AFC North: Lorenzo Neal

Morning take: Steelers too old?

July, 19, 2011
7/19/11
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Here are the most interesting stories Tuesday in the AFC North: Morning take: I'm not buying that one. This question has been asked for years and the Steelers keep winning. Despite my pick of Baltimore this year, I still expect Pittsburgh to be a good team.
  • Friend and former Baltimore Ravens teammate Lorenzo Neal believes linebacker Ray Lewis will play two more years.
Morning take: That sounds about right. Lewis is 36 and chasing one more Super Bowl title. Baltimore's window should be open during this two-year period, which will give Lewis a chance to go out on top.
Morning take: Shurmur has one of the toughest gigs in the league this year. The Browns have some young talent. But it will be a transition year with a new West Coast offense and 4-3 defense.
Morning take: This was expected as Jones denied any wrongdoing last week. Past transgressions already have Jones down to his last strike. So, for his sake, Jones better be correct.

AFC North linemen make all-decade

June, 23, 2009
6/23/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

The AFC North has always been strong in the trenches, and that showed in ESPN.com's unveiling of the NFL's all-decade offensive team Tuesday.

Two players, both linemen, made the cut: Former Baltimore Ravens tackle Jonathan Ogden and former Steelers guard Alan Faneca. Ogden is retired and Faneca spent most of his career in Pittsburgh before signing a lucrative free-agent contract with the New York Jets in 2008.

No skill players from the AFC North were selected, which is reflective of the style of football most successful in the division. Three defensive players -- linebacker Ray Lewis and safeties Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu -- also made the all-decade defensive team.

Overall, five players made ESPN.com's all-decade list, and all are current or former Ravens and Steelers. Fullback Lorenzo Neal also made the team, yet played just one season with Baltimore this decade in 2008.

Here is the complete all-decade offense:

QB: Tom Brady, New England
RB: LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego
FB: Lorenzo Neal, Cincinnati/San Diego/Baltimore
WR: Marvin Harrison, Indianapolis
WR: Torry Holt, St. Louis
TE: Tony Gonzalez, Kansas City
T: Walter Jones, Seattle
T: Jonathan Ogden, Baltimore
G: Alan Faneca, Pittsburgh/N.Y. Jets
G: Steve Hutchinson, Seattle/Minnesota
C: Olin Kreutz, Chicago

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

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

  • Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis is "disappointed" by the departure of new Philadelphia Eagles tackle Stacy Andrews. Lewis said Andrews led the team to believe he was returning to Cincinnati.

Morning take: There are no certainties in free agency, either from a team or a player. The only guarantees were for Cincinnati to reach a deal before Feb. 27 or franchise Andrews for the second straight year.

  • Free-agent fullback Lorenzo Neal hopes the Baltimore Ravens bring him back for another season.

Morning take: Neal was a good one-year signing for Baltimore last season. At 38, the Ravens have to determine if he's worth another look.

  • It turns out guard Alan Faneca's status as a veteran of more than 10 years prevented the Pittsburgh Steelers from getting more than a fifth-round compensatory pick.

Morning take: That explains it. Theories were abound but there was an official rule in place to put an end to the controversy.

  • Should the Cleveland Browns keep or trade No. 1 receiver Braylon Edwards?

Morning take: Keep your best receiver and let him walk for nothing in free agency next year? Or get something for Edwards now and struggle passing the ball in 2009? Tough choice.

All-AFC North picks: Offense

September, 1, 2008
9/01/08
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 Jason Bridge/US Presswire
 The Steelers need Ben Roethlisberger to remain healthy for the team to be successful in 2008.

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Now that we've traveled to see every team in minicamp, training camp and the preseason, it's time to make our All-AFC North picks for 2008.

Let's start with the offense.

Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers

Skinny: Roethlisberger has the ability and big contract to match what should be a tremendous year in 2008. He has full command of this offense and rarely misses a throw he should make. The only question is can the offensive line keep Roethlisberger upright and healthy all season?

Honorable mention: Carson Palmer, Cincinnati Bengals

Running back: Willie Parker, Pittsburgh Steelers

Skinny: "Fast Willie" tells us his leg is fine. We tend to believe him. Parker led the NFL in rushing before his injury last December. Therefore, health questions aside, there's no reason to believe he won't have another productive season for Pittsburgh. Rookie Rashard Mendenhall will get some of Parker's carries, but it could turn out to help keep Parker fresh in games.

Honorable mention: Jamal Lewis, Cleveland Browns

Fullback: Lawrence Vickers, Cleveland Browns

Skinny: This pick is tricky and the one we are least sure about. Vickers had a tremendous year in 2007. But he hasn't looked all that impressive this offseason and word from the Browns is that he needs to pick it up. We want to pick Lorenzo Neal of the Baltimore Ravens, but he was signed by a new team late in preseason and he's coming off a broken leg. That would be too risky.

Honorable mention: Lorenzo Neal, Baltimore Ravens

Wide Receivers: Braylon Edwards, Cleveland Browns; Santonio Holmes, Pittsburgh Steelers

Skinny: Cleveland's Edwards is a nightmare to cover one-on-one because he can blow by you or jump over you. If Edwards cures his occasional case for the dropsies, we will begin mentioning his name next to those of Randy Moss and Terrell Owens. Sure, the  Holmes pick might have caught you off guard. But the Steelers' top deep threat has been the most impressive receiver in the division this offseason and we feel he's due for a monster season. Also, both receivers in Cincinnati are battling injuries.

Honorable mention: T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Cincinnati Bengals.

Tight end: Kellen Winslow Jr., Cleveland Browns

Skinny: In a division stacked with quality tight ends, Winslow remains a cut above the competition. Coming off an 82-catch, 1,106-yard season, Winslow is the one tight end in the AFC North that's dynamic enough to completely change the course of a game.

Honorable mention: Heath Miller, Pittsburgh Steelers

Center: Jason Brown, Baltimore Ravens

Skinny: Jason Brown is a name not many people know, but you will this season. The four-year veteran has been the stable force on Baltimore's offensive line and has versatility to play the center and both guard positions at a high level.

Honorable mention: Hank Fraley, Cleveland Browns

Guards: LG Eric Steinbach, Cleveland Browns; RG Bobbie Williams, Cincinnati Bengals

Skinny: Steinbach is coming of a Pro Bowl year for the Browns and, teamed with Joe Thomas, should have another stellar year on Cleveland's left side. Cincinnati's Williams has never been flashy, but he is consistent. He started all 16 games last year and played in 98.7 percent of the team's snaps in 2007.

Honorable mentions: LG Andrew Whitworth, Cincinnati Bengals; RG Kendall Simmons, Pittsburgh Steelers

Tackles: LT Joe Thomas, Cleveland Browns; RT Kevin Shaffer, Cleveland Browns

Skinny: Thomas is an easy pick, as he might be the best left tackle in the NFL by season's end. But picking a right tackle is where it gets dicey. We're going with the proven commodity here in Shaffer. Some of the other right tackle candidates in the AFC North are too inexperienced and unproven.

Honorable mentions: LT Marvel Smith, Pittsburgh Steelers; RT Stacy Andrews, Cincinnati Bengals

Check back later today for our All-AFC North defensive and special teams for 2008.

AFC North bubble watch

August, 28, 2008
8/28/08
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Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

With the final week of preseason games starting Thursday night, it's a good time to keep close tabs on bubble players from each AFC North team. Rosters will be trimmed from 75 to 53 players by Saturday, which means there are a lot of big decisions to be made on players in the next 48 hours.

Here are some notable bubble players that could help their cause with big preseason games this week:

Pittsburgh Steelers

Players: Receivers Willie Reid and Dallas Baker

Skinny: Both young players have been around, know the system well and have shown flashes. But Pittsburgh is stacked with skill players and don't have to wait for both to develop. Receivers Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, Nate Washington and Limas Sweed will be the top four in this group. Our guess is the Steelers only take five receivers into the regular season.

Prediction: Reid stays, Baker goes

Players: Punters Mitch Berger and Paul Ernster

Skinny: This competition was created by the season-ending knee injury to punter Daniel Sepulveda. Ernster has been around a little longer and has the edge, especially after last week's performance with three punts inside the 20. But he still could use a strong finish.

Prediction: Ernster stays, Berger goes


Cincinnati Bengals

Players: Fullbacks Daniel Coats and Jeremi Johnson

Skinny: Coats, a former tight end, has been impressive this summer making the move to fullback. He earned most of the reps, and most likely a roster spot, because Johnson's weight kept him out for most of camp. The Bengals are tired of dealing with Johnson coming into camp out of shape every year. But he's been too good a player for the Bengals to let go so far.

Prediction: Coats and Johnson (barely) stay

Players: Receivers Glenn Holt and Antonio Chatman

Skinny: There are a lot of young receivers on this roster behind starters Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. So don't be surprised if one of the proven veterans is let go. Holt and Chatman are both on the bubble because they're undersized and don't fit the system -- Cincinnati prefers bigger, stronger pass catchers. Injuries to Johnson (shoulder) and rookie Andre Caldwell (toe) may scare the team into keeping both Chatman and Holt, but we doubt it.

Prediction: Chatman stays, Holt goes


Cleveland Browns

Players: Receivers Travis Wilson, Steve Sanders and Paul Hubbard

Skinny: The battle for the No. 3 receiver spot in Cleveland has been underwhelming, to say the least. Now all three of these players could use a big performance tonight against the Chicago Bears to solidify a roster spot. With Syndric Steptoe likely on the 53-man roster, at least two of these receivers, if not all three, will be cut by Saturday.

Prediction: Hubbard stays (or practice squad), Wilson and Sanders goes

Players: Linebackers Kris Griffin, David McMillan and Alex Hall

Skinny: This decision is more important than it appears on the surface. Hall, a rookie, has been a nice sleeper this summer, and Griffin and McMillan are important cogs on special teams. Luckily, they all play linebacker and Cleveland is a 3-4 team. But one still has to go.

Prediction: Hall and Griffin stay, McMillan goes


Baltimore Ravens

Player: Fullback Le'Ron McClain

Skinny: The banged-up Ravens have seven guys already on injured reserve, so there aren't as many significant bubble players. But McClain is one because the team recently signed Pro Bowler Lorenzo Neal. New offensive coordinator Cam Cameron wants more of his style of players to run his offense. The question is, with Neal's injury history, does Baltimore want to risk taking one fullback into the season? Probably not.

Prediction: McClain stays

Ravens-Vikings primer

August, 15, 2008
8/15/08
3:00
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Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

This weekend the Baltimore Ravens will host the Minnesota Vikings at M&T Bank Stadium in what should be a solid tune up for both teams. We will be there to take in the action.

Here are some things to look for in Saturday's game:

  • This is another important game for the quarterbacks, which has been the biggest story line in Baltimore throughout training camp and the preseason. After Kyle Boller got the start and committed two turnovers in the preseason opener, it will be Troy Smith's chance to state his case for the starting job. Smith entered camp as the favorite and can create distance this weekend with a solid performance. So far, Boller, Smith and rookie Joe Flacco haven't done anything significant in camp to win the job outright.
  • Flacco should see the field more often against Minnesota. If Smith doesn't stand out and Flacco plays well, there is a chance that the rookie may get the start next week, or at least significant playing time, in an effort to give all three quarterbacks an equal opportunity. There is a sense in Baltimore that the coaching staff ideally wouldn't want to throw Flacco out there early this season, which is why it is important for Smith to have a good game this weekend.
  • Newly-signed fullback Lorenzo Neal is expected to make his Ravens debut Saturday. Neal is a former Pro Bowler that was signed this week to bring stability to a struggling unit. He played under Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron while the pair were in San Diego, which has helped Neal's learning curve.
  • Rookie running back Ray Rice will get his second start of the preseason in place of the injured Willis McGahee (knee). His debut was not impressive, gaining just 12 yards on six carries. But Rice will get more opportunities to see how he fits in Baltimore's offense, especially now that McGahee will miss the entire preseason.
  • Don't turn away from the television on special teams. Baltimore is expected to have one of the deepest and most exciting units in the NFL this year. Head coach John Harbaugh, a former special teams assistant, is putting a lot of focus on the third phase of the game and last week returner Yamon Figurs showed that it's already paying dividends.

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Neal

Newly-signed Baltimore Ravens fullback Lorenzo Neal says he's ready and willing.

But is he able?

The four-time Pro Bowler joined the team this week to provide stability to a struggling Ravens offense.

Neal has the credentials to make this signing look like a great move. He's played at a high level his entire career and knows the system due to his time in San Diego with current Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.

"There's no learning curve right now," Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh told reporters Wednesday.

Harbaugh mentioned that this move was made at Cameron's urging. There was a sense throughout Ravens training camp that Cameron wasn't completely satisfied with the parts he has in Baltimore, so now he's at least able to bring in one of his former players Cameron knows can be counted on.

But there are reasons a player of Neal's caliber was available so late.

For starters, Neal has injury concerns. He broke his leg at the end of last season and has to prove he's fully recovered. Neal also is 37 years old and playing the physically-demanding position of fullback.

"I know I broke the leg for the latter part of last year, but it feels good," Neal said. "I still was rated last year, not just first-team All-Pro, but I made the Pro Bowl. I still think I can play another two to three years."

Neal added that his debut with the team could come Saturday night when the Ravens host the Minnesota Vikings. Now that Neal has found a home, he also had a message for all the teams that shied away from him this offseason.

"I'm back, and I'm coming for everybody that doubted me," Neal said.

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