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AFC North Roundup: Steelers Sign Vick, More

In this week's AFC North Roundup, the Pittsburgh Steelers sign quarterback Michael Vick to replace the injured Bruce Gradkowski, the Baltimore Ravens search for deep passing targets with Breshad Perriman hurt and the Cincinnati Bengals make A.J. McCarron their official No. 2 quarterback.

Pittsburgh Steelers backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski missed the majority of the team’s training camp while nursing an injured throwing shoulder. And in his first game back, the team’s third preseason contest against the Green Bay Packers, he re-injured the shoulder as well as suffered a finger injury that has landed him on injured reserve. After a workout on Tuesday, the Steelers then signed veteran free agent quarterback Michael Vick to replace Gradkowski.

This year will be Vick’s 13th in the NFL. He was a first-overall pick of the Atlanta Falcons in the 2001 draft, where he spent six seasons. He then spent 2009 through 2013 with the Philadelphia Eagles before joining the New York Jets in 2014, where he started three games and appeared in 10 contests. In his career, he’s completed 56.1 percent of his passes, and thrown 131 touchdowns to 87 interceptions. He also has over 6,000 career rushing yards and 36 rushing touchdowns, including nine rushing scores for the Eagles in 2010. He’s reached the Pro Bowl four times and was named the Associated Press’ 2010 Comeback Player of the Year. 

Vick will serve as the primary backup for Steelers starter Ben Roethlisberger and will sit ahead of Landry Jones on the quarterback depth chart. The Steelers are likely hoping that Vick will take his backup job more seriously than he did with the Jets last season, when Vick admitted to a lack of preparedness to take the field against the San Diego Chargers. Though Roethlisberger has completed a full, 16-game season for two straight years, his history of injuries indicate there’s a chance Vick could be forced onto the field at some point this year. 

Gradkowski’s injury isn’t the only one affecting the Steelers presently. Starting center and four-time Pro Bowler Maurkice Pouncey also suffered an ankle injury against the Packers that will require surgery. As a result, the Steelers will have to turn to Cody Wallace and the recently-signed Doug Legursky to handle center duties. Wallace has been taking first-team reps at center on occasion this summer, while Legursky spent 2009 through 2012 with the Steelers and had been their starter in the pre-Pouncey era. 

Baltimore Ravens: Downfield Passing a Concern?

The Baltimore Ravens have been without rookie wideout Breshad Perriman for nearly four weeks while he continues to heal a knee injury. And without him, it appears that the Ravens are lacking for speedy deep-passing targets. But offensive coordinator Marc Trestman doesn’t see it that way. Trestman, via Jon Meoli of The Baltimore Sun, said “We have enough speed to get down-field. It’s [about] how we do it and how we scheme it and approach it. Our guys are fast enough.”

The Ravens added Perriman to be a replacement for quarterback Joe Flacco’s former preferred deal threat, Torrey Smith. Flacco’s passing game requires someone to get deep—last year, Flacco attempted 56 passes of 20 or more yards, with 21 completions for 663 yards, 11 touchdowns and two interceptions, according to Pro Football Focus. But Trestman doesn’t see Perriman as the only deep option in the passing game. The Ravens also have Steve Smith, Kamar Aiken, Michael Campanaro and Marlon Moore, four receivers capable of making big plays. Trestman just has to game-plan around them differently.

Trestman explained: “We went on the edge and practiced and made some plays on the edge. [If] you went on the deep ball in the National Football League, you don’t have to go by your guy to beat him. The guy can be on top of you, and you can back-shoulder throw. That’s a vertical throw, too, and we [had] a bunch of that in the games, in the practices anyways. We got one by Marlon [Brown] in the game.”

Still, Trestman concedes that having Perriman back will be a significant help to the team, adding, “I think when you talk about Breshad, you’re talking about another click in speed there.” But when the Ravens will have that “click” is unknown. Given that he’s a rookie who has missed all but half a day of training camp means that even if he is healthy by Week 1, he may not be ready to play. The Ravens may have to wait far longer than they had hoped to finally get their prized receiver on the field.

Cincinnati Bengals: A.J. McCarron Now Firmly Andy Dalton’s Backup

The Cinncinnati Bengals have solidified second-year player A.J. McCarron as the primary backup to starting quarterback Andy Dalton, by releasing veteran passer Josh Johnson on Tuesday. Johnson had been serving as the No. 2 while McCarron nursed bruising in his ribcage. But now that McCarron is healthy and can play—he led the Bengals on their only touchdown drive in the team’s preseason loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday night—Johnson’s services are no longer needed.

The move was not unexpected; McCarron has been penciled in as the No. 2 behind Dalton all summer, but the rib injury meant the Bengals needed another arm for training camp and the preseason. The Bengals also have another quarterback on the roster, Keith Wenning but he’s headed for a practice squad berth at best. 

Johnson’s release puts the Bengals roster at 87 players of a maximum 90. However, roster cuts are approaching—teams must reduce their rosters to 75 players on September 1 and 53 on September 5.  So, this paring down is being done in anticipation of the looming deadlines. There is a chance—though slim at this time—that McCarron could succeed Dalton in 2016, should the Bengals exercise their opt-out in Dalton’s contract during the offseason. 

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