AFC North: Kyle Larson

Walker's weekend mailbag

June, 13, 2009

Posted by's James Walker

Let's see what is on the minds of 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.

Posted by's James Walker

Here are the top stories Monday in the AFC North:

Morning take: Whether it's talent, hatred or playing in meaningful games, this rivalry has it all. The only thing these two teams lack is longevity.

  • According to Kevin Eck of the Baltimore Sun, former Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller -- now with the Saint Louis Rams -- returned to his old stomping grounds this weekend for the Preakness.

Morning take: Boller took a beating early in his career and never rebounded in Baltimore. But I'm curious to see how his new gig in St. Louis turns out.

Morning take: It can't hurt. Since 1999, the Browns hired three rookie head coaches with little success. Now it's time to see if the experienced route pays dividends.

  • Michael Lombardi of the National Football Post believes Cincinnati Bengals punter Kevin Huber can make an immediate impact.

Morning take: The Bengals swiftly cut Kyle Larson and Ryan Plackemeier after drafting Huber in the fifth round. That says a lot about the confidence Cincinnati has in the rookie this year.

Inside the AFC North: NFL draft

April, 27, 2009

Posted by's James Walker

  Rex Brown/Getty Images
  How will Braylon Edwards respond to returning to Cleveland?

Here are some post-draft notes and observations from within the division:

  • The Cleveland Browns potentially have a situation on their hands with a returning Braylon Edwards. The former Pro Bowl receiver was reportedly included in heavy trade talks with the New York Giants. Eventually, talks broke down and nothing occurred this weekend. Now the Browns have to tread carefully to make sure Edwards feels wanted again. For the record it is unknown if Edwards is upset about the talks, and it's doubtful this would be a Jay Cutler-type situation. But it could require a little ego stroking for everyone to move on for the 2009 season.
  • One of the most compelling competitions I'm looking forward to this summer will be in Baltimore. A rookie first-round pick (Michael Oher) will battle a grizzled veteran (Willie Anderson) for the Ravens' right-tackle spot. Baltimore got solid value in Oher at No. 23 and he should man the position for a long time. But Anderson had a decent season there as well and wants to hold the spot for at least one more year, setting up an intriguing position battle in training camp.
  • Speaking of competition, there is officially a logjam at punter for the Cincinnati Bengals. The team drafted rookie punter Kevin Huber in the sixth round to go with free-agent signee Ryan Plackemeier and last year's punter Kyle Larson. This either means there will be a three-way competition for the job this summer or one of these players will soon be released. Stay tuned.
  • Pittsburgh Steelers left tackle Max Starks is one of the most important players on Pittsburgh's roster right now, but it's not for reasons you'd expect. Cornerback Ike Taylor and receiver Hines Ward recently re-worked their contracts to free up cap space before the NFL draft. But Starks' $8.451 million salary for 2009, courtesy of the franchise tag, also is taking up significant space at the moment. It was expected that Pittsburgh would work out an extension with Starks, but to date that hasn't happened. With Pittsburgh bringing in nine draft picks over the weekend, the team will need to begin cutting players or reach a long-term extension with Starks to get everyone under contract. An educated guess is the Steelers would prefer the latter.

Morning take: Bengals grab a punter

February, 14, 2009

Posted by's James Walker

Here are the most interesting stories Saturday in the AFC North:

Morning take: There was smoke this offseason that the Bengals were not happy with current punter, Kyle Larson. Now there's fire.

Morning take: Every once in a while this comes up locally or in the national media. With Belichick's success after coaching Cleveland, it's certainly fair game.

Morning take: For now, that is correct. In the fall, I would say it's the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Morning take: The Steelers have been there and done that. They're probably the least likely team interested in a trade for Burress.

Posted by's James Walker

CINCINNATI -- The Bengals are bungling once again.

The first quarter just ended, but the boos are out early in Paul Brown Stadium.

So far Cincinnati's has allowed 10 quick points, punter Kyle Larson booted a kick off the side of his foot, and the offense has yet to get a first down.

The Steelers lead 10-0 after one quarter and Bengals fans are uneasy about what they're seeing. Unless the Bengals turn things around fast, the rout might be on.

Update: Bengals rookie linebacker Keith Rivers (jaw) is declared out for the rest of the game.