Preseason Watchlist - AFC North
By Jason Wood
July 26th, 2010

Baltimore Ravens

  • Link: http://www.baltimoreravens.com/News/Training_Camp_2010.aspx
  • Location: McDaniel College (Westminster, MD)
  • Dates: July 26 (Rooks), July 28 (Vets) - August 20
  • Open to the public? - YES (free of charge)
  • Preseason Game Schedule

  • 8/12 - Carolina (8:00 PM Eastern)
  • 8/21 - @Washington (7:00 PM Eastern)
  • 8/28 - New York Giants (7:30 PM Eastern)
  • 9/02 - @St. Louis (8:00 PM Eastern)
  • The Ravens return to McDaniel College for the 15th year for three plus weeks of camp. This team returns all of its key cogs and has added some new pieces that they hope will put them on a path toward the Super Bowl. Head Coach Harbaugh and his coordinators return but the coaching staff is not without some change. Notably, the Ravens have added Jim Zorn (QBs) and Dean Pees (LBs) to the mix. On offense, it's all about integrating the new receivers into the equation. On defense, the team must work on the defensive backfield, finding answers that weren't there at times last season.

    What We're Watching

  • Integrating WRs Anquan Boldin and Donte Stallworth - The pressure is on Joe Flacco to elevate his game as the Ravens have finally given him a wealth of options at receiver. Three-time Pro Bowler Anquan Boldin takes over as the WR1, allowing highly productive vet Derrick Mason to extend his career in his more natural WR2 role. And what, if anything does Donte Stallworth have left in the tank, because he could be the downfield threat this team sorely needs.

  • Setting the clock on Todd Heap's departure - Todd Heap played reasonably well last year, but the Ravens drafted a pair of rookies (Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta) who are both able receivers. The writing is on the wall for Heap, but does he get one more year to showcase his talents for the rest of the league in 2011?

  • Establishing offensive tackle depth - The starting tandem of LT Michael Oher and RT Jared Gaither are rock solid, but neither Oniel Cousins nor Tony Moll instills much confidence. The Ravens need to quickly assess what they have on the OL and potentially add a veteran backup as camp cuts progress.

  • Are S Ed Reed, CB Lardarius Webb and CB Fabian Washington healthy? - The Ravens were dominant stopping the run last year but had trouble defending against the better QBs they faced, and are counting on the healthy return of a number of key veterans. Ed Reed has been vocal about wanting a new contract, yet has cast doubt on when he'll be ready for game action (if he'll ever be ready). Ken Hamlin was signed as insurance, but he too is no bet to start 16 games.

  • Shayne Graham vs. Billy Cundiff (PK) - The Ravens thought they had their new PK last year with youngster Steven Hauschka, but he wasn't up to the challenge and Baltimore brought in Billy Cundiff partway through the season. This year Cundiff will have to hold off Shayne Graham, who was an effective fantasy option for a number of years in Cincinnati.

  • Cincinnati Bengals

  • Link: http://prod.www.bengals.clubs.nfl.com/team/training-camp.html
  • Location: Georgetown College (Georgetown, KY)
  • Dates: July 28 (Rooks & Vets) - August 13
  • Open to the public? - YES (free of charge)
  • Preseason Game Schedule

  • 8/08 - @Dallas (8:00 PM Eastern)
  • 8/15 - Denver (7:00 PM Eastern)
  • 8/20 - Philadelphia (8:00 PM Eastern)
  • 8/28 - @Buffalo (6:30 PM Eastern)
  • 9/02 - @Indianapolis (7:00 PM Eastern)
  • The Bengals make their return to Georgetown College for their 14th season and will hold a public, two week camp. Expect this year's camp to be intense because expectations are high and the Bengals kick off the preseason on August 8th in the Hall of Fame game against Dallas. Coming off a surprising AFC North title, the Bengals have a lot of confidence but plenty of unanswered questions particularly on the offensive side of the ball.

    What We're Watching

  • Is QB Carson Palmer still an elite passer? - On the surface, Palmer had a solid bounce-back season in 2009 (60.5% completion rate, 21 TDs vs. 13 INTs), but there were many games when he simply didn't make big plays downfield. In fact, Palmer was only 8 for 35 beyond 20 yards with 5 interceptions. His ANY/A was a meager 5.5 and he'll have to do more this year if the Bengals hope to improve on last year's 26th place ranking.

  • Will RB Cedric Benson pick up where he left off? - Cedric Benson resurrected his career and delivered the first 300 carry, 1,000-yard season of his career despite only playing 13 games. Can he build off that and be the focal point of the Bengals offense, and if not does Cincinnati have an alternative?

  • Is WR Antonio Bryant a significant upgrade from Laveranues Coles? - For the second consecutive season the Bengals looked to free agency to replace long-time starter T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Laveranues Coles wasn't the answer, so the team went out and signed Antonio Bryant this offseason. Unfortunately Bryant is still bothered by the torn meniscus he had repaired last August, and has missed much of the preseason thus far. Even if healthy, Bryant has exactly one Top 20 fantasy season in 7 years, playing for four teams. He has a lot to prove in the coming month.

  • Establishing a consistent pass rush - Antwan Odom was a force last year (8 sacks) until getting hurt, but the team lacked anyone else that could get to the QB consistently. The Bengals drafted DE Carlos Dunlap in the 2nd round and the pressure is on him to produce immediately.

  • How will the rest of the WR depth chart shake out? - The silver lining in Antonio Bryant's uncertainty is a compelling set of backups. Matt Jones, Andre Caldwell, Jerome Simpson and rookies Jordan Shipley and Dezmon Briscoe all want to earn snaps.

  • Is rookie TE Jermaine Gresham capable of making the position relevant? - Name the last time a Bengals TE was relevant in fantasy leagues. Now consider the team used its 1st round pick on Jermaine Gresham. Rookie TEs don't typically make a fantasy impact, but Gresham's value in the run game and as an outlet in the middle of the field could be enormous for the team.

  • PKs Dave Rayner vs. Mike Nugent - Fantasy owners can afford to let this battle play out in camp, as the winner probably is nothing more than a 2nd tier fantasy option anyway.

  • Cleveland Browns

  • Link: Browns Training Camp Central
  • Location: Cleveland Browns Training Facility (Berea, OH)
  • Dates: July 23 (Rooks), July 30 (Vets) - August 19
  • Open to the public? - YES (free of charge)
  • Preseason Game Schedule

  • 8/14 - @Green Bay (8:00 PM Eastern)
  • 8/21 - St. Louis (7:30 PM Eastern)
  • 8/28 - @Detroit (5:30 PM Eastern)
  • 9/02 - Chicago (8:00 PM Eastern)
  • The Browns made wholesale changes throughout the organization this year and this shapes up as an immensely important training camp as a result. Eric Mangini and his staff were given another year because new Head of Football Operations Mike Holmgren didn't feel it would be fair to judge a coach on one season, but that doesn't mean he's going to give them a 3rd year without significant improvement. Given the Browns woeful record last year it's no surprise that many jobs are up for grabs in camp. The Browns welcomed rookies on July 23, a full week before the veterans report.

    What We're Watching

  • Does QB Jake Delhomme have anything left in the tank? - It was no surprise that Holmgren sent Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn packing, as the Browns ranked 32nd in passing yards and 31st in passing TDs last year. But the fact he chose Jake Delhomme as their replacement raised many eyebrows. There's no question that Delhomme is who the team wants to start in 2010, but his struggles in Carolina at least open the door to the possibility that either Seneca Wallace or rookie Colt McCoy could state their case with a strong preseason.

  • RBs Jerome Harrison vs. Montario Hardesty - Jerome Harrison was a fantasy hero last year as the Browns gave him the ball 106 times for 561 yards in the final three games. But in spite of his heroism, the organization appears unsure of whether he can be a full-time runner. The team drafted bruising Montario Hardesty and he's looked every bit the part of a starter throughout the preseason. Neither back may be a top tier fantasy option in 2010, but right now both are going outside the Top 30 at their position, and you can be sure one of their ADPs will jump considerably if Coach Mangini names them the outright starter.

  • The WR pecking order - Rookie Mohamed Massaquoi led the Browns with 34 receptions last year, so it's understandable that no WR on the roster is guaranteed a particular role. Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie are in the mix along with master return man and jack of all trades Joshua Cribbs. Long-time Seahawk Bobby Engram was signed, but he's likely more of a coach on the field for a young receiving corps.

  • Stopping the run - The Browns couldn't stop the run (28th in yards allowed) last year in spite of a mammoth defensive front. Cleveland brought in linebackers Chris Gocong and Scott Fujita to help shore up the front seven, and this will be a major focus in training camp for Coach Mangini and his defensive assistants.

  • Getting the secondary established - The Browns drafted CB Joe Haden and S T.J. Ward in the 1st and 2nd rounds respectively; both have shots to exit camp as starters. Free agent Sheldon Brown will also be in the mix.

  • Pittsburgh Steelers

  • Link: Steelers Training Camp Information
  • Location: St. Vincent College (Latrobe, PA)
  • Dates: July 30 (Rooks & Vets) - August 18
  • Open to the public? - YES (free of charge)
  • Preseason Game Schedule

  • 8/14 - Detroit (7:30 PM Eastern)
  • 8/21 - @New York Giants (7:00 PM Eastern)
  • 8/29 - @Denver (8:00 PM Eastern)
  • 9/03 - Carolina (7:30 PM Eastern)
  • For the 45th year, the Steelers will head to St. Vincent College for training camp. Both rookies and veterans report on July 30th and will be there for about three weeks. This should be quite a different camp than a season ago, when HC Mike Tomlin admittedly took it easy on his players as they came off a Super Bowl victory. There are lots of questions on both sides of the ball, not the least of which is finding stability at the QB position while Ben Roethlisberger gears up for his suspension, and trying to piece together an offensive line with personnel that's behind the 8-ball.

    What We're Watching

  • Settling on an offensive line - The Steelers offensive line wasn't considered a major asset before the loss of RT Willie Colon; the team's best run blocker. With Colon out, there are huge questions about the line. New OL coach Sean Kugler has his hands full trying to find five pieces to the puzzle. One of those pieces will assuredly be rookie 1st rounder Maurkice Pouncey, but what position will he play?

  • Surviving without QB Ben Roethlisberger - Common wisdom is that Byron Leftwich will start while Ben Roethlisberger serves his suspension, but Dennis Dixon would certainly like a shot at the job. Leftwich is immobile and has a long release, which could be disastrous behind a poor offensive line, whereas Dixon is mobile. Either way, the Steelers need to stay competitive without their star QB, and that has to involve a re-commitment to the ground attack.

  • Will RB Rashard Mendenhall get the short-yardage role? - Rashard Mendenhall is a consensus Top 10 fantasy back, but that presumes he'll be a workhorse and get touches in all situations. While that's probably the way things will work out, OC Bruce Arians has thrown down the gauntlet entering camp. Arians noted that Mendenhall did a good job at the goal-line last year but not such a good job on short yardage. Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman have both been promised a chance to earn the short-yardage role, which would make Mendenhall a riskier bet in the late first round of fantasy drafts.

  • Is WR Mike Wallace ready for prime time? - Wallace made some huge plays last year as a rookie and provided the Steelers a deep threat in multiple receiver sets. But Wallace was only on the field for about 60% of the team's offensive snaps, and will need to prove he's more than a deep threat this year as a full-time starter opposite Hines Ward.

  • Tracking WR Emmanuel Sanders progress - The Steelers used a 3rd round pick on Emmanuel Sanders and have high hopes for him as a potential starter down the road. Given the team's willingness to use Mike Wallace so much last year, it's not out of the question that Sanders could earn major playing time in his first season; which would be a welcome development considering that the alternatives for the WR3 role are journeymen Arnaz Battle and Antwaan Randle El.

  • Turning Special Teams special again - The Steelers' special teams haven't been up to snuff, and Mike Tomlin has brought in Al Everest to fix the problems. The coaches have hinted that veterans and starters may see a surprising amount of snaps on coverage this year. In camp, Stefan Logan will need to hold off a litany of potential replacements in the return game.

  • Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to wood@footballguys.com.

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