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Bengals Bytes (6/9): Battle brewing

The Bengals’ backfield could get crowded very quickly, but who will come out on top? What are the top reasons the Steelers’ season could end in disappointment. What is it like to spend 24 hours with the Rams’ general manager?

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NCAA Football: Oklahoma Spring Game Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Rex Burkhead making a strong impression at Patriots minicamp
FOXBORO — Rex Burkhead is still new to the Patriots roster. But the running back was easily one of the best offensive players on the field yesterday during the second day of minicamp. Signed as a free agent away from Cincinnati, Burkhead established a strong connection with Tom Brady, catching all five passes from the quarterback during 11-on-11 drills.

Bengals and NFL Foundation Donate $150,000 to La Salle High School for New Football Field
The Cincinnati Bengals and the NFL Foundation teamed up to contribute $150,000 to the La Salle High School athletic department, topping off a fundraising effort that raised $325,000 to install a new synthetic turf field at Lancer Stadium. The new field allows for more football games and practices, as well as other sporting events, physical education classes and band usage. Summer camp attendees for soccer, lacrosse and football will be the first to use the new field when Lancer Stadium re-opens on June 12.

Bengals Sign Third-Round Pick Jordan Willis
The Bengals today signed DE Jordan Willis of Kansas State University, their third-round selection in the 2017 NFL Draft (73rd overall), to a four-year contract. He had been the team’s last unsigned draftee among its 11 selections. Willis (6-4, 255) was a four-year letterman who played in 48 games for Kansas State with starts over the final 39 contests of his decorated Wildcats career. He finished third in school history in career sacks (26), a mark that also tied for seventh in Big 12 history, and he finished ninth in school history in career tackles for losses (40.5). He also had seven career forced fumbles, tied for the fifth most in school history. In 2016 alone, Willis started all 13 games and had 52 tackles, 17.5 tackles for losses and a school record-tying 11.5 sacks to earn numerous All-America honors and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.

FPI projects every NFL team's most important 2017 game
If you're willing to accept the notion of a must-win game occurring in Week 1 of the NFL season, you'll want to pay careful attention when the Dallas Cowboys host the New York Giants for a Sunday night game on Sept. 10.

Bengals notes: Kroft impresses, Mixon drops weight
In some ways, the final open session of the Cincinnati Bengals organized team activity on Tuesday looked a lot like the first two offseason workouts for tight end Tyler Kroft. At the start of his third season, Kroft has shown good hands, found spaces in the defense and looked the part of the well-rounded tight end the Bengals coaches felt they drafted in the third round out of Rutgers in 2015.

NFL executive: Ex-Duck OT Jake Fisher a key to Cincinnati Bengals success in 2017
Jake Fisher is working hard to prepare himself for the 2017 NFL regular season during the spring. The Cincinnati Bengals right tackle and former Oregon star is preparing to take a starting role on the Bengals offensive line in 2017. Fisher and left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi are slated to assume the tackle positions and one NFL executive said how Fisher and Ogbuehi perform will determine the Bengals level of success in 2017.

Biggest NFL Position Battles Developing This Offseason
By drafting running back Joe Mixon in the second round, the Cincinnati Bengals showed they don't care about the public scrutiny that will hover around him. They should care far more about starting him, though, as it shouldn't take long for Mixon to separate himself on their running back depth chart. His primary competition will be Jeremy Hill, who's had 29 rushing touchdowns over his first three seasons in the NFL. But when it comes to chunk gains, Hill is a near-zero. He plodded through 2016 while averaging only 3.8 yards per carry.

Cincinnati Bengals: Analyzing the cornerback position
The Cincinnati Bengals have invested a hefty amount of draft capital at cornerback in recent years. Despite that, the Bengals have still relied on veterans such as Adam “Pacman” Jones to help hold down the secondary, letting young players develop. So what then can we expect for the 2017 season in Cincinnati. With the offseason still in full swing, much of the talk about teams is regarding outlook for various players and groups. Thus, we’ve been going through the Bengals one position group at a time. The quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive linemen and defensive linemen, and linebackers have all been touched on already.

AFC North Bytes

Jeremy Maclin Leaves Baltimore Without Deal, But Still Could Sign
The free-agent wide receiver wants to talk the decision over with his new wife. Maclin visited Baltimore and Buffalo on back-to-back days.

Opportunity is calling for the Browns' draft class of 2016
The theory behind hording draft picks is the “50 percent rule,” that even the very best personnel departments can hope only to hit on 50 percent of their selections. So the more picks you have, hitting on 50 percent of them makes your team better faster. If you have 14 picks, like the Browns in the 2016 draft, netting seven good, contributing players constitutes a great draft.

Top Factors That Could Sink Pittsburgh Steelers This Season
Though the Pittsburgh Steelers had an 11-5 record in 2016, were tops in the AFC North and made it all the way to the AFC Championship game, there are no guarantees the team will repeat that success in 2017. Numerous factors can influence how well or poorly Pittsburgh's upcoming season plays out, from the seemingly benign to the obviously major.

Random Bytes

Ex-NFL Player James Hardy Found Dead In Indiana River
Ex-NFL player James Hardy III -- a 2nd round pick in 2008 -- was found dead in an Indiana river. The 6'8" wide receiver was drafted by the Buffalo Bills after a sensational junior year at Indiana University -- in which he was selected first team All-Big Ten. Hardy's body was found in a log jam at the Maumee River on Wednesday afternoon -- after a City water filtration plant employee spotted him and called police.

Julian Edelman, Patriots Reportedly Agree to Contract Extension
The New England Patriots and wide receiver Julian Edelman agreed to a multiyear contract extension Thursday that should keep him with the team for the remainder of his prime. Edelman's new contract will last through the 2019 campaign, per ESPN's Adam Schefter. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported the deal is worth $11 million, with $9 million in guarantees. The 31-year-old was previously scheduled to make a base salary of $3 million in 2017, the final season of his four-year, $17 million contract that began in 2014.

24 Hours with Rams Coach Sean McVay
He may be the youngest coach in NFL history, but the Rams’ new head man is in unquestioned command of his team. Word for the wise—no daydreaming in meetings!

Bills WR Walt Powell Suspended 4 Games for Failed PED Test
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Walt Powell was suspended for the first four games of the 2017 NFL season Thursday for a violation of the league's performance-enhancing drug policy. Chris Brown of the Bills' official website confirmed the news. Powell, 25, made 14 receptions for 142 yards in 2016. He has been with the Bills since midway through the 2015 season.