AFC North Hot News Digest

Out with the old-and-busted, in with the new hotness. Such is the sad yearly purge of veterans and the excitement of the NFL draft. Here is some hot newsness to go along with it - a recap of some of the recent Hot News stories from around the AFC North.

Matt Stover Happy with new turf

The Ravens, who have had a problem with the grass surface at Ravens Stadium, will install Momentum Turf System at the stadium and their pending indoor practice facility. Momentum, produced by Canadian company Sportexe, is made from a mixture of sand and granular rubber, with the 2½-inch "grass" comprised of polyethylene fibers, giving the surface a soft, natural feel. At a press conference on Thursday to announce the new turf, team president David Modell joked the new surface should be called "Stover Turf Systems," in recognition of the Ravens veteran place-kicker, a sort of honorary complainer about the field conditions of Ravens Stadium, which usually deteriorated late in the season. For his part, Stover, who was present at the press conference, is happy with the new surface. "Through my time at Ravens Stadium, there's no question that the turf has been very inconsistent," Stover said. "For a kicker, it's like a golfer. You like to have a nice playing surface all the time. This brings that consistency that not only I look for, but all the players, sideline to sideline."

Jordan Gross Could he be the Ravens choice at 10?

The Baltimore Ravens enter this weekend's draft with their eye on defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy, and quarterbacks Byron Leftwich and Kyle Boller. However, it's unlikely that either Leftwich or Kennedy will still be around at 10 when they select, and it's believed the Ravens feel Boller would be too much of a stretch at that spot. The Ravens will look to trade from the 10th slot to acquire the chance to nab one of those aforementioned players. But, if they are unable to make a deal and Leftwich and Kennedy are gone, there's a good chance that Utah offensive tackle Jordan Gross will be the best player left on the board for them to take. The Ravens have a greater need at defensive tackle and quarterback, but a long term soulution for right tackle is also needed, although Gross, a good athlete without a much power or base, is probably better suited to play on the left side. The other most likely player who could be available for the Ravens to pick at 10 is Washington State cornerback Marcus Trufant, although the Ravens are in solid shape in the secondary.

Jamir Miller Ravens still have offer on table, for now

The Ravens still haven't pulled their offer to free agent linebacker Jamir Miller, but they did admit on Tuesday that the offer is no gurantee to be still be available after this weekend's NFL draft. Miller, appears to be sitting on two offers, one from the Ravens and one from his former team, the Browns. His indecision has caused the Browns to become more and more frustrated and reports out of Cleveland suggest that they could reduce or withdraw their proposal. If the Ravens don't sign Miller before the draft, it's likely they would look for a pass rushing linebacker in the 2nd or 3rd round, such as Cincinnati's Antwan Peek or California's Tully Banta-Cain.

Adalius Thomas Deadline passes without any offer sheets

The deadline for restricted free agents to sign offer sheets from other teams came and went last Friday, with the Ravens failing to sign any players to an offer sheet. Nor, did any of the seven Raven restricted free agents sign a offer sheet from any other team. The one player who had been rumored to have some interest from around the league, was defensive end Adalius Thomas. The 6'2 270 pound Thomas, an odd fit for the Ravens 3-4 defense because of his lack of bulk, nevertheless found a niche for himself last year starting 12 games at defensive end and recording 39 tackles, 7 passes defended, 2 interceptions and 1 forced fumble.

Antonio Gates Bidding war to break out?
According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer: "Already it looks as if a potential bidding war (for Gates) is brewing between the San Diego Chargers, Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns".

As reported first on Bernie's Insiders, the Browns and Chargers were among the teams watching Gates' workout at Kent State last week, and it appears that a number of teams have a genuine interest in pursuing Gates if he is not drafted this weekend.

Jamir Miller Browns patience wearing thin

As LB Jamir Miller continues to weigh offers from Baltimore and Cleveland, the Browns reportedly want a decision before the draft. They have offered a one-year deal believed to be worth $650,000 with a $1 million signing bonus, but Miller appears in no hurry to make a decision.

Tim Couch Team Slaps Away 6/1 Rumors
Don't count on seeing Tim Couch in a Baltimore Ravens uniform any time soon.

While the Ravens and several other NFL teams are reportedly expecting the Cleveand Browns to release Couch June 1, Butch Davis scoffed at the idea Monday afternoon.

"That I can say won't happen," Davis said.

The coach also claimed the chance of a trade involving Couch or Keven Johnson, who is annually the subject of trade rumors, on or before the NFL Draft is highly unlikely. The Browns appear to be intent on the idea of having Couch and Kelly Holcomb compete for the starting quarterback job.

"I think those guys have a lot more value to help us win and get us closer to the Super Bowl than maybe they do anybody else in this league," said Davis. "There would be huge reluctance on my part (to trade Couch or Johnson), but I've learned that you never say never. On draft day there's hardly ever player for player trades or player for picks trades."

Hank Poteat Returns with one-year deal

CB Hank Poteat has accepted a one-year, $605,000 contract offer.

Tommy Maddox Contract could become an issue soon

Quarterback Tommy Maddox was supposed to meet the past week with Steelers President Dan Rooney to talk about getting more money this season, but the meeting never came off for one reason and another. When it does, it should be a doozy. Rooney would like to give Maddox a boost in pay so he can avoid the embarrassment of making less money than his backup, Charlie Batch. Maddox will earn a $650,000 salary this season, plus $75,000 in workout/roster bonuses. Batch signed a two-year contract last month that pays him $1 million this year and $1 million next year. Although his $1 million in 2003 includes a $470,000 signing bonus, he still will earn more money than Maddox. Maddox actually could rank No. 3 among quarterbacks in pay this year if the Steelers draft one in the top three rounds on Saturday. He signed a five-year contract last June when he was a backup to Kordell Stewart, and received a $500,000 bonus to do so. Maddox was thrilled with the deal at the time. After all, the Steelers were the only team willing to give him a chance in 2001 after he earned the MVP of the defunct XFL. "When they came and said they'd like to extend my contract," Maddox said, "and looking back to where I was not even a year ago but 2 1/2 years ago, the only thing that would be better is the Kurt Warner story because he started a Super Bowl and won." His perspective has changed after putting in one good season as their starting quarterback. First off, the $650,000 salary for a starter is embarrassingly low, and add to it the insult of being the second and possibly third quarterback at the payroll window really hurts the ego. Now, take a look at it from the Steelers point of view: Maddox had done virtually nothing in the league since he was Denver's No. 1 pick in 1992, and did not play at all for five years in the NFL. Then he went out last season and did a nice job. But what if he cannot repeat that? What if he is injury prone? What if, after studying him in the offseason, defensive coordinators find weaknesses in his play that they exploit in 2003? The Steelers were twice burned giving contact extensions to quarterbacks in the 1990s. They did it for Jim Miller before he ever became their starter, and then he was demoted at halftime of his first start. And they did it with Kordell Stewart when he still had two years left on his contract in 1999. There is one way around this, and Rooney seems willing to do it. Maddox earned more than $400,000 in incentive bonuses last season. They could convert those to salary in 2003. That would put his pay above $1 million, more than Batch. The big stumbling block to that is Maddox and his agent Vann McElroy probably won't think that is enough. They want a bigger boost than that. Coach Bill Cowher is the one who is most leery of giving Maddox more money. He wants to see him do it for one more season first. After all, they have Batch and they believe he could become their starter if Maddox falters. And Maddox is under contract already through the 2006 season. Where's he going to go? Maddox won't hold out, he's much smarter than that. He may pout a little bit, but that won't stop him from performing. Anyway, if his performance slips, they won't hesitate to go to Batch. That puts Maddox in a corner. The one person he has on his side, though, is Rooney. He's long been known for doing the right thing with his players - before the advent of the salary cap, he would award them performance bonuses even if they had not quite reached them. Rooney wants to give Maddox more money, he just cannot give him as much as he wants. If Maddox is smart, he'll take the extra money with the promise that if he turns in another good season, he'll get a healthier boost in 2004.

Travis Dorsch Putting pressure on Harris

The position of punter could be one of the most closely contested on the team. Incumbent Nick Harris will have to hold off a challenge by second-year player Travis Dorsch. Dorsch has been finishing his degree at Purdue but attended the weekend camp. "Darrin hasn't had the chance to work with (Dorsch) one on one, where he's been working with Nick just about every day," Lewis said. "But Travis did a nice job (Saturday) punting the football." Dorsch, who split time between punter and kicker as a rookie, is exclusively a punter now.

Carson Palmer Bengals trying to work pre-draft contract

The Bengals continue to simultaneously negotiate a potential pre-draft contract with quarterback Carson Palmer and Byron Leftwich and cornerback Terence Newman. Palmer and Newman are the team's top two priorities, while it's believed Leftwich is their third option. Palmer is the favorite to end up with the Bengals, but any one of the three could hear their name called first by Commissioner Paul Tagliabue on April 26. The Bengals are expected to offer competitive base salaries and signing bonuses but are not doing "gimme" incentives and triggers. Palmer and Newman both visited Saturday and Sunday, when they watched two practices during minicamp. Leftwich visited April 8.

Brian Simmons Getting familiar with new crew

Last friday's minicamp practices were an NFL first for linebacker Brian Simmons. They were his first without his former teammate, fellow first-round 1998 draft pick and close friend Takeo Spikes. Spikes last month signed a free agent contract with the Buffalo Bills, an offer sheet the Bengals chose not to match. Simmons, a good friend off the field with Spikes, downplayed Spikes' departure. "Once you get out there, that's the guy you're going to sweat with, cry with, bleed with," said Simmons, has moved outside to make room for middle linebacker Kevin Hardy. "That's where your focus has to be. You can't worry about who used to be there."

Travis Dorsch Attempting switch to punter

Second-year punter-kicker Travis Dorsch is no longer a kicker. Dorsch, the team's fourth-round draft pick in 2002, spent last season switching between punter and kicker and saw action only as a punter in Game 13 at Carolina. He also held for kicker Neil Rackers. "I didn't have any direction," Dorsch said of his rookie season. "From week to week, it was like those guys were telling me something different, based on what those guys were doing on the field. Now I have some direction." Dorsch said he spent 30 minutes during the morning practice working on holding with special teams coach Darrin Simmons. "No one ever told me how to hold," Dorsch said. "They just told me to hold. I'm still basically a rookie and I have a lot to learn." Nick Harris is the incumbent punter and holder.

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