dime. But Townsend's knowledge of the system always means you cannot rule him out.
Tim from Toledo, Ohio, spends his lunch time reading the AFC North blog and wonders if the Cleveland Browns will make any more pickups on defense.
James Walker: Thanks for checking in during lunch, Tim. What about breakfast and dinner, too? Browns coach Eric Mangini says he's always looking at the transaction list to see if he can improve the team. I think we will see a couple of moves, but nothing too drastic involving big names. The Roderick Hood signing was solid and could be one of the last significant names to join Cleveland's defense before the 2009 season.
Harold from Chicago is curiously awaiting an update on former Cincinnati Bengal punter Kyle Larson and offensive tackle Levi Jones.
James Walker: Larson is in a tough spot, because there are only 32 punting jobs in the league and a majority of teams have that position settled. Jones, on the other hand, should get an opportunity at some point this summer, especially if a key preseason injury takes place, which usually happens. But staying away from practices this offseason may actually help Jones, because it gives him a chance to rest his knee.
Eric from Baltimore wants to know if this is the year the Ravens "take over the AFC North."
James Walker: The Ravens certainly have a chance, Eric. They were only a few plays away in nearly every game against Pittsburgh last season. Two big keys will be how the new starters fit in, such as cornerback Domonique Foxworth and center Matt Birk, and the progress of quarterback Joe Flacco in his second year. Flacco had his struggles with Pittsburgh's complicated defense last year. But if he figures it out and plays well this year against the Steelers, it could help signal a shift of power in the division.
Ethan from Versailles, Ky., wants to know if a motivated Chad Ochocinco and an "unbelievable defense" makes the Bengals Super Bowl contenders.
James Walker: Slow down, Ethan. What's the deal with all the predictions this week? It's only June. "Bengaldom" should be excited and optimistic about this season. This is a talented team on paper, and I believe I was one of the first in the national media to label Cincinnati a sleeper candidate for 2009. But fans should worry about succeeding in the AFC North first, because the Steelers and Ravens are going to be brutally tough to overcome as long as they stay healthy this year.
Aaron from Bloomington, Ill., wants to know what the chances are for Steelers receiver Hines Ward to make the Hall of Fame.
James Walker: I don't have a vote, Aaron, so my opinion doesn't matter. But if I did have a vote, I would put Hines Ward into the Hall of Fame. He has longevity, two championships and better stats than people think. Despite playing on a run-oriented team his entire career, he has 800 catches, nearly 10,000 yards, 72 touchdowns and four Pro Bowls. He's also the most devastating blocker ever at the receiver position, which makes him unique. My guess is he gets in. By the way, here is a story I wrote recently on Ward and his chances for the Hall of Fame before Super Bowl XLIII.
Joseph is a Browns fan and wants an update on quarterback Brett Ratliff.
James Walker: It is clearly a two-horse race in Cleveland between Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson, Joseph. Ratliff was acquired in a trade because Mangini likes his work ethic and knowledge of the offense. But he hasn't stood out much in the practices open to the media. I think people read too much into the acquisition by automatically assuming Ratliff would be part of the quarterback competition. That is not the case. Ratliff is more of a long-term project that Mangini began in New York and wants to continue working on in Cleveland.