AFC North: Shaun Prater

CINCINNATI -- They were trying to avoid saying it to reporters inside their open locker room Monday afternoon, but the Cincinnati Bengals all knew what the immediate future had in store for their recently hobbled teammate.

To them, it was a heart-breaking turn of events.

[+] EnlargeLeon Hall
Kirk Irwin/Getty ImagesThe Bengals feel confident in their depth in the secondary despite the season-ending injury to star cornerback Leon Hall.
"I know me and T-New [Terence Newman] were looking at each other and we were like literally, tears were coming down our eyes," Bengals cornerback Adam Jones said, reflecting on the moment he saw an injured Leon Hall return to the Bengals' sideline in the first quarter of Sunday's game at Detroit.

That's part of the reason there was little surprise Monday evening when sources told ESPN's Chris Mortensen what everyone within the Bengals' inner chain had immediately known, but hoped to be proved wrong: that Hall, the team's veteran cornerback, was done for the year, being placed on injured reserve with an Achilles tear. A spot on the 53-man roster will now open up, bringing with it speculation and the gossipy rumor mill that is the NFL.

Sometime early Tuesday, we should know the Bengals' plans for replacing the injured star.

Coach Marvin Lewis was adamant during his news conference Monday afternoon that he didn't think the Bengals needed to go out and get a new cornerback. He felt content with the secondary players he already had.

"We don't have to look for anybody," Lewis said. "We have a couple of guys that have to step up and play now. They've been sitting here on scholarship for a bit, now it's time for them to go.

"We're not going to get anybody off the street that's going to outplay anyone here in the building."

Jones echoed those sentiments.

"This is a tough defense to pick up with all the calls you got to make and telling the [defensive] end this, and knowing you got this. It's a pretty complicated defense to pick up just right off the street," Jones said. "We've got all the tools that we need here instead of going and picking up somebody off the streets. These guys, they've been here for two years, they know the defense, they're hungry to play. It's our time for them to step up."

One off-the-street player who does know something about defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer's defense is Shaun Prater. He spent part of last season with the team before going on IR and eventually getting waived earlier this summer. The Philadelphia Eagles ended up picking him up off waivers, but they, too, released him.

That release came Monday.

In addition to Prater, 36-year-old Antoine Winfield is available and has reportedly been fielding interest in recent days from likely playoff-contending teams. The Ohio native signed with Seattle in the offseason, but was released during training camp. It appeared he was going to simply retire, but it seems that he may be entertaining thoughts of making a Chris Crocker-type of comeback.

Crocker, the 33-year-old veteran cornerback who was preparing for retirement this offseason, was brought back by the Bengals earlier this season as they tried to shore up depth at the position after Hall suffered a hamstring injury that kept him out two weeks. Crocker has appeared in every game since he arrived, and even had extended minutes Sunday in the wake of Hall's early departure with the Achilles injury.

"He's a piece of the puzzle," defensive backs coach Mark Carrier said about Crocker.

Perhaps the piece the Bengals are most optimistic about is second-year corner Dre Kirkpatrick. The former University of Alabama standout has played in a limited capacity this season as he's tried to overcome his own injuries, as well as his lacking NFL experience. Since his two pass interference penalties in the Bengals' preseason game at Dallas two months ago, Kirkpatrick has grown, Jones said. Even this past weekend, when Kirkpatrick entered the game to face arguably the league's best receiver, he held his own.

"Dre, he's there, really," Jones said. "He played good this week when he had to come in in the fire. The one catch Calvin [Johnson] caught, he had perfect coverage on him. He came in and played nickel real good for his first time coming in. As long as he's playing with confidence, he'll be all right."

Carrier has seen Kirkpatrick's practice efforts improve.

"It's amazing, and he'll be the first one to tell you that when he's healthy, he can go out there and play," Carrier said. "Everyone's time comes and he knew his time was coming soon."

Hall was one of the first players who sat down and talked to Kirkpatrick after the preseason performance that Kirkpatrick still says leaves a "sour, bitter feeling" in his mouth. Carrier said Hall told the young corner about his tough outings during the years when he first came into the league.

"He said you can learn from it and get better from it and I think Dre did," Carrier said.

In addition to Kirkpatrick -- who, like Crocker, could play slot receivers like he did some Sunday -- the Bengals also have depth with defensive backs Taylor Mays, Brandon Ghee and Chris Lewis-Harris. They are confident that if needed, any one of them could come in and provide even more talent and bodies at that position.

"It's hard to see Leon go down, but you know, the rest of the guys, we've got to step up and play," Jones said. "So we'll be all right, man."
In case you missed it from Wednesday, I posted a column on how the Ravens should address safety Ed Reed in free agency and gave my take on Todd McShay's latest mock draft. The countdown for the top free agents in the division reaches the top five today as well. Here's your wake-up call ...

RAVENS: A month after winning the Super Bowl in New Orleans, the Ravens donated two 2013 Harley Davidson motorcycles to the city's police department traffic division as a show of appreciation for the treatment the team received there. During their one-week stay in New Orleans, the Ravens received police escorts to and from their destinations, as well as 24-hour security protection. It's interesting to note that Ravens wide receiver Jacoby Jones (and not safety Ed Reed) presented the gift on behalf of the organization in New Orleans. Jones and Reed are both New Orleans natives, but Reed will be a free agent next week.

BENGALS: Shaun Prater, a cornerback who was drafted in the fifth round last season, told the team's official website that his knee has been healthy since Week 10 last season after being knocked out of training camp with patella tendinitis. It was a redshirt year of sorts for Prater, who attended meetings last year despite going on injured reserve on Aug. 24. According to the team's website, Prater has impressed the team with his intelligence and strength to play press corner. He's competing for a backup job in the secondary this season.

STEELERS: The agent for Willie Colon, the Steelers' starting left guard last season, told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the Steelers informed him that they currently plan to do nothing with Colon's contract. It's been assumed that the Steelers would release Colon, a move that would save the team $1.9 million off the cap. Colon's agent told the Post-Gazette that the team hasn't even asked the lineman to reduce his $5.5 million salary in 2013. Colon had knee surgery last December and ended up on injured reserve for the third consecutive season.

BROWNS: The Plain Dealer's Terry Pluto believes the Browns won't re-sign kicker Phil Dawson based on the track record of chief executive officer Joe Banner. When Banner was the Eagles' president a couple of years ago, he chose to draft kicker Alex Henery in the fourth round instead of keeping David Akers, a 36-year-old at the time who was coming off a Pro Bowl season. "My guess is he'd rather drop a player a year too early than a year too late," Pluto wrote. "I also wouldn't be shocked if Dawson ends up with the 49ers to kick for Brad Seely, the Browns' former special teams coach." Akers was released by the 49ers on Wednesday, which does open the door for Dawson when free agency begins Tuesday.
The AFC North blog wanted to know what the fans thought about the drafts for each of the division teams. Now, let's compare your grades against the ones given by ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.:

CINCINNATI BENGALS

The picks: CB Dre Kirkpatrick (first round), G Kevin Zeitler (first round), DT Devon Still (second round), WR Mohamed Sanu (third round), DT Brandon Thompson (third round), TE Orson Charles (fourth round), CB Shaun Prater (fifth round), WR Marvin Jones (fifth round), S George Iloka (fifth round), RB Dan "Boom" Herron (sixth round).

Kiper's grade: A-minus

Fans' grade: A (42 percent in the SportsNation poll)

Fans' comments:

Adam from Dayton: Bengals Draft Grade: A -- I thought that the Bengals did an excellent job in adding depth. The one "head scratcher" that seemed to come about this year was trading their second first round pick when they could have got David DeCastro, the highest-rated guard. Granted they received an extra pick and still grabbed a very big and strong guard a few picks later in Kevin Zeitler with that trade, I think it really boiled down to the fact they could have got the best guard, instead all of Bengal Nation saw him go to the Steelers. All-in-all, everyone knows the AFC North is an old-school run -first division, so beefing up the D-Line with a couple of huge, strong, and athletic linemen was a sound way to go and I for one am happy to see the new blood that the team has. These Bengals have tapped into the fountain of youth rather quickly, yet they are getting better and being built for the future.

Andheez: I went for an A. Kirkpatrick is solid. Zeitler is a beast. Some publications had Still as the top DT pre-combine. Not sold on Sanu, but I think the Charles pick was fantastic. I am not one to ostracize someone for a DUI. Prater, Iloka and Herron probably won't stick, but sounds like Jones was a nice find.

mann_usmc: I give the Bengals a C. Here we go drafting a CB in the first round again. Keep Johnathan Joseph and you can fill other spots (safety). The next four picks draw a big question mark. If you're going to draft an OG, then why not take the best prospect in a decade in DeCastro? You pass on him and allow the Steelers to draft him and all you gain is a third-round pick. That is a big miss in my opinion. Secondly, you draft two DTs when you already have Domata Peko and Geno Atkins. Sure these guys provide depth, but I would think that with my second-round and third-round picks to be a contributor. I wouldn't use draft picks that high for backups.


CLEVELAND BROWNS

The picks: RB Trent Richardson (first round), QB Brandon Weeden (first round), OT Mitchell Schwartz (second round), NT John Hughes (third round), WR Travis Benjamin (fourth round), LB James-Michael Johnson (fourth round), G Ryan Miller (fifth round), LB Emmanuel Acho (sixth round), DL Billy Winn (sixth round), CB Trevin Wade (seventh round), TE-FB Brad Smelley (seventh round).

Kiper's grade: B-minus

Fans' grade: B (38 percent)

Fans' comments:

Kovacs from Dallas: This draft is an A if Weeden works out but probably a low B or high C if he doesn't. Worst case the draft added two starters at key positions, RB and RT, and much-needed depth at areas where it was badly needed, DT and LB. If that's the worst case it's still a nice-looking haul.

Kyle from Columbus, Ohio: The Browns did a pretty good job of filling some holes and adding some depth. I really like the T. Richardson pick, but I think they reached a little for B. Weeden. My only complaint is that if you decide to take a first-round QB, you have to give him some weapons. T. Benjamin looks like a special-team guy, who may help out in the slot.

JBT1MIAMI: Simple D-minus. I'm still waiting for any fan to address why it's not an issue that Trent Richardson didn't compete at the combine because he had his knee scoped. How is he any better injury-wise than [Montario] Hardesty, knowing he's also had both ankles reconstructed. Why no issue with this? Why not just trade for [Rashard] Mendenhall if it's no issue. He's proven on the pro level. Think Steelers believe this kind of thing is an issue with running backs? I guess it's like training a dog, people have to separate emotional attachment of drafting a hyped running back, and learn about calm reasoning. Emotions just gave the Browns a 3-13 record.


BALTIMORE RAVENS

The picks: OLB Courtney Upshaw (second round), OT-G Kelechi Osemele (second round), RB Bernard Pierce (third round), C-G Gino Gradkowski (fourth round), S Christian Thompson (fourth round), CB Asa Jackson (fifth round), WR Tommy Streeter (sixth round), DT DeAngelo Tyson (seventh round).

Kiper's grade: B

Fans' grade: B (40 percent)

Fans' comments:

Shadowwolf1001: It's really toss-up. There are some strong picks here that would warrant an A, but there are also some picks I'm not too sure about which probably warrant a B. I'd have to vote B-plus with the potential of an A grade later on.

jdille123: C-plus. Ozzie [Newsome] must have taken this one off. Still got some good talent, but he usually does better.

youmadbromad: I gave them a D because they did not draft a new FG kicker.

Dave from Mansfield, Ohio: I'm giving the Raven a 'B.' They came into the draft with holes at LB, OT, OG and filled all of these needs. However while Upshaw should help feel the void left by Terrell Suggs, Kelechi Osemele should step in and start at guard and hopefully Gino Gradkowski develops as the replacement for Matt Birk. Plus Tommy Streeter has the potential to be a huge steal if his football skills catch up to his physical stature and speed.


PITTSBURGH STEELERS

The picks: G David DeCastro (first round), OT Mike Adams (second round), ILB Sean Spence (third round), NT Alameda Ta'amu (fourth round), RB Chris Rainey (fifth round), WR Toney Clemons (seventh round), TE David Paulson (seventh round), CB Terrence Frederick (seventh round), G Kelvin Beachum (seventh round).

Kiper's grade: B

Fans' grade: A (61 percent)

Fans' comments:

WhoDeyAJGreen: As a Bengal fan (obviously) and an OSU football fan, I graded them as a A-minus. Great value picks while also filling needs. The player that will make the difference between an A-minus and A-plus is Mike Adams. If he can get his [act] together, then they had one heck of a draft from top to bottom.
nyontopin2003: This draft looks like the 2002 draft from a potential standpoint and one can only hope it is that good. Interesting to see if the Steelers are going the four year route on players rounds 2 through 7 due to the Wallace situation, small cap issues expected in 2013-2015, or because they see those players being that good through the depth of this entire Steelers draft class. Only time will tell.

Tyrion_Scannister: Putting aside the fact that grading a draft right away is the dumbest thing ever, I gave it an "A". On paper, DeCastro looks like he was a steal, and Ta'amu will fit perfectly in that defense after some grooming. If those two pan out, and Mike Adams develops into a legitimate starting LT, this could be one of the best drafts for any team in a number of years.

Let's take a quick look at what the division teams did in the fourth and fifth rounds:

BENGALS: Cincinnati should play a lot more two tight end formations with the addition of Georgia's Orson Charles (fourth round). He can get open in the passing game and help out the running game with aggressive blocking. ... Iowa CB Shaun Prater (fifth round) is a strong worker who lacks ideal height (5 feet 10). He projects to be a nickel back down the road. ...California's Marvin Jones (fifth round) is the second wide receiver taken by Cincinnati (Rutger's Mohamed Sanu was the other). He isn't technically sound but he was impressive at the Senior Bowl. ... Boise State FS George Iloka (fifth round) has a lot of range in pass coverage but he is an inconsistent tackler.

BROWNS: Cleveland addressed the need for speed at receiver with Miami's Travis Benjamin (fourth round). His other contribution could come as a returner. ... Nevada's James-Michael Johnson (fourth round) is listed as an inside linebacker but he could be the eventual replacement for outside linebacker Scott Fujita. ... Colorado's Ryan Miller (fifth round) is a mauling lineman who is extremely tall (6 feet 7) for a guard. He projects to be a right guard.

RAVENS: The Ravens found their potential center of the future in Delaware's Gino Gradkowski (fourth round). He could also compete for the job at left guard, where Jah Reid is currently penciled in as the starter. ... South Carolina State FS Christian Thompson (fourth round) adds depth at safety, where the Ravens lost Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura in free agency. ... Cal Poly CB Asa Jackson (fifth round) shows great burst as a punt returner but he is a raw cornerback prospect.

STEELERS: Pittsburgh's strong draft continued when the team selected nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu from Washington (fourth round). He could be pressed to start right away with Casey Hampton (ACL surgery in January) isn't ready at the start of the season. ... Florida RB Chris Rainey (fifth round) is an undersized explosive playmaker. He lasted this long because of character concerns.

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