Let's take a look at our weekend mailbag. We also have another edition of the always popular "Homer of the Week" segment.
James Walker: Don't put too much pressure on Dalton right away, Brennan. Keep in mind, Bradford was the No. 1 overall pick and considered much more of a "sure thing" at quarterback than Dalton as a second-round pick. I think all of this year's rookie quarterbacks have some big questions, including Dalton. But he is the player who best fits what the Bengals are trying to run. Cincinnati will be in rebuilding mode this season. So I think it's way too premature to put Dalton in Bradford's class before Dalton throws his first pass.
Quinton from Dacula, Ga., writes: I was just wondering if it might be a good idea for the Bengals to still go after Matt Hasselbeck?
Walker: I doubt it, Quinton. As long as Palmer is on the roster and the team is potentially on the hook for $11.5 million this season, it's dangerous to sign a big-name veteran. I think Cincinnati had to make a choice whether to spend a high draft pick on a quarterback or sign/trade for a high-price veteran, and the team made its choice with Dalton. No one knows how Palmer will feel several months from now. Maybe he will get the itch, have a change of heart and want his job back. Maybe not. But all he has to do is show up and says he wants to play again. If the Bengals add a veteran, look for it to be an inexpensive, non-threatening alternative.
Tim from Erie, Pa., writes: How much do you think these "players only" minicamps will help the Cleveland Browns while they're still locked out?
Walker: It certainly doesn't hurt, Tim. I think it's a great idea for teams like Cleveland and Cincinnati within the division to get some kind of head start. Those teams need to hit the ground running in training camp, trying to learn new West Coast offenses. The Browns also have to learn a 4-3 defense. Timing and precision are very important in a West Coast system, and Browns quarterback Colt McCoy is trying to get it down.
David from New York writes: Why did the Browns go for so much defense in the draft?
Walker: David, the Browns have a lot of holes, but they needed several starters on defense, especially on the line. I thought filling the defensive end and defensive tackle positions was wise for the Browns, who are switching to a 4-3 this season. After that, the Browns looked to get quarterback Colt McCoy some help with receiver Greg Little, tight end Jordan Cameron and fullback Owen Marecic.
Sydney Swinton from Florence, Ariz., wants to know my thoughts about the Pittsburgh Steelers not taking a cornerback until the third round.
Walker: With their situation, I thought Pittsburgh should have drafted one higher. But I don't know what their draft board looks like, so it's likely no one was rated high enough when the first two picks were made. The Steelers are not a team that reaches too often, need or no need. So I'm not surprised they took who they believed were the best available players. But this puts pressure on the team to re-sign veteran cornerback Ike Taylor. If he doesn't return, one of these young corners may have to step up big next season, and Bryant McFadden would assume the responsibility as the team's No. 1 corner.
Walker: Hood and Heyward were drafted to play defensive end. Casey Hampton is still playing at a high level and remains the starter at nose tackle. Backup Chris Hoke is a free agent the Steelers may opt to bring back on a short-term contract since they didn't find another defensive tackle in the draft.
Walker: Chances are a lot slimmer, Thomas. I thought Wilson did a solid job after taking over for Fabian Washington. But Baltimore really likes what rookie Jimmy Smith brings to the table and believe he can be the next great corner. That position costs a lot of money in free agency. And with Smith in the fold, Domonique Foxworth returning and Lardarius Webb on the roster, Baltimore doesn't need to overspend for another corner.
Luke from Portland, Ore., writes: Do you think my team the Ravens can finally push through and beat out the Steelers for the AFC North after a solid draft?
Walker: I'm not ready to answer that question just yet before free agency and training camps, Luke. I always like to see all the teams in person. But I like what Baltimore did in the draft as long as the wild card -- Smith -- is productive and stays out of trouble. With the Steelers, they have a lot of history against them as Super Bowl runners-up. That might also help Baltimore get over the hump.
Comment and complaint department
Here are comments and complaints this week from our AFC North community:
Dan Deegan from Frederick, Md., writes: Hey James, I was wondering how successful you'd think Troy Polamalu would be in a different defensive scheme? I feel like what makes him so successful is how he can be anywhere on the field at any moment, which plays perfectly into Dick LeBeau's plans. I’m a big Steelers fan, but I don’t think he would be nearly as dynamic a player in a more "normal" defense. Your thoughts?
Walker: Former Dallas Cowboys safety and ESPN analyst Darren Woodson first brought up this point to me earlier this year, and it's an interesting theory. It's probably a question we will never answer, because it appears Polamalu will be a lifetime Steeler. Even if LeBeau retires in the next year or two, the Steelers would be wise to keep many of the same principles in place. But I believe Polamalu is talented enough to thrive in any defense. His athleticism, instincts and acceleration (when healthy) are a rare combination that any team could use. There is no player like him, and if you ask 32 coaches if they want Polamalu for their defense, they would take him in a heartbeat.
Andy from Canada writes: Here's one for your complaint department, James. Not only is it too early to label Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie busts, it's not even justified to say they've "struggled" the past two seasons like you and several others have. In two seasons these guys have had five quarterbacks throwing to them (rarely) in an Eric Mangini run-first and pass-to-the-tight-end-second offense.
Walker: That's a fair point, Andy, and something that Browns president Mike Holmgren is banking on. Holmgren admits last year's offense was archaic. In a pass-heavy NFL, it's hard to win games when you're running the ball and throwing to the same running back 70 percent of the time. I do not write off any player after one season, but two or three years gives you a pretty good idea how good a player is. So this is a big season for Massaquoi and Robiskie.
Ted from Hoboken, N.J., writes: Where does Scouts Inc. get their record projections for the mock 2012 draft? I challenge the notion that the Browns are worst for a number of reasons. But frankly, the main reason I challenge it is that the AFC North plays the AFC West and the NFC West this year. You couldn't ask for an easier draw than that. Those are the weakest divisions in both conferences.
Walker: I was surprised the Browns were projected to have the No. 1 overall pick in 2012, as well. But it's early, Ted. Free agency may change the perception. The Browns have holes, but I don't view them as the worst team in the NFL.
Milan from H-Ville, Ohio, writes: You responded to a question about why you think the Browns are two years away to contending, which is fine. It's your opinion. You told us Browns fans to fire away our predictions, but every time we do we end up on "Homer of the Week." Steelers and Baltimore haven't had an OTA or played a game yet either! I am finding your "Homer of the Week" is reserved for the Browns and Bengals. Some teams surprise each year, whether a letdown or a new contender. Even if BAL and PITT are better and contenders, they still have not done anything this year. So let's get some Steeler or Baltimore homers!
Walker: "Homer of the Week" is open to anyone, Milan. But the Ravens and Steelers are coming off playoff runs and a Super Bowl appearance, respectively, and both teams are deep and very talented. Therefore, unless a Baltimore or Pittsburgh fan says their team will go 19-0 and crush everyone 50-0, it's hard to label them homers. I don't consider a Ravens or Steelers fan saying their team can make a playoff run this year a homer statement. I think that's a realistic goal for both teams. So the bar is really high for those two teams. Speaking of which…
AFC North Homer of the Week
Coming off last week's classic homer entry by John Finley, we have another Browns fan willing to defend Finley's Super Bowl prediction.
BobTheDude83 via Twitter writes: That "Homer of the Week" isn't crazy. People just don't give the Browns any credit at all. [Evan] Moore and [Ben] Watson are a sure-handed TE duo unlike any other. Robo and Mo-Mass are budding receivers. Colt McCoy is accurate, tough, and a true leader. His baptism by fire last season will only make him better. The law firm of Hillis and Hardesty will decimate defenses. Can't be stopped, 13-3 season for the Brownies.
Walker: Thirteen wins, BobTheDude? I give you and John Finley a lot of credit. You gentlemen are bold with your Browns predictions. The last time the Browns won 13 or more games in the regular season was in 1948. You really think that streak will be broken this year? But that's what makes you our "Homer of the Week."
But wait! There's more. We also received a special message from last week's winner: John Finley!
John Finley from Easley, S.C., writes: Good afternoon Mr. James Walker. I must say that I really enjoy reading your articles covering the AFC North division. You keep us well informed about our division at all times. The AFC North has to be a very hard division to write about because of the huge fan base and rivalries stirring at all times. You have to keep everyone somewhat happy yet satisfied at the same time. That is very tough to do. I am giving you an A+ grade for your great work of taming down the AFC North fans. I see the respect everyone has for you by keeping themselves under control. Some blogs get out of control but in your case its under control because of the great RESPECT your readers have for you. Anyhow, keep up the great work and thank you for putting me in your "HOMER OF THE WEEK". You should go ahead a reserve your airline tickets to Indy now, since you will be reporting about the Cleveland Browns’ win against the Detroit Lions in Super Bowl XLVI. By the way, email me some pictures of Mr. Randy Lerner and Co. holding the Lombardi Trophy. Keep up the awesome work and have a great day.
Walker: Thank you, Mr. John Finley, for the kind words and taking your "Homer of the Week" award in stride. Plane tickets to the Super Bowl are really cheap right now, but I'm not sure I can trust your crystal ball. If the Browns do win the Super Bowl in February, I will make sure to take a picture of Lerner hoisting the Lombardi and e-mail it to you. You have my word. That's the least I can do if you nail this zany prediction.