AFC Notes: Bengals, Browns, Steelers

     

Bengals

Bengals QB Joe Burrow (knee) said he expects to be ready for the start of the 2021 regular season. 

“I think I’ll be ready,” Burrow said, via Ben Baby of ESPN. “I think it’ll be just fine.”

Burrow mentioned that he was devasted to sustain the season-ending knee injury given that the Bengals had many “winnable games” in the latter portion of their schedule. 

“I wanted to finish out the year and finish strong,” Burrow said. “I thought there were a lot of winnable games in this part of the schedule that we had. And then the injury happened, and that was devastating for me.”

Burrow is confident that Bengals HC Zac Taylor will have a long career in the NFL. 

“I think Zac is going to be a great coach for a long time,” Burrow said. “I’m happy to be in the position that I’m in and to help build this organization, but it’s going to be on Zac’s back. He’s the leader of what we’re trying to do, and he’s awesome.”

  • The Bengals announced Sunday that they’ve hired Frank Pollack as their offensive line coach and run game coordinator. 

Browns

Browns’ LG Joel Bitonio spoke about winning again under HC Kevin Stefanski, who has turned around a struggling culture that had issues under former HC Freddie Kitchens and an ownership group that was largely concerned with analytics.

“I didn’t know what it was like to win again,” Bitonio said, via Kalyn Kahler of Bleacher Report. “We were like, losers, you know what I mean? You had to go home to your friends, and it was like, Oh, you guys went 1-15. You guys were 0-16. That stretch—that was tough. When you go through so many losses and so many downturns, and so many times where the ball doesn’t bounce your way or there is the one penalty that messes you up, to have those rolls kind of go your way this year, it was just big. Right or wrong, Stefanski puts himself in the line of fire no matter what. He is the first one to point to himself and say he didn’t call good enough plays even if we know as a team that we didn’t execute well enough or there were chances for us to win. There is a leadership component, like, Hey, this man is taking responsibility.”

Anonymous sources who spoke to Kahler talked about Kitchens style being hindered by Owner Jimmy Haslam and CFO Paul DePodesta.

“DePodesta would tell you a four-yard run was worth zero points on the analytical scale and it was about explosive plays downfield,” one source commented. “Analytics was so powerful with Mr. Haslam that they made Freddie meet every Monday about the game plan. I think it really changed Freddie from who he was when he was just the offensive coordinator.”

According to another of Kayln’s sources, both QB Baker Mayfield and WR Odell Beckham were unable to trust Kitchens and their offensive coaches with so many combating styles present. There eventually came a point where Beckham tried unsuccessfully to mend the issues, which caused Mayfield to turn the other cheek.

“Once you get on Baker’s bad side, you are done. That’s it,” the source told Kayln. “Odell tried to piece it together, and nothing came out of it. Baker is the type who loves structure. He loves having an agenda, he loves having a great idea of what is going on and why you are doing this and that, and you can just tell they (now) have a structure there. They are all on the same page.”

  • Browns’ DE Myles Garrett commented on DE Olivier Vernon suffering a ruptured Achilles: “It’s unfortunate, hate to see him go down, especially like that, it’s tough watching him on the ground kind of knowing what had happened like that, we’ve got guys who are going to have to fill in the role.” (Nate Ulrich)
  • Browns CBs Denzel Ward and Kevin Johnson are still on the team’s COVID-19 list and will not play in Sunday’s Wildcard game. (Mary Kay Cabot)
  • Browns CB Terrance Mitchell was held out of Friday’s practice due to a possible false-positive COVID-19 test. However, Mitchell officially tested negative and is expected to play. (Cabot)

Steelers

  • Mark Kaboly of The Athletic says the Steelers consider rookie LB Alex Highsmith to be an unsung hero in the wake of the injury to LB Bud Dupree.
  • Kaboly also notes that VP of Football Omar Khan interviewed with the Texans but is most likely not looking to leave his position with the Steelers despite not being a candidate for their GM position at this point in time.
  • As for GM Kevin Colbert, Kaboly believes that he will eventually retire from his job with the Steelers and is not willing to go anywhere else, including to the Lions who were reported to be interested in him.
 
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