NFL Nation: Jonathan Scott

McClellin inactive again for Bears

November, 17, 2013
11/17/13
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CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bears released their list of inactives in advance of Sunday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens, and defensive end Shea McClellin will miss his second-consecutive game due to a pulled hamstring.

Other Bears inactives include quarterback Jay Cutler, linebacker Lance Briggs, long snapper Patrick Mannelly, offensive lineman James Brown, offensive tackle Jonathan Scott and defensive tackle Jay Ratliff.

Ravens inactives include defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, receiver Marlon Brown, safety Omar Brown, running back Bernard Scott, receiver Brandon Stokley, offensive lineman Ryan Jensen and linebacker John Simon.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton and receiver Earl Bennett both described their concussions as headaches that wouldn’t go away. But now that they’ve dissipated and the protocol has been satisfied, the duo has been cleared for Sunday’s Week 1 matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals.

“I know we have a huge season ahead of us, and not really knowing when I was going to start feeling better exactly, it was a little nerve-wracking,” Melton said. “But finally, the clouds cleared.”

Melton and Bennett took part in Monday’s workout, as did all of the club’s other previously injured players such as offensive tackle Jonathan Scott (knee), linebacker D.J. Williams (calf), and long snapper Patrick Mannelly (ribs).

Bennett suffered a concussion on Aug. 3 during a practice at Soldier Field, which forced him to sit out the entire preseason and every practice since. Bennett’s inactivity has led to concerns about his conditioning. Although Bennett plans to play Sunday against the Bengals, Bears coach Marc Trestman said that “it might not be plausible for him to play” because of the conditioning concerns.

“We’ll see how he looks during the course of the week. He ran well today. He was involved in reps. Obviously he hasn’t had the practice time or the conditioning level right now. So it’s plausible [that Bennett won’t play]. I don’t want to say unlikely because I don’t know how the week’s going to go,” Trestman said. “But it’s plausible he could be out on Sunday. It’s possible that he could be up. We’ll just see how the rest of the week goes. We’ve got another day off. He’s got three days of work ahead. We’ll see how all that fits together come Sunday.”

If Bennett doesn’t play, it’s likely that rookie Marquess Wilson or Joe Anderson would line up as the third receiver.

“Actually, I’m pretty good conditioning-wise,” Bennett said. “I’ve been up here running -- shoulder pads, helmets -- the past few days, just making sure that I’m in great shape. I’m very eager. I’m excited to be back. Excited to get back to work, and continue to work hard. Like I said, my plan is to play this week, so I look forward to this game.”

Melton does, too. Melton suffered his concussion in the preseason opener at Carolina on Aug. 9.

“They’ve been working me pretty hard all through the weekend, trying to get me back,” Melton said. “I’m feeling good. I went out there and ran a little bit.”

Scott, meanwhile, has been recovering from a minor procedure on his right knee, but practiced Monday for the first time since training camp in what he called a “limited” workout. A reserve offensive tackle, Scott said his expectation is to play against the Bengals if needed.

“Physically and emotionally I’ve been dying to be out here with this team and get after it,” Scott said. “I’m just happy to be in the position to play again.”
Here are three positional battles to monitor heading into the Chicago Bears’ preseason finale versus the Cleveland Browns:

1. Running back: Undrafted rookie Michael Ford is making a strong push to grab one of the final spots on the 53-man roster after returning a kickoff 100 yards in the second preseason game against San Diego, then following up that performance with 58 rushing yards and a touchdown on nine carries last week in Oakland. If the Bears decide to keep just three tailbacks, it means either Ford or veteran Armando Allen has to go. Allen played well last season for the Bears, appearing in 15 games and recording seven special-teams tackles. But Allen has been working his way back from an injury the past couple weeks, which has opened the door for the less expensive rookie out of LSU to showcase himself in these preseason games. Both figure to receive ample playing time tonight at Soldier Field.

2. Quarterback: The Bears’ offense is entirely in the hands of veteran quarterbacks Jordan Palmer and Trent Edwards after Bears head coach Marc Trestman announced last week that starter Jay Cutler and No. 2 Josh McCown would not see the field in the final preseason contest. If the Bears open the season with three quarterbacks, and that is still an if, the final spot could be determined by which of the two reserves has a better game against the Browns, plus what each accomplished on the practice field the past two weeks. The Bears got a brief look at just Palmer last week in the fourth quarter (1-for-1, five yards), but both quarterbacks will get an extended look tonight. Even if the Bears decide to go with just two quarterbacks to start the year, the team might still find themselves in need of another QB later in the season -- that’s why this is still an important game for Palmer and Edwards, regardless.

3. Offensive line: If the Bears retain eight offensive linemen, as offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer hinted earlier in training camp, then two spots might still be available. That means Jonathan Scott, Eben Britton, J’Marcus Webb and Taylor Boggs are probably the guys still alive to make the team, although sometimes these calls are already made before the final preseason game. Scott has actually pulled off the rare feat of improving his position on the team despite missing the past several weeks with a knee injury that required a procedure to clean it out. That’s because Webb has continued to struggle ever since being demoted to second-team left tackle. Webb is a mystery. He has all the physical gifts, but his inconsistency coupled with his strange behavior and apparent lack of passion toward the game, makes him a strong candidate to get cut. If Scott’s knee is OK for Week 1, then it might make sense to just keep him and Britton, try and sneak Boggs on the practice squad, and send Webb on his merry way. But if Webb wants to make one final stand, he better make the most his opportunities tonight.

Don’t ring the alarm regarding recent concerns expressed by Bears receiver Brandon Marshall about his place in the offense, level of conditioning and recovery from a January arthroscopic hip surgery.

Marshall dropped two passes and had another knocked away against the Raiders. But the week before, he caught four of the five passes thrown his way, including one grab for a 5-yard touchdown. Despite the limited action we’ve seen thus far from Marshall, would any of the few snaps we’ve seen (50 by my count) suggest the Bears should be worried?

Marshall
“I had about 10 drops,” Marshall said in recalling last week’s win over Oakland. “I think the offense did well. For myself -- mentally, physical -- we need to pick it up a little more.”

That’s the mentality of an elite player: hypercritical. It’s simply Marshall digesting the reality that with less than two weeks before the start of the regular season, with the team learning a new offense, he’s still got a ways to go if he plans on matching his record-setting production from 2012.

Against the Raiders, Jay Cutler targeted second-year receiver Alshon Jeffery eight times for seven completions; twice the number of passes thrown to Marshall. But let’s not forget Marshall accounted for close to half of the team’s receiving yardage in 2012, and while that number will fall off some in 2013 in Marc Trestman’s new offense, he’ll still catch his fair share of balls. So Marshall, at this point, shouldn’t be worried that he’s “still trying to figure out my role and my place in this offense.”

Jeffery and tight end Martellus Bennett will see plenty of passes thrown their way. But ultimately, the success of Chicago’s passing game this season will hinge on Marshall, who at this point says “it’s [now about] getting a feel for [the new offense], and having more experience in the offense.”

Trestman made that clear Monday, saying the receiver is “going to have a lot of catches and certainly be instrumental in the success of our offense, and ultimately our team.”

“It’s B,"" Cutler said. “He’s going to take it hard for a couple of days, and then he’ll snap out of it and he’ll be the guy we need next week. This week we don’t need him. So he can stay on the ledge for a couple more days, and then come back next week. Conditioning-wise, he’s a little behind. He knows where he needs to be. It’s just a matter of him pushing his hip through things when it gets tight a little bit. Once we start getting into a routine in a game week, and we shorten some of these reps, we’ll really figure out exactly what routes we want him on, and where we want him on the field. Hopefully things will sharpen us for his hip, and he’ll be able to make it go.”

Given the limited amount of snaps played by Marshall throughout the offseason, training camp and the preseason, he can’t yet fully visualize the role Trestman envisions for him because he simply hasn’t been on the field enough to become immersed in it. As for Marshall’s implication the club might be rushing him back too soon, perhaps there’s some truth to that. But he should know and understand the balancing act the team is performing in its attempt to keep him healthy, while also getting him the necessary reps to fully digest the offense which, eventually, will work the receiver into playing shape.

Coming into training camp, it appeared Marshall and Trestman weren’t necessarily on the same page. On the day the club reported, Marshall said he needed to “listen to his body” and expected (and also eventually received) a few days off here and there as he continued to recover. That same day, Trestman spoke about how teams could no longer be liberal in granting days off for veterans because of the limited practices allotted in the new collective bargaining agreement.

When Marshall first underwent the surgery, a source close to him said he expected the receiver to be back “playing basketball in two weeks.” Surely, Marshall expected the same.

Now that things haven’t gone the way he expected, Marshall's a little concerned, and rightfully so, because only the receiver truly knows what’s going on in his body. Still, it’s worth it to remember the type of athlete Marshall is, and his sky-high expectations for the season.

“Brandon is working his tail off to get himself ready,” Trestman said. “He feels a sense of urgency. He’s a highly competitive man. He can only comment on how he feels. You saw him on the field at Soldier Field. You saw that he does have those moments where he can practice and work at a very high level. There have been days that haven’t gone so well for him, and then he will bounce back.”

So now isn’t the time to get overly worked up about Marshall. Oakland might have been the setback, but my guess is Cincinnati on Sept. 8 is the bounce back.

Here's a couple of links to Bears news:

-- ESPN The Magazine columnist Chris Jones loves him some Jay Cutler.

-- Adam Jahns would be surprised if the Bears cut Devin Hester.

-- John “Moon” Mullin looks at the battle at swing tackle between Jonathan Scott and J’Marcus Webb.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears returned to the field to resume workouts Monday, but continued to hold out defensive tackle Henry Melton and receiver Earl Bennett as the duo works through the steps of the concussion protocol to return to the field.

Melton and Bennett attended the session inside the Walter Payton Center during the portion of practice open to the media, but it appears neither has been cleared to return to activity. Considering the starters aren’t likely to play much, if any, during the preseason finale against Cleveland on Thursday, there’s no rush for Melton and Bennett to return to the field.

“Henry is into (the) running (phase of the concussion protocol). Earl is day-to-day," coach Marc Trestman said. "I know he was with some of the medical people this morning, I haven’t checked. Henry ran today. He’s going to run tomorrow and Wednesday and pick up that running significantly. That’s where he is at this point.”

However, the Bears have already begun preparations for the regular-season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 8, and the week leading into that outing would seem to be the target date for Melton and Bennett to rejoin the team for workouts.

As the club’s franchise player, Melton has already solidified his status as a starter. Bennett, meanwhile, is competing with Joe Anderson, Eric Weems, Terrence Toliver and rookie Marquess Wilson for one of the receiver spots behind Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. Bennett hasn’t practiced with the team since suffering the concussion on Aug. 3 at Soldier Field after a hard hit from safety Chris Conte.

Melton suffered his concussion in the first game of the preseason at Carolina.

In other injury news, the team held out quarterback Matt Blanchard (hand), linebacker D.J. Williams (calf), offensive tackle Jonathan Scott (knee), defensive tackle (Corvey Irvin) (ankle) and cornerback Zack Bowman (hamstring).

Fullback Harvey Unga (ribs), defensive end Cheta Ozougwu (hamstring), and long snapper Patrick Mannelly returned to the practice field Monday after missing last week’s game at Oakland.
OAKLAND, Calif. -- The door is wide open for veteran Jonathan Scott to be the Chicago Bears' swing tackle in the regular season after J'Marcus Webb had problems in the second half of the club’s 34-26 preseason win against the Oakland Raiders on Friday.

Things went bad for Webb quickly after he entered the game. The former starter got called for holding on the Bears’ third offensive play of the third quarter, then later in the fourth quarter Webb committed a false start. Not exactly the kind of performance Webb needed two weeks after being demoted to the second-team and losing his right tackle job to rookie Jordan Mills.

Webb’s issues occurred a couple of hours after Scott worked out with the training staff on the field pregame, fueling speculation that he could return from a knee procedure sometime next week, and perhaps be healthy enough to play in the Bears’ preseason finale Thursday versus the Cleveland Browns.

“I’m encouraged,” Bears head coach Marc Trestman said. “I know he worked out tonight but I haven’t talked to the trainers about that. But we’re encouraged by what’s going on with the guys that have (had) medical attention.”

Scott, a seven-year veteran, started seven games for the Bears last year after joining the club in September. Scott, Webb, Eben Britton, Taylor Boggs and Edwin Williams are all fighting to earn a spot on the 53-man roster while James Brown is secure as the swing guard. It’s unclear how many offensive linemen the Bears plan to keep, but offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said last week the number could be eight.

If that happens, Webb could be a casualty just one year after starting all 16 games for the Bears at left tackle.
CHICAGO -- Chicago Bears defensive end Julius Peppers will be sidelined for the second time this preseason Thursday against the San Diego Chargers, the team announced before the game.

Bears coach Marc Trestman said on Tuesday he anticipated Peppers and wide receiver Brandon Marshall making their preseason debuts against the Chargers, but the veteran pass-rusher was a late scratch due to coaches' decision.

Peppers, who has been battling a minor hamstring injury the past week and a half, was on the field watching the rest of his teammates going through pregame warm-ups.

However, Marshall and defensive end Corey Wootton are in uniform and scheduled to see action with the Bears starters for at least one quarter.

Also sitting out for the Bears: running back Armando Allen (hamstring), linebacker D.J. Williams (calf), defensive tackle Henry Melton (concussion), wide receiver Earl Bennett (concussion), long snapper Patrick Mannelly (ribs), offensive tackle Jonathan Scott (knee), fullback Harvey Unga (ribs) and tight end Kyle Adams.

San Diego rookie linebacker Manti Te'o has previously been ruled out due to a sprained foot.
There were two notable injuries Monday morning at the Chicago Bears' training camp practice and both merit further discussion.

First, veteran defensive end Turk McBride was lost for the season after he ruptured his Achilles tendon. I'm not sure that McBride was going to make a team whose defensive end rotation is largely set with Julius Peppers, Corey Wootton and Shea McClellin, but he was an experienced player who could have stepped up if a member of that trio got injured.

Meanwhile, left tackle Jermon Bushrod strained his right calf and sat out the rest of practice. The injury isn't expected to sideline him long term, but it was serious enough to require a walking boot. Regardless, Bushrod's injury raised the now-relevant question of how the Bears will stack their reserve offensive linemen after reshuffling their starting lineup.

Former left tackle J'Marcus Webb is now working at right tackle, so when Bushrod was injured Monday, the Bears plugged in veteran Jonathan Scott. Leg muscle injuries can take longer to heal for big players, so Bushrod's situation is worth monitoring.

Sport Science: D.J. Fluker

April, 1, 2013
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video
At the NFL scouting combine, the Chicago Bears were said to be interested in Alabama right tackle D.J. Fluker. Then they went and signed left tackle Jermon Bushrod on the first day of free agency, sliding J'Marcus Webb into a competition with Gabe Carimi and Jonathan Scott at right tackle.

So does that mean Fluker is no longer a candidate to be the Bears' top pick (No. 20 overall)? Go back and read those names and tell me if you think the Bears should be satisfied. Or watch this fun video Fluker did with ESPN's Sport Science, which among other things demonstrates his power against bull rushes.

Final Word: NFC North

November, 23, 2012
11/23/12
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 12:

November woes: The Green Bay Packers have won four consecutive road games against the New York Giants, their opponent in Sunday's prime-time game. And are the Packers getting the Giants at a good time? Recent history is inexplicable but clear. The Giants are a bad November team, and this year quarterback Eli Manning has slumped badly as well. Under coach Tom Coughlin, the Giants are 13-21 in November and 67-37 in all other months. The Giants have lost their past five games in November, including two this season. Manning, meanwhile, hasn't thrown a touchdown pass since the fourth quarter of Week 7, a span of 99 passes. Since Week 8, Manning has completed only 54.5 percent of his total throws and has a Total Quarterback Rating (QBR) of 27.1, ranking him No. 29 of 33 qualifiers during that span.

Run opportunities: The Packers achieved rare equality in their run-pass ratio last week against the Detroit Lions, running on 28 plays and passing on 31. Coach Mike McCarthy lamented a relative lack of production from starter James Starks, who rushed for 74 yards on 25 carries, and it appears Starks and Alex Green will rotate more frequently Sunday night. The Packers should have some opportunities against a Giants defense that has allowed at least 150 rushing yards in consecutive home games for the first time since 2006. The Pittsburgh Steelers rushed for 158 yards against them two weeks ago, and 99 of those yards came after contact, an indication of the state of the Giants' tackling.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhThe Bears will be counting on QB Jay Cutler to make an impact in their upcoming games against Minnesota.
Big meeting: Few thought when the season began that the Week 12 meeting between the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings would be so crucial to the NFC North race. Only one game separates the Bears (7-3) and Vikings (6-4), and they're set to play twice in the next three weeks. The Vikings have lost 10 of their past 11 games in Chicago, and the only game they've won in that span required a 224-yard effort from tailback Adrian Peterson and a 54-yard game-winning field goal from Ryan Longwell. The Bears are coming off a short week after an embarrassing road loss, but they appear likely to get back the services of quarterback Jay Cutler, who has won 12 of his past 13 games that he has finished. Of ESPN's 14 NFL experts, all but one picked the Bears to win this game.

Tracking Allen: Vikings defensive end Jared Allen had at least one sack in six consecutive games but has now gone two games without one. But the last time Allen saw the Bears, he lit up left tackle J'Marcus Webb for 3.5 sacks in the 2011 season finale. Webb is one of three offensive linemen who kept his job after backup quarterback Jason Campbell was sacked six times by the San Francisco 49ers on Monday night, but offensive coordinator Mike Tice has pledged constant chip help for Webb this weekend. The Bears will try to contain the rest of the Vikings' defense with a new right tackle (Jonathan Scott) and left guard (Chris Spencer).

Peterson power: The Bears' defense has proved vulnerable recently to what has been the decided strength of Peterson all season. Specifically, they have given up at least 80 yards on runs between the tackles in each of their past five games. Peterson, of course, has been gashing teams almost exclusively between the tackles since returning from knee surgery. This season, 174 of his carries, 922 of his yards, six of his touchdowns and 11 of his 20-plus yard runs have come on runs that began between the tackles. There is every reason to believe the Vikings will attack that area early and often, and then probably follow up with a heavy dose of their play-action game.
Mike TomlinMichael Hickey/US PresswireMike Tomlin and the Steelers need to tap into their draft magic this year more than many.

Nearly a full month into free agency, the Steelers finally signed their first player Tuesday. It was -- yawn -- Leonard Pope.

Not excited about adding a backup tight end? Well, this is essentially a repeat of last year, when the Steelers' big free-agent signing was wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery. Let's face it, Steelers' free agency contains as much action as a Sarah Jessica Parker flick. Everyone knows this, and that's why no one is wringing their Terrible Towel over the inactivity.

The Steelers find players in April, not March. They hit on first-round picks every year -- at least in recent memory -- and develop undrafted prospects into starters. No one has built their team through the draft quite like the Steelers this decade. If the season started today, only one of the projected starters (safety Ryan Clark) joined the Steelers as an unrestricted free agent.

The Steelers need this remarkable track record in the draft to come through for them again. In some ways, this is the most important draft of the Mike Tomlin era. I'm not saying this is a crucial draft in terms of finding immediate starters. But the pressure is on the Steelers to find "potential" starters for the 2012 season.

The organization lost a piece of its history when it parted ways with wide receiver Hines Ward, linebacker James Farrior, defensive end Aaron Smith, nose tackle Chris Hoke and guard Chris Kemoeatu this offseason. Some have downplayed these departures because none were major contributors last season. Farrior was a part-time player, Ward was being phased out, Kemoeatu was benched and Smith and Hoke were both injured. The Steelers, though, could have used their experience as backups this season.

The loss of these veteran safety nets makes injuries a major concern. Two starters -- running back Rashard Mendenhall and nose tackle Casey Hampton -- are candidates to start the regular season on the physically unable to perform list (and miss at least the first six games) after ACL surgeries this offseason. Tomlin has expressed concern whether right tackle Willie Colon and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders can shake their injury histories. And the Steelers have to be worried about Maurkice Pouncey's ankle, LaMarr Woodley's hamstrings and Doug Legursky's shoulder.

If Hampton is placed on the PUP, the starting nose tackle would likely be an out-of-position Ziggy Hood. If Legursky is hurt, the current top backup at guard is John Malecki. If Colon goes down, the Steelers have to turn to the often-struggling Jonathan Scott. If Sanders can't play, the third receiver would be ... well, no one right now. These are all painful scenarios for the Steelers.

This is where the draft comes into play for Pittsburgh. Taking the right college player has always kept the Steelers in the mode of reloading, not rebuilding. No one knows whom the Steelers will select with the 24th overall pick. It could be Alabama inside linebacker Dont'a Hightower, Georgia offensive lineman Cordy Glenn, Stanford tight end Coby Fleener or someone not even linked to Pittsburgh. Based on the Steelers' history, the only certainty is the pick will become an impact player.

[+] EnlargeBrett Keisel
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesDefensive end Brett Keisel, taken in the seventh round, is just one of the Steelers' draft finds.
Since 2000, the Steelers' first-round selections have been wide receiver Plaxico Burress, Hampton, guard Kendall Simmons, safety Troy Polamalu, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, tight end Heath Miller, wide receiver Santonio Holmes, linebacker Lawrence Timmons, Mendenhall, Hood, Pouncey and defensive end Cameron Heyward. The only one who didn't quite live up to expectations is Mendenhall, and he is hardly a major disappointment, having led the team in rushing for the past three seasons. This great run is more amazing when you consider only two (Burress and Roethlisberger) were selected in the top half of the first round. Even the Ravens, who are known for excelling in the draft, have had two busts during this span with quarterback Kyle Boller and wide receiver Travis Taylor.

General manager Kevin Colbert, one of the underrated decision-makers in the NFL, can't explain this string of success.

"We've been fortunate," he told reporters at the NFL owners meetings. "We are capable as anybody of making a mistake. We never keep score. There's only one score that matters and that's the last game of the year."

If the Steelers had been keeping score, they would realize their success goes beyond the first round. They have come away with current starters in the second round (linebacker Woodley), third round (wide receiver Mike Wallace), fourth round (cornerback Ike Taylor), sixth round (wide receiver Antonio Brown) and seventh round (defensive end Brett Keisel). And don't forget about the undrafted finds like Legursky, right guard Ramon Foster and running back Isaac Redman.

This is why the Steelers don't have to write a $100 million check to free agents. This is why the Steelers can sign one player in the first 28 days of free agency and not sweat about it. Pittsburgh's way of business is about patience and faith. The Steelers believe in their front office to select the right college players and they believe in their coaching staff to develop them. It's a proven system that has led to five AFC North titles in 10 seasons and three trips to the Super Bowl during that span.

As players come and go, the Steelers' goals never change. Like Tomlin always preaches: "The standard is the standard."

"If you have a desire to be in this league for a length of time, you are going to roll with the punches and the ebb and flow, the evolution of the game," Tomlin said at the NFL owners meetings. "Thankfully, I've been in the game long enough to see a little bit of that. Those who are able to sustain success are pliable and flexible."

And the organizations that are able to sustain success are often quiet in free agency and make their most noise in the draft.
Gary Horton of Scouts Inc. broke down the top six needs remaining Insider for each of the AFC North teams. You'll need an Insider subscription to view the entire post, but here's a glimpse of the top three needs:

CINCINNATI BENGALS

Horton's top three needs: Cornerback, guard and safety.

Horton on cornerback: The starters in 2011 were Leon Hall, who will be coming off an Achilles injury, and 32-year-old Nate Clements. When Hall went down, Adam Jones filled in, but none of these three make you comfortable in man coverage. Newly acquired free agent Jason Allen will help, but there is a lot of work to be done here.

Hensley's comment: I wouldn't put cornerback as the top need because the Bengals added Allen and re-signed Jones. Allen is an upgrade over Kelly Jennings. Guard is the bigger concern. If the season started today, the Bengals' starting right guard would either be Otis Hudson, Clint Boling or Anthony Collins (who would shift over from tackle).

CLEVELAND BROWNS

Horton's top three needs: Quarterback, wide receiver and running back.

Horton on quarterback: Right now, their options at QB are starter Colt McCoy and veteran backup Seneca Wallace, but nobody expects it to stay that way. With two first-round draft picks, they will almost surely pick a QB with one of them.

Hensley's comment: You could make a strong argument that quarterback, wide receiver or running back should rank as the No. 1 need. My top need for Cleveland is right tackle. The Browns can at least start McCoy, Greg Little, Mohamed Massaquoi and Montario Hardesty at those other positions. Right tackle was a weak spot for the Browns last season with Tony Pashos and Artis Hicks, both of whom are now gone. The Browns' starting right tackle at this point is Oniel Cousins, a third-round bust from Baltimore.

BALTIMORE RAVENS

Horton's three needs: Inside linebacker, left guard and safety.

Horton on inside linebacker: The Ray Lewis era will be ending soon, and the Ravens need to find his replacement. Jameel McClain was re-signed, and he can play inside or outside, but a three-down linebacker who can play solid pass defense is sorely needed.

Hensley's comment: Left guard is the biggest need on the team, and it's not even close. The Ravens couldn't keep Ben Grubbs and failed to sign Evan Mathis. The fallback option is Jah Reid, a backup offensive tackle last season. Going from a Pro Bowl guard (Grubbs) to a converted tackle (Reid) is a major step down.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Horton's top three needs: Offensive tackle/guard, nose tackle and running back.

Horton on offensive tackle/guard: Center Maurkice Pouncey is the only stable starter on this unit. Veteran tackle Max Starks is coming off an ACL injury and T Willie Colon can't stay healthy, though the coaches hope he can get through a full season at RT with young Marcus Gilbert moving from RT to LT. There is also a big hole at left guard. The Steelers need to get at least one, and maybe two, starters up front.

Hensley's comment: You can't really disagree with this assessment. Left guard Doug Legursky is a backup who performed admirably when Chris Kemoeatu was benched. Gilbert has a good chance of succeeding on the left side, but it's hard to depend on Colon at right tackle with his injury history. The Steelers' options are limited because there is no depth. Jonathan Scott, who has struggled mightily, is the top backup at tackle, and there's no reserves at guard with Trai Essex (free agent) and Jamon Meredith (not tendered as a restricted free agent) off on the roster.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are no longer quiet in free agency.

According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Steelers had their first free-agent visit of the year today, bringing in Bills offensive tackle Demetrius Bell.

He is the best offensive lineman available in what began as a weak free-agent market for tackles. Bell, 27, is an intriguing talent who has played parts of the past two seasons at left tackle.

Drafted in the seventh round by the Bills in 2008, Bell had struggled for the most part before last season. He only started six games in 2011 for the Bills, but those were perhaps his best games with the team. In seven games last season, he only allowed a half of sack and didn't commit a penalty.

There's no guarantees that Bell will continue to play at such a high level, but this could potentially be a strong first move by the Steelers. Pittsburgh is the only team in the AFC North not to sign anyone in free agency, which began 17 days ago.

The Steelers have a connection to Bell. Offensive line coach Sean Kugler spent two seasons working with Bell before leaving Buffalo for Pittsburgh.

Adding an offensive tackle isn't a necessity, but it would bolster the position. Right now, the Steelers are looking to move Marcus Gilbert from right to left tackle, and start Willie Colon on the right side. Colon has played in one game the past two seasons because of injuries, and Jonathan Scott is the top backup.
Bob Sansevere's column provides us with another instance of Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman going out of his way to suggest that he is far from certain to draft USC tackle Matt Kalil with the No. 3 overall pick in the April draft.

[+] EnlargeMatt Kalil
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireMatt Kalil is one player the Vikings will consider with their first-round draft pick.
Last month, Spielman on multiple occasions noted how important it is to surround a young quarterback with playmakers, and fill in at left tackle as needed. More recently, Spielman asked Sansevere to name the starting left tackles of the past two Super Bowl champions and apparently talked up LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne.

I judged the first instance to be blatant draft posturing, and the second might well fall into the same category. But let's take a closer look and make sure we all understand why Kalil is the presumed pick at No. 3 rather than Claiborne, Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon or even Alabama running back Trent Richardson.

First off, it's true that the Giants won Super Bowl XLVI with a replacement left tackle, David Diehl, who took over during the season for an injured Will Beatty, a second-round draft pick in 2009. The Packers won Super Bowl XLV with left tackle Chad Clifton, a third-round draft pick in 2000 and two-time Pro Bowler. For good measure, we should note that the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers advanced to the title games with Matt Light and Jonathan Scott starting at left tackle, respectively. Light was a second-round pick in 2001 and is a four-time Pro Bowl player; Scott was a fifth-round pick of the Detroit Lions in 2006.

That cross section of history allows Spielman to make an obvious point: There is no step-by-step manual for building a championship team, other than having a good quarterback, and a contending team does not necessarily need an elite left tackle. But to me, the argument for Kalil is not so much that he plays left tackle but that he is widely assessed -- at least by media draft analysts -- to be the third-best player in the draft.

The Vikings shouldn't target Kalil just because he is a left tackle, nor should they zero in on Claiborne because they are thin at cornerback or Blackmon because they want a downfield threat for quarterback Christian Ponder. The only relevant question is who the best player is.

So we will give Spielman some leeway here. I still think his public statements lend themselves more to posturing than honest assessments. But if he and his scouts truly judge Claiborne or Blackmon or even Richardson as a better prospect than Kalil, then by all means they should draft that player and put up that evaluation to stand the test of history.

If that's the case, however, you can only hope that Spielman will have made a position-neutral decision. At such a high spot in the draft, it seems like splitting hairs to debate which position is more valuable. The only choice at No. 3 is to take the best player. The media consensus suggests it's Kalil, but the media has been wrong before.

AFC North injury report impact

September, 30, 2011
9/30/11
5:14
PM ET
A look at Friday's injury report and what it means:


BENGALS

Out: LB Dontay Moch (foot)

Doubtful: G Otis Hudson (knee)

Probable: DE Jonathan Fanene (knee), DE Robert Geathers (shoulder), S Jeromy Miles (groin), DT Pat Sims (elbow), S Gibril Wilson (knee)

Impact: Of all the issues going on with the Bengals, injuries aren't among them, especially with the return of Geathers. Cincinnati will have running back Cedric Benson in the lineup because there's been no ruling on his three-game suspension. Receiver Jerome Simpson returns to the starting lineup after a drug bust at his house last week. ... The Bills will be without cornerbacks Terrence McGee and Aaron Williams, which further depletes a thin secondary.

BROWNS

Questionable: CB Sheldon Brown (groin), LB Titus Brown (ankle), WR Josh Cribbs (groin), DB Eric Hagg (knee), WR Mohamed Massaquoi (ankle), OT Tony Pashos (ankle), OT Joe Thomas (knee)

Probable: RB Peyton Hillis (illness), LB Chris Gocong (groin), WR Carlton Mitchell (finger)

Impact: The Browns will receive a boost with Pashos starting at right tackle for the first time this season. Pashos is expected to play barring a setback, coach Pat Shurmur said. Cribbs has improved since last week and should go back to handling returns. Of all the questionable players, only Hagg and Titus Brown aren't projected to play.

RAVENS

Out: WR Lee Evans (ankle), S Haruki Nakamura (knee), WR David Reed (shoulder), CB Jimmy Smith (ankle)

Doubtful: LB Dannell Ellerbe (thigh)

Questionable: CB Chris Carr (hamstring), G Ben Grubbs (toe)

Probable: C Matt Birk (knee), DE Cory Redding (toe)

Impact: There is increasing concern at cornerback especially if Carr can't play. He didn't practice Friday, which might indicate a setback. Other than starters Cary Williams and Lardarius Webb, the only other cornerbacks on the roster are rookie fifth-round pick Chykie Brown and recent practice squad player Danny Gorrer. With Evans out, rookie second-round pick Torrey Smith will make his second straight start. He will likely be covered by Jets conerback Antonio Cromartie, who is probable. Grubbs didn't practice Friday after being limited Thursday, which likely means Andre Gurode will start again at left guard. ... Jets center Nick Mangold is questionable.

STEELERS

Out: RG Doug Legursky (shoulder), LT Jonathan Scott (ankle), DE Brett Keisel (knee)

Questionable: LB Chris Carter (hamstring)

Probable: WR Arnaz Battle (knee), DT Steve McLendon (illness), WR Mike Wallace (ribs)

Impact: With two starting offensive linemen out, Ramon Foster will start at right guard and Trai Essex will step in at left tackle. Foster has potential and there might not be much of a drop-off from Legursky. Essex can't do much worse than Scott, who has struggled all season. It'll be interesting to see how this patched-up line holds up against a Texans pass rush that is led by Mario Williams. Ziggy Hood will start his second straight game in place of Keisel. ... Texans receiver Andre Johnson (knee and toe) is probable after being limited in practice the past two days. Running back Arian Foster (probable, hamstring) is expected to have a full workload after missing the last game, coach Gary Kubiak said. Struggling cornerback Kareem Jackson is questionable.

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