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Thursday, February 23, 2012
AFC North combine primer

By Jamison Hensley

As the NFL combine kicks into gear today, here are the hot draft topics involving the AFC North teams:

Robert Griffin III
Robert Griffin III is one player the Browns will be interested in meeting with at the combine.
Will Robert Griffin III fit into the Browns' system? The Browns say they're still evaluating the Heisman Trophy winner, and they'll ultimately have to determine whether he's worth trading up from the No. 4 overall pick. RG3 plans to run the 40-yard dash (he's targeting sub-4.4 seconds) but he probably won't throw until his pro day on March 21. The biggest question that the Browns have to answer is whether RG3 can convert from the spread offense that he ran at Baylor. That will come during the interview process when Cleveland officials will go through their offense and pick his brain. ESPN's Todd McShay said he would "be surprised if he doesn't floor teams with his intelligence and understanding of the game."

Sticking to standard line: The Steelers have used their first-round pick on strengthening the offensive or defensive line for the past three years. The trend has a strong chance of continuing this year, and it's not out of habit. The Steelers need to find a potential replacement for nose tackle Casey Hampton, who is coming off ACL surgery and has a high cap number. The best fit is Memphis' Dontari Poe, a 350-pound powerhouse. There's a chance he could challenge the combine record of 49 reps in the bench press. The Steelers might have to consider moving up from No. 24 if Poe has a strong showing.

Tracking the running backs: The Browns and Bengals each have two first-round picks, and they both could use one on a running back. The Bengals aren't expected to re-sign Cedric Benson, and the Browns could do the same with Peyton Hillis. There won't be any on-field evaluation of Alabama's Trent Richardson, the No. 1 running back in the draft who won't participate in drills after having minor knee surgery. This shouldn't hurt his draft status because Richardson's size, speed and power make him a legitimate top-10 pick. Miami's Lamar Miller, who has been linked to the Bengals' second first-round pick, is looking to solidify his standing as the second-best back in the draft by showcasing his speed. He could record the fastest time of any player in the 40-yard dash.

Center of attention: Not many centers get selected in the first round, and the Ravens have never taken one that high. That could change this year because starter Matt Birk isn't expected to return (even if he decides not to retire) and backup Andre Gurode is an unrestricted free agent. Wisconsin's Peter Konz is trying to remain the top center in this draft. His biggest hurdle is the medical check. Konz was diagnosed with blood clots in his lungs in 2009 and then missed three games in 2011 with a dislocated left ankle (he did return to start the Rose Bowl). Baltimore has taken players off their board in the past (like tight end Rob Gronkowski last year) because of medical concerns.

Sorting through the secondary: The Bengals are in need of a young cornerback and could take one in the first round. Leon Hall's status is unknown after suffering a season-ending Achilles injury. Nate Clements is entering his 12th season. Plus, top backups Adam Jones and Kelly Jennings are unrestricted free agents. Cincinnati has no shot at the top cornerback in the draft, LSU's Morris Claiborne, who should go in the top five. The Bengals have to figure out who is the second-best corner: Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick or North Alabama's Janoris Jenkins.

Disappointing double move: One potential target for the Browns' fourth overall pick is Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon. Cleveland is in desperate need of a playmaker for an offense that ranked 30th in scoring. Blackmon is considered the top wide receiver in the draft because of his hands and body control. But, if the Browns are going to invest this high of a pick, they have to gauge whether he has the speed to get open. It looks like the Browns will have to wait until Blackmon's March 9 pro day before they can time him. ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reports "it doesn't look like" Blackmon will run with the rest of the receivers on Sunday.