AFC Roundup: Quarterback Battles Heat Up Across NFL
By Christian S. Kohl
As many of us celebrated the birthday of our great nation this week, the NFL activities still continued in full force. Here’s a quick review of the events which transpired this week in the AFC:
Baltimore Ravens: The rehab of LB Lardarius Webb is progressing well, and he expects to be ready for training camp after tearing his ACL. The workload distribution between Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce continues to intrigue Ravens fans. The word this week is that despite slimming down a bit this offseason, Pierce will still firmly occupy the backup role to Ray Rice as the featured back.
Cincinnati Bengals: Several players are impressing Hue Jackson so far, most notably RB Giovani Bernard. The second round pick looks strong enough to be an every down back with enough versatility to be split out as wide receiver as well. Also, Geno Atkins continues to wow coaches, and seems poised for an even more monstrous 2013 campaign.
Cleveland Browns: Quarterback Brandon Weeden is working more from the shotgun in Norv Turner’s new scheme, a fit that has the Browns camp excited. They feel this better suits his natural talents and he is poised for a big year. Star RB Trent Richardson has also begun running to rehab his injured shin, and should be good to go come week 1.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Steelers fans can delight that Ben Roethlisberger’s MCL feels “brand new” after undergoing surgery on it earlier this year. His mobility is crucial to his success, and all signs are positive early in the rehab process. The Steelers are also excited about LB Jarvis Jones, who they think has a good chance to be their first rookie defensive starter since Casey Hampton in 2001.
Houston Texans: The Texans interest in drafting DeAndre Hopkins may involve hopes of replacing Andre Johnson rather than merely complementing him. Sources within the organization feel Johnson may be slowing down at age 32, and his checkered injury history leaves few with high confidence he’ll be healthy for all 16 games. Houston may be looking at Hopkins as the future if Johnson fades quickly.
Jacksonville Jaguars: WR Justin Blackmon recently had surgery on his groin. While his timetable for recovery is unclear, what is certain is he will have at least 4 weeks of suspension in the upcoming season to rehab it. Meanwhile, the Jags front office is extremely excited about their two new safeties Josh Evans and Johnathan Cyprien, and LT Eugene Monroe may be a likely choice to be franchised after this year.
Indianapolis Colts: The Colts continue to struggle with personal conduct issues, as it was released that the substance abuse violation of LaVon Brazil was reportedly marijuana. While not the worst possible offense, the infraction will likely cost Brazil his roster spot. Even worse for the Colts, the legal saga of Joe Lefeged continues, as he was released on Tuesday and will face charges related to allegedly unregistered weapons.
Tennessee Titans: Mike Munchak considers OG Chance Warmack a likely candidate to start. He is very pleased with Warmack’s progress, who is working on quickness and mobility issues to prepare for NFL speed. Kevin Walter may also be able to breathe a bit easier, as the Titans are considering carrying six receivers rather than five, which may offer him a roster spot as he sits sixth on the depth chart currently.
Buffalo Bills: The quarterback competition is heating up in Buffalo, with E.J. Manuel getting a comparable number of reps as veteran question mark Kevin Kolb. Scott Chandler continues to rehab ferociously and looks poised to be ready by week 1 after an ACL injury. In less promising news, the contract talks with Jairus Byrd continue to go nowhere.
Miami Dolphins: QB Ryan Tannehill has wowed coaches and analysts, poised to make a big leap in 2013. He also seems to have a fan in Niners QB Colin Kaepernick, who defended his decision to wear a Dolphins hat in public this week. There remains no new word about the future of DL Paul Solai with the Fins long term.
New York Jets: All attention in the Jets camp remains on QB Mark Sanchez and his ability, theoretical or otherwise, to perform as a starter. Where Geno Smith fits in is currently unknown, but Sanchez will certainly be on a short leash as the Jets starter. Also, Stephen Hill is reportedly training with Antonio Cromartie in an effort to toughen up.
New England Patriots: The Patriots fans are still focused on the Aaron Hernandez saga, and this week over a thousand fans traded in his jersey for a less notorious Pats figure. The Patriots may look to use Shane Vereen to fill multiple voids left by this offseason, most notably Hernandez and also possibly Danny Woodhead. Their creativity is their greatest strength, though reportedly Tim Tebow remains unlikely to play anything in the New England scheme aside from his version of quarterback.
Denver Broncos: Personnel decisions are beginning to take shape in Denver, with Joe Mays and Omar Bolden struggling to make the final roster. Meanwhile, Knowshon Moreno looks to secure the spot as the third down back, and Denver will look to reward Eric Decker with a big contract if he can match his productivity from last year alongside star WR Wes Welker.
Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs will look to potentially offer LT Branden Albert a contract extension within the next few weeks. With Eric Fisher now on the roster, it’s unclear if KC can offer Albert a number he finds satisfying. The two sides have until July 15th to sort it out.
San Diego Chargers: Despite initial reports intimating the possibility, RB Ryan Mathews was not arrested for a bar fight this week. While this is in some ways good news for the Chargers, personality issues with Mathews continue to flare up, and this is anything but a positive sign for his future development. Also, the sheer amount of money owed to WR Robert Meachem appears to make him both impossible to trade or cut. He will likely not play a strong role in the Bolt’s attack despite the large sum owed to him.
Oakland Raiders: The veterans were the story this week in Oakland. DB Tracy Porter may find playing time diminished as DB #3 for the Raiders, behind Mike Jenkins and rookie D.J. Hayden. Also, Darren McFadden is reportedly furiously on a mission to avenge his poor numbers from last year. As always with Run DMC, it’s the injuries which derail him, and not poor on-field performance. It remains to be seen if he can survive the season unscathed.
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Christian S. Kohl is a sports contributor for CBS Local Digital Media.