AFC North: Tyrod Taylor

ORLANDO, Fla. -- All of the AFC coaches met with reporters Tuesday morning, and here are the highlights of the hour-long breakfast with Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh:
  • Harbaugh acknowledged he was surprised when owner Steve Bisciotti offered him a one-year contract extension last month.
  • Ray Rice was as heavy as 217 pounds last season, according to Harbaugh. The Ravens would like Rice to be around 207 pounds this season. Harbaugh reiterated that Rice "will be part of our team."
  • Harbaugh was very strong on three player arrests in a month span were "unacceptable."
  • Jeremy Zuttah, who was acquired in a trade with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, has been brought in to be the starting center. Harbaugh talked with Gino Gradkowski, last year's starter, to break the news.
  • The plan is to start Kelechi Osemele at left guard, which is where he is most comfortable. But, depending on what the Ravens do in the draft, Osemele could still play right tackle.
  • As of right now, Rick Wagner would start at right tackle. Wagner was a fifth-round pick from last year. Of course, the draft could change this.
  • Asked how the Ravens would replace defensive tackle Arthur Jones in the starting lineup, Harbaugh talked about starting Brandon Williams alongside Haloti Ngata at defensive tackle. He also mentioned using Kapron Lewis-Moore as well.
  • Harbaugh has been "disappointed" in how backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor has played, but he said Taylor's best football is ahead of him. Given that Taylor has one year left on his contract, the Ravens are looking at quarterbacks in free agency and the draft.
  • Joe Flacco has workouts scheduled with his receivers, but Harbaugh doesn't know when they will occur.
  • Harbaugh said the Ravens aren't done in free agency. "I think we're actively engaged with a number of guys, some on our team and some who are free agents," he said.
  • In terms of tight ends, the Ravens have Owen Daniels and Ed Dickson on their radar.
  • The Ravens are looking to extend the contracts of cornerback Jimmy Smith and wide receiver Torrey Smith. The team will pick up the 2015 option on Jimmy Smith in May.
  • Harbaugh is in favor of expanding the replay system. He likes Patriots coach Bill Belichick's proposal of having everything subject to a coach's challenge.
  • The Ravens haven't talked to inside linebacker Rolando McClain about a potential return. Harbaugh, though, said he would welcome McClain if he can help the team. It depends on how hard McClain is working and how much he has matured, Harbaugh said.
  • Harbaugh said the Ravens will have a tougher and more physical training camp this year because his players are younger.
  • The seventh-round pick acquired from the Miami Dolphins in the trade for offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie is for the 2015 draft, Harbaugh confirmed. It was originally reported it was for the 2014 draft.
The Baltimore Ravens reportedly talked to Brandon Weeden before the quarterback signed with the Dallas Cowboys, which is exactly what the Ravens should be doing. The Ravens need to upgrade the backup quarterback position, and the team has been lucky that Joe Flacco has never missed a start in his six-year NFL career.

Tyrod Taylor, the Ravens' backup for the past three seasons, can get the team through a game if Flacco got hurt. But, if Flacco had to miss a significant amount of time, the Ravens' season would be over because Taylor isn't an accurate passer.

If the Ravens wanted to add more insurance at the quarterback spot, they should sign Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was cut by the Tennessee Titans. Fitzpatrick is streaky and interception prone, but he is the most serviceable backup left in free agency. He has started at least eight games over the past six seasons, and he has thrown 85 touchdowns in the past four years.

Flacco endured more hard hits last season than any of his previous seasons, and the Ravens had to re-evaluate their backup quarterback situation toward the end of last season when Flacco took that shot to his knee in Detroit. The Ravens can't expect Flacco to be there every week. That's a luxury, not a reality.

Look at what the other top teams in the AFC have done at backup quarterback. The Broncos invested a second-round pick in Brock Osweiler, and the Patriots used a third-rounder on Ryan Mallett. The Ravens have tried to develop Taylor, but he's never completed 60 percent of his passes in the preseason and he's looked ragged in limited action in the regular season.

Other than Fitzpatrick, there's not much left with free-agent quarterbacks. Jason Campbell, Michael Vick, Matt Flynn and Rex Grossman are available.

Like they've done the past two seasons, the Ravens will add a free-agent quarterback at some point. They signed Curtis Painter in 2012 and Caleb Hanie in 2013. Both were cut by the end of the preseason.

The Ravens shouldn't just bring in someone who will compete against Taylor this year. They should bring in someone who can actually win the job.
When Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was asked if it was fun splitting out as a wide receiver, he gave an honest answer. He also gave the right answer.

"I want to line up behind center," Flacco said after the Ravens' 19-3 win over the New York Jets on Sunday.

The Ravens showed unpredictability when they put athletic backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor in shotgun or pistol formation a handful of times. On those plays, Flacco lined up on the outside as a receiver.

After the game, Flacco was candid in saying, it's "fun for a little bit, but that’s it."

There should controversy if Flacco said anything different. You want your quarterback to have this attitude. You want him to believe he's the best option under center. And, make no mistake, Flacco should be the quarterback when the Ravens are facing third-and-10 or a deficit with two minutes left in the game. He has the better arm and has more experience. In case it slipped your mind, Flacco was holding up the Lombardi Trophy nine months ago.

This is kind of the same situation from a year ago when Flacco was asked if he was the best quarterback in the NFL. Flacco was right to say that, too. No matter what you or I think, Flacco should believe he's the best quarterback in the league.

As I wrote Sunday night, I can see how Flacco could take the increased snaps for Taylor as a slap in the face. He signed a $120.6 million contract to be a quarterback, not a decoy or spectator. But this is more a knock against the Ravens' running game than passing attack.

There was no confidence that the Ravens could get anything going on the ground against the NFL's top-ranked run defense. Taylor did provide a spark and produced a 17-yard run, the longest of the game for Baltimore.

The Ravens have to get creative on offense if they want to win. Look at the points scored for the past six games: 17, 16, 18, 20, 20 and 19. So, using more of Taylor shouldn't suggest he's supplanting Flacco. It's an indication that the 30th-ranked offense is willing to do whatever it takes to get better.
BALTIMORE -- In Sunday's 19-3 win over the New York Jets, the Baltimore Ravens added a wrinkle to a struggling offense by using backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor in a wildcat attack. It drew cheers from the fans at M&T Bank Stadium, but not from quarterback Joe Flacco.

Asked about the wildcat, Flacco said, "It's good and fun for a little bit. But that's about it."

A reporter then asked Flacco if he enjoys lining up at wide receiver in the wildcat.

"I don't want to be lining up at Z and X (wide receiver spots)," Flacco said. "I want to line up behind center."

No one should be surprised by Flacco making his opinion known. All you had to do is watch Flacco line up at wide receiver. He was so disinterested that he kept his hands in his front pouch and barely moved off the line after the ball was snapped.

It's easy to see why Flacco feels this is a slap in the face. The Ravens paid him $120.6 million to throw the ball and not split out wide. But he shouldn't be too offended. Even the Pittsburgh Steelers ran the wildcat with Ben Roethlisberger and he's won two Super Bowls.

Taylor lined up at quarterback for five of the Ravens' 62 plays and generated excitement early until the Jets dropped him for losses of six and seven yards on his final two carries. He finished with seven yards on four carries and didn't complete his only pass attempt.

"We've talked about getting Tyrod more involved," coach John Harbaugh said. "He's a special athlete. He happens to play quarterback. He's a quarterback -- I want to emphasize that. But he's also got other skills that he can help us with."

Will the Ravens use the wildcat more in the future?

"I can't tell you," Harbaugh said. "I can't comment on that, as you all know. We'll see."

If you ask the reigning Super Bowl Most Valuable Player, the Ravens wouldn't use it again.

BALTIMORE -- One of the more uncharacteristic trends this preseason for the Baltimore Ravens has been Joe Flacco's turnovers.

He has been intercepted four times in six quarters of work. He's been picked off in every game. Flacco threw an interception on his first drive of the preseason. He threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown. He threw an interception in the red zone. In total, he's averaging one interception every 10.5 pass attempts.

Are the Ravens worried about this unexpected development?

"Joe is not one to throw interceptions, as we all know," coach John Harbaugh said after Thursday night's 34-27 loss to the Carolina Panthers. "We’ll be concerned about them -- Joe more than anybody. We’ll take a hard look at it with Jim [Caldwell, offensive coordinator] and [senior offensive assistant] Craig Ver Steeg. We’ll assess where we’re at with him."

Flacco's handful of interceptions are more surprising than troubling. This is the same quarterback who wasn't picked off in his final six games last season, a streak of 195 passes. In four postseason games, he put up Joe Montana-like numbers of 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions.

The increased number of turnovers in the preseason isn't a sign that Flacco has changed. It's evidence that the receivers around him have.

Flacco knew he could throw passes in tight spots to wide receiver Anquan Boldin and tight end Dennis Pitta. It's a trust that was built up in throwing to those players for three years. Flacco isn't going to have that same familiarity with his receivers after three preseason games. Three of his targets on Thursday night -- wide receiver Brandon Stokley and tight ends Dallas Clark and Visanthe Shiancoe -- weren't in a Ravens uniform when training camp began.

And, when analyzing each interception, you can blame miscommunication or a receiver not fighting for the ball as much as Flacco. The interception that falls on Flacco's shoulders was the one where he stared down Shiancoe in the red zone on Thursday and was picked off by middle linebacker Luke Kuechly.

"A lot of that is [that] he’s trying to get a feel for guys," Harbaugh said. "I can’t say if everybody was exactly where they were supposed to be on the routes or not -- that’s the stuff we’ll look at. Joe will be the first to take responsibility -- he has always been that way. I don’t expect that to be an issue this year, but we’ve got to make sure it’s not."

Here are some other notes from the Ravens' third preseason game:
  • Halfway into his postgame news conference, Harbaugh said, "I'm waiting for the Jimmy Smith question. You got one for me?" Harbaugh was referencing the cornerback who was criticized last week for struggling against Atlanta. After a cameraman played along and asked the coach about Smith, Harbaugh said, "Jimmy Smith played very well. He was physical at the line. They’ve got excellent receivers over there, and I think he did a nice job. Thanks for asking.”
  • Backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor went to the locker room in the fourth quarter with a head injury. "He went through the concussion protocol there, so we’ll just have to play that one by ear," Harbaugh said.
  • Harbaugh declined to say whether he saw any separation in the battle at wide receiver. Undrafted rookie Marlon Brown has made a strong case to make the team, leading the Ravens this preseason with six catches. "We have a bunch of guys that are probably going to play very well in this league over the next few years," Harbaugh said about his receivers. "They aren’t going to all be here, but they’re going to play somewhere, and I’m really kind of happy where we’re at with those guys. You probably saw today the things we’ve been seeing in practice for the last few weeks, and I’m glad you got a chance to see those things.”

Here are some thoughts on the Baltimore Ravens' 44-16 preseason win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium:
  • As far as the first-team offense goes, it was a forgettable performance. Joe Flacco went 7-of-9 for 57 yards in one quarter of work. His worst throw was getting the ball late to Jacoby Jones on the sideline, where it was intercepted by former Ravens cornerback Danny Gorrer. The offensive line didn't open many holes for Ray Rice (7 yards on three carries) and let an unblocked Lavonte David sack Flacco, while left tackle Bryant McKinnie was standing and blocking no one).
  • Two newcomers on defense, defensive lineman Chris Canty and inside linebacker Daryl Smith, made great first impressions. On the first three plays of the game, Canty pushed his blocker back (which led to a 1-yard loss on a run), hurried quarterback Josh Freeman into an incompletion and then sacked Freeman on third down. Smith was everywhere in that first quarter and displayed great awareness when he jumped on an inside screen pass.
  • There were two injuries of note, but it appears neither is serious. Backup running back Bernard Pierce limped off the field after scoring a 20-yard touchdown and didn't get another touch the rest of the game. Wide receiver Deonte Thompson, who is fighting for a starting job, appeared to hurt his ankle late in the second quarter. Because it occurred with less than two minutes remaining, Thompson made sure he got off the field so the Ravens wouldn't be charged with a timeout. Asked about the injuries after the game, coach John Harbaugh told reporters, "We're looking pretty good right now."
  • Wide receiver LaQuan Williams made a strong case to make the team. Williams knows he has to to have a presence on special teams and he came up big, recovering a fumble of a muffed punt return and recovering a blocked punt in the end zone for a touchdown. He also caught a 21-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter.
  • Nothing was cleared up in the Ravens' competition for the No. 2 receiver spot. Thompson had one catch for 5 yards, and Jacoby Jones and Tandon Doss both didn't make a reception. Jones couldn't hold onto a Flacco pass on third-and-2 in the first quarter.
  • Based on the limited action for the first-team defense, it looks like Courtney Upshaw will play outside linebacker on running downs and Elvis Dumervil will come on the field for passing situations. Dumervil, the team's biggest free-agent pickup, is regarded as one of the top pass-rushers in the league.
  • The Ravens obviously want to give a lot of work to backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who hasn't seen much playing time in the regular season in his two previous seasons. He completed 13 of 23 passes (56.5 percent) for 154 yards and two touchdowns. His last touchdown pass, a 21-yarder to Aaron Mellette, showed nice touch. Taylor also ran for 27 yards.

Links: Where does Ravens' Taylor rank?

July, 15, 2013
Baltimore Ravens

Where does Tyrod Taylor, the third-year veteran out of Virginia Tech, rank among the league’s backup quarterbacks?

Rookie safety Matt Elam has his eyes on a Super Bowl ring, “I’ve got to get me one of those.”

Peter Schmuck, of the Baltimore Sun, says this week is going to be just plain boring for the Ravens. "Not bad boring. Not the kind of boring that means there's no reason to pay attention, of course. Certainly not the snooze-because-you-always-lose kind of boring that will infect some of the training camps at the other end of the NFL pecking order."

Ravens tackle Bryant McKinnie tweets how working out is more important than attending an awards show.

What was the reaction among Ravens players to the George Zimmerman case? The Baltimore Sun compiles the list.

Cincinnati Bengals

Cincinnati's Adam “Pacman” Jones was invited to speak to inner-city kids at the Cathedral City’s All American Youth Football League Kickoff Event on Friday. Jones told USA Today's For The Win: “The only thing I can talk about are true life experiences. I’m going to be honest with them and whatever questions they ask me, I’ll answer. Be accountable and responsible for all your actions. School is cool, guns are not. Just keep working hard, enjoy your childhood.”

Bengals writer Joe Reedy continues his position-by-position analysis leading into the first training camp practice with a look at the receiver position.

Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick has started a foundation called 21 Kids.

Cleveland Browns

Craig Robertson’s speed and coverage skills have helped him position himself in the driver’s seat for a starting inside linebacker role, writes Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer continues its countdown of the Browns' 100 best all-time players, including No. 15 Gary Collins, No. 14 Bob Gain and No. 13 Mike McCormack.

Can the Browns go 4-2 in the division this season? The Plain Dealer's Mary Kay Cabot answers this question and more in her mailbag.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers are not commenting on the photos of the Pouncey brothers wearing "Free Hernandez" hats, but John Clayton reports the team plans to talk to Maurkice Pouncey.

In case you were wondering, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger reveals to The London Mirror which team he thinks will win the Premier League.

Coach Mike Tomlin's camp for kids is about more than just football, reports Teresa Varley of the team's official website.

Former wide receiver Mike Wallace predicts his experiences in Miami will be different than his time in Pittsburgh. "Out there [in Pittsburgh] we had so many great leaders that I really didn't have to say too much, I really didn't have to do too much, just go out and do my job. But here, I have to do my job and motivate at the same time."
The Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers have changed their backup quarterback this offseason. The Baltimore Ravens could be another.

The Ravens announced Tuesday that they signed quarterback Caleb Hanie, who played for the Chicago Bears and Denver Broncos. Ravens officials said Hanie will get a chance to compete to be the third quarterback on the team. But, like Curtis Painter last season, Hanie could receive a chance to compete against Tyrod Taylor for the backup spot behind Joe Flacco.

Hanie, 27, has made four starts in his five-year NFL career (going 0-4) with three touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Last season, he didn't throw a pass as the No. 3 quarterback in Denver.

"He's a talented guy," coach John Harbaugh said. "He's played in games and maybe hasn't been in the ideal situation for him yet. But, based on the evaluation of a pro personnel department and our coaches, they felt like he fit us pretty well. If he fits the bill, he can be our third quarterback."

Taylor has been the Ravens' backup for the past two seasons but he hasn't established himself because he's looked ragged in limited playing time. In last season's finale, Taylor completed 15 of 25 passes for 149 yards and had an interception returned for a touchdown.

Backup quarterback hasn't been an important position on the Ravens. Since Flacco joined the Ravens in 2008, he has started all 93 games (including playoffs).
Leading up to the start of the NFL draft (it's only 10 days away), the AFC North blog will evaluate each position and where it stands as a need for each division team. Let's start with the quarterbacks, which is an intriguing draft talking point in the AFC North.

The Cleveland Browns are the only AFC North team without an established starter, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see the other division teams use a mid-to-late round pick on a quarterback. While I list the Browns as having the biggest draft need at quarterback, you can make a case for the Bengals, Ravens and Steelers being No. 2.

This is the ranking in terms of needing to draft a quarterback:

1. Cleveland Browns: I don't see Cleveland taking a quarterback with the No. 6 overall pick. The Browns, though, could take one as early as the second round if they trade back in the first round and acquire a pick in the second. Cleveland has taken an up-close look at most of the top quarterbacks, from Geno Smith to Matt Barkley to E.J. Manuel to Ryan Nassib. All of the options are open for the Browns, who can draft a quarterback to compete with Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell or select one to develop behind them.

2. Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals have Josh Johnson and John Skelton as backups to Andy Dalton. I wouldn't say they are set at quarterback. Johnson and Skelton have a combined 8-14 record as starters. The Bengals have worked out Manuel and Nassib, which shows they're doing their homework on some of the top quarterbacks in the draft. Still, it would be a surprise to see Cincinnati draft a quarterback in the first three rounds. The Bengals may take one in the middle rounds if the right quarterback is there.

3. Baltimore Ravens: This may raise some eyebrows because the Ravens have gone with Tyrod Taylor as the backup to Joe Flacco for the past two seasons. There has been a sense that the Ravens would like to upgrade the backup spot. Baltimore brought in Curtis Painter to compete with Taylor last offseason. Taylor also didn't instill confidence in a sporadic performance in the regular-season finale at Cincinnati. The Ravens have multiple picks in the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh rounds. In other words, they have enough to take a flier on a quarterback.

4. Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers have been questioned in recent years about when they're going to draft a quarterback to develop behind Ben Roethlisberger. With Roethlisberger turning 31 last month, those questions will only increase. The Steelers created some buzz when they had dinner with quarterback Tyler Bray before attending his pro day. Pittsburgh is set at backup quarterback after signing Bruce Gradkowski this offseason. The Steelers, though, can draft a quarterback to compete with John Parker Wilson for the No. 3 spot.
» NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Welcome to Eight in the Box, an NFL Nation feature that will appear each Friday during the offseason. This week’s topic: How each AFC North team needs to address the quarterback position.

Baltimore Ravens: The biggest issue with Baltimore is whether it will reach a long-term deal with Joe Flacco by Monday or use the franchise tag on him to keep him off the free-agent market. If the Ravens use the tag, it will likely be the exclusive one to stop Flacco from negotiating with other teams. It's safe to say the Super Bowl MVP will remain the Ravens' starter in 2013. There is more uncertainty with the backup spot. Tyrod Taylor has been Flacco's backup the past two seasons, but there was a sense that Baltimore tried to upgrade the spot when it signed Curtis Painter last offseason. It wouldn't be a surprise if the Ravens used a late-round pick on a quarterback or signed a veteran free agent to compete with Taylor again. The backup quarterback position hasn't been an important spot for the Ravens because Flacco hasn't missed a game in five NFL seasons. UPDATE: The Ravens and Flacco agreed to a long-term deal Friday night.

Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals can't be happy that Andy Dalton had four interceptions returned for touchdowns last season and flopped in the playoffs for a second consecutive year. But Cincinnati still has confidence in Dalton and isn't expected to bring in anyone who will threaten his hold on the starting job. There is a decision to be made at the No. 2 spot because Bruce Gradkowski is a free agent. The Bengals will probably look to re-sign Gradkowski, who is familiar with Jay Gruden's offense. If the team decides to go in a different direction, the Bengals could add another veteran backup (which has been head coach Marvin Lewis' preference) or use a late-round pick on a quarterback.

Cleveland Browns: This is the one starting quarterback job that is up in the air in the division. The Browns' new regime will have a competition in training camp, but Brandon Weeden is still considered the favorite to remain the starter. There's a chance that the Browns will trade for Patriots backup Ryan Mallett, a rumored favorite of vice president of player personnel Mike Lombardi. Cleveland, though, would prefer not to give up a draft pick after using a second-round one on wide receiver Josh Gordon in last year's supplemental draft. And it doesn't sound as though the Browns intend to draft a quarterback like Geno Smith with the No. 6 overall pick. The Browns can provide some competition for Weeden by signing the Dolphins' Matt Moore or the Saints' Chase Daniel out of a weak free-agent class.

Pittsburgh Steelers: As long as Ben Roethlisberger stays healthy, there's no question that he's the starting quarterback. Roethlisberger, though, hasn't played a full season since 2008, which puts more emphasis on the backup position. This could be the year when the Steelers look for a younger quarterback in the mid-to-late rounds to develop. Zac Dysert, a Miami (Ohio) quarterback like Roethlisberger, is expected to go in the fourth or fifth round. The Steelers went with more experienced backups last season in Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich, both of whom are free agents and whose returns are uncertain. Batch is 38 years old, and Leftwich is not durable. Even if there was a better free-agent backup available, Pittsburgh doesn't have the cap room to sign him.
Nearly all the AFC North teams played it safe in Thursday night's preseason finales. Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco and Brandon Weeden all sat out and watched the backup quarterbacks play.

The only starter who played, the Bengals' Andy Dalton, left in the first quarter with an injury but it's not considered serious. Dalton said his hand went "a little numb" after getting hit in the arm but it's "no problem at all." Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said, "Andy’s fine. He’ll be fine for Baltimore. He would have gone right back in this game if it had been the regular season.” So, crisis averted.

If you couldn't watch all four division teams play simultaneously, you're in luck. I had my eye on each one and here are some observations:


In the 20-16 loss at Indianapolis, Dalton was hurt on the opening drive after getting sandwiched. Offensive tackles Andrew Whitworth and Dennis Roland both got beaten for sacks on the play. It hasn't been a great preseason for Whitworth, who is the second-best left tackle in the division.

The Bengals didn't play their top two running backs, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Bernard Scott, because both are recovering from injuries and are getting ready for the regular-season opener. For once, Cincinnati's run game didn't suffer. Brian Leonard ran hard and broke tackles for 27 yards on three carries. Cedric Peerman, who makes more of an impact on special teams, looked good on a 13-yard run up the middle.

No one wants to see Dalton hurt. The Bengals, though, have to feel comfortable with backup Bruce Gradkowski. He finished 12 of 19 for 95 yards and led his fourth touchdown drive of the preseason.

Rookie wide receiver Marvin Jones displayed some resiliency in the second quarter. On the same drive in which he dropped a touchdown pass, he came back to catch a back-shoulder throw from Gradkowski and ran into the end zone. Jones is making a push for some playing time this year.


In the 28-20 loss to Chicago, Colt McCoy watched his strong preseason take a nosedive. In his first start this summer, McCoy was 2 of 5 for 16 yards for a 9.1 quarterback rating. That's going to put a dent into McCoy's 119.1 rating from the first three games. McCoy was also intercepted on a high pass that was thrown with no pressure around him. The Browns will let everyone know what they plan to do with McCoy on Friday.

The Browns have a concern at linebacker after rookie James-Michael Johnson left with an oblique injury. With Chris Gocong out for the season with an Achilles injury and Scott Fujita facing a three-game suspension from the NFL, Cleveland planned to depend on Johnson and Kaluka Maiava. The Browns might need Fujita to win his appeal to avoid going deeper on the depth chart. Johnson was having a strong performance before getting injured on an open-field tackle.

Backup running back Montario Hardesty had trouble getting back to the line of scrimmage because he got little help from his blockers. He finished with 24 yards on six carries and he didn't fumble for the first time since the preseason opener. Brandon Jackson fared much better, gaining 48 yards on seven carries.

Cornerback James Dockery was flagged twice for pass interference in the second quarter. The second one eventually led to a touchdown. Rookie cornerback Trevin Wade was physical and had good coverage in allowing the first touchdown of the game.

As if the Browns needed something else to worry about, they have to iron some things out on special teams. Reggie Hodges got his second punt blocked this preseason.


In a 31-17 loss at St. Louis, Sergio Kindle hurt his chances of surviving Friday's cutdown. He hit quarterback Sam Bradford a full second late, drawing a roughing-the-passer penalty to help the Rams convert third-and-22. Kindle, a 2010 second-round pick, was on the bubble entering this game.

Continuing Thursday night's trend of rookies getting hurt, second-round pick Courtney Upshaw will have an MRI for his strained shoulder, according to coach John Harbaugh. Upshaw has been backing up Albert McClellan at outside linebacker.

Veteran linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo had his worst game with the Ravens. Working with the first-team defense because most of the starters sat, Ayanbadejo struggled against the run and got lost in coverage. It was so bad that he apologized for his performance on Twitter.

What I like the most about Tyrod Taylor, who started in place of Flacco, is his ability to make plays with his legs. Even though he focused more on being a pocket passer, Taylor wasn't hesitant to take off for a 22-yard scramble. He did get stripped from behind earlier in the game, but it was the result of a third-string lineman (Cord Howard) getting beat by a former first-round pick (Robert Quinn).

Looking at Curtis Painter's up-and-down performance, I'm not sure he convinced the Ravens to keep three quarterbacks. He threw two touchdowns and was intercepted three times. One interception was returned 76 yards for a touchdown.

Justin Tucker missed his first kick of the preseason, but it's difficult to be critical of him. It was a 57-yard attempt. He later hit a 49-yarder in the third quarter.


If this was Charlie Batch's last game with the Steelers, he made it a memorable one, or at least as memorable as the preseason gets. In the 17-16 victory over Carolina, he completed 11 of 14 passes for 102 yards. Batch showed great touch in leading Emmauel Sanders out of double coverage for a 37-yard touchdown. The new rule regarding injured reserve helps Batch's chances of sticking around Pittsburgh for an 11th season, but there's no guarantee that he'll make the cut.

For the second consecutive week, a Steelers draft pick went down with a serious knee injury. With two minutes left in the third quarter, linebacker Sean Spence hyperextended his knee while chasing quarterback Jimmy Clausen. Spence's knee bent awkwardly underneath him, and the third-round pick needed to be carted off the field. Spence was expected to make an impact on special teams this season and could have received playing time if there were injuries at inside linebacker. Unlike David DeCastro's knee injury, this one happened on the natural grass of Heinz Field.

This isn't a newsflash, but rookie running back-receiver-returner Chris Rainey is a game-changer. He twice scored on punt returns in one quarter, only to have both brought back because of penalties. This would've given him the touchdown trifecta. The fifth-round pick had scored on a 41-yard run and a 57-yard catch this summer.

Nose tackle Casey Hampton made his preseason debut after having ACL surgery in January. His presence was felt immediately as he got off a block from guard Mike Pollak and made a tackle. Hampton's return was good to see for the Steelers, even though Steve McLendon has played well enough to start.

Jonathan Dwyer solidfied himself as the primary backup to Isaac Redman, and the Steelers could need him based on Redman's durability. Dwyer was physical (even delivered a stiff-arm) and showed good feet to elude tacklers. He finished with 63 yards on 13 carries, a 4.8-yard average.

AFC North backup QB outlook

August, 29, 2012
You're not going to see a lot of the starting quarterbacks in Thursday's preseason finales. Some starters won't play at all. It's a smart move because the last thing you want is to get your quarterback hurt in a game that's primarily for the fringe players trying to make a roster.

The preseason finale will feature extended looks at the backup quarterbacks, too. Here's how the safety nets at the game's most important position are shaping up heading into the final preseason game:


Backup battle: This is the one place in the division where there really isn't one. Bruce Gradkowski will be the backup. In fact, he'll be the only quarterback on the roster besides starter Andy Dalton. Gradkowski has had another solid preseason, throwing two touchdowns and no interceptions for a 97.9 quarterback rating.

Who should win: Going way out on a limb and say Gradkowski.


Backup battle: Colt McCoy really separated himself from Seneca Wallace in the third preseason game. McCoy went 7-of-9 for 74 yards and one touchdown. Wallace completed 3 of 6 passes for 29 yards and one interception. Head coach Pat Shurmur named McCoy the starter for Thursday night.

Who should win: While some still think McCoy is getting traded to Green Bay, I see him staying in Cleveland. He's proven to be better than Wallace and he's cheaper to keep than Wallace.


Backup battle: Curtis Painter has outplayed incumbent Tyrod Taylor this preseason. Painter, who played under quarterback coach Jim Caldwell in Indianapolis last season, has completed 54.1 percent of his passes, throwing four touchdowns and one interception for a rating of 95.2. Taylor has connected on less than half of his throws (47.9 percent) with two touchdowns and one interception for a 70.5 rating.

Who should win: If this competition is based on performance, Painter would win based on the preseason. I'm still going with Taylor, who has been the better quarterback in practice. The Ravens coaching staff won't be able to forget the numerous interceptions thrown by Painter in training camp.


Backup battle: The Steelers are in the best backup quarterback situation in the division with Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch, two veteran quarterbacks who can win games when Ben Roethlisberger gets hurt. The Steelers let Charlie Batch take over for Roethlisberger in Week 2 and he completed 7 of 10 passes for 84 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. Leftwich replaced Roethlisberger last week and he went 5 of 8 for 105 yards and two touchdowns.

Who should win: Leftwich clearly won the job with his preseason performance last week. It looks like this could be the end for Batch. This is his 11th season with the Steelers, which is the second-longest current tenure of any quarterback with one team behind Tom Brady.
CINCINNATI -- I'm on my second and final day of my visit to Bengals training camp. Practice doesn't begin until 3 p.m., which means the AFC North weekly chat will stay with the scheduled 2 p.m. start. There will be plenty to talk about from Browns running back Trent Richardson nursing a sore knee to the Steelers deciding not to trade disgruntled wide receiver Mike Wallace. If that doesn't start your day off right, here's your wake-up call:

BENGALS: Andrew Hawkins is a busy man for the team. He's listed as the No. 2 returner on punts and kickoffs. He's one of the top gunners from last season's top-10 punt coverage team. And he's the No. 1 slot receiver. "I love it," Hawkins told the team's official website. "I told the coaches when I got here I'd do anything." Hensley's slant: The Bengals aren't expected to carry both Hawkins and Jordan Shipley on the 53-man roster. At this point, Hawkins has the edge because he's more versatile and valuable.

BROWNS: Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer thinks Colt McCoy has to realize that being a backup quarterback is a good job. "While the team was not thrilled about McCoy questioning the 'fairness' of how the coaches dealt with the quarterback, they also understand that this is the first time at any level that he lost a starting job," Pluto wrote. "But McCoy must come to terms that being one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of Texas high school football -- and a star in college with the Longhorns -- doesn't count anymore." Hensley's slant: It's true that McCoy has been a team player up to this point, so you have to give him a pass for expressing his emotions after losing the quarterback competition. McCoy can have a long career as a backup with the right mindset. The Browns have to think his $540,000 salary for this year (compared to Seneca Wallace's $2.4 million salary) is the right price for a backup.

RAVENS: Ravens first-year quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell said quarterback Tyrod Taylor is "growing by leaps and bounds," Caldwell told Comcast SportsNet. "Today, he had a pretty good day out there throwing the ball, and we’ve seen that pretty much every day," Caldwell said. "So, it’s a steady climb for him. The more reps he gets, I think the better he will be. [Taylor is] certainly not perfect, but obviously, he has some things you just can’t teach in terms of his ability to escape and run and make plays outside of the pocket.” Hensley's slant: It's obvious to anyone who has watched Ravens training camp that Taylor has the edge over Curtis Painter to be Joe Flacco's primary backup. Taylor has a stronger arm, is more athletic and has been making better decisions. The Ravens, though, have never needed a backup the past four years because Flacco has yet to miss a game.

STEELERS: The team announced two rookie linemen -- right guard David DeCastro and left tackle Mike Adams -- will start Thursday's preseason opener, but both have yet to win starting jobs for the regular-season opener. DeCastro is starting because right guard Ramon Foster will start at left guard for the injured Willie Colon, and Adams will have to beat out Max Starks when he comes off the Physically Unable to Perform list. Still, the Steelers are impressed the poise of their first two picks in the 2012 draft. "There have been no signs of panic or anything like that," offensive coordinator Todd Haley told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Hensley's slant: It would have been asking a lot for both rookies to have a flawless start to their first training camps. DeCastro and Adams can take big steps forward with strong efforts in these preseason games. There's a good chance both will be in the starting lineup in the opener at Denver.
Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:

Troy Smith is not giving up on his dream of playing quarterback in the NFL after getting cut by the Steelers nearly two weeks ago.

Smith, the Heisman Trophy winner in 2006, said a few teams contacted him the day he was cut, but he doesn't know where he'll play again.

"We'll just keep plugging and plugging," Smith told the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

The Plain Dealer reported that Steelers coach Mike Tomlin told Smith he thought he could start in this league and wanted to let him go early enough to catch on with another team. Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, who drafted Smith in the fifth round in 2007, said Smith can "definitely" play in the NFL.

Hensley's slant: Time appears to be running out for Smith. He wasn't going to be the No. 2 quarterback for the Steelers, who have Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch. But it could be tough for him to catch on to another team. The Dolphins passed on him last August, and despite Newsome's positive comments, the Ravens didn't re-sign him.

BENGALS: The Cincinnati Enquirer posted some historical statistics that "might make you cringe." Perhaps the most cringe-worthy is this one: Of the 28 teams that were in the NFL in 1983, every franchise has made back-to-back playoff appearances except the Bengals. The expansion Texans and Panthers have never made consecutive trips to the postseason. Even the Browns, who weren't in the league for three seasons, went to the postseason in five straight seasons (1985-89). Hensley's slant: The Bengals have actually enjoyed a good amount of success recently. They've been to the playoffs three times since 2005, the same amount as the Cowboys over that span. The problem has been maintaining consistent success.

BROWNS: The NFL Players Association filed a lawsuit against the NFL on behalf of three players suspended in connection with the bounty investigation, including Browns linebacker Scott Fujita. The suit calls commissioner Roger Goodell "incurably and evidently biased." This comes after the players' appeals were shot down by Goodell. "The investigation and arbitration process that the Commissioner's public relations machinery touted as 'thorough and fair' has, in reality, been a sham," the lawsuit stated. Hensley's slant: Fujita only has himself to blame when it comes to the process. He was on the NFLPA executive committee that signed off on Goodell's powerful role in the new collective bargaining agreement. I'm guessing many players are going to regret giving Goodell so much authority.

RAVENS: In trying to land the backup quarterback job, Curtis Painter is adjusting to a new playbook and new teammates. But he isn't dealing with new faces everywhere. Quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell was Painter's head coach last season when both were with the Indianapolis Colts. “Anytime you come into a new situation and have a little bit of familiarity, to have a player or a coach you know, it definitely helps out,” Painter told the Carroll County (Md.) Times. “Having him as the quarterbacks coach and being in that room, we’ve obviously had a relationship. So, that makes it an easier transition." Hensley's slant: Painter's ties to Caldwell might have helped him in beating out Dennis Dixon and Kyle Boller in an offseason tryout, but Painter hasn't received any guarantees, especially when you look at his contract. He signed a one-year, $615,000 deal that doesn't include a signing bonus. Still, the battle between Painter and Tyrod Taylor will be one of the interesting ones to watch in Ravens training camp.