AFC North slants and screens

ORLANDO, Fla. - Quarterbacks are a hot topic in the AFC North these days. They don't know how long they're going to have one in Pittsburgh and they've got two new ones in Cleveland.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin didn't have much to say about Ben Roethlisberger's off-field problems. And he says he's not thinking about backup plans, as in if backup quarterback Dennis Dixon is the guy if Roethlisberger is lost for any amount of time.

"We don't necessarily have a backup plan at this time. It's early in this process and we'll let the process run its course and kind of make decisions from there," Tomlin said Tuesday at the AFC coaches media breakfast. "I hope we don't come to that. ... I think we're in a position right now that we can kind of wait and see. Of course if we have to we will but I don't think it's gotten to that point yet where we need to kind of make those hard and fast decisions."

No word if Roethlisberger is going to show for voluntary workouts. Like the Bengals, he's due to start this Monday.

"The offseason program started March 15. I generally start with practice squad guys, backups, inactive types," Tomlin said. "We have a rolling report date if you will – 500 snap guys or so reported (this past Monday). Those 1,000-snap guys, those veteran guys, the guys that you know, usually show up around the 29th, that's their date, that's his date. So we'll see where we are then."

Meanwhile, Browns head coach Eric Mangini is explaining why he doesn't think former Super Bowl quarterback Jake Delhomme is washed up.

"We didn't see a lot of changes physically, in terms of his ability to make the different throws," Mangini said. "Sometimes you get into one of those seasons where the numbers go a little haywire and it's hard to get out of it. But if you look at his performance over time, it's been pretty consistent ... completion percentage's always been high ... just watching him in big games. I know the Super Bowl's been a little while ago, but the second half, I thought his poise under pressure was pretty impressive."

Then there's the new guy everybody thinks is going to be the backup, Seneca Wallace. Mangini raised an interesting thing that could be a nightmare for defenses to prepare for when you consider the outrageous versatility of former college quarterback and Pro Bowl punt returner Josh Cribbs.

"You can put him in a game at other points, depending on the risk tolerance," Mangini said of Wallace. "And he can do some things with him and Cribbs and Jerome (Harrison) and whoever
else."

By the way, what about Mangini's shot at old pal Bill Belichick, the Browns coach in the early '90s, when the discussion turned to drafting safeties high and Belichick's choice of Eric Turner third overall in 1991 was mentioned?

"Where'd he draft Touchdown Tommy Vardell? Was he fifth? (actually ninth in 1992)?" Mangini asked. "Had to be top 10. He only had one winning season. That seemed high for a fullback."

HARBS ROUNDUP: More AFC North quarterbacks. The Ravens have a new coach for Joe Flacco in former Redskins head coach Jim Zorn. Zorn replaces former Bengals wide receivers coach Hue Jackson, the new Raiders offensive coordinator. Under Jackson, Flacco blossomed from a first-round pick out of Delaware into a playoff quarterback in his first two seasons. He did not become Kyle Boller. 

"Hue did a great job. Hue's personality, his coaching style, what he brought to Joe was really good. Hue's a competitive guy so he really put a good foundation under Joe," said Ravens head coach John Harbaugh.

Harbaugh is 2-for-2 getting to the playoffs, not an easy feat in the AFC North.

"I'm probably biased, but I think our division is the best division in football," Harbaugh said. "Look at the teams in our division. The Pittsburgh Steelers were the world champions two years ago and are one of the most physical teams in football. The Bengals have always wanted to be a physical team, but they've made themselves into one of the most physical teams in football this year.

"And the Browns got a good football team as proven by what they did at the end of the season. Everyone discounted our Monday night win against them, which I thought was a great game for us. It was a shutout and the defense played really well. Then, they come back and score 38 points the next week and win out. We have a really tough division. Our goal is to win our division. You don't have to win your division to win the world championship, but it sure helps."

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