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NFL training camp: AFC North team-by-team preview

Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers is introduced

Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers is introduced prior to their AFC Wild Card game against the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field on Jan. 3, 2015 in Pittsburgh. Credit: Getty Images / Justin K. Aller


OPEN CAMP: July 29, Owings Mills, Maryland.

LAST YEAR: Despite distraction created by arrest and subsequent suspension of Ray Rice for domestic violence, Ravens reached playoffs for sixth time in seven years under coach John Harbaugh. Justin Forsett stepped in for Rice and had career year with 1,266 yards rushing, and Joe Flacco set personal high with 3,986 yards passing. After winning at Pittsburgh in postseason opener, Baltimore traveled to New England and lost 35-31 to eventual Super Bowl champions.

IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: QB Matt Schaub; FS Kendrick Lewis; WR Breshad Perriman; offensive coordinator Marc Trestman.

IMPORTANT LOSSES: DT Haloti Ngata; WRs Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones; LB Pernell McPhee; TE Owen Daniels; C Gino Gradkowski; RB Bernard Pierce.

CAMP NEEDS: Replace Smith and Jones, who provided Flacco with deep threats he needed to make short passing game click. Ravens hope Perriman, team's top draft pick, can help fill void. Harbaugh also needs to find tight ends to take over for Daniels and injured Dennis Pitta. Defensively, Baltimore will seek to fill out front line that's sure to miss Ngata, and cornerbacks and safeties need to get on same page to avoid miscues that plagued unit in 2014.

EXPECTATIONS: Ravens intend to make playoffs again, and this time they'd like to do so as AFC North champions. For this to happen, Baltimore must adjust quickly to Trestman's offensive scheme and get most out of Flacco and offensive line that is unchanged from a year ago. Ravens also expect rookies, most notably Perriman, TE Maxx Williams and DT Carl Davis, to contribute immediately.


OPEN CAMP: July 26, Saint Vincent College, Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

LAST YEAR: Bounced back from consecutive .500 seasons to win AFC North for first time since 2010 behind NFL's second-ranked offense. QB Ben Roethlisberger tied for league lead in yards passing while WR Antonio Brown set franchise records in receptions and yards receiving. RB Le'Veon Bell emerged as one of NFL's most versatile backs before injury in season finale against Cincinnati forced Bell to watch wild-card loss to Baltimore from sideline. Defense took significant step back, though offense was productive enough to cover up some holes.

IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: RB DeAngelo Williams; LB Bud Dupree; CB Senquez Golson; WR Sammie Coates.

IMPORTANT LOSSES: S Troy Polamalu; CB Ike Taylor; DE Brett Keisel; LB Jason Worilds.

CAMP NEEDS: Departure of Polamalu, Taylor and Keisel -- and their combined six Super Bowl rings -- and longtime defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau signaled tail end of youth movement several seasons in making. New coordinator Keith Butler, promoted from linebackers coach, is tasked with returning some of bite to pass rush that has been only sporadically effective since 2010. S Shamarko Thomas will be given every opportunity to graduate from Polamalu's apprentice to starting job but needs to stay healthy, which hasn't happened much during his first two years in league.

EXPECTATIONS: With Roethlisberger locked in for basically remainder of career after signing new contract in March, and Brown and Bell in their primes, Steelers should again be one of most dynamic offenses. That should be enough to keep them in mix in wide-open AFC North. Whether Pittsburgh can close gap on Denver and New England will depend on how quickly young defense can get it together under folksy but aggressive Butler.


OPEN CAMP: July 30, Cincinnati.

LAST YEAR: Reached playoffs for club-record fourth year in row, and became first NFL team to lose four straight opening-round games. 26-10 loss at Indianapolis left Andy Dalton tied with Warren Moon for most consecutive opening-round losses by quarterback. Coach Marvin Lewis fell to 0-6 in postseason, matching Jim Mora for futility. Cincinnati still hasn't won playoff game since 1990 season, one of worst stretches of postseason futility in NFL history.

IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: DE Michael Johnson; LB A.J. Hawk; QB Josh Johnson.

IMPORTANT LOSSES: CB Terence Newman; QB Jason Campbell; TEs Jermaine Gresham and Alex Smith; S Taylor Mays.

CAMP NEEDS: Figure out if MLB Vontaze Burfict can do much as he recovers from two knee operations, or whether they'll be relying on Hawk to start. Pick someone to replace Newman, who left as free agent for Minnesota. Leon Hall returns as starter at other cornerback spot, with Adam "Pacman" Jones returning backup. First-round pick Dre Kirkpatrick assumes he'll get Newman's starting job, but Darqueze Dennard -- another first-rounder -- will push him during most closely watched competition in camp.

Also, AJ McCarron and Josh Johnson will compete for No. 2 job behind Dalton.

EXPECTATIONS: Defense slipped last season, ranking last in sacks, but that should improve with Johnson back and tackle Geno Atkins more than one year beyond reconstructive knee surgery. Bengals' window of opportunity is starting to close, with many of stalwarts in final years of their deals. Anything short of playoff victory would be unacceptable to team that spent lots of money keeping roster intact. Failure to make playoffs or first-round loss would be more evidence of need to overhaul roster, starting with quarterback and perhaps including head coach as well.


OPEN CAMP: July 30, Berea, Ohio LAST YEAR: Yet another circus as Browns were in playoff contention before dropping last five games, ending coach Mike Pettine's first season on sour note. There was improvement, but Browns were undermined by sideshows swirling around backup rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel and former Pro Bowl wide receiver Josh Gordon, who was suspended for first 10 games and played poorly when he returned.

IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: QB Josh McCown; WRs Dwayne Bowe and Brian Hartline; DB Tramon Williams; P Andy Lee; WR Terrelle Pryor; DL Randy Starks.

IMPORTANT LOSSES: WRs Gordon and Miles Austin; QB Brian Hoyer; TE Jordan Cameron; LB Jabaal Sheard; CB Buster Skrine; DL Ahtyba Rubin; K Billy Cundiff; S Jim Leonhard.

CAMP NEEDS: Once again, quarterback remains unsolved mystery. McCown, now 36, showed skills in 2013 with Chicago, but went 1-10 last season in Tampa Bay. Manziel is trying to earn back team's trust following highly publicized rehab stint during offseason. Gordon is banned for year, depriving club of its best big-play threat.

EXPECTATIONS: Browns were only AFC North team not to make postseason last year. Led by Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden, deep, talented defense has chance to be terrific. McCown will be protected by excellent offensive line, but he could feel pressure if Manziel, who looked lost in two starts last season, gets his act together. Owner Jimmy Haslam's patience will be tested if team starts slowly.


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