Around the AFC North

Catching up with the Browns AFC North rivals as the Summer wears on. In Baltimore, they're hoping to replace Jon Ogden (heh). In Cincinnati, they're hoping that Chad Johnson is well-behaved (heh). And in Pittsburgh... ugh... best not to talk about Pittsburgh unless one has to...

BALTIMORE RAVENS

BaltimoreJared Gaither, a second-year player out of Maryland, will have the first shot to replace retired left tackle Jonathan Ogden.

Gaither, who was selected in the fifth round of last year's supplemental draft, started two games at left tackle as a rookie. He has the size of Ogden at 6-9, 350 pounds, but it's unknown whether he has the same commitment.

At his farewell news conference, Ogden offered some advice to Gaither.

"I will tell him, 'Don't try to be me; be Jared,' " Ogden said. "And hopefully Jared will be as good, if not better, one day. And doing the best you can will generally be enough. You don't need that extra pressure."

This could be the biggest adjustment for the Ravens this season.

In 11 seasons as the Ravens' left tackle, Ogden went to 11 Pro Bowls and started 160 games.

Gaither, 22, a second-year player out of Maryland, has two career starts.

"Jared Gaither has jumped into left tackle," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He's young. He's not J.O. by any stretch, but he's had a chance to watch J.O. for a year and he's got some of the same kind of skill set that J.O. has. He's got a long way to go to become a great offensive tackle in this league, but we're really pleased with his progress."

The Ravens thought they were close to having Ogden, 33, back a few months ago.

He visited team headquarters in mid-March, sitting in on an offensive meeting with coordinator Cam Cameron and watching a practice.

"There was a glimmer in his eye," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "I think there was a feeling ... that with these changes, J.O. might come back and finish this journey with us. But that euphoria left when he left here."

About a month ago, Newsome called Ogden and asked him for a final decision.

Ogden paused and said, "I'm done."

His hyperextended toe had failed to fully heal, which meant Ogden wouldn't be able to play at his Pro Bowl level.

He wanted to hold off an official announcement until after the Ravens' final full-team minicamp to avoid being a distraction.

"Could I still have gone out there and played? Yes, and I probably could have done an adequate job," Ogden said. "But, in my mind, I wouldn't be helping the team as much as I needed to."

Ravens defensive lineman Trevor Pryce remembered his only game against Ogden, playing him as a member of the Denver Broncos in 2005 just one season removed from having an injured back.

Said Pryce: "I tried to throw him off. ... In the middle of the play, he said: 'You can't do that. Your back's hurt. Are you all right?'"

Pryce then added, "In my 11 years of playing, he is by far the best I've ever played against."

Newsome agreed with that assessment.

"I've had the opportunity to be in this league for over 30 years, but in my opinion, there is not a player that played his position as well as Jonathan Ogden played his position," Newsome said.

A perfectionist throughout his career, Ogden didn't want to tarnish his reputation with a less-than-stellar season.

"(Offensive linemen) don't have stats like every other position," Ogden said. "So, it's more about how much people respect you."


CINCINNATI BENGALS

CincinnatiA peace, at least a temporary one, was struck during minicamp between disgruntled wide receiver Chad Johnson and the Bengals.

With agent Drew Rosenhaus in town for the first day of mandatory camp June 12, he and Johnson met and discussed strategy. What emerged were decisions for Johnson to report to training camp July 27 and to undergo arthroscopic surgery on his right ankle. It was done June 18, and the Bengals said in a release that it went well.

Getting Johnson in line with his teammates and coaches can only help the Bengals. Despite some inconsistency, Johnson's presence on the field makes T.J. Houshmandzadeh better. It helps the run game, a renewed emphasis in 2008 with the returns to good health so far of tailbacks Rudi Johnson and Chris Perry and offensive linemen Levi Jones and Willie Anderson.

Still, if Johnson's attitude can stay positive, he will add an energy to the locker room.

"He came out and worked the last two days, and I think it's been good for him to get back into the flow of things," Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said.

As each of the five practices were held, Johnson seemed to relax and enjoy himself more, and he did more on the field, in spite of the ankle situation.

He trash-talked a radio reporter on the sideline during the morning practice Friday, June 13. Johnson wanted $20 for every photo the reporter snapped for a blog. Later, in the open locker-room period, Johnson talked off-the-record with Cincinnati-based reporters. He has not spoken on the record to them since October.

He even slapped another reporter on the hip as he walked past.

Johnson did say this: "I was in a good mood yesterday. I'm happy. I don't have (anything) to be mad about."

Many Bengals teammates embraced Johnson's presence and lifted spirit.

"We have to go out and get better and win more football games," said tailback Rudi Johnson, drafted, along with Chad Johnson, in 2001.

Asked if Chad Johnson's unhappiness would detract from the team's effort to win, Rudi Johnson said, "It's not going to distract me. As me being one of the leaders of the team, I can't let it distract us. ... We definitely need him. Marvin and (the team) said what they said. We need him. He is a big part of what we do and the success we've had."

Chad Johnson would face fines of more than $14,000 a day if he would miss training camp. Johnson is due to make a $3 million base salary in 2008.

BENGALS NOTES

--No NFL coach would ever day his team's minicamp was not a success, Marvin Lewis included. The end of minicamp closed the 12-week offseason program for veteran players, Lewis said. Rookies can be around for another two weeks, until the end of June, before attending the NFL Rookie Symposium. Lewis did not anticipate that there would be problems signing any of the team's 10 draft picks, including first-round linebacker Keith Rivers, who is expected to start at one of the two outside positions.

--The Bengals will next get on a practice field July 28 for training camp at Georgetown College near Lexington. Reporting day is July 27, a Sunday. The preseason opener is Monday night, Aug. 11, at Green Bay.

--Starting right guard Bobbie Williams worked as a backup center in team drills because, offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski said, he was not happy with the camp performances of backup centers Dan Santucci and Kyle Cook.

"The other two centers have had exchange problems; the ball has been on the ground. We can't do that," Bratkowski said. "We're getting Bobbie ready in the event he has to be the backup center."

Eric Ghiaciuc is the starter. Williams said he remembered how former starting left guard Eric Steinbach, now with the Browns, could play tackle and center.

"No, I haven't," Williams said when asked if he had ever played center previously. "But the more you can do -- that's what I say. If it ever came down to it, I'd rather be prepared and go out there and knowing everything going on. It's just getting the ball to the quarterback is the biggest thing."

With Williams playing center, starting right tackle Stacy Andrews moved to right guard. Thirteenth-year lineman Willie Anderson, attempting a return from knee and heel injuries but currently working behind Andrews, took back his familiar position at right tackle. Bratkowski and head coach Marvin Lewis stressed Williams would only potentially be a backup center.


PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Larry Foote is doing his best to hold onto his job at inside linebacker, where he's started the past four seasons. Reality, though, is staring him in the back because Lawrence Timmons is breathing down his neck.

Timmons, the team's first-round draft choice in 2007 and Mike Tomlin's first as a head coach, is trying to take Foote's job from him and Foote believes he will.

"I don't think it's competition," Foote said rather candidly. "I really think it's just a matter of time until they throw him in there, just because of the politics of the game -- and it looks like he can play."

Timmons played mostly on special teams last season and managed only a few snaps on defense. His athletic ability, his quickness and speed are obvious. As long as he picks up the defense, he should have no trouble playing in it.

Tomlin has been excited ever since Timmons was drafted 15th in 2007 and remains so. He believes he can have an impact on his defense. Timmons missed virtually all of his first spring with the Steelers last year because of a hamstring injury. He has missed no time this spring.

"He's healthy, for one," Farrior said. "And I think this offseason gave him some time to reflect and look back on the defense and try to really understand it. I think he's coming along just fine."

Foote has been solid as the mack inside linebacker, starting all 64 games the past four years. He led Pittsburgh with 123 tackles in 2005, even though he does not play on passing downs. Timmons has the kind of ability that he may eventually move to the buck linebacker spot that Farrior plays so well, but Farrior is 33 and in the final year of his contract.

"My time might be winding down at that position," Foote said. "It's just a matter of when the coaches throw him in there. "My whole career has been up and down. I've been in this spot before. You can't worry about that stuff. When they feel like he's ready, I'm quite sure he's going to be in there."

Only one of Pittsburgh's first-round draft choices did not become a regular starter by at least his second season since Bill Cowher became their coach in 1992. Offensive tackle Jamain Stephens did not become a regular until his third - and last - season with the Steelers in 1998.

STEELERS NOTES

--Santonio Holmes wants a chance to return punts and he will get it, said coach Mike Tomlin, who would not allow Holmes to return last season.

"The judgment we made in regards to that last year really was more about his development as a receiver," Tomlin said. "He was a second-year player ... He's a year older, seemingly a year wiser. We'll see if he can handle it. If he can, we'll explore it."
Other candidates to return punts and/or kickoffs are Mewelde Moore, Rashard Mendenhall, Jeremy Bloom and Willie Reid.

--The Steelers will have their shortest training camp, perhaps ever, when coach Mike Tomlin takes them to Latrobe July 27 for three weeks at Saint Vincent College. Tomlin could have opened camp three days earlier but decided to keep it short because the roster is limited to 80 players this year. Without NFL Europe, there are no more exemptions for players from that league on NFL camp rosters, which had as many as 86 players.

"I think you have to approach it differently from that standpoint," Tomlin said. "We are a veteran team in some areas; we have to approach it differently because of that."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm not going to talk about guys who are not here. It's voluntary and I'm going to leave it at that." - Coach Mike Tomlin when asked why Pro Bowl NT Casey Hampton was missing much of the time.


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