AFC North: Marcus Maxwell

Who will Palmer throw to tonight?

August, 23, 2008
8/23/08
6:41
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

CINCINNATI -- We are in the Queen City to get a look at the Bengals in their third preseason game Saturday night against the New Orleans Saints.

The inactives were just released and confirmed that both starting receivers -- Chad Johnson (shoulder) and T.J. Houshmandzadeh (hamstring) -- will not play. This week the Bengals also lost Marcus Maxwell, who had the edge as the No. 3 receiver, to a serious thigh injury for the season. Also, newly-signed receiver Chris Henry is not ready to play tonight.

So who will Carson Palmer throw to against the Saints? The starting offense is expected to play the entire first half and likely some of the third quarter.

Backups Glenn Holt and Antonio Chatman will start. Rookie Jerome Simpson, who had 114 yards last week, also will see a lot of time tonight. But the Bengals offense is far from full strength.

Other key inactives tonight include starting running back Rudi Johnson (hamstring) and rookie receiver Andre Caldwell (toe).

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Morning take: This signing was all about leadership and ensures that Farrior retires a Steeler. Pittsburgh rarely gives lengthy extensions to players 30 and over, yet the team made the rare exception in this case.

  • Reports out of Baltimore suggest Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller may not be all that happy with the team's decision to go with Troy Smith as the starter in Saturday's preseason game against the St. Louis Rams.

Morning take: Boller has three turnovers in two preseason games -- and that's with limited playing time. If Boller stopped turning over the football, he wouldn't be in this predicament.

Morning take: Life in the NFL can be harsh. Maxwell was well on his way to solidifying the No. 3 receiver spot last week. Then he suffers an injury and now he's on the street. Yikes!

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

The Cincinnati Bengals will open their 2008 preseason against the Green Bay Packers Monday night on ESPN at 8 p.m.

While most eyes will be on Packers staring quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the Bengals also have several major questions.

Here are some things to look for:

  • First and foremost, take a close look at Cincinnati's new-look defense under assistant coach Mike Zimmer. The unit is very young and in the process of trying to learn a new scheme. The good news is Rodgers, considering the circumstances, likely will play more than one series. So the Bengals should get a decent look from Green Bay's first-team offense.
  • Speaking of Cincinnati's defense, rookie linebacker Keith Rivers will make his debut tonight. The No. 9 overall pick was a late arrival to training camp and is trying to catch up to speed. He has a reputation as one of this year's most NFL-ready rookies, and he will get a chance to show that before a national audience.
  • Ben Utecht is expected to add another dimension to Cincinnati's offense as a pass-catching tight end. Utecht spent three years as a backup with the Indianapolis Colts but will be a full-time starter with the Bengals. It will be interesting to watch how his role begins to develop.
  • Starting receiver Chad Johnson would be higher on this list of what to watch, but reports out of Cincinnati indicate that he will be a game-time decision. Johnson recently returned to practice following June ankle surgery. Johnson would face a good test with Green Bay cornerbacks Al Harris and Charles Woodson if he decides to play.
  • Also watch the race for the No. 3 receiver spot. A plethora of players, which include Marcus Maxwell, Antonio Chatman and rookies Andre Caldwell and Jerome Simpson, will get an extended look to see who will step up. This will be one reason to watch closely in the second half while all of the starters are on the sidelines.

Bengals training camp notes

July, 30, 2008
7/30/08
2:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

 
 Frank Victores/US Presswire
 Rudi Johnson, shown running drills on Monday, packed on 15 pounds of muscle in the offseason.
GEORGETOWN, Ky. -- The Cincinnati Bengals opened Day 3 of training camp Wednesday morning.

Here are some observations:  

  • Now that Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski has a veteran unit that's been together for several years, he said this training camp is all about fine tuning an already high-powered group. Many of the offensive coaches this week have been harping on players in practice to focus on ball security.

"The big focal point is to eliminate turnovers, whether it's interceptions, fumbles or whatever it may be," Bratkowski said. "We need to change that if we want to win games, particularly with the schedule that we play."

  • Several veteran players were given the morning practice off. Receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, tackle Willie Anderson and running back Chris Perry were all rested by the coaching staff. Defensive end Antwan Odom (foot) and receiver Chad Johnson (ankle) were rehabbing ailments.

  • Relative unknown receiver Marcus Marcus Maxwell continues to make plays and had another solid practice Wednesday. He caught two nice balls from quarterback Carson Palmer -- one in-between a safety and corner for approximately a 20-yard gain, and another slant route that he turned up field for another good gain. Maxwell is competing for the No. 3 receiver spot and trying to avoid being cut for the fourth time in as many years.

"I take everyday in stride," Maxwell said. "I thank God that I'm just able to be out here and on a team."

  • In the replacements category, third-year player Frostee Rucker is getting work with the first team at defensive end in place of Odom. Third-year veteran Brandon Johnson also is working with the first unit at outside linebacker in place of rookie first-round pick Keith Rivers, who remains in a contract holdout.
  • Starting running back Rudi Johnson has a chip on his shoulder this year, and he's running like it. Johnson has looked sharp all week coming off a hamstring injury in 2007. He slimmed down last year in an effort to increase his quickness but he ended up getting injured. This year he packed on at least 15 pounds of muscle and looks like the Rudi Johnson of old in training camp.

"I'm feeling good," Johnson said with a smile. "I still got a six pack and all that, so I'm still in shape. The clothes fit good. They started fitting different a couple years ago, but now they fit fine."

The Bengals' secret weapon

July, 29, 2008
7/29/08
1:00
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
Maxwell

GEORGETOWN, Ky. -- There is a player flying under the radar that the Cincinnati Bengals' coaching staff really likes.

He wears No. 10. He has great size at 6-foot-3. He has quickness and reliable hands.

This receiver has made plays since minicamps and organized team activities, yet most NFL observers have no idea who he is.

"I love it," Bengals receiver Marcus Maxwell said with a smile. "I like when people don't know who I am. When I think about that, it makes me work that much harder. I want people to say, 'Who is that guy?'"

The fourth-year journeyman from the University of Oregon has one career reception but is quietly catching on in Cincinnati. He was cut three times in three years while fighting for a roster spot with the San Francisco 49ers. He also spent a year playing overseas in Hamburg, Germany.

But Maxwell has made such an impression in Cincinnati this offseason that he's currently working with the first-team offense. The Bengals cut talented but trouble receiver Chris Henry in the spring and starter Chad Johnson is recovering from right ankle surgery, which has given Maxwell an opportunity to show what he can do.

"We're counting on him to fill some roles," said Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski. "Really, the ball is in his court. I think, as we speak right now, with Chad (Johnson) not here, he's the starting X [receiver] behind Chad. As the year goes on, he will determine his own role."

The No. 3 receiver spot is wide open for the Bengals. Maxwell is currently in competition with a pair of rookies in Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell, in addition to holdovers Glenn Holt and Antonio Chatman.

So far, Maxwell is winning the battle. Minicamps and training camps haven't seemed too big for him as Maxwell has been one of the steadiest players, including making several nice catches on Monday.

Maxwell says this is his first legitimate chance to make an NFL roster in four years and is "honored" that he's doing it while catching balls from quarterback Carson Palmer and lining up next to T.J. Houshmandzadeh with the starting unit.

If Maxwell makes the team and produces, he would be one of the biggest surprise stories in the AFC North this season.

"It's been a rollercoaster, but it's been good," Maxwell said. "You learn from the ups and downs that you go through. I was struggling to find a team last year and luckily I had a workout here. I worked hard for these workouts and it's paying off."

Fearless AFC North predictions

July, 29, 2008
7/29/08
11:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

With all four training camps officially underway in the AFC North, there is no better time to look into the crystal ball.

But these predictions are a little different because they don't state the obvious. Many are going out on a limb, which could draw responses such as, "Are you crazy?"

With that in mind, here are four fearless predictions from training camp representing each AFC North team:

1. Cleveland Browns: Rookie LB Alex Hall will make the 53-man roster.

  • This is the most talented team the Browns have had since returning to the NFL in 1999. Still, seventh-round pick Hall from tiny St. Augustine will make the initial 53-man roster. Keep in mind, just one seventh-rounder has made the Browns out of training camp in the Romeo Crennel-Phil Savage era. But Hall, although he's very raw, has just what the Browns need at outside linebacker with athleticism and the ability to rush the passer. Even if that's all Hall can do, it will make it tough for Cleveland to cut him. If Hall proves to be solid on special teams, he could be a lock.

2. Cincinnati Bengals: Marcus Maxwell will win the No. 3 receiver job.

  • I know what you're thinking. Who is Maxwell? My point exactly. Maxwell has been quietly on the lips of the Bengals' coaching staff all offseason for his playmaking and work ethic in practice. The question is can Maxwell translate that into actual games? Maxwell is big at 6-foot-3. He has nice quickness and great hands. It may be enough to replace Chris Henry in 2008. Check here for a profile on Maxwell from Bengals camp later today.

3. Baltimore Ravens: Joe Flacco will start in week one.

  • This will not be a shock to regular readers of this blog. I've held this prediction for months since I watched all three quarterbacks throw in minicamp. There are many unknowns with Flacco. First, he's a rookie. Second, he has yet to take a hit. Third, we don't know how well he can read defenses. But Flacco physically is superior to his two competitors, Troy Smith and Kyle Boller. Flacco is taller, throws the best ball and has the strongest arm. That gives him enough of a chance to win the job in week one.

4. Pittsburgh Steelers: LeCharles Bentley eventually will sign with Pittsburgh.

  • The Steelers and Bengals were two teams within the AFC North that showed preliminary interest in Bentley this summer. Bentley, if healthy, has a chance to make an impact at guard for Pittsburgh. He is a natural center but Justin Hartwig is expected to start there. Although Bentley is a Cleveland native, he was not a happy camper when he left the Browns because of the way his knee injury was handled. So what better way to get back at the Browns by playing for their biggest rival?

Bengals position battles

July, 24, 2008
7/24/08
10:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Here is a look at key position battles for the Bengals:

 Marvin White Chinedum Ndukwe

 White

 Ndukwe

Safety: Marvin White vs. Chinedum Ndukwe

There was a reason the Cincinnati Bengals felt comfortable letting Madieu Williams sign with the Minnesota Vikings this offseason. Cincinnati should have a nice battle with two up-and-coming second-year players in Marvin White and Chinedum Ndukwe, who were selected in the fourth and seventh round in 2007, respectively. Both started during the final month of the season and played well. Former Super Bowl MVP Dexter Jackson will start at strong safety.

Intensity index: Hot

Willie Anderson  Stacey Andrews

 Anderson

 Andrews

Right tackle: Willie Anderson vs. Stacy Andrews

What's interesting is this hasn't been labeled as a competition by Cincinnati's coaching staff, but it kind of is. Former Pro Bowler and longtime right tackle Willie Anderson has played hurt or missed games for the better part of three years, and he will have to prove that he's healthy enough (he's obviously good enough) to hold the job this year. If not, the Bengals have a much younger, more athletic Stacy Andrews waiting to take Anderson's place. Is that considered a competition? I'm not sure. But the team will find a place in the lineup for Andrews eventually. He signed a one-year franchise tag and is expected to get a long-term extension after the season.

Intensity index: Mild

(A bonus honorable mention for Bengals fans!)

No. 3 receiver

The race to replace Chris Henry has been lukewarm so far, and the Bengals are hoping things heat up in training camp. The third receiver is important in Cincinnati's offense because of all the attention drawn by Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Rookies Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell didn't overwhelm in minicamp but that's expected in their first taste of the NFL. Glen Holt and Antonio Chatman aren't considered long-term solutions but look out for Marcus Maxwell, who did have a good spring and could be a sleeper.

Intensity index: Mild, but expected to heat up soon.

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