Hi! Miss me?
Whattdya mean, “no”?
My football-free summer is going swimmingly; thanks for asking. The Orioles are currently in first place. The NBA is doing their best to ensure that the NBA Finals are competitive. My personal life is…none of your damn business.
But it’s all still football free. Which makes me sad. And there’s really no way to rectify this, other than to rehash old games in print and on my DVR (I actually was bored watching Ryan Mallett beat the Steelers again, although I refuse to delete it). And that just doesn’t cut it, especially knowing that this year’s version of teams will look different and play differently. They always do.
So I read football headlines, click on the links that look remotely interesting, get down and dirty in active chat boards, yack about the election (in appropriate forums, of course). I eat lots of junk food, drink too much wine, and watch stuff like “OJ: Made In America” (which is actually very good – one of the few ESPN productions I’ll endorse these days). There’s always work, and social interaction, and actual face-to-face conversation. As Americans, we’re certainly not lacking for distractions. In fact, we excel at them, often to our detriment. But I digress…
There’s been news in the AFC North. Perhaps not earth-shattering, must-see news, but news nonetheless. Each team has had some form of happening. And since I’ve been remiss in reporting anything this spring, I’ll try to get you caught up.
Brace yourselves. Here we go.
FACT: The Ravens addressed some of their well-publicized needs in the draft with LT Ronnie Stanley, OLB Kamalei Correa, and DE Bronson Kaufusi.
OPINION: The Ravens’ most glaring need, for several years running, has been in the secondary. The Ravens are looking at a starting defensive backfield of cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Shareece Wright, and safeties Eric Weddle and Lardarius Webb. This year’s fourth-round pick, diminutive cornerback Tavon Young, is being penciled in at nickelback. Their marked unwillingness to draft a secondary prospect in the first three rounds of the draft will hurt the Ravens significantly, especially when facing the pass-happy Steelers and Bengals twice a year.
FACT: Last year’s first-round pick, wide receiver Breshad Perriman, supposedly dodged a bullet when it was announced that the result of his latest MRI indicated “no significant damage” to his left knee. He’s expected to be ready for training camp.
OPINION: Bury this guy. This marks two non-contact injuries to his knees on grass. He apparently has a history of chronic – and hereditary – knee problems (still stunning to me that this wasn’t revealed during routine rookie scouting). He has yet to display the “dazzling” speed that earmarked the reasons he was drafted early. And it’s doubtful that he’ll actually report on time, given his overly-lengthy recuperation from last season’s injury.
Look, I’m all for giving injury cases a chance. But this kid is so damaged that that chance may never materialize. I stand by last season’s prediction – Perriman will never play a regular-season down in the NFL.
FACT: In light of the Stanley drafting and signing, the Ravens are prepared to jettison incumbent LT Eugene Monroe via trade or release.
OPINION: Monroe’s going to be a tough sell. The former first-rounder has underwhelmed at every stop in his NFL career, and it’s still a wonder that the Ravens opted to sign him to 5-year, $37.5 million contract when cheaper, equally effective options were available. And by announcing their intentions, the Ravens torpedoed any chance they may have had at recouping some value for him in trade, as most teams, aware of Monroe’s injury history and lackluster play, will be content to wait it out until his release.
FACT: The Browns used five of their 14 draft picks on wide receivers in an attempt to bolster their biggest weakness.
OPINION: It makes no difference how many wide receivers they stockpile, or how talented they are. Unless the Browns have a reliable, consistent option at quarterback, any set of options at wideout and tight end, with all due respect to incumbent Gary Barnidge, will suffer. Which leads me to…
FACT: Signee and former wunderkind Roger Griffin III has yet to solidify his supposedly ironclad claim to the starting quarterback job.
OPINION: While new head coach and anointed quarterback guru Hue Jackson has been loaded with hyperbole where RGIII is concerned, the fact that he’s resisted handing the starting job to Griffin speaks volumes. Longtime backup-turned-starter Josh McCown is the odds-on favorite, due primarily to his skills as a quick study. Griffin should also be worried about the Browns’ drafting of former USC quarterback Cody Kessler, who may steal backup snaps away from him should he fail to eventually win out.
FACT: Cam Erving has been progressing in his first year replacing departing center Alex Mack.
OPINION: This is exactly why Erving was drafted. While Mack was an excellent piece along an underrated offensive line, one has to wonder whether his not-so-subtle attempts to leave Cleveland previously might have colored his play a bit. With Erving, the Browns have a talented player eager to prove himself. I wouldn’t expect much of a drop-off.
FACT: The Bengals drafted wideout Tyler Boyd in the second round to offset the loss of Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu.
OPINION: Looks like the Bengals may have hit the jackpot with Boyd, whose early reviews have been particularly glowing. Boyd has the speed and separation ability to do real damage opposite incumbent A.J. Green, who is looking to redeem himself a bit after a noticeably uninspired 2015 season. Between these two and tight end Tyler Eifert, the Bengals will do real damage through the air this year, particularly if…
FACT: Jeremy Hill, last season’s starter at running back, looks to rebound after a poor showing in 2015.
OPINION: Hill appeared shattered after his playoff fumble gave eventual winner Pittsburgh an easy scoring opportunity, and there’s been some question whether he can psychologically recover, let alone tighten up his game physically. Hill was overtaken on the depth chart last season by the multi-talented Giovani Bernard, who may well start this season after receiving a three-year contract extension. Hill has plenty to prove.
FACT: The Bengals promoted longtime assistant Ken Zampese to the offensive coordinator position to replace Hue Jackson.
OPINION: Yes, it’s old news. But it’s significant, because quarterback Andy Dalton has overwhelmingly endorsed the idea and is eager to work with Zampese in essentially the same offensive system the team has retained since Dalton was drafted. Zampese has been with head coach Marvin Lewis since his initial hiring in 2003, ensuring systemic continuity in the face of the many personnel departures the Bengals have had in recent years.
FACT: To clarify yesterday’s flap, running back Le’Veon Bell has earnestly denied that he skipped a mandatory drug test.
OPINION: Given the lack of response from most media outlets, I’d say he’s most likely correct. Bell is an obvious social media target given his previous suspension for marijuana use, so this sort of false report isn’t uncommon. While there’s still a possibility that the league is withholding the results (or lack thereof) while still investigating the matter, it’s unlikely that any wrongdoing occurred on Bell’s part.
FACT: Speaking of Bell, he and LG David DeCastro are entering the final year of their rookie contracts.
OPINION: The notably frugal Steelers have some real decisions and negotiations to undertake, particularly with DeCastro, whose starting salary demands will most likely be above that of G Kelechi Osemele, who signed a five year, $58.5 million deal this offseason. It’s entirely likely, given Bell’s injury history and current financial constraints, that Bell will play out the remainder of his rookie deal in an attempt to establish himself early in next season’s free agent market. Complicating matters is the $15 million due to 30-year old linebacker Lawrence Timmons this year.
FACT: Linebacker Jarvis Jones is on his last chance with the Steelers, who declined his contract option for 2017.
OPINION: Jones has been under the tutelage of linebackers coach Joey Porter, who knows a few things about pass rushing, which is easily Jones’ weakest area. I suspect a season with anything less than eight sacks and 50 tackles will compel the Steelers to part ways with Jones, who might be better suited as a 4-3 defensive end.
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Enjoy the rest of the offseason, folks. Don’t get too lazy.