AFCN news, notes and quotes

With Ravens minicamp underway, Ravens Insider takes a quick look at the happenings in Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Bungleland. Yes, nobody really cares but we have space to fill and we thought it would be a good excuse to show a picture of Ray Lewis doing his thing. Enjoy!



--Middle linebacker Landon Johnson, who had offseason shoulder surgery after leading the teams with tackles as a rookie, remains medically questionable for the mandatory full-squad mini-camp June 17-19 at Paul Brown Stadium.

That means, right now, that incoming rookie Odell Thurman is the starter at middle linebacker.

"Well there's nobody ahead of (Thurman) right now," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "Everybody else is losing ground."

Nate Webster, who opened the 2004 season as the starter at middle linebacker, is trying to return from two operations required to repair his patellar tendon. He tore the tendon in the kneecap in Game 3 against Baltimore and aggravated it during rehabilitation in November.

Thurman was the Bengals' second-round draft pick. Two other former University of Georgia starters are expected to start on the Cincinnati defense -- second-year end Robert Geathers outside linebacker David Pollack, the team's first-round pick in 2005 -- this coming season.

Pollack, working to switch to strong-side linebacker from defensive end in college, is expected to replace Kevin Hardy, who was released.

"Oh, I think they're ahead of the game," Lewis said of Thurman and Pollack. "They're both guys that were very, very well coached at Georgia. This has been a much easier transition just like we saw last year with Robert Geathers. So that helps where they are. It would surprise me if they're not both first day starters."

Pollack has impressed in spring work at outside linebacker, a position he never played before.

"He's done well from the start," Lewis said of Pollack. "Get an opportunity when you play real football for him to get to go through the ups and downs of that early in the preseason and kind of settle in his niche."


-- Quarterback Casey Bramlet and defensive linemen Derrick Crawford and Greg Scott returned to workouts in Cincinnati upon the completion of their seasons in NFL Europe.

-- Veteran center Jerry Fontenot did not receive a June 1 tender contract offer, and unless he is signed, he will remain a free agent after July 22.

-- The Bengals will hold their full-squad mini-camp June 17-19.

-- Running back Chris Perry (sports hernia), wide receiver Peter Warrick (knee shin), linebackers Caleb Miller (ankle) and Landon Johnson (shoulder) are questionable and have yet to be cleared to participate in mini-camp.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We need to keep pointing to that, keep looking at what we can do to play better, urge our guys to buckle down and play better because we've obviously figured it out and finished stronger than how we started. We can't afford to wait and think to improve from that this year we'll put ourselves too far out." -- Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, on the team goal of improving on a pair of consecutive 1-4 starts under Lewis that doomed fragile playoff hopes.







PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: CB Rashad Bauman; C Rich Braham; WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh; RB Rudi Johnson; DT Terrance Martin; S Anthony Mitchell; CB Reggie Myles; DL Carl Powell; RB Kenny Watson; LB Marcus Wilkins.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED: DE Elton Patterson; DT Bryan Robinson.

PLAYERS LOST: S Rogers Beckett; LB Frank Chamberlin; LB Kevin Hardy; LB LaDairis Jackson; P Kyle Richardson; DT Tony Williams.



Only a few weeks ago Browns general manager Phil Savage was talking positively about the progress that has been made since he was hired Jan. 6 and Coach Romeo Crennel about a month later. He still feels that way, but he is stressing work done over the last six months might not manifest itself this autumn.

"I wish we could fast-forward through the season, so we could really zero in on what we're going to do next season," Savage said. "Right now, I'm thinking we would be better served to save some of our money for next year."

The subject of money and the salary cap came up when Savage was asked about pursuing free agent cornerback Ty Law, whom Crennel coached in New England. Savage and Crennel believe a healthy Law could help the Browns in 2005, but Savage would rather save money for next season, when once again they will have a chance to improve linebacker, the defensive line and left tackle through free agency.

The Browns won five games in 2003 and four last season. Despite all the changes, forecasts for 2005 are bleak. Reading between the lines, Savage is saying not to expect miracles.

"Have we found bottom yet?" Savage said rhetorically. "I'm not sure. But once we do, we're going to have both feet on the ground and push ourselves back up to the surface."

Savage seems willing to take a step backward with the hope of moving two or three steps ahead in 2006. He stuck his neck out by trading or releasing the best unit on the team when he dismantled the defensive line. But he figured Gerard Warren, Courtney Brown, Michael Myers and Ebenezer Ekuban probably weren't going to get any better, and if the Browns won only four games with them, how much worse could they be without them?

Safeties Robert Griffith and Earl Little are other examples of taking a wide broom to one area of the team. Sean Jones is a virtual rookie, having missed his first season with a knee injury, and Brodney Pool is a rookie. The Browns signed Brian Russell in free agency from the Vikings despite a down year in 2004.

All signs, especially on defense, point to 2005 as a year of growth for the Browns, which is the biggest reason they won't spend a lot of money on Law or Peter Boulware, the linebacker released May 9 by the Ravens.


--Former Browns punter Bryan Wagner was named head football coach at Chippewa High School in Doylestown, about 50 south of Cleveland

--The Browns are donating $300,000 to the football programs of the nine public high schools in Cleveland. The schools were facing being forced to drop football because of failed levies.

--The Browns added depth on their offensive line by signing 11-year veteran Marcus Spears June 9. Spears has 21 career starts while playing with the Bears, Chiefs and Texans. He can play guard or tackle.

--One day before being released by the Browns, Ross Verba learned he would not be charged with an alleged sexual assault in his Strongsville, Ohio home. The city prosecutor said there is insufficient evidence and that the case is closed.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I always think that I'm a starter. I'm fighting for a starting spot. But I know if I'm not good enough to start, I'm going to be too good to cut." -- Offensive lineman Marcus Spears after signing June 7.




UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: WR Andre King; DE Tyrone Rogers; LB Eric Westmoreland; OG Paul Zukauskas.



PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: CB Dyshod Carter; LB Andra Davis; C Melvin Fowler; P Derrick Frost; TE Keith Heinrich; LB Ben Taylor.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED: OG Joe Andruzzi; CB Gary Baxter; OG Cosey Coleman; RB Reuben Droughns; DT Jason Fisk; P Kyle Richardson; FS Brian Russell; OT L.J. Shelton; OT Marcus Spears; LB Matt Stewart.

PLAYERS LOST: LB Kevin Bentley; DE Courtney Brown; OG Damion Cook; DE Ebenezer Ekuban; QB Jeff Garcia; LB Barry Gardner; OG Kelvin Garmon; OL Joaquin Gonzalez; S Robert Griffith; CB Anthony Henry; QB Kelly Holcomb; LB Warrick Holdman; S Earl Little; QB Luke McCown; DT Michael Myers; CB Lewis Sanders; OT Ross Verba; DT Gerard Warren.



Pittsburgh's offseason program ended Thursday with a resounding stamp of approval from coach Bill Cowher.

"We've had a very good offseason program," Cowher said. "The participation has been excellent, and more importantly the work on the field has been excellent. There has been good energy, and we got some things accomplished.

"Certainly what happens over the next six weeks before training camp is critical. There are no shortcuts, and it's not going to be easy, but that's what separates these guys from other players. If they want to be the best, they'll make those sacrifices."

The Steelers will enter training camp with doubt still about their situation at receiver and in the secondary. Four-time Pro Bowler Hines Ward will start at one receiver spot but Antwaan Randle El and Cedrick Wilson will continue to spar for the other starting job.

In the secondary, rookie Bryant McFadden and second-year player Ricardo Colclough will challenge veteran cornerbacks Willie Williams and Deshea Townsend for their starting spots.

"Take that position, and couple it with the receiver position, some people have to separate themselves," Cowher said. "Somewhere in the process of practice and games, there's going to have to be some separation done by players. We're looking for consistent, productive football players.

"I don't want to see a guy flash here or there, because that will happen. You have to be a consistent, productive football player, and if you do that you'll find a way onto this team and you'll find a way onto the field. At receiver and defensive back, it will be very, very competitive."

The Steelers report to training camp at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa., on July 31.

"This is not the time to relax," Cowher said. "They had their off-time. It's here, it's around the corner."


-- NT Chris Hoke, who started 11 games (including playoffs) after Pro Bowl starter Casey Hampton was injured in the seventh game of the season, signed a two-year contract extension through the 2007 season. Hoke, 29, is the first veteran still under contract to sign an extension. The Steelers had been negotiating only with WR Hines Ward, whose contract expires after next season, but after six weeks little progress has been made. Hampton's contract also expires after next season and Hoke could replace him in 2006.

"He's a versatile player, a dependable player, he's a tough guy," coach Bill Cowher said of Hoke. "You respect guys like Chris Hoke. He brings a lot to the table. He's very unselfish, yet very dependable. He was very productive last year when he got an opportunity to play."

-- Terry Long, 45, whose eight-year career with the Steelers ended in 1991, died June 7 in Pittsburgh. A cause had not been determined. Long attempted to commit suicide in 1991 when he tested positive for steroids and was subsequently suspended. In March, Long was charged with arson in a fire that caused $100,000 damage to his chicken processing plant in Pittsburgh. Authorities also charged him with defrauding the state of $1.2 million through business loan schemes.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're not trying to live up to a 15-1 record and the idea of, how do you do better than that? The bottom line is we were 1-1 in the postseason, and we have to do better than that." -- Coach Bill Cowher.







DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED: WR Fred Gibson (4/131); LB Rian Wallace (5/166); OG Chris Kemoeatu (6/204).

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: QB Charlie Batch; OT Barrett Brooks; S Tyrone Carter; TE Matt Cushing; LB Larry Foote; RB Verron Haynes; S Chris Hope; DE Brett Keisel; WR Lee Mays; WR Sean Morey; TE Walter Rasby; PK Jeff Reed; QB Brian St. Pierre; CB Willie Williams.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED: TE Marco Battaglia; WR Cedrick Wilson.

PLAYERS LOST: LB Kendrell Bell; WR Plaxico Burress; DT Kendrick Clancy; TE Jay Riemersma; OT Oliver Ross; CB Chad Scott; OG Keydrick Vincent.

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