A look at what’s happening in the NFL’s two North divisions:
- The Steelers’ defense isn’t going to be one whose linemen merely occupy opposing blockers. Instead, new coordinator Keith Butler is encouraging them to attack the football, writes Ray Frager of CSNBaltimore.com.“Coach Buts said early on, ‘I’m not going to hold you back. I want the linebackers to fend for themselves. I expect you guys to make plays for yourself,” lineman Cameron Heyward said. Heyward added that he’s excited about Butler’s philosophy. “I’m salivating. I can’t wait until the season starts.”
- The Packers have a breakout candidate in second-year wide receiver Davante Adams, who caught 38 passes during the regular season and added a seven-catch, 117-yard showing against Dallas in the playoffs. Head coach Mike McCarthy is excited about Adams’ output at minicamp. “Davante Adams, if you want a clear illustration and example of a first-year player taking a jump in his second year, you just saw it here the last four weeks,” McCarthy told the Associated Press. “Davante, if you wanted me to pick an MVP or an all-star (of the offseason), he would definitely be atop the list.”
- Browns defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil wants more from third-year linebacker Barkevious Mingo, writes Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. “He is going to have to compete for playing time on early downs. He’s going to have a role in our sub-packages,” said O’Neil, who did acknowledge that Mingo is the team’s best outside linebacker in coverage. Mingo’s role last year mainly focused on coverage, not rushing the passer, as he played through a torn labrum. Mingo has racked up just seven sacks since going sixth overall in the 2014 draft.
- Vikings safety Harrison Smith is under team control for just two more seasons, but he’s not thinking about a contract extension. “I’m really just focused on playing the best type of football I can. That stuff will work itself out,” Harrison said Thursday, according to Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “I’m happy to be here and happy to be a part of the Vikings, but all I’m thinking about right now is playing well in 2015.” Whether it’s with the Vikings or someone else, Smith is primed to cash in big if his career stays on its current course. Smith totaled a career-best five interceptions in 2014, giving him 10 in three seasons, and earned a spot on Pro Football Focus’ All-Pro team.
- Two of Harrison’s fellow Vikings defenders, end Brian Robison and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, expect to be ready for training camp in July after suffering offseason injuries, per the Pioneer Press’ Brian Murphy.
- Bengals wideout Marvin Jones impressed as an NFL sophomore in 2013, amassing 51 catches and 10 touchdowns, before missing all of last season with ankle and foot injuries. Healthy again, ESPN’s Coley Harvey writes that the 2012 second-round pick is returning to form. “You’re starting to see a play here, a play there of the old Marv, and the quickness, suddenness and explosiveness,” Bengals receivers coach James Urban said.
- The performance of backup quarterback A.J. McCarron in spring workouts greatly impressed the Bengals and helped convince them to release Terrelle Pryor on Thursday, writes Geoff Hobson of the team’s website. “If he can do what he did here live, that will be the next step,” said quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese. Head coach Marvin Lewis expressed similar sentiment regarding the 2014 fifth-round pick and three-time national champion from the University of Alabama. “I’m pleased with his ability to handle the huddle, to handle the team. These nine practices have been awesome for him,” Lewis said.
- Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco heaped praise on second-year receiver Jeremy Butler, who stood out at the team’s minicamp. “He was incredible. He caught the ball extremely well,” said Flacco, according to the Baltimore Sun’s Aaron Wilson. “He’s just a big, strong body and catches the ball really well. It’s exactly what he showed last year in training camp, I thought, and he’s just coming out here and doing more of that.” Butler went undrafted out of Tennessee-Martin in 2014 and missed his entire rookie season because of a shoulder injury.