NFL Nation: Crezdon Butler

Bucs without four injured starters

November, 30, 2014
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TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be without four starters for Sunday's game with Cincinnati.

All-Pro linebacker Lavonte David, who said Friday he was confident he would play despite a hamstring injury, headlines a list of significant inactives. Center Evan Dietrich-Smith (illness), tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins (back) and defensive tackle Clinton McDonald (hamstring) also are inactive. The other inactives for the Bucs are cornerback Crezdon Butler, tight end Brandon Myers and tight end Luke Stocker.

That means the Bucs are without any of the tight ends they’ve been going with all season. The team promoted Cameron Brate and signed D.J. Williams and those two will share the duties at tight end and fullback.

With David out, the Bucs are expected to shift Danny Lansanah to the weak side and start Orie Lemon on the strong side. Garrett Gilkey is expected to start in Dietrich-Smith’s place and Akeem Spence is expected to take McDonald’s place.

Buccaneers missing four starters

November, 9, 2014
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TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be without four injured starters for Sunday’s game against Atlanta.

Cornerback Alterraun Verner (hamstring), running back Doug Martin (ankle), left tackle Anthony Collins (foot) and defensive end Michael Johnson (ankle) have been declared inactive.

Crezdon Butler will start in Verner’s spot. Bobby Rainey will start in Martin’s place. Jacquies Smith will start in Johnson’s place and Oniel Cousins will start in Collins’ place.

The other inactives for the Bucs are wide receiver Robert Herron, guard Kadeem Edwards and tight end Luke Stocker.

Rapid Reaction: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

October, 12, 2014
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TAMPA, Fla. -- Thoughts on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 48-17 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.

What it means: This was as bad as it gets. The Bucs (1-5) appeared to be coming home from a three-game road swing with a little momentum. They had won at Pittsburgh and were close at New Orleans. All week long, coach Lovie Smith and his players talked about how they wanted to put on a good show for the fans. They also said they were a better team than when they last played at home, against St. Louis in Week 2.

Guess what? The Bucs aren't a better team in any way. This one was even worse than the 56-14 loss to Atlanta, since it was at home. The honeymoon period is over for Smith. He now is fair game for criticism from fans and media.

A spot in history: Tampa Bay's 38-0 halftime deficit was the largest by any home team since before World War II, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Stock watch: Cornerback Crezdon Butler has been bouncing around the league since 2010, but he didn't get his first career start until Sunday. It didn't go well. The Ravens came out targeting Butler, who was playing in place of the injured Johnthan Banks. With Alterraun Verner covering Steve Smith, the Ravens continuously threw slant routes to Torrey Smith, who had two touchdown catches in the first quarter.

Game ball: Rookie wide receiver Mike Evans, who had been listed as questionable with a groin injury, gets this honor. Evans scored Tampa Bay's first touchdown of the game and had four catches for 55 yards.

What's next: The Bucs have a bye next Sunday. They will return the following Sunday with a home game against Minnesota.
SAN DIEGO -- Observed in the locker room after the San Diego Chargers' 30-21 win over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.

Rivers
Fast-talking McCoy: Still wired from the win, San Diego coach Mike McCoy did not take too many breaths in between words at the podium after this one.

So does McCoy always talk that fast?

“My wife tells me, 'yes,' ” McCoy joked. “But I’m a little excited, too, so it’s a good reason to talk fast. ... There’s nothing like winning, so I’ll probably talk fast all night.”

A team-defining win: San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers said Sunday’s win over the Cowboys is the type of victory that can help create an identity for his team. “These are the kind of wins that kind of define your character, your personality, your identity,” he said.

Redemption for Butler: Reserve cornerback Crezdon Butler gave up the winning score against Tennessee last week, a 34-yard touchdown reception by Titans rookie receiver Justin Hunter. Butler redeemed himself on Sunday, forcing Dallas rookie receiver Terrance Williams to cough up the ball at the goal line late in the game to help preserve a win. Butler’s teammate Richard Marshall recovered the fumble.

“It feels good,” Butler said. “Last week was tough, and I had to move on from that. Being a defensive back you have to have a short-term memory, and it was time to move on. I’m glad I made that play today.”

A strong finish: After giving up two fourth-quarter leads in the first three games, the Chargers finally finished strong, scoring 20 unanswered points to put the game away. San Diego linebacker Reggie Walker said his team can build on Sunday’s effort.

“It’s a thing that was kind of being held over our heads, not finishing,” Walker said. “And then we went in there and finally finished a game, which is awesome.”

 
Click here for a look at the Buffalo Bills' latest roster moves.

Most significant move: The Buffalo Bills were expected to start fourth-year cornerback Crezdon Butler in Week 1 in place of an injured Stephon Gilmore. However, Butler played 54 defensive snaps in the preseason finale Thursday night, a sign that his roster status was in doubt. Slotting Butler as the starter was more out of necessity than anything else; with Leodis McKelvin and Justin Rogers hampered by injuries this preseason, the Bills found themselves extremely thin at the position. Butler did not help his cause by struggling against the Detroit Lions in Thursday's loss. Expect the Bills to turn to Rogers as their opening-day starter alongside McKelvin.

Quarterback shuffle continues: Besides Butler, the most notable player to be released was quarterback Matt Leinart. The Bills signed Leinart and traded for Thad Lewis last Sunday, one day after Kevin Kolb suffered a serious concussion. As it turned out, the preseason finale was a competition between Leinart and Lewis for the Bills' third quarterback job. Leinart threw two interceptions in the first five possessions of the game, ending his night. Lewis fared better in the turnover category, but still only completed 44 percent of his passes, going 7-for-16 in the game.

What's next: The Bills released 18 players and placed another three -- Kolb, wide receiver Brad Smith, and running back Drew Smith -- on injured reserve. With 76 players on their roster entering Friday, the Bills are now down to 55. Safety Jairus Byrd's roster exemption has expired, meaning that they will, at a minimum, need to two more moves by Saturday's 6 p.m. ET deadline. Linebacker Bryan Scott could be one of those cuts; Byrd had a tweet earlier Friday that suggested Scott had been released.

Bills cuts: QB Matt Leinart, RB Zach Brown, RB Kendall Gaskins, WR Brandon Kaufman, TE Dorin Dickerson, TE Nick Provo, T Zebrie Sanders, G Antoine Caldwell, G Zack Chibane, C David Snow, DL Jarron Gilbert, OLB Kourtnei Brown, OLB Keith Pough, ILB Brian Smith, CB Crezdon Butler, CB T.J. Heath, CB Kip Edwards, S Jordan Dangerfield.

What to watch for: Bills-Lions

August, 29, 2013
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The Buffalo Bills conclude their preseason on Thursday night, returning home to face the Detroit Lions. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. ET.

Here's what to watch for:
  1. All eyes on Tuel: At the start of the preseason, rookie EJ Manuel was the focus at quarterback. Two weeks later, attention turned to Kevin Kolb. And now, with both Manuel and Kolb out with injuries, it's Jeff Tuel's chance in the spotlight. The undrafted rookie has been named the opening-day starter in the event Manuel is not ready to return from a minor procedure on his left knee. Tuel will face more national scrutiny on Thursday night than arguably any other player across the NFL. It's unlikely pressure for a preseason finale, and it will be worth monitoring how Tuel handles being thrust onto the main stage.
  2. How much time for starters? Normally, this is a game that starters either play minimally or sit out entirely. Does the Tuel situation change that? Beyond running back C.J. Spiller, who will not return to the team until this weekend after an excused absence, do the Bills dress their other top offensive players to get them in a rhythm with Tuel? The best guess from this perspective: Yes. The odds are against Manuel being able to return for Week 1, and if you're the Bills, opening against the New England Patriots, you want to make Tuel as comfortable as possible.
  3. Can the defense bounce back? After an encouraging outing against the Minnesota Vikings, the Bills defense laid an egg against the Washington Redskins last Saturday. The run defense was particularly suspect, allowing 208 yards on 43 carries. It's worth noting that the Bills' offensive struggles allowed the Redskins to control the time of possession in that game, but it was hardly a positive performance by Mike Pettine's unit. Even if starters play minimally, getting back on track will be important.
  4. Can corners lock it down? The Bills defense took a big blow on Monday when coach Doug Marrone announced that cornerback Stephon Gilmore would miss 6-to-8 weeks with a fractured wrist. Expect Crezdon Butler to start in his place on Thursday night. He'll be a player worth following during the game. If he struggles, the Bills will be scrambling for another option in their secondary.
  5. Injuries, injuries, go away: After emerging from the preseason opener in Indianapolis with no significant injuries, Marrone probably should have knocked on wood. His squad's health took some major blows over the next two weeks, with Manuel, Kolb, and Gilmore all going down. Another hit to either side of the ball would be crushing heading into the opener. And of course, the Bills probably don't even want to think about what they would do if Tuel was injured Thursday.

Mario Williams among Bills' inactives

August, 16, 2013
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Buffalo Bills defensive end Mario Williams (foot) will not play in tonight's preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings, the team announced.

Williams played two series in the Bills' preseason opener last Sunday, and has been limited throughout training camp with a foot injury.

"He keeps getting treatment to take care of his body," coach Doug Marrone said Wednesday. "Again, we’re just trying to be smart up and down, resting him for some time, just so he can make sure he just gets ready. Especially coming off this short week."

The Bills said Williams will dress for the game, meaning he would be available to play in an emergency.

Other Bills not playing tonight:
Not listed among the inactives are quarterback Kevin Kolb, wide receivers Brad Smith and Kevin Elliott, tight end Scott Chandler, and linebacker Keith Pough. All missed Sunday's win over Indianapolis.

Buffalo Bills practice report

July, 31, 2013
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PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills were back on the practice field Wednesday morning, holding their second full-padded session of training camp.

Passing along some observations:

Williams back, but does not participate: Defensive end Mario Williams was back in uniform after leaving training camp to have his sore foot evaluated. Williams worked with the strength and conditioning staff on the sidelines, and did not participate in practice. Meanwhile, tight end Scott Chandler (ACL) and defensive lineman Kyle Williams (Achilles) continued to be held out of team drills. Head coach Doug Marrone said the team has built in rest days for Chandler, who had knee surgery in January.

[+] EnlargeLeodis McKelvin
Kevin Hoffman/USA TODAY SportsBills coach Doug Marrone came away impressed with the play of defensive back Leodis McKelvin on Wednesday.
Rogers sits out; McKelvin gets bumped up: Cornerback Justin Rogers was not in uniform on Wednesday after suffering a right hamstring injury in Tuesday's session. Marrone said after practice that Rogers will be out "for a short period of time." Rogers began training camp with the first team and was replaced by T.J. Heath on Tuesday. However, veteran Leodis McKelvin ran with the first team on Wednesday, with Heath and Crezdon Butler playing cornerback for the second group.

"He made a heck of a play on a comeback [pattern]," Marrone said of McKelvin after practice. "When you're out for that long, it takes some time. He's really coming along nicely. We're excited about that."

Elliott carted off: Second-year receiver Kevin Elliott was carted off the practice field with a right shoulder injury. Elliott made an impressive diving catch during 11-on-11s against top cornerback Stephon Gilmore, but came down hard on his shoulder and looked to be in pain on the sideline. Elliott is the mix for a back-end roster spot.

Other injuries: Marrone said a pair of running backs were hobbled with ankle injuries on Wednesday. Veteran Tashard Choice came up slow during a punt drill and talked to trainers, but later came back onto the field for 11-on-11 work. Meanwhile, Zach Brown suffered an ankle injury that Marrone said doctors will examine.

Manuel gets first-team action: Rookie quarterback EJ Manuel ran the first-team offense during the initial 11-on-11 period of practice after spending most of his time with the second team to begin training camp. Veteran Kevin Kolb led the top group for the final two 11-on-11 periods. For the second consecutive practice, Manuel avoided making any critical mistakes while in the pocket, but looked to face more blitz pressures than he has in previous sessions.

Kolb was intercepted during an early 7-on-7 drill by Gilmore, who undercut rookie running back Kendall Gaskins on a short pattern. Kolb was later intercepted by safety Da'Norris Searcy on a pass intended for rookie receiver Marquise Goodwin, and also had some throws that sailed behind receivers T.J. Graham and Robert Woods. On the plus side, it was Kolb who lofted a well-thrown ball to Elliott on the play where he was injured.

Dime package gets work: The Bills had six defensive backs on the field for a stretch of their final 11-on-11 period. Safety Duke Williams was one of the players coming on, with Bryan Scott replacing Nigel Bradham at linebacker. Along the defensive line, Manny Lawson and Alex Carrington provided the pass rush. On the second unit, rookie Nickell Robey manned the slot, intercepting quarterback Jeff Tuel late in the period.

Punters look even: The punt unit returned to action Wednesday, with Shawn Powell and Brian Stahovich both impressive during both special-teams periods. However, returners had issues during the first period, with Woods and Graham both muffing catches, drawing the ire of special-teams coordinator Danny Crossman.

Good day at the office for: McKelvin. The changes at cornerback continue for the Bills, and McKelvin was the latest to take reps with the first team. He didn't disappoint, showing tight coverage and breaking up a throw from Kolb to Woods during 11-on-11s.

Bad day at the office for: Kolb. It's tough to compare him side-by-side to Manuel since Kolb is usually seeing the best unit from the defense, but Kolb continues to struggle at times with his accuracy and decision making. He's in the spotlight given the quarterback situation, so his mistakes are more magnified than those of other players.

What's next: Players are off Thursday before returning to practice Friday morning from 8 to 11:10.

Arizona Cardinals cut-down analysis

August, 31, 2012
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Most significant move: Clark Haggans failed to make the cut after five-plus seasons with the Cardinals. He could always re-sign at some point if the Cardinals need depth at outside linebacker. He'll be cheaper at that time, given that veteran contracts become guaranteed once a player is on the roster for Week 1.

For now, though, the Cardinals are moving forward with Quentin Groves as a primary backup behind starters Sam Acho and O'Brien Schofield at outside linebacker. Brandon Williams was thought to be part of that mix as well, but the Cardinals waived him with an injury designation, citing a shoulder problem. Williams will revert to injured reserve unless the Cardinals reach an injury settlement with him. A settlement would allow Williams to sign with Arizona or another team once he's healthy.

It's a good sign, ultimately, that Arizona feels good enough about its outside linebackers to proceed without the 35-year-old Haggans. After a certain point, every team should develop enough young depth to threaten older, declining players. In this case, however, I'm not sure Arizona has a viable replacement for him. Groves showed promise, but he has zero sacks over the past three seasons.

Onward and upward: None of the players released by Arizona jumps out to me as someone sure to catch on elsewhere. That is because the Cardinals found a way to keep 11 defensive backs, including all their best corners. Had A.J. Jefferson or Michael Adams hit the market, both would have attracted interest. The same would have been true for Greg Toler, most likely.

Crezdon Butler, Antonio Coleman, Blake Gideon, Russ Hochstein, Ricky Lumpkin, Colin Parker, Larry Parker, DeMarco Sampson, Alfonso Smith, Quan Sturdivant, Ronald Talley, Everrette Thompson, Martell Webb, Scott Wedige, Isaiah Williams and D.J. Young were released. No big surprises there. Haggans could catch on somewhere.

Quarterback Rich Bartel landed on injured reserve, as did running back Javarris James. Stephen Williams was waived/injured with an Achilles' injury.

What's next: The Cardinals could use help at offensive tackle and outside linebacker. They decided against designating Levi Brown as a player eligible to return from injured reserve later in the season. That means Brown will not return from his torn triceps until next season. D'Anthony Batiste heads toward the season as the projected starter at left tackle. Another candidate, Young, struggled during preseason and received his release Friday.

The Cardinals are paying for missing on 2009 second-round choice Cody Brown, an outside linebacker. They're counting on Acho and Schofield to carry the full load, but there's little depth behind them. Schofield must prove he's durable in a full-time role after recovering from a career-threatening knee injury.
Patrick Peterson commanded the most attention among Arizona Cardinals cornerbacks last season.

That was natural for a rookie drafted fifth overall. Scoring touchdowns four times on punt returns also helped Peterson command the spotlight.

There was far less fanfare for veteran corner Richard Marshall. A team news release announcing Marshall's signing carried the stock title, "Cardinals make roster moves." Marshall's addition shared an introductory sentence with the release of Da'Mon Merkerson and the signing of rookie free agent Tae Evans.

Far more notable was Marshall's departure from the team via free agency Wednesday. Marshall, who agreed to terms on a three-year deal with Miami, played nearly three-quarters of the defensive snaps for Arizona last season. He was also a regular on special teams.

"He's a very good veteran football player that understands the game, understands how to prepare," coach Ken Whisenhunt said of Marshall in November. "He's a great example for our younger players with his toughness and his attention to detail. He works at it and that’s what you want."

The Cardinals also valued Marshall's versatility.

"Flexibility of what we're asking him to do is something that has tremendous value for us," Whisenhunt said. "To play outside, to play in the nickel, to play some back at safety, which he's done, all those things, that’s not easy. It takes not only ability, but it takes a mentality to be able to do that and that’s important to your team."

Marshall played last season on a one-year deal for $3.5 million.

The Cardinals' current cornerbacks include Peterson, A.J. Jefferson, Michael Adams, Marshay Green, Korey Lindsey and Crezdon Butler. Greg Toler, a restricted free agent tendered to a fourth-round choice, is returning from injury.

Lots of little moves as rosters in flux

September, 4, 2011
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Catching up with various moves around the edges of NFC West rosters Sunday:
Teams are also assembling practice squads. The 49ers announced adding seven players to theirs, all released by the team on the reduction to 53 players. I'll round up those additions once they become official.

Steelers Week 3 preseason recap

August, 28, 2011
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The Pittsburgh Steelers were the last AFC North team to complete Week 3 of the preseason on Saturday night.

Here are some observations:

Steelers 34, Falcons 16

The Good
  • Receiver Antonio Brown continues to be Pittsburgh's star of the preseason. The second-year standout lit up Atlanta with four catches for 137 yards and two touchdowns. Brown's two scores were for 77 and 44 yards. Brown had a huge reception in last season's playoffs to help Pittsburgh beat the Baltimore Ravens. He is carrying that momentum and confidence into this season. After Saturday's stellar performance, Brown likely has the edge over veteran Jerricho Cotchery to become Pittsburgh's No. 3 receiver.
  • Pittsburgh backup cornerback Crezdon Butler showed playmaking ability against Atlanta. Butler returned an interception 95 yards for a touchdown at the start of the fourth quarter. Butler was also active. He led the Steelers with nine tackles and made a big impression. He could be one of Pittsburgh's top reserves in the secondary.
The Bad
  • Steelers backup quarterback Byron Leftwich broke his arm Saturday and reportedly could miss the entire season. Leftwich had a good chance to be Pittsburgh's No. 2 quarterback. Now, that job goes to Dennis Dixon and reduces his chance for a trade. The biggest goal of the preseason is to prevent injuries. Leftwich and top cornerback Ike Taylor (broken thumb) suffered big injuries in two of Pittsburgh's three preseason games.
  • Pittsburgh’s first-team defense gave up chunks of yards to Falcons No. 1 receiver Roddy White. He recorded eight receptions for 101 yards and a touchdown. The Steelers didn't make any significant upgrades to the secondary in the offseason and teams will continue to attack Pittsburgh through the air this season.
LATROBE, Pa. -- Distractions and controversy? What distractions and controversy?

The opening of training camp was business as usual for the reigning AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers. Despite offseason incidents that ranged from Hines Ward's arrest to Rashard Mendenhall's misuse of Twitter to James Harrison ripping commissioner Roger Goodell and teammates, players quickly deflected any issues and seemed genuinely happy to get back to work.

The Steelers believe their off-the-field problems are a thing of the past, and the team is ready to move forward and attempt to make another title run in 2011.

"Any time we come to training camp, our goal is the Super Bowl," Ward said. "Anything less than the Super Bowl is a down year for us. Having experienced and tasted a loss in the Super Bowl is not a good feeling. So, hopefully we can get back there and come out on the winning side."

The Steelers have a lot of work to do before the start of the regular season. Here are some early questions:

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. How will the Steelers get under the cap?

According to the new collective bargaining agreement, the Steelers have until Thursday to get under the $120 million salary cap. Despite a flurry of roster moves last week, Pittsburgh remains about $7 million to $10 million over, which is where the team started this summer.

The Steelers made several key salary cuts, including veteran receiver Antwaan Randle El and offensive tackles Max Starks and Flozell Adams. But the re-signings of in-house free agents such as cornerback Ike Taylor have basically nullified those moves.

Expect more tough decisions to be made this week.

"We have to find ways to get under [the cap] and in compliance," Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said. "We're going to look at every and all possibilities."

There is some good news for the Steelers.

The new CBA allows teams to use three $1 million exceptions in 2011, and Colbert says he will use them all. Teams have this onetime flexibility to add an extra $3 million to the cap, which essentially brings the Steelers' number up to $123 million. This could allow Pittsburgh to retain some veterans it otherwise would lose.

[+] EnlargeIke Taylor
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesIke Taylor has 11 interceptions in eight NFL seasons.
2. Has Pittsburgh fixed its pass defense?

The last memory Steelers fans have of their defense is Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers carving up the secondary for 304 yards and three touchdowns in Super Bowl XLV. Since then, Pittsburgh hasn't made any significant additions to the secondary, leaving many to wonder whether this problem is fixed.

Because Pittsburgh is fielding the same players in the secondary, it's difficult to imagine the pass defense being better than it was last season. The Steelers re-signed veteran corners Taylor and William Gay and drafted rookies Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen.

"You can't worry about what people think outside the locker room, because we've been so successful on the field," Taylor said of the criticism. "So it really doesn’t matter. Everybody has their own opinion. It comes with the territory."

Expect many teams to spread the Steelers out this season by using three- and four-receiver sets. That will force backups such as Gay or some of the young corners to play important roles on the defense.

3. How thin is Pittsburgh's offensive line?

Pittsburgh's offensive line could be the thinnest group in the league.

Outside of second-year center Maurkice Pouncey, who is a stud, the rest of the line is littered with questions. Jonathan Scott plays the important role of left tackle and was inconsistent last year. Guards Ramon Foster and Chris Kemoeatu are decent run-blockers but struggle in pass protection. And right tackle Willie Colon is coming off an Achilles injury that forced him to miss the entire 2010 season.

Cutting Starks and Adams severely hurt the talent and depth of this group. Those were two of the most experienced linemen Pittsburgh had. Cap issues make it unlikely the team will sign another starting offensive lineman in free agency.

"You can't go into it and expect to have veteran depth at every position," Colbert admitted. "It just doesn't work out financially. You have to trust some of your young guys."

[+] EnlargeMaurkice Pouncey
Geoff Burke/Getty ImagesMaurkice Pouncey is the rock of the Pittsburgh offensive line.
BIGGEST SURPRISE

It's only the first weekend of camp, but backup cornerback Keenan Lewis has been a pleasant surprise. Lewis is gaining valuable experience working with the first-team defense. Taylor signed a four-year contract in free agency and isn't allowed to practice with the team until later this week.

Despite a rocky two years in Pittsburgh, Lewis is a good athlete. He has good size and quickness and is making fewer mental mistakes, which is key. The competition for the important nickel role in the secondary will be intense this summer, and Lewis could have the inside track.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

With the lengthy NFL lockout, someone was bound to show up out of shape. Backup running back Jonathan Dwyer was that person for the Steelers.

I expected to see more from Dwyer, a sixth-round pick in 2009. But he struggled mightily during the conditioning evaluations and hasn't done much in the practices. The Steelers' running back corps is deep, and Dwyer is definitely on the roster bubble.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • I like the swagger this year of Pittsburgh's "Young Money" crew of receivers. Last year, Mike Wallace was going into his first year as a starter, and Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown were rookies just trying to fit in. But you can see that last year's success, particularly in the second half of the season and the playoffs, has helped this group and improved confidence. Instead of getting yelled at by Ward, Wallace is on top of everything so far in practice and is even helping Ward tutor other receivers. Sanders and Brown look much more comfortable in their roles and are displaying the same quickness and competitiveness they showed last year.
  • Pouncey already looks scary-good in his second season. In my seven years covering the NFL, I've never seen a center who moves as well and fluidly as Pouncey. Last week, longtime NFL writer Damon Hack of Sports Illustrated and I were sitting next to each other watching Pittsburgh's conditioning evaluation. We were amazed with how easily Pouncey, who is listed at 304 pounds, was running 100-yard sprints, while the rest of the linemen were lagging far behind. Pound for pound, Pouncey is easily one of the top athletes on the Steelers.
  • Linebacker Lawrence Timmons appears to have added considerable muscle in his upper body. Timmons, who is in a contract year, said he trained mostly in Florida this summer. Timmons also is one of the best pure athletes on the team. The key will be for him to maintain his quickness and acceleration while also adding strength.
  • The fact that the Steelers tried hard to recruit big receiver Plaxico Burress says a lot about the status of Limas Sweed. The former second-round pick enters this training camp on thin ice and is down to his last shot. Sweed is coming off a season-ending Achilles injury and had issues with drops before that. Pittsburgh is taking the approach that anything it gets from Sweed is considered a bonus. He is currently the No. 5 receiver.
  • Keep an eye on rookie seventh-round pick Baron Batch. The running back has showed good explosiveness through the hole and the ability to pass-protect, which is very valuable. He has been a pleasant surprise in camp so far.
  • Overall, Pittsburgh's situation at running back is getting crowded. Mendenhall, Isaac Redman and Batch were all impressive during the first weekend of training camp. The Steelers also re-signed veteran backup Mewelde Moore. There were rumors about Tiki Barber being interested in the Steelers, but I don't see it. Pittsburgh has considerable depth at that position.
  • Finally, another sleeper who is actually having a good camp is backup tight end and de facto fullback David Johnson. What the third-year veteran lacks in athleticism he makes up in effort. Although not his specialty, he's made several nice receptions in practice and remains one of the best run-blockers on the team. The Steelers are still in the market for a No. 2 tight end after the departure of Matt Spaeth to the Chicago Bears.
Ike Taylor, Chad Ochocinco and Lawrence VickersAP PhotoDraft-day moves by their teams could mean Ike Taylor (Steelers), left, Chad Ochocinco (Bengals), middle, and Lawrence Vickers (Browns) will be wearing different uniforms next season.
While one dream was being made last week, another was coming to an end.

Saturday in California, former Stanford fullback Owen Marecic happily took a call from the Cleveland Browns in the fourth round. Marecic was excited to be entering the NFL and knowing his destination in 2011.

Soon after, current Browns fullback and pending free agent Lawrence Vickers' phone began buzzing constantly to let the veteran know Cleveland likely drafted his replacement.

"Honestly, my first reaction was 'Wow,'" Vickers told the AFC North blog this week. "I'm amazed. I was amazed I was still a free agent and wasn't signed [by the Browns] before the deadline. I didn't understand it. But at the same time I do understand, because nothing has ever come easy to me. So I was prepared for it.

"If they want me, they want me. If they don't, they don't. As a man, you have to be prepared for anything. But in the back of my mind I thought I would be in Cleveland."

Welcome to the harsh world of the NFL.

As teams were making draft picks last week, each move to replace players and plug holes could impact what AFC North teams do in free agency. Let's take a look at where each division team stands.

Cleveland Browns

Top draft picks: DT Phil Taylor, DE Jabaal Sheard, WR Greg Little, FB Owen Marecic

Potential impact: The Browns were in need of talented players and could have as many as four Week 1 starters in this year's draft class. Health permitting, Taylor and Sheard are heavy, heavy favorites to start at defensive tackle and defensive end, respectively. Cleveland doesn't have many bodies at those positions. Little will be thrown into a receiving corps that includes Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi. Both have struggled and Little, who missed last season at North Carolina because of a suspension, will have every chance to compete for a starting role. But Marecic was the pick that turned some heads. The Browns were eerily quiet about Vickers' pending free agency this offseason, and speculation began to grow that the new coaching staff didn't feel he was a good fit for the West Coast offense. Those thoughts were confirmed Saturday, when Cleveland made a surprise pick for a fullback in the fourth round. Vickers, one of the top blocking fullbacks in the NFL, is expected to test the market, where he will surely get interest. The Browns did a good job of filling holes but still need to address certain areas. Safety and the right side of the offensive line remain glaring needs.

Cincinnati Bengals

Top draft picks: WR A.J. Green, QB Andy Dalton, OLB Dontay Moch, G Clint Boling

Potential impact: Cincinnati's first two picks were not a surprise, but both were telling. It likely signaled the end of the Chad Ochocinco-Carson Palmer era with the Bengals. Both veterans, who have been the faces of the franchise for years, are under contract. But Ochocinco is in the final year of his deal and is expected to be traded or released following the acquisition of Green. Palmer wants to be traded or he plans to retire, which is why the Bengals drafted Dalton. Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis is already projecting Dalton to be the Week 1 starter. Cincinnati should get all the value it can for Ochocinco and Palmer. It's questionable whether any team is willing to trade and pay the approximate $6 million for one year with Ochocinco. But it takes only one team. With Palmer, there will be several teams lined up and ready to pounce if the Bengals put him on the market. Cincinnati's coaching staff appears ready to move on without Palmer, so it will come down to ownership. Bengals owner Mike Brown said recently that the team has no intention of trading Palmer. The Bengals did not draft a cornerback until the seventh round (Korey Lindsey), but that probably has no bearing on pending free agent Johnathan Joseph. Cincinnati isn't expected to retain Joseph, who will be one of the league's top free agents. But the team has Adam Jones for insurance to pair with starter Leon Hall. The Bengals also want starting tailback and pending free agent Cedric Benson back, as evidenced by the team not drafting a replacement.

Baltimore Ravens

Top draft picks: CB Jimmy Smith, WR Torrey Smith, OT Jah Reid, WR Tandon Doss

Potential impact: The Ravens took one of the biggest risks in the draft by selecting Smith of Colorado. He has a long list of off-the-field issues at Colorado, but the Ravens feel confident Smith will stay out of trouble. In terms of talent, Baltimore landed a player with the potential to be the team's first shutdown corner since Chris McAlister. Smith is expected to start right away, and this impacts two pending free agents in Josh Wilson and Chris Carr. Wilson played well for Baltimore once he earned the starting job in the second half of the 2010 season. Carr was a backup, but a solid presence in the locker room. With the pickup of Smith, Wilson and Carr are no longer huge priorities in free agency. The Ravens are getting Domonique Foxworth back from a knee injury and Lardarius Webb is still on the roster. The pick of Torrey Smith in the second round fills a need for a speedy receiver to pair with Derrick Mason and Anquan Boldin. He is expected to fill the No. 3 receiver role T.J. Houshmandzadeh will leave behind. Ravens coach John Harbaugh also spoke highly of Reid, the team's third-rounder. Former starting offensive tackle Jared Gaither was injured last season and has been in the doghouse for quite some time and isn't expected to return. In terms of holes, the Ravens still need an impact pass-rushing threat to pair with Pro Bowl defensive end/linebacker Terrell Suggs.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Top draft picks: DE Cameron Heyward, OT Marcus Gilbert, CB Curtis Brown, CB Cortez Allen

Potential impact: The Steelers stayed true to form by drafting for depth in the first two rounds with Heyward and Gilbert. Barring injury, both players will be put in the rotation but are not expected to start. But the third and fourth rounds are where things got interesting for Pittsburgh. The Steelers went with cornerbacks in back-to-back rounds with Brown and Allen. They hope one or both rookies can make an immediate impact. That might be asking a lot for the reigning AFC champions. Brown was the second-best corner on his team at the University Texas to Aaron Williams, on whom the Steelers passed in the first round. Allen played at a small school (Citadel) and will make a significant jump to the NFL. All of these factors increase the value of Ike Taylor, who is Pittsburgh's biggest free agent. The Steelers' No. 1 corner would fill an important starting role and take a lot of pressure off the team's young corners. That way Brown, Allen, Keenan Lewis and Crezdon Butler can all compete for reserve roles and develop at a more gradual pace. The price tag will be the biggest question. The going rate for solid cornerbacks this offseason has been about $10 million per season. It's doubtful the Steelers are willing to pay that much to retain Taylor. Also look for the Steelers to fill their kicker positions in free agency and perhaps add another backup tailback to replace Mewelde Moore.

Season of coaching change in AFC North

February, 24, 2011
2/24/11
3:50
PM ET
 Pat Shurmur and Jay Gruden AP PhotoPat Shurmur, left, and Jay Gruden are two of the new faces in the AFC North.
The offseason has just begun, but the coaching carousel has been spinning for all four teams in the AFC North.

Often the struggling teams make significant coaching changes, and that was the case with the Cincinnati Bengals (4-12) and Cleveland Browns (5-11). But playoff teams like the Baltimore Ravens (12-4) and even the Super Bowl runner-up Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) also experienced some turnover on their staff.

Here is a look at each change and what it means for the division:

Cleveland Browns

In: Head coach Pat Shurmur, defensive coordinator Dick Jauron and a new staff.

Out: Former head coach Eric Mangini, former defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and former offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.

What happened? Mangini entered this past season on the hot seat and went 5-11 for the second consecutive year. There were a lot of philosophical differences between Mangini and Browns president Mike Holmgren. So when the team wasn't winning, it made for an easy decision to go in a different direction. Enter Shurmur, who was a surprise hire for Cleveland. Shurmur has no prior head-coaching experience and wasn't on the radar of other teams. The Browns have pretty much cleaned house and hired a new staff, which includes Jauron and veteran defensive assistant Ray Rhodes.

Analysis: Last year, Holmgren was dumbfounded by some of the things the Browns were doing, particularly on offense. But Holmgren and Shurmur share many of the same views, which will give Holmgren more say in what goes on, and I think being on the same page is important for any team. The Browns are one of the few teams this year that will change both their offense and defense. Cleveland will go to a West Coast offense under Shurmur, who did not hire an offensive coordinator and will call the plays. The Browns also will switch to a 4-3 defense, which is something they haven't run since 2004. Shurmur is taking on a lot of responsibility as a rookie head coach and de facto offensive coordinator, which raises some concerns. Cleveland hopes veteran coaches like Jauron and Rhodes will take care of the defense, giving Shurmur one less thing to worry about. In terms of personnel, the Browns have a lot of work to do. They need better receivers on offense if they plan to pass more and playmakers at defensive end to run a 4-3 scheme.

Cincinnati Bengals

In: Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, receivers coach James Urban.

Out: Former offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski, former receivers coach Mike Sheppard.

What happened? Changes were inevitable for Cincinnati's coaching staff this season. There was a lot of unrest among players internally who didn't like the scheme on offense. The Bengals entered the season with playoff aspirations but had an abysmal four-win campaign. Quarterback Carson Palmer was so unhappy that he demanded a trade after the season. Receivers Terrell Owens publicly criticized the coaching staff several times and starting tailback Cedric Benson said he was not returning if Bratkowski was still the offensive coordinator. Bratkowski was let go and later hired by the Atlanta Falcons, and Sheppard went to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Gruden, a former UFL head coach and the brother of former NFL coach Jon Gruden, was hired as offensive coordinator, and Urban was taken as receivers coach from the Philadelphia Eagles.

Analysis: Cincinnati will be the second team in the division implementing a West Coast offense. Gruden also says he wants to make sure Cincinnati has a power running game, which is needed in this division. When the Bengals were at their best in 2009, they ran the football effectively and played tough defense. Cincinnati went away from that last year and had an awful season. How Gruden's offense translates from the UFL to the NFL remains to be seen. Cincinnati also has to handle a lot of personnel issues. Will Palmer retire? If so, who will be the new quarterback? Should the team trade Chad Ochocinco? Will Benson return? Cincinnati will have a very busy offseason trying to figure out these questions before putting together its new offense.

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