A PRESEASON LAP AROUND THE AFC NORTH

Street Talk A PRESEASON LAP AROUND THE AFC NORTH

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Cleveland Browns
 
1st Preseason Game – Thursday August 10th at Philadelphia Eagles
 
        Probably the biggest training camp news so far in the AFC North is the season ending injury to Pro Bowl Center LeCharles Bentley, which occurred in the team’s very first 11 on 11 contact drill. Bentley suffered a torn patellar tendon injury and as a result the team will miss his rugged play at Center. Veteran Bob Hallen steps in to fill some mighty big and expensive shoes.
 
       On a brighter note from the injury front, wide receiver Braylon Edwards is recovering from surgery 7 months ago on a torn ACL in his right knee. His goal is to be able to play in the Browns’ season opener on September 10th against the Saints.
 
       Regarding healthy players participating in training camp, fans are excited at what they have seen from rookie running back James Harrison, a player Coach Romeo Crennel says conjures memories of former NY Giant and Towson Tiger David Meggett. Harrison has dazzled fans with his cutting abilities and his quickness to the hole.
 
       About 25,000 fans turned out for the Browns first intra-squad scrimmage only to see the first team offense struggle and fail to score. One drive was capped by a goal line interception of Charlie Frye.
 
       Kellen Winslow returns from his motorcycle accident from May 2005, and is apparently more than just anxious to play in 2006. Acknowledging that he will never be 100%, Winslow stated “I think my 90% is still better than any tight end out there”. Apparently Winslow’s ego has returned to 100%.  Is it just me, or is this guy the most arrogant jerk in the league sans Terrell Owens?
 
 Cincinnati Bengals
 
1st Preseason Game – Sunday August 13th vs. Washington Redskins
 
   The Carson Palmer rehab sounds more and more encouraging for Bengals fans. After taking roughly 40% of the snaps in the first week of training camp, the Bengals star is now taking upwards of 70% of the snaps. Even though he has been ruled out of the preseason opener, it’s encouraging that he is on the mend because….
 
       Anthony Wright is lighting up training camp. It was reported that Wright threw for 323 yards in the first mock game held by the Bengals. And this all occurred without the services of Marcus Robinson. Seriously though, the Bengals receiving corps is tops in the league, and perhaps Wright will be successful as Palmer’s back-up.
 
       Inside linebacker Odell Thurman will miss the first four weeks of the regular season resulting from his suspension by the league for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
 
       Many have wondered how Marvin Lewis has been coping with the rash of off-the-field issues tugging at the team’s chemistry as the 2006 season approaches. His mentor would have been Brian Billick, right? Whoa…. Not so fast. It turns out that Coach Lewis has taken a page from Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino. On the back of this year’s camp tee shirts is the theme borrowed from Coach Pitino’s U of Kentucky championship, “Pyramid of Success” featuring an orange pyramid built out of boxes containing words like “friendship, loyalty, team spirit, and self-control.” Some of the things some players said they lacked after the playoff loss to Pittsburgh.  Maybe they should add another box entitled, “common sense.”  No truth to the rumor that the sponsor for the t-shirts is Johnny’s Bail Bonds.
 
       On the field, fans are raving about the speed and hands of wide receiver Bennie Brazell, the 7th round draft choice from LSU, who snared 5 catches in last week’s intra-squad scrimmage.
 
 Pittsburgh Steelers
 
1st Preseason Game – Saturday August 12th at Arizona Cardinals
 
       It has been reported that 15,000 plus fans showed up to greet the defending World Champs at the first training camp practice and another 20,000 plus attended the first live tackling drill. These numbers dwarf the reported 2,000 plus fans that arrived at Westminster, MD on day 1 of Ravens camp. Could this possibly be true or might the Orioles ticket counter be working OT in Latrobe, PA?
 
       The Steelers motorcycle woes continue, only this time we’re not talking about Big Ben. Twelve year veteran Tackle Barrett Brooks was driving a motorcycle while attempting to elude police officers. Brooks was subsequently arrested for a rash of driving violations.
 
       On the field, running back Willie Parker continues to earn high praise from his Head Coach. While many believe that the Steelers will miss the locker room presence of Jerome Bettis, remember that Parker rushed for 1,202 yards in 2005 including 9 rushes of 20 yards or more. And we haven’t mentioned Duce Staley or Verron Haynes. Talk about running back by committee?
 
       Food for thought: Since 2001, the Steelers have a record of 55-24-1, which is second to the Patriots at 58-22. Yes folks, they are the legitimate favorite to win the AFC North in 2006.
 
       Capable back-up: many question whether Charlie Batch can hold up the offense should Big Ben not be able to go. The 31 year old veteran was 2-0 in 2005 including wins at Green Bay and at home versus the Browns. But just to stay on the safe side, Batch has protected his front lawn in the event the vandals (aka Steeler season ticke holders) decide to “decorate” his lawn the way they did Tommy Maddox’.
 
Baltimore Ravens
 
1st Preseason Game, Friday August 11th v. New York Giants
 
       One area that many fans are focusing on at camp is the emergence of a safety to replace the departed Will Demps. As of training camp on Monday, 8/7 rookie Dawan Landry was working with the first team. Judging from the number of balls caught by TE Chris Cooley in the Ravens / Redskins scrimmage, the team has a lot of work to do to fix this position.
 
       I know that it’s only been one week, but I can’t help this feeling that I’d like to see Steve McNair try some deeper throws. He is extremely accurate on his mid-range throws to Heap and Mason, but where’s the deep ball?
 
       Musa Smith looks like a beast out there. He really looks good hitting the holes with acceleration. Another player who looks good to me is Ronnie Prude at CB. Can he make the team at nickel-back and beat out third round pick David Pittman? It’s probably just me, but I’d love to see WR Travis LaTendresse (undrafted out of U of Utah) continue to progress and make the team. He looks like a natural to me, but he’s probably got a tough climb ahead of him. Those two deep balls that he caught in the scrimmage on Saturday were impressive, and he seemed to get open frequently. Could he be another Brandon Stokely in the making?
 
       National radio talk shows are lamenting the “new” Brian Billick. One complained about the lack of comments made at post practice press conferences. I’m certain that Ravens fans will happily trade in their thesauruses for wins.
 
       Where’s Sean Landeta? Ozzie and Brian should be making the call now. Neither punter in camp has been consistently impressive, but I’m sure that the rookie Koch will get the nod as the Ravens burned a 6th round draft choice on him. For my money, I’d be a lot more comfortable with the forty year old plus Landeta back there.

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About Eric Buckner

Eric Buckner is a native of Baltimore and has lived in the area his entire life. A graduate of Towson University , Eric has been a student of professional football since the day he wept in his grandfather's bedroom after the Baltimore Colts were upset by the New York Jets in Super Bowl III. A loyal fan of the Colts and subsequently the Ravens, Eric's passion for the NFL is unwavering as evidenced by his near flawless attendance record at Ravens' games. He's missed only one preseason game -- back in 2005. We'll cut him some slack since he was on his honeymoon. You won't find Eric slacking when it comes to covering the AFC North for ProFootball24x7.com.   More from Eric Buckner
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