NFL Nation: Levi Jones

Pittsburgh Steelers received more bad news Monday when starting right tackle Willie Colon suffered a potentially serious Achilles injury. When I talked to Colon's agent, Joe Linta, the feeling from Colon's camp is that the ailment might be season-ending.

"We want to wait to confirm it, but that's kind of our worst fears," Linta said.

If Colon misses the entire 2010 season, here are several options for Pittsburgh:
  • One choice could be for Pittsburgh to shift offensive linemen. First-round pick Maurkice Pouncey has been playing on the second team this offseason and it would make sense to move him into the starting lineup as the right guard. That could allow Trai Essex to move to right tackle.
  • Former 2008 fourth-round pick Tony Hills is another player who could get a look. He's been a project for Pittsburgh the past two years. But with zero experience, Hills may not be ready for that kind of jump.
  • Signing a player in free agency also is an option. Levi Jones and Flozell Adams are among the bigger names that remain available and have plenty of starting experience.

Either way, Colon's potentially serious injury puts another dent into Pittsburgh's offense. After trading receiver Santonio Holmes and having quarterback Ben Roethlisberger serve a conditional six-game suspension, it's the last thing Pittsburgh needs right now.

AFC North all-decade team

January, 28, 2010
Jamal Lewis/Jerome BettisMatthew Emmons/US PresswireRunning backs Jamal Lewis and Jerome Bettis combined to rush for 15,806 yards during the 2000s.
The AFC North earned three Super Bowl titles this past decade, which means there were plenty of great players in the division over that span.

Here is our AFC North all-decade team.

Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh Steelers)

Analysis: You can really start and stop this argument with Roethlisberger's two Super Bowls wins in the decade. In terms of starting quarterbacks, Roethlisberger trails only the New England Patriots' Tom Brady, who won three titles in the decade. Outside of Carson Palmer of the Cincinnati Bengals, no one was even remotely close for consideration, unless you wanted to reach for quarterbacks who had one or two good seasons in the decade, such as Kordell Stewart, Joe Flacco or Derek Anderson.

Other considerations: Palmer (Bengals)

Running backs: Jamal Lewis (Cleveland Browns/Baltimore Ravens) and Jerome Bettis (Steelers)

Analysis: Typical of the AFC North, our all-decade backfield is as physical and heavy duty as it gets. Lewis, who retired after the 2009 season, registered 10,607 total rushing yards as a member of the Browns and Ravens. He had a 2,000-yard season with Baltimore in 2003. Bettis played six seasons (2000-05) in the decade with the Steelers and rushed for 5,199 yards in that span. Both players won Super Bowls and will be considered for the Hall of Fame. Although we don't have a traditional fullback, Bettis is versatile and big enough for the position.

Other considerations: Willie Parker (Steelers), Rudi Johnson (Bengals)

[+] EnlargeOchocinco
Frank Victores/US PresswireChad Ochocinco is just 48 yards short of reaching 10,000 career receiving yards.
Receivers: Chad Ochocinco (Bengals) and Hines Ward (Steelers)

Analysis: We have a good mix at receiver. Ochocinco came to Cincinnati as a raw second-round pick who worked his way to become a six-time Pro Bowler and one of the biggest personalities in the NFL. Ward, a four-time Pro Bowler in the decade, was a former college quarterback who now is one of the toughest and smartest players in the league.

Other considerations: T.J. Houshmandzadeh (Bengals), Derrick Mason (Ravens)

Tight End: Todd Heap (Ravens)

Analysis: When you look at the total numbers over the past decade, Heap was the clear choice as the top tight end in the division. Heap caught 427 passes over that span and made two Pro Bowls. Pittsburgh's Heath Miller, who has 244 receptions, is two years younger and may eventually match Heap's production. But Heap has the better numbers to date. Former Browns tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. also put up impressive numbers in just three full seasons with Cleveland.

Other considerations: Miller (Steelers), Winslow Jr. (Browns)

Offensive line: OT Jonathan Ogden (Ravens), OT Willie Anderson (Bengals/Ravens), G Eric Steinbach (Browns/Bengals), G Alan Faneca (Steelers), C Jeff Hartings (Steelers)

Analysis: Besides leaving off three-time Pro Bowler Joe Thomas, putting the offensive line together was easier than I thought. Anderson of the Bengals got the edge over Thomas for two reasons: He's a natural right tackle and played nine years last decade at a high level. Thomas, with just three years, doesn't have the same longevity.

Other considerations: OT Thomas (Browns), OT Levi Jones (Bengals), C Rich Braham (Bengals)

Specialists: K Matt Stover (Ravens), P Chris Gardocki (Steelers/Browns), KR Josh Cribbs (Browns), LS Ryan Pontbriand (Browns)

Analysis: Stover made the Pro Bowl in 2000, and his 93.3 field goal percentage in 2006 led the NFL. He's been consistent for a very long time, which is all you ask from kickers. Gardocki and Dave Zastudil is a toss up. But Gardocki led the NFL in punts two years in a row (2000 and 2001) as well as punting yards in 2000. Zastudil cannot boast those claims. Cribbs was a no-brainer, and teammate Pontbriand made two Pro Bowls as Cleveland's long-snapper.

Other considerations: K Phil Dawson (Browns), K Jeff Reed (Steelers), P Zastudil (Ravens/Browns), B.J. Sams (Ravens)

Defense line: Casey Hampton (Steelers), Aaron Smith (Steelers), Justin Smith (Bengals)

Analysis: It's only fair that the AFC North all-decade defense runs a 3-4 scheme. Since 2001, Hampton has embodied what a 3-4 nose tackle looks like and plays like. He has five Pro Bowls in the decade, including this past season. Aaron Smith also is a prototype for 3-4 defensive ends. He's always put personal numbers aside so other defenders in Pittsburgh could flourish. Justin Smith of Cincinnati never quite lived up to his lofty draft status. But he was a consistent player for the Bengals.

Other considerations: DT Kelly Gregg (Ravens), DE Kimo von Oelhoffen (Steelers), DE Trevor Pryce (Ravens)

[+] EnlargeRay Lewis
Tom Szczerbowski/US PresswireRay Lewis was the AP Defensive Player of the Year in 2000 and 2003.
Linebackers: ILB Ray Lewis (Ravens), ILB James Farrior (Steelers), OLB Joey Porter (Steelers), OLB Terrell Suggs (Ravens)

Analysis: You can win a lot of games with this group. You have intelligence and physicality in the middle, and plenty of pass-rush ability on the outside. Lewis, a future Hall of Famer, is the captain and emotional leader of the all-decade defense. Farrior also has the smarts to keep everyone in line, while Suggs and Porter can fly around and wreak havoc on the quarterback. There were several very good candidates at outside linebacker. But Porter and Suggs were dominant forces in the AFC North for a longer period.

Other considerations: OLB James Harrison (Steelers), OLB Adalius Thomas (Ravens)

Defensive backs: CB Chris McAlister (Ravens), CB Ike Taylor (Steelers), S Troy Polamalu (Steelers), S Ed Reed (Ravens)

Analysis: Polamalu and Reed are two of the all-time great safeties, so there is no debate there. Also, fans may recently remember the aging and injured McAlister who was cut by the Ravens last year. But at one point "C-Mac" was the most physically dominant cornerback in the division. Taylor won two Super Bowls with the Steelers and is the best of what's left at cornerback. I also considered Anthony Henry, who played in Cleveland for four years during the decade and had one stellar season when he led the NFL with 10 interceptions in 2001.

Other considerations: CB Henry (Browns), S Rod Woodson (Ravens)

Campbell's return is questionable

December, 21, 2009
LANDOVER, Md. -- After being sacked for the third time, Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell has left the game with a shoulder injury and his return is questionable. Looks like Osi Umenyiora beat left tackle Levi Jones on an outside move to sack Campbell from behind.

But Campbell's already been hit so many times it's hard to determine when the injury may have occurred. I don't expect Todd Collins to do a lot better, although he did hit Santana Moss on a deep ball.

Final Word: NFC East

November, 27, 2009
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

[+] EnlargeJason Campbell
Win McNamee/Getty ImagesQuarterback Jason Campbell has had to adjust while playing behind a leaky line.
Three nuggets of knowledge about the Redskins-Eagles game in Week 12:

The Eagles need more from their pass rush against the Redskins on Sunday. In the first game against the Skins, the Eagles sacked Jason Campbell six times and he was constantly under duress. The Eagles only have three sacks in the past two games and they need their front four to generate more pressure in order to help a banged-up secondary. Sack leader Trent Cole (8.5) needs to have a big game against Redskins left tackle Levi Jones. It's a matchup that should favor the relentless Cole. The Eagles have allowed five yards per carry over the past two games, but I have a hard time believing that Rock Cartwright is going to go off on them. I'd be more worried about him in the passing game.

The Eagles will have some favorable matchups on the outside. I know the Redskins have the No. 1-ranked pass defense in the league. Skins fans remind me of this all the time -- even though I think those rankings can be misleading. I like to trust my eyes, which allowed me to see Brandon Marshall running free behind the Redskins' secondary two Sundays ago. And the fact that DeAngelo Hall could miss the game with a knee injury is a major issue. That means that Fred Smoot could end up on DeSean Jackson from time to time. That's a matchup the Eagles really, really like. LaRon Landry better be playing about 30 yards off the line of scrimmage and I'm sure fellow safety Reed Doughty will be in retreat mode, too. Jackson and Jeremy Maclin only need one play to knock you out, so the Redskins have to be on guard at all times.

What do the Skins have to lose? I'd like to see Jim Zorn and his playcaller Sherm Lewis loosen up a little in this game. They bogged down in the red zone against the Cowboys last Sunday, in part, because they went conservative for no apparent reason. If you have a chance to take a shot at the end zone before settling for a field goal, then by all means. Believe it or not, this season has actually been good for quarterback Campbell's development. He'll never again play behind an offensive line this bad. In a few short weeks, he's learned how to unload the ball quickly and how to successfully identify hot routes. I thought he played perhaps his best game of the season in a 7-6 loss to the Cowboys. That might sound crazy, but his ability to keep getting up after repeated shots to the chin was pretty remarkable. Keep your eye on this Richard Bartel situation. The Redskins tried to quietly insert a third-string quarterback onto their roster. I think they'd love to take a look at him soon. Maybe not in a divisional game against the Eagles, but you may see the Grapevine, Texas, native out there at some point this season.

Posted by's Mike Sando

Available Veteran Tackle Age 2008 Starts
Jon Runyan
35 16
Mark Tauscher
32 13
Kwame Harris
27 11
Levi Jones
29 10
Jonas Jennings
31 2
Jason Whittle
34 2
Fred Miller
36 0
Wayne Gandy
38 0
Chad Slaughter
31 0

The 49ers confirmed tackle Marvel Smith's retirement Saturday morning. What now?

Adam Snyder is still the starter on the right side. That was not going to change even if Smith tried to continue playing despite back trouble.

Depth is the problem and this situation was predictable, even likely, given what we knew about Smith's health and how the 49ers' neglected to draft a tackle or sign a younger veteran in free agency (as someone suggested they should).

None of this will matter much if Snyder returns from his knee injury to start most of the games. The 49ers could then try to develop Alex Boone and/or target a tackle in the draft. Their thinking in drafting Michael Crabtree with the 10th overall selection hasn't worked out as anticipated so far, but I think the reasoning was sound and No. 10 was too early to select one of the remaining tackles. Right tackle is not a premium position.

The chart might look familiar. It's the same one I ran when the Seahawks found out Walter Jones needed another surgery.

Some have asked why I suggested former Eagles tackle Jon Runyan as a possibility for the 49ers without mentioning the Seahawks as a logical destination as well. Runyan is strictly a right tackle. Seattle has two players able to start at right tackle (Sean Locklear and Ray Willis) but only one player (Locklear) able to start at left tackle. Adding Runyan would not improve the Seahawks' depth at left tackle, which is their position of need while Jones is unavailable.

The 49ers need a right tackle for insurance. Runyan is coming off knee surgery. He might not be ready right away. The 49ers do not need him right away. They need insurance. I have no idea if Runyan would even consider moving across the country. But when I think of tough, physical tackles in the 49ers' mold, Runyan comes to mind.

Posted by's James Walker

A case can be made that no NFL rookie has had more bad publicity the past several months than Cincinnati Bengals offensive tackle Andre Smith.


It started with the suspension for Alabama's bowl game. It continued when Smith unexpectedly left February's NFL combine. Then his private workout was considered average at best by scouts and onlookers. Smith also fired his agent once and reportedly is in the middle of more agent drama.

But through all the recent turmoil and bad choices, Smith's talent on the field made him the sixth overall pick by Cincinnati. Drafting that high, the Bengals will invest approximately $50 million in Smith, whose main job is to protect franchise quarterback Carson Palmer from another season-ending injury.

Is Smith worth the risk? The Bengals think so. They recently cut starting left tackle Levi Jones, which all but assures Smith will start right away.

If Smith plays well this year, people will quickly forget the recent missteps. But if Smith struggles or doesn't pan out, many will wonder why the Bengals ignored some of the early red flags during the draft process.

Honorable mention: The Cleveland Browns held the fifth overall pick, and instead of making a big splash, they traded down three times to take University of California center Alex Mack. By most accounts, Mack was the best center in the draft. But the fact that Cleveland could've taken more highly touted players at the top of the draft board certainly puts pressure on Mack to perform. The New York Jets traded places with the Browns and took USC quarterback Mark Sanchez. If Sanchez proves to be a quality franchise quarterback, something Cleveland hasn't had since Bernie Kosar, the Browns could hear about this deal down the road.

Posted by's Mike Sando

Revenge of the Birds' Hawkwind checks in with second-round Cardinals draft choice Cody Brown. Brown: "All the teams know I can rush the passer, but also can drop in coverage, which is why the Cardinals drafted me to play on the outside. I played mostly with my hand to the ground at UConn, but I have no problem dropping back in coverage. Everyone saw my athleticism in workouts. The coaches here told me they expect it to be an easy transition."

Also from Hawkwind: a look at how many of the Cardinals' draft choices have become starters and how long they've stayed in the lineup.

VanRam of Turf Show Times analyzes which Rams players find themselves fighting for meaningful roles on the team.

Also from VanRam: Steven Jackson should take over the third spot on the Rams' all-time rushing list even with a mediocre season.

Taylor Price of writes about the 45-foot training hill coach Mike Singletary had built for players. Price: "Originally, the hill was half of its current size and was used primarily for players to use for rehab assignments while unable to fully participate in practice. But with mounds of dirt being applied to its original shape following last season, Singletary estimates the hill to be 45-feet high with a 45-degree slope on one side and a 30-degree slope on the other side."

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider thinks the 49ers would "gum up the works" if they traded for Brady Quinn or another quarterback. As for the 49ers offering one of their extra first-round choices to Arizona for Anquan Boldin? Forget about it. Arizona isn't going to line up against Boldin and Michael Crabtree twice per year.

David Fucillo of Niners Nation wonders what Bear Pascoe's addition means for 49ers tight end Delanie Walker. I would think it means fewer snaps in the long haul.

Michael Steffes of Seahawk Addicts thinks the Seahawks' reported interest in former Bengals offensive tackle Levi Jones seems strange. I'm also skeptical about how much interest the Seahawks might have in adding a tackle. This is one I'm checking on. The Seahawks' top three tackles -- Walter Jones, Sean Locklear and Ray Willis -- are already set.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune points to Levi Jones' injury problems, noting that Jones has missed 17 games over the last three seasons.

Posted by's Bill Williamson


A source close to the situation said the Denver Broncos are one of a handful of teams expressing interest in left tackle Levi Jones, who was cut by Cincinnati on Wednesday.

Denver would only pursue Jones as a backup. The team has Ryan Clady, who earned second-team All-Pro honors as a rookie in 2008. The Broncos are fairly thin at backup tackle.

Jones is a veteran and would be a strong insurance policy. Jones has only played left tackle so Denver would likely only be interested in him as a backup to Clady.

Jones wants to pursue starting jobs. He'd likely be more interested in potential openings in Buffalo or Detroit. If the Denver option becomes appealing to Jones, expect it to be down the road if the starting possibilities dry up.

Don't expect Oakland and Jones to come to an agreement. The Raiders have just signed Khalif Barnes to play left tackle. Jones and Barnes have the same agent.

Posted by's James Walker

Here are the most interesting stories Tuesday in the AFC North:

  • Jamison Hensley of the Baltimore Sun writes the Ravens drafted for toughness.

Morning take: Maybe that explains why no receiver was taken. That's not usually considered a tough position, but it is a need.

Morning take: Seems extreme, but I will file this one away for a couple years to see if Brown's prediction is correct.

Morning take: The first draft of a new regime always sets the tone. But when looking back on this class, don't forget to add the three "Cleveland Jets" following Saturday's trade.

Morning take: Jones had a productive several years in Cincinnati before injuries took a toll. It's probably time now for both sides to go their separate ways.

AFC East draft analysis

April, 26, 2009
Posted by's Tim Graham

As competitive as the AFC East was last year, what happened this weekend at the draft could make the difference in deciding the playoffs.

AFC East Draft Picks
• Buffalo Bills
• Miami Dolphins
New England Patriots
• New York Jets
The Miami Dolphins won the division on a tiebreaker, and you better believe they sense the rest of the division closing in on them.

Eleven victories last year weren't enough to get the New England Patriots into the postseason. With quarterback Tom Brady coming back from his knee injury and with some new blood on board, the Patriots are the favorites to win the AFC East.

The New York Jets, desperate to get over the hump, made two splashy trades to acquire two potential offensive stars.

The Buffalo Bills -- stuck on 7-9 for three straight seasons -- made some head-scratching picks, ignoring tackle and loading up on defensive backs, a position that was relatively healthy.

Best move

  James Lang/US Presswire
  Trading up to draft Mark Sanchez was a bold move for the Jets.
The Jets have been skeptical about their quarterback situation for three years and decided to do something dramatic about it.

They parted with two substantial draft picks and three players who might not have started in 2009 to get the franchise-caliber quarterback they believe in.

For that alone, regardless of how Mark Sanchez pans out, the Jets deserve credit for pulling off the deal.

Sanchez gives the Jets the best leading-man candidate in decades. He's their earliest-drafted quarterback since they selected Joe Namath first overall in the 1965 AFL draft.

The Jets began the process of drifting away from Chad Pennington in 2007, when they drafted Kellen Clemens in the second round.

They obviously haven't been satisfied with Clemens as an option. They wanted him to seize the job last summer, but Pennington outplayed him. The Jets, eager for a solution, boldly traded for Brett Favre and cut Pennington. Favre lasted one season before arm problems forced him to retire again, putting Clemens back atop the depth chart.

In eight months, we'll have a better idea of what Sanchez can do for the Jets, but we probably won't know how great the pick was for three years.

But the Jets gave themselves their best opportunity in generations to find a star quarterback. For that alone, they've made the best move of the draft.

Riskiest move

The Buffalo Bills traded Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters a week before the draft and didn't select a tackle.

You can look at this three ways: 1) the Bills are confident veteran Langston Walker and second-year project Demetrius Bell can handle the tackle positions; 2) they might be working on a trade for someone like Levi Jones after the Cincinnati Bengals drafted Andre Smith; or 3) Buffalo's front office doesn't know what it's doing.

Buffalo went with Penn State defensive end Aaron Maybin, Louisville center Eric Wood, Oregon defensive back Jairus Byrd, Oregon State guard Andy Levitre, Southern Miss tight end Shawn Nelson, Oklahoma linebacker/safety Nic Harris, Southern California cornerback Cary Harris and West Virginia cornerback Ellis Lankster.

Maybin and Wood can easily be justified as first-round choices. But the Bills are adding a variable to Wood's future by moving him to guard after he started 49 straight games as Louisville's center.

What's with all the defensive backs?

The Bills seemed to have their secondary penciled out heading into the draft: Terrence McGee and Leodis McKelvin or Drayton Florence at cornerback and Donte Whitner, Bryan Scott and George Wilson at safety.

McKelvin was the 11th player chosen overall last year. He is
expected to step in for Jabari Greer, a free agent who went to the New Orleans Saints. The Bills brought in Florence for help. Ashton Youboty and Reggie Corner also are on the roster.

Whitner was the eighth overall pick in 2006.

Within the next nine picks after the Bills selected Levitre, three tackles went off the board. The Minnesota Vikings took Oklahoma's Phil Loadholt. The New England Patriots drafted Houston's Sebastian Vollmer. The New York Giants chose Connecticut's Will Beatty.

Most surprising move

Patriots overlord Bill Belichick passed on a variety of striking defensive prospects when he moved totally out of the first round to gather more draft picks.

Southern California linebackers Clay Matthews and Rey Maualuga, Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis and Illinois cornerback Vontae Davis were around, but the Patriots weren't interested.

None of these decisions seemed like a surprise when it happened, but if someone were to tell you before the draft that the Patriots would have at least one crack at those prospects -- in some cases, two or three cracks -- you would've bet your last penny they'd draft one. Each would look natural in Patriots' gear.

It's not like we misread the Patriots' needs either. The Patriots were going after those positions. They drafted defensive backs Patrick Chung and Darius Butler in the second round and linebacker Tyrone McKenzie in the third round.

You can't argue with Belichick's judgment when it comes to player evaluations, especially on the defensive side.

Still, to think none of those players landed in Foxborough, Mass. seems strange.

File it away

In what could go down as a classic example that Bill Parcells and his acolytes know more than everybody else, the Dolphins drafted Patrick Turner from Southern California in the third round. He was the 13th receiver off the board, and that might have been a reach.

Scouts Inc. rated him the 38th best receiver in the draft. Pro Football Weekly's draft guide ranked Turner 30th, saying he "has no upside" and that he benefited from facing single coverage because the Trojans' offense was so loaded. Lindy's Pro Football ranked him 18th.

But Turner is 6 feet, 5 inches tall and weighs 223 pounds, and the Dolphins don't have much size at receiver. They made a boo-boo when they signed free agent Ernest Wilford to provide a big target, but he played so small he usually wore street clothes on game day.

Turner caught 49 passes for 741 yards and 10 touchdowns last season.

"I feel I bring a red-zone threat," Turner said. "I feel I bring a lot of mismatches. I feel like I'm a possession receiver.

"I feel that in the fringe area, to be a bigger guy, I feel I run pretty good routes, and I feel sure-handed, like I can contribute."

If Turner works out, he'll make Parcells look like an even bigger genius.

Bengals take another risk

April, 25, 2009

Posted by's James Walker

The Cincinnati Bengals got protection for their $100-million quarterback.

But was Alabama left tackle Andre Smith the right pick?

With Virginia left tackle Eugene Monroe still on the board for Cincinnati at No. 6 (he went to the Jaguars at No. 8), the Bengals chose Smith instead. The Bengals' history of drafting players with character concerns is well documented, and this pick will certainly be questioned once again in the Queen City.

Smith was suspended for Alabama's bowl game, had a shaky NFL combine, fired his agent and had a decent, but not great, pro day. But Cincinnati was enamored by Smith's game film, which is solid.

Quarterback Carson Palmer had two season-ending injuries in the past four seasons, so taking a tackle was a solid move. But whether Smith was the proper pick at this position is debatable. For more on Smith, click here.

In other Bengals news, Cincinnati now has to consider the future of current starting left tackle Levi Jones, who has been hit hard by injuries the past several seasons. Jones likely doesn't want to be a backup in Cincinnati, so the team could field trade offers soon or decide to release Jones.

Posted by's Tim Graham

The positions most talked about for the New York Jets are quarterback and receiver. Some wonder if they might take running back Knowshon Moreno or tight end Brandon Pettigrew with the 17th pick.

In ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay's ambitious seven-round mock draft, he has the Jets going quarterback (first round), receiver (second round), running back (third round), tight end (fourth round), tackle (sixth round) and guard (seventh round).

Should offensive line be more of a priority?

The Jets return all five starters, including Pro Bowl center Nick Mangold and perennial Honolulu visitor Alan Faneca, their left guard. But Faneca and right tackle Damien Woody are getting up in years. Before the end of the season, Faneca will turn 33 and Woody will turn 32.

The Jets also might want to take a hard look at left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson. He was the fourth overall pick in 2006 and has started all 48 of his NFL games, but ESPN Stats & Information notes the Jets struggled last year when running behind him.

Here are the NFL's fewest yards per rush attempt behind left tackle last year:

Only Miami made the playoffs. Brown, Collins and Long were rookies. Collins started the last six games in place of the injured Jones.

Jets coach Rex Ryan has declared he wants the Jets to run an all-weather offense behind their intact line and with their Pro Bowl running backs. Ferguson looks like the weak link.

Posted by's James Walker

Team needs: Offensive tackle, center, pass-rushing defensive end/linebacker

  Paul Jasienski/Getty Images
  An offensive tackle such as Eugene Monroe would provide an upgrade for the Bengals at a critical position.

Dream scenario: Unless five teams in front of Cincinnati have brain cramps, Baylor offensive tackle Jason Smith -- arguably the top player in the draft -- will not be available when the Bengals use their sixth overall pick. Smith would be perfect for Cincinnati as he would fill the team's biggest need at left tackle and provide tremendous value at No. 6. University of Virginia left tackle Eugene Monroe would be another solid pick who may be off the board. Injuries have caught up to former Cincinnati first-round pick Levi Jones, so much so that he is no longer a dependable blindside protector for quarterback Carson Palmer, who's suffered two season-ending injuries (knee, elbow) the past four seasons.

Plan B: With Cincinnati possibly in a poor spot to secure one of the draft's two best tackles, the Bengals' focus could shift to taking the best defensive player along the front seven. Cincinnati has drafted a defensive player in the first round the past four years. The result is a sneaky good unit which steadily improved last season and finished No. 12 in total defense, despite little help from the offense. A player such as Texas defensive end/linebacker Brian Orakpo could be a good addition. The Bengals could still address the tackle position as a Plan B if they are desperate enough. They can take a risk on Alabama offensive tackle Andre Smith, whose stock has taken a hit this offseason, or reach for Mississippi tackle Michael Oher, who is widely considered a mid first-round prospect. The recent flirtations with running backs and receivers the past couple of weeks appear to be more smoke screens than substance. Those positions are likely targets in the second and middle rounds.

Scouts Inc.'s take: "The offensive line certainly needs work, and a major weakness of this team that sometimes goes unidentified is the center position. In their division, the Bengals play six games against Shaun Rogers, Casey Hampton and Haloti Ngata. They were trying to get by with Eric Ghiaciuc, who is 280 pounds and he just gets manhandled. They had no inside running attack against those three divisional teams because they couldn't handle the 3-4 nose tackles. That's a huge disadvantage. But in the first round I think they can go a lot of different ways. I like their defense. I don't think their defense is as bad off as it usually is. But, boy, do they need a pass-rusher. They need a difference-maker, and Orakpo makes a lot of sense for them to rotate in with the defensive ends they already have." -- Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc.

Who has final say: With a miniature scouting department, the Bengals' coaches are responsible for a significant chunk of talent evaluation. That gives head coach Marvin Lewis' staff a decent amount of input. But the final call on all major decisions usually must go through the ownership level with the Mike Brown family.

Now On the Clock: Cleveland Browns, April 13.

Previous On the Clock: Oakland Raiders. The team-by-team series.

Posted by's James Walker

Here are the most interesting stories Friday in the AFC North:

  • In his first meeting since re-signing with the Baltimore Ravens, linebacker Ray Lewis says it was always his first choice to keep his legacy in Baltimore.

Morning take: The business side of football can be harsh, and for a small time it was for Lewis and the Ravens. But in the end, both sides made the right move to make sure Lewis plays his entire career in Baltimore.

  • After a high-profile spat with new Cleveland Browns coach Eric Mangini, defensive tackle Shaun Rogers has been a no-show thus far for offseason workouts.

Morning take: A Pro Bowl defensive lineman is a no-show in Cleveland, and likewise a Pro Bowl quarterback (Jay Cutler) is a no-show in Denver. Hmmm.

Morning take: For now, that may be the case. But a lot can -- and probably will -- change between now and September.

  • The NFL rules committee will meet next week to vote for or against head blows to defenders from the blindside, which has been unofficially called the "Hines Ward Rule."

Morning take: How many contact rules can a contact league change? The athletes are getting bigger and faster, but the rule changes are trying to make the game less physical.

Posted by's James Walker

Here are the most interesting stories Friday in the AFC North:

  • A day after Pittsburgh Steelers tailback Willie Parker says the team needs to get back to running the ball, head coach Mike Tomlin wasn't happy and addressed Parker about those comments.

Morning take: This is a tough one. Part of me agrees with Parker's assessment of the offense. But at the same time, the team is winning. It's probably not the time to voice concerns.

Morning take: Is it possible? Anything is possible. But with so much uncertainty with the Browns from top to bottom, it's difficult to predict who stays or goes these days.

Morning take: McGahee had an, um, interesting way to describe his play. I'll let you click the link to see for yourself.

Morning take: Jones continues to battle injuries and has been banged up for several years now. Even at 29, you wonder if he can ever get back to the same level he once was.