AFC North Notes: Competition for Cundiff

ITEM: Bengals working on their defense
Coach Marvin Lewis said the team is working toward signing former Dallas CB Terence Newman, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, which also reported that Newman was cut by the Cowboys two weeks ago because of his age, salary and declining play.

"We would love to still add Terence to our football team," Lewis said in the story. "As he said, his best years of his career was when he was playing for Mike Zimmer. So he is excited about that opportunity, too. Hopefully, we will get something concluded here fairly quickly."

With Leon Hall's status unknown after he ruptured an Achilles tendon in the middle of November 2011, that leaves the team looking for cornerbacks to play opposite Nate Clements. The Bengals also have Jason Allen and Adam Jones there.

Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer reported that OLB Manny Lawson is telling members of the Bengals that he has agreed to terms on a deal that will keep him with the team for the 2012 season. Lawson is good against the run and in coverage, but his lack of sacks prevents him from being the kind of player who attracts a lot of outside interest.

As for the perceived need to add another wide receiver, Lewis said during the NFL meetings that, "we feel better about it in-house than people know. We have the draft. There's still some other ways we are looking at. Still a lot of things in play."

One option the Bengals haven't dismissed is re-signing Jerome Simpson, whose sentencing on a drug-related felony charge is scheduled for next Thursday. He could receive the 60-day jail sentence that prosecutors recommended or receive a more lenient sentence. It's believed Simpson is to be suspended four games by the league for a violation of the drug policy.

"He's got a lot of hurdles to go through," Lewis said. "I think you have to evaluate, from our standpoint, what is the best thing for Jerome and us. We know the challenges on and off the field."

ITEM: Browns "moving forward" with McCoy at QB
Coach Pat Shurmur told reporters at the NFL meetings that "we're moving forward'' with Colt McCoy as the starting quarterback.

"At this point, he's our quarterback,'' said Shurmur. "We're looking forward to him being our guy and I'm looking forward to seeing him improve. We believe he has a chance to be a fine player in this league.''

The Browns haven't ruled out adding a quarterback in the draft, and they haven't said they wouldn't use a high pick to do that either. The Plain Dealer reported the team will be bringing all of the top quarterback prospects to Cleveland for pre-draft visits.

But now apparently is the time to support McCoy.

"I want to see him have an offseason,'' said Shurmur. "It takes awhile to really learn an offense. Now he's had a chance to look at all of the cut-ups and have a better understanding of it.''

As for starting guard Eric Steinbach, who was released by the Browns two weeks ago, "I think it's realistic he could be back," said Shurmur.

ITEM: Competition likely at PK, along offensive line
With 11 seconds left in an AFC Championship Game that the Baltimore Ravens were losing by three points, kicker Billy Cundiff badly missed a 32-yard field goal, and the New England Patriots advanced to Super Bowl XLVI.

Maybe that one miss won't cost Cundiff his job, but that miss at the end of a season in which he missed 10 attempts has left Coach John Harbaugh interested in having competition for the job this summer.

"Yeah, we'll probably bring the best group of players to camp that we can," Harbaugh told the Baltimore Sun. "If we can get a kicker who is capable of competing with Billy, we'll do it. Do you have to draft a guy? Is there a free agent? Is there a guy that will be on the street? That's kind of hard to determine. We want competition for pretty much every position. I say that so I'm not ruling anything out, but Billy is our kicker. And I would anticipate Billy will be our kicker for the opening game of the season. I think he'll have a great preseason. I think he'll have a great season next year, but everybody gets competition and he's no exception."

During the recently completed owners meetings, Harbaugh identified another area of his team that needs work.

"We have to upgrade the offensive line," Harbaugh said. "I don't even know if we have a full complement of linemen to be on our 53-man roster right now."

The Ravens re-signed veteran center Matt Birk, but they lost Pro Bowl left guard Ben Grubbs to the New Orleans Saints. Jah Reid spent much of his rookie season at tackle in 2011 and he currently is sitting in Grubbs' former spot on the depth chart. Left tackle Bryant McKinnie, right guard Marshal Yanda and right tackle Michael Oher are returning starters from a group that Harbaugh admitted had "real issues" at times during last season.

The only other linemen currently on the Ravens' roster are Reid, guard Howard Barbieri, tackle Ramon Harewood and centers Cecil Newton and Justin Boren.

"We don't have our five starters set. We have guys where (you say), 'Can they play a position or not?' We're talking about Jah. Can he play left guard? So we have to get better there just for the fact that we don't really have the numbers there right now," Harbaugh said. "The thing I've learned over the years, it starts with the offensive line on offense. The quarterback is obviously critically important but if you don't have an offensive line, you can forget about it."

During the same interview, Harbaugh identified Paul Kruger as the likely replacement for Jarrett Johnson, also lost via free agency.

"I think Paul is probably the leading candidate for the (strong-side) linebacker job," Harbaugh said. "I could very definitely see him doing that. When we lost Jarret, I went back and watched all of Paul's tape. I watched every one of his plays from last year, just to try and get a feel just for whether or not we'd be comfortable with him in there. He did a nice job in coverage, he set the edge well. Obviously, he's a very good pass rusher. I believe Paul can do it. I think he will do it."

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