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AFC North News Watch: Day 33

AFC NORTH TEAMS

While the AFC North continues to stand down as the dust settles from the announcement of Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu’s retirement, and later the less significant re-signing of free agent safety Will Allen, the relentless pace of the run up to the draft nevertheless has the division, as well as the rest of the league, increasingly focused on the draft.

The Steelers began in earnest last week to initiate the procedure of bringing on draft prospects for team visits at the South Side facilities, and, as I will remind you, Pittsburgh does tend to select its draft class disproportionately from the pool of players that they have brought in.

The Steelers have already met with a number of players, including some of the high-profile candidates on defense at the cornerback and outside linebacker positions. The tight end position is also well-represented.

The latter two positions will reportedly soon add to their tally as outside linebacker Randy Gregory and tight end Jeff Heuerman are said to be scheduled for team visits, likely during the upcoming week.

The fact that the Steelers have focused primarily on these three positions is telling of where they believe both their weaknesses and the draft value to align nicely, but that is a topic deserving of broader coverage in a separate vehicle.

The headlining news within the division yesterday was no doubt the report that Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel had completed his stay at a rehabilitation center and has now been released.

Manziel has certainly had a turbulent offseason, reportedly both within the team headquarters and without. It has been said that the second-year signal caller’s name has been hardly brought up in offensive strategy meetings, which is obviously not encouraging.

But with Manziel now released, it is time for the Browns to reassess what they have in their former first-round draft pick, both in terms of his on-field abilities and in what type of person he will be off the field as an ambassador for the organization. Whether or not he is projected to be a starting quarterback this season is irrelevant.

Meanwhile, the Cincinnati Bengals players have seemingly taken the initiative to better themselves from within, as there have been a number of reports about certain athletes working particularly hard this offseason.

Most notable, I think, is right tackle Andre Smith, who was once very nearly regarded as a draft bust, but has now become one of the better players at his position when healthy. He is currently rehabbing a torn triceps muscle.

Once a lumbering, lazy, immature prospect with immense talent, Smith has seemingly dedicated himself to improvement this offseason, cutting down his body fat and working on improving his footwork and explosion, which has evidently met with his higher-ups’ approval.

The Baltimore Ravens were reportedly interested in free agent tight end/fullback James Casey, but he signed with the Denver Broncos yesterday. The Broncos have already signed two former Ravens and traded for another, including tight end Owen Daniels, so that’s yet another potential target that they have usurped from Baltimore’s grasp.

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