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Old 06-06-2009, 12:48 AM   #1
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Default PFW - AFC North offseason team reports

AFC North offseason team reports
By Mike Wilkening
June 3, 2009

Third of an eight-part series

Baltimore Ravens

Mission accomplished: The Ravens could not retain ILB Bart Scott, but they did re-sign ILB Ray Lewis, the leader of the defense and still an above-average starter at age 34. The secondary depth has been bolstered considerably by the signings of CBs Chris Carr and Domonique Foxworth and the re-signing of Samari Rolle. The Ravens lost promising C Jason Brown in free agency but responded by signing veteran Matt Birk, a longtime standout. In the draft, the Ravens addressed a need at right tackle by trading up for Michael Oher, who will replace Willie Anderson. In May, the Ravens added WR Kelley Washington, who has a chance to make the club because of his size and special-teams prowess.

Unfinished business: The Ravens have yet to sign OLB Terrell Suggs to a long-term contract, an agreement that would help Baltimore from a salary-cap perspective while ensuring Suggs does not hit the free-agent market in 2010. Also, the team’s WR play could be something of a concern if Derrick Mason’s shoulder injury proves to be a long-term issue. Mason has said he will be ready for the start of the regular season, but if the injury limits his effectiveness, the passing game will be compromised. Another story line to watch is whether youngsters Steven Hauschka or Graham Gano can make a strong claim for the PK job. The Ravens are looking for a kicker who can handle field goals and kickoffs after having carried two kickers last season due to Matt Stover’s lack of leg strength on kickoffs.

Cincinnati Bengals
Bengals QB Carson Palmer

Bengals QB Carson Palmer
Mission accomplished: QB Carson Palmer is back practicing with the club after a right elbow injury ended his ’08 campaign after only four games and ended any flickering hopes of the Bengals being competitive. Also, Palmer has been the club’s vocal leader in the offseason and made headlines when he called out WR Chad Ochocinco for skipping voluntary workouts. The Bengals were not active in free agency, but they did sign ex-Jets WR Laveranues Coles, a capable replacement for the departed T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Also, the Bengals’ draft was widely praised. First-round pick Andre Smith is likely to start at right tackle, and several other rookies are expected to contribute in Year One.

Unfinished business: Ochocinco’s future with the club remains a story to watch; it is no secret he would like to play elsewhere, but the Bengals have not been willing to move him. If Ochocinco remains on the roster, questions will linger about his effectiveness after he slumped last year, as well as his role with the club, considering the praise Chris Henry has garnered in the offseason. Also, keep a close eye on the play of the offensive line, which is slated to have new starters at left and right tackle, left guard and center. The O-line must protect Palmer and open more holes in the running game for the Bengals to succeed. Finally, the stage is set for what could be some interesting contract negotiations between Smith and the Bengals. Smith has fired and rehired agent Alvin Keels, and the Bengals’ plans to play him at right tackle could complicate matters.

Cleveland Browns

Mission accomplished: Give new head coach Eric Mangini and new GM George Kokinis credit. Placed in the untenable position of having just four draft picks when seeking to revamp the roster, the Browns’ brain trust ended draft weekend with eight picks and at least one first-year starter in C Alex Mack. Along the way, the Browns dealt TE Kellen Winslow for multiple picks and traded down three times in Round One of the ’09 draft. Also, Mangini shook up the defense, adding a half-dozen veterans, most notably LB Eric Barton and S Abram Elam, both of whom are expected to start. The QB competition between Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson got some much-needed definition when Quinn took the first snaps with the first-team offense in OTAs.

Unfinished business: While Quinn appears to have the early edge for the starting job, he still has to hold off Anderson (and perhaps even long shot Brett Ratliff). WR Braylon Edwards has said he wants to stay in Cleveland, but with only one year left on his contract, and with his name coming up in trade talks with the Giants earlier in the offseason, his future with the club remains a matter of speculation. Also, WR Donté Stallworth has stayed away from the club as he faces a DUI manslaughter charge that clouds his NFL future. RS Joshua Cribbs, signed through 2012 at a below-market rate, would like a new contract, but will the Browns oblige? Cribbs is one of the NFL’s top returners, and the Browns are expected to give him a look on defense.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Mission accomplished: The Steelers have long been adept at keeping their core players, and signing OLB James Harrison and WR Hines Ward to contract extensions outweighs anything they could have done in free agency, considering their lack of salary-cap space (and traditional unwillingness to make much of a splash in free agency).

The Steelers weren’t completely silent, adding WR Shaun McDonald and CB Keiwan Ratliff; both will compete for reserve roles at positions where the Steelers needed to bolster their depth.

In the draft, the Steelers added some much-needed youth to their defensive line with the selection of DE Ziggy Hood. It will take Hood time to learn the Steelers’ defense, but he will have every chance to become a future starter at an important but unappreciated position in the Steelers’ 3-4 scheme. Rookie Kraig Urbik will push to start at right guard as a rookie. Also, deep-threat WR Mike Wallace, short-yardage RB Frank Summers and CBs Keenan Lewis and Joe Burnett will be in the mix for playing time.

Unfinished business: The defending Super Bowl champions enter this season with only two major position battles — Darnell Stapleton is trying to hold on to his starting job at right guard, and William Gay is likely to replace the departed Bryant McFadden at cornerback. Other than that, the focus will be on improving the club’s few weaknesses.

Urbik and fellow rookie A.Q. Shipley, a center, are the only significant new additions to the offfensive line, so it largely falls to the group previously on hand to become more consistent. Also, the Steelers will look to get more out of the running game after struggling somewhat last season. Second-year RB Rashard Mendenhall, who missed most of last season with a shoulder injury, is ­likely to spell speedy starter Willie Parker, who has battled injuries the past two ­campaigns.

Kickoff is coming! Be sure to buy your copy of the Pro Football Weekly/Yahoo! Sports 2009 NFL preview magazine, now available at bookstores, newsstands and retail outlets where magazines are sold. Or order your copy online at PFWStore.com.
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Old 06-06-2009, 05:20 AM   #2
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Default Re: PFW - AFC North offseason team reports

Thanks for the read. I really love reading about our guys and where they are at.
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Old 06-06-2009, 09:23 AM   #3
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Default Re: PFW - AFC North offseason team reports

I really hope Urbik starts at RG for us this year as I think Stapleton is a good player just a little undersized.
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