AFCN Roundup: Frustration in Bengaltown

There's an unhappy offensive tackle, a happy quarterback, and questions in Pittsburgh...

AFC NORTH ROUNDUP: Cincinnati Bengals OT Andrew Whitworth Frustrated by Lack of New Contract, More

Cincinnati Bengals starting left tackle Andrew Whitworth was candid with the media on Monday about getting a new contract with his long-time team—or rather, about not getting one. The 2006 second-round pick is entering his 10th year with the Bengals and is coming off of being named a Second-Team All Pro in 2014. He was also Pro Football Focus’ (subscription required) third-ranked tackle, allowing zero sacks, one quarterback hit and eight hurries while starting all 16 games. His current contract expires after the 2015 season.

Speaking after the Bengals’ offseason workouts, Whitworth, via ESPN’s Coley Harvey, said, “[When the team says] we’d like you to be the leader of our football team, but we’d also like the best situation possible for us to talk to you when we want to, that’s a one-way street and not really top-of-the-line in customer service. But it is what it is. Hopefully one day that conversation will be had and I’ll be here.”

Despite being one of the Bengals’ most important fixtures on the offense and a leader in the locker room, Whitworth turns 34 this year. And the team used its first two draft picks this year on offensive tackles, first selecting Cedric Ogbuehi in Round 1 and Jake Fisher in Round 2. Whitworth isn’t the only Bengals tackle in his final contract year—right tackle Andre Smith is also set to hit free agency next year if he doesn’t also get a new deal.

Whitworth’s frustration stems not just from his desire to remain with the Bengals to close out his career but also because of what he believes he has meant to the team over the last 10 years. He said, “I want to be above and beyond and do more than the average guy in this locker room. But it’s hard to do that when the feeling’s not reciprocated. Really, it’s just a one-way street."

For what it’s worth, Whitworth is not deterred by the Bengals’ draft choices. He is, however, a bit upset that the team did not discuss with him the possibility of taking tackles early, saying, “I wish that there had been [conversations with myself and the Bengals about drafting tackles], but I’m a big boy, I can handle it,” adding, “At the end of the day, they did what they felt was best for the franchise.”

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Whitworth won’t have to worry about losing his job or his locker room standing in 2015. Next year is a different story. If the Bengals and Whitworth don’t come to an agreement this offseason, it could be likely that the team will move on from him and turn to their 2015 rookies, who are considerably less expensive. Until that time, Whitworth will remain as dedicated to his team as ever. As he said on Monday, “This is my football team, I’m the captain of it. I’ve been the leader of it for a long time and don’t plan on letting that change.”

Baltimore Ravens: QB Joe Flacco “Really Excited” About Team’s Offensive Draft Haul

The 2015 offseason has been a rough one for the Baltimore Ravens’ offense. The team lost wide receiver Torrey Smith, receiver/returner Jacoby Jones and tight end Owen Daniels in free agency, while the health and playing status of tight end Dennis Pitta is still uncertain. But the Ravens were well aware of these roster deficiencies and put forth a concerted effort to fill them via the NFL draft.

In Round 1, the Ravens took speedy wideout Breshad Perriman and followed that up with the selection of tight end Maxx Williams in Round 2. Now, the Ravens have a tall, fast replacement for Smith and his ability to secure the deep ball (and accrue defensive pass interference penalties) while Williams provides another receiving outlet for quarterback Joe Flacco.

Flacco quickly took notice of the Ravens’ choices, with head coach John Harbaugh telling Garrett Downing of the team’s official website that Flacco “was fired up” upon hearing the news the team took two playmakers to help him move the chains. Harbaugh continued, “He was really excited when he found out who we got, and with both picks, he realizes that he has some guys that he can throw to.”

Offensive coordinator Marc Trestman also chimed in, saying “Joe likes tight ends. He likes to have a big-bodied guy in the middle of the field.” Williams is certainly big-bodied, at 6’4” and 254 pounds. Though quite raw, having played just two seasons for Minnesota, he totaled 986 yards on his 61 catches and had 13 touchdowns in that two-year span.

Flacco isn’t the only person excited for what the Ravens offense may accomplish this year. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr., in speaking on a post-draft conference call, said that he believes Perriman will “be better than Torrey Smith,” and that Williams “could be NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year,” adding, ”He could be everything that Dennis Pitta was when he was healthy.”

For the Ravens’ offense, it’s possible that the more things change this year, the more they actually stay the same.

Pittsburgh Steelers: A Young Defensive Line Means a Lot of Questions in 2015

Longtime Pittsburgh Steelers defensive line coach John Mitchell told Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Tuesday that he was extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to coach some of the best defensive linemen of their era, saying “How often do you get a Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel, and Aaron Smith who play for you for 10 or more years? I was spoiled,” adding, “How many teams can you write about that had three guys that played that well for that long of a period of time year in and year out? It made my job easy.”

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But that era has come to a close. None of the three players remain in Pittsburgh and now the Steelers will be featuring a completely new-look defensive line in 2015. Last year, Keisel was the only member of that trio to suit up for the team. With Keisel gone, the Steelers now have to look to some of their younger players to help fill those voids.

Cameron Hayward, who started all 16 games for the Steelers last year at both right and left defensive ends, will remain a starter. He will likely be joined by second-year end Stephon Tuitt, who played only 405 snaps as a rookie, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Another second-year player, Daniel McCullers, could split time with incumbent nose tackle Steve McLendon and it’s possible that Clifton Geathers and Cam Thomas could each see some time at defensive end in a rotational scheme. Sixth-Round 2015 draft pick Leterrius Walton could also get work at both tackle and end, granted he makes the team’s 53-man roster later this summer.

Mitchell’s goal is not to get his line in shape in order to help the defense rack up sacks, but rather to have them well-prepared to stop the run. As Mitchell said to Bouchette, “A lot of times guys say that you need sacks and all of that but I’m not a big sack guy for this reason: If you don’t stop the run in the National Football League, you aren’t going to have the chance to get sacks.” He continued: “Good football teams are physical and play well at the point and stop the run. That’s what I tell my guys. When we stop the run, we’ve got enough in our arsenal to put pressure on the quarterback.”

The Steelers ranked 26th in the league last year in sack total, with 33. Though they ranked sixth in the league in defending the run, the 100.3 rushing yards per game allowed is a misleading number. Opponents only ran the ball against them on 39.30 percent of their total offensive plays in 2014, preferring instead to pass against Pittsburgh’s porous secondary. Ultimately, the Steelers did struggle against the run, as indicated by the 4.4 yards per rush they were allowing, which was among the worst eight teams in the league.

Now, that defense is getting even younger. Whether or not the Steelers’ defensive line will be capable of improving its performance against the run is yet to be seen, but one thing is known: The Steelers cannot expect Keisel, Smith or Hampton to walk through that door magically 10 years younger. They will have to work with what they’ve got, for better or for worse.

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