While the Browns are enjoying a little downtime before the beginning of OTAs, it's time to catch up with some of what's been going on around the AFC North...
STEELERS GRAB A PUNTER: Pittsburgh paid plenty for a punter, but at least the Steelers seem to have gotten it right. Unhappy with 37-year-old Chris Gardocki's growing inconsistency and declining average, the Steelers traded away a sixth-round pick to move higher in the fourth round and draft Baylor's Daniel Sepulveda.
He should give them instant success at the position. The left-footed punter averaged 46.5 yards last season and averaged 45.2 in four years at Baylor. That's the best career average of anyone with more than 50 career punts in college. His 94 punts of 50 yards or more also are the most ever. Nearly 40 percent of his 66 punts -- 26 -- were inside the 20.
"With Chris getting up there in age a little bit, we had to start looking for
another young guy," said Kevin Colbert, the Steelers' director of football
operations. "He certainly has the credentials that we were looking for. He's
been one of the leading punters in the nation -- a big, strong, physical guy."
He's big enough to take on the Steelers first draft choice. Sepulveda is 6-2 1/2, 229 pounds. Linebacker Lawrence Timmons is 6-0 1/2, 234. Sepulveda also has been timed at 4.43 in the 40.
He went to Baylor as a walk-on linebacker and picked up punting as a sideline.
The Steelers are waiting to release Gardocki until a back injury that kept him from punting at minicamp heals. Mike Barr is on the preseason roster for a fourth consecutive year, and once looked like Gardocki's heir apparent. They probably will bring him to camp again.
But Sepulveda should be Pittsburgh's punter for a long time. He was their highest draft pick at the position since Craig Colquitt on the third round in 1978. He was a two-time winner of the Ray Guy Award as the nation's best punter, last year and after his sophomore season.
His incredible record of putting the ball inside the 20 is due in part to what's called the Aussie Roll. When close enough to try it, Sepulveda kicks the ball end over end so it bounces back when it hits the field.
"It rolls back to you in the field of play instead of hitting and rolling into the end zone," said Bob Ligashesky, the Steelers' new special teams coach. "He usually does it from the plus-45 and going in."
The one negative is that Sepulveda had right knee surgery a year ago to repair his ACL, torn while he was playing basketball. He had surgery April 27, and kicked in Baylor's first game on Sept. 3.
"My parents were saying no," Sepulveda said. "The doctor said I should
probably wait a couple more weeks. We ended up pulling the trigger and it worked
out for us."
RAVENS DRAFT FOR NEED ON DAY TWO: The Ravens' mantra has always been to pick the best player available on the first day of the draft.
The second day, however, is a different story.
From the fourth round until the end of the draft, the Ravens are addressing need.
Both Thomas and Mughelli left the Ravens during free agency.
"We brought in some quality players as far as character is concerned," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "I think we'll look back on this draft three or four years later, and you're going to be able to look at a bunch of players that are going to be major contributors to a team that was 13-3 and hopefully has positioned itself to go deeper into the playoffs next year."
The 6-foot-1, 240-pound Barnes played defensive end for the Golden Panthers, registering 69 tackles (42 solo) and four sacks last season. Ranking third in Division I football with an average of 1.88 tackles behind the line of scrimmage per game, Barnes also recovered a fumble and returned an interception for a touchdown.
Despite his success as a defensive end in college, Barnes is projected as more of an outside linebacker who can be a situational pass rusher. The 6-3, 235-pound Brown is expected to contribute on special teams and add depth at linebacker.
"For the first time, we felt like on the second day of the draft, some linebackers could be there that we would be interested in," Newsome said. "The draft took on that personality, but it just kind of fit basically what we felt like we needed to upgrade our football team."
McClain, listed at six feet and 257 pounds, is a punishing lead blocker who
started all 13 games last season, compiling 64 yards on 11 carries. He also
emerged as an option in the passing game, catching 20 passes for 175 yards and
scoring three touchdowns.
McClain is expected to challenge incumbent Justin Green for the starting fullback job.
"Fullback obviously was a need for us, and we got the best fullback," said Eric DeCosta, the team's director of college scouting.
"Anytime you can draft the best player at his position in the draft, that's saying something."
The club also added Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith with the final pick of the fifth round (174th overall) and Michigan outside linebacker Prescott Burgess with the 33rd choice of the sixth round (207th).
Last year, the second day of the draft was extremely productive.
Receiver Demetrius Williams, a fourth-round pick, was the team's No. 3 receiver. Safety Dawan Landry, a fifth-round pick, was a starter on the NFL's top-ranked defense. Tight end Quinn Sypniewski, a fifth-round pick, was a dependable blocker in the running game. And punter Sam Koch, a sixth-round pick, exceeded expectations as a rookie.
RAVEN FIRSTS: Auburn guard Ben Grubbs was the first offensive lineman selected by the Ravens in the first round since Jonathan Ogden in 1996... Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith was the first Heisman Trophy winner drafted by the Ravens.
HAPPY HALL: Leon Hall is now in the NFL, and the first-round pick from Michigan is glad the draft process is over.
Other than a couple of glitches, Hall made a successful transition from prospect to pro player this past week. He's fighting a little jet lag, the result of three one-way flights between San Diego and Cincinnati and another one planned for Sunday night.
After the first rookie minicamp practice Friday morning, Hall asked an
equipment manager to tighten the padding inside his helmet.
"It's sliding all over the place," he said. "It was fine (Thursday)."
Getting back on a practice field, where he and 41 other rookies, first-year players and tryout candidates worked out twice Friday, Hall found some comfort. He was no longer a prospect. He wasn't jockeying with Darrelle Revis -- now with the Carolina Panthers -- as the top-rated cornerback in the draft.
The 40-yard dash times, personal interviews, background checks, draft-day drama and cone drills were things of the past, albeit the recent past.
Hall was a football player, replete with helmet and cleats, adorned in his No. 29 practice jersey, learning his new team's defensive scheme and being quizzed on the field by Bengals' defensive coordinator.
"He showed all the little tools that are important, the fundamentals, the footwork, but it's one practice," coordinator Chuck Bresnahan said when asked about Hall's showing.
"We'll see what happens. It's just about eyes and making sure he understands communication. We want to test everyone. We want to make sure they can carry it from the meeting room to individual drills with their individual coaches to a team event. (Hall's) got no problem doing that."
Four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Chad Johnson was out early Friday morning to watch the first rookie minicamp practice.
"I heard he's real good," Johnson said while walking in from practice. "Since he got drafted, I've watched my own tape on him."
Anticipating going against Hall in practice, Johnson said, "It's going to be fun."
Johnson left Hall one of his Chad Johnson football trading cards and a note in the rookie's portable cubicle in the locker room.
"This is the only way you gonna touch me. God bless!" the note read.
STEEL FROM THE SCRAP HEAP: The Steelers did not draft a backup running back they so desperately need. They signed two free agents after the draft, one who looked as if he was going to be one of the best in this draft until problems arose a year ago.
Gary Russell was projected to be among college football's best backs last year until he flunked out of school and then got out of shape. Russell ran for 1,274 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2005 as a backup to Laurence Maroney at Minnesota. He did not play last fall and opted to go into the NFL Draft. He was overweight at the combine and ran a 4.77, so he went undrafted.
He was among 11 undrafted rookies the Steelers added to their roster.