NFL Nation: Kaluka Maiava

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- There were no surprises Friday on the Oakland Raiders' status report for their home opener against Jacksonville as rookie left tackle Menelik Watson (knee) and tight end David Ausberry (shoulder) were both ruled out of the game.

Neither player practiced all week, and Watson underwent arthroscopic surgery on a lateral meniscus last week, per ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. Watson is expected to be out for at least a month, though Raiders coach Dennis Allen would not confirm the report, citing team policy to not discuss injuries.

Linebacker Kaluka Maiava, though, was a late addition to the Raiders’ injury report with a groin issue as he was limited in practice and listed as questionable to play against the Jaguars.

Strong safety Tyvon Branch (shoulder) and place-kicker Sebastian Janikowski (right calf) were both listed as probable.

Chiefs get Dwayne Bowe back

July, 28, 2013
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The Dwayne Bowe Show is up and running in Kansas City.

The newly minted No. 1 receiver is practicing for the first time this training camp on Sunday. He passed his physical after being shelved at the start of camp with a virus.

Bowe is going to be a focal point of new coach Andy Reid’s offense this season. The new Kansas City regime made a huge commitment to Bowe this offseason by giving him a lucrative contract.

In other AFC West notes:

Denver center Dan Koppen was carted of the field Sunday with an injury. It will hurt Denver if it's serious. He is replacing starter J.D. Walton, who will be out until, at least November with an ankle injury suffered last September. If Koppen is going to be out for an extended period, Manny Ramirez will likely take over. He worked with the first team in the offseason.

San Diego rookie linebacker Manti Te’o is having no problem fitting in with his new teammates. In fact, he is helping them. The second-round pick and Hawaii native has taught first-round pick, massive tackle D.J. Fluker, to swim. Read it, it's a cool story.

Oakland linebacker Kaluka Maiava is not practicing. He suffered a lower leg injury and was on crutches after Saturday’s practice.

The NFL announced Oakland receiver Andre Holmes will be suspended for the first four games of the season for violating the league’s policy regarding performance enhancing drugs. He has virtually no chance of making the team.

The Broncos signed tight end Jake O’Connell. Tight end Lucas Reed was cut. O’Connell is a long, long shot to make the 53-man roster.

On a personal note, I continue to be humbled by the outpouring of support over the past couple of days. Thank you. I will be working on the blog until Wednesday before taking off for the rest of the week.

AFC West checkpoint

March, 23, 2013
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Free agency is 11 days old and the heavy lifting has been done. The Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs were among the busiest teams in the NFL this offseason. Elsewhere in the AFC West, the Oakland Raiders and the San Diego Chargers have taken more measured approaches because of salary-cap constraints.

There are still bargains out there, and I expect both Oakland and San Diego to cherry-pick the remaining scraps in free agency to bolster their rosters. And then there's the draft, coming up in a little more than a month.

Let’s do a late-March checkpoint for each team thus far:

Denver Broncos

Where are they strong? Denver doesn’t have many holes, and its offense got more potent with the addition of slot receiver Wes Welker. His signing was one of the stories of the offseason. He is a perfect addition and a new toy for quarterback Peyton Manning. Pair Welker with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, and Denver has arguably the best group of receivers in the NFL. Denver added cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, defensive tackle Terrance Knighton and middle linebacker Stewart Bradley to a defense that finished 2012 rated No. 2 overall in the NFL.

Where are they weak? The Broncos could use a safety, some clarity at middle linebacker, perhaps another pass-rusher and a running back.

Biggest remaining question: Where is Denver going to go with the No. 28 pick in the draft? The John Elway regime is known for taking the best available player. If there is a safety such as Texas’ Kenny Vaccaro or a running back like Alabama's Eddie Lacy available, I can see Elway pouncing. Either could come in and play a major role.

Kansas City Chiefs

Where are they strong? The new regime has done a nice job of beefing up, making the Chiefs better in a lot of spots. They were already good at linebacker; now they are strong in the secondary after adding cornerbacks Sean Smith and Dunta Robinson. Along with Brandon Flowers, this might be the best group of cornerbacks in the NFL. Throw in young safety Eric Berry and this is a powerhouse.

Where are they weak? You never want to go too crazy about a team coming off a 2-14 season, but the Chiefs don’t have a ton of holes. They have improved in key spots and don't have glaring holes. The biggest improvement, of course, was at quarterback, where Alex Smith takes over for Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn. Smith is not elite, not even close. Still, he is far from terrible. With that problem fixed, the Chiefs might look to get stronger on the offensive line and could also use another inside linebacker and another body on the defensive line. But that’s average stuff. Pretty good for a 2-14 team.

Biggest remaining question: Will the Chiefs trade left tackle Branden Albert? The franchised player could command a second-round pick in return. That would make up for the second-round pick Kansas City lost in the Smith trade. The Chiefs could be interested in such a move. If that deal happens, the team would probably take Texas A&M left tackle Luke Joeckel with the No. 1 pick and find an answer elsewhere for the hole at right tackle.

Oakland Raiders

Where are they strong? This team has talent despite the exodus the last two offseasons. I think the most interesting group right now is the linebackers after the addition of free agents Nick Roach, Kevin Burnett and Kaluka Maiava. The Raiders also have second-year player Miles Burris, who started as a rookie. The front seven will vary, but the Raiders are expected to remain a 4-3 base defense -- so there is some versatility on this unit.

Where are they weak? The Raiders have holes on both sides of the ball as they rebuild after years of wild spending by the previous regime. They need big help on the secondary and must continue to work on the defense as a whole. Tight end and offensive line are other positions of need.

Biggest remaining question: Second-year general manager Reggie McKenzie has added some nice pieces at bargain rates in free agency after seeing several good players leave. Can McKenzie continue to find more help? This team still needs six to nine starters.

San Diego Chargers

Where are they strong? This is a good team on defense. It was underrated last season, especially the front seven. The Chargers also have quarterback Philip Rivers. Yes, he has had some issues the last two years, but new coach Mike McCoy has often said the key is to build around Rivers.

Where are they weak? OK, well, the Chargers have to continue to build around Rivers. The offensive line still needs two or three starters, and another skill-position weapon is a must. Cornerback Derek Cox was a good get, but the Chargers need Shareece Wright or Marcus Gilchrist to take the next step at cornerback. Another safety may be needed as well.

Biggest remaining question: How are the offensive line holes going to get fixed? The team will probably draft a left tackle with the No. 11 pick, but this unit needs to get better or Rivers will have no chance to succeed.
The Oakland Raiders are not done looking at linebackers, and it could mean they will be considering moving to a 3-4 defense.

They are reportedly interested in former Miami linebacker Kevin Burnett, who was recently cut.

Burnett, 30, is a solid starter. He has posted more than 100 tackles in each of the past two seasons. He played for the Chargers from 2009-10 and is considered more of a 3-4 linebacker.

While the Raiders have made no indications that they will run a 3-4, coach Dennis Allen has said they could always move to a 3-4 based on additions to the front seven.

Oakland has already signed Nick Roach (Chicago) and Kaluka Maiva (Cleveland). They are projected to start along with second-year player Miles Burris.
The Oakland Raiders continued their theme of adding young starters on defense in an attempt to rebuild the team.

Oakland has signed Chicago linebacker Nick Roach. He is 27 and he is versatile. He was a strongside starting linebacker, but he played in the middle for Chicago when Brian Urlacher was hurt. He is considered to be an average player, but he will help Oakland as the starting middle linebacker. The reportedly cap-strapped Raiders gave Roach a multi-year deal worth $3 million to $4 million a year.

Oakland just signed Cleveland’s Kaluka Maiava. He started several games at weakside linebacker for the Browns.

I expect the Raiders’ starting linebackers will be Roach, Maiava and second-year player Miles Burris. This group is not great, but it has a chance to grow together (Roach is the oldest of the group) and that is what Oakland needs -- youth and stability.

Philip Wheeler left for a big deal in Miami and former first-round pick Rolando McClain is expected to be cut. Oakland also signed defensive tackle Pat Sims (Bengals) and defensive end Jason Hunter (Broncos). All of these players are decent, inexpensive players.

Meanwhile, another Raider has left the team creating another hole. Running back Mike Goodson has signed with the Jets. There is a hole behind starter Darren McFadden, especially considering the team is planning on moving Taiwan Jones to cornerback.

Goodson, acquired in a trade with Carolina for guard Bruce Campbell last year, had 331 yards on 35 carries. Oakland will need to find a backup either in a weak free-agency class or with one of their five draft picks. While Oakland is making some signings, it still has plenty of needs.

It could lose another player. Defensive end Matt Shaughnessy is visiting Arizona. He has visits on tap to Tennessee and Philadelphia, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. He could help the Raiders, but he fell out of favor late in the season.

In other AFC West notes:

The Chiefs are talking to Minnesota guard Geoff Schwartz.

New England is visiting with Colts pass-rusher Dwight Freeney. He is an option for Denver if it releases Elvis Dumervil. That decision is expected later Friday.

The Jets are looking at San Diego pass-rusher Antwan Barnes.
The Oakland Raiders need starters and overall depth on defense and on Wednesday they acted to help fill that void.

The team signed defensive end Jason Hunter (Denver), linebacker Kaluka Maiava (Cleveland) and defensive tackle Pat Sims (Cincinnati).

“We’re excited to add three veterans through free agency,” Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie said in a statement. “(They help) to create depth and competition on defense. We’ll continue to add free agents as the opportunity surfaces.”

The team has also visited with Chicago linebacker Nick Roach. Oakland cut safety Michael Huff and lost linebackers Philip Wheeler (Miami) and defensive tackle Desmond Bryant (Cleveland) on Tuesday. They ended the day with just three sure starters in the form of defensive lineman Lamarr Houston, linebacker Miles Burris and safety Tyvon Branch.

The three new additions will help Oakland. I think Sims and Maiava could be starters and Hunter is a decent rotational player.

Scouts like Sims, who started one game last season and who is injury prone. But he has talent. Maiava started most of last season in Cleveland. Hunter played in Denver under Oakland head coach Dennis Allen.

I’m not sure if these are upgrades. But they are NFL-quality players who should make contributions in Oakland. I expect the Raiders to continue to add these types of younger, fairly inexpensive players to the roster in this time of flux.

Chargers add to O-line

March, 12, 2013
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The San Diego Chargers signed tackle King Dunlap.

He is massive at 6-foot-9, 330 pounds. He started 12 games last season for the Eagles. He can play both left and right tackle. The Chargers have massive needs on the offensive line.

I think Dunlap will be given a chance to earn a spot at either right tackle or as a key backup, perhaps with the latter being the most likely scenario. This very likely doesn’t mean the Chargers are done looking for a starting left tackle. That is currently the spot where the team is expected to use the No. 11 pick.

In other AFC West news:

It has been reported the Raiders are interested in Jets’ guard Matt Slauson. He played under new Oakland offensive line coach Tony Sparano in 2012.

The NFL Network reports Denver pass-rusher Elvis Dumervil is now open to taking a pay cut with Denver. That probably means he doesn’t think his market would be great in free agency.

The Broncos are visiting with defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. He is sought after. He played for Denver defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio with the Jaguars. CBS Sports is reporting Denver is interested in Oakland defensive tackle Richard Seymour. He could help a contender on a limited basis.

The Raiders are reportedly interested in Cleveland linebacker Kaluka Maiava. The USC product started 13 games on the weakside for the Browns.
Defending against Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick on Sunday might have just become slightly easier for the Cleveland Browns.

An appeals panel has overturned the three-game suspension of Cleveland outside linebacker Scott Fujita as well as the suspensions of New Orleans linebacker Jonathan Vilma, defensive end Will Smith and former New Orleans defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove. There could be more legal wrangling, but the NFL has said that, as of now, all the players are eligible to play immediately.

That’s a huge boost for the Browns. When it looked like Fujita wasn’t going to be able to play, their linebacker corps was in disarray, aside from D'Qwell Jackson. Rookie James-Michael Johnson has an oblique injury that could force him to miss several games. It appeared as if the Browns would have to use inexperienced linebackers Kaluka Maiava, L.J. Fort and Craig Robertson against the Eagles. Some or all of those guys still could play, but Fujita suddenly has brought some stability back to the linebacker situation.

Fujita never has been the world’s most gifted linebacker. He gets by on intellect and effort. Now that he’s 33, Fujita’s not a real threat to run Vick down. But you can count on him to do the things he’s supposed to do and not make huge mistakes.

You also can count on him to help make sure the younger linebackers are lined up correctly and know what they’re doing.

With Fujita back in the mix, Cleveland’s defense suddenly looks a lot better than it did a few hours ago.

Fujita nearby, ready to help Browns

September, 7, 2012
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Scott Fujita wasn’t far from the Browns.

Fujita
Fujita
“Weirdest thing about training at Baldwin Wallace this week is hearing the whistles/horns at my team's practice, literally a qtr-mile away,” he tweeted at lunch time on Friday.

He doesn’t need to train at Baldwin Wallace College any longer, as a three-member appeal panel has overturned the NFL’s suspension of four players commissioner Roger Goodell implicated in a bounty program with the New Orleans Saints.

The Browns have fourth-round rookie James-Michael Johnson at strongside linebacker, where Fujita started 10 games last year before a season-ending hand injury. Kaluka Maiava is at weakside linebacker.

Browns coach Pat Shurmer declined to talk about possible return for Fujita earlier in the week, according to Tom Reed of the Plain Dealer. But the coach ultimately said he thought he would use the linebacker if he returned.

"I think we're talking hypothetical stuff," Shurmer said. "I'll cross that bridge when we get to it. We've got up until right before game time to put the roster together, but I don't see any reason why he can't play."
Nearly all the AFC North teams played it safe in Thursday night's preseason finales. Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco and Brandon Weeden all sat out and watched the backup quarterbacks play.

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

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

BENGALS AT COLTS

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

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

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

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

BEARS AT BROWNS

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

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

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

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

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

RAVENS AT RAMS

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

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

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

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

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

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

PANTHERS AT STEELERS

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

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

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

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

Jonathan Dwyer solidfied himself as the primary backup to Isaac Redman, and the Steelers could need him based on Redman's durability. Dwyer was physical (even delivered a stiff-arm) and showed good feet to elude tacklers. He finished with 63 yards on 13 carries, a 4.8-yard average.
This offseason has made it tough for the Browns to get their run defense on track.

Gocong
The Browns' latest setback came Saturday, when coach Pat Shurmur confirmed that outside linebacker Chris Gocong is out for the season. He tore his right Achilles tendon and will undergo surgery Monday, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

"We're disappointed he got hurt," Shurmur told the paper. "I'm very fond of Chris and the effort he puts into being a good football player. Anytime a good football player like that gets hurt, unfortunately there's a loss there."

Shurmur added, "The challenge for us is to cover it up with the guys that are on this roster. I talked to Chris, he's fine. Unfortunately we're moving on and he understands that."

The Browns will move forward, but the question is whether the run defense will take a step backward. It was three months ago when defensive tackle Phil Taylor had surgery on his pectoral muscle. He is expected to miss at least the first six games.

Cleveland will also be without outside linebacker Scott Fujita, who has been suspended for the first three games because of his role in the Saints bounty scandal.

So the Browns will go with two backups at outside linebacker, likely Kaluka Maiava and rookie James-Michael Johnson, for the first part of the regular season. Stopping the run will become a bigger challenge for Cleveland, which had the NFL's third-worst run defense last season.

The Browns' first three regular-season opponents this year are Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Buffalo. The Eagles and Bills both ranked in the top half of the league in rushing in 2011.

Gocong, 28, who is scheduled to make $4.5 million this year, made 67 tackles last season, which ranked third on the Browns.
The Cleveland Browns suffered their first major injury of training camp and it could be a "huge hit" to their defense.

The Browns fear that outside linebacker Chris Gocong injured his Achilles and is out for the season, sources told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Gocong, who was carted off the field, will undergo an MRI on Saturday.

"It would be a huge hit," linebacker D'Qwell Jackson told the Plain Dealer. "Chris is a great player."

While this is the first serious injury of Browns training camp, this isn't the first issue for the Cleveland defense. If Gocong is out, the Browns likely will start three backups in their front seven for the first part of the regular season.

Defensive tackle Phil Taylor is on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list and is expected to miss at least the first six games of the regular season. Strong-side linebacker Scott Fujita has been suspended by the NFL for the first three games for his role in the Saints' bounty scandal.

Now, with Gocong hurt, the Browns have to determine what to do at linebacker. One option is to start Kaluka Maiava, who started the last five games in 2011, and rookie fourth-round pick James-Michael Johnson, who has been impressive in camp, at outside linebacker.

This is just the latest Achilles injury to hit the division. Bengals cornerback Leon Hall tore his Achilles on Nov. 13. The Ravens have had two linebackers go down with Achilles this offseason: Terrell Suggs and Michael McAdoo. The Browns lost punter Reggie Hodges for the season after he injured his Achilles in last year's training camp.
Browns linebacker Scott Fujita was suspended three games for his participation in a bounty system while he was a member of the New Orleans Saints.

He was one of four players who were disciplined by the NFL on Wednesday, and he received the smallest penalty. Fujita will have the opportunity to appeal. Here's what the league had to say about Fujita in the official release:
The record established that Fujita, a linebacker, pledged a significant amount of money to the prohibited pay-for-performance/bounty pool during the 2009 NFL Playoffs when he played for the Saints. The pool to which he pledged paid large cash rewards for “cart-offs” and “knockouts,” plays during which an opposing player was injured.

There was talk that Fujita would be fined but not get suspended by the NFL. Fujita, a member of the NFL Players Association's executive committee, previously admitted to paying teammates for big plays while in New Orleans, but not for hurting opponents and not as part of the bounty pool.

The Browns have played without Fujita before. When the team placed him on injured reserve last November with a hand injury, weakside linebacker Chris Gocong moved to Fujita's spot on the strong side and backup Kaluka Maiava started on the weak side.

Second-year studs or duds?

May, 18, 2010
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Smith/Robiskie/KrugerGetty Images/US PresswireSecond-year players Andre Smith, Brian Robiskie and Paul Kruger need to step it up this season or risk getting passed over.
Before free agency and the "win-now" mentality that dominates today's NFL, there was a time when teams could groom players for several years before they finally hit the field.

Those days are a distant memory. With coaches and general managers being hired and fired regularly, the learning curve for young players is shorter than ever in the NFL.

Many get one "redshirt" season to struggle in their rookie year before it's time to produce. If not, teams usually move on to the next player who can help.

With that said, here are seven second-year players in the AFC North who need to become studs for their respective teams this season.

Smith
Smith
1. Andre Smith, OT, Cincinnati Bengals

2009 draft status: First round

Analysis: Cincinnati recently made various upgrades to its skill positions on offense. But one of the biggest additions this year could be a healthy and productive Andre Smith. The Bengals swept the AFC North in 2009 with little impact from their No. 6 overall pick. A broken foot sidelined Smith for 10 games until he was healthy enough to contribute mostly as a backup later in the year. Additional foot surgery has kept Smith from doing team drills this offseason, but he is optimistic that his foot problems will soon be a thing of the past. With the Bengals expected to air it out more this year, quarterback Carson Palmer could use the additional pass protection.

Stud/dud importance rating (scale of 1 to 10): 9.5

Robiskie
Robiskie
2. Brian Robiskie, WR, Cleveland Browns

2009 draft status: Second round

Analysis: The Browns desperately need someone (anyone?) to step up at wide receiver this year. Last year's leading receiver was Mohamed Massaquoi, who caught only 34 passes. This presents a golden opportunity for Robiskie, who had only seven receptions for 106 yards in his rookie year. Robiskie entered the NFL with a reputation of being one of the draft's most NFL-ready players, but he struggled to fit in with Cleveland's offensive scheme. Cleveland quarterback Jake Delhomme will need someone to throw to next season. This is Robiskie's time to step up.

Stud/dud importance rating: 8

Kruger
Kruger
3. Paul Kruger, DE/OLB, Baltimore Ravens

2009 draft status: Second round

Analysis: Kruger didn't contribute much until late last season. His inability to play on special teams only highlighted the fact that he wasn't on the field for most of the year. The drafting of pass-rush specialist Sergio Kindle puts Kruger in an odd spot this season. The Ravens were not expecting Kindle to be on the board in the second round, but they took a dynamic prospect who could potentially fill the role Baltimore's coaching staff once had in mind for Kruger. The Ravens are trying to figure out how Kruger can best assist the team in his second season and there has been some discussion of him adding weight to help more as a defensive end.

Stud/dud importance rating: 7.5

Hood
Hood
4. Ziggy Hood, DE, Pittsburgh Steelers

2009 draft status: First round

Analysis: Hood had a typical rookie year for the Steelers. On a veteran-laden team, he was able to get his feet wet in the defensive-line rotation without the pressure of being a starter. Hood played in all 16 games as a reserve and recorded eight tackles, one sack and two passes defensed. Barring injury, Hood will remain a backup this year but still needs to increase his production. Ideally, Hood will be able to earn more snaps and be able to keep starting defensive ends Brett Keisel and Aaron Smith fresh in the trenches.

Stud/dud importance rating: 7

Veikune
Veikune
5. David Veikune, LB, Browns

2009 draft status: Second round

Analysis: Ten games, zero tackles. That is not a good stat line for any rookie, let alone a second-round pick who arrived in Cleveland with decent expectations. Veikune had a forgettable rookie year that included struggling to learn the NFL game and eventually being passed over for playing time by fellow rookie (and Cleveland's fourth-round pick) Kaluka Maiava. The Browns added veterans Scott Fujita and Chris Gocong this offseason to fill key roles at linebacker. That means it's even more important for Veikune to be ready to show Cleveland's coaching staff what he can do when his number is called.

Stud/dud importance rating: 5

Webb
Webb
6. Lardarius Webb, CB, Ravens

2009 draft status: Third round

Analysis: Webb had a solid rookie year for the Ravens. He contributed on special teams and eventually worked his way into the starting lineup before a knee injury ended his season. That same knee injury is a cause for concern this season. Webb was hurt so late in the year that it's questionable whether he will be ready for the start of training camp or even Week 1 of the regular season. Webb recently began running, which is good progress. If healthy, Webb could be a starter in a Baltimore secondary that has struggled in recent years. A healthy and productive second season for Webb would put a lot of those concerns to rest.

Stud/dud importance rating: 8.5

Coffman
Coffman
7. Chase Coffman, TE, Bengals

2009 draft status: Third round

Analysis: Despite Cincinnati recently drafting tight end Jermaine Gresham in the first round, the team could still benefit from a healthy Coffman. Gresham and Coffman, who didn't play a game in the regular season last year, could be two additional weapons in the passing game that Cincinnati didn't have last season. Most project Gresham to beat out Coffman for a starting job. The Bengals also re-signed veteran tight end Reggie Kelly, who is one of the better blocking tight ends in the NFL. That probably leaves a limited amount of playing time for Coffman, who has to make the most of his opportunities.

Stud/dud importance rating: 5
The Cleveland Browns have an interesting situation brewing at inside linebacker.

[+] EnlargeFujita
Kevin Hoffman/US PresswireThe signing of Scott Fujita likely means Cleveland will part ways with either Eric Barton or D'Qwell Jackson.
Sunday's free-agent signing of Scott Fujita adds to a mix of veterans and youngsters competing at the same position. In the end, there may not be enough room for all of them.

Fujita joins Eric Barton, D'Qwell Jackson, Kaluka Maiava and the versatile Jason Trusnik as players who spent time starting at middle linebacker for Cleveland last season.

A starter for the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints, Fujita didn't come to Cleveland to be a backup. So let's assume he's a starter next fall. That leaves four players -- Jackson, Barton, Maiava and Trusnik -- competing for one starting job.

Barton signed a four-year deal last season and is a favorite of head coach Eric Mangini. But Barton is coming off neck surgery and his health is in question. Jackson has been one of Cleveland’s most productive defenders, but he's also coming off a season-ending pectoral injury. Jackson has a second-round tender and could generate some interest in the trade market.

Maiava and Trusnik both are young players who can provide depth.

Because the Browns play a 3-4 defense, they would probably prefer to keep a large surplus of linebackers. But Fujita, Barton and Jackson are a particularly odd trio with tons of combined starting experience and just two jobs available.

Fujita isn't going anywhere. So an educated guess is Cleveland's front office, led by new president Mike Holmgren, likely has to decide between keeping Barton or Jackson this offseason.

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