NFL Nation: Usama Young

Branch returns; no sign of McFadden

December, 4, 2013
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Strong safety Tyvon Branch was practicing Wednesday with the Oakland Raiders for the first time since breaking his right leg against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sept. 15.

Running back Darren McFadden, though, was not on the practice field, fueling speculation that he aggravated his troubled right hamstring. Neither was running back Jeremy Stewart, who suffered knee and ankle injuries on Thanksgiving at the Dallas Cowboys.

And while Rashad Jennings was back after suffering a concussion against the Cowboys, converted cornerback/gunner Taiwan Jones was getting reps at running back.

Also, receiver Denarius Moore, who has missed the past two games with a shoulder injury, was not practicing. Right guard Mike Brisiel, who injured a knee on the Raiders’ first play at Dallas, was an observer.

Cornerback Mike Jenkins (concussion) was practicing but safety Usama Young (stinger) was not seen.

Locker Room Buzz: Oakland Raiders

September, 15, 2013
OAKLAND -- Observed in the locker room after the Oakland Raiders' 19-9 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Keeping perspective: As feel-good a loss as last week’s defeat in Indianapolis was for the Raiders, this home-opening victory over the woeful Jaguars was just as much a cautionary tale. Sure, players were happy, and they should be after getting an NFL victory, but too many times the Raiders played down to their level of competition.

A stark development: Tyvon Branch was lost in the first quarter to an ankle injury that coach Dennis Allen said looks to be “significant.” It was a stark announcement paralleled by the starting strong safety’s empty locker. “I just saw him in the trainer’s room, all iced up,” said safety Usama Young.

Media crush: It was hard to tell who was in the middle of a bigger media circus -- running back Darren McFadden, free safety Charles Woodson or quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Offensive lineman Andre Gurode, though, joined the media crush for Pryor’s scrum and yelled out a question: “Excuse me, everybody wants to know where you got that polka-dot shirt.” The nattily-attired Pryor’s response? “He’s jealous.”

Teaching moments: The game does not end with the final gun. Center Stefen Wisniewski and right tackle Tony Pashos emerged from the shower, with towels on, only to stop in the middle of the locker room to go over a certain alignment.
Some Oakland minicamp notes:

According to several reports, the Oakland offense struggled Tuesday in its first day of minicamp. My thoughts? Check back in August. If this continues in training camp, it will be an issue. Otherwise, all it was was a bad day in June.

Rookie running back Latavius Murray did not practice due to a foot injury. The sixth-round pick was impressive in previous sessions.

There is no doubt Charles Woodson is making his presence felt in Oakland’s secondary. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that fellow free-agent signee Usama Young isn’t getting much work with the first-team defense. That is no surprise -- Woodson has more to offer. However, because he is 36, Woodson likely won’t be a full-time player -- meaning that Young should have a role.
Oakland’s expected visit with cornerback Mike Jenkins took place Tuesday. Earlier in the day, the team agreed to terms on a one-year deal with former Denver cornerback Tracy Porter.

The Raiders need another starting cornerback. Jenkins has some interest from Buffalo and Jacksonville, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he ended up in Oakland.

Meanwhile, now that the Carson Palmer issue has been resolved with his trade to Arizona, I wonder what will become of the Rolando McClain situation. The linebacker is not expected back. His agent has reportedly asked to seek a trade, but there has not been any reported interest. If he is not traded, he will in all likelihood be cut. There is no timeline, and Oakland is clearly not in a rush to do anything.

New Raiders quarterback Matt Flynn talked about his journey to Oakland in his introductory press conference.

Oakland could potentially look at safety Usama Young, who was cut by Cleveland. Raiders coach Dennis Allen was his position coach in New Orleans, and Oakland needs help at safety.

In other AFC West notes:

The family of the late Junior Seau offered ESPN The Magazine a special look at a photo album of his life. The legendary San Diego linebacker committed suicide last May at the age of 43.

The Chiefs cut lineman Rich Ranglin.
Some had projected that Chris Gocong would start at inside linebacker next to D'Qwell Jackson, and Usama Young would remain at free safety. Those projections were wrong.

The Cleveland Browns released Gocong and Young on Tuesday, wiping out $6.6 million in salary and creating more needs in the process. Neither move is a major surprise, because Gocong and Young were brought in by the previous regime.

The Browns now have two holes on defense, and they can't fill all of them in this month's draft. Cleveland has one pick in the first 67 selections in the draft.

Gocong, who started every game for the Browns in 2010 and 2011, didn't play last season because of an Achilles injury and was due $4.55 million in salary this season. The top candidates for left inside linebacker now are Craig Robertson and L.J. Fort. Robertson, who went undrafted in 2011, finished second on the Browns last season in tackles.

Young struggled last season in 10 starts at free safety and one at strong safety. He was scheduled to earn $2.1 million in the final year of his contract. Tashaun Gipson and Eric Hagg would compete for the spot if the Browns don't address it in the draft.

The Browns also announced the signing of free-agent kicker Brandon Bogotay, who went undrafted out of Georgia last year. In college, he was the kickoff specialist behind Vikings kicker Blair Walsh, who went to the Pro Bowl last season as a rookie.
Usama Young will start at free safety for the Browns in place of Eric Hagg, who is a healthy scratch. Hagg is inactive a week after he gave up a 44-yard touchdown to Bengals wide receiver Brandon Tate and was one of six players who missed tackles on Adam Jones' 81-yard punt return for a touchdown.

Hagg, the Browns' seventh-round pick last year out of Nebraska, won the starting job over Young during the offseason and started the first two games of the season. Young started eight of 16 games for the Browns last year and finished with 66 total tackles.

"We'd like to get a little more production from that position," defensive coordinator Dick Jauron said last week. "We've told [Hagg] this. He's a wonderful young man. He'll do anything he can for this football team."

Here's the full list of inactives:

Browns: FS Eric Hagg, QB Thaddeus Lewis, WR Jordan Norwood, RB Brandon Jackson, LB James-Michael Johnson, OL Ryan Miller and TE Alex Smith.

Bills: RB Fred Jackson, QB Tarvaris Jackson, DE Kyle Moore, LB Kirk Morrison, OT Sam Young, OL Colin Brown and WR Ruvell Martin.
AFC camp battles: West | North | South | East NFC: West | North | South | East

An early look at the biggest training camp position battles:


No. 2 wide receiver: Brandon Tate vs. Mohamed Sanu

Actually, there's a battle at every spot in this wide receiver group except for the top one (A.J. Green). Experienced veterans Jerome Simpson (Vikings) and Andre Caldwell (Broncos) both left in free agency, and the Bengals didn't sign a wide receiver in free agency or draft one in the first two rounds.

The Bengals believe Sanu can be their No. 2 wide receiver as a rookie third-round pick. He is a competitive receiver with size who isn't afraid to go across the middle. Perhaps the biggest plus is his route running, which was a weak spot among the Bengals' wide receiver group last season.

Tate, however, has been one of the more pleasant surprises of the spring workouts. He didn't catch a pass last season, when he signed a week before the season opener, but he has picked up the Bengals' offense in his first full offseason with the team. Tate has been running as the No. 2 wide receiver in most team drills after being the fifth receiver and returner in 2011. Armon Binns and Ryan Whalen could also figure into this competition.


Free safety: Eric Hagg vs. Usama Young

There was speculation that the Browns would move veteran cornerback Sheldon Brown to safety when they let Mike Adams sign with the Broncos in free agency. Others thought the team would give the job to Young, who started eight games for the injured T.J. Ward last season. Instead, Cleveland decided to have an open competition for that spot on a pass defense that ranked second in the NFL last season.

The leading candidate for the job coming out of minicamps is Hagg, a seventh-round pick from a year ago. He's running with the first team, and isn't close to losing that spot by the way he's playing. Hagg has been the most improved player on the Browns' defense, and is constantly around the ball.

Young might not have the same upside as Hagg, but he has more experience. He was fourth on the team last season with 66 tackles, which led all Cleveland defensive backs. Still, it looks like Young will have to play some catch-up to come out of training camp as the starter.


Cornerback: Jimmy Smith vs. Cary Williams

The expectation last season was Smith would become a starter at some point during his rookie season. That is, until Smith hurt his ankle on the opening kickoff of the 2011 season. That allowed Williams to establish himself at a spot he never relinquished.

Now, the roles are reversed. Williams couldn't participate in team drills this spring after having hip surgery, which provided the opening for Smith to work with the starting defense all offseason. Williams is hoping to be at full strength when training camp opens this month.

It looks like this is Smith's job to lose in training camp. The 2011 first-round pick has prototypical size and speed to be a shutdown cornerback in this league. Williams, though, has surprised before. He finished last season as the Ravens' third-leading tackler (77), and ranked second in passes broken up (18).


Cornerback: Keenan Lewis vs. Cortez Allen vs. Curtis Brown

The Steelers didn't sound devastated when they lost starting cornerback William Gay to the Cardinals in free agency, because they have confidence they can replace him. Who exactly will replace him is up in the air right now. Filling that spot will be a three-player race in training camp, although Lewis is expected to get the first snaps with the starting defense.

Lewis, a third-round pick in 2009, has shown flashes of being a playmaker, but he has a history of being undisciplined. He doesn't lack confidence. Lewis predicted a Pro Bowl season for himself in May. But he doesn't have a great deal of experience with one career start.

Allen, a fourth-round pick, played on the Steelers' nickel defense like Lewis did last season. Brown, a third-round pick, is considered a favorite of the coaching staff and the dark horse candidate to win this battle. He's a tenacious defender who led the Steelers in special teams tackles last season.
The AFC North is running a series where every position will be ranked and what could change at that position.


1. STEELERS: Pittsburgh had the top-ranked pass defense, and it wasn't all about the pass rush this time. Actually, the pass rush was extremely inconsistent this season, so that No. 1 ranking is more of a reflection of the Steelers' secondary. Cornerback Ike Taylor and free safety Ryan Clark had career years. Taylor's season, though, was marred by a late-season decline that ended with him getting stiffed-armed by the Broncos' Demaryius Thomas on the touchdown that ended the Steelers' season. Clark had the best season of any safety in the division, which is saying a lot when Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed are in the AFC North. He finished second in the division with 100 tackles. Polamalu was solid, but didn't play up to his usual spectacular level. William Gay was a pleasant surprise, taking back the starting cornerback job that he lost in 2010. What could change: Gay is an unrestricted free agent, but it shouldn't take much to retain him. Look for rookie cornerbacks Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown to make more of an impact in their second seasons.

2. RAVENS: This group exceeded expectations, and did so in a surprising manner. Instead of starting Domonique Foxworth and Chris Carr at cornerback, the Ravens finished fourth in pass defense with Lardarius Webb and Cary Williams. Webb was the division's top cornerback, recording five interceptions and breaking up 20 passes (and that doesn't include three interceptions in the playoffs). Williams was a physical presence at corner. The biggest disappointment was Reed, who intercepted three passes -- his fewest in a season where he played more than 12 games. The Ravens' other safety, hard-hitting Bernard Pollard, provided more of an impact than Reed. First-round pick Jimmy Smith endured an up-and-down rookie season. What could change: Smith should take over for Williams as a starting cornerback this season. Foxworth is expected to get cut, and the same could happen to Carr. Both backup safeties, Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura, are free agents, but I suspect Nakamura will get re-signed.

3. BROWNS: Joe Haden showed signs of being a shutdown corner, even though he failed to make an interception. He held his own against some of the best receivers in the NFL, from Larry Fitzgerald to Brandon Marshall. His worst games came against Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green. While Haden is among the division's best cornerbacks, Sheldon Brown was the worst starting corner in the AFC North. Brown's biggest asset is the experience he provides to a young secondary. The defensive backfield was hurt by the loss of strong safety T.J. Ward, who missed the final 10 games with a foot injury. Teams took advantage of Ward's replacement, Usama Young. Free safety Mike Adams beat out Young for a starting job in training camp. Dimitri Patterson was a reliable nickelback, breaking up a dozen passes. What could change: The Browns might replace Adams, who is a free agent, and they could give rookie seventh-round pick Eric Hagg a shot at doing so. Cleveland is very interested in bringing Patterson back. It wouldn't be a surprise if Patterson starts in place of Brown.
4. BENGALS: Leon Hall is perhaps the most valuable cornerback in the division. In the first nine games with Hall, the Bengals gave up eight touchdown passes. In the last seven regular-season games without him (he had a season-ending Achilles injury), they allowed 12 touchdown passes. The Bengals replaced Hall with Adam Jones, who was extremely erratic in coverage. The Bengals value the veteran leadership of Nate Clements, but the cornerback is looking past his prime. Only nickelback Kelly Jennings struggled on a more consistent basis. Safety Reggie Nelson allowed some big plays early, but he was stingy in pass defense late in the season. The other safety, Chris Crocker, had trouble covering the more athletic tight ends in the league. What could change: The Bengals need to draft a cornerback in the first round to press Clements for a starting role and become his eventual replacement. Nelson is a free agent, but he is considered a priority to get re-signed. The Bengals are expected to part ways with Jones, who is a free agent.

Feb. 20: Special teams

Feb. 21: Defensive line

Feb. 23: Linebackers

For Monday: Offensive line

AFC North Stock Watch

October, 4, 2011
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South


1. Bengals attendance: The team followed up the smallest crowd for a home opener at Paul Brown Stadium with the smallest crowd (41,142) in the 12-year history of the place. That's over 20,000 empty seats in each of the first two home games of the season. Sure, this is the fans' way of protesting owner Mike Brown and the constant losing. But all this young team can see is a lack of support.

2. Steelers run defense: The NFL's top run defense from a year ago has plummeted to No. 22. In the Steelers' two losses, the defense has given up 170 yards rushing to the Ravens and 180 yards on the ground to the Texans. After allowing just one 100-yard rusher in a 50-game stretch, Pittsburgh has allowed two in the past four games. Has anyone seen inside linebackers James Farrior or Lawrence Timmons lately?

3. Browns secondary: This vastly improved group flopped in its first test against proven quarterback. Cleveland gave up 194 yards passing and three touchdown passes to Matt Hasselbeck -- and that was in the first half alone. Safety T.J. Ward didn't cover Titans tight end Craig Stevens on a 12-yard touchdown, and safety Usama Young took a bad angle at tight end Jared Cook on an 80-yard touchdown catch-and-run. To make matters worse, cornerback Joe Haden has a sprained knee.


[+] EnlargeCincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green
AP Photo/Tony TribbleCincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green already has 312 yards receiving this season.
1. Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green: The fourth overall pick of the 2011 draft is already making an immediate impact, recording two 100-yard performances in the past three games. Watching him leap up for catches -- like the 58-yard one on Sunday -- is like seeing flashes of a younger Calvin Johnson (even though Johnson is still young). He has six catches over 20 yards, which is tied for ninth in the NFL. And Green is doing all of this while learning on the job with rookie quarterback Andy Dalton.

2. Ravens pass rush: Baltimore has recorded 21 quarterback hits over the past two games because of its creative and risky blitzes. This pressure on quarterbacks has led to four defensive touchdowns the past two weeks, including a team-record three Sunday night against the Jets. This is a drastic turnaround from last season, when the Ravens had a franchise-low 27 sacks.

3.Bengals defense: For the first time since 1983, the Bengals defense sits atop the NFL rankings. Cincinnati has six new starters from a defense that finished 15th in 2010. The Bengals held the NFL's highest-scoring offense to 13 points (one touchdown was scored off an interception return) on Sunday and kept the Bills 158 yards below their season average.

NFC South quick hits

July, 28, 2011
Time for a lightning round through some headlines to keep you up to speed on all that’s happening around the NFC South.

Speaking of lightning, the thunderstorm that’s outside the windows of NFC South Blog Headquarters right now, passed by One Buc Place a little bit ago. Take a look at this picture of the damage done to the huge Buccaneers’ flag.

The Falcons have a deal with third-round draft pick Akeem Dent.

Charlie Campbell reports that the Bucs are close to agreeing to a deal to keep guard Davin Joseph and something should be done within the next 24 hours.

New Orleans coach Sean Payton just finished addressing the media and revealed several transactions. The Saints have agreed to terms to keep Scott Shanle, Leigh Torrence, Chris Reis and Jo-Lon Dunbar.

The Saints have agreed to terms with third-round pick Johnny Patrick.

Former New Orleans safety Usama Young has agreed to terms with Cleveland.

The Panthers have agreed to terms with veteran safety Sean Considine, who last played for Jacksonville.

Saints sitting several starters

January, 2, 2011
NEW ORLEANS -- The Saints just announced their inactives for today’s game and it looks like they’re being cautious with some injured players.

Receiver Marques Colston, who had knee surgery Tuesday, will sit out and he’ll have plenty of company. Tight end Jeremy Shockey (groin) and running back Pierre Thomas (ankle) also are sitting out.

The rest of the inactives for the Saints are safety Usama Young, linebacker Anthony Waters, defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, tight end David Thomas and linebacker Kawika Mitchell.

Chris Ivory inactive for Saints

December, 27, 2010
ATLANTA -- Running back Chris Ivory will miss tonight’s game with Atlanta due to a hamstring injury.

Ivory highlights a list of New Orleans inactives that also includes receiver Courtney Roby, safety Usama Young, linebacker Danny Clark, offensive tackle Charles Brown, tight end David Thomas, defensive end Junior Galette and Kawika Mitchell.

Injuries shape Saints' game-day roster

December, 19, 2010
BALTIMORE -- As we previously reported, New Orleans running back Chris Ivory will be inactive due to a hamstring injury. But Ivory isn’t the only name of note on the list of inactives.

Return man Courtney Roby and defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove are injury-related inactives. It’s likely the Saints will use either Pierre Thomas or Lance Moore or a combination of the two to handle kickoff returns. Roby suffered head and neck injuries on a return last week.

Cornerback Patrick Robinson, the team’s first-round draft pick this year, also is inactive, but that’s not related to injuries. Robinson also was a healthy inactive last week and the Saints are just bringing him along slowly at a position where they are well stocked.

Safety Usama Young, linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar, tackle Charles Brown and tight end David Thomas are also inactive.

Patrick Robinson inactive for Saints

December, 12, 2010
NEW ORLEANS -- Couple of interesting names on the list of inactives for the Saints. Before we get to that, though, running back Pierre Thomas is active for the first time since suffering an ankle injury in September.

The biggest surprise among the inactives is rookie cornerback Patrick Robinson. The Saints’ first-round draft pick, Robinson has spent most of the season as a backup, but did get some starts when Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter were hurt early in the year. Robinson hasn’t been much of a factor recently. Safety Usama Young also is a bit of a surprise on the inactive list. Young usually plays on special teams and he wasn’t on the injury report this week.

The other inactives for the Saints are: running back Julius Jones, linebacker Ramon Humber, offensive tackle Charles Brown, tight end Tory Humphrey, defensive end Junior Galette and linebacker Kawika Mitchell.

NFC West High Energy Player of the Week

November, 23, 2010
NFC High Energy: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at a player who gave his team a significant boost in Week 11:

A fat stat line isn't necessarily a requirement for this weekly award.

[+] EnlargeMatt Hasselbeck
AP Photo/ Bill NicholsMatt Hasselbeck did his part in Seattle's Week 11 loss to the Saints.
It certainly helps.

The Seattle Seahawks' Matt Hasselbeck is the first two-time winner in the NFC West after passing for 366 yards against New Orleans while playing with an edge that gave his team at least a fighting chance.

"Matt's our leader, especially on that side of the ball," veteran strong safety Lawyer Milloy said. "We have to match his intensity."

Hasselbeck completed 72.7 percent of his passes with one touchdown, no interceptions and a 104.9 rating.

He completed seven third-down passes for first-down yardage, once for a 2-yard touchdown to Ben Obomanu and later on his final three attempts from third-and-7 or longer. He shoved Saints safety Usama Young while players fought to recover a fumble. He made unconventional handoffs to protect the cracked bones in his left wrist.

In short, Hasselbeck did just about everything he could to help his team. It wasn't enough to beat the Saints, but it stood out on a day when every NFC West team came up short on the scoreboard.