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Outlook for the 2011 Cincinnati Bengals

Outlook for the 2011 Cincinnati Bengals
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Rookie wide receiver A.J. Green (Georgia) is expected to start right away and could win Offensive Rookie of the Year.
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Rookie quarterback Andy Dalton is about to become the new face of the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Cincinnati Bengals were 4-12 last season and tied for the second worst record in the NFL. The Bengals were in a lot of games, but made mistakes at critical points in games and it resulted in a poor season. However, the Bengals did become a better passing team, but it came at the cost of their run game.

This season, the Bengals want to rebuild their team by focusing on their run game since their Terrell Owens isn’t coming back and Carson Palmer apparently wants nothing to do with the Bengals.

In the 2011 NFL Draft, the Bengals addressed their wide receiver issues by selecting a playmaker in A.J. Green (Georgia) with their first-round pick. In the second-round, the Bengals found their new future quarterback in Andy Dalton (TCU).

With the addition of their rookies, let’s take a look at the Bengals’ current roster and see what positions are still in need of upgrades.

Quarterbacks (4)

Andy Dalton, Jordan Palmer, Dan LeFevour, Carson Palmer

Rookie Andy Dalton (TCU) is expected to receive the “bulk” of the snaps in training camp, but could end up as a backup to whomever the Bengals the bring in from free agency. Dalton isn’t ready to start this early because he hasn’t spent any time with the coaches, due to the Lockout. If Dalton were to start, the Bengals would be looking at a losing season with no more than five wins because Dalton would be overwhelmed with the differences in the NFL and College style of play. Dalton would struggle because the NFL playbooks are much bigger, their defensive players are much better and the media will be all over him if and when he messes up.

Jordan Palmer is a tendered restricted free agent, but will remain with the team with a possible chance to start if the Bengals can’t find a stopgap veteran and Andy Dalton proves that he isn’t ready to lead the team. However, Palmer has completed 10 of his 15 career pass attempts for 59 yards and 2 interceptions while in backup duty, so it remains doubtful that he would have success as a starting quarterback. If the Bengals are able land a quarterback in free agency, Palmer would be relegated to competing for the third quarterback job with Dan LeFevour, with the loser getting cut.

Dan LeFevour was productive as a college quarterback at Central Michigan but lacks NFL-caliber arm strength. LeFevour has drawn comparisons to Chad Pennington by ESPN NFL Draft Guru Mel Kiper, but will need to play like him in order to make the Bengals roster as their third quarterback.

Carson Palmer told the Bengals after the 2010 season that he wanted to be traded or he would retire. Palmer has grown frustrated with the Bengals’ struggles and wants a fresh start somewhere else. Palmer threw for 3,970 yards, 26 touchdowns and 20 interceptions last season, but his team finished with the second worst record in the NFL and it’s obvious that the Bengals are not going to be able to compete with the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers in 2011. The Bengals will eventually have to give in to Palmer’s trade demands because he is scheduled to make $11.5 million and will be a disruption in the locker room if he drops his retirement talk. Potential suitors for Palmer include: the Arizona Cardinals, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, Tennessee Titans, and Washington Redskins.

Free Agent Analysis:

Let’s pretend that Carson Palmer is on the Bengals roster. Their three quarterbacks would be Andy Dalton, Jordan Palmer, and Dan LeFevour. None of those quarterbacks has any starting experience in the NFL and that would leave the Bengals with a scary situation heading into Opening Day. Dalton needs a veteran former starting quarterback to help him deal with the everyday life in the NFL and career backups J. Palmer and LeFevour don’t know what it’s like to be the face of a franchise. Dalton is going to need a lot of help, especially since the Bengals have a new offensive coordinator and it will be a learning process for the whole offense. Potential Free Agents that could start for the Bengals immediately include: Marc Bulger, Matt Hasselbeck, J.P. Losman, and Alex Smith

Halfbacks (3)

Bernard Scott, Cedric Peerman, Jay Finley

Bernard Scott probably won’t be the starter in 2011 because he is not durable enough to handle the full time duties of a starter. Cedric Benson is expected to resign, but if he doesn’t the Bengals are expected to bring in other free agents. Scott had 61 carries for 299 yards and 1 touchdown in 2010. Scott averaged 4.9 yards per carry, but is more of a complementary back like Darren Sproles. Expect Scott to receive more carries and have a role as a third down back in 2011.

Cedric Peerman is an asset on special teams, but will end up competing for the third-string halfback job with Jay Finley. Peerman had 2 carries for 1 yard in 2010 and will need a strong preseason to remain on the Bengals.

Rookie Jay Finley (Baylor) became a starter in his senior year and had 195 carries for 1,218 yards and 12 touchdowns in his final season. Finley averaged 6.3 yards per carry and showed impressive patience and burst, but he is not a tackle-breaker or a homerun threat. Finley’s size (5’11’’, 208 pounds) and lack of speed make it unlikely that he’ll ever be a starter, but he should be able to beat out Cedric Peerman as the third-string halfback.

Free Agent Analysis:

Cincinnati needs a starting-caliber running back because Bernard Scott is too small (5’10’’, 197 pounds) to be counted on as the featured back of the Bengals. Cedric Benson is expected to resign with Bengals, but if that somehow doesn’t work out, the Bengals will need to look in the free agent market for their answer. Potential Free Agents include: Joseph Addai, Ahmad Bradshaw, Ronnie Brown, Michael Bush, Brian Westbrook, and DeAngelo Williams

Fullback (3)

Fui Vakapuna, Chris Pressley, James Develin

Fui Vakapuna was expected to be Cedric Benson’s lead blocker last season, but came down with a shoulder injury before Opening Day and was waived as a result. Vakapuna will get another chance in 2011 and should be able to beat out Chris Pressley as the Bengals’ starting fullback.

Chris Pressley is a good run blocker, but could become Fui Vakapuna’s backup, because Vakapuna is better at catching the football and if Dalton is named the starting quarterback, he is going to need backs to check down to as he steadily develops into a quarterback.

James Develin played on the defensive line and at linebacker in the Cleveland Browns’ rookie minicamp last year, but is listed as a fullback on the Bengals roster. Assuming it’s not a typo, Develin can considered a development project that will likely end up back on the Bengals’ practice squad in 2010.

Free Agent Analysis:

Cincinnati is probably going to start Fui Vakapuna at fullback since he would’ve started last year if not for a shoulder injury. If Vakapuna were to get hurt, Chris Pressley could easily take over.

Wide Receivers (8)

Chad Ochocinco, A.J. Green, Jordan Shipley, Jerome Simpson, Andre Caldwell, Quan Cosby, Shay Hodge, Ryan Whalen

Chad Ochocinco is in the final year of his contract, but is expected to be released once the Lockout ends because the Bengals are tired of his antics and believe that he doesn’t have the passion for football anymore. Once released, Ochocinco could have a bunch of suitors, but would likely sign with the Chicago Bears, New England Patriots, or New York Jets.

Rookie A.J. Green (Georgia) is the favorite to become the Bengals’ No. 1 receiver in 2011, assuming Chad Ochocinco gets released. Green scored 23 touchdowns in 27 career college starts and his difference-making deep threat ability should allow him to help quarterback Andy Dalton develop into a NFL quarterback.

Jordan Shipley had 52 receptions for 600 yards and 3 touchdowns as a rookie last season. It was a very productive season for the slot receiver, whose role is likely to expand. Shipley had a concussion mid-season last year, but bounced back the week after by setting career highs for a game with 6 receptions for 131 yards.

Jerome Simpson will become the Bengals No. 2 receiver, assuming Chad Ochocinco is let go. Simpson was the Bengals fifth receiver last season and appeared in only 5 games, but had 20 receptions for 277 yards and 3 touchdowns. Simpson didn’t receive playing time at the beginning of the season because he struggled to grasp the old playbook. Simpson should be able to handle the new playbook this year though because he met with new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden immediately after the Super Bowl.

Andre Caldwell was the Bengals fourth receiver last year and appeared in 15 games last season. Caldwell had 25 receptions for 345 yards, but closed out the season in a strong fashion. Caldwell should receive the same role next season, assuming Chad Ochocinco is let go.

Quan Cosby made the team as a punt returner last season, but may become expendable in 2011. As a receiver, Cosby only had 2 receptions for 16 yards, so the chances that he’ll be back are slim because he didn’t do that well as a punt returner in 2010, averaging 7.5.

Shay Hodge went undrafted last season, but made the Bengals’ practice squad and was promoted for the Bengals’ last game of the season. Hodge didn’t play the last game, but he might be given a chance to make the 2011 team because he was A.J. Green’s teammate at the University of Georgia. Green is going to be a key member of the Bengals and if they can make him feel comfortable, it should help Green make an easier transition to the NFL.

Rookie Ryan Whalen (Stanford) is a possession receiver, but his 4.62 forty time and his size (6’1’’, 202 pounds), suggest that he won’t have much of a role in the Bengals’ offense. Whalen will probably end up on the practice squad, but could find his niche as a special teamer.

Free Agent Analysis:

Cincinnati doesn’t need any wide receivers since they are in rebuilding mode.

Tight End (3)

Jermaine Gresham, Chase Coffman, Garrett Mills

Jermaine Gresham had 52 receptions for 471 yards and 4 touchdowns. Gresham showed the ability to be a dominant tight end, but he was inconsistent with his blocking, route-running, and pass catching in his rookie season. Gresham’s struggles were to be expected though because he was a rookie, but his fundamentals should get better as he becomes more familiar with NFL’s style of play.

Chase Coffman appeared in six games in 2010 and only had 3 receptions for 30 yards. Chase Coffman added more muscle in 2010 could be developing into a better blocker. The Bengals are going to be switching their offensive plan and will be utilizing the run more, so Coffman’s blocking skills could ultimately decide how long he lasts with the team.

Garrett Mills is a former fullback that converted into a tight end. Mills played 7 games for the Bengals in 2010, but only had 2 receptions for 19 yards. As a former fullback, Mills knows how to run block, which should help him earn a place on the Bengals’ roster.

Free Agent Analysis:

Cincinnati has three young tight ends and two of them are proven blockers. The Bengals’ tight ends should be good enough to help block outside blitzes and run block which should enable the Bengals to go along with their plan of running the ball more to ease quarterback Andy Dalton into the NFL.

O-Line (11)

Andrew Whitworth, Clint Boling, Kyle Cook, Bobbie Williams, Anthony Collins, Andre Smith, Reggie Stephens, Dennis Roland, Andrew Mitchell, Otis Hudson, Andrew Gardner

Andrew Whitworth allowed only 1.5 sacks last season, but committed 13 penalties as well. Whitworth is quickly becoming one of the best left tackles in the game, but if he wants to make a Pro Bowl, he’ll have to cut down on his penalties.

Rookie Clint Boling (Georgia) has the potential to become a solid pass-protecting guard, but should begin the 2011 season as Nate Living’s backup, assuming Livings resigns as expected.

Kyle Cook is an above-average run blocker and should be the Bengals’ starting center for the next few years.

Bobbie Williams has missed just three games over the last six years and has excelled in both run and pass blocking. Williams is 34 years old, but he is still in good shape and playing at a high level, so the Bengals have nothing to be concerned about just yet.

Anthony Collins should enter the season as a starter because the Bengals have a 7-2 record and average 110 rushing yards per game when he starts. Andre Smith was drafted to be the future right tackle of the Bengals, but Anthony Collins has severely outplayed them.

Andre Smith fractured his fifth metatarsal in his left food last November and remained in a walking boot 7 months after his surgery. Smith might be healthy by opening day, but given that this is the same foot that he broke in 2009, the Bengals better start Anthony Collins instead to Smith more time to recover.

Reggie Stephens made the practice squad last season, but his ability to play guard or center and his versatility should him a spot on the Bengals roster in 2011.

Dennis Roland is a restricted free agent and is expendable given his inconsistencies as a right tackle for the Bengals. Roland should remain with the team until cut down day, but unless he is able to show the Bengals that he has improved his game, Roland stands to be one of the players most likely to be cut.

Andrew Mitchell is a 6’5’’, 311 pound tackle with the potential to make a very good backup to Andre Smith. He’ll be competing with Dennis Roland for the last tackle spot on the team.

Otis Hudson and Andrew Gardner both signed reserve/future contracts and both will need strong preseasons if either of them stands a chance to make the team.

Free Agent Analysis:

Cincinnati is going to resign Nate Livings and they should be set after that.

D-Line (9)

Carlos Dunlap, Domata Peko, Tank Johnson, Antwan Odom, Geno Atkins, Robert Geathers, Pat Sims, Frostee Rucker, Clinton McDonald

Carlos Dunlap set the Bengals’ rookie record with 9.5 sacks last season. Dunlap played in a nickel role at the beginning of the season, but eventually earned more playing time and recorded all of his sacks over the final eight weeks. Dunlap will start at left end, since he is the Bengals’ most talented pass rusher, but he needs to work on his fundamentals and cutting down on mental mistakes.

Domata Peko had 42 tackles and .5 sacks as one of the Bengals’ captains last year. Peko is known as a run stopping defensive tackle, so the low number in sacks should be expected.

Tank Johnson had 10 tackles and zero sacks in seven games, but his season ended early with an injury to his right knee. Johnson is on thin ice and needs a strong training camp or he might lose his starting job to Geno Atkins. Atkins is a better pass rusher and certainly deserves the job, but Johnson has experience and is better against the run.

Antwan Odom has potential when he’s healthy, but an Achilles tear has hurt his production since he put up 8 sacks in just six games in 2009. Odom is set to make $4.5 million in 2011 and has only played in 21 games in his three-stint with the team, but he won’t get cut unless he struggles in training camp. Assuming Odom can bounce back to his former dominating self, the Bengals pass rush will be a force to be reckoned with

Geno Atkins appeared in all 16 games last season and had 3 sacks in a rotational role. Atkins ability to get to the quarterback should potentially allow him to replace Tank Johnson in the starting lineup.

Robert Geathers will play a rotational role as of now, but his $3.95 million contract is high for a backup. Either Geathers or Odom will be released, and while Geathers only had 1 sack in 16 starts last season, Odom’s injury history might keep Geathers on the roster.

Pat Sims is in the final year of his contract and is entering 2011 as a rotational defensive tackle. In 2010, Sims started 8 of the 14 games he appeared in and had 31 tackles and a career high 2.5 sacks. Sims is a nose tackle and might finally be developing some pass rushing moves. If Sims can get to the quarterback more in training camp, he could unseat Tank Johnson as a starter.

Frostee Rucker has three sacks over his four-year career in Cincinnati, but won’t be cut just yet because he is only scheduled to make $1.25 million. If Rucker has a weak training camp though, the media could influence the Bengals to get rid of him.

Clinton McDonald spent most of last season on the practice squad, but was promoted when Tank Johnson went down with an injury. McDonald is in the final year of his contract and if he doesn’t perform for the Bengals in training camp, it might be his last chance to play in the NFL.

Free Agent Analysis:

Cincinnati is set at defensive line and will likely be cutting a few players to save more cap room.

Linebackers (7)

Keith Rivers, Rey Maualuga, Michael Johnson, Roddrick Muckelroy, Dontay Moch, Vincent Rey, Dan Skuta

Keith Rivers finished second on the Bengals with 77 tackles despite playing most of the season with plantar fasciitis. Rivers also had 1 sack, but needs to work on his coverage skills. Rivers is only 25 years old and still has room to grow, but his improvement in stopping the run is encouraging.

Rey Maualuga is motivated for the 2011 season because his Defensive Coordinator Mike Zimmer called him “extremely average” Maualuga is also going to be switching to middle linebacker and the extra responsibilities that he’ll be given should help him become a better player.

Michael Johnson spent last offseason learning how to be linebacker, but Johnson was called upon to play defensive end because Antwan Odom had struggled since coming off his Achilles tear. Johnson flashed difference-making pass rushing ability in a situational role in preseason last year and the Bengals want to blitz more in 2011. Johnson will be ripe for the picking in coverage, but by him moving to strong-side linebacker, Rey Maualuga will be able to replace Dhani Jones. However, if Odom were to struggle again, Johnson would likely shift back to defensive end and another linebacker would step in.

Roddrick Muckelroy should step into the fourth linebacker role for the Bengals this season after playing in the goal-line package last season. Muckelroy rewarded the Bengals with two goal-line stands in his limited role and with a strong preseason, he could potentially change the Bengals’ coaching staff’s minds about moving Rey Maualuga to middle linebacker.

Rookie Dontay Moch (Nevada) will receive a situational role on defense and a huge role on special teams as a gunner. Moch’s size and speed (4.44 in the forty) will give him a huge advantage in punt coverage and be a nightmare for opposing teams’ returners.

Vincent Rey was promoted from the practice squad late last season, but only played on special teams. Rey had 3 tackles in two games last season, but should be able to secure a backup job considering that the Bengals are currently thin at linebacker.

Dan Skuta appeared in all 16 games last season and had 16 tackles and 1 forced fumble. Skuta played special teams primarily, but managed to start one game as well. Skuta obviously won’t start in 2011, but should be able to land at least a backup role.

Free Agent Analysis:

Cincinnati should resign Brandon Johnson once the resigning period starts. Johnson was Keith Rivers’ backup last season, but could potentially switch over to the strong-side linebacker position and compete for the starting job. Dhani Jones is getting older and the Bengals are in rebuilding mode, so it appears as though they’re willing to let him go. The Bengals aren’t expecting to make the playoffs in 2011 and want Rey Maualuga to get comfortable at middle linebacker.

Cornerbacks (7)

Leon Hall, Pacman Jones, Morgan Trent, Jonathan Wade, Brandon Ghee, Korey Lindsey, Rico Murray

Leon Hall is the Bengals’ top cover cornerback and is in the last year of his contract. Hall is currently one of the most underrated cornerbacks in the NFL and has made 58 starts in his first four seasons with a franchise-best 18 interceptions. Hall never receives any attention though because he plays for Cincinnati, but that could all change next year as he can expect a huge pay raise over the $3,037,500 he will make in 2011.

Pacman Jones should start opposite Leon Hall in 2011, assuming that the Bengals don’t bring in another cornerback and that Jones doesn’t get suspended. Jones was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest on July 10 and is scheduled to appear in court on July 18. If found guilty, Jones could lose a whole lot more as he is a repeat offender and would be facing another lengthy suspension by the NFL, possibly even a lifetime ban.

Jonathan Wade was burnt as a starting cornerback for the Lions, but held his own in his in his first start with the Bengals on Thanksgiving against the Jets. Wade faced Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes in man coverage, but did well enough to earn two more starts after. Wade could potentially be counted on as a starter if the Bengals opt to not sign any in free agency.

Morgan Trent was placed on injured reserve last season with a knee injury that he suffered back in Week 9. Trent has been a nickel and dime cornerback in his two season with the Bengals, but isn’t ready to challenge as a starter just yet. Trent is signed cheaply through 2012 and should resume the same role in 2011, assuming that he recovers.

Brandon Ghee had 9 tackles in six appearances last season, but could compete for the nickel job. Ghee possesses size (6’0’’, 190 pounds), speed (4.45 forty time) and athleticism, but lacks the ball skills and instincts to be a starter.

Rookie Korey Lindsey (Southern Illinois) is an underrated prospect with NFL ability and could possibly challenge for a nickel role. He has solid technique and showed great playmaking ability with his 14 career interceptions in college. Lindsey has even showed a willingness to stop the run, so he could potentially become a steal in the 2011 NFL Draft.

Rico Murray landed on injured reserve near the end of last season with an ankle injury after being promoted from the practice squad. Murray never made a play in 2010 and could be cut since he is set to make $480,000 and is not going to have any significant contributions.

Free Agent Analysis:

Cincinnati won’t be able to resign Jonathan Joseph, and Pacman Jones could get suspended, leaving the Bengals with a huge hole at cornerback. Potential Free Agents include: Phillip Buchanon, Chris Carr, Drayton Florence, Carlos Rodgers, Lito Sheppard, Ike Taylor, and Fabian Washington

Safeties (5)

Reggie Nelson, Chris Crocker, Tom Nelson, Robert Sands, Jeromy Miles

Reggie Nelson made 54 of 57 possible tackles and had 2 interceptions and 2 forced fumbles, while starting 6 of the 16 games he appeared in last season. With the departure of Roy Williams via free agency, Nelson will be counted on to take over the starting free safety job, allowing Chris Crocker to switch over to strong safety. Nelson has starting potential as he showed in his rookie season with the Jaguars when he had 5 interceptions.

Chris Crocker missed the last six games of the season last year due to a torn MCL and PCL, but his recovery has gone smoothly enough that he’d be ready to play “tomorrow” if there were a game. Crocker will move over to strong safety in 2011 and let the faster Reggie Nelson play free safety. Crocker isn’t a ball hawking safety and the move should allow him to be more active against the run. Crocker had 43 tackles and 2 forced fumbles in 2010.

Tom Nelson missed the first 5 games of the season last year with an ankle injury, but was able to secure a special team role. Nelson never received a look when Crocker went down his injuries, so it’s obvious that the Bengals only view him as a backup.

Rookie Robert Sands (West Virginia) struggles to tackle in space and as a result, he will become Reggie Nelson’s backup despite his size (6’4’’, 217 pounds) to play strong safety. Sands showed good speed and great ability to cover ground in college which is why the Bengals feel more comfortable putting him at free safety.

Jeromy Miles made the Bengals practice squad as an undrafted rookie last season, but was later promoted for depth purposes when the Bengals lost Roy Williams and Chris Crocker to injuries. Miles should make the team in 2011, but it’ll be as a backup and probably as a special teamer.

Free Agent Analysis:

Cincinnati is set at safety and won’t bring in a high priced upgrade. The Bengals want to remain relatively cheap while they’re in rebuilding mode and want to see how Reggie Nelson and Chris Crocker perform together.

Kicker (2)

Mike Nugent, Clint Stitser

Mike Nugent suffered a torn ACL and MCL last season, but was among the least accurate kickers in the NFL prior to his injuries, converting only 78.9 percent of his field goals. Nugent converted 1 of 3 field goals from 40-49 yards away and 2 of 4 field goals from 50+ yards away. Nugent hasn’t earned anything and the Bengals’ kicker job is up for grabs

Clint Stitser converted 87.5 percent of his field goals but missed a 29-yard field goal as well as 2 extra points last season. Stitser doesn’t deserve to be the Bengals kicker, and will likely be cut.

Free Agent Analysis:

Cincinnati needs a kicker since Mike Nugent and Clint Stitser are among the worst kickers in the league. Potential Free Agents include: David Akers, Matt Bryant, Shayne Graham, Ryan Longwell, Olindo Mare, Jeff Reed and Adam Vinateri.

Punter (1)

Kevin Huber

Kevin Huber was among the best punters in the league last season, averaging 42.1 yards per punt with only 6 touchbacks and 28 punts inside the 20-yard line. Huber could become a Pro Bowler in the next few years because the Bengals offense isn’t expected score a lot anytime soon and he’ll be able to become more accurate as a punter.

Free Agent Analysis:

Cincinnati has a good punter who is a hometown boy, since he played for the University of Cincinnati.

Long Snapper (1)

Clark Harris

Clark Harris is known for his gloves that he uses when he snaps the ball. Harris is also known for replacing Brad St. Louis in 2009 after St. Louis struggled with his field goal snaps. Since then, Harris has done a remarkable job and has job security going forward.

Free Agent Analysis:

Cincinnati doesn’t need to upgrade this position

Kick/Punt Returners (2)

Bernard Scott, Quan Cosby

Bernard Scott averaged 22.4 yards per kick return last season, but likely won’t be the kick returner in 2011 if Bengals’ Offensive Coordinator Jay Gruden gives him a bigger role in the offense.

Quan Cosby averaged 7.5 yards per punt return last season and could potentially be stripped of punt return duties. Cosby averaged 11.9 yards per return in 2009, but his drop in production plus the fact that he hasn’t scored a touchdown in his NFL career is why the Bengals will be looking elsewhere on their roster.

Free Agent Analysis:

Cincinnati will search their roster for potential returners and don’t need to look at the free agent market for help.

Bengals Unrestricted Free Agents (14)

Cedric Benson, Jonathan Fanene, Brandon Johnson, Dhani Jones, Johnathan Joseph, Reggie Kelly, Brian Leonard, Nate Livings, Evan Mathis, Chinedum Ndukwe, Terrell Owens, Marvin White, Roy Williams

Cedric Benson is expected to resign with the Bengals as the lead back and Bengals first-year Offensive Coordinator Jay Gruden sounds like he’s planning on having Benson on the team next year. “We have to find a way to get the best possible scenarios to get Cedric as many touches as possible without killing him,” said Gruden. In 2010, Benson averaged 3.5 yards per carry and rushed for 1,111 yards and 7 touchdowns on the ground. Benson was also more active in the passing game in 2010 and set a career high with 28 receptions and caught his first receiving touchdown in the NFL.

Jonathan Fanene was placed on injured reserve with a hamstring injury, but is said to be the Bengals’ third priority when it comes to resigning players. Fanene had 6 sacks when he replaced Antwan Odom in 2009, but only had 1 tackle in the 2 games that he appeared in last season.

Brandon Johnson was Keith Rivers’ backup last season and could be resigned, but his comments about enjoying the Lockout could hurt him. “I’m actually kind of enjoying my time off,” he said. “I get a lot of family time in, I get to kick it with my friends, and I get to do a lot of traveling. I don’t have to spend eight hours at the stadium.” Cincinnati and other NFL teams will question whether he still loves to play football.

Dhani Jones has missed just three games during his 10-year NFL career and is coming off a season in which he led the Bengals in tackles with 125. Despite his productive season in 2010, the Bengals are in rebuilding mode and were expected to let the 33-year-old walk before the Lockout, so it’s unlikely that the Bengals will resign him.

Jonathan Joseph is 27 years old and is being called the second best cornerback available in the free agent market, behind only Nnamdi Asomugha. Joseph arguably has better ball skills than Asomugha and has flashed potential as a shutdown corner. The Detroit Lions, Houston Texans, and Seattle Seahawks are reportedly the favorites to land Joseph if he doesn’t resign with the Bengals.


Reggie Kelly is not going to resign with the Bengals because he offers nothing in the passing game and was only a mediocre blocker after a torn Achilles wiped out his 2009 season. The Bengals are going back to power football and need blocking specialist tight ends.

Brian Leonard is a four year veteran and was tendered at a second-round level by Cincinnati before the Lockout, so it appears that the Bengals still want to keep him. If resigned, Leonard would probably handle the third-down role again in 2011.

Nate Livings won the starting left guard job last year because Evan Mathis was returning from a foot injury in training camp. As a starter, Livings struggled to protect Carson Palmer, but according to Offensive Line Coach Paul Alexander, Livings played well enough to keep his starting job in 2011. Livings has great size at 6’5’’, 332 pounds, but will have to improve his pass protection or he might be relegated to backup duty for the rest of his career.

Evan Mathis won’t be back with the Bengals next season because the Bengals have enough depth at guard, making him expendable. Mathis is a solid run blocker and has flashed talent in spot duty. Mathis won’t be one of the big name free agents this year, but he could have a big impact if he signs with a guard-needy team.

Chinedum Ndukwe wasn’t extended a tender prior to Lockout and is an unrestricted free agent. When a team fails to extend a cheap tender to a player, it usually means they’re set on cutting ties. Ndukwe finished last season on injured reserve with a torn left MCL, but he should be able to find a backup job elsewhere after the Lockout.

Terrell Owens blamed the Bengals’ coaching staff for the team’s offensive struggles and has overstayed his one-year welcome in Cincinnati. Owens had ACL surgery back in April, but should be healthy by Opening Day. Potential buyers won’t need to be concerned with his knee, but T.O.’s influence in the locker room could make some teams hesitate to sign him.

Marvin White was sign late last season to add depth and pitch in on special teams. White could be brought back considering that his price tag is going to be low.

Roy Williams has played in just 19-of-48 games over the past three seasons, and is not expected to return next season. His replacement is going to be Reggie Nelson, who fared better than expected in his first year with the Bengals.

Outlook for the 2011 Detroit Lions

Outlook for the 2011 Detroit Lions
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Calvin Johnson earned a trip to the Pro Bowl last season, but he will need to earn another in 2011 if the Detroit Lions have any hope of making the playoffs.
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Ndamukong Suh was named the 2010 Defensive Rookie of the Year after leading all defensive tackles with 10 sacks.

The Detroit Lions finished third in the NFC North last season with a 6-10 record. The Lions became a pass-heavy team and they lost battle on the ground as a result last year. The Lions lacked a complement to Jahvid Best and they were hit hard with injuries all over their roster.

In an effort to change their losing ways, the Lions decided to keep their coaching staff and if the team can stay healthy, they could have a chance at the postseason.

In the 2011 NFL Draft, the Lions upgraded the defensive line, by selecting Nick Fairley (Auburn) with their first-round pick. In the second-round, the Lions selected a downfield threat in Titus Young (Boise State) and added a complementary back to Jahvid Best with the selection of Mikel Leshoure (Illinois). The rest of the Lions draft was used to fill in the depth chart.

With the addition of their rookies, let’s take a look at the Lions’ current roster and see what positions are still in need of upgrades.

Quarterbacks (3)

Matt Stafford, Shaun Hill, Zac Robinson

Matt Stafford underwent shoulder surgery in the offseason and the operation involved repairing his AC shoulder joint along with having his collarbone “shaved” by Dr. James Andrews. Stafford has fully recovered since the procedure and vows to play 16 games in 2011. In 2010, Stafford completed 59.4 percent of his passes for 535 yards, 6 touchdowns and 1 interception. The Lions plan to throw the ball often in 2011 and if Stafford can stay healthy, he has the potential to have a breakout year.

Shaun Hill underwent back surgery on May 11 to fix a disk problem in his lower back, but should be healthy by now. Hill is in a contract year and has proved to be a capable backup when he had to spot start last season. Hill played in eleven games and completed 61.8 percent of his passes for 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

Zac Robinson joined the Lions last November after they claimed him off waivers from the Seattle Seahawks. Robinson is very athletic, but he has weak overall skills for a quarterback. Robinson likely won’t make the roster, but should be able to land a spot on the practice squad.

Free Agent Analysis:

Detroit is set at starting and backup quarterback. Robinson isn’t the ideal choice to be the Lions’ third-string quarterback, but they have more pressing needs to worry about. However, the Lions could resign Drew Stanton, since he was once seen as the long-term backup to Matt Stafford.

Halfbacks (5)

Jahvid Best, Mikel Leshoure, Maurice Morris, Aaron Brown, Ian Johnson

Jahvid Best is going to be the starter this season because he knows the Lions’ offense and his passing-game skills are crucial to the team’s pass-first system. Best is viewed as a perimeter runner and should also get the majority of the carries because Mikel Leshoure is viewed as a bruiser who will serve as the goal-line back. In 2010, Best averaged 3.3 yards per carry and had 4 touchdowns on the ground to go along with 58 receptions for 487 yards and 2 touchdowns through the air.

Rookie Mikel Leshoure (Illinois) has drawn comparisons to Steven Jackson for his size and burst. The Lions want to use Jahvid Best and Leshoure like the 2008 Tennessee Titans used Chris Johnson and LenDale White. Best figures to be the “get the lead” back and Leshoure will be the “keep the lead” back.

Maurice Morris could get cut because he is set to make $1.625 million, and the Lion’s might not want to pay that much for a third-stringer. Morris has been productive though as he averaged 3.7 yards per carry last season and also had 5 touchdowns

Aaron Brown has had just 44 carries over the last two seasons, but his tenure with the team might be cut short with three solid backs ahead of him on the current roster. His only hope is that the Lions decide to dump salary by getting rid of Maurice Morris’s $1.625 contract.

Ian Johnson signed a reserve/future contract and likely won’t make the team, but practice squad isn’t out of the question for him.

Free Agent Analysis:

Detroit is set at halfback after using two high draft picks on halfbacks over the last two seasons.

Fullback (3)

Jerome Felton, Jake Nordin, Matt Clapp

Jerome Felton was tender to a contract, but he is unhappy about his role in the Lions’ offense and believes he deserves more carries in 2011. In college, Felton set a school record with 63 career rushing touchdowns. Felton will likely remain a Lion, but he won’t receive many carries with the addition Mikel Leshoure.

Jake Nordin is an exclusive rights free agent, but likely won’t be retained after he suffered a torn labrum in his shoulder last season.

Matt Clapp likely will be cut because he was suspended four games last season for violating an undisclosed league policy. Prior to the suspension, Clapp had been bouncing around practice squads

Free Agent Analysis:

Detroit doesn’t need a fullback, but they need to have a discussion with Jerome Felton, to make him happier.

Wide Receivers (8)

Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson, Titus Young, Derrick Williams, Bryant Johnson, Stefan Logan, Tim Toone, Michael Moore

Calvin Johnson earned his first career Pro Bowl appearance last season with 77 receptions for 1,120 yards and 12 touchdowns. Megatron became one of the most dominating receivers last year and he should continue to grow on his success in 2011 because he will have more weapons around him and it should take off some double teams.

Nate Burleson encourages the drafting of Titus Young even though Young stands to take away some targets from him. Burleson had 55 receptions for 625 yards and 6 touchdowns last season which is kind of low, considering how many times the Lions passed the ball in 2010. Burleson will still be a No. 2 receiver, but he’ll need to play better for his team to have a shot at the playoffs.

Rookie Titus Young (Boise State) is an explosive playmaker and the Lions will use his downfield playmaking ability to stretch the field and occupy a safety, taking attention away from Calvin Johnson. Young will play outside opposite Calvin Johnson, pushing Nate Burleson into the slot in three-receiver sets.

Derrick Williams hasn’t done much in his two seasons with the Lions and will be on the bubble heading into training camp. Williams was billed as an explosive receiver when he entered the league, but he has yet to produce a score so far.

Bryant Johnson is expected to either be released or take a pay cut once the Lockout is resolved. Johnson is due $3.2 million, but he doesn’t deserve that money because of his lack of production and his tendency to drop passes. Johnson had just 18 receptions for 210 yards in 2010, and it appears that he’ll be looking for a new home.

Stefan Logan is an exclusive rights free agent and will definitely be back as a returner after proving to be one of the league’s top returners in 2010.

Tim Toone and Michael Moore signed reserve/future contracts, but likely won’t make the roster because the Lions have six receivers ahead of them with established roles.

Free Agent Analysis:

Detroit needs to release Bryant Johnson in order to save more cap room. Once they do that, their receiver position will be set.

Tight End (5)

Brandon Pettigrew, Tony Scheffler, Will Heller, Richard Dickson, Joe Jon Finley

Brandon Pettigrew has dropped 10 pounds since the end of last season and he plans to play 2011 in the 255 range. Pettigrew is hoping that it will help make him a faster tight end and allow him to have the same kind of production he had in 2010. Last season, Pettigrew had 71 receptions for 722 yards and 4 touchdowns.

Tony Scheffler is more of a downfield threat than Brandon Pettigrew, and he should receive an advantage on Pettigrew because Matthew Stafford will be under center and he throws a better deep ball than Shaun Hill. However, the addition of Titus Young will limit the effectiveness of Tony Scheffler because the Lions will use more three-receiver sets and fewer two-tight end formations in 2011.

Will Heller will have a minimal role this season because the Lions are planning to stretch the field and won’t use any three-tight end formations unless they are necessary. Heller is not really a receiving threat, so the only time he might enter a game is on special teams and in goal line situations.

Richard Dickson is probably going to make the practice squad because the Lions have no room for him on their current roster and he won’t beat out any of the three tight ends currently ahead of him.

Joe Jon Finley signed a reserve/future contract, but is going to make the team because the Lions’ top three tight ends are already set.

Free Agent Analysis:

Detroit is set at this position and their tight ends are perfect for their system because they can catch.

O-Line (10)

Jeff Backus, Rob Sims, Dominic Raiola, Stephen Peterman, Gosder Cherilus, Tony Ugoh, Donald Thomas, Jason Fox, Johnny Culbreath, Dan Gerberry

Jeff Backus has a partially torn pectoral muscle and is expected to miss the beginning of training camp. Backus will be 34 years old in September and has played at a respectable level, but is in the final year of his contract. The Lions need to decide if they want to keep Backus for a few more years or start thinking about a different long-term tackle.

Rob Sims has been a valuable trade acquisition for the Lions ever since they trade a fifth-round pick for him. Sims has solidified a longtime trouble spot at left guard for the Lions with his consistent performance in both the passing and running game.

Dominic Raiola has been mostly durable during his career, but he will be 33 years old in December. Raiola is signed through 2013, but the Lions will need to look for a replacement because although he was successful in their old zone-blocking scheme, Raiola will struggle as he gets older when the Lions ask him to power block.

Stephen Peterman played last season with a torn muscle on the ball of his right foot. The injury did not require surgery, but it did cause him “constant pain” throughout the 2010 season. If he can return healthy, it will do wonders for the Lions’ struggling running game.

Gosder Cherilus underwent surgery in the past two offseasons, but his most recent was on a knee injury and it required microfracture surgery. Cherilus participated in the Lions’ player-organized workouts and was reportedly “moving well”, so it appears that he should be able to build off of his promising 2010 campaign.

Tony Ugoh is a former Indianapolis Colt, but never developed as a NFL blindside tackle. Ugoh was a second-round pick, but has been considered a bust so far. The Lions signed Ugoh in December last season to give them more depth after they suffered significant injuries in their offensive line. Ugoh has the potential to become the Lions’ starting right tackle, but that’ll depend on the health of Gosder Cherilus.

Donald Thomas signed with the Lions in late November last season after Stephen Peterman went down with a foot injury. Thomas was a former starter as a Miami Dolphin, but he wasn’t active for any games in 2010. Thomas should make a solid backup in 2011 as he will have a better knowledge of the Lions’ playbook.

Jason Fox was a four-year starter in college, but will be a backup on the Lions for now. Fox has upside with his athleticism and size (6’7’’, 303 pounds), but he lacks the ideal strength of an NFL tackle. Fox had a minor knee surgery as a rookie last season and didn’t play until Week 17, so while he won’t start, he should be give the opportunity to compete for the Lions’ swing tackle behind Jeff Backus and Gosder Cherilus.

Rookie Johnny Culbreath (South Carolina State) has great size (6’5’’, 322 pounds) and athleticism (4.92 forty), but is considered a developmental project. Culbreath won the 2009 Lineman of the Year Award in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, but the talent in that conference isn’t nearly as good as the pros.

Dan Gerberry signed a reserve/future contract, but likely won’t make the roster as the Lions are expected to bring in another veteran backup via free agency.

Free Agent Analysis:

Detroit has two starting tackles that are coming off of injuries and remain question marks heading into the season. Tony Ugoh is unproven as a starter and the Lions can’t settle for uncertainties if they believe they have a legitimate chance of making the playoffs. Potential Free Agents include: Khalif Barnes, Alex Barron, Sean Locklear, Barry Sims, Langston Walker, and Ray Willis

D-Line (10)

Kyle Vanden Bosch, Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, Cliff Avril, Corey Williams, Lawrence Jackson, Sammie Lee Hill, Willie Young, Andre Fluellen, Barry Turner

Kyle Vanden Bosch had two vertebrae in his spinal cord fused together in early December last season, and figures to see a decrease in snaps in 2011. Vanden Bosch played in eleven games last season and he had 49 tackles, 4 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles, but he also gave the Lions so much more. In addition to helping lead the Lions’ player-organized workouts; he is being viewed as the “turning point” in the team’s attitude and improved play last season.

Ndamukong Suh was named the 2010 Defensive Rookie of the Year after leading all the NFL defensive tackles with 10 sacks. Suh has great potential and could become one of the greatest defensive tackles all-time, but he needs to work on having more of an impact against the run.

Rookie Nick Fairley (Auburn) will play in a three-man rotation with Ndamukong Suh and Corey Williams at defensive tackle. On passing downs, Fairley and Williams will play at defensive tackle and Suh will move to defensive end. Fairley is a good pass rusher and ranked seventh in the nation with 11.5 sacks last season.

Cliff Avril is hoping to get a long-term extension from the Lions after recording 8.5 sacks in just 13 games last season. Avril is a three-year player and received a first- and third-round tender, but he isn’t planning on signing the $3.3 million tender. If the Lions can lock up Cliff Avril long-term, they could have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL over the next few seasons.

Corey Williams only had 2 sacks in 16 starts last year and as a result the Lions went and drafted Nick Fairley to improve their pass rush. Williams’ role will decrease in 2011, but he will still see a lot of snaps since Ndamukong Suh will move over to defensive end in passing situations.

Lawrence Jackson was on the bench in the first half of last season, but he flashed both run-plugging and pass-rushing ability in November and December. Jackson won’t start, but he will be a viable rotational end and should be the player that gives Kyle Vanden Bosch a breather.

Sammie Lee Hill was well above average in pushing the pocket and stopping the run last season. Hill was just a situational run-stuffer last year, but his emergence could eventually make Corey Williams expendable. Expect Hill’s role to be reduced in 2011 though because Nick Fairley is going to take away both Hill and Williams’ playing time.

Willie Young only appeared in 2 games last season, but he had no impact in those games. Young is a former seventh round pick and will have to compete for the Lions’ final defensive end spot.

Andre Fluellen tendered a contract prior to the Lockout, but the Lions will probably release him because they have four defensive tackles ahead of him.

Barry Turner signed with the Lions last December after Kyle Vanden Bosch went down with an injury. Turner is a mediocre prospect and likely won’t make the team due to the Lion’s amazing depth.

Free Agent Analysis:

Detroit has one of the best defensive lines in the NFL and doesn’t need to sign anyone.

Linebackers (7)

Zack Follett, DeAndre Levy, Ashlee Palmer, Jordan Dizon, Caleb Campbell, Doug Hogue, Isaiah Ekejiuba

Zack Follett originally thought his career was over thanks to a degenerative neck ailment, but has apparently found some optimism. If he can pass a physical, he should be able to make the Lions as a reserve linebacker and as a special teamer. Follett is only listed as a starter because he has starting experience and because he’s a better option than anyone else on the current roster.

DeAndre Levy is expected to be the Lions’ middle linebacker in 2011 after playing hurt all of last season. When healthy, Levy is a good run stopper, but he needs to work on his coverage skills. In 2010, Levy recorded 72 tackles, 2 interceptions and 1 touchdown in just eleven games.

Ashlee Palmer is expected to compete with Bobby Carpenter (once he’s resigned) for an outside linebacker job. Palmer received 5 starts last season, but recorded 55 tackles, 1 sack and 3 forced fumbles in 16 games.

Jordan Dizon likely won’t make the Lions roster after tearing his PCL and ACL and damaging his MCL in the 2010 preseason. Dizon has a long journey ahead of him, but it’s doubtful that he can beat out the other players on the roster.

Caleb Campbell had 3 tackles as a special teamer after spending most of his time on the practice squad last season. The Lions are thin at linebacker, so it would appear his job is safe, but he won’t get a chance to become a starter.

Rookie Doug Hogue (Syracuse) is extremely athletic and is excellent in space, but he is still considered a raw prospect. Hogue needs to add bulk and must improve his coverage skills after frequently getting caught out of position in college. Hogue will be a backup in 2011, but he has plenty of upside.

Isaiah Ekejiuba is a career special teamer and should make the roster in that same role in 2011.

Free Agent Analysis:

Detroit is very young at linebacker and besides needing two starters, they need experience. The Lions plan to resign Bobby Carpenter, but Landon Johnson or anybody for that matter, would be the better option. Potential Free Agents include: Keith Bullock, Danny Clark, Thomas Davis, LeRoy Hill, Ben Leber, Kawika Mitchell, Mike Peterson, and Pisa Tinoisamoa

Cornerbacks (5)

Alphonso Smith, Nathan Vasher, Aaron Berry, Jack Williams, Prince Miller

Alphonso Smith emerged as a starter last season, but after he picked off a team-high five interceptions, his play began to slip and it started when Tom Brady torched him on Thanksgiving. Smith will start in 2011 unless the Lions are able to resign Chris Houston and sign a starting-caliber free agent.

Nathan Vasher is a starter on the current roster, but once free agency begins, he will likely be relegated to competing for the nickel job. Vasher used to be a starter for the Chicago Bears, but in his first season with the Lions, he only made five starts, producing just 19 tackles and 1 interception.

Aaron Berry played in just one game last season, but he recorded 3 tackles and 1 interception before suffering right shoulder injury that would require surgery. Berry had been in a competition for the nickel job prior to his injury, but he likely will be competing for the fourth corner spot.

Jack Williams missed all of 2010 after tearing his ACL in Week 10 of the 2009 season. Williams would’ve played sooner, but he had scar tissue that built up, preventing him full range of motion in his knee. However, Williams is healthy and has now been cleared for all football activities and should be in the mix for a backup cornerback job this summer.

Prince Miller made 8 tackles last season, appearing in just four games as a sub-package corner and as a special teamer. Miller will compete for the fifth corner spot and possibly as a punt returner.

Free Agent Analysis:

Detroit needs a shutdown corner if they are going to have any chance of making the playoffs. Resigning Chris Houston would give the Lions a solid No. 2 corner, but they need to sign a starting caliber corner so they can move Alphonso Smith into the nickel role. Potential Free Agents include: Nnamdi Asomugha, Chris Carr, Antonio Cromartie, Jonathan Joseph, Richard Marshall, Carlos Rogers, Ike Taylor, and Josh Wilson.

Safeties (5)

Louis Delmas, Erik Coleman, Randy Phillips, Amari Spievey, Paul Pratt

Louis Delmas played all of last season with a groin injury, but he was still able to lead the team with 84 tackles while also contributing 2 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. Delmas has since recovered and has participated in the teams’ player-organized activities without any limitation.

Erik Coleman was a seven-year starter before losing his job to William Moore last season. Coleman has always been a productive tackler, but he is a coverage liability and hasn’t intercepted a pass since 2008. Coleman will be an upgrade over the Lions’ safeties from last year, but he will eventually get replaced by Amari Spievey once Spievey learns the nuances of the position.

Randy Phillips was an undrafted free agent last season, but that was because of a torn right labrum that made him miss the entire 2009 season. Phillips figures to be the Lions’ backup free safety this season after last years’ safeties proved to be incapable of producing when given the opportunity.

Amari Spievey was inconsistent in his first season as a strong safety, but he didn’t embarrass himself and is still in the Lions’ plans to be the long-term strong safety. The Lions brought in Erik Coleman as insurance, and though Coleman figures to win the starting job, Spievey will be close behind and ready to start if Coleman messes up.

Paul Pratt appeared in two games as a corner last season, but allowed the lone pass thrown his way to be completed for 15 yards. The Lions are going to move him to free safety as a backup, but he won’t see any more playing time there.

Free Agent Analysis:

Detroit could go out and sign a better strong safety than Erik Coleman, but they believe Amari Spievey will soon become their long-term strong safety.

Kicker (1)

Jason Hanson

Jason Hanson is 41 years old, but he had missed just one game over the last 18 season before spraining his MCL in Week 9 last season. Before his injury, Hanson had converted 85.7 percent of his field goals, so it appears that he is still capable of kicking in the NFL despite his age.

Free Agent Analysis:

Detroit could bring back Dave Rayner as insurance, but Hanson will likely win the starting job because he is still kicking at a high level.

Punter (1)

Nick Harris

Nick Harris averaged 44.6 yards per punt last season and landed 24 punts inside the 20-yard line with only 8 touchbacks.

Free Agent Analysis:

Detroit has a good punter signed through 2012 and they don’t want to address the position until then.

Long Snapper (1)

Don Muhlbach

Don Muhlbach is in a contract year, but has done a good job to this point.

Free Agent Analysis:

Detroit is set at long snapper for this season, and if Don Muhlbach were to get injured, the Lions know that Dominic Raiola could fill in capably as a long snapper.

Kick/Punt Returners (1)

Stefan Logan

Stefan Logan averaged 26.3 yards per kick return and 12.1 yards per punt return in 2010. Logan also had a 105-yard kick return touchdown.

Free Agent Analysis:

Detroit is set at returner because Stefan Logan did a fabulous job last season.

Lions Unrestricted Free Agents (12)

Bobby Carpenter, Dylan Gandy, Corey Hilliard, Chris Houston, Landon Johnson, Turk McBride, Brandon McDonald, Julian Peterson, Dave Rayner, Kevin Smith, Drew Stanton, John Wendling

Bobby Carpenter is expected to compete for a starting outside linebacker job if he resigns with the Lions. Julian Peterson is a free agent and Zach Follett’s (neck) football future is in question, so the Lions need to resign him.

Dylan Gandy will be a backup if he returns to the Lions. Gandy will likely explore all of his options to see if any other teams value him higher than the Lions do.

Corey Hilliard was signed off the Browns practice squad last season because the Lions had too many injuries on their offensive line. Hilliard might come back, but the odds of him sticking on their roster are slim.

Chris Houston wants a long-term deal, but because he had recurring shoulder issues in 2010, the Lions want to see if he can still play at the same level he did last season. Houston is a fine No. 2 corner when healthy, but the Lions will still need to sign another corner even if they resign Houston

Landon Johnson might resign with the Lions this season because they are willing to “let him compete for a starting spot.” The Lions are thin at outside linebacker, so it’s not surprising that they want to retain Johnson despite the fact that he suffered two concussions towards the end of last season.

Turk McBride set career highs last season, racking up five sacks and 33 tackles in 15 games. If McBride were to resign with the Lions, he’d likely be a rotational end, but at least he would get a pay raise.

Brandon McDonald likely won’t be back with the Lions this season because cornerback is expected to be their top priority and McDonald isn’t one of the elite corners despite his starting experience from his time with the Cleveland Browns. McDonald fractured his forearm towards the end of last season and most teams will probably avoid signing him until one of their corners gets hurt.

Julian Peterson won’t be back with the Lions because they released him prior to the Lockout. By letting Peterson go, the Lions saved $8 million in salary cap room. Peterson will be 33 at the end of July and will need to sign a much cheaper contract.

Dave Rayner converted 81.3 percent of his field goals last season and was perfect from beyond 50 yards last season. Rayner wants to resign with the Lions, but only if they cut Jason Hanson. If the Lions choose the latter, Rayner should still be able to find a team in free agency.

Kevin Smith won’t be back with the Lions because they just drafted 2 halfbacks over the last two years. Smith averaged 3.8 yards per carry last season, so he might be able to find a backup job somewhere. The Cleveland Browns would be an ideal choice because Montario hardest is coming off of ACL surgery.

Drew Stanton completed 58 percent of his passes for 4 touchdowns and 3 interceptions in 6 games last season. Stanton would best off if he resigned with the Lions because he would become the Lions’ long-term backup to Matt Stafford, once Shaun Hill leaves.

John Wendling was a good special teamer last season, and could resign with the Lions in the same role. Wendling isn’t great in coverage as a safety though, so he likely won’t attract too much attention on the market.

Outlook for the 2011 Cleveland Browns

Outlook for the 2011 Cleveland Browns
See all 2 photos
Colt McCoy struggled during his rookie season, but believes he can master the Browns’ new West Coast Offense.
See all 2 photos
Rookie Phil Taylor (Baylor) is going to improve the Browns’ run defense and help the team switch to a 4-3 defense.

The Cleveland Browns were 5-11 last season and while they were third in the AFC North, they were among one of the worst teams in the league last season. The Browns’ quarterback play was pathetic in 2010 and their whole offense rested on the shoulders of Peyton Hillis. On defense, the Browns gave up 129.4 rushing yards per game which ranked as the sixth most in the NFL.

In an effort to change their losing ways, the Browns fired former Head Coach Eric Mangini and hired former St. Louis Rams offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur to replace him. With a new sheriff in town, the Browns are changing to the West Coast Offense and switching to a 4-3 Defense led by new defensive coordinator Dick Jauron.

In the 2011 NFL Draft, the Browns passed on selecting the second best receiver in the draft in Julio Jones (Oklahoma) and instead traded their sixth overall pick to the Atlanta Falcons for their 2011 and 2012 first-round picks, 2011 and 2012 fourth-round picks and 2011 second-round pick. In a separate trade, the Browns moved up in the first-round by trading the Atlanta Falcons’ first-round pick and their own third-round pick. With Kansas City’s first-round pick, the Browns selected defensive tackle Phil Taylor and with their own second-round pick they selected defensive end Jabaal Sheard (Pittsburgh). Both picks will upgrade the Browns’ run defense. With Atlanta’s second-round pick, the Browns selected a playmaker in receiver Greg Little (UNC). With Atlanta’s fourth-round pick, the Browns selected a versatile fullback in Owen Marecic (Stanford). The rest of the Browns’ selections were all depth picks.

With the addition of their rookies, let’s take a look at the Browns’ current roster and see what positions are still in need of upgrades.

Quarterbacks (4)

Colt McCoy, Seneca Wallace, Jake Delhomme, Jarrett Brown

Colt McCoy had a bad rookie season, completing 60.8 percent of his passes and averaging only 197 yards per game while throwing 6 touchdowns and 9 interceptions in 8 games. McCoy has become a better leader though and has organized offensive skill sessions with his teammates during the Lockout. McCoy was drafted to become the face of the Browns’ franchise, but last year was thrown into the starting quarterback role due to injuries. McCoy will be the starting quarterback in 2011 and he should be able to develop chemistry that will benefit him in the future, but it won’t be able to help the Browns make the playoffs this year.

Seneca Wallace has a lot of knowledge of the West Coast offense from his days in Seattle which is likely one of the main reasons that the Browns decided to resign Wallace to a three-year $9 million contract. Wallace is one of the most capable backups in the league and his mobility will be crucial if Colt McCoy were to go down with an injury.

Jake Delhomme is scheduled to make $5.4 million in base salary for 2011 and will likely be cut because the Browns aren’t going to overpay for a third-string quarterback. Delhomme played in 5 games last season, but threw for 2 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. Delhomme has 10 touchdowns and 25 interceptions over the last two seasons and is no longer capable of being a starting quarterback in the NFL. If released, Delhomme could become a backup on another team and serve as a mentor for a young starting quarterback. Potential suitors could include: the Baltimore Ravens, Carolina Panthers, Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Broncos, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings, San Francisco 49ers, and Tennessee Titans.

Jarrett Brown was an undrafted free agent last season and is currently poised to become the Browns’ third-string quarterback assuming Jake Delhomme is let go. Brown is probably better off being on the practice squad because he still needs to develop, but it isn’t the end of the world if the Browns were to keep him on their roster.

Free Agent Analysis:

Cleveland doesn’t need a quarterback because Colt McCoy is ready to become a starter and Seneca Wallace is a capable backup.

Halfbacks (3)

Peyton Hillis, Montario Hardesty, Quinn Porter

Peyton Hillis was overworked last year, but managed to produce numbers good enough to name him the cover athlete of Madden 2011. In 2010, Hillis had 270 carries for 1177 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground and had 61 receptions for 477 yards and 2 touchdowns through the air. Prior to 2010, Hillis had only received 81 carries in his career and it was evident at the end of the season that it took a toll on him. In his first 8 games last season, Hillis had averaged 4.78 yards per carry, but in the final 8 games, his yards per carry dropped to 3.82. Hillis took a beating in 2010, and led running backs with eight fumbles, while tying for third in the NFL by losing five of them. Hopefully, the Browns will be able to use Montario Hardesty in 2011, and be able to give Hillis more of a breather.

Montario Hardesty is expected to have a complementary role to Peyton Hillis in 2011 after missing 2010 with an ACL injury. Hardesty is a former second round pick with pass catching ability and could become the Browns third-down back.

Quinn Porter signed a reserve/future contract with the Browns, but would have made the Packers roster last season had it not been for a sprained MCL. Porter has playmaking ability when healthy, but lacks the mental part of the game. Porter should be able to land the third-string half back job though, considering he was good enough to make the Packers if it weren’t for his injury

Free Agent Analysis:

Cleveland is set at halfback, but will probably bring in an undrafted free agent to compete with Quinn Porter.

Fullback (2)

Owen Marecic, Tyler Clutts

Rookie Owen Marecic (Stanford) is expected to replace Lawrence Vickers as the Browns starting fullback. Marecic has pass catching abilities, (something Vickers didn’t have) and has had experience blocking for the 2009 Heisman runner-up Toby Gerhart. Marecic used to play linebacker as well so he’ll know what to expect from defenses when he lead blocks for Peyton Hillis.

Tyler Clutts signed a reserve/future contract, but likely won’t make the team because the Browns draft a young talented fullback.

Free Agent Analysis:

Cleveland drafted a fullback in the fourth round and Marecic is capable of starting in 2011.

Wide Receivers (8)

Greg Little, Mohamed Massaquoi, Brian Robiskie, Joshua Cribbs, Demetrius Williams, Carlton Mitchell, Jordan Norwood, Rod Windsor

Rookie Greg Little (UNC) will be the Browns’ No. 1 receiver on opening day because he is very good at getting yards after catch and has the ability to break tackles. Little could win the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award because the Browns new offense will have the same terminology as his college offense. With that benefit in a shortened offseason, Little will be way ahead of his fellow rookies and with the talent he possesses, he should be able to compete at a high level right from the start.

Mohamed Massaquoi has been working with Pro Bowl receivers Wes Welker, Hines Ward, Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson, and Chad Ochocinco during the Lockout. So far, Massaquoi has been improving his route running and is learning how to break down film better. Massaquoi is in his third-year in the NFL, but hopefully with his new knowledge, he’ll be able to improve his game and become a breakout player. Massaquoi will be the No. 2 receiver and should be able to better the 36 receptions for 483 yards and 2 touchdowns that he put up in 2010.

Brian Robiskie saw an increased role in 2010 and produced 29 receptions for 310 yards and 3 touchdowns. Brian Robiskie is a Michael Jenkins-type of receiver and lacks playmaking ability as evident by his 1.9 average of yards after the catch. Robiskie will operate out of the slot this season, but isn’t likely to be the long-term answer at the spot.

Joshua Cribbs is more of a gadget player than a receiver, but new Browns coach Pat Shurmur thinks that Cribbs still has the potential to be a threat in the passing game. Cribbs has the size (6’1’’, 215 pounds) and the speed to become a legit receiving threat, but hasn’t been given the opportunity to showcase it. In 2010, Cribbs set career highs with 23 receptions for 292 yards and 1 touchdown, but wasn’t involved in the offense enough. Cribbs is an expert at breaking tackles and has potential, but the Browns need to figure out how to get their most exciting player the ball more. Cribbs will compete for the slot receiver position, which is a spot that he should thrive in because he can catch a slant and spin away from tacklers with ease.

Demetrius Williams is a deep threat that couldn’t make it in Baltimore, a team that is filled with possession receivers. Williams has the talent to make it in the NFL, but as everyone knows, “those who don’t perform, often become forgotten”. The Browns could be Williams last chance in the NFL because the Browns have been the NFL’s laughingstock at receiver over the last couple of years and if he can’t make it as No. 5 receiver with them, he’d probably be better off going to the CFL or UFL.

Carlton Mitchell is physically gifted, but needs to show improved hands and route running if he wants to become the No. 5 receiver. Mitchell has the potential to be a good third-down possession receiver, but if he can’t limit his drops, he’ll never become anything more than an inactive player on game days. Mitchell played in 5 games last season, but didn’t catch a ball.

Jordan Norwood has spent the last two seasons on the Eagles and Browns’ practice squads, but isn’t expected to take the next big step in 2011. Norwood is still young (24), but is out of practice squad options and will need to beat out Demetrius Williams and Carlton Mitchell in order to make the team.

Rod Windsor played in the AFL last year with the Arizona Rattlers and earned Rookie of the Year honors with 47 receiving touchdowns. Windsor dominated in the AFL, but there is a huge difference in the talent between the NFL and the AFL. Windsor will need a big preseason if he wants a chance to make the roster, but he will likely make the practice squad and be used as a “preparation receiver” in practices in the red zone.

Free Agent Analysis:

Cleveland is a rebuilding team that will not be able to contend with the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2011 and wants to see what they have at receiver before deciding to bring in players. Brian Robiskie isn’t the prototypical slot receiver, but Joshua Cribbs will be given the chance to beat