AFC North: Rod Woodson

PITTSBURGH -- Ike Taylor is willing to move to safety to prolong his playing career. And the veteran cornerback stopped just short of saying he would take a pay cut to stay with the Steelers.

As for his future in Pittsburgh, Taylor put it best when he said in an interview with FOX Sports that, “I would love to retire as a Steeler but you just never know. Time will tell.”

[+] EnlargeIke Taylor
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports"You've got to understand as a business it will always be a young man's sport and I understand that," Ike Taylor said.
Like defensive end Brett Keisel did earlier this week at the Super Bowl, Taylor said he still believes he has some good years left in an NFL career that really gained traction in 2005 when the former fourth-round draft pick capped a superb season with an interception that helped the Steelers beat the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL.

But Taylor is also facing a similar reality as Keisel if he wants to continue his career in Pittsburgh.

Taylor is due a base salary of $7 million in 2014, and the 11th-year veteran has an enormous cap hit ($11.94 million) due to the contract restructures that turned salary into signing bonus money.

He will have to accept a pay cut to return to the Steelers and a couple of things Taylor said on Thursday make it seem like he is open to one.

Taylor is well aware that age -- he turns 34 in May -- and the Steelers' salary-cap situation will shape upcoming discussions between the organization and his agent, Joel Segal. And he said he won't let pride get in the way of decisions he has to make regarding his future.

“You've got to understand it's a business,” Taylor said. “You've got to understand as a business it will always be a young man's sport and I understand that.”

One of the Steelers' top priorities this offseason is getting younger in the secondary, and Taylor's play slipped enough last season that near the end of it defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau stopped flipping his cornerbacks so Taylor could shadow marquee wide receivers.

But if the Steelers don't bring Taylor back for another season they will go into the 2014 season with Cortez Allen and William Gay as their starting cornerbacks. And there is no experienced depth behind them unless the Steelers sign a free-agent cornerback.

The Steelers are going to draft at least one cornerback early, and Taylor would give them the luxury of not having to depend on rookie cornerbacks next season while also helping those players adjust to the NFL.

As for playing safety, the Steelers have not given any indication that Taylor could move to the back end of their defense. But he is serious enough about doing it that he has talked with Steelers defensive backs coach Carnell Lake and Rod Woodson about what such a transition would entail.

Lake and Woodson each played cornerback and safety during their respective NFL careers.

“I want to play football so if they ask me (to play safety) I'm doing it regardless,” Taylor said.
PITTSBURGH -- Ike Taylor is among the Steelers veterans who probably have to take a pay cut to stay in Pittsburgh for another season.

Taylor’s base salary is $7 million in the final year of the four-year deal he signed in 2011, and the Steelers cannot justify paying him that for several reasons.

They have to shed significant salary this offseason because of the cap, and Taylor is no longer a No. 1 cornerback.

Taylor
Heck, he might not even be a cornerback at this point of his career. Taylor hinted after the Steelers’ final game that a switch to safety could be in his future, and the move would make a ton of sense because of precedence and the Steelers’ need on the back end of their defense.

Two of the Steelers’ greatest cornerbacks moved to safety later in their career. One of them, Carnell Lake, happens to coach the Steelers' defensive backs and would be invaluable in helping Taylor make that transition.

Coach Mike Tomlin recently downplayed any notion that a move to safety is inevitable for Taylor.

But he did not rule it out either.

“Ike and I talk about that from time to time because a lot of guys that have played his position have extended their career in that manner, particularly guys that have the type of size he has,” Tomlin said. “Nothing has been discussed formally in any form or fashion.”

This time of year is when such discussions take place, and Tomlin figures to at least give the move significant thought.

Taylor just completed his 11th NFL season but he keeps himself in fantastic shape. That augers well for his decline coming gradually instead of drastically, and with starting free safety Ryan Clark unlikely to be re-signed, Taylor could be an option there.

He could serve as a bridge at the position assuming the Steelers take at least one safety in the 2014 NFL draft.

The 6-foot-2, 195-pound Taylor has the physicality to play safety as his 63 tackles in 2013 ranked fourth on the Steelers. The biggest change would be his need to see and read the entire field as a safety instead on just locking down on a receiver, something Taylor has done so well for so long.

Lake could certainly help him do that.

Taylor is well aware that Lake and Rod Woodson moved to safety during the latter part of their respective careers and he thinks he has the attributes to do the same.

“Size, speed, coverage ability. Just knowing football,” Taylor said when asked why he could play safety. “Right now I’m playing corner. We’ll see how they feel.”
My general rule is never bet against Ray Lewis. This is a man who has played 17 seasons at middle linebacker in the NFL and ranked fourth in the league in tackles at the age of 37. Lewis is the definition of a football freak of nature.

Perhaps that's why the Ravens placed Lewis on injured reserve with a designation to return. This leaves the possibility open for him to come back for the postseason.

My take is that this is a nice gesture by the Ravens, but it's unrealistic -- although not impossible -- to think Lewis will be back this season. ESPN injury expert Stephania Bell indicated that it generally takes at least four months to fully recover from triceps injury. In the scenario that the Ravens reach the Super Bowl, Lewis would be 15 weeks removed from surgery when the Ravens begin practicing for that game. Lewis underwent surgery to repair his torn triceps Wednesday, a league source told ESPN NFL Insider Ed Werder.

"Ray Lewis is going to be put on the designated-to-return list that is new to the NFL this year," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "So he will not count against our 53 during that period of time. I think that's a minimum of six weeks. I have no idea, we have no idea, whether that time frame has anything to do with him. The injury is obviously a very serious injury.

"We've got an opportunity to leave the door open, and we'll see how it goes moving forward. We really don't know anything more than that."

Maybe Lewis could duplicate the speedy recovery of close friend Rod Woodson. In 1995, Woodson became the first player in NFL history to return from reconstructive knee surgery in the same season. Woodson, a cornerback for the Steelers at the time, tore his ACL in Week 1 but returned in time for the Super Bowl. His recovery took 19 weeks.

If Lewis is somehow able to be available for a Super Bowl run, it could set up a dramatic finish to a legendary career. Lewis once indicated that he would retire if the Ravens won another Super Bowl.

Lewis hasn't said if he'll retire or come back to play next season. He is under contract through the 2015 season.

"You replace him with 53 guys," Harbaugh said. "Ed Reed is a tremendous leader. We have some tremendous leaders. Ray is still with us. He'll be around."

Wake-up: Comparing Romo to Big Ben

October, 11, 2012
10/11/12
8:00
AM ET
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Greetings from the AFC South stomping grounds. I'm here for Thursday night's game between the Steelers and Titans. Most of the blogs today and tonight will focus on Pittsburgh because it's game day. Consider yourself warned. Time for the wake-up call ...

RAVENS: When watching film of the Cowboys for Sunday's game, the Ravens see some similarities between Tony Romo and Ben Roethlisberger. Yes, you read that correctly. "(Romo) is actually a really dangerous quarterback," defensive tackle Haloti Ngata told CBS Sports. "He can move around really well in the pocket, and when he escapes, he makes plays. He's kind of like Roethlisberger in that way, where he tries to extend plays and look down the field and throw it and he does a really good job at it." If Romo is able to escape the pass rush like Roethlisberger, the Ravens up-and-down secondary could be in trouble.

BENGALS: Nate Clements made his second straight start at strong safety, which seems to indicate that his move from cornerback is permanent. "Nate wants to do whatever helps the football team be successful,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said, via the Cincinnati Enquirer. “If it’s playing him snaps at safety and that’s what he thinks it is, he’ll do it. I can remember having a conversation with Rod Woodson about that. Rod was saying, ‘If you think it makes us better, then OK.’ With Nate, it was, ‘If you think this helps us, then I’m game.” He had eight tackles and a forced fumble Sunday.

STEELERS: Pittsburgh isn't underestimating Titans running back Chris Johnson even though the former 2,000-yard rusher is averaging 42 yards per game. "He’s still a home run-type runner," linebacker Chris Carter told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "He can still break an 80-yard run, so we’re focused on containing him. You definitely have to give a player like that respect because his résumé has looked good for years. We can’t give him any lanes, and that’s ultimately what it comes down to. He’s not the type that’s going to run over you; it’s about him getting open space.” The Steelers' run defense ranks 11th this season.

BROWNS: Rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden, who tied for the league lead with nine interceptions, believes he understands the adjustment he needs to make to reduce his critical mistakes. "It's an ego thing and I think I just need to get rid of the ego and take what they give me and move on and not be as stubborn," Weeden said, via The Plain Dealer. "Just throw the football away and move on." As the paper points out, Weeden has struggled the most in pressure situations. He's 31st in the NFL in third-down passing with one touchdown and four interceptions, and he's he's 32nd in fourth-quarter passing with two touchdowns and four interceptions.
The Bengals decided not to hire Rod Woodson to their coaching staff, even though the Hall of Fame defender seemed interested in becoming the team's defensive backs coach.

Cincinnati announced that it hired Mark Carrier as its defensive backs coach and promoted Paul Guenther to linebackers coach. Carrier replaces Kevin Coyle, who became the Miami Dolphins' defensive coordinator, and Guenther takes over for Jeff FitzGerald, who wasn't retained.

I endorsed the addition of Woodson to the coaching staff because he was one of the first players to make a seamless transition from cornerback to safety and would provide a unique perspective on how to play both positions. But Carrier is a former player as well (a three-time Pro Bowl safety) and provides more coaching experience, which likely gave him the nod. Woodson's only coaching job was last year when he was the defensive backs coach for the Oakland Raiders.

Carrier spent four seasons as the Ravens' defensive backs coach (2006-09) before coaching the New York Jets' defensive line for the past two years. He made the switch because he thought it would improve his chances of becoming a defensive coordinator one day.

"Mark is a great choice for us as he moves back to his old position, coaching the defensive secondary," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "He experienced success as a coach with two fine NFL defenses, and he will do very well with our group."
Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:

Steelers reserve tight end Weslye Saunders was suspended without pay for the first four games of the 2012 season for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

His suspension begins Sept. 1, but he will be allowed to participate in offseason practices and the entire preseason. According to the Tribune-Review, Saunders is believed to have taken a stimulant prescription drug unknowingly or without receiving a medical waiver from the NFL.

An undrafted free agent, Saunders caught four passes for 29 yards and a touchdown as a rookie.

Hensley's slant: This isn't the first time Saunders has run into trouble, which should raise a red flag for the Steelers. South Carolina kicked Saunders off the team in his senior season for violating team rules and lying to the NCAA about his dealings with an agent. That's why a highly rated prospect went undrafted.

BENGALS: Hall of Fame defender Rod Woodson is waiting to see whether or not he will be a good fit on Cincinnati's coaching staff, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. He spoke with coach Marvin Lewis about the Bengals' opening at secondary coach. “Cincinnati is a good, really young team that is playing well. It would be fun,” Woodson said. “It’s a good nucleus and coaching staff. Marvin has to make a decision of how it would fit in with his coaching staff and players and [defensive coordinator] Mike Zimmer is going to have some say in that." Hensley's slant: Not sure why there is even a question if this would be a good fit. Woodson would provide a unique perspective from his playing days as a cornerback and safety.

BROWNS: The Cleveland city council has approved $5.8 million for repairs to Cleveland Browns Stadium, which will go toward refurbishing seats and repair concrete inside and outside the 12-year-old structure. But public officials are worried about if they will have enough funds when a countywide tax for maintaining the building runs out in 2015, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Hensley's slant: The maintenance of a stadium is extremely important. Just ask those who attended games at Cleveland Municipal Stadium about what happens when one gets neglected. It's not pretty.

RAVENS: Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron sees connections that can be drawn between the Ravens' Joe Flacco and the Giants' Eli Manning. “I think there are a lot of parallels when you look at where they both were after four years,” Cameron told the team's website. “They both have had a reasonable amount of success. We all know the success Joe has had, we all know Joe’s upside. I think people were saying the same thing about Eli.” Hensley's slant: It's true that Flacco's stats look similar -- and even better -- than Manning's numbers in his first NFL seasons. And Flacco showed that he can lead a team to the Super Bowl this year (if not for Lee Evans failing to hold onto the ball in the end zone). But until Flacco wins a Super Bowl, there is no comparison.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Bengals coach Marvin Lewis is considering a familiar face to replace longtime defensive backs coach Kevin Coyle, who left to become the Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator.

Hall of Fame defensive back Rod Woodson is a potential candidate to join the Bengals' coaching staff, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. Lewis' connection with Woodson spans eight years from their time in Pittsburgh (where Lewis was the linebackers coach and Woodson was a cornerback) and in Baltimore (where Lewis was the defensive coordinator and lured Woodson to play corner and safety). Woodson was also a coaching intern with the Bengals in the 2010 training camp.

The addition of Woodson would be a good one even though he has limited coaching experience. His only coaching job was last year when he was the defensive backs coach for the Oakland Raiders. He wasn't retained after head coach Hue Jackson was fired. As AFC West blogger Bill Williamson pointed out, there was a report that Jackson had fired Woodson along with three other coaches before he was let go, but the Raiders later denied it.

Woodson was one of the first players to make a seamless transition from cornerback to safety. He was a seven-time Pro Bowl cornerback and a four-time Pro Bowl safety. Playing these multiple positions, especially at a high level, gives him a unique perspective on how to play them.

Lewis said there is no timetable on filling the position.

“It’s just a matter of getting the right fit for our staff along with working with [defensive coordinator] Mike Zimmer and the rest of the coaches and they feel good about it,” Lewis said. “That’s why we’re taking the time and doing due diligence.”
Here are the most interesting stories Wednesday in the AFC North:
  • Bob Labriola of PittsburghSteelers.com breaks down how the Steelers were able to draft Hall of Famer Rod Woodson in 1987.
Morning take: The Steelers had no business landing Woodson at No. 10 after a great career at Purdue. But poor picks in front of Pittsburgh, including the Cleveland Browns' selection of linebacker Mike Junkin, led to the Steelers' fortunate circumstances.
  • Ryan Mink of BaltimoreRavens.com checks in with Ravens director of college scouting Joe Hortiz on the draft's top pass-rushers.
Morning take: This was a role 2010 second-round pick Sergio Kindle was expected to fill. But with his future uncertain following a fractured skull, Baltimore is looking for players in this draft who can get to the quarterback, possibly as high as the first round.
  • Blog network alum and new FoxSports Southwest columnist Matt Mosley provides his mock draft for the top 10, including the Cincinnati Bengals.
Morning take: First and foremost, shout out to Mosley from the AFC North blog. Like most mock drafts, Mosley has the Bengals taking Georgia's A.J. Green at No. 4. But his mock draft is pretty interesting with the way the top of the board turns out.
Morning take: Injuries forced Moore out of four games last year, but he could help the Browns stretch the field this upcoming season. Moore averaged 20.1 yards per catch in 2010 in limited playing time.
How much can the potential return of veteran defensive end Aaron Smith help the Steelers' defense?

PITTSBURGH -- Including the playoffs, Smith has missed the past 11 games of the season following triceps surgery. But Smith has a chance to play for the first time in more than two months in Sunday's AFC title game against the New York Jets.

[+] EnlargeAaron Smith
AP Photo/Don WrightAaron Smith, who has been sidelined since Week 7, hopes to play Sunday against the Jets.
Smith is in the process of trying to pull off a "Rod Woodson," who injured his knee early in the 1995 season but was kept on the roster and returned for the Super Bowl. Although this injury isn't as severe, Smith had triceps surgery in late October. He's trying to return to help Pittsburgh advance to its third Super Bowl in six years.

How much can Smith contribute? If Smith plays against the Jets, he won't be the starter.

"A snap count is probably going to be part of that discussion," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said this week. "The guys who have been given the opportunity to replace him, like Ziggy Hood, have more than met the standard. They deserve to continue to play, but it will be nice to add that tool to the toolbox."

When healthy, Smith is the prototypical 3-4 defensive end. He's extremely good against the run and also has the ability to fight through double-teams and sack the quarterback on occasion.

The Jets aim to establish the run, so the Steelers will welcome any contribution from Smith. New York was one of two teams to rush for more than 100 total yards against Pittsburgh's defense this season.

For months, it seemed a foregone conclusion that Smith would not play. But this week there seems to be a buzz in Pittsburgh's locker room that it's possible Smith could get playing time.

"No doubt about it, he's a guy who's been here for a long time and we feed off his energy," Steelers captain and linebacker James Farrior said. "To have him out there, even if it's just for a few plays, will definitely give our defense a boost."

Best Ravens Team Ever: 2000

June, 23, 2010
6/23/10
11:30
AM ET
Notable players: LB Ray Lewis, OT Jonathan Ogden, S Rod Woodson, TE Shannon Sharpe, RB Jamal Lewis, LB Peter Boulware, CB Chris McAlister, DT Sam Adams

[+] EnlargeRay Lewis
AP Photo/Nick WassRay Lewis and the Ravens' defense helped the young franchise win its first, and so far only, Super Bowl.
Analysis: The 2000 Ravens are the clear choice for a franchise that's only been in existence for 14 years. It was the only team to win a Super Bowl and also had arguably the most dominant defense of all time.

Baltimore was far from a perfect Super Bowl team in 2000. Most notably, the team had issues at quarterback. The Ravens started with Tony Banks under center but finished with Trent Dilfer, who played efficiently enough for Baltimore to make an incredible run to end the season.

At one point, the Ravens were a middle-of-the-pack, 5-4 team. Then Baltimore got hot, winning seven straight to end the regular season and four more postseason games, including a victory over the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV.

Led by middle linebacker Ray Lewis, the Ravens set several defensive records in 2000, including fewest points (165) and fewest rushing yards (970) allowed in a 16-game season. Baltimore also pitched four shutouts.

There were seemingly no weaknesses on defense. Baltimore's defensive line was stout with Adams and Tony Siragusa, the linebackers were elite, and the secondary had stud playmakers at safety (Woodson) and cornerback (McAlister).

Then-rookie tailback Jamal Lewis anchored the offense with 1,364 rushing yards. Tight end Sharpe was the team's most dependable receiver, recording 67 receptions for 810 yards.

Most impressive win: Although the Super Bowl win over the Giants will go down as the biggest game of the season, the most impressive was Baltimore's dominance in the AFC Championship Game, a 16-3 road win over the Oakland Raiders. The Ravens' defense smothered Oakland's high-powered offense led by quarterback Rich Gannon. Baltimore forced five Oakland turnovers.

Research Room: Longtime Ravens kicker Matt Stover made the only Pro Bowl of his 19-year career in 2000. With an inconsistent offense, Stover was clutch in connecting on 35 of 39 field goals. He led the NFL in both field goals made and field-goal attempts that season. Stover also converted all 30 extra-point attempts.

Lone ranger: Ray Lewis remains the only player currently with the Ravens from their Super Bowl team in '00. Now 35, the future Hall of Famer is still playing at a Pro Bowl level. Lewis signed a multi-year deal in '09 to make certain that he retires a Raven.

Several key members from Baltimore's Super Bowl team left the organization in the past several seasons. Jamal Lewis last played for the Ravens in '06, Ogden retired after the '07 season, and McAlister and Stover last played for Baltimore in '08.

Honorable mentions (in order):

2006 (tie): Baltimore finally got solid quarterback play from former NFL MVP Steve McNair, and the Ravens won 13 regular-season games. But in the postseason they ran into nemesis Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts, who eventually won the Super Bowl.

2008 (tie): The Ravens became the first NFL team to win two road playoff games with a rookie quarterback (Joe Flacco). But their run was stifled in fourth quarter of the AFC title game to another eventual Super Bowl champion: The Pittsburgh Steelers.

2001: Baltimore's attempt to defend a Super Bowl title ended with a second-round playoff exit. The Elvis Grbac experiment was a disaster. After signing a big free-agent deal with Baltimore, he had more interceptions (18) than touchdowns (15).

Walker's weekend mailbag

June, 19, 2010
6/19/10
10:00
AM ET
With all the AFC North minicamps in the books, let's see what’s in the weekend mailbag.

Brandon Crawford from Sykesville, Md., writes: Now that the Baltimore Ravens have signed safety Ken Hamlin, what does this mean for Dawan Landry?

James Walker: Good question, Brandon. Hamlin is more of a free safety than a strong safety, so I'm not 100-percent sure if the signing impacts Landry directly. But the Ravens have always had the motto of putting the best 11 players on the field. So it is possible Hamlin could beat out Landry, but Hamlin would have to do it playing out of his natural position.

Andy from Santiago, Chile, wants to know the probability of a holdout for Cincinnati Bengals first-round pick Jermaine Gresham.

Walker: I think it's too early to worry, Andy. Cincinnati does have a history of rookie contract disputes, but I don't get the same vibes from the team that I did last year. Every media outlet, including the AFC North blog, easily predicted a long holdout for Andre Smith because of his recent business decisions, the team, and the type of money that was involved. Most of those factors aren’t in play this year. So I don’t anticipate any type of long holdout in Cincinnati this year. At most, it could possibly be a few days.

Alan from Milwaukee wants to know what I think of Rod Woodson as an NFL coach.

Walker: Woodson was in Cincinnati this week, and I think it would be a natural fit for him. Frankly, I'm surprised he hasn't done this earlier. Woodson was one of the smartest and most gifted players in NFL history. He was the complete package as a football player and could have thrived in any era. He would be great sharing all that knowledge with today’s players if chooses to go that route.

Nakaz from Hawaii writes: Do the Pittsburgh Steelers look for another RB to back up Rashard Mendenhall before the season starts?

Walker: The Steelers are fine with what they have. Mewelde Moore did his job last year when his number was called, and Pittsburgh may have a nice find in rookie Jonathan Dwyer. I haven’t seen enough of him just yet (especially without contact). But Dwyer has good size and may be able to move the pile, which would help the offense.

Bryan from Atlanta writes: How come no chat this week?

Walker: On Tuesday I was at Bengals minicamp writing and watching two practices. I couldn't fit it in. But the division chat will return this upcoming Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET.

Kovacs from Santa Monica, Calif., writes: Have the Cleveland Browns started to close the talent gap in the AFC North?

Walker: That's too much of an open-ended question, Kovacs. The Browns made some steps to get better but not to the point where I think they can climb to the top of the AFC North. I saw Cleveland in minicamp last week and wasn’t all that impressed. I'm still picking the Browns fourth, the Steelers third, and I haven't decided yet between Cincinnati and Baltimore.

Complaint department

I'm going to try something different this week. We get a lot of comments in our division inbox with readers venting about various things. So I decided to try this new feature at the end of the weekend mailbag called the "complaint department."

Enjoy.

Brad Eagan from West Mifflin, Pa., writes: Come on, James. There are way too many things about the Browns and not enough about the other three teams in the division. I know that you are located in Cleveland, but this is the AFC North Blog, not the Cleveland Browns Blog. Other than the plethora of Browns topics, you do great work.

Jeff from Baltimore writes: Could you please vary your content a little more, James? I get tired of seeing multiple posts about the Steelers every single day when my Ravens haven't gotten a solo article in over a week. It's the AFCN blog, not the Pittsburgh Steelers blog.

Ben Wiford from Danville, Ohio, writes: Hey J-Walk always love hearing you when you are on 97.1 in the afternoons. But you really shouldn't waste your time talking about the Clowns! Just talk more about my Bengals.

Ron from Fort Washington, Md., writes: I just read the AFC NORTH blog and it focused on the Bengals. I thought I was going to read about my RAVENS!!!

R. Lewis from Berkeley, Calif., writes: I really, really enjoy your blog. BUT can we just quit with the "will the Steelers make the playoffs if Ben Roethlisberger is out six games" stuff? Enough, man. You know that it will be only four games, because Ben WILL stay out of trouble. Okay, so four games. Do you REALLY think they'll lose more than two? You always make it sound like they're in so much trouble, but they're not. They'll go 11-5 and make the playoffs.

RJ from Virginia Beach, Va., writes: Vince Young had better get in trouble with the commish. If he doesn't, that means Roger Goodell is handing out his "justice" unevenly. I'm still waiting for Sean Peyton to be disciplined for his alleged misconduct. Ben's case has set a precedent that you don't need to be arrested or charged with a crime to be disciplined. That needs to be applied to the entire league, not just household names like “Big Ben.”

Richard from Fairfax, Va., writes: James, it was like a Christmas morning present to hear cornerback Frank Walker is trying out with a different team. You made my day. Hopefully the Houston Texans sign him.

MWyche2 via Twitter writes: Tell Chad Ochocinco, C'mon son!!!!

Remember to send all your mailbag questions -- and now AFC North complaints -- to our division inbox.
The Pittsburgh Steelers selected linebacker Jason Worilds in the second round of the NFL draft. He is projected to be an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense.

Worlids is an athletic player but doesn't fill an immediate need for Pittsburgh. The Steelers have a pair of Pro Bowl players at the position last season in LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison.

Steelers Hall of Fame defensive back Rod Woodson announced the pick.

AFC North all-decade team

January, 28, 2010
1/28/10
12:30
PM ET
Jamal Lewis/Jerome BettisMatthew Emmons/US PresswireRunning backs Jamal Lewis and Jerome Bettis combined to rush for 15,806 yards during the 2000s.
The AFC North earned three Super Bowl titles this past decade, which means there were plenty of great players in the division over that span.

Here is our AFC North all-decade team.

Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh Steelers)

Analysis: You can really start and stop this argument with Roethlisberger's two Super Bowls wins in the decade. In terms of starting quarterbacks, Roethlisberger trails only the New England Patriots' Tom Brady, who won three titles in the decade. Outside of Carson Palmer of the Cincinnati Bengals, no one was even remotely close for consideration, unless you wanted to reach for quarterbacks who had one or two good seasons in the decade, such as Kordell Stewart, Joe Flacco or Derek Anderson.

Other considerations: Palmer (Bengals)

Running backs: Jamal Lewis (Cleveland Browns/Baltimore Ravens) and Jerome Bettis (Steelers)

Analysis: Typical of the AFC North, our all-decade backfield is as physical and heavy duty as it gets. Lewis, who retired after the 2009 season, registered 10,607 total rushing yards as a member of the Browns and Ravens. He had a 2,000-yard season with Baltimore in 2003. Bettis played six seasons (2000-05) in the decade with the Steelers and rushed for 5,199 yards in that span. Both players won Super Bowls and will be considered for the Hall of Fame. Although we don't have a traditional fullback, Bettis is versatile and big enough for the position.

Other considerations: Willie Parker (Steelers), Rudi Johnson (Bengals)

[+] EnlargeOchocinco
Frank Victores/US PresswireChad Ochocinco is just 48 yards short of reaching 10,000 career receiving yards.
Receivers: Chad Ochocinco (Bengals) and Hines Ward (Steelers)

Analysis: We have a good mix at receiver. Ochocinco came to Cincinnati as a raw second-round pick who worked his way to become a six-time Pro Bowler and one of the biggest personalities in the NFL. Ward, a four-time Pro Bowler in the decade, was a former college quarterback who now is one of the toughest and smartest players in the league.

Other considerations: T.J. Houshmandzadeh (Bengals), Derrick Mason (Ravens)

Tight End: Todd Heap (Ravens)

Analysis: When you look at the total numbers over the past decade, Heap was the clear choice as the top tight end in the division. Heap caught 427 passes over that span and made two Pro Bowls. Pittsburgh's Heath Miller, who has 244 receptions, is two years younger and may eventually match Heap's production. But Heap has the better numbers to date. Former Browns tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. also put up impressive numbers in just three full seasons with Cleveland.

Other considerations: Miller (Steelers), Winslow Jr. (Browns)

Offensive line: OT Jonathan Ogden (Ravens), OT Willie Anderson (Bengals/Ravens), G Eric Steinbach (Browns/Bengals), G Alan Faneca (Steelers), C Jeff Hartings (Steelers)

Analysis: Besides leaving off three-time Pro Bowler Joe Thomas, putting the offensive line together was easier than I thought. Anderson of the Bengals got the edge over Thomas for two reasons: He's a natural right tackle and played nine years last decade at a high level. Thomas, with just three years, doesn't have the same longevity.

Other considerations: OT Thomas (Browns), OT Levi Jones (Bengals), C Rich Braham (Bengals)

Specialists: K Matt Stover (Ravens), P Chris Gardocki (Steelers/Browns), KR Josh Cribbs (Browns), LS Ryan Pontbriand (Browns)

Analysis: Stover made the Pro Bowl in 2000, and his 93.3 field goal percentage in 2006 led the NFL. He's been consistent for a very long time, which is all you ask from kickers. Gardocki and Dave Zastudil is a toss up. But Gardocki led the NFL in punts two years in a row (2000 and 2001) as well as punting yards in 2000. Zastudil cannot boast those claims. Cribbs was a no-brainer, and teammate Pontbriand made two Pro Bowls as Cleveland's long-snapper.

Other considerations: K Phil Dawson (Browns), K Jeff Reed (Steelers), P Zastudil (Ravens/Browns), B.J. Sams (Ravens)

Defense line: Casey Hampton (Steelers), Aaron Smith (Steelers), Justin Smith (Bengals)

Analysis: It's only fair that the AFC North all-decade defense runs a 3-4 scheme. Since 2001, Hampton has embodied what a 3-4 nose tackle looks like and plays like. He has five Pro Bowls in the decade, including this past season. Aaron Smith also is a prototype for 3-4 defensive ends. He's always put personal numbers aside so other defenders in Pittsburgh could flourish. Justin Smith of Cincinnati never quite lived up to his lofty draft status. But he was a consistent player for the Bengals.

Other considerations: DT Kelly Gregg (Ravens), DE Kimo von Oelhoffen (Steelers), DE Trevor Pryce (Ravens)

[+] EnlargeRay Lewis
Tom Szczerbowski/US PresswireRay Lewis was the AP Defensive Player of the Year in 2000 and 2003.
Linebackers: ILB Ray Lewis (Ravens), ILB James Farrior (Steelers), OLB Joey Porter (Steelers), OLB Terrell Suggs (Ravens)

Analysis: You can win a lot of games with this group. You have intelligence and physicality in the middle, and plenty of pass-rush ability on the outside. Lewis, a future Hall of Famer, is the captain and emotional leader of the all-decade defense. Farrior also has the smarts to keep everyone in line, while Suggs and Porter can fly around and wreak havoc on the quarterback. There were several very good candidates at outside linebacker. But Porter and Suggs were dominant forces in the AFC North for a longer period.

Other considerations: OLB James Harrison (Steelers), OLB Adalius Thomas (Ravens)

Defensive backs: CB Chris McAlister (Ravens), CB Ike Taylor (Steelers), S Troy Polamalu (Steelers), S Ed Reed (Ravens)

Analysis: Polamalu and Reed are two of the all-time great safeties, so there is no debate there. Also, fans may recently remember the aging and injured McAlister who was cut by the Ravens last year. But at one point "C-Mac" was the most physically dominant cornerback in the division. Taylor won two Super Bowls with the Steelers and is the best of what's left at cornerback. I also considered Anthony Henry, who played in Cleveland for four years during the decade and had one stellar season when he led the NFL with 10 interceptions in 2001.

Other considerations: CB Henry (Browns), S Rod Woodson (Ravens)

Morning take: Browns can't catch

October, 23, 2009
10/23/09
8:43
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker

Here are the most interesting stories Friday in the AFC North:
  • The Cleveland Browns have dropped an astounding 16 passes the past two games.
Morning take: Quarterback Derek Anderson doesn’t throw the easiest ball, but many of these drops are coming right off the hands of receivers. It’s just one of several issues for Cleveland’s struggling offense.
  • Despite returning to action last week, Pittsburgh Steelers tailback Willie Parker’s toe is still bothering him.
Morning take: Turf toe is much more serious than it sounds. Parker needs to be careful not to do too much too soon.
Morning take: Woodson, a Hall of Famer, knows poor secondary play when he sees it. It will be interesting to see how improved Baltimore's pass defense is after the bye week.
Morning take: Chicago's ability or inability to run the football on the road will be huge in this matchup. Don’t forget the AFC North blog will pick this game and others in the division later on Friday.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider