Chat with James Walker
Walker joined ESPN.com in 2008 after three seasons covering the Cleveland Browns for the Columbus Dispatch. He also covered the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Cavaliers at the Dispatch. Walker grew up in Hyattsville, Md., before attending Temple University, graduating in 2001 with a B.A. in communications and mass media. He resides in the Cleveland area.
Send your questions now and join Walker on Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET!
James Walker (4:00 PM)
Hello, everyone. Let's talk some football, and particularly the AFC North.
Alex, Louisville, Kentucky
Do you think that Ochocinco will be traded before training camp? If not then do you think Chris Henry could possibly beat him at his position?
James Walker (4:02 PM)
The Bengals have never altered their stance in saying they would not trade Ochocinco. Now that the draft has passed, there is no reason to believe they won't keep him for at least another year.
j.w. do your think chris henry will have a break out year in 2009???
James Walker (4:04 PM)
Tough to say. This is a contract year for Henry, so he is certainly motivated. He has the ability but has never put it together for a full year. His best chance is to win the No. 3 WR job and go from there.
Todd (Carlsbad, CA)
Why do some NFL experts think the Steelers' OL will be better in 2009 after another season of playing together? If you can't move your feet and have the right hand technique, you can 15 years together and still be average.
James Walker (4:06 PM)
Most of it, Todd, is that it was Pittsburgh's weakest unit and there is nowhere to go but up. The Steelers won a Super Bowl with Ben Roethlisberger taking a pounding every week. Now that the players and the coaching staff have a full offseason to work together and come up with better protection schemes, there is the thought that the o-line can make some strides.
Kevin Heard, Chesapeake, Va.
How would you describe Mike Tomlin's demeanor in OTA's compared to his demeanor last season? Is he more focused on the new additions to the team or more focused on making sure the veterans have'nt become complacent?
James Walker (4:09 PM)
Good question. I wasn't in Pittsburgh during OTAs, but I was there during mandatory minicamp. Tomlin seems more locked in, because he has to. He is the one person who cannot get soft by the success because that travels down to the rest of the team. Tomlin understands that.
Hey James, hope all is well. I just wanted to comment on the browns' signing of Roderick Hood. Simply, I think it may be one of the best moves made by the new regime. Now for a question, How do you have the browns so low in the Power Rankings? I understand that they were awful at the end of last year, but you have to admit that they have improved a ton on paper since the end of last year. Just curious.
James Walker (4:13 PM)
I think the Browns are going to be a scrappy team this year, Bobby. I'm just not sure they are good enough to win a lot of games. The reason I ranked them so low, as I explained in the AFC North blog, is because they have too many questions. I can't vote a team in the top 20 which doesn't know its starting quarterback or No. 2 WR. There's always room to move up. But for now, they have a lot of things to figure out first.
Jake Ogden, UT
James, With all the changes the Bengals have made on their O-Line, do you think they will be able to protect C.Palmer better than last year or the year before?
James Walker (4:18 PM)
This is another situation where I think it can only improve. The Bengals spent a first-round pick on Andre Smith, so that will help one tackle position. A lot of players are moving around, but the unit should improve in 2009.
Hey James, with the WR soap opera going on in Cincinnati, once again, how is Jerome Simpson developing? Can he be expected to play and produce this year?
James Walker (4:21 PM)
I will get a close look at Simpson next month in minicamp. But he is someone the Bengals hope/need to come through. I can tell you, Dave, there were some teams that were not very high on Simpson. One team I talked to last summer pegged him as low as a fourth or fifth rounder. So Simpson certainly has some doubters.
my birthday is 2moro
James Walker (4:22 PM)
Happy Birthday, Jason.
Mike (Altoona, Pa)
Do you foresee the Steelers signing FWP? If not, are they looking at Mendenhall as their long term RB?
James Walker (4:24 PM)
Mike, both situations are related. Pittsburgh is going in with an open mind, but unless Willie Parker has a monster year, he probably won't be back. Rashard Mendenhall also has to prove that he is ready to take over in 2010.
John (Chicago, IL)
Its time for the AFC North to take on the NFC North! How do think the AFC teams are going to fair? Clean sweep?
James Walker (4:25 PM)
Too early to make predictions, John. But there are some interesting matchups. I want to see how Jay Cutler plays against some pretty good defenses in the AFC North division.
Giles (Newbury Hills, FL)
James, what is the most important thing the Browns can accomplish during the off season to start winning again?
James Walker (4:30 PM)
First, they need to find their quarterback. How many years now have Cleveland had a QB controversy? Second, the players need to buy into Eric Mangini's system. He's throwing a lot at them right now. Those two things would bring a lot of stability to the team.
Jonathon (Lima, Peru)
What other contracts do you think will get done among the 9 Steelers in the last year of their deals? Do you expect anything to get done with the Starks deal?
James Walker (4:32 PM)
The Steelers will try to get something done with Starks. But I'm not sure it's going to happen. If nothing moves there, everyone else likely will play out the season.
James, on paper it would appear the Bengals D should be much improved, even after finishing 12th in yards allowed. What can we expect from Roy Williams, Tank, a healthy Rivers, etc this year?
James Walker (4:35 PM)
Rivers has a chance to be a really good player if he stays healthy this year. Roy Williams could help in run situations, not necessarily against the pass. And Tank Johnson seems excited to play in a 4-3 again. If Cincy cracks the top 10 defensively this year, look out.
Brandon (Mentor, OH)
James, I see you've given some flack to the Browns over the QB. Do you think Mangini really hasn't picked a QB. It appears from many of the moves this offseason that Quinn will be the starter. Perhaps he is just being hush hush on things?
James Walker (4:38 PM)
There are some conspiracy theories out there. But I'm convinced the Browns are evaluating both quarterbacks to see who emerges. Quinn so far is being given a slight edge.
WHAT POSITION DID YOU PLAY IN HIGH SCHOOL?
James Walker (4:40 PM)
I played cornerback.
Do you think the lions can somehow make the playoffs?
James Walker (4:42 PM)
Anything is possible in the NFL, Mark. But it's very unlikely.
How good will the Ravens D be this year and do you think Flacco will go through a sophomore slump?
James Walker (4:45 PM)
The Ravens defense will be fine. They may not be top five, but good enough. And with Joe Flacco improving, it should balance things out a bit. I don't believe Flacco will have a slump in his second year.
James, one thing not really talked about for improving the Bengals chances is that their D was 12th, but the offense lead the league in 3 and outs. If Carson and an improved O-Line can give the D some rest, along with the additions, the D may actually win some games for the team. 10-6, you heard it from Henry first!
James Walker (4:46 PM)
Ok. Henry in Columbus says the Bengals are going 10-6.
David Spencer (Portland, OR)
Hey James, love the blog. I am concerned at the depth behind the Steelers James Harrison and Lamar Woodley. Who is back there and is there any chance Steelers go after Greg Ellis?
James Walker (4:48 PM)
Pittsburgh doesn't have any significant cap room to go after trades or signings of players.
NICK (PITTSBURGH PA)
Well if Henry in Columbus says the Bengals are going 10-6, then Nick from Pittsburgh says the Steelers are going 16-0.....And Ben wins the league MVP.
James Walker (4:49 PM)
Ok. Nick from Pittsburgh predicts 16-0 for the Steelers. Any more?
How are the ravens feeling about their WR situation... any sleepers to contribute this year?
James Walker (4:52 PM)
The Ravens say they are fine. We can only take them for their word. Marcus Smith looked pretty good in minicamp. Maybe he can surprise some people this year.
James, Do you think that the Ravens will use Troy Smith more this year? Possibly in the wildcat formation or out as a WR?
James Walker (4:54 PM)
Troy is going to stay where he is as a QB. Right now he is in a battle for the No. 2 job with John Beck. You will see the wildcat from Baltimore this year, but don't expect any WR play from Smith.
Ray(Los Angeles, CA)
Hey, James. I enjoy reading your blog. How confident are the Steelers in the ability of Limas Sweed and will he be able to fill in where Nate Washington left off?
James Walker (4:58 PM)
The Steelers feel good about Limas. Most importantly, Limas is feeling confident. I think he lost his swagger by not playing for the first time in his career last year. Then when he was called on late, he wasn't ready. So Sweed is working really hard this offseason to be ready when his number is called. I think he's going to be fine.
James Walker (5:00 PM)
Everyone thanks again for your time. Don't forget to check out the AFC North blog.