Around the AFC North

Here's what's happening around the AFC North as the "off-season" heads towards Summer... The Steelers are giddy about a new wide receiver... Marvin Lewis turns up the pressure... And, in Baltimore, they're hoping that they're not facing a problem at a key offensive position.


BaltimoreThe biggest concern this offseason for the Ravens has been the health of their tight ends.

Todd Heap is coming off a season in which he was limited with a hamstring injury. Quinn Sypniewski is out for the season after suffering a freak knee injury at an organized team activity. Daniel Wilcox is still recovering from toe surgery. And undrafted rookie Scott Kuhn, who played at Louisville, broke his thumb at a minicamp.

These injuries have caused the Ravens to scramble, moving former Florida State quarterback Xavier Lee and second-year linebacker Edgar Jones to tight end in recent minicamp sessions.

Asked how concerned he is about the lack of healthy tight ends, Ravens coach John Harbaugh said, "We're concerned about every position, but when you've got guys who are hurt right now and can't practice, it becomes a bigger concern."

The Ravens have also practiced recently without Lee Vickers, a second-year tight end who was brought in last year when Heap and Wilcox went down with injuries.

The lack of depth has led to an opportunity for Reitz, who played basketball at Western Michigan and is trying to follow another former Mid-American Conference player, Antonio Gates, to the NFL.

"He's very, very athletic. He's more athletic than I am," said Reitz, who hasn't played football since his high school days outside Indianapolis. "Going from the hardwood and playing tight end, he definitely opened the door."

Because of his size (6-7, 256), there has been talk of turning Reitz into an offensive tackle as well by putting him on the practice squad and seeing if he can gain 50 pounds or more.

"That's probably a couple of years before I gain that weight and strength to be a tackle," said Reitz, who had a chance to play professional basketball in Europe.

That Lee might be converted into a tight end is a bit ironic, considering that one of the reasons he left Florida State after his junior year was that the Seminoles were thinking of converting him into a tight end.

"Xavier has a chance to be a quarterback, but you look at that body, he can play a lot of things," Harbaugh said of Lee. "We just want to look at him and see what we've got. Plus we need help at tight end."

Lee did look the part, particularly catching the ball.

"It felt natural," Lee said. "If I work hard at it, it will be all right."

Heap doesn't seem that concerned about the lack of proven backups right now.

"Everyone's going to be getting healthy, everybody's rehabbing right now," Heap said. "Obviously it's an issue right now because of the depth, but I have a good feeling that guys will be ready to go."

If none of the young tight ends pan out, the Ravens could look to add a veteran toward the end of training camp. The Ravens could pick up a more experienced tight end when teams make their final cuts.



Marvin Lewis heightened the sense of urgency this week when he delivered his latest message shirt to his Bengals players.

Orange T-shirts hung in the cubicles of many Bengals players that ring the team's locker room at Paul Brown Stadium on Wednesday. The Bengals tiger-head logo emblazoned a breast pocket on the front. On the back, in white, block letters, all capitalized, read the word NOW.

Lewis had in previous seasons presented his players with "One Heartbeat" and "Do Your Job" shirts. After two disappointing seasons in a row and a composite 15-17 record -- on the heels of the division-winning 11-5 2005 season -- Lewis is trying to create a sense of urgency among his players. In other words, the time is now.

But now, apparently, was not the time Lewis wants to discuss the latest shirt.

"No reason for me to elaborate on that -- right now," Lewis said Wednesday after the Bengals completed their fifth of 12 offseason practices.

But some of his players did talk about their coach's message. They came in for practice on Tuesday and found the shirts hanging in their lockers, with the word NOW facing out. Then Lewis wore his workout shirt into a team meeting.

"Coach said, 'It's about what's on my back,'" second-year safety Chinedum Ndukwe said.

The Bengals finished 7-9 in 2007 after a 2-6 start.

"I don't think we can have another year like last year," said Ndukwe, working with the first-team defense after a strong rookie season. "As players and coaches, we have to start taking care of business. That's the bottom line. Things need to start happening today -- not tomorrow -- every play, (and) not wait for the next play."

In that meeting, Lewis mentioned the S word ... as in Super Bowl.

"He said we have enough talent in the room -- and he said right now -- to win the Super Bowl," quarterback Carson Palmer said. ""But don't wait for things to happen. Don't think that we'll be a good team in years to come. Don't think that there's a Super Bowl in our future and you can take your time and be lackadaisical about it. You need to be aggressive. You need to want it. You need to be hungry for it. And now's the time."


PittsburghAmong the bright spots at the Steelers OTAs, which resumed the past Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, has been rookie wide receiver Limas Sweed.

The Steelers have placed him behind Santonio Holmes at split end and are happy with how he's picked things up. If things go as scheduled, he will compete with Nate Washington as the team's No. 3 wideout. Washington plays in the slot but if they deem Sweed the better of the two, they would move Holmes around when they go to their three-receiver set.

Holmes, who led the NFL with an 18.1-yard average last season, is enthusiastic about the addition of the 6-4 rookie.

"We can get somebody that's as physical as he is to come in and bring a different threat to the program," Holmes said. "Being a big guy and very explosive, it's gong to help us a whole lot.

"If I can stretch the field, we can have Hines in the middle and we have another guy who can also work the middle with Hines and take hits and be physical in the middle. It'll help us with the tight ends and all."

Coordinator Bruce Arians has experimented with moving his top four receivers to different spots this spring. They include starter Hines Ward, who can play every position.

"We can move Santonio around, which we started doing a lot last year because he plays in the slot very well," Arians said. "Limas can play in the slot, no problem. Hines can obviously play everywhere. Nate can play everywhere -- he's had to play every position on the team the last two years."

The Steelers now have depth at a position in which they were getting thin and they have three deep threats to go with the dependable Ward as their prime possession man and red zone threat.

"We're fortunate to have guys who can take the top end off our coverage," said Arians, "and they're tough enough to go over the middle."

Even Washington, who could find fewer chances coming his way with Sweed in the lineup, was encouraged by his addition.

"If we're in game at the same time, they can't just double me going deep, because Limas will be back there somewhere. If there's a bailout situation, you can just throw it up to him."

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