NFL Nation: Artis Hicks

Poll: Browns' biggest draft need

April, 12, 2012
4/12/12
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There's no debate that the Cleveland Browns need to upgrade significantly on offense in this draft.

The Browns ranked 29th in total yards (288.8 per game) and 30th in points (13.6). The St. Louis Rams were the only other team to rank in the bottom four in the NFL in both those categories.

SportsNation

What is the biggest draft need for the Cleveland Browns?

  •  
    14%
  •  
    37%
  •  
    35%
  •  
    14%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,364)

But what is the Browns' biggest need heading into this year's draft? Here are the top choices:

Quarterback: The Browns failed in their attempt to trade up in the draft to get Robert Griffin III. Now, they are left with Colt McCoy and Seneca Wallace. In his first full season as a starter, McCoy ranked 26th in completion percentage (57.2), 25th in passing yards per game (210.2), 32nd in yards per attempt (5.9), 25th in passer rating (74.6) and 25th in QBR (39.8).

Running back: Cleveland didn't re-sign Peyton Hillis, their starting running back for the past two seasons who went to Kansas City. The Browns' remaining backs -- Montario Hardesty, Brandon Jackson and Chris Ogbonnaya -- totaled 600 rushing yards and one touchdown last season. Hardesty and Jackson missed a combined 22 games last season because of injuries.

Wide receiver: This group produced a lot of drops and few big plays. Greg Little, Josh Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi combined for 20 catches over 20 yards, averaged 12.1 yards per catch and scored eight touchdowns.

Offensive tackle: The Browns cut starting right tackle Tony Pashos and didn't re-sign backup Artis Hicks. If the season started today, Cleveland would go with Oniel Cousins, a Ravens castoff who has started five games in four seasons.

Go ahead and register your vote, or let me know what you think in the comments section below. I'll follow up by Monday.
Gary Horton of Scouts Inc. broke down the top six needs remaining Insider for each of the AFC North teams. You'll need an Insider subscription to view the entire post, but here's a glimpse of the top three needs:

CINCINNATI BENGALS

Horton's top three needs: Cornerback, guard and safety.

Horton on cornerback: The starters in 2011 were Leon Hall, who will be coming off an Achilles injury, and 32-year-old Nate Clements. When Hall went down, Adam Jones filled in, but none of these three make you comfortable in man coverage. Newly acquired free agent Jason Allen will help, but there is a lot of work to be done here.

Hensley's comment: I wouldn't put cornerback as the top need because the Bengals added Allen and re-signed Jones. Allen is an upgrade over Kelly Jennings. Guard is the bigger concern. If the season started today, the Bengals' starting right guard would either be Otis Hudson, Clint Boling or Anthony Collins (who would shift over from tackle).

CLEVELAND BROWNS

Horton's top three needs: Quarterback, wide receiver and running back.

Horton on quarterback: Right now, their options at QB are starter Colt McCoy and veteran backup Seneca Wallace, but nobody expects it to stay that way. With two first-round draft picks, they will almost surely pick a QB with one of them.

Hensley's comment: You could make a strong argument that quarterback, wide receiver or running back should rank as the No. 1 need. My top need for Cleveland is right tackle. The Browns can at least start McCoy, Greg Little, Mohamed Massaquoi and Montario Hardesty at those other positions. Right tackle was a weak spot for the Browns last season with Tony Pashos and Artis Hicks, both of whom are now gone. The Browns' starting right tackle at this point is Oniel Cousins, a third-round bust from Baltimore.

BALTIMORE RAVENS

Horton's three needs: Inside linebacker, left guard and safety.

Horton on inside linebacker: The Ray Lewis era will be ending soon, and the Ravens need to find his replacement. Jameel McClain was re-signed, and he can play inside or outside, but a three-down linebacker who can play solid pass defense is sorely needed.

Hensley's comment: Left guard is the biggest need on the team, and it's not even close. The Ravens couldn't keep Ben Grubbs and failed to sign Evan Mathis. The fallback option is Jah Reid, a backup offensive tackle last season. Going from a Pro Bowl guard (Grubbs) to a converted tackle (Reid) is a major step down.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Horton's top three needs: Offensive tackle/guard, nose tackle and running back.

Horton on offensive tackle/guard: Center Maurkice Pouncey is the only stable starter on this unit. Veteran tackle Max Starks is coming off an ACL injury and T Willie Colon can't stay healthy, though the coaches hope he can get through a full season at RT with young Marcus Gilbert moving from RT to LT. There is also a big hole at left guard. The Steelers need to get at least one, and maybe two, starters up front.

Hensley's comment: You can't really disagree with this assessment. Left guard Doug Legursky is a backup who performed admirably when Chris Kemoeatu was benched. Gilbert has a good chance of succeeding on the left side, but it's hard to depend on Colon at right tackle with his injury history. The Steelers' options are limited because there is no depth. Jonathan Scott, who has struggled mightily, is the top backup at tackle, and there's no reserves at guard with Trai Essex (free agent) and Jamon Meredith (not tendered as a restricted free agent) off on the roster.
The Browns are planning to release Eric Steinbach after the guard refused to take a pay cut, his agent Jack Bechta said in a statement.

This is a tough move for the Browns because they could use Steinbach on an offensive line that already needs a new right tackle. But Cleveland couldn't keep Steinbach at his $6 million salary for 2012 considering his injury status. This was an unwanted but necessary decision.

Steinbach, 31, was a four-year starter for the Browns but he missed all of last season after having a disk fragment removed from his spinal nerve in August. He is expected to be cleared to participate in football activities by April 15.

Steinbach
While Steinbach has left open the possibility of returning, he said he will explore free agency.

"It has been a good ride in Cleveland, and I hope it can continue," he said in a statement. "I'm proud to say that the offensive line has been a bright spot through the past few seasons. I will continue to work with the Browns through my agent in hopes of striking a deal that is practical and fair for both sides."

Steinbach then channeled his inner "Anchorman" when he added, "If my time here comes to an end, I want the people of this great city to remember one thing: 'You stay classy Cleveland!'"

The real issue is whether Steinbach will ever play like he did previously. Before the injury, he was one of the most durable linemen, missing three games in eight years. But a back injury can be tricky, especially for linemen.

If Steinbach is healthy again, the Browns could certainly use him at left guard and move Jason Pinkston, who played left guard last year as a rookie, to right guard. But you could also see Steinbach going back to Cincinnati, where he played from 2003 to 2006. Adding a guard is one of the Bengals' top free-agent priorities.

Here are some other Browns notes from today:
It looks more and more like unrestricted free-agent tailback BenJarvus Green-Ellis will not return to the reigning AFC champion New England Patriots. According to reports, New England's leading rusher is starting to gather interest and will meet with the Cincinnati Bengals.

Green-Ellis was part of a rotation in New England. The Patriots drafted two running backs last year (Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen) and won’t overpay to bring Green-Ellis back. He can get more money elsewhere.

The Bengals, who made the playoffs last season, are looking for a primary ball carrier to replace unrestricted free agent Cedric Benson. Green-Ellis led the Patriots in rushing last season with 667 yards and 11 touchdowns. But perhaps what’s most impressive is he’s never fumbled in his four-year career.

Here are some additional AFC East notes on Day 2 of free agency:
  • Former Houston Texans defensive end Mario Williams remains in Buffalo Wednesday, where he underwent a physical. Good sign for the Bills?
  • In more Patriots news, they agreed to a three-year contract with defensive lineman Jonathan Fanene.
  • The New York Jets have re-signed kicker Nick Folk, the team announced.
  • The Miami Dolphins are hosting former Cleveland Browns guard and offensive tackle Artis Hicks.

Key matchups from Browns, Ravens angle

September, 16, 2011
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New AFC North blogger Jamison Hensley did not have enough on his plate Thursday, his first day with ESPN.com. So I maneuvered to steal some of his time to talk about two key matchups in games pitting our teams against his on Sunday. It produced this post.

Call it rookie hazing.

PK: For starters, I’m curious about the Browns' plan to slow down Robert Mathis, I know they’ve got some issues at right tackle.

JH: They haven’t even settled on one guy, they’re going to go with a rotation with Artis Hicks and Oniel Cousins. For the chemistry and to get into a rhythm with the offensive line, that’s just not an ideal situation. So I think the best way for them to negate Mathis is through strategy. Colt McCoy is going to take a lot of three-step drops, get rid of the ball very quickly. Because if he holds the ball like he did last week against Cincinnati, he’s going to get hit.

They feel very confident in Joe Thomas on the left side with Dwight Freeney, but the big question is how they stop Mathis. I think they just can’t let Mathis get a shot on McCoy, I think they have to be smart. Because right now that’s the biggest matchup problem they have.

PK: And if the Browns can get ahead, like Houston did last weekend, the biggest way to make both those defensive ends non-factors is to run the ball. So I’m sure Cleveland is hoping for a big day from Peyton Hillis.

How about with the Ravens, I know they’ve got some questions on the secondary and their defense is keyed around their front. Kenny Britt has shown himself to be, perhaps, the Titans’ most dangerous guy. If he gets loose in that secondary and they can protect Matt Hasselbeck, what happens back there?

JH: That’s going to be a big question. The Ravens thought they had a deep secondary coming into the season. Then they lost first-round pick Jimmy Smith to a high ankle sprain, he’s going to be gone for a month. Then you have Chris Carr who hasn’t practiced this week because he aggravated a hamstring injury.

So you have Cary Williams, a former Titan, starting for the Ravens, and Lardarius Webb, who was very inconsistent last year but who’s coming off a good, strong game. I think they’re going to have to do this by committee because Kenny Britt is a talented receiver. I think they’re going to have to use a lot of Ed Reed shading his way.

I don’t think they can honestly go into this game thinking they can put one guy on him and really take Kenny Britt out of this game. Whatever side Kenny Britt goes to, I think that’s where Ed Reed follows.

PK: Britt and Hasselbeck still have some timing issues. That can be just the sort of thing Ed Reed finds an opportunity to pounce on.

Final Word: AFC South

September, 16, 2011
9/16/11
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 2:

[+] EnlargeChris Johnson
AP Photo/Phelan M. EbenhackThe Jaguars limited Titans running back Chris Johnson to 24 yards rushing in Week 1.
A focus on Chris Johnson: The Titans are semi-desperate to get their star running back going. But Mike Munchak has emphasized this week that they can’t force it. It’s hard to be patient waiting for the big play, but they can’t call 10 rush plays in a row for him. The Titans need to show some creativity on offense, and maybe turn themselves inside-out with some passes to set up the run. Matt Hasselbeck said they need to be in third-and-manageable to get off to a better start and to get the sort of possession they need to find an offensive flow. One good omen for Johnson: ESPN Stats & Info says he’s been very effective against 3-4 defenses, averaging about six yards per carry running outside against them.

Can the Colts rush? The Browns can neutralize Indianapolis’ pass rush by jumping ahead and riding Peyton Hillis. But when Colt McCoy is looking to throw, the matchups on Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis will be compelling. Freeney is a speed guy, and if Joe Thomas has any weakness, it might come against a guy like that. (See Pete Prisco on the matchup here.) Tony Pashos is out, so Mathis will go against some sort of rotation of backups Oniel Cousins and Artis Hicks. Mathis came out of the opener with a neck issue, but he should have a big advantage here.

Big plays in Jaguars-Jets: The Jaguars are not necessarily a big-play team in the passing game, and if they aren’t going to find big plays they have to be sure not to give them up, either. Stats & Info says Plaxico Burress was the only Jets receiver to be targeted more than twice on throws of 15 yards or more in the air in Week 1. Last season, the Jaguars allowed the most completions and yards per attempt on throws of at least 15 yards. The offensive line will have to sort through constant blitzes to allow Luke McCown to find people, and we could see Cecil Shorts get some big opportunities along with Mike Thomas.

Reggie Bush and the run: The Texans are 5-0 against the Dolphins but the average margin of victory has been just three points. Houston may be more ready to face Miami than usual after spending a lot of camp time working against its own 3-4 defense. Reggie Bush was on the field more than any starting running back in the league, and Miami will try to spread the Texans out and create space for Bush to make plays. A big, early lead was the Texans’ best run defense in the win against the Colts. But they were run on in the preseason, and we’ll see Sunday if things have tightened up or if there is still a run defense concern.

Replenished D-line: The Titans’ revamped defense was a disappointment in the Week 1 loss at Jacksonville. Why might it be better this week? Because two guys who didn’t play against the Jaguars -- Jason Jones and Derrick Morgan -- will be in the mix. They should be the team’s top defensive ends. Baltimore’s tackles, the resurrected Bryant McKinnie and Michael Oher, started strong against the Steelers. Can the Titans young rushers find some cracks?

Final Word: AFC North

September, 16, 2011
9/16/11
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 2:

[+] EnlargeBen Roethlisberger
Mitch Stringer/US PresswireAll eyes will be on Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers to see how they respond to their Week 1 loss against Baltimore.
Early gut check for Steelers: Everyone wants to see how Pittsburgh responds after taking its worst beating ever from Baltimore. The Steelers said all week that there is no panic in the locker room, and you tend to believe them because they return 21 of 22 starters from a team that played in the Super Bowl. But the heat will be turned up if the Steelers fail to put away the rebuilding Seahawks and go through the motions in their home opener. The critics say Pittsburgh looked slow and old against the Ravens. This is Pittsburgh's chance to respond.

Ravens' biggest concern: An emotional hangover from last Sunday would spell trouble for the Ravens against Chris Johnson, who is a threat to score on any play. After getting nine carries last game, the Titans running back thinks he could get as many as 25 touches Sunday, which would present a challenge for the Ravens. Three years ago against the Ravens, Johnson had 100 yards from scrimmage before leaving with an ankle injury. Baltimore's linebackers are tough and physical but lack great speed. Tracking Johnson sideline-to-sideline is a huge task.

Avoid slow start: Every team wants to start fast. But it's essential for the Browns and Colt McCoy. Playing catchup with the Colts means defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis begin to tee off. The big worry is Mathis, even though he's been limited in practice this week with a neck injury. With Tony Pashos out with an ankle injury, Cleveland will rotate Artis Hicks and Oniel Cousins at right tackle, where they'll line up against Mathis. That's the biggest mismatch of the game.

Give the ball to Benson: Bengals running back Cedric Benson is looking for 100-yard rushing games in consecutive weeks for the first time since the end of the 2008 season. That should be a primary goal for Cincinnati against a banged-up Broncos defense. Denver could be without two starters (defensive end Elvis Dumervil and weakside linebacker D.J. Williams) along with a couple of backups (defensive tackle Marcus Thomas and nose tackle Ty Warren). It seems like a no-brainer to commit to a ground-and-pound game against the Broncos, who allowed 190 yards rushing against Oakland on Monday.

Steelers' target: The bull's-eye is squarely on Seattle quarterback Tarvaris Jackson. The Steelers should be revved up after managing one sack in the season opener and now facing a ragged Seattle offensive line. The Seahawks' blocking is so shaky that even a mobile quarterback like Jackson got sacked five times Sunday. It should be big days for James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley.

Free agency in the East: Guards

June, 23, 2011
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We continue our position-by-position look at four-year unrestricted free agency and its potential impact on the NFC East teams and their plans. The fourth in our series will focus on the guard position, where, even with top guy Logan Mankins franchised by the Patriots, there are a number of good options available.

NFC East teams in need

[+] EnlargeDallas' Kyle Kosier
Howard Smith/US PRESSWIREOffensive guard Kyle Kosier will be an important player for the Cowboys to re-sign.
Cowboys: Left guard Kyle Kosier is on the list below, and the Cowboys will make an effort to bring him back. But even if they do, they could cut ties with Leonard Davis at the right guard spot, and unless they think Montrae Holland or one of their late-round draft picks is ready to start there, they will be on the hunt for free-agent help.

Giants: Yeah, we've gone round and round on this topic. And if everyone's healthy, the Giants are fine at guard with Chris Snee and Rich Seubert. But if center Shaun O'Hara falters, Seubert moves in there and they could stand to add some depth. They've discussed moving left tackle David Diehl back inside, which could answer some of these concerns.

Redskins: They like the progress Kory Lichtensteiger showed on the left side last year, but if they're not convinced Will Montgomery and/or Artis Hicks can handle the right guard spot, Washington could be looking for a more established starter there.

Top five potential unrestricted free-agent guards

1. Harvey Dahl. Most likely to stay in Atlanta, but he's a fearsome run blocker who would help in Dallas if they decided to commit to the run. Also a natural guard who could help the Redskins move Montgomery to center if Casey Rabach falters and they need to do that. The Falcons also have another solid guard, Justin Blalock, who would be unrestricted under the proposed new rules, so they may have to make a choice.

2. Davin Joseph. Loaded with talent and potential, but he's had some injury issues (including last season's broken foot) that could lead the Buccaneers to part ways with him and give other teams pause before signing him.

3. Daryn Colledge. He's got a Super Bowl ring, which will catch teams' attention if the Packers decide they have enough depth to let him go.

4. Kosier. Getting up there in years, but he's an important player for the Cowboys to re-sign because they like the way he worked with rising star Doug Free on the left side and would rather not break up that pairing.

5. Marshal Yanda. He played right tackle for most of 2010 in Baltimore in place of the injured Jared Gaither, but he's got experience at guard too. That kind of versatility -- the ability to play any spot along the line at a starter's level -- should have widespread appeal. He'd be a perfect guy for the Giants if they're looking to add reliable depth but don't feel they have a specific spot that needs filling.

Predictions that mean nothing: Cowboys re-sign Kosier but let go of Davis and pursue another free-agent option, such as Joseph. Redskins sign Yanda to play either right guard or right tackle. Giants do nothing.

Redskins regular-season wrap-up

January, 5, 2011
1/05/11
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NFC Wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 26
Preseason Power Ranking: 17

[+] EnlargeDonovan McNabb
AP Photo/Tim SharpThe Donovan McNabb experiment in Washington never panned out.
Biggest surprise: That Mike Shanahan didn't make much progress. Shanahan and GM Bruce Allen were supposed to restore order to Redskins Park, but at times, they just added to the chaos. It wasn't a huge surprise that the Redskins finished 6-10 and missed the playoffs. But it was surprising that what should have been the strength of the team, the defense, could be so bad at times. In retrospect, defensive coordinator Jim Haslett would've been better off with a 4-3 scheme that fit his personnel for one season. The Redskins didn't put consistent pressure on the quarterback and the safeties were a mess once LaRon Landry had to be placed on injured reserve. I guess Landry would qualify as one of the pleasant surprises. He was on pace to head to the Pro Bowl after his fast start. Haslett kept him near the line of scrimmage where he could cause more damage.

Biggest disappointment: The Redskins sold their fan base on this idea of star quarterback Donovan McNabb leading the organization to new heights. Instead, McNabb had an awful season by his standards and couldn't find common ground with Mike Shanahan or his son, Kyle. I realize Albert Haynesworth got a lot of attention for his standoff with Mike Shanahan, but McNabb was ultimately the bigger story. His inability to flourish in this offense was a huge disappointment for the Redskins. It's probably an indictment of both Shanahan and McNabb.

Biggest need: The Redskins need help at pretty much every position, but obviously you have to start with quarterback. Surely Rex Grossman isn't the answer heading into 2011. Shanahan will focus on the quarterbacks declaring for the draft. I think he'll take a long look at Arkansas' Ryan Mallett, who lost to Ohio State on Tuesday night. After quarterback, you have to address this offensive line. They have their left tackle in Trent Williams, but now it's time to fill in some other spots. Artis Hicks isn't going to cut it as a starter at right guard, and the Skins definitely need a new left guard.

Team MVP: Let's go with wide receiver Santana Moss. His numbers weren't off the charts, but he still put his body on the line week after week and made plays for McNabb and Grossman. At a position that features a lot of divas, Moss is the consummate team guy.

Worst moment of the year: Everything changed once Mike Shanahan yanked McNabb from that game against the Detroit Lions. The Redskins tried to come back with a contract extension, but that turned out to be window dressing. The Redskins have left themselves an easy out with McNabb. Now it will be interesting to see if there's a market for the veteran quarterback. If the Skins can land a fourth-round draft pick for McNabb, they'll be doing well.

Camp Confidential: Washington Redskins

August, 10, 2010
8/10/10
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ESPN.com NFL Power Ranking (pre-camp): 20

ASHBURN, Va. -- It’s 7:15 on a Friday evening at Redskins Park and coach Mike Shanahan has taken a short break from watching film of the morning's practice. The man who always appears to be five minutes removed from a tanning session is discussing a philosophy that’s served him well over the years, but came into question when he was fired in Denver after 14 seasons and two Super Bowl titles.

Now Shanahan and his hand-picked quarterback, Donovan McNabb, want to prove that both of their previous employers made a mistake. We’re talking about two of the most prideful men in the league, and in two separate conversations with the NFC East blog last Friday, they essentially said the same thing.

“Yeah, both of us are here to win a Super Bowl,” Shanahan said. “If you’re not in it to win a Super Bowl, then you need to find something else to do. I’m not ever going to comment on how things were done here before, but we had a philosophy that worked in Denver, and that’s what we’re going to follow.”

It’s worth noting that two years ago, players were hailing the unorthodox approach of Jim Zorn. He played music during practice and delivered lectures on designer jeans. He was sort of the lovable hippie -- right up until the team started losing. In ’09, the Redskins became the most dysfunctional organization in professional sports. Zorn couldn’t be shamed into resigning, so the Redskins simply stripped him of his dignity (and play-calling duties).

Dan Snyder hired Bruce Allen and Shanahan because he has lost so much credibility with Skins fans. Allen and Shanahan immediately began changing the culture at Redskins Park. This was a team crying out for some form of discipline, and Shanahan has delivered in spades. If a player doesn’t hustle between drills in practice, Shanahan will call their names after practice and tell them to run extra sprints. He also makes sure that every player keeps his shirttail in during those sessions. Shanahan can get away with this because of those two rings.

With one hire, the Redskins are once again relevant in the NFC East. Now, let’s take a closer look at their chances of making the playoffs:

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeDonovan McNabb
Win McNamee/Getty ImagesQuarterback Donovan McNabb is working on building a rapport with his new group of receivers.
1. Can Donovan McNabb elevate this pedestrian group of receivers to new heights? There’s a reason that Santana Moss seems to have a perpetual smile on his face these days. He didn’t even have time to complete routes last season because of the Redskins’ woeful offensive line. Now, coaches are showing him film of the Texans’ Andre Johnson and saying he could do similar things. McNabb invited Moss and the rest of the receivers to work out with him in Phoenix early last month, and you can already see the benefits on the playing field.

“I told them to bring their wives and girlfriends because I wanted it to be a family affair,” McNabb told me. “When you’re around the facility, you always feel like you’re being watched. I thought it was a great opportunity for us to bond away from everyone else and start developing some chemistry.”

But Moss is the only thing close to a sure thing. We're still waiting for former second-round draft picks Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly to show some consistency. For now, they're listed on Shanahan's depth chart as third-stringers. McNabb may have to rely on the 38-year-old Joey Galloway to play a significant role in the offense. The good news for Skins fans is that McNabb once took receivers such as Freddie Mitchell and Todd Pinkston to NFC title games on a regular basis.

2. When will Albert Haynesworth crack the starting lineup? Shanahan bristled when I asked him if Haynesworth was causing a "circus," but the coach must realize that the defensive lineman has dominated the headlines. I think the players were watching closely to see how Shanahan dealt with the brooding star. Now that he's finally passed the infamous conditioning test, Haynesworth will work as a backup defensive tackle. He'll eventually start at right defensive end, but it's not going to happen overnight.

Haynesworth could be a huge part of Jim Haslett's defense if he buys into what the coach is doing. I am eager to see whether this knee issue goes away in the preseason. Haynesworth needs more game repetitions than usual because of all the time he missed. If the knee prevents him from getting on the field, it will become another distraction.

[+] EnlargeTrent Williams
Jeff Fishbein/Icon SMIRookie tackle Trent Williams has drawn rave reviews from coaches and teammates.
3. Have the Redskins solved their issues on the offensive line? I think a lot of this season hinges on whether three new additions to the line play well. Jammal Brown was a Pro Bowl player for the Saints at one point, but he hasn't played since '08. He'll have to knock off some rust while learning how to play right tackle. Rookie Trent Williams has a ton of ability, but he's working with a much thicker playbook now. There were questions about his work ethic at the University of Oklahoma. So far, he's said and done all the right things in Washington.

And we'll see how Artis Hicks performs at right guard. I always thought he was a better option than Mike Williams (out for the year), but this unit needs a lot of work in the preseason. McNabb will bring a lot to this team, but he can't win a lot of games if he's constantly on his back. Ask Jason Campbell about that.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

I was thoroughly impressed with free safety Kareem Moore. He was a sixth-round pick in '08 who didn't make much of an impact in his first two seasons. Now, it looks like he'll lock down a starting spot. He's had an excellent camp. He plays with a lot of confidence and he'll allow LaRon Landry to play closer to the line of scrimmage.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

You knew that one of the veteran running backs would probably be out of the mix, but I didn't expect it to happen so early in the proceedings. Willie Parker is officially listed at the Skins' fourth-string running back. Hard to imagine him making the final roster unless there are injuries.

[+] EnlargeJohnson
Jeff Fishbein/Icon SMIAfter recording 581 yards last season, Larry Johnson is turning in a solid camp in Washington.
OBSERVATION DECK

  • I talked to one longtime Redskins observer who actually thinks Larry Johnson will have more carries than Clinton Portis this season. I don't see that happening unless Portis suffers an injury, but it's obvious that Johnson's in excellent shape. He's finishing off every run and he actually has shown a burst at times.
  • Lorenzo Alexander and Andre Carter have a nice little battle going on at left outside linebacker. Alexander has been running a lot with the first team, but Carter, 31, will get plenty of playing time. You knew Carter would have a little trouble in coverage, but he's actually been step for step with running backs on a couple of occasions.
  • Haslett is the best thing that could've happened to Carlos Rogers' career. The cornerback thought his career in Washington was over, but now Haslett believes he can turn him into an Antoine Winfield-type player. Haslett will take advantage of Rogers' size and he'll let him blitz more than in the past. (Adam Schefter has more on Haslett.)
  • Brian Orakpo told me after practice Friday that Haslett's playbook has at least 20 more blitzes than Greg Blache's old version. He said it was a little overwhelming at first, but now he's not thinking as much. Orakpo had a nice rookie season, but he's about to become a breakout star. It's pretty amazing to have this many elite pass-rushers in the same division.
  • Kedric Golston and Adam Carriker were running with the first-team defense Friday. It looked like the Redskins were working on their dime package, which features two down linemen. I think Haslett will be very creative with his fronts. He'll have some of the same concepts that we've seen from Dick LeBeau and the Steelers.
  • Cornerback Justin Tryon made a nice recovery on a fly pattern to Roydell Williams on Friday. But Tryon hasn't done a lot in this camp to move up the depth chart. I think he's behind Kevin Barnes and maybe even Ramzee Robinson at this point.
  • If you need a "Rudy" type of player to root for, let me point you in the direction of former Kansas State receiver Brandon Banks. At 5-foot-7, Banks isn't exactly a red zone target, but he's quick and appears to have good hands.
  • John Beck rolled right and fired a bullet to tight end Lee Vickers in team drills. Former TCU linebacker Robert Henson reacted with some loud expletives because he came close to breaking up the pass. Beck had too many balls batted down when he was with the Dolphins. His arm angle's been too low in the pros, so we'll see if Kyle Shanahan can fix that problem.

What can Brown do for Skins?

June, 20, 2010
6/20/10
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It wasn't long ago that Jammal Brown was a borderline elite left tackle in this league. But when he missed '09 with hip and sports hernia injuries, the Saints didn't appear to miss him on their way to a Super Bowl title.

Now, the Washington Redskins will provide Brown an opportunity to re-set his once-promising career via Saturday's trade, which was reported by ESPN's Adam Schefter. Brown wanted a long-term deal with the Saints, but that wasn't going to happen because of his injuries and the club's excellent depth at offensive tackle. Washington doesn't have that luxury, so it should be a tremendous opportunity for Brown.

[+] EnlargeJammal Brown
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesBy acquiring Jammal Brown, the Redskins showed they are serious about winning now.
If first-round pick Trent Williams looks ready at left tackle during training camp, Brown will likely start on the right side. That's not Brown's preference because he'll have a harder time justifying a lucrative contract extension at right tackle. But I guess it's better than backing up Jermon Bushrod in New Orleans.
"I just think coming here, playing for Coach [Mike] Shanahan -- I watched him in Denver -- I like the scheme of offense that he runs. The zones, things like that," Brown told the Post on Saturday. "I'm gonna come in; they want me to play right tackle.I still think I'm a left tackle, but I'm going to do what they want me to do. I know they got my college teammate Trent [Williams] on the left side. We'll see how that all plays out. But I'm going to play wherever they want me to play. I'm just excited to be here and to be a part of a first-class program."

Here's what NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas thought about the trade. I don't think Saints fans are broken up about losing the 29-year-old Brown. But the tackle could be an excellent fit in Mike Shanahan's zone-blocking scheme. If he's 100 percent healthy (as he claims), Brown immediately makes this a better offensive line. I don't think Donovan McNabb was thrilled about having an inexperienced player in Williams matched with a journeyman in Hicks as his bookends. Now, Hicks can compete for the starting job at right guard, where the enormous Mike Williams currently resides. As I've said before, I don't think Mike is a good fit for the Skins' new blocking scheme because of his lack of athleticism at this point in his career.

Shanahan's shown that he's not worried about acquiring players who've been labeled as "disgruntled" while with other organizations. Veteran running back Larry Johnson certainly comes to mind. Shanahan also values veteran players who've started a lot of games -- and Brown fits that description.

This is further proof that general manager Bruce Allen and Shanahan don't have any interest in a three-year plan. They're trading and signing for players who will contribute immediately. And if Brown's truly interested in salvaging his career, he couldn't have found a better destination.

I'm sure his ego's bruised by the fact the Saints achieved so much without him (think Jeremy Shockey with the Giants in '07), and he's anxious to show that he's still a talented player. Asked by the Post if he feels like folks have forgotten about him, Brown said, "If they have, I can easily remind them this upcoming year. They won't forget about me for long."

And in an unrelated note, Happy Father's Day!

On the radar: Skins' O-line

June, 10, 2010
6/10/10
1:17
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NFC On the Radar: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A player, coach or issue that should be on your radar as training camp approaches.

In some precincts, the Redskins' stunning trade for Donovan McNabb automatically put them in the playoffs. My colleague John Clayton has said he sees the Cowboys and Redskins as the teams to beat in the rugged NFC East. But for some reason, I haven't been converted to the Skins-in-the-playoffs theory, and I'll tell you why.

[+] EnlargeTrent Williams
Rafael Suanes/US PresswireWashington's Trent Williams has to work on his blocking, one of the many issues on the Redskins' O-line.
I don't trust that offensive line one bit.

It's nothing personal. Watching Mike Williams return to football after eating himself out of the league has been heartening. And 32-year-old Casey Rabach does a decent job at center. But in the end, I don't think McNabb can hold up behind this offensive line as currently constructed. It's not like Mike Shanahan can take a beast like Williams and turn him into a cut blocker who opens up lanes for Clinton Portis. And Portis was a much younger man when he was darting through cutback lanes with the Broncos last decade.

The other Williams on the line, Trent, has the tools to be a special player. But he still has to learn the nuances of the NFL game while trying to block DeMarcus Ware, Justin Tuck and Trent Cole. As Bill Parcells liked to say, "this will not go smoothly." It's almost like everyone forgot about the beatings that Jason Campbell took on a weekly basis.

This isn't the McNabb who used to race around and extend plays by 10 seconds or so against the Cowboys on "Monday Night Football." He can slide around the pocket, but it's not like he speeds away from defenders on a regular basis. I'll point to his last two games against Dallas as Exhibits A and B. With center Jamaal Jackson out, the Eagles had to slide players around in the middle. The results against the Cowboys were disastrous.

For now, the Redskins have Artis Hicks lining up as the starting right tackle. To me, that means that Shanahan and his son, Kyle, aren't sold on Stephon Heyer. Most of us expected him to hold down that position. And the Mike Williams vs. Chad Rinehart battle at right guard isn't riveting stuff. Neither player would start for the three other teams in the division.

I certainly agree with the pundits who say the Redskins are better off with McNabb. He'll make Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly better receivers. And the combination of Fred Davis and Chris Cooley should be the best tandem in the Beast. But I don't like the thought of putting aging running backs behind a suspect offensive line.

At this point, the Redskins have the worst offensive line in the division and I don't see the Shanahan boys' zone-blocking scheme changing that right away. Could I be wrong about this?

There's always that slight chance.

Tap the brakes on Redskins playoff talk

April, 5, 2010
4/05/10
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Pardon me for not getting caught up in the apparent playoff euphoria that is sweeping Redskins Park. My esteemed colleague and pal John Clayton has elevated the Washington Redskins to "co-favorite" status, along with the Dallas Cowboys, to win the NFC East.

Sorry, but I'm not there yet. Clayton points out that the addition of Brett Favre to the Vikings added 5.7 points per game and took them from 10 to 12 wins (and an NFC title game appearance).

My issue with that comparison is that McNabb won't have anywhere near the talent surrounding him Favre enjoyed. The Vikings had the best running back in the league heading into the 2009 season. The Redskins counter with a stable of running backs who each peaked about four years ago. I realize Clinton Portis was good in 2008 but he faded late.

Let's not act like drafting Oklahoma State left tackle Russell Okung in this month's draft is going to completely fix one of the worst offensive lines in the league. What, did you guys get excited about that Artis Hicks signing? He couldn't start for the Vikings last season but I guess he'll get the Redskins to the next level.

By trading for McNabb, Shanahan is acting as if the Redskins are prepared to win now. You don't pay an aging quarterback $11.2 million in 2010 to be a stopgap player. To me, this smacks of the old Dan Snyder way of doing business. McNabb is a blockbuster name like, say, Deion Sanders or Bruce Smith. It sounds like another expensive shortcut, albeit a highly-intriguing one.

But let's not forget McNabb finished his 2009 campaign by playing miserably in back-to-back losses to the Cowboys. Are the Redskins a better team with McNabb at quarterback? Of course they are. But it's hard to imagine him making a seven-win difference -- and that's what it would probably take to challenge for a division title. Clayton immediately has the Redskins passing the Eagles with this move.

"As for the Eagles, who were 11-5 last season, the pressure falls on the unproven quarterback Kevin Kolb," writes Clayton. "With this being his first year as the full-time starter, we can expect a two- or three-win drop in the Eagles' record because first-year starters have difficulty winning close games. The Packers experienced that after they traded Favre to the New York Jets for a second-round choice in 2008. Even though Aaron Rodgers threw for more than 4,000 yards in 2008, he struggled in the fourth quarter of close games, and the Packers dropped from 13-3 to 6-10."

Again, the good news for Eagles fans is that McNabb isn't exactly inheriting the Fun Bunch. Santana Moss still has breakaway speed, but he needs time to get open. And let's not act like McNabb is the same guy who once kept a play alive for 14 seconds on "Monday Night Football" against the Cowboys. In Philadelphia, McNabb played the majority of his career with offensive tackles Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan. He'll likely be breaking in a rookie on his blindside in 2010 and the pedestrian Stephon Heyer will man the right side.

This is certainly a fascinating trade in terms of its impact on two franchises, but to say that Washington and Dallas are the co-favorites in the division is a pretty big stretch.

Draft Watch: NFC North

March, 26, 2010
3/26/10
1:02
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NFC Under-The-Radar: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each week leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Under the radar needs.

Chicago Bears

Chicago has addressed its defensive line, offensive backfield and tight end position this offseason. The urgency is not quite as severe at two other positions, but they nevertheless could both use an influx of talent. One is cornerback. The Bears figure to return Charles Tillman and Zack Bowman as starters, and they signed free agent Tim Jennings as a potential nickel back last week after releasing Nathan Vasher. But Jennings shouldn't be considered a lock to play in the nickel, and the Bears seemed to stop trusting Corey Graham as a cover man last season. They could use more cornerbacks. The same goes for left guard, where the Bears seem likely to vacate 2009 starter Frank Omiyale and move him to right tackle. The Bears could use some additional options at left guard so Omiyale has the green light to focus on tackle.

Detroit Lions

With DeAndre Levy set to start at middle linebacker, the Lions don't have much depth behind outside linebackers Julian Peterson and Ernie Sims. Peterson will be 32 when training camp begins, and the Lions will need to identify a successor soon. Like the Bears, the Lions would help themselves by adding some extra bodies to the mix at left guard. Last year's rotation didn't work. And as long as we're talking about under-the-radar needs, we might as well include a placekicker. Jason Hanson is coming off a relatively down year, having missed seven of his 28 field goals, and will turn 40 in June. This is hardly a top need for the Lions, but perhaps they could identify Hanson's eventual successor late in the draft.

Green Bay Packers

Although some might consider the situation more urgent, I believe safety is an under-the-radar need for the Packers. Earlier this month, Nick Collins signed a three-year extension. Fellow starter Atari Bigby is a restricted free agent who hasn't signed his tender, but the bottom line is the Packers can retain his services for 2010 if they want. If you have two young starters under contract, the need can't be too severe. I can't see the Packers taking a safety high in the draft. Meanwhile, given all of their recent struggles in finding a long-term answer at punter, it might not be a bad idea to look in that direction as well.

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings added two new starters to their offensive line last season, center John Sullivan and right tackle Phil Loadholt. But coach Brad Childress noted at the owners meeting that some of his other starters, including left tackle Bryant McKinnie and left guard Steve Hutchinson, were approaching a decade in the league. This might not be the year, but eventually they will need to identify both players' successors. In 2010, at the very least, the Vikings need someone to take over the reserve role played so well by Artis Hicks, who signed with Washington in free agency. Hicks has been the top backup at all non-center positions for most of the past four years.

Updating UFA movement in NFC North

March, 15, 2010
3/15/10
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As we head into the second full week of free agency, it's probably a good time to revise our look at each NFC North team's unsigned players. We haven't had a restricted free agent (RFA) receive an offer sheet yet, so we'll limit this post to unrestricted free agents (UFAs) -- who have total freedom to sign with another team.

Chicago Bears
UFAs as of March 5: Linebacker Darrell McClover, defensive end Adewale Ogunleye, running back Adrian Peterson, linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa.
Comment: None have re-signed. The Bears are trying to bring back Tinoisamoa.

Detroit Lions
UFAs as of March 5: Linebacker Vinny Ciurciu, offensive lineman Damion Cook, quarterback Daunte Culpepper, tight end Casey Fitzsimmons, linebacker Larry Foote, tight end Will Heller, cornerback Anthony Henry, cornerback Will James, offensive lineman Jon Jansen, safety Marquand Manuel, quarterback Patrick Ramsey.
Comment: Ciurciu, Heller and Jansen have re-signed. Foote seems likely to return to Pittsburgh.

Green Bay Packers
UFAs as of March 5:
Offensive lineman Chad Clifton, running back Ahman Green, linebacker Aaron Kampman, offensive lineman Mark Tauscher.
Comment: Clifton and Tauscher have re-signed. Kampman signed with Jacksonville.

Minnesota Vikings
UFAs as of March 5:
Offensive lineman Artis Hicks, defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy, cornerback Benny Sapp, running back Chester Taylor.
Comment: Kennedy and Sapp re-signed. Taylor signed with Chicago. Hicks signed with Washington.

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