In my opinion

Ed Hartwell routinely compared himself to Ray Lewis during his tenure with the Ravens. Now it is up to Hartwell to prove he is every bit the player as his shadow is. After all, Hartwell, who racked up 138 tackles last season with the Ravens, is now among the highest paid defensive players in the league after signing a six-year, $26.25 million dollar deal in March. Hartwell will receive close to $18 million in guaranteed money over the life of the contract.

There is no question that Hartwell will help Atlanta become a better run stopping defense. He will add tenacity and physical toughness to a linebacker core that played soft at times against dominant rushing attacks. Hartwell is as good as any linebacker when it comes to taking on and shedding blocks. He keeps his body square, and rarely misses a tackle.

The addition of Hartwell also allows the Falcons to move Keith Brooking to the weakside, Brooking's natural position.

However, as tough as Hartwell is against the run, he has yet to prove that he is a three-down player, capable of dropping into coverage to cover backs and tight ends. In three years as a starter, Hartwell intercepted just one pass, and was always taken out of the game when the Ravens brought their nickel and dime packages on the field. Hartwell lacks recognition and speed as a pass defender. His weaknesses were exposed a number of times, especially on first and second down, when offensive coordinators used a hurry up, spread out passing attack to keep Hartwell in coverage situations.

In addition to having more coverage responsibilities in Atlanta's scheme, Hartwell will also have to prove that he is more than a downhill player, capable of moving with range from sideline-to-sideline. Hartwell may lack the speed necessary to track down perimeter runs, although he should receive help from the speedier Brooking.

If Hartwell can improve his game and become a more versatile linebacker, he could surpass Lewis as the top linebacker in football. However, at the moment, Hartwell has much to prove before being proclaimed the best...

Marvin Lewis has resurrected the moribund Bengals, leading the team to consecutive 8-8 records, which is the equivalent of a 12 win season for most other franchises. Now Cincinnati is being picked by a number of national publications to take the next step.

To some extent, the Bengals deserve to be the chic pick of the off-season. The Bengals finished with a 6-3 record; they notched victories over the Ravens and Eagles during that stretch, and nearly defeated the Patriots in Gillette Stadium. In five of those games, the Bengals scored more than 25 points.

That said, the Bengals main weakness remains its run defense. Using its first and second-round picks, Cincinnati added David Pollack and Odell Thurman. Pollack was among the top defensive end prospects from the 2005 draft class, but he will line up at the strongside linebacker position. Although Pollack has only played sparingly at the linebacker spot, Lewis is confident that he has the athleticism needed to make a seamless transition.

Thurman, Pollack's teammate at Georgia, will be groomed to play on the inside. Thurman is a throw-back player who is undersized, but hits hard and can stuff the run.

The Bengals are counting on these two rookies to help revamp a run defense that ranked near last place last season. Cincinnati gave up nearly 130 yards per game.

It is especially critical for the Bengals to improve against the run given that the team plays Baltimore and Pittsburgh four times. In addition, the Bengals will face Kansas City, Indianapolis, Green Bay and Minnesota: High scoring teams capable of winning shoot-outs.

If Cincinnati does improve against the run and on defense in general, they will be tough to deal with. If the defense remains as inconsistent as it has been the past two seasons, the Bengals will remain a .500 team on the brink of breaking through mediocrity…

Tennessee's trade for Travis Henry is a head scratching move to say the least. Although the Titans need a backup for Chris Brown, who has been injury prone throughout his career, trading a third-round pick for Henry is an overextension.

Henry complained about not being the feature back in Buffalo, and he will have to share carries with Brown. While Brown only needs a few carries to be a productive back, Henry usually needs 20-to-25 touches in order to gain substantial yardage on the ground.

If Brown is healthy, he is the more promising back. Brown has a great burst and is elusive. He can break long gains in the open field, and is also a capable receiver coming out of the backfield.

Henry is more than capable of picking up the slack if Brown is injured. But Henry is due to become a free-agent next season, so if the Titans don't re-sign him, the trade is virtually a waste.

Dev Panchwagh is a journalism major at the University of Maryland and a long time member of the RavensInsider message boards where he posts as 'Dev21'.  

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