PITTSBURGH STEELERS (13-4) OPEN CAMP: July 26, Latrobe, Pennsylvania
PITTSBURGH STEELERS (13-4)
OPEN CAMP: July 26, Latrobe, Pennsylvania
LAST YEAR: Steelers won second straight AFC North title and third in four years as "Killer Bs" trio of QB Ben Roethlisberger, WR Antonio Brown and RB Le'Veon Bell received plenty of help from rookie WR JuJu Smith-Schuster and defense that gave up big plays but also led NFL with 57 sacks. Still, Steelers had trouble when pushed by quality teams. They let second-half lead get away at home against New England, loss that cost them home-field advantage in playoffs. And they couldn't find way to beat Jacksonville, which won at Heinz Field not once but twice, including divisional playoff upset in which seemingly offensively challenged Jaguars put up 45 points.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: S Morgan Burnett, LB Jon Bostic, rookie S Terrell Edmunds, rookie WR James Washington, rookie QB Mason Rudolph.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: Offensive coordinator Todd Haley, defensive backs coach Carnell Lake, WR Martavis Bryant, S Mike Mitchell, CB William Gay, S, Robert Golden, LB Arthur Moats.
CAMP NEEDS: Steelers promoted longtime QB coach Randy Fichtner to take over play-calling duties after Haley's successful if occasionally turbulent six-year stint ended in January. Fichtner doesn't expect to give offense massive overhaul, though he will be forced to experiment during camp at running back with Bell unlikely to show while he waits to sign one-year franchise tender. One year after finding potential star in Smith-Schuster, Steelers hope they've done it again with Washington after record-setting career at Oklahoma State. Race to fill injured inside linebacker Ryan Shazier's spot is wide open, with Bostic and Tyler Matakevich getting first crack at lining up next to Vince Williams. Secondary is also being overhauled with Mitchell, Golden and Gay gone.
EXPECTATIONS: Steelers once again expected to be class of AFC North. While Roethlisberger thinks he can play another handful of seasons, Pittsburgh's window could be closing faster than he anticipated. Front office failed to reach long-term agreement with Bell, meaning this will likely be his final season in Pittsburgh. Steelers have proven they can be productive without him, but elite? That's tough sell, putting onus on them to get it done this season. Better play in secondary would help. So would some consistency at outside linebacker, where Bud Dupree remains enigma as he enters fourth season.
BALTIMORE RAVENS (9-7)
OPEN CAMP: July 18, Owings Mills, Maryland
LAST YEAR: Ravens missed playoffs for third straight season, falling to Cincinnati in finale when victory would have earned Baltimore playoff berth. Though Ravens posted winning record for first time since 2014, disappointing finish was takeaway from season in which quarterback Joe Flacco struggled and defense played well in spurts. Telling statistic from 2017: Flacco averaged 5.7 yards per attempt, more than half-yard less than his previous low for single season.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: QB Lamar Jackson, WR Michael Crabtree, WR Willie Snead, TE Hayden Hurst, QB Robert Griffin III, WR John Brown.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: WR Jeremy Maclin, WR Mike Wallace, RB Danny Woodhead, CB Lardarius Webb, WR Michael Campanaro, defensive coordinator Dean Pees.
CAMP NEEDS: Ravens need to solidify offensive line, because heavy-footed Flacco will need time in pocket to be effective. Team will determine its starting center in camp, and can only hope rookie tackle Orlando Brown can shore up right side of line. Best lineman on team, guard Marshal Yanda, participated in only two games last year, so depth at that position is must.
EXPECTATIONS: Ravens hope busy offseason will help get them back into playoffs and make some noise in January. General manager Ozzie Newsome, who will step aside after season, worked hard to get Flacco variety of targets — most notably Crabtree and Snead. New defensive coordinator Don Martindale promises more aggressive scheme and return to day when Ravens' defense was nasty and effective. It's uncertain how nimble QB Jackson will blend into mix, but Ravens spent good deal of time at minicamp finding ways to get him on field.
CINCINNATI BENGALS (7-9)
OPEN CAMP: July 26, Paul Brown Stadium
LAST YEAR: Missed playoffs for second straight season. Coach Marvin Lewis got two-year contract extension despite 0-7 playoff mark, worst in NFL history. He's entering 16th season with Bengals, who have yet to win playoff game since 1990 season, longest active postseason drought in NFL and sixth longest in league history. Bill Lazor was promoted to interim offensive coordinator two games into season and retains role, given freedom to overhaul unit that finished last in yards. Teryl Austin was hired as defensive coordinator, replacing Paul Guenther, who joined Jon Gruden with Raiders.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: Lazor, LT Cordy Glenn, C Billy Price, QB Matt Barkley, LB Preston Brown.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: LB Vontaze Burfict (suspended for first four games for violating NFL's policy on performance enhancers), QB AJ McCarron, C Russell Bodine, CB Adam "Pacman" Jones, RB Jeremy Hill.
CAMP NEEDS: Getting adjusted to Lazor's overhauled offense and getting new pieces in place on line are overriding concerns. Austin is expected to stay with similar defense, but there will be competition for spots in line rotation. Once again, Bengals will spend preseason planning for Burfict's absence — third straight season he's been suspended by league. Bengals took gamble and signed TE Tyler Eifert to one-year deal loaded with incentives, hoping he can add to group that was subpar last season, but he was hurt again for training camp.
EXPECTATIONS: Two straight losing seasons led to significant drop in attendance at Paul Brown Stadium and reduced expectations for a team in decline. Bengals will have slightly different look with new coordinators, but overall direction won't change much. If offensive line isn't significantly better, redesigned playbook won't much matter. By keeping Lewis for 16th season despite lack of playoff win, owner Mike Brown gave fans little reason to think things will be different. Brown would rather stay with coach and coaching philosophy that are familiar.
CLEVELAND BROWNS (0-16)
OPEN CAMP: July 26, Berea, Ohio
LAST YEAR: Browns hit new low — and that's saying something — by joining 2008 Detroit Lions in infamy as only teams to go winless in 16-game schedule. Nothing went right. Decision to start rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer backfired as he led NFL with 22 interceptions. Browns were better than their record but consistently found way to lose. Team suffered huge blow when perennial Pro Bowl offensive tackle Joe Thomas tore triceps in Week 7 and missed remainder of season. General manager Sashi Brown was fired in December.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: GM John Dorsey, offensive coordinator Todd Haley, QB Tyrod Taylor, WR Jarvis Landry, rookie QB Baker Mayfield, LB Mychal Kendricks, QB Drew Stanton, RB Carlos Hyde, DB Damarious Randall, rookie CB Denzel Ward, rookie RB Nick Chubb, rookie OL Austin Corbett.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: OT Joe Thomas, RB Isaiah Crowell, QB DeShone Kizer, DT Danny Shelton, CB James McCourty, CB Jamar Taylor.
CAMP NEEDS: Coach Hue Jackson has spent offseason touting Taylor, who led Buffalo to playoffs last year, as Week 1 starter. But things could change if No. 1 overall pick Mayfield shows he's ready. Plan is to bring him along slowly, but when have things ever gone as planned for Browns? Loss of Thomas leaves enormous hole that may take time to fill. RT Shon Coleman will get first crack, but there are other options, including Greg Robinson, former No. 2 overall pick by Rams who has been bust.
EXPECTATIONS: Owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam stuck with Jackson despite 1-31 record over two seasons. He's lightened his load by turning offense over to Haley, who spent past six seasons running Pittsburgh's high-powered attack. Taylor gives Browns seasoned, proven QB who could stabilize position, but Jackson will feel heat to play Mayfield. Browns will be under more national scrutiny as featured team for HBO's "Hard Knocks." WR Josh Gordon has been on best behavior after years of suspensions. If he can stay clean and play alongside Landry, Browns could have one of league's most potent passing games. DE Myles Garrett had solid rookie season, looking to have monster second year.