AFC North: Sean Kugler

Colbert: 'All eyes and ears' on Munchak

February, 13, 2014
PITTSBURGH -- General manager Kevin Colbert didn't do anything to temper fans' enthusiasm for the hiring of offensive line coach Mike Munchak.

Colbert said Munchak may have been the most respected offensive line coach in the NFL prior to becoming the Titans' head coach in 2011.

Munchak, a Hall of Fame guard, returned to his roots after the Titans fired him in January, and he joined Mike Tomlin's staff.

Munchak is Tomlin's fourth offensive line coach, following Larry Zierlein, Sean Kugler and Jack Bicknell Jr.

“It was real exciting to have the opportunity for him to join us,” Colbert said on Wednesday. “I think [the players] will be all eyes and ears when you have a Hall of Famer talking to you and trying to teach you and I think they're excited for that.”

Hopes for the Steelers' offensive line are as high as they have been under Tomlin.

A line that showed significant improvement in the second half of last season should only get better under the tutelage of Munchak and with the return of Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey.

Munchak figures to work closely with tackles Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert, and he could be the key to unlocking the considerable potential of the former.

“I don't think Coach Munchak was brought in for any one player,” Colbert said in reference to the underachieving Adams. “You hope that he gets the most out of all your guts and obviously he has the credentials to do that.”

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has already met Munchak at the Steelers' practice facility, agreed.

“I know the line will be excited,” Roethlisberger said on 93.7 The Fan, “because any time you have a Hall of Famer coaching you better listen up.”

Steelers fire OL coach

January, 3, 2014
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin has fired offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. after just one season.

The move comes as a bit of a surprising considering the progress the offensive line made this season despite constant shuffling because of injuries.

The offensive line allowed just seven sacks in the Steelers’ final seven games. It also helped rookie running back Le'Veon Bell rush for 214 yards in the final two games of the season.

The Steelers lost two starting centers during the course of the season, including Pro Bowler Maurkice Pouncey (torn ACL) in the opener. They had to deal with in-game injuries, it seemed, on a weekly basis, and the loss of Pouncey scuttled the Steelers’ plans to employ a zone-blocking scheme in 2013.

“I have decided to go in a different direction with respect to the coaching of our offensive line,” Tomlin said in a Steelers release. “I want to thank Jack for his contributions during the 2013 season, and I wish him well in the future.”

The Steelers will have their fourth offensive line coach under Tomlin as Bicknell had followed Larry Zierlein and Sean Kugler.

Tomlin fired Ziegler after the 2009 season, and Kugler left after 2012 to become the head coach of UTEP, his alma mater.

The Steelers will begin a search for Bicknell’s successor, and Tomlin could wait to talk to prospective candidates at the Senior Bowl, which will be held Jan. 20-25 and is a veritable job fair for those looking for work.

Bicknell had previously served as the offensive line coach for the Chiefs (2012), Giants (2009-11) and at Boston College (2007-08), his alma mater.
Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:

The Steelers' next offensive coordinator will be quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner if the team promotes from within, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The field got narrowed down further yesterday, when offensive line coach Sean Kugler told a Pittsburgh radio station that he didn't have any interest in the coordinator position. The leading candidate to replace Bruce Arians would have been running backs coach Kirby Wilson but he is still recovering from a fire in his home.

Hensley's slant: It would make no sense to go outside the organization and install an entirely new offensive system. With Fichtner, the Steelers would maintain continuity and would have someone who already has an established relationship with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The promotion should happen relatively quickly if Fichtner is the choice.

BENGALS: Rookie quarterback Andy Dalton will finally get a chance to see the game from the sideline, the team's website reported. Dalton is the third quarterback on the AFC team in the Pro Bowl and should appear sometime in the second half. He plans to pick the brains of the other two AFC quarterbacks, Roethlisberger and San Diego's Philip Rivers. “Just to see how they do things," he said. Hensley's slant: You can tell by how Dalton approaches a meaningless game like the Pro Bowl that he isn't likely to have a sophomore slump. This offseason will be big for Dalton, who didn't have one as a rookie because of the lockout. It'll be interesting to see how much Dalton improves in his second season.

BROWNS: The Akron Beacon Journal's Marla Ridenour isn't buying the recent report that the Browns would trade two spots up to No. 2 overall to take Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III. "It seems more likely to me that the Browns floated the notion of trading up as a smokescreen or to drum up trade partners," Ridenour wrote. "They surely wouldn’t mind getting such conversation flowing, especially when they might rather trade down than up." Hensley's slant: Count me in among those not buying this rumor. Trading up seems the least likely scenario for the Browns. I'm not sure the Browns would even take Griffin if he was sitting there when the Browns are on the clock with the fourth overall pick. There is plenty of evaluation time -- and smokescreens -- between now and the draft in April.

RAVENS: A source told The Baltimore Sun that offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has been giving instructions for the upcoming weeks to his assistant coaches, which could be an indication that he is coming back. The source added that the only stipulation for Cameron's return was the hiring of a quarterbacks coach. Cameron, whose contract expires this offseason, served as coordinator and quarterbacks coach this past season. Hensley's slant: If it's Harbaugh's decision, Cameron will stay because his ties with the Harbaugh family are very strong. When Cameron was the head coach at Indiana, he hired Harbaugh as his special teams coach in 1997. Cameron was also an assistant at Michigan when Jim Harbaugh was the quarterback there. If Cameron returns, it would mark his fifth season with the Ravens, which would be the team's second-longest run for an offensive coordinator (Matt Cavanaugh served six years in that position).
While two defensive coordinators from the AFC North (Cincinnati's Mike Zimmer and Baltimore's Chuck Pagano) are being interviewed for head-coaching jobs, it was a disappointing season for those calling the plays for the division's offenses.

That's why the Steelers' Bruce Arians says he was pushed out, why the Browns are adding an offensive coordinator to Pat Shurmur's staff and why the Ravens' Cam Cameron is currently in contract limbo.

There is a chance that three new offensive coordinators could in place by next season. The only one who is safe is the Bengals' Jay Gruden, who signed a three-year, $3.6 million extension.

No AFC North offense ranked in the top 9 in the NFL in total yards, rushing, passing or points scored. There were only two areas where a division offense ranked in the top 10 -- the Ravens' rushing attack and the Steelers' passing game.

The Steelers' search to replace Arians could heat up this week at the Senior Bowl. Pittsburgh, which ranked 12th overall in offense, has a history of promoting from within at this position. That means quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner and offensive line coach Sean Kugler could have the best shot at the job. Running backs coach Kirby Wilson was considered to be next in line, but he was badly burned in a fire at his home and might not return to the team anytime soon.

The Browns are adding an offensive coordinator after first-year head coach Pat Shurmur served that role in 2011 and Cleveland's offense finished 29th. Shurmur is still interviewing candidates and could continue to do so at this week's Senior Bowl, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Two coaches who are considered to be on the Browns' radar -- Mike Sherman and Brad Childress -- could take jobs elsewhere. Sherman is the first candidate to get a second interview for the Tampa Bay head-coaching position and is a candidate to become the Dolphins' offensive coordinator. Childress has been linked to the head-coaching searches in Tampa Bay and Indianapolis.

It's uncertain what the Ravens will do with Cameron after the offense finished 15th overall. Cameron's contract is set to expire and there's no extension on the table, ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported Sunday. He is one of the highest-paid coordinators in the NFL, making $2 million per season, according to a league source. Ravens coach John Harbaugh hasn't met with reporters since his postgame session following the AFC Championship Game. If Cameron doesn't return, the Ravens would probably consider former Raiders head coach Hue Jackson, who was the Ravens' quarterbacks coach in Joe Flacco's first two seasons in the NFL.

What's next for Steelers' O-line?

November, 10, 2010
The Pittsburgh Steelers announced starting left tackle Max Starks was put on injured reserve Wednesday, which will sideline him for the remainder of the 2010 season. Starks suffered a neck injury in Pittsburgh's win over the Cincinnati Bengals on "Monday Night Football."

So what's next for Pittsburgh's offensive line? The Steelers (6-2) have little depth at the position and may need to do some major shuffling, starting with Sunday's big game against the New England Patriots (6-2).

Right tackle Flozell Adams has plenty of experience playing left tackle from his time in Dallas. I think he's a better right tackle at this stage of his career, but he may be Pittsburgh's best option now on the left side. That would allow a backup like Jonathan Scott to have an easier transition to the starting lineup at right tackle.

Pittsburgh may also opt to try Scott at left tackle. He's a favorite of Steelers offensive line coach Sean Kugler, who recruited and coached Scott from their days together with the Buffalo Bills. If Kugler is confident Scott can fill the role, Scott could be the "next man up."

Either way, this is a tough break for the Steelers. For years Starks has been their most consistent offensive lineman, and whoever fills his role will not provide the same level of production.

Seven-step drop: Colt McCoy aftermath

October, 18, 2010
Here are seven notes and observations from Week 6 in the AFC North:
    [+] EnlargeColt McCoy
    Icon SMIBrowns rookie QB Colt McCoy held his own in his NFL debut against a tough Steelers defense.

  • I've seen a lot of quarterback debuts up close as a former Cleveland Browns beat writer, and Colt McCoy's first NFL start was the best of the group. McCoy, Cleveland's 16th starting quarterback since 1999, threw for 281 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers (4-1). McCoy took a pounding and made rookie mistakes. But he also showed toughness, leadership and good accuracy. What does this all mean? Until Seneca Wallace (ankle) or Jake Delhomme (ankle) are 100 percent healthy, McCoy deserves at least one more start. After this Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints, the Browns (1-5) can evaluate two of McCoy's games against the starts of Wallace and Delhomme and then figure their direction at quarterback.
  • Last year I thought cornerback Eric Wright was one of the Browns' more improved players. But Cleveland's No. 1 cornerback has regressed, allowing too many big plays. Wright gave up two more touchdown passes Sunday to Steelers receivers Mike Wallace and Hines Ward. Wright has allowed five passing touchdowns combined in division games against Pittsburgh and the Baltimore Ravens. It's hard to win when your top cover corner is this inconsistent. With No. 7 overall pick Joe Haden waiting in the wings, this could be one position Cleveland considers a lineup change after the bye.
  • In the Steelers' previous game against Cleveland, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was sacked eight times. But Roethlisberger wasn't sacked once by the Browns on Sunday. I have been critical of the offensive line in the past, but new offensive line coach Sean Kuglar has his unit playing very well this season. Drafting center Maurkice Pouncey in the first round provided stability in the middle and helped make the other four linemen better. Roethlisberger took some hits and had to throw the ball away several times. But overall he had enough time to throw downfield.
  • The Steelers were very defensive after the game about linebacker James Harrison's two hits on Cleveland receivers Josh Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi. Both of Harrison's hits were blows to the head and knocked Cribbs and Massaquoi out of the game with apparent concussions. Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin firmly believes both shots were clean, and Harrison doesn't think he should be fined. In my view, the second hit on Massaquoi will catch the league's attention more than the first hit. Neither play drew a flag.
  • There are two AFC North players to keep an eye on with the NFL's trade deadline approaching Tuesday. In Cleveland, defensive lineman Shaun Rogers is a player I'm hearing rumblings about. Rogers curiously didn't play much against Pittsburgh despite some injuries along Cleveland's defensive line. Also, Ravens tailback Willis McGahee is another possibility. Because of injuries, there are several teams (Green Bay Packers?) that need a starting running back. The Ravens have a surplus and might be able to sell high.
  • Although just an educated guess, I believe last year's playoff victory had a lot to do with Baltimore's strategy to play conservatively late in Sunday's overtime loss to the New England Patriots. Once they got the lead, the Ravens did a great job of taking the air out of the football in last year's 33-14 victory against New England. They were the more physical team by a wide margin, and those memories probably made Baltimore believe it could physically dominate and run out the clock again. Instead, the Ravens gave up key possessions and allowed New England to overcome a 10-point, fourth-quarter deficit.
  • Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons could be the biggest game of the Bengals' 2010 season. A loss would drop Cincinnati to 2-4 in a very tough division and deep AFC. Although the season is still young, that might be a deficit too big to overcome. But a quality win would put the Bengals at 3-3 and right back in the mix. Either way, Cincinnati had the bye week to correct its issues.

Final Word: AFC North

September, 17, 2010
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 2:

[+] EnlargeCarson Palmer
James Lang/US PresswireCarson Palmer needs to continue his success against Baltimore to avoid an 0-2 start for the Bengals.
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer needs to shine once again against the Baltimore Ravens. With the exception of Peyton Manning, no quarterback has given Baltimore's defense more trouble than Palmer the past several years. Palmer is 8-3 in 11 career starts against Baltimore, which includes a two-game sweep of the Ravens last year. He has thrown for 2,730 yards, 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions against Baltimore in 11 games. Cincinnati receivers Chad Ochocinco, Terrell Owens, Jordan Shipley and tight end Jermaine Gresham will be a stern test for the Ravens' secondary, which held up well in Week 1 against the New York Jets.

The Bengals, who have playoff aspirations, do not want to fall to 0-2 in the competitive AFC North. Last year, nine teams started 0-2 and none made the playoffs. Since the playoff format extended to 12 teams in 1990, only 13 percent of teams with 0-2 starts have made the postseason. Cincinnati has a seven-game winning streak against AFC North opponents dating to 2008. The Bengals' last division loss was to Baltimore on Nov. 30, 2008.

Can Baltimore's defense continue its dominance on third down? The Ravens were lights out last week, holding the Jets to 1-for-11 on third-down conversions. Dominating third down helped the Ravens control the tempo and kept their offense on the field. The Bengals were much better than New York on third down offensively last week, converting 8-of-15 against the New England Patriots.

Is Seneca Wallace ready? The Cleveland Browns' backup quarterback is the favorite to make his first career start Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs. Although he hasn't been ruled out as of Friday, Browns starter Jake Delhomme (ankle) missed all of practice this week with an ankle injury. Wallace was a part-time starter with the Seattle Seahawks and went 5-9. Despite the different strengths of the QBs, Cleveland says it doesn't have to change its offense much under Wallace, who is more mobile in the pocket.

Who is Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle Jonathan Scott? For better or for worse, the Tennessee Titans are about to find out. Following last week's ankle injury to Max Starks, Scott is expected to start Sunday at left tackle, which is an important role to protect inexperienced quarterback Dennis Dixon. Scott, 27, has 14 career starts and is a favorite of new Steelers offensive line coach Sean Kugler, who helped bring the offensive tackle over from the Buffalo Bills. Scott filled in fairly well last week after Starks was hurt against the Atlanta Falcons.

AFC North evening links

January, 22, 2010
Here is an update on the latest happenings Friday in the AFC North: