AFC Update: Roster Struggles Loom Ahead Of NFL Preseason
By Christian S. Kohl
Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens’ hopes for a repeat championship suffered a devastating blow this week, as TE Dennis Pitta underwent surgery to fix a dislocated hip this week. The injury will cost Pitta all of 2013 and possibly parts of 2014. In brighter news, Jacoby Jones passed his conditioning test and returned to action this week, while Arthur Jones and Terrell Suggs are both reportedly lighter and in outstanding shape to begin the season.
Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals dodged a bullet this week, as an MRI of star wideout AJ Green indicated no structural damage. With injuries to both Bernard Scott and Cedric Peerman, rookie Giovani Bernard looks to work towards a timeshare with Benjarvus Green-Ellis for starting RB duties.
Cleveland Browns: The Norv Turner attack appears to be solidifying in Cleveland, as he looks to feature Jordan Cameron at TE as well as handing the ball to star RB Trent Richardson over 300 times this year. Meanwhile, they also inked G John Greco to a five-year deal, while Ryan Miller was carted off the field Saturday with a concussion.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Heath Miller was placed on the active/PUP list this week, with no timetable yet for return after destroying his knee in week 16 last year. Roethlisberger also reported some discomfort in his surgically repaired knee this week, though preliminary reports suggest he won’t be impeded at all by it barring further injury.
Houston Texans: In another disappointing injury setback for Houston, star RB Arian Foster has been placed on the active/PUP list with a calf strain. The troublesome issue with this injury from two months ago is that Foster has no clear timetable to return. Houston has already said they will look to reduce his workload this year to not burn him out further. Joining him on that list is safety Ed Reed, who also has no timetable for return. The Texans are simply praying he’ll be ready to go by week 1.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Maurice Jones-Drew is reportedly operating at close to full strength early on. The Jaguars are also very impressed with WR Cecil Shorts and expect big things from him this season. Coach Gus Bradley is less impressed with Blaine Gabbert, who has shown little but ineptitude in camp thus far. He will need to make large strides forward, and quickly, if he wants to continue to start in this league.
Indianapolis Colts: Ahmad Bradshaw opened camp on the active/PUP list, but reports are that his issues are not a major cause for concern. Optimism is high in Indy currently, with the three receiver set of Reggie Wayne, Darius Heyward-Bey and T.Y. Hilton. The offense according to QB Andrew Luck will resemble a hybrid of Bruce Arians’ playbook and Luck’s back at Stanford. If Luck is handling an offense with which he is comfortable and has several steady options in skill positions, the Colts may be poised to take a bigger step further this year towards their goal to recapture a Super Bowl championship.
Tennessee Titans: Jake Locker is expected to start all four preseason games for the Titans, with the presumption that Locker will need all the developmental help he can get before week 1. Kevin Walter is expected to take 4-5 weeks to recover from back surgery, and No. 10 overall pick Chance Warmack remains as one of two of the top ten picks this year to begin a contract holdout extending into training camp. The Titans are hoping to resolve that dispute in the very near future.
Buffalo Bills: Stevie Johnson is reportedly fully healthy and ready to go in training camp. Also, the Bills are looking to expand C.J. Spiller’s role in the attack, so much so they predict he may accumulate 2,000 yards this season if healthy. Still no word on who will emerge as the QB starter, as both Kolb and Manuel are expected to evenly split reps with the first team offense. Kolb is the favorite to start week 1.
Miami Dolphins: Mike Wallace is reportedly struggling a bit in Miami, not yet on the same page with Ryan Tannehill and also discussing sporadic reps from the slot. First rounder Dion Jordan is finally healthy enough to participate in team drills now, though consensus is he will be used sparingly in his rookie campaign.
New England Patriots: In no surprise whatsoever, reports from New England indicate Stevan Ridley may see a widely expanded role this year. While the Pats struggle to find options to replace Welker, Hernandez and possibly Gronkowski, WR Kenbrell Thompkins has emerged early as a potential impact player for New England. Belichick most certainly hopes Thompkins will become the next in line of many unheralded and untouted players to contribute heavily to the Patriots offensive attack.
New York Jets: The Jets have not avoided DB drama with Revis now in Tampa. First round pick Dee Milliner is also holding out during training camp, with the two sides apparently not close to agreeing to terms. How this affects his development is unclear, though his absence in camp will certainly not benefit him as he attempts to conquer the learning curve of the NFL game. Also, no further word on who will begin week 1 at QB, so it’s more or less chaos as usual for the Jets as camp begins.
Denver Broncos: Von Miller’s four-game suspension has been confirmed to be unrelated to an additional positive drug test. Whatever the cause, the Broncos will badly miss Miller early on, should his appeal be upheld. Meanwhile, Denver is looking to limit Champ Bailey’s reps early on, resting him and not exposing the 15-year veteran to unnecessary injury risk.
Kansas City Chiefs: Good news this week out of Kansas City, as Dwayne Bowe was cleared to play after getting over a chest virus. Also, another piece fell into place as they inked No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher to a four-year deal. The Chiefs look poised to make a big leap this year to escape ending the season at the bottom of the NFL heap in 2013.
San Diego Chargers: The Chargers are looking to use a combination of simplicity and moving pieces to attack the end zone this season. The passes thrown by Rivers are reportedly simpler and less dangerous, as San Diego looks to prominently use WR Danario Alexander in that attack. Meanwhile, the Chargers are so far using a rotation of running backs, swapping in Ryan Matthews, Danny Woodhead and Ronnie Brown in the first team offensive sets. All will need to contribute heavily this season for San Diego to return to form as a legitimate threat in the division.
Oakland Raiders: Matt Flynn has emerged among a cast of outcasts as the starter at QB for Oakland this season. Oakland also signed G Andre Gurode, which will likely not be an impact signing. Oakland is struggling to find players to cobble together a real, competitive roster this season.
That’s it for news around the AFC this week. The preseason begins next Sunday, and from there it’s just a few short weeks before the glory that is Kickoff Weekend. Keep it here for all the updates along the way.
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Christian S. Kohl is a sports contributor for CBS Local Digital Media.