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AFC North training-camp reports

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Posted July 20, 2010 @ 11:22 a.m. ET
By Mike Wilkening

Second in a series of training-camp reports.

BALTIMORE RAVENS

Training-camp site: McDaniel College, Westminster, Md.

Training-camp report dates: Rookies, July 26; Veterans, July 28.

Key veteran arrivals: WR Anquan Boldin, QB Marc Bulger, CB Travis Fisher, PK Shayne Graham, S Ken Hamlin, CB Walt Harris, DL Cory Redding, WR Donté Stallworth.

Key veteran departures: DT Justin Bannan, DL Dwan Edwards, CB Samari Rolle, TE Quinn Sypniewski.

Drafted rookies: (2) OLB-DE Sergio Kindle, NT Terrence Cody; (3) TE Ed Dickson; (4) TE Dennis Pitta; (5) WR David Reed, DT Arthur Jones; (6) OT-OG Ramon Harewood.

Offensive overview: The additions of WRs Anquan Boldin and Donté Stallworth significantly bolster the Ravens' air attack. If QB Joe Flacco, hampered by injuries late last season, can stay healthy and take another step forward in his development, this could be a strong passing offense. The running game, lead by versatile RB Ray Rice, is potent. Reserves Willis McGahee and Le'Ron McClain are very good backups and bruising alternatives to the smaller, quicker Rice. The offensive line is above average and features a very good OT tandem in Michael Oher and Jared Gaither. Oher will play left tackle this season with Gaither settling in on the right side. OLG Ben Grubbs ranks among the best at his position.

Defensive overview: Only two teams surrendered fewer yards per game last season than Baltimore, and the Ravens' defense still ranks as one of the game's best. ILB Ray Lewis remains the group's leader, with DT Haloti Ngata a bona fide star in the middle of the line. One key concern is that injuries to FS Ed Reed (hip) and CBs Fabian Washington (knee) and Lardarius Webb (knee) could put Baltimore's secondary depth to the test early in the season. The Ravens' pass rush is also a slight concern; Baltimore notched just 32 sacks last season. OLB-DE Terrell Suggs, who disappointed last season, needs to bounce back for the Ravens to muster more pressure. Rookie OLB-DE Sergio Kindle and rookie NT Terrence Cody will contribute early as important reserves. The team will employ both 3-4 and 4-3 looks.

Battle to watch: PK Shayne Graham is expected to beat out Billy Cundiff, unless the ex-Bengal unexpectedly falters in the preseason. However, if Graham struggles, all eyes will be on the Ravens' PK situation once again. The Ravens decided to go with young Steve Hauschka over Matt Stover last season, and the decision backfired. Cundiff was solid but unspectacular after replacing Hauschka in November. If Graham is as steady as Stover, the Ravens will have one less area of concern.

Injury update: Reed figures to participate very little, if at all, in training camp, and he might not appear in any preseason games. The goal is to get him ready for the regular-season grind, and he does not need a lot of practice reps. Washington is ahead of Webb in recovering from knee surgery and should return to the starting lineup, barring any setbacks. Whether Webb will be ready for the season opener remains to be seen. Ngata (chest) is expected to be ready for training camp. Gaither has battled a foot injury throughout the offseason, but it is not regarded as serious. WR Mark Clayton (shoulder) missed some time in offseason workouts but returned in late May.

Fantasy sleeper: McGahee is a good backup to target in the later rounds of your draft. Rice will get most of the work, but McGahee will get red-zone carries, and he racked up 14 TDs (12 rushing, two receiving) last season. Those who select Rice have to strongly consider taking McGahee too; McClain, who could be the only fullback on the roster for a second consecutive season, is clearly third in line for carries.

 

CINCINNATI BENGALS

Training-camp site: Georgetown College, Georgetown, Ky.

Training-camp report date: July 28.

Key arrivals: WR Antonio Bryant, CB Adam "Pacman" Jones, WR Matt Jones, PK Mike Nugent, RB Cedric Peerman, OL Isaac Sowells, S Gibril Wilson.

Key departures: WR Laveranues Coles, PK Shayne Graham, RB Larry Johnson, CB Keiwan Ratliff, DT Shaun Smith.

Drafted rookies: (1) TE Jermaine Gresham; (2) DE Carlos Dunlap; (3) WR Jordan Shipley, CB Brandon Ghee; (4) DT Geno Adkins, LB Rodrrick Muckelroy; (5) OG Otis Hudson; (6) WR Dezmon Briscoe; (7) OL Reggie Stephens.

Offensive overview: The Bengals transitioned to more of a power-running attack last season to limit risk and wear down their opponents. Expect more balance this season, especially if QB Carson Palmer proves his late-season struggles in '09 were a fluke. The Bengals signed WR Antonio Bryant to complement Chad Ochocinco, who clearly needed more help last season. TE Jermaine Gresham, the Bengals' first-round pick; and WR Jordan Shipley, a third-round selection from Texas, could contribute early. RB Cedric Benson (301 carries, 1,251 yards, six TDs in '09) is the focal point of the ground game but faces an assault charge in Austin, Texas stemming from an incident at a bar. Quick Bernard Scott backs up Benson.

Defensive overview: The Bengals allowed the fourth fewest yards in the NFL last season, and coordinator Mike Zimmer has even more talent at his disposal in 2010. Cincinnati employs a base 4-3 defense but could show a few more 3-4 looks this season. The secondary is the strength of the defense; CBs Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph form one of the NFL's best starting tandems. And young talent abounds at linebacker, with SLB Rey Maualuga a physical tone setter, WLB Keith Rivers an intriguing all-around talent and OLB-DE Michael Johnson a potential matchup problem for opponents because of his size and athleticism. The defensive line is stout and deeper than it was a season ago.

Battle to watch: PK Shayne Graham departed in free agency, and veterans Mike Nugent and Dave Rayner will compete to replace him. Nugent, a second-round pick of the Jets in 2005, could have the edge if he recaptures his early-career form. Rayner made less than 75 percent of his field goals in stints with Green Bay and Kansas City earlier in his career, but he has a strong leg. 

Injury update: ORT Andre Smith (foot) missed offseason workouts and is expected back in training camp. Smith is penciled in as the starter on the right side, assuming he can stay healthy. DE Antwan Odom (Achilles tendon) returned to practice in offseason workouts and will be ready for training camp. SS Roy Williams (forearm injuries) has missed major portions of the past two seasons but figures to start if he's healthy. SLB Rey Maualuga (leg surgery) expects to be ready for training camp. Scott (ankle) missed some time late in the offseason, but the injury is not serious and he'll be available for camp.

Fantasy sleeper: Owners who draft Benson certainly will consider taking Scott, who flashed intriguing potential as a rookie when he racked up 321 yards on 74 carries. However, Scott merits late-round consideration in all formats whether you have Benson or not. He's an improving player.

 

CLEVELAND BROWNS

Training-camp site: Cleveland Browns Training Facility, Berea, Ohio.

Training-camp report dates: Rookies, July 23; Veterans, July 30.

Key veteran arrivals: CB Sheldon Brown, QB Jake Delhomme, WR Bobby Engram, LB Scott Fujita, LB Chris Gocong, FB Peyton Hillis, OT Tony Pashos, TE Alex Smith, CB DeAngelo Smith, QB Seneca Wallace, TE Benjamin Watson.

Key veteran departures: QB Derek Anderson, C Hank Fraley, WR Mike Furrey, OL Rex Hadnot, LB Alex Hall, TE Steve Heiden, RB Jamal Lewis, S Brodney Pool, QB Brady Quinn, WR Donté Stallworth, OT Ryan Tucker, OLB Kamerion Wimbley.

Drafted rookies: (1) CB Joe Haden; (2) S T.J. Ward, RB Montario Hardesty; (3) QB Colt McCoy, OG Shaun Lauvao; (5) SS Larry Asante; (6) WR Carlton Mitchell, DE Clifton Geathers.

Offensive overview: With new team president Mike Holmgren as the driving force, the Browns made big changes on this side of the ball, especially at quarterback. They signed Jake Delhomme to be their starter, acquired Seneca Wallace to be the backup and drafted Colt McCoy to groom for the future. In the draft, the Browns acquired an extra second-round pick to select RB Montario Hardesty, who will push Jerome Harrison for the starting job. At wide receiver, the Browns will count on young WRs Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie as well as return ace Joshua Cribbs to keep improving. Ex-Patriots TE Benjamin Watson brings a solid blocking and pass-catching presence to a position that needed to be bolstered. The strength of the Browns' offense is the line, with OLT Joe Thomas a blue-chip talent.

Defensive overview: Rob Ryan's defense surrendered the second-most yards in the NFL in 2009, but it notched 40 sacks and showed improvement by season's end. The secondary, a sieve at times last season, could be much better with CB Sheldon Brown, rookie CB Joe Haden and rookie S T.J. Ward joining the fold. The Browns are also deeper at linebacker after the additions of ILB Scott Fujita and OLB Chris Gocong. The Browns' most talented defender, DL Shaun Rogers, could play more defensive end this season so Cleveland can get run-stuffing NT Ahtyba Rubin on the field more.

Battle to watch: Keep an eye on a pair of competitions. On defense. Brown, Haden and Eric Wright will compete for the two starting spots at cornerback. All three will play regularly, and the Browns are better positioned to compete against strong passing games than they were a season ago. On offense, Harrison, who rushed for 561 yards in his final three games of '09, will try to hold off the bigger and younger Hardesty. Harrison still must prove he can be a full-time starter after infrequently earning the role last season.

Injury update: Rogers (ankle surgery) missed offseason workouts but should be able to participate in training camp. FB Peyton Hillis missed time in OTAs with an undisclosed illness.

Fantasy sleeper: Massaquoi racked up 18.4 yards per catch as a rookie and was the best field-stretching threat for an offense that didn't look to take a lot of shots downfield and generally lacked cohesion. Delhomme's presence will bolster the vertical passing game and Massaquoi's fantasy stock. The receiver could be a good late-round pick. Robiskie, who will push Cribbs for playing time, also might be a decent late-round sleeper in bigger leagues.

 

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Training-camp site: Saint Vincent College, Latrobe, Pa.

Training-camp report date: July 30.

Key veteran arrivals: S Will Allen, WR Arnaz Battle, LB Larry Foote, QB Byron Leftwich, CB Bryant McFadden, WR Antwaan Randle El, OT Jonathan Scott.

Key veteran departures: WR Santonio Holmes, RB Willie Parker.

Drafted rookies: (1) OG-C Maurkice Pouncey; (2) OLB Jason Worilds; (3) WR Emmanuel Sanders; (4) OLB Thaddeus Gibson; (5) OT Chris Scott, CB Crezdon Butler, LB Stevenson Sylvester; (6) RB Jonathan Dwyer, WR Antonio Brown; (7) DL Doug Worthington.

Offensive overview: The offense will be without QB Ben Roethlisberger for at least four games as he serves a suspension for violating the NFL's personal-conduct policy. Byron Leftwich likely will start in Roethlisberger's place, and the offense could rely more heavily on the ground game in Roethlisberger's absence. Athletic and speedy RB Rashard Mendenhall will get the bulk of the carries; at age 23, his future is very bright. The passing game took a major hit when WR Santonio Holmes was dealt to the Jets after the club tired of his off-field issues, and young Mike Wallace must step up to fill the void. The offensive line is also somewhat unsettled after ORT Willie Colon suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in June. It's unclear whether the Steelers will promote a replacement from within or sign a veteran, such as ex-Cowboy Flozell Adams.

Defensive overview: This can be an outstanding defense if it stays healthy and defends the pass better. SS Troy Polamalu, limited to five games a season ago because of knee injuries, is the most indispensable member of the defense; the secondary is not nearly as strong without him. The Steelers can generate consistent pressure off the edges with OLBs James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley as well as no shortage of zone-blitzes. Age is a worry along the defensive line, where every projected starter will be 32 or older this season, but the Steelers again should be strong vs. the run. The major question is the secondary, for clubs are going to take their chances beating Pittsburgh with the pass, the blitzes be damned. 

Battle to watch: All eyes will be on Leftwich, who began the '09 season as the Buccaneers' starter before losing the job after three games. Leftwich received most of the work with the first-team offense in offseason workouts and should win the job unless he falters, but the progress of third-year passer Dennis Dixon also should be monitored. Dixon is much more mobile than Leftwich and got valuable experience in a start at Baltimore last season. If the Steelers don't sign Adams or acquire another established tackle to replace Colon, the competition at right tackle also will be one to watch.

Injury update: Colon and WR Limas Sweed each will miss the season with an Achilles injury. Rookie OT Chris Scott (foot surgery) will miss training camp and likely the preseason, too, further hurting the Steelers' OT depth. DE Aaron Smith (shoulder) participated in offseason workouts after missing most of last season.

Fantasy sleeper: Rookie RB Jonathan Dwyer is an intriguing late-round pick to consider. He has potential as a short-yardage runner, and the Steelers have struggled in those situations recently. Other than Mendenhall, no Steelers back has more upside.

 

Related link: AFC East training-camp reports

 

You can learn even more about each team in the Volume XXV, Issue 6 print edition, with training-camp previews that address additional topics, such as juiciest story line, burning questions and fearless prediction for every team. The Issue 6 print edition goes on sale this week at retail outlets, or you can buy a PDF or print copy online at PFWstore.com.

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