AFC North Roundup: Bengals, Ravens Steelers

This week's AFC North Roundup includes a Bengals player switching positions, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco's three goals for 2015 and who ESPN's beat writers think is the Steelers' most fearsome defensive player.

Former Auburn running back Onterio McCalebb went undrafted in 2013 and was ultimately picked up by the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals’ intention at the time was to convert McCalebb to cornerback, but the experiment didn’t exactly succeed. McCalebb has spent most of his time in Cincinnati on the practice squad and appeared in just one game in 2014, playing only special teams. Now, McCalebb is being moved to yet another position—wide receiver, reports Geoff Hobson of

Bengals wide receivers coach James Urban said, “The transition to corner maybe was not as smooth as we had hoped, but he’s a great kid who can run and it’s obvious he’s natural with the ball in his hands since he’s played offense his whole life. Let’s see what he does at training camp when everybody is starting from square one.” McCalebb rushed 406 times in his career at Auburn, totaling 2,586 yards and six touchdowns, but he also caught 63 passes for 620 yards and three more scores. But it could take him some time to adjust to his new position—Hobson notes that McCalebb “barely knows the playbook and is hardly working in team drills,” and envisions another year for him spent on Cincinnati’s practice squad.

Urban, though, is confident that McCalebb will get more comfortable in time and that the team will find a way to maximize his talents. Urban added, “We love working with him. He’s got dynamic speed and he did some great things with the ball in his hands in college. Let’s give him a shot with the ball in his hands. And he’s been great. Really engaged.” The Bengals aren’t lacking for receiving talent, boasting the likes of A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Denarius Moore. But McCalebb should get as many opportunities as he can to stick in Cincinnati, and switching positions to wide receiver is a big part of that.

Baltimore Ravens: Quarterback Joe Flacco’s Three Goals for 2015

Baltimore Ravens quarterback spoke to Sarah Ellison of the team’s official website this week and he laid out his three goals for the 2015 season: Staying healthy; building and maintaining a strong rapper with new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman; and working on his footwork. That’s it. No stat predictions, no Super Bowl goals—nothing but business, which is something expected out of the eight-year veteran.

Flacco hasn’t missed a game in his career, which he began as the Ravens’ starter from Week 1. But Flacco isn’t taking his good health for granted, saying last month that, “The biggest thing—I’m going into Year 8—is just keeping my body physically healthy and going out there and allowing myself the best chance to be there for my team each week I would say [it’s about] just making sure I’m ready to go and can stay healthy through another season.”

About Trestman, Flacco said, “Working with Marc is going to be a new thing. So just keeping that communication as good as it has been right now [is important].” Trestman is Flacco’s fourth offensive coordinator in as many years but that doesn’t concern him—he said he expects coordinators to come and go as head coaching jobs open up around the league. And the transition from Gary Kubiak a year ago to Trestman now won’t be a difficult one, as the two systems are similar. “to me, [a new coordinator is] less of what [the media] probably make of it. I’m very confident in what we do,” added Flacco.

Finally, there’s the footwork. Flacco is clearly seeking to improve where he can every year. He said, “[I’m] just working on my feet constantly,” the franchise quarterback said. “Trying to make sure I keep them quick and constantly thinking about it and how it’s going to match up in the passing game [will be important]. When I’m in the shotgun, a lot of that changes, so once again, thinking about how that’s going to match up to getting the ball out on time [is important].” For now, Flacco is limiting his 2015 goals to ones he can control.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Who is the Steelers’ Most Feared Defender?

ESPN Pittsburgh Steelers beat writer Jeremy Fowler asked his AFC North colleagues who they believe is the team’s most fearsome defensive player this year. Their answers? Bengals writer Coley Harvey named linebacker James Harrison, writing, “until he finally retires, Harrison will always be the most feared and intimidating player on his team’s defense. Maybe it’s the black visor. I dunno. Maybe it’s the 1,000 pounds he can squat. I dunno. Maybe it’s the five-mile stare he has that cuts through cameras and notepads and the chests of opposing quarterbacks. I dunno. Whatever it is that makes him so respected around the league will keep him that way until his career officially ends.”

Ravens beat writer Jamison Hensley agreed with Harvey and named Harrison his pick, saying, “there is something that happens to Harrison when he plays the Ravens. He somehow turns back the clock to 2004 and wreaks havoc. The numbers tell the whole story. Since 2004, Harrison has 13 sacks against the Ravens. No other player has more than 8.5 against Baltimore over that time. He didn’t do this damage five or six years ago. Harrison recorded two sacks against the Ravens last season in his only game against them. He has always carried a chip on his shoulder because the Ravens cut him before training camp even began.”

Browns writer Pat McManamon took a different approach, naming defensive end Cameron Heyward the Steelers’ most feared defensive player, saying that Harrison is “on the back nine” of his career. McManamon explained his pick thusly: “Yes, he’s an end in a 3-4 scheme, but from that spot he had 7 1/2 sacks and played well enough to be ranked as the sixth-best end in a 3-4 scheme, per Heyward also has been around long enough to understand the Steelers way.” McManamon is right—Heyward was Pro Football Focus’ sixth-ranked 3-4 end for 2014. He was also their fifth-ranked 3-4 end as a pass-rusher. And he’s quickly becoming the team’s best defensive player. But is he scarier than Harrison? Maybe it would be better to ask the Steelers’ AFC North opponents, instead of their beat writers.

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