AFC North: Matt Jones

Cincinnati Bengals cutdown analysis

September, 4, 2010
9/04/10
6:41
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Check here for a full list of Cincinnati’s roster moves.

Biggest surprise: Chase Coffman was once considered the tight end of the future for Cincinnati. But the team drafted first-round pick Jermaine Gresham and re-signed Reggie Kelly, who will get all the playing time. The Bengals made a nice, last-minute acquisition by trading with the Jacksonville Jaguars for former first-round pick Reggie Nelson. Cincinnati traded cornerback David Jones, who was expendable after the team signed Adam Jones this offseason. But the Bengals were searching for depth at safety. Rookie receiver Dezmon Briscoe’s release also stood out. He didn’t immediately live up to his potential but showed flashes in the final preseason game. Cincinnati was very deep at receiver and chose Jerome Simpson instead for one of the final roster spots. Look for Cincinnati to claim Briscoe on the practice squad if he's not claimed by another team.

No-brainers: Veteran receiver Matt Jones was a predictable cut and I called this one in the AFC North blog. Jones, who was out of football in 2009 for off-the-field reasons, just never looked like the great athlete he once was when he was drafted in the first round by Jacksonville. He also had a team-friendly, one-year contract that made Jones easy to release. Mike Nugent also won the kicking competition with Dave Rayner, which made the Rayner cut predictable.

What’s next: This is the most talented team I've seen in Cincinnati during coach Marvin Lewis' tenure. Several Cincinnati players could find jobs with other teams soon, which is not the norm for the Bengals. That’s a credit to the depth on this year’s roster. Cincinnati also could be looking for a fullback with Fui Vakapuna waived/ injured.

Bengals players cut:

K Dave Rayner

G Isaac Sowells

S Marvin White

DT Orien Harris

S Kyries Hebert

TE Chase Coffman

TE Darius Hill

HB James Johnson

DT Clinton McDonald

S Rico Murray

WR Maurice Purify

WR Dezmon Briscoe

G Otis Hudson

OT Gabriel Manns

S Jeromy Miles

LB Vincent Rey

OT Chris Rodgers

CB Johnny Sears

FB Joe Tronzo

Walker's weekend mailbag

September, 4, 2010
9/04/10
11:00
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Let's see what's in the weekend mailbag.

Brian from Conshohocken, Pa., writes: How much more will RB James Davis be a factor in the Browns' offense with Montario Hardesty's knee injury?

James Walker: Hardesty's season-ending injury took Davis off the bubble. But Hardesty's role in the offense would have been bigger. They are two different running backs. Hardesty had the talent to be an every-down back who eventually could have pushed for a starting job. Davis is more of a change-of-pace back who will get significantly less playing time. The Browns will still run the ball well this year, but Jerome Harrison and Peyton Hillis will get the majority of the carries.


Eric from Princeton, N.J., wants to know if the Cleveland Browns will be interested in former Cincinnati Bengals receiver Antonio Bryant.

Walker: I don't foresee any interest in Bryant from the Browns or anyone else until he gets healthy. The fact the Bengals completely gave up on him indicates it could be a while before Bryant sees the field again.


Eric from Chicago writes: With the recent release of Bryant, will the Bengals sign another wide receiver or are they set with the group they have?

Walker: The Bengals are set. Even after Bryant's release, they still have tough decisions at the position. The team has to choose between Matt Jones, Jerome Simpson, Maurice Purify and Dezmon Briscoe. Cincinnati can only keep one (maybe two) from this group. But the team doesn't need to look outside for additional help.


Richard from Beijing writes: Is there some particular reason the Ravens are grabbing up former University of Maryland cornerbacks?

Walker: Some of it is coincidence. Domonique Foxworth was a free agent and Josh Wilson were available via trade at the right time for Baltimore. But the Ravens naturally have a good relationship with the University of Maryland, because of the location. It's nearby, easy to scout, and many of their players grew up in Ravens' territory and know about the team.


Lenny from Hollywood, Md., writes: Random question but do you think Jamal Lewis is a Hall of Famer?

Walker: I don't have a vote, so I usually avoid these questions. But an educated guess is Lewis doesn't get in. It still shouldn’t take away from a great career.


Comment and complaint department

We have plenty of comments and complaints from our community this week.

Jay from Dublin, Ohio, writes: James, no way the Steelers go 1-3 without Big Ben. The Steelers defense is loaded and will help grind out a close game with Atlanta. Remember without Troy Polamalu and Big Ben we had the Ravens beat in Baltimore. Worst-case scenario is 2-2, and I wouldn't count us out against Tennessee. I am not convinced Vince Young is the real deal, and we know Chris Johnson isn't going to run on the Steelers’ D.

Will from Nashville, Tenn., writes: I feel like the Steelers as an organization should uphold the six-game suspension. It would be a good message to send players and fans that their standards are higher than what the league imposes. It also says that appropriate punishment for personal mistakes is more important than playing time and a winning season. Current good behavior should not be able to make up for previous appalling actions.

Rhonda Pierce from Illinois writes: I am Pittsburgh born and bred. I love my Steelers, but Ben's suspension should not have been reduced. His success and our franchise's history and image mandated that Ben demonstrate more responsibility and appreciation for the team and city. His behavior has forever tarnished the gold in the Black and Gold dynasty. I believe Leftwich's injury played a role in the Roger Goodell's decision, because not enough time has elapsed for the commissioner to know if Ben has really changed. How will he conduct himself in the offseason is the question? More than one "sexual" incident is more than one too many.

Zack from Middletown, Conn., writes: You know what I like about other fans in the AFC North? The way Ravens fans think Tom Zbikowski will step in for a Hall of Famer and there will be no drop off; the way Steeler fans think that Byron Leftwich or Dennis Dixon are actually quality QBs; and the way Browns fans think that Jake Delhomme is actually good. Bengals may have their issues. But they aren't replacing Pro Bowl [level] talent with guys who are washed up and were never that good in the first place. All they've done is add young talent and veterans for depth without losing key pieces.

Luke from Cincinnati writes: Why can't my Bengals get any love? I understand the Ravens and Steelers are great, but c'mon! We bring back basically everyone on a top five defense that's only going to get better and have appeared to strike gold with Adam Jones at the nickel. And on offense we add Jordan Shipley and T.O. to surround Carson Palmer with a great receiving core AND a great running game. This is the same team that swept the division last year, and were going to be even better this year!

Jason Myers from Baltimore writes: Hey, JW! How come you never point out the obvious to Bengals fans? They're always commenting about how they swept the division last year and that they're the defending AFC North champs. But it seems that they forget how they got bounced in the first round of the playoffs last year. Will you please tell them to win a playoff game first and then they can talk a little trash. I mean, seriously, as a Ravens fan I don't care if the Bengals sweep us every year as long as we continue to win in the playoffs and they continue to be...well...the Bengals.

Ben from Pensacola, Fla., writes: What is it about the Ravens' offense that is so stacked? Joe Flacco hasn't been anything better than solid and has been flat-out terrible in the clutch (especially in the playoffs). Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason are a good possession duo, but neither screams downfield threat. Mark Clayton and Donte' Stallworth have never done anything worth noting on the field and, frankly. aren't good players. Todd Heap is still a nice TE but the rest of the group are rookies. There's a very good stable of RBs but you can't give them all the ball or even have them all on the field at one time. Two strong possession WRs and a TE to go with a good running game isn't a stacked offense. Talk about overhyped.

Shaneeka from High Point, N.C., writes: Hey James, you want to know why Ravens fans are not allowing the teams recent record vs. division rivals to rain on the teams Super Bowl hopes? It’s because the Ravens have been to the playoffs 3 of the last 4 years, including back to back trips. So the Ravens poor showing vs. division rivals have not cost them playoff berths and once the playoffs start, as the Cards showed in 2008 and the Jets last season, it’s anyways game. So, no we don’t care about Carson Palmer's winning record vs. the Ravens, nor do we care that the team has only beaten Pittsburgh once in two years. Neither of them kept the team out of the postseason. To think that it would now is pushing it considering the Bengals history and all the drama Pittsburgh has gone through this offseason.

Kovacs from Santa Monica writes: We knew the Browns would have a tandem backfield, it just looks like a different tandem. I do think Peyton Hillis should start. He's endeared himself to the team and is great out of the backfield. He also seems like a guy that you'd love to get going early with his physicality to wear a defense down. Then bring in Jerome Harrison to gash a defense with his speed late in the game.

AFC North Homer of the Week

Darryl from Oakland, Calif., writes: I'd rather have Dennis Dixon than Matt Ryan. I know you disagree, but I'll check back after Week 4.

AFC North roster bubbles

August, 31, 2010
8/31/10
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Jones, Williams & VeikunAP PhotosMatt Jones, Demetrius Williams and David Veikune are among the AFC North players in danger of not making their teams' final 53-man rosters.
With teams required to cut down to 53 players by Saturday, it's time to focus on the final rosters in the AFC North.

Expect plenty of chatter internally this week among general managers, scouts and coaches throughout the division on who should make the team. This is always one of the most intriguing weeks of the NFL season.

With that said, here are several noteworthy players on the bubble in the AFC North:

1. Matt Jones, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

Analysis: The Jones experiment probably will end this week. The Bengals took a chance on Jones, who was out of football in 2009 for off-field issues, to see if he had anything left. Except for a few flashes, such as the Hall of Fame Game, the former first-round pick has been injured and not nearly the same explosive player he was several years ago. Jones also signed a team-friendly, one-year contract, which makes him easy to release. The Bengals have a lot of depth at receiver, and Jones doesn't appear to be in their plans.

Cut-O-Meter: 80 percent

2. David Veikune, LB, Cleveland Browns

Analysis: Despite entering only his second season, this was a very important training camp for Veikune. The former second-round pick was a major disappointment in his rookie season. Veikune hasn't stepped up so far and is having another nondescript preseason. His best chance to make the Browns is his high draft status. But first-year president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert added their own linebackers and have no personal investment in Veikune.

Cut-O-Meter: 80 percent

3. Demetrius Williams, WR, Baltimore Ravens

Analysis: Placing Williams on the roster bubble has become an annual tradition in Baltimore -- and every year he survives. This year could be the same for Williams, who has a lot of ability but has yet to live up to his potential. Williams received a lucky "break," both literally and figuratively, when veteran receiver Donte' Stallworth suffered a broken foot in the third preseason game. Stallworth will be out approximately two months, increasing Williams' chances of making Baltimore's 53-man roster.

Cut-O-Meter: 35 percent

4. Justin Hartwig, C, Pittsburgh Steelers

Analysis: Hartwig struggled at center last year and lost his job this preseason to first-round pick Maurkice Pouncey. The Steelers believe Pouncey is a star-in-the-making, which leaves Hartwig's future in limbo. Despite the benching, there is no question Hartwig is one of Pittsburgh's best 53 players. That should be enough. But Hartwig also is scheduled to make a little more than $2 million this season. He's being paid as a starting center and that's no longer his role. There's a chance Hartwig could compete at right guard or simply be the first center/guard off the bench in the event of injury. Hartwig's experience and versatility help his case.

Cut-O-Meter: 30 percent

5. Jerome Simpson, WR, Bengals

Analysis: Simpson is another second-round pick who is running out of chances. Despite coming from small-school Coastal Carolina, the Bengals were enamored with his physical abilities and reached for Simpson in the second round of the 2008 draft. But the Bengals tired of waiting for Simpson to develop and made several offseason additions at receiver, which included signing Terrell Owens and drafting Jordan Shipley in the third round. But Antonio Bryant's surprising release helps Simpson's chances.

Cut-O-Meter: 50 percent

6. James Davis, RB, Browns

Analysis: It's funny how quickly things can change in the NFL. Last summer, Davis was the talk of Cleveland after he led the Browns in rushing during the preseason as a rookie. This year, Davis is on the bubble after a lot of offseason additions at running back. The top three tailbacks for Cleveland are locks: Jerome Harrison, Peyton Hillis and Montario Hardesty. The question now is how many running backs Cleveland will keep. If the answer is four, Davis and Chris Jennings are battling for the final spot. I give Davis the edge.

Cut-O-Meter: 40 percent

7. David Reed, WR, Ravens

Analysis: Reed, a fifth-round pick, burst on the scene in Baltimore with a stellar spring. But since then he's been inconsistent and is back on the bubble. Like Williams, Reed also benefits from Stallworth's injury and the extra roster spot available at receiver. That increases Reed's chances to make it. Otherwise, the Ravens would love to develop him on the practice squad.

Cut-O-Meter: 50 percent

[+] EnlargeJonathan Dwyer
AP Photo/Jack DempseyJonathan Dwyer led the Steelers in rushing against the Broncos, but will it be enough to earn him a roster spot?
8. Jonathan Dwyer, RB, Steelers

Analysis: Dwyer made a strong push late for a roster spot in Pittsburgh. After a disappointing training camp, Dwyer led the Steelers in rushing with 89 yards and a touchdown in Sunday's preseason loss to the Denver Broncos. Running back Isaac Redman has been stellar and secured the third running back job that was intended for Dwyer. Thursday's preseason finale will be vital for the sixth-round pick.

Cut-O-Meter: 55 percent

9. Brett Ratliff, QB, Browns

Analysis: Do not believe the hype in Cleveland involving third-round pick Colt McCoy being on the bubble. From everything we're told, there is no truth to the speculation. This means Ratliff, barring injury, is probably spending his final week with the Browns. Ratliff will play a half Thursday in Cleveland's final preseason game against the Chicago Bears. That could be a nice showcase for Ratliff to try to latch on with another team. Browns coach Eric Mangini traded for Ratliff as part of the draft-day deal with the Jets to be a developmental project last year. But Holmgren is calling the shots now and drafted his own developmental project: McCoy.

Cut-O-Meter: 95 percent

10. Maurice Purify, WR, Bengals

Analysis: Purify is one of Cincinnati's top special-teams players. But the Bengals' immense depth at receiver and Purify's one-game suspension for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy make it very unlikely he makes the cut. There is no reason for Cincinnati to take a roster spot away from a player who will be available for the start of the regular season to keep Purify.

Cut-O-Meter: 95 percent

Here are five additional names to watch:

Seven-step drop

August, 30, 2010
8/30/10
12:37
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With the preseason coming to a close this week, here are seven notes and observations on the AFC North:

  • Are the Pittsburgh Steelers lacking discipline? Their first-team defense uncharacteristically had four personal fouls Sunday in a 34-17 loss to the Denver Broncos. Two were by second-year cornerback Keenan Lewis, who was subsequently benched and earned a spot in coach Mike Tomlin's doghouse. Lewis also made a bad situation worse by reportedly punching through a glass sign after the game. If you add cornerback Ike Taylor's fight last week against the New York Giants that cost him $10,000, Pittsburgh is having problems keeping its cool lately.
  • [+] EnlargeFarrior
    Ron Chenoy/US PresswireJames Farrior lost his helmet during a play in Sunday night's game.

  • I'm noticing an unusual amount of players losing their helmets this preseason. The two most high-profile occurrences were with New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning and Sunday with Steelers linebacker James Farrior. Both players suffered cuts to the head and were knocked out of the game. These are not isolated incidents. I've seen several preseason games this summer where helmets are dangerously flying off at an alarming rate.
  • Baltimore's pass protection is not as sharp as expected. The Giants recorded five total sacks against the Ravens Saturday and the pocket overall wasn't consistently solid. At times, it was miscommunications. Other times New York simply outplayed Baltimore up front. We're not convinced Tony Moll is the answer at right tackle. Giants defensive end Justin Tuck had his way with Moll on several occasions. Baltimore tackles Oniel Cousins and/or Jared Gaither need to get healthy quickly.
  • We liked what we saw from Haruki Nakamura covering receivers in the slot. For a safety, he has pretty quick feet to keep up with receivers and make plays on the ball. Nakamura is considered an experiment in the slot until Baltimore's secondary gets healthy. But based on his performance, it's looking pretty good so far.
  • The Cleveland Browns have an update on safety Nick Sorensen. The bad news is he suffered a concussion Saturday against the Detroit Lions. But the good news is he is improving. Sorensen was not at practice Monday, and according to Browns coach Eric Mangini he will be resting for "a while."
  • Speaking of Mangini, this will be his first year putting together a 53-man roster with new president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert. Cleveland currently has a mix of players leftover from the previous Mangini-George Kokinis regime and the new Holmgren-Heckert regime, setting up an interesting dynamic this week. Mangini will have his input and opinion on who stays and who goes, but Heckert and Holmgren will have the final say.
  • Cincinnati's receiver position is somewhat clearer now with Antonio Bryant's release. Cincinnati has a lot of depth at receiver, where six (maybe seven) could make the team. Chad Ochocinco, Terrell Owens, Jordan Shipley and Andre Caldwell are four locks. But at least two roster spots remain open for receivers Quan Cosby, Jerome Simpson, Matt Jones and Dezmon Briscoe. An educated guess is Cosby is in, making it a three-way tossup between Simpson, Jones and Briscoe.

AFC North evening links

August, 23, 2010
8/23/10
5:30
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Here are the latest happenings Monday in the AFC North:

  • Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark, who has sickle cell trait, will not play in Sunday's preseason game against the Denver Broncos due to high altitude.
  • Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed (hip) is happy with his progress in rehab.
  • Cincinnati Bengals defensive lineman Tank Johnson and receiver Matt Jones were absent from practice Monday.
  • Former Cleveland Browns linebacker Kamerion Wimbley recorded four sacks last weekend for the Oakland Raiders.

Five things to watch: Bengals

August, 8, 2010
8/08/10
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The Cincinnati Bengals will play the Dallas Cowboys Sunday at 8 p.m. ET in the first preseason game of 2010. The AFC North blog will be in Canton, Ohio, keeping tabs on the Bengals.

Here are five things I will be looking at:

1. How does WR Terrell Owens fit in the offense?

Skinny: Many football fans will tune in just to watch Owens. There is a lot of excitement surrounding the Bengals after the acquisition of T.O., and many are curious of what his role will be and how he fits within the Bengals' scheme.

2. Will the defense get to the quarterback?

Skinny: Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer wasn't happy with his pass rush last season, which finished No. 16 in the NFL. As a result, Zimmer has been dialing up blitzes all camp, and the team will get to see how effective the packages are in live action.

3. Who will emerge at wide receiver?

Skinny: The Bengals have a lot of depth at wide receiver, but not everyone will make the cut. Andre Caldwell, Matt Jones, Jerome Simpson, Jordan Shipley, Quan Cosby and Dezmon Briscoe are trying to find roles. Their preseason tape is a huge part of the evaluation process.

4. Which young players will stand out?

Skinny: Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said a great thing about having five preseason games is the coaching staff will get an extended look at young players. Don't expect the starters to play beyond the first quarter tonight. But Cincinnati has a lot of rookies and second-year players who need work.

5. Will a kicker step up?

Skinny: The kicking competition in Cincinnati hasn't been very thrilling. Mike Nugent has been injured, and Dave Rayner has failed to run away with the job in Nugent's absence. Exhibition games will go a long way to determine who wins this job, and there's no better time to start kicking well than the preseason opener.
ESPN.com NFL Power Ranking (pre-camp): 11

GEORGETOWN, Ky. -- The Cincinnati Bengals are now the hunted, and they believe they have enough talent to prove last year's AFC North division title was no fluke.

It has been 28 years since the Bengals last posted back-to-back winning seasons. But coming off a playoff appearance and new offseason additions, this is the deepest and most talented group Marvin Lewis has coached in eight seasons.

Cincinnati's six-win improvement was one of the biggest jumps in the NFL last season. On paper, this year's team looks even better, although the Bengals have to prove they can handle a brutal first-place schedule.

"Nobody is really sleeping on you. Everybody knows that you can play," Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers said of the upcoming season. "So we have to make sure we come out swinging, because teams are going to come out swinging against us."

Pro Bowl receiver Chad Ochocinco said it would be a "shame" if Cincinnati doesn't win the Super Bowl. That's one example of how high expectations are for the Bengals, who have to address several key issues this summer if they want to make a playoff run.

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeCarson Palmer
Mark Zerof/US PresswireCarson Palmer is excited about the additional weapons at his disposal this season.
1. Can the Bengals improve their passing game? Cincinnati's passing offense was a disappointment last season, particularly late in the year. The Bengals aggressively attacked the problem by adding new weapons such as first-round draft pick Jermaine Gresham and receivers Terrell Owens, Antonio Bryant and Jordan Shipley.

As a result, Cincinnati could have as many as three new receivers in the top four of its rotation to join Ochocinco. And Gresham is projected to start at tight end for the Bengals, surrounding Carson Palmer with enough weapons to make any quarterback happy.

"In the grand scheme of things, we're very explosive," Palmer said.

The chemistry between Palmer and Owens is still a work in progress. The difference between Palmer's comfort level with Owens versus his comfort level with Ochocinco, whom Palmer has worked with for eight years, was noticeable in camp.

The deep ball disappeared from Cincinnati's offense during the second half of last season. But with Owens (Batman?) taking some of the pressure off Ochocinco (Robin?), and added receiver depth, expect more fireworks this year.

"What I want the focal point of this team to be is I want the offense to be our strength again," Ochocinco said this week. "I think the defense has sort of taken over the outlook as the strength of the team. I want our receiving corps and the rest of our offense to be that strength, that backbone of this team."

2. Will the Bengals' defense generate a pass rush? The Bengals were the fourth-best defense in the NFL last season. But one area where they can improve is getting to the quarterback.

Cincinnati had 34 sacks last year, which was middle of the pack at No. 16. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer has made it a priority to dial up new and better ways to increase the sack numbers.

The healthy return of starting defensive end Antwan Odom should help. He was the team's top pass-rusher last season until he suffered a season-ending Achilles injury. The Bengals also have young, athletic players who could see playing time in passing situations such as linebacker Michael Johnson and rookie defensive end Carlos Dunlap.

Nugent
Rayner
3. Who’s the kicker? Kickers aren't important until you need them. The Bengals know that all too well after their experience with Shayne Graham, who had a knack for missing field goals in key moments.

This summer there is an interesting competition going between journeyman kickers Dave Rayner and Mike Nugent. The two have played for a combined eight teams in their NFL careers.

Nugent is hurt this week, which may have allowed Rayner to take a slight lead. But Rayner has had his ups and downs as well. Earlier this week he made all six of his field-goal attempts, but on Wednesday Rayner was 5-for-8. He missed two 50-yard attempts that were very wide left.

Expect this competition to be settled during the preseason.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

He is not the biggest player or the fastest, but there is something about Shipley that continues to stand out in camp. He has even caught the attention of Ochocinco, who said early that the rookie has potential.

Shipley seems at home in the slot. He has a knack for getting open and has sure hands and good ball security in traffic once the catch is made. The Bengals are very deep at receiver this year, so it's questionable how big a role Shipley could have. But for now he's making the most of his opportunities.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Former first-round pick Matt Jones seems to be falling behind daily in an effort to earn a roster spot. Once a big athlete with freakish speed, Jones clearly has lost a couple of steps after taking a year away from football.

Jones also suffered a foot injury recently, which hasn't helped his case. Ochocinco, Owens, Bryant, Shipley and Andre Caldwell probably will take up five slots at the receiver position. That leaves only one or two more roster spots for Jones and several other receivers to compete for. Do not be surprised if Jones doesn't make the cut.

[+] EnlargeTerrell Owens
Mark Zerof/US PresswireTerrell Owens is still working on establishing chemistry with Carson Palmer.
OBSERVATION DECK

  • Despite signing just before camp, Owens arrived in very good shape. He still has to learn the offense, but Owens has shown some flashes of what he can do. On Wednesday night, Palmer connected deep with Owens, who beat cornerback Leon Hall, streaking down the sideline for a 55-yard touchdown. The play was one of the highlights of camp thus far.
  • Bryant continues to rehab his knee. He participated in the first day of camp but has missed every practice since. The Bengals signed Bryant to a four-year, $28 million contract but he hasn't looked explosive as he continues to heal from offseason knee surgery. The team is hoping he continues to progress.
  • Watch out for second-year running back Bernard Scott. He is my sleeper pick for the Bengals this season. Scott has a chance to contribute both as Cedric Benson's backup as well as a kick returner. With increased opportunities, Scott should have increased production.
  • Adam Jones should help the Bengals in some capacity this year. His technique as a cornerback still needs improvement, but he is competing hard in practice and his physical abilities are still apparent. Jones also looks natural as a kick returner and could be an early favorite to win punt and/or kickoff return duties.
  • Although none of the injuries is major, the Bengals have been banged up this week. Fullback Fui Vakapuna hurt his shoulder and missed practice time. Dunlap suffered a concussion. Linebacker Rey Maualuga injured his hamstring and cornerback Johnathan Joseph also had a thigh injury.
  • The Bengals don't have a lot of depth at fullback, but the position might not be as important as it once was. Cincinnati's offensive personnel dictates the team will run a lot of three-wide receiver and two-tight end sets. In both instances, the fullback will be taken off the field.
  • I have not been impressed with Cincinnati's pass protection early in camp. You cannot see everything, because players cannot touch the quarterback. But the number of defenders getting in the passing lanes has been noticeable. That will be something to keep an eye on in the preseason.
  • I'll exit with a prediction: I have a sneaky feeling the Bengals will keep only two quarterbacks this season. Cincinnati has waves and waves of players at other positions, and cutting the No. 3 quarterback -- most likely Jordan Palmer -- is one way the Bengals can save a roster spot to retain an extra receiver, defensive back or linebacker. Carson Palmer and J.T. O'Sullivan would be the team's quarterbacks, while the Bengals could always add Jordan Palmer or someone else down the road in the event of an emergency.
GEORGETOWN, KY. -- The Cincinnati Bengals continued their 2010 training camp Tuesday, and the AFC North blog stopped by to check out the reigning division champs.

Here are some notes and observations:

  • [+] EnlargeBengals Camp
    AP Photo/Al BehrmanThe competition between Chad Ochocinco, left, and Johnathan Joseph has been fierce.
    My favorite part of practice Tuesday was watching the great receiver-cornerback battles between Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens against Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall. Neither side is backing down and there is some high-quality football being played, especially for early in training camp. In the end, expect all four players to be better off for providing each other stout competition.
"He's all about his business," Joseph said, complimenting Owens. "He comes in, he works hard in practice, and I think it's a great pickup for this team. I think it will pay off big for us."

  • Overall, the defense won Tuesday's practice. The unit was very physical, and I saw at least three noticeable hits by safety Gibril Wilson and linebackers Keith Rivers and Brandon Johnson. In addition, safety Roy Williams got an interception in the middle of the field off quarterback Carson Palmer in team drills. The defense also stopped the offense from scoring in two-minute drills.
  • Cincinnati first-round pick Jermaine Gresham made his training camp debut after signing a five-year deal. The Bengals aren't wasting time with the rookie tight end. He is projected to start in Week 1 and will play in Sunday's Hall of Fame Game against the Dallas Cowboys. Due to a knee injury, Sunday will mark his first game action in more than a year.
"If you have something you really love taken from you, you appreciate everything about it," Gresham said. "It's not just one specific thing, it's everything. Just being out there with your guys. Being able to play football with each other, laugh, joke, be tired with each other. You even miss that. It's everything in itself that you miss about football."

  • Another note on Gresham: He spent the past couple of weeks working out with No. 1 overall pick Sam Bradford of the St. Louis Rams while both were waiting on contracts. Bradford and Gresham were former college teammates and a dangerous quarterback-tight end duo at Oklahoma.
  • Among the players who didn't practice Tuesday were linebacker Rey Maualuga (hamstring), rookie defensive end Carlos Dunlap (concussion) and receiver Matt Jones, who was seen wearing a boot. Receiver Antonio Bryant (knee) also worked independently on the side.
  • There is a lot of competition at receiver, and for one day at least, Andre Caldwell didn't help himself. He had two drops Tuesday. Jordan Shipley and Jerome Simpson did make a few nice grabs. Expect all to have their ups and downs as they compete for roles on the team.
The Cincinnati Bengals had plenty of competition at wide receiver even before they re-opened negotiations with free-agent Terrell Owens. So what happens to receivers on the bubble in Cincinnati if Owens is signed?

Owens

Owens

The Bengals likely will carry six receivers on their 53-man roster this year. That number may increase to seven with consideration given to special teams, but it's not expected. Therefore, with the possible addition of Owens, five players would be slotted into those six roster spots, making for a very tight competition this summer.

Chad Ochocinco, Antonio Bryant, Andre Caldwell, rookie Jordan Shipley and potentially Owens would be locks to make the team. That leaves players like Matt Jones, Jerome Simpson, Quan Cosby, Dezmon Briscoe and Maurice Purify essentially battling for one roster spot, barring injuries.

Either way, the Bengals would end up with quality depth at wide receiver. But by potentially adding a proven veteran like Owens, they could also let a player get away this summer with some potential.

Who's in and who's out?

Here's a look at which receivers are a lock and which are on the bubble:

Chad Ochocinco: Lock

Antonio Bryant: Lock

*Terrell Owens: Lock

Andre Caldwell: Lock

Jordan Shipley: Lock

Matt Jones: Bubble

Quan Cosby: Bubble

Jerome Simpson: Bubble

Dezmon Briscoe: Bubble

Maurice Purify: Bubble

*Bengals are in negotiations with Owens.

AFC North roster bubbles

July, 13, 2010
7/13/10
2:00
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Every year teams have tough decisions to make to trim their rosters to 53 players. Sometimes the coaching staff and front office can't agree on who stays and who goes, and the debates get pretty heated.

With training camp approximately two weeks away, here are eight AFC North players who could be heavily debated and on the roster bubble this summer:

1. Adam Jones, CB, Cincinnati Bengals

[+] EnlargeJones
AP Photo/Al BehrmanBengals cornerback Adam Jones looked good in training camp.
Case for: There is no denying Jones' talent. The former first-round pick looked quick and athletic playing cornerback and returning kicks during last month's mandatory minicamp. What's interesting is Jones is still working himself back into football shape after sitting out the 2009 season. The Bengals lacked a reliable third cornerback to go with starters Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall. So there is a role available.

Case against: Jones sat out last season for off-field reasons. He has said and done the right things so far in Cincinnati, but he's on a very short leash with the league office. One mishap and Jones could be off the team and out of the league for the rest of the year. But if he stays clear of trouble, he has enough ability to make the team and contribute.

Chances of making team: 80 percent

2. Matt Jones, WR, Bengals

Case for: Jones has good size and experience. The former first-round pick had 166 career receptions and 15 touchdowns during his stint with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Outside of starters Chad Ochocinco and Antonio Bryant, Cincinnati has a pretty young group of receivers. That could give Jones a chance to earn roster spot if he's polished enough to contribute now for the defending AFC North champs.

Case against: After sitting out all of 2009 because of off-field issues, Jones appears to have lost a step. This spring he hasn't looked nearly as explosive as the freakish athlete who impressed at the NFL combine in 2005. Similar to Adam Jones, it's possible that Matt Jones can regain some of his form in the process of a grueling training camp. Jones also has an inexpensive, team-friendly contract, which the Bengals can easily terminate if they don't like what they see.

Chances of making team: 40 percent

3. Jerome Simpson, WR, Bengals

Case for: Despite a lack of production, Simpson has stuck around for two reasons: draft status and lack of receiver depth. It's hard for teams to give up on second-round picks. The Bengals invested a lot in Simpson and still want to get a return on their high pick, even if it means an extended wait. In the past, the Bengals haven't had a lot of receiver depth, which has allowed Simpson to make the 53-man roster. But that has changed this year, as Cincinnati's receiving corps has a lot of competition.

Case against: The Bengals appear tired of waiting on Simpson, who has one reception in two seasons. They drafted two rookie receivers to compete for roster spots, Jordan Shipley and Dezmon Briscoe. This is a make-or-break training camp for Simpson. He showed occasional flashes in practice but not nearly enough to earn the trust of the coaching staff when it matters in the regular season. Entering his third NFL season, there are no more excuses for Simpson not to produce.

Chances of making team: 50 percent

4. Demetrius Williams, WR, Baltimore Ravens

[+] EnlargeDemetrius Williams
AP Photo/Rob CarrRavens receiver Demetrius Williams could be the team's deep-threat option.
Case for: With his speed and athleticism, a case can be made that Williams potentially is Baltimore's most dangerous deep threat. Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason are more savvy, consistent receivers, while Donte' Stallworth is trying to get his legs under him after sitting out a year. Williams has averaged an impressive 16 yards per catch in his career, including two touchdown receptions of 70 yards or more. There is an open role for someone to get deep in Baltimore's high-powered offense, and Williams has a chance to be that player.

Case against: Health has always been an issue for Williams. He has played in 16 games once in his four-year career. Baltimore has kept Williams because of his potential, but at some point the Ravens would like to see consistency. To do that, Williams must stay healthy to find a role on a Ravens team with very high expectations.

Chances of making team: 70 percent

5. John Beck, QB, Ravens

Case for: Beck knows offensive coordinator Cam Cameron's system well from their days together with the Miami Dolphins. Beck's future in Baltimore could come down to Troy Smith's situation. There have been rumors of interest in Smith from the Philadelphia Eagles. Quarterback injuries in training camp and preseason could also increase Smith's trade value this summer, which would gift wrap the No. 3 quarterback job for Beck.

Case against: If nothing happens on the trade front, the Ravens have an interesting decision to make between Smith and Beck. With Joe Flacco, Marc Bulger and Smith, Beck is probably the team's fourth quarterback right now, which naturally makes him the odd man out. If Smith is still on the roster, Beck will have to make up ground the old-fashioned way and outperform Smith in the preseason to win a roster spot.

Chances of making team: 40 percent

6. Bobby Engram, WR, Cleveland Browns

Case for: The Browns have little depth and little experience at receiver. Engram potentially could provide both. The 14-year veteran played for Cleveland president Mike Holmgren when both were with the Seattle Seahawks and knows what to expect. Engram recently had a big year in 2007, when he had 94 receptions for 1,147 yards and six touchdowns. He also can serve as a mentor to young receivers such as Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie.

Case against: It's questionable what Engram, 37, has left. Last season he had only five receptions in five games for the Kansas City Chiefs. Holmgren is hoping Engram has one more decent year left in him to help Cleveland's struggling offense, which finished last in the NFL in 2009. But if there's any team Engram can make this year, it's the Browns.

Chances of making team: 60 percent

7. James Davis, RB, Browns

Case for: Davis was arguably Cleveland's biggest rookie surprise last summer when he led the team in rushing during the preseason. But high expectations were crushed when a season-ending shoulder injury limited Davis to only two games. Now he's back for his second season and looks healthy.

Case against: Cleveland's situation at running back is very crowded. One of the best things Holmgren and new general manager Tom Heckert did this offseason was put together a solid group of rushers. The Browns traded up to draft tailback Montario Hardesty in the second round and got Peyton Hillis from the Denver Broncos in the Brady Quinn trade. Last year's leading rusher, Jerome Harrison, also returns to make for a versatile group of ball carriers. All three running backs are ahead of Davis on the depth chart. So barring injury, Davis looks like a strong candidate for the practice squad.

Chances of making team: 35 percent

8. Jonathan Dwyer, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers

[+] EnlargeJonathan Dwyer
Doug Benc/Getty ImagesPittsburgh sixth-round pick Jonathan Dwyer might be headed to the practice squad.
Case for: Despite being a sixth-round pick, Dwyer has a chance to contribute early for the Steelers. He displayed strong legs and good power in college, and that could translate into a short-yardage option for Pittsburgh. The Steelers struggled in the red zone and in short-yardage situations. If Dwyer proves he can move the chains, that would be more than enough to earn a roster spot.

Case against: Although the Steelers may end up with a bargain, no team is afraid to put a sixth-round pick on the practice squad. Dwyer played in a triple-option offense at Georgia Tech, which means he may need some time to learn a pro-style offense. But Dwyer could pan out in a limited role.

Chances of making team: 75 percent
Here are the most interesting stories Monday in the AFC North:

Morning take: Modell simultaneously healed one football-rich city (Baltimore) and broke the heart of another (Cleveland). But outside of Northeast Ohio, he's deservingly viewed as an NFL visionary.

  • Is Matt Jones a keeper for the Cincinnati Bengals?
Morning take: Jones is on the bubble, and I wasn't too impressed with what I saw in minicamp. With the Bengals' depth at receiver, he needs to make more strides in training camp to make the 53-man roster.

Morning take: The NFL is one league where anything is possible. But don't bank on it.

Morning take: Despite their age, Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel are a very good trio. Staying healthy will be key.
The Cincinnati Bengals will begin their mandatory minicamp Tuesday. Over the next three days, we should have a good indication of where the reigning AFC North champions stand heading into training camp.

Here are five key questions for Cincinnati:

1. How will the passing game look?

Analysis: When the Bengals were at their best offensively, quarterback Carson Palmer led an explosive unit that was able to throw the football all over the field. Cincinnati won 10 games last year. But the team did it with a run-oriented offense and an inconsistent passing game, particularly late in the year. The Bengals added receiver Antonio Bryant and highly-touted draft picks Jermaine Gresham and Jordan Shipley to help. A consistently explosive passing game would help the Bengals take the next step in 2010.

2. Is Ochocinco focused?

Analysis: This offseason, Pro Bowl receiver Chad Ochocinco has done everything but work on football with the Bengals. He participated in two television shows: "Dancing With The Stars" and a VH1 dating show that will air later this summer. It will be interesting to see how sharp Ochocinco is in his first practices with the team since last season. Palmer recently called Ochocinco out for not being around. But a great minicamp by No. 85 would put most of those concerns to rest.

3. How will the secondary shake out?

Analysis: The Bengals have a lot of competition in the secondary. There are four veteran safeties competing for two starting spots. Chris Crocker, Chinedum Ndukwe, Roy Williams and Gibril Wilson all have different strengths and weaknesses, and the players who perform the best will start in Mike Zimmer's defense in Week 1. The third cornerback spot also is a position to watch for Cincinnati. We will get to that in the next item.

4. What's the progress of Adam Jones and Matt Jones?

Analysis: Cincinnati made two controversial signings this offseason with Adam Jones and Matt Jones. The pair were out of football last season because of issues off the field. Adam Jones, a former first-round pick, is competing for the third cornerback spot. The Bengals struggled defending the slot last year, and they hope Adam Jones can shake off the rust and be a good complementary piece to starters Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall. Matt Jones is battling for a roster spot with a deep group of receivers.

5. Who's the kicker?

Analysis: Longtime Bengals kicker Shayne Graham recently signed a free-agent contract with the Baltimore Ravens. Therefore, Cincinnati no longer has the comfort of knowing its kicker heading into the season. Dave Rayner and Mike Nugent will compete in minicamp and training camp to replace Graham. Both have been journeymen, but only one kicker will find a home in Cincinnati.

AFC North mailbag

May, 25, 2010
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Let's see what is in the AFC North inbox.

Raven Joe of Virginia wants to know if receivers Anquan Boldin and Donte' Stallworth will "last" the 2010 season.

James Walker: That's a legitimate concern, RJ, because there is a history of injuries with both players. Boldin hasn't played in all 16 games since 2006, and Stallworth hasn't played a 16-game season since 2007. Boldin's situation is obviously a bigger concern because he is a starter and is expected to play a major role in the offense. Boldin did play in 15 games last year for the Arizona Cardinals, so maybe that's a good sign. But there's no way to forecast injuries.


Sean McMann from Pittsburgh writes: With the Cincinnati Bengals having added new WR depth to their team, which receivers do you them cutting?

Walker: It's definitely going to be a numbers game in Cincinnati, Sean. Although any injury could change things, I would say Chad Ochocinco, Antonio Bryant, Andre Caldwell and third-round pick Jordan Shipley are locks. So that's four roster spots taken, and it probably leaves two (possibly three) spots left on the 53-man roster. My two picks from there would be Matt Jones and a possible toss-up between Quan Cosby and Jerome Simpson. But I reserve to right to alter the list once I see these players compete in minicamps and training camp.


Cory writes: How do the Steelers go about their offseason preparation at the quarterback position? How are they splitting up the reps considering Ben Roethlisberger's suspension?

Walker: I get e-mails from Steeler Nation saying it's tired of "Big Ben." Then I get questions from Steeler Nation about the quarterbacks. Which one is it? Byron Leftwich is the favorite to win the job, Cory, because he's been getting all of the first-team reps. It looks like Dennis Dixon has to make up some ground this summer to have a chance. But Pittsburgh's coaching staff likes Leftwich's steadiness and the experience he brings to the offense.


Joseph from Columbus, Ohio, wants to know if any of the Cleveland Browns' young receivers will have a breakout year?

Walker: I'm not prepared to answer that question, Joseph. I have a lot of questions about this group and I need to see more practices and camps. I can say that second-year receiver Brian Robiskie looked good in the first week of organized team activities. He made several nice catches, and the Browns could really benefit from that. But I'm not sure Mohamed Massaquoi is ready to be a No. 1 receiver, and the team may still look to add a veteran. So it's too early to say.

Around the AFC North: M. Jones impresses

May, 13, 2010
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