NFL Nation: Brett Ratliff

Observation deck: Bucs-Redskins

August, 29, 2012
8/29/12
10:08
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Tampa Bay’s 30-3 loss to the Washington Redskins on Wednesday night didn’t make for great viewing.

Blame much of it on Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano. But, more importantly give Schiano lots of credit for making one of his best decisions since taking over the Buccaneers in January.

The Tampa Bay starters did not play. Instead, they stood on the sidelines after going through a full practice at Georgetown University earlier in the day.

It’s not unusual for an NFL coach to use his starters lightly or sit some of them in the final preseason game. But Schiano took this to an extreme. He even sat long-snapper Andrew Economos and a few guys that are likely to be key backups.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. After watching Pro Bowl guard Davin Joseph go down with a season-ending knee injury last week, Schiano wasn’t taking any chances. He wants his starters healthy for the regular-season opener, which comes Sept. 9 against Carolina.

That game is going to be a lot more important -- and, hopefully more entertaining -- than the preseason finale.

Some quick observations from Wednesday night’s game:
  • The Bucs still are trying to figure out how they’re going to replace Joseph. Jamon Meredith started at right guard, but I don’t know if that means he’ll be there for the Carolina game. Meredith surrendered a sack and was called for two penalties in the first half. The Bucs are experimenting with their options at that spot. Ted Larsen, who got the start at center, and Derek Hardman, also are possibilities from the current roster. But the Bucs also could scan the waiver wire for help in the coming days. After watching all the backup offensive linemen, I’d suggest the waiver wire might be the way to go.
  • Defensive tackle Wallace Gilberry might have helped his chances of landing a roster spot. He batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage early in the game. The Bucs are expected to use Gerald McCoy and Roy Miller as their starters. Amobi Okoye is expected to be part of the backup rotation, but he’s missed a lot of time with an injury. Gilberry likely is in the mix with Gary Gibson and Frank Okam to be part of the rotation.
  • I remember a preseason or two back in the 1990s when third-stringer quarterback Scott Milanovich was the most popular quarterback in Tampa Bay. After watching Brett Ratliff get the start and play the entire game, I don’t think starter Josh Freeman or backup Dan Orlovsky have anything to worry about. In fact, I think there is at least a chance the Bucs could follow the path a lot of other teams have taken in recent years and go with only two quarterbacks on the regular-season roster. In fairness to Ratliff, he got no help from his offensive line.
  • Broadcaster and former Buc John Lynch might have stirred up some speculation when he said the Bucs should try to sign tight end Chris Cooley, who recently was released by the Redskins. Usually, I try to shoot down speculation about the Bucs signing guys in their 30s because that really doesn’t fit the profile of a team that’s doing most of its building through the draft. But I’m with Lynch on this one. I think the Bucs could use a little more depth to go with Dallas Clark and Luke Stocker. If Cooley’s healthy, he might be worth a shot. I think he’d be a better lockerroom fit than Jeremy Shockey, who still remains unsigned. General manager Mark Dominik said during a fourth-quarter interview with the broadcast team that there had been contact with Cooley's agent, but said the team is now aggressively pursuing the veteran tight end.
  • Rookie safety Sean Baker still might be a long shot to make the 53-man roster. But he intercepted two passes and recovered a fumble Wednesday night. That might help Baker land a spot on the practice squad.
  • Nice to see Bucs’ co-chairman Joel Glazer hugging Raheem Morris before the game. Morris coached the Bucs the last three seasons and is now Washington’s defensive backs coach. Morris had a good relationship with ownership, but it was obvious to all that a move had to be made as the Bucs lost their final 10 games of last season. I’m just guessing here, but I doubt any members of the Glazer family were exchanging hugs with Washington general manager Bruce Allen, who once held the same role in Tampa Bay.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans got what they were looking for at Matt Hasselbeck's first practice and said what you’d expect they’d say afterwards.

The tempo picked up, and while there were plenty of bumps, everyone was upbeat about what unfolded. At the same time, Jake Locker, working at the second quarterback, continued to show improvement and had a very nice night.

“I think I reverted back to some of my old stuff, but Geno [center Eugene Amano] and those guys up front did a great job of just hanging in there with me, snapping the ball,” Hasselbeck said. “I think I only went the wrong way once, that anybody noticed anyway.

“I have to learn it and I have to unlearn this stuff. What was once ‘green’ is now ‘red’ and what was ‘red’ is now ‘blue.’ In a competitive situation where everything is going real fast, everything just reverts.”

He said he’s getting way more from Locker, Rusty Smith and Brett Ratliff then they are getting from him so far and that quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains has been a great resource for scouting reports on his new teammates.

Coach Mike Munchak said the increased tempo allowed him to add an extra red zone period at the end of practice.

Said receiver Justin Gage: “In a day or two Matt will be right there with the rest of us. You can tell just from today, he’s a fast learner, he learns from his mistakes.”

A few other notes out of the Titans’ evening session on Thursday:
  • Munchak indicated second-round pick Akeem Ayers is in line to play the strongside and Barrett Ruud was the first team middle linebacker out of the gate as you’d expect. That leaves the Titans with a battle between Will Witherspoon and Gerald McRath for the starting weakside job.
  • The Titans are blurring the line between free and string safety and Munchak declined to say Chris Hope is solidly in place as a starter before the new free agent acquisition, Jordan Babineaux, even walks in the door. He’ll get a chance to compete.
  • Titans’ union rep Jake Scott said he believes because there is only one company claiming it can accurately test for HGH, that he is skeptical of the accuracy of the testing. He’s for it in principle. “But their motives are questionable. Their incentive is to catch people,” he said. “If they don’t catch anybody, nobody thinks their test works.”

Titans back-to-work FYI

July, 25, 2011
7/25/11
2:01
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NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Unrestricted FAs

Readiness factor: As poor as any team in the league, simply because of bad timing. New coach Mike Munchak and his staff have not had any time with their guys and are relying completely on tape for their assessments of veterans. The team does not yet have a quarterback who is the probable starter on opening day. Although Cortland Finnegan and Jake Scott did admirable work with group workouts and a two-day minicamp, having rookie Jake Locker along with Rusty Smith and Brett Ratliff as the signal-callers didn’t cut it.

Biggest challenge: Sorting out the quarterback issue. Even if the Titans wanted to go sink-or-swim with Locker from the start -- and the chances are very slim that's where they'll end up -- they have no veteran qualified to help him out. They could take a big swing at free agent Matt Hasselbeck, who would be determined to start as long as possible but also would mentor Locker, who’s already a friend. If they don’t land him, with Kerry Collins retired, the position will be a major concern.

Beyond quarterback: How actively will the Titans shop in free agency? They said they were not done at defensive tackle after the draft. They could use help at linebacker, especially if Stephen Tulloch moves on. Chris Hope is aging and expensive, and they could look to upgrade at strong safety. What goes unaddressed (like interior offensive line, likely) will tell us about their initial confidence level in multiple incumbents.

Key players without contracts for 2011: Defensive ends Jason Babin, Dave Ball and Jacob Ford, Tulloch, guard Leroy Harris, fullback Ahmard Hall, receiver Randy Moss.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Titans certainly got some good out of a two-hour, player organized practice session that included more than 50 participants on Wednesday morning at Father Ryan High School.

Cornerback Cortland Finnegan and guard Jake Scott deserve credit for getting so many players out.

Of note:

  • Eugene Amano and Jake Scott
    Paul Kuharsky/ESPN.comOffensive linemen Eugene Amano, left, and Jake Scott work against each other.
    Running back Chris Johnson was part of things. He said his contract isn’t on his mind right now and declared that he expects rookie quarterback Jake Locker to start right out of the gate. Here’s the news story.
  • Locker had some nice moments and some that were not so good. About what you’d expect. He certainly threw the ball better than Brett Ratliff. And he didn’t go the Joe Cool route like Ratliff and Rusty Smith, who practiced in sunglasses.
  • The host school’s football staff ran the individual position drills, which had to be a cool thing for most of them. From the stretch through some team work, players seemed to strike just the right measure of laughs with work.
  • Safety Michael Griffin said the defense just worked through basic coverages. Players expect the new defense, coordinated by Jerry Gray will touch on them all. They thought running through basics rather than trying to learn and execute anything new was the smart approach.
  • Among the notables under contract who were missing -- and let’s be clear they didn’t have to be there and could have had very legitimate reasons for not making it -- were Michael Roos, David Stewart, Kenny Britt, Nate Washington, Damian Williams, Lavelle Hawkins, Alterraun Verner, William Hayes and Brett Kern. Justin Gage was a late arrival and just watched.
  • Without their own receivers, the Titans benefited from the presence of three quality outsiders: Derrick Mason of the Ravens, Golden Tate of the Seahawks and Patrick Turner of the Jets. Mason started his career with Tennessee and still has an area home while Tate and Turner are both from Nashville. Tate went to Father Ryan arch rival Pope John Paul II, and wore his purple Ryan shirt inside out.
  • Gerald McRath and Akeem Ayers
    Paul Kuharsky/ESPN.comLinebacker Gerald McRath coaches up second-round pick Akeem Ayers.
    Several players who are not under contract for 2011 participated: defensive end Dave Ball, guard Leroy Harris, linebacker Tim Shaw and safety Donnie Nickey. Nickey had a big, early collision in seven-on-seven work with Marc Mariani as both went up for a pass from Ratliff that put the receiver at risk. It was the only obvious injury scare of the day. Both bounced up.
  • Plays of note: Mariani dropped a well-thrown deep ball from Locker after slipping behind multiple defenders. Corner Jason McCourty dropped a pick of a pass that bounced off Jared Cook; Ratliff threw an incredibly bad, incomplete pass down the deep middle, a duck that wobbled more than a lot of punts do.
  • Among the guys I saw doing a great deal of leading of young guys were Scott, Ball, defensive back Vincent Fuller and linebacker Gerald McRath.
  • The Titans will have another session Thursday.

Aaron Rodgers is Chico's man

February, 1, 2011
2/01/11
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Aaron RodgersAP Photo/David J. PhillipAaron Rodgers started his career as an unheralded high school quarterback from Northern California.
CHICO, Calif. -- Craig Rigsbee called Ed Rodgers for directions to his house in the winter of 2001.

With directions in tow, the head coach of the highly successful Butte College Roadrunners hung up the phone, walked out his house, took a short stroll to the next cul-de-sac and began the only true college football recruitment Aaron Rodgers received in high school.

And so started the rise of this idyllic Northern California college town’s most successful athlete.

“That’s Chico,” Rigsbee said. “I just walked over there.”

Rodgers‘ journey to the center stage of Super Bowl XLV as the Green Bay Packers' quarterback and his status as the man who allowed the state of Wisconsin to successfully move away from Brett Favre began humbly and with long odds.

Asked last week if Rodgers had the look of a future elite NFL quarterback when he entered high school, Ron Souza -- Rodgers’ high school quarterback and baseball coach -- grew quiet. After a pause, Souza answered honestly and apologetically.

“No, I couldn’t say that,” Souza said. “He was a talented kid and a very hard worker, but I don’t think you could predict what he’d become. No offense to Aaron. I guess we all missed on him.”

Souza shouldn’t be so hard on himself. When Rodgers entered Pleasant Valley High School, he was 5-foot-2, 130 pounds. He didn’t stand out from the other freshman athletes.

[+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers at Cal
eff Gross/Getty ImagesCal coach Jeff Tedford recruited Aaron Rodgers while visiting Butte Community College to scout another player.
Rodgers, the middle of three late-blooming boys (which includes current Vanderbilt quarterback Jordan Rodgers), grew steadily, but he was never an imposing figure in high school. He was about 6-foot, 170 pounds in his senior season, Rigsbee said.

Unlike so many future professional sports stars, Rodgers wasn’t exactly a household name in his hometown as a high school player. He was known as a talented player, but going to watch Rodgers play wasn’t must-see entertainment on Friday nights in Chico.

Rodgers –- now one of the NFL’s most rugged quarterbacks at a strapping 6-foot-2, 225 pounds -- attended the University of Illinois’ camp his senior season, but the school’s interest in him waned because of his lack of size. Rodgers was a 3.9 GPA student in high school, was involved in Young Life and had (and still has) a pristine reputation in the community. He had the off-field tools to go to any school out of high school that he wanted. He just didn’t have the on-field interest.

Rigsbee was basically recruiting Rodgers against himself. Despite his lack of ideal size, Rigsbee saw a strong-armed player with a natural aptitude for the quarterback position. He stayed on Rodgers’ trail for months, making a point to attend every one of Pleasant Valley’s baseball games in the spring of 2002. With his high school football career over, Rodgers picked up a baseball for the first time in five years that spring. He suddenly was throwing 91 miles per hour as a pitcher and having success as a switch-hitter with some pop.

“Finally, one day Aaron said to me 'Coach, you don’t have to come to my games. I’m coming to Butte,’” Rigsbee recalled.

So, Rodgers traveled the short rural highway ride south to Butte to begin his college playing days. He is five days from becoming the second high-profile former Roadrunner to play in the Super Bowl, joining former Dallas superstar guard Larry Allen, who played at Butte in the early 1990s.

Rodgers -- who was then recruited by Cal when Bears coach Jeff Tedford went to Butte to watch another player -- is clearly proud of his humble beginning. He regularly wears Butte College shirts in interviews and texts his former coach to make sure he noticed the Butte love.

The feeling is mutual in Chico.

This may be San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders territory -- Chico is about a two-and-a-half hour drive north of the Bay Area -- but Chico is all about the Packers and its hometown kid.

“There is a lot of green and gold walking around Chico these days,” Chico Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Jolene Francis said. “This is a Packer town.”

Pleasant Valley had a “Green and Gold” day the Friday before the Packers beat Chicago to advance to the Super Bowl. There is a Facebook initiative for everyone in Chico to wear Packer colors to work this Friday in support of Rodgers. The local sports memorabilia stores can’t keep Green Bay items on the shelves. Sports bars are crammed for Green Bay games and Ed Rodgers said he has been told there is a water tower just west of town that has been freshly painted with a giant “G” on it.

[+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesChico plans to honor their native son in the spring regardless of the outcome from Super Bowl XLV.
“Chico is really excited for Aaron,” Ed Rodgers said. “It seems like everybody has become Packer fans”

Several Green Bay-themed parties are planned for Sunday in the city. “If there are any Pittsburgh parties in town, I don’t know of anyone who’ll be showing up,” Francis said.

The San Francisco Giants’ improbable World Series Championship run caught the imagination of this city. The Giants chose Chico as one of the 13 cities to bring the World Series trophy to as part of a celebration tour in January. Thousands of people lined up to get a glimpse of the hardware. Rodgers apparently has the same effect on the town.

“I think Aaron is even bigger,” said friend Matt Hock, the director of the local Young Life chapter. “I think Aaron going to the Super Bowl blows the Giants winning the World Series out of the water here, and that was a big deal in Chico.”

The city plans to have a parade in Rodgers’ honor sometime this spring, win or lose Sunday. Rodgers’ parents still live in Chico, where Ed Rodgers has a successful chiropractor practice. Aaron Rodgers doesn’t live in Chico during the offseason, but he does regularly visit. He has an annual golf tournament in the spring to benefit Young Life.

“Everyone who knows Aaron has nothing but good things to say about him,” Francis said. “We are so proud of him and the attention he has brought our city for being such a stand-up young man.”

Souza jokes that Chico and Green Bay are sister cities. Souza said Rodgers has told him the two cities are similar because of their small-town feels. Chico’s population is 87,000-plus. It is a spread-out town known for Chico State University, Sierra Nevada beer and now a Super Bowl quarterback.

Rigsbee credits Rodgers for showing the college football world that it is worth traveling north of Sacramento for talent. Among those who have been recruited from the area after Rodgers are journeyman NFL backup quarterback Brett Ratliff, Oregon receiver Jeff Maehl (who is expected to be a mid-round draft pick in April), Jordan Rodgers and Rigsbee’s two sons. Tyler Rigsbee is at Cal and Jordan Rigsbee is a Cal recruit.

Witnessing his son become a pioneer of local football is one of the things Ed Rodgers is struggling to grasp as he prepares to head to Dallas. As a child in Chico, Rodgers grew up watching Joe Montana and Steve Young lead his beloved 49ers to Super Bowls.

“I can’t wrap my head around the idea that now Aaron is doing the same thing.” Rodgers said. “It’s the Super Bowl.”

Jets at Browns inactives

November, 14, 2010
11/14/10
11:53
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CLEVELAND -- Here are the inactives for Sunday's game between the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns:

New York Jets
Cleveland Browns

Mangini ready to face some friendly ghosts

November, 11, 2010
11/11/10
4:48
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Eric ManginiJason Miller/US PresswireA week after beating one former employer, Eric Mangini sets his sights on another in the N.Y. Jets.
BEREA, Ohio -- Like a proud father flipping through a photo album of his children, Eric Mangini leaned forward in his office chair to display the New York Jets' offensive and defensive depth charts to a visitor seated across from his desk.

Mangini pointed at player after player after player after player. These were the guys he once coached. As he rattled them off, he tacked the phrase "was with me" after each name. Mangini articulated the names with an emphasis that reflected their importance to him.

"You go right on down the list," Mangini said from his spacious office that overlooks the Cleveland Browns' practice fields. "It's a core group of guys, and you know so much about these guys. You've had so many shared experiences with them, and now you're playing against them."

Mangini is in between games against his previous employers, referring to these two weeks as his personal version of the film "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past."

He gleefully embarrassed the New England Patriots last week and will coach against the Jets for the first time since joining the Browns on Sunday.

Mangini unwillingly departed the Jets 22 months ago. They fired him after a 9-7 season that began with a promising 8-3 start and Super Bowl chatter but disintegrated along with Brett Favre's right arm.

An outsider might assume the games create similar feelings for Mangini. They don't.

Mangini has faced his former mentor, Bill Belichick, several times. They've exchanged many frigid handshakes. Mangini, a former defensive assistant ruled a turncoat for joining the Jets, has a long history with the Patriots. The subsequent Spygate scandal drove the wedge deeper.

Still, the Patriots and Belichick are in his coaching DNA. Mangini is from them, of them.

"Being with Bill as long as I was there," Mangini said, leaning back in his leather chair and eating purple grapes from a cup, "you understand things change and parts change there each week, but philosophically it doesn't change."

His three years with the Jets were more of an association. Unlike his time with the Patriots, though, he had ownership of the Jets' roster. Those were his guys, and many of them remain on Rex Ryan's squad.

"Those are guys that I was instrumental in bringing in and developing and coaching and teaching," Mangini said.

"I told those guys when I left -- I got to address the team -- and I said 'Look, fellas, we were close here, and we made mistakes. There's a new head coach coming in here, and you guys have worked too hard to fight that guy and set yourself back. Embrace that guy and allow him the opportunity to achieve things we could have achieved.'"

Mangini didn't know at the time the Jets would hire Ryan, a gregarious figure who made the transition easier for the players. Most of them quickly embraced Ryan on his own merits, but the fact that he was a stark contrast to Mangini's austerity helped.

[+] EnlargeRex Ryan
AP Photo/Paul SpinelliEric Mangini's successor, Rex Ryan, took the Jets to within one game of the Super Bowl in his first year in New York.
The Mangini-Jets breakup has worked out for the Jets. They made the playoffs last year -- with the same 9-7 record that got Mangini fired -- and are considered among the NFL's top few teams, a Super Bowl contender.

It must be noted Mangini played a significant role in giving Ryan a roster to work with. Still, Mangini insisted he's not bitter about his exit. He has acknowledged the concept of the fall guy, and one was necessary. He remains close friends with Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum.

"It's cool to see them doing as well as they're doing," Mangini said.

Mangini claimed that what's happening in Cleveland has made this week's preparations for the Jets less emotional for him.

Mangini barely survived his first season with the Browns. They went 5-11 but won their last four games. The Browns hired Mike Holmgren to oversee football operations. Holmgren stripped Mangini of some duties, but the product seems to be improving.

The Browns are 3-5 and enter Sunday's game against the Jets with back-to-back victories over the New Orleans Saints and Patriots.

"This has been pretty satisfying," Mangini said. "Getting the job was great because it meant somebody recognized the great work we did in New York. We had a tough last year, but we developed. This year, we're competitive and we're making more steps. It's starting to pay off to some degree."

Mangini's disparate feelings for the Jets and Patriots are evident in his personnel moves.

He and Tannenbaum have made notable trades.

The Browns sent Braylon Edwards to the Jets last year for receiver Chansi Stuckey, linebacker Jason Trusnik and two draft picks. The Jets were able to get quarterback Mark Sanchez through a blockbuster draft-day trade that sent quarterback Brett Ratliff, defensive end Kenyon Coleman, safety Abram Elam and two picks to the Browns for the fifth overall selection.

Mangini, whether with the Jets or Browns, never made a trade with Belichick.

That fractured relationship is unlikely to heal.

"I appreciate what he did for me," Mangini said. "He was a huge part of my life. We were very close friends for a long time. When things started to go south, it sucked.

"Whether it'll ever get to that stage where we're close friends again, I don't know. Maybe, maybe not. But at no point will I ever stop appreciating what he's done. I feel I know who the guy is as a person, and hopefully at some point the friendship will resume."

That's why the Jets and Patriots are different for Mangini.

But he wants to beat them just the same.
Because of ankle injuries to veterans Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace, rookie quarterback Colt McCoy reportedly could start for Cleveland on Sunday. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Browns signed Brett Ratliff, who was told he's the backup for McCoy in the Week 6 rivalry game against the Pittsburgh Steelers (3-1). Ratliff was one of the Browns' final cuts this summer.

McCoy
McCoy

This was not in the plans for Browns president Mike Holmgren and head coach Eric Mangini, who didn't provide specifics on the quarterback situation Monday. Both have said they expect McCoy, a third-round pick, to sit at least one year to learn from the sidelines. But very little has gone according to plan for the struggling Browns (1-4), and now McCoy looks to get the nod just six weeks into the season.

If McCoy is viewed as the future of the Browns, they must be very careful about the long-term impact of this decision. Throwing McCoy out there at Heinz Field against Dick LeBeau's defense is a recipe for disaster. In fact, it's the last defense I would pick a rookie quarterback to face in his first NFL start, especially against a hungry Steelers' defense coming off a bye week.

Expect the sharks for Pittsburgh -- James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, Troy Polamalu, Casey Hampton, Aaron Smith, James Farrior, Lawrence Timmons, etc. -- to be out in full force Sunday. I'm sure a wide-eyed McCoy is excited for the opportunity, but in reality he's just fresh meat.

I said in training camp that if McCoy starts, that's a sign Cleveland's 2010 season is over. I picked the Browns to finish last in the AFC North this year, but this ship is sinking faster than expected.

Cleveland Browns cutdown analysis

September, 4, 2010
9/04/10
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Check here for a full list of Cleveland's roster moves.

Biggest surprise: The biggest surprise is that Cleveland waited until after 9 p.m. ET Saturday to announce its moves. Supposedly, it was a strategic decision so other teams were not aware of players the Browns made available. I don’t think it makes a difference, especially because the Browns are not a team rich with talent to begin with. As far as players, Browns cornerback Brandon McDonald's name stood out most on this list. His career has been up and down, but he brought a wealth of starting experience (27 starts) to a young secondary. McDonald may have helped seal his own fate when he made negative headlines this summer for an offensive tweet aimed at Cincinnati Bengals receiver Terrell Owens. The Browns were not pleased with McDonald’s poor judgment.

No-brainers: Quarterback Brett Ratliff had no shot of making this team, because the Browns already have their three players at the position in Jake Delhomme, Seneca Wallace and rookie Colt McCoy. New Browns president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert made several additions at cornerback this offseason, including veteran defensive back Sheldon Brown and rookie first-round pick Joe Haden. That made it very tough for young corners such as Coye Francies to make the team. Receiver Syndric Steptoe has talent and may get interest elsewhere, particularly as a kick returner. But with Pro Bowl returner Josh Cribbs in Cleveland, the Browns have no use for Steptoe.

What's next: Despite Cleveland establishing its 53-man roster, the Browns should still be active on the waiver wires. This roster overall is not very deep, especially compared to its AFC North counterparts. So the Browns could make some additions in several areas to improve the bottom of their roster. Backups shouldn’t get too comfortable in Cleveland.

AFC North roster bubbles

August, 31, 2010
8/31/10
2:23
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Jones, Williams & VeikunAP PhotosMatt Jones, Demetrius Williams and David Veikune are among the AFC North players in danger of not making their teams' final 53-man rosters.
With teams required to cut down to 53 players by Saturday, it's time to focus on the final rosters in the AFC North.

Expect plenty of chatter internally this week among general managers, scouts and coaches throughout the division on who should make the team. This is always one of the most intriguing weeks of the NFL season.

With that said, here are several noteworthy players on the bubble in the AFC North:

1. Matt Jones, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

Analysis: The Jones experiment probably will end this week. The Bengals took a chance on Jones, who was out of football in 2009 for off-field issues, to see if he had anything left. Except for a few flashes, such as the Hall of Fame Game, the former first-round pick has been injured and not nearly the same explosive player he was several years ago. Jones also signed a team-friendly, one-year contract, which makes him easy to release. The Bengals have a lot of depth at receiver, and Jones doesn't appear to be in their plans.

Cut-O-Meter: 80 percent

2. David Veikune, LB, Cleveland Browns

Analysis: Despite entering only his second season, this was a very important training camp for Veikune. The former second-round pick was a major disappointment in his rookie season. Veikune hasn't stepped up so far and is having another nondescript preseason. His best chance to make the Browns is his high draft status. But first-year president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert added their own linebackers and have no personal investment in Veikune.

Cut-O-Meter: 80 percent

3. Demetrius Williams, WR, Baltimore Ravens

Analysis: Placing Williams on the roster bubble has become an annual tradition in Baltimore -- and every year he survives. This year could be the same for Williams, who has a lot of ability but has yet to live up to his potential. Williams received a lucky "break," both literally and figuratively, when veteran receiver Donte' Stallworth suffered a broken foot in the third preseason game. Stallworth will be out approximately two months, increasing Williams' chances of making Baltimore's 53-man roster.

Cut-O-Meter: 35 percent

4. Justin Hartwig, C, Pittsburgh Steelers

Analysis: Hartwig struggled at center last year and lost his job this preseason to first-round pick Maurkice Pouncey. The Steelers believe Pouncey is a star-in-the-making, which leaves Hartwig's future in limbo. Despite the benching, there is no question Hartwig is one of Pittsburgh's best 53 players. That should be enough. But Hartwig also is scheduled to make a little more than $2 million this season. He's being paid as a starting center and that's no longer his role. There's a chance Hartwig could compete at right guard or simply be the first center/guard off the bench in the event of injury. Hartwig's experience and versatility help his case.

Cut-O-Meter: 30 percent

5. Jerome Simpson, WR, Bengals

Analysis: Simpson is another second-round pick who is running out of chances. Despite coming from small-school Coastal Carolina, the Bengals were enamored with his physical abilities and reached for Simpson in the second round of the 2008 draft. But the Bengals tired of waiting for Simpson to develop and made several offseason additions at receiver, which included signing Terrell Owens and drafting Jordan Shipley in the third round. But Antonio Bryant's surprising release helps Simpson's chances.

Cut-O-Meter: 50 percent

6. James Davis, RB, Browns

Analysis: It's funny how quickly things can change in the NFL. Last summer, Davis was the talk of Cleveland after he led the Browns in rushing during the preseason as a rookie. This year, Davis is on the bubble after a lot of offseason additions at running back. The top three tailbacks for Cleveland are locks: Jerome Harrison, Peyton Hillis and Montario Hardesty. The question now is how many running backs Cleveland will keep. If the answer is four, Davis and Chris Jennings are battling for the final spot. I give Davis the edge.

Cut-O-Meter: 40 percent

7. David Reed, WR, Ravens

Analysis: Reed, a fifth-round pick, burst on the scene in Baltimore with a stellar spring. But since then he's been inconsistent and is back on the bubble. Like Williams, Reed also benefits from Stallworth's injury and the extra roster spot available at receiver. That increases Reed's chances to make it. Otherwise, the Ravens would love to develop him on the practice squad.

Cut-O-Meter: 50 percent

[+] EnlargeJonathan Dwyer
AP Photo/Jack DempseyJonathan Dwyer led the Steelers in rushing against the Broncos, but will it be enough to earn him a roster spot?
8. Jonathan Dwyer, RB, Steelers

Analysis: Dwyer made a strong push late for a roster spot in Pittsburgh. After a disappointing training camp, Dwyer led the Steelers in rushing with 89 yards and a touchdown in Sunday's preseason loss to the Denver Broncos. Running back Isaac Redman has been stellar and secured the third running back job that was intended for Dwyer. Thursday's preseason finale will be vital for the sixth-round pick.

Cut-O-Meter: 55 percent

9. Brett Ratliff, QB, Browns

Analysis: Do not believe the hype in Cleveland involving third-round pick Colt McCoy being on the bubble. From everything we're told, there is no truth to the speculation. This means Ratliff, barring injury, is probably spending his final week with the Browns. Ratliff will play a half Thursday in Cleveland's final preseason game against the Chicago Bears. That could be a nice showcase for Ratliff to try to latch on with another team. Browns coach Eric Mangini traded for Ratliff as part of the draft-day deal with the Jets to be a developmental project last year. But Holmgren is calling the shots now and drafted his own developmental project: McCoy.

Cut-O-Meter: 95 percent

10. Maurice Purify, WR, Bengals

Analysis: Purify is one of Cincinnati's top special-teams players. But the Bengals' immense depth at receiver and Purify's one-game suspension for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy make it very unlikely he makes the cut. There is no reason for Cincinnati to take a roster spot away from a player who will be available for the start of the regular season to keep Purify.

Cut-O-Meter: 95 percent

Here are five additional names to watch:

So much Jets change has been in the air

April, 12, 2010
4/12/10
9:16
AM ET
In the span of six measly months, the New York Jets' top three receivers went from this:

Edwards
Holmes
1. Jerricho Cotchery

2. Chansi Stuckey

3. David Clowney

To this:

1a. Braylon Edwards

1b. Santonio Holmes

3. Cotchery

What an upgrade. The Jets continued their metamorphosis Sunday night, sending a fifth-round draft choice to the Pittsburgh Steelers for Holmes.

In a short time, the Jets went from wondering how their passing game would cope without Laveranues Coles to boasting a crew that features three 1,100-yard receivers.

Go back a year and the Jets' passing game was even more dubious. Brett Favre was gone. Some believed Brett Ratliff had a shot at the job.

Among the receivers, Cotchery had with the highest pedigree. He was a fourth-round draft pick. Stuckey was a seventh-rounder. Clowney was a waiver-wire pickup.

Now the Jets have a pair of first-rounders with some hardware. Edwards, the third overall selection in 2005, is a Pro Bowler. Holmes, the 25th pick in 2006, was the MVP of Super Bowl XLIII.

Cotchery is the oldest of the three. He'll turn 28 in June.

Think second-year quarterback Mark Sanchez might be excited about throwing a little more this year?

Sanchez also has tight end Dustin Keller, another first-rounder. The backfield options are LaDainian Tomlinson and Leon Washington, two fellows who can catch.

The Jets had the NFL's top rushing attack last year. Their 37.9 carries per game were 5.1 attempts more than the second team and about 10 more than the league average.

At the league owners meetings last month in Orlando, Fla., Jets coach Rex Ryan said, "We might not run it as much as we did last year, but we’ll be pretty close."

When you consider the talent the Jets continue to assemble, that's getting increasingly harder to believe.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham


If you're a New York Jets fan and would like to express your gratitude, mail your thank-you notes to:

 
  James Lang/US PRESSWIRE
 The Jets traded up with the Browns in this year's draft to select Mark Sanchez at No. 5.
Cleveland Browns
Attention: Eric Mangini
76 Lou Groza Blvd.
Berea, Ohio 44017

The New York Jets pulled off another trade with their former head coach's new team. The Browns have a general manager, George Kokinis, but Mangini most certainly was involved to a high degree in trading receiver Braylon Edwards to the Jets on Wednesday morning.

This, of course, isn't the first time the Jets and Browns brokered a major deal. The Jets made a five-for-one deal to acquire Cleveland's fifth overall draft pick for the purposes of selecting Southern California quarterback Mark Sanchez.

So the Jets have acquired the third overall pick from the 2005 draft and the fifth overall pick from this year. And what, really, have they parted with?

Cleveland, clearly in a rebuilding mode, is collecting draft picks for the future. New York is tweaking their roster to win this year.

What the Jets have gotten from dealing with the Browns
  • Mark Sanchez, quarterback: The Sanchise won the job in training camp and, despite some rookie mistakes, has the Jets 3-1 and tied for first place in the AFC East.
  • Braylon Edwards, receiver: He had off-the-field problems and was erratic in the Browns' offense, but he's the big-play receiver the Jets were lacking.
What the Browns have gotten from dealing with the Jets
  • Brett Ratliff, quarterback: He's third on the depth chart behind Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn.
  • Chansi Stuckey, receiver: Stuckey was the Jets' No. 2 receiver, but didn't seize the job out of camp as much as he was a better option than David Clowney.
  • Jason Trusnik, linebacker: A depth player and special-teamer, he was undrafted out of Division III Ohio Northern and has an injury history.
  • Abram Elam, safety: Elam starts for the Browns but would have been a backup for the Jets behind Kerry Rhodes and Jim Leonhard.
  • Kenyon Coleman, defensive end: Coleman starts for the Browns.
  • 17th overall draft pick (Sanchez trade): The Browns turned another trade, giving the pick to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who took quarterback Josh Freeman, for picks Nos. 19 and 191. The Browns then dealt No. 19 to the Philadelphia Eagles for Nos. 21 and 195.

    The Browns drafted starting center Alex Mack at No. 19, cornerback Coye Francies at No. 191 and running back James Davis at No. 195. Francies is a backup, while Davis is on injured reserve after a promising preseason.
  • 52nd overall draft pick (Sanchez trade): The Browns kept the pick and selected defensive end David Veikune, who now is a backup inside linebacker.
  • Two undisclosed draft picks (Edwards trade).
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. -- Anytime a name receiver is rumored to be available, the New York Jets are said to be interested.

Plaxico Burress, Anquan Boldin and Braylon Edwards have been involved in Jets talk. Many draft analysts predicted the Jets would draft a receiver, maybe Percy Harvin or Darrius Heyward-Bey.

The Jets were in need of a prototypical No. 1 wideout even before Laveranues Coles wriggled out of his contract. They've declined to replace him thus far, creating even more skepticism that the Jets are set at receiver.

At least two players on the depth chart disagree.

 
  Joe Robbins/Getty Images
  David Clowney caught one pass for the Jets last season.

"I think we're good," Jets receiver Wallace Wright said. "People want to speculate, but with the talent we have in that room, I don't think we need anybody else."

David Clowney has a more specific solution to New York's receiving needs. The third-year speed demon with one career NFL catch considers himself the answer.

"I don't stress or harp" on the stream of reports the Jets are looking for outside help, Clowney said, "because at the end of the day it's all in my hands. That's been my whole mind-set. If they would've drafted a first-round receiver, he would have had to earn that job just like me, and I would just have to beat him out."

Clowney was emphatic about what he can offer the Jets. He took a break from the youth football camp he staged Saturday in his hometown -- the presence of teammates D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Vernon Gholston, Kareem Brown, Brian Schaefering, Marques Murrell, Nate Harris, Stanley Daniels and Wright gave it the feel of a Jets' organized team activity -- to talk about his expectations for 2009.

Clowney has been taking reps with the first- and second-team offense throughout OTAs.

"I'm grinding, trying to get that starting job," Clowney said. "I'm really hoping that they give it to me. I'm working for it.

"Shouldn't be a reason why I shouldn't get it, but with all this competition, we're going to make the best of it. We're all going to be out there, making plays."

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
 
  Kirby Lee/US Presswire
  The New York Jet's blockbuster trade to grab Mark Sanchez was the news out of the first day of the NFL Draft Saturday.

The AFC East exhibited classic passive-aggressive behavior Saturday.

The New York Jets identified the man they wanted and attacked the draft. The New England Patriots saw nothing that struck them and backpedalled themselves out of the first round.

The Jets and Patriots traded like their futures depended on it.

The Miami Dolphins made a late second-round swap of picks with the Indianapolis Colts. The Buffalo Bills traded a pair of picks to the Dallas Cowboys so they could grab Oregon State guard Andrew Levitre in the second round.

But the Jets pulled off the blockbuster and the Patriots were, by far, the busiest.

With the Detroit Lions sucking all the drama out of the No. 1 selection by signing Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford on Friday night, the Jets became the story of the draft with a trade that brought them Southern California quarterback Mark Sanchez.

For the second time in nine months, intrepid Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum swung a monster deal to get his club a marquee quarterback. In July, he brought in a legend at the end of the line. On Saturday, he made a dramatic move for burgeoning star.

To make it happen, the Jets hooked up with Eric Mangini, the head coach they fired a few months back. Mangini, now with the Cleveland Browns, had no interest in another quarterback and gladly accepted an infusion of assets.

The Jets traded two draft picks (Nos. 17 and 52), quarterback Brett Ratliff, defensive end Kenyon Coleman and safety Abram Elam to maneuver into the No. 5 slot, where Sanchez awaited with a grin.

Given the circumstances, Sanchez to the Big Apple eclipses Stafford to the Big Grapple.

Sanchez looks like he strutted straight off the Warner Brothers lot. He has the magnetic presence of a star quarterback. He comes from a glamour college. His future is as bright as a klieg light.

Sanchez better pan out. Indicative of their infatuation with him, the Jets parted with an awful lot and likely poisoned Kellen Clemens, who must feel second-rate all over again.

The Jets obviously don't have faith in Clemens, a 2006 second-round pick out of Oregon. He failed to seize the job last year, compelling the Jets to trade for Brett Favre. The Jets disintegrated down the homestretch. They didn't make the playoffs and fired Mangini. Favre retired, leaving the quarterback competition to Clemens, Ratliff and Erik Ainge.

New Jets coach Rex Ryan repeatedly insisted they were confident with the quarterbacks on their roster, that they could advance with the candidates on hand. But the Jets dropped too many hints along the way, the most obvious their interest in Jay Cutler -- until Saturday, that is.

The Patriots took a polar approach.

They saw no one they wanted badly enough in the first round. They had plenty of firepower to move up from their No. 23 slot, entering the draft with 11 picks. They owned four in the top 59 and six in the top 97.

New England overlord Bill Belichick, in his first draft without Scott Pioli, revealed right before the draft began there was "less than zero" chance they would advance in the order. They went the other way, trading the No. 23 pick the Baltimore Ravens and then trading No. 26 to the Green Bay Packers for more materials.

Before the Patriots drafted their first player, Oregon strong safety Patrick Chung in the second round, they had increased their war chest to 13 picks.

They spun a couple picks to the Oakland Raiders to move up in the second round for Boston College defensive tackle Ron Brace. One spot later, they used a pick acquired from the Packers to grab Connecticut cornerback Darius Butler.

The Patriots traded so many picks, their front office had to send out a press release to explain them all.

Trade winds sent the paperwork flying all afternoon and night in the AFC East. With a few hours to regroup overnight, expect another flurry on Sunday.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Radio City Music Hall erupted when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced the New York Jets had made a trade to obtain the fifth overall pick from the Cleveland Browns.

The Jets gave up the 17th and 52nd picks, quarterback Brett Ratliff, defensive end Kenyon Coleman and safety Abram Elam.

The Jets paid that price to select Southern California quarterback Mark Sanchez

So much for Jets head coach Rex Ryan insisting he was satisfied with the quarterbacks on his roster.

Kellen Clemens, sullen over the Jets' flirtations with Jay Cutler months after they traded for Brett Favre, might be the starter for 2009, but he just got knocked down a few pegs in terms of his long-term outlook with the Jets.

With all of the assets the Jets parted with and the guaranteed money they're about to fork over, Sanchez is their franchise quarterback.

The trade fortifies the Browns' roster and gives them more draft ammo.

What do you think it will do for the Jets?

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