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mesaSteeler
02-24-2012, 11:32 PM
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Looking forward, AFC North looks tough again next season

By Scott Brown
PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Saturday, February 25, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS The lone division in the NFL to send three teams to the playoffs last season will only get stronger.

Ozzie Newsome made that observation about the AFC North, and the Ravens general manager is in a position to know.

"I spend more time (following) the other teams than I do my own team," Newsome said Friday at the NFL Scouting Combine. "There's no doubt (it's stronger) based on what Cincinnati did last year. I have a lot of respect for (Browns president) Mike Holmgren and what they're doing in Cleveland, and us and Pittsburgh, it's always going to be a battle."

The Steelers' place in a division they have won six times since 2000 has come into question given some of the changes they have undergone and those that inevitably lie ahead for the veteran team.

But if Kevin Colbert is in the midst of a rebuilding job, that apparently is news to the Steelers' general manager.

Colbert said he does not feel any urgency to address in the draft a defense that isn't getting any younger. He also shrugged off the transition the Steelers are making on the other side of the ball with Todd Haley taking over for Bruce Arians as offensive coordinator.

Colbert said bringing in Haley is comparable to when the Steelers hired Mike Tomlin as coach in 2007. Tomlin, a defensive coach raised in a 4-3 defense, joined a team rooted in a 3-4 system.

Defensive changes made since Tomlin's arrival qualify as subtle and anything but radical.

"I think any coach coming into a situation, just as Mike did when we were a 3-4 team, looked at what we did and how we did it and decided maybe he wants to add his personal touches, but for the most part it hasn't changed," Colbert said. "It's hard to come in and drastically change. You can't overhaul a whole roster, nor are we looking to, because this group of players has been very successful. (Haley) will learn what we have. We'll learn what he's kind of thinking about and looking for, and we'll try to keep progressing."

The Steelers have no choice but to keep progressing.

They are looking up at the Ravens in the AFC North after Baltimore matched the Steelers' 12-4 record in 2011 and swept the season series. The Bengals, meanwhile, are on the rise after going 9-7 last season and making the playoffs as a wild-card team.

Cincinnati has a long-term answer at quarterback in Andy Dalton, and the Browns could change the dynamic in Cleveland as well as in the AFC North if they somehow land quarterback Robert Griffin III in the draft.

The Browns pick fourth overall, but they may need to trade up for a shot at the dynamic Griffin.

The Heisman Trophy winner gave a glimpse into the poise that marked his ascent at Baylor while speaking to the media yesterday. He also displayed his fun side to the reporters who packed the stage where he spoke.

Asked what kind of socks he was wearing, Griffin smiled and pulled up a pant leg.

"Ninja Turtles," said Griffin, who wore Superman socks to the Heisman Trophy presentation in December.

The Browns could change the balance of power in the division if they are able to land Griffin, assuming he is as good as advertised. But for now, the perception is that the Steelers and Ravens rule the AFC North.

"Well, we won the division three years ago but that's just what it's worth," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said when asked if Cincinnati is closing the gap in the AFC North. "Last year we didn't, and the year before that we didn't. We have to compete and win against other division teams. We know Cleveland, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, they get better every year, just like we hope we're getting better."

Scott Brown can be reached at sbrown@tribweb.com or 412-481-5432.

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Lady Steel
02-25-2012, 03:51 AM
The AFC North definitely isn't the sissy division the AFC East is. If the Patriots* go to the Super Bowl next year, it's a crying shame.