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Keys to Training Camp: AFC North

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Baltimore Ravens

Location: McDaniel College (Westminster, MD)
Dates: July 31 - August 19
Open to the public? - YES (free of charge)

  1. Jamal Lewis' health and focus - Jamal had surgery on his ankle before beginning a 4-month stint in prison on his drug-related conviction. It's unclear whether Lewis is in "game shape" having been limited in his training options for obvious reasons. It will be important for Lewis to show he's back at full strength in camp if he's going to maintain his current status as a late 1st, early 2nd round fantasy pick.

  2. Todd Heap's health - In a season that saw a Renaissance of sorts at the tight end position, Todd Heap failed to participate fully due to a lingering ankle injury that ultimately required reconstructive surgery this spring. If that weren't enough, it was announced that Heap underwent shoulder surgery this offseason and, as a result, is likely to miss a significant portion of training camp. It's worth noting that the team signed Heap to a long-term extension in June; proof that they aren't particularly concerned about the severity of the injuries in the long run.

  3. Development of Kyle Boller - The Ravens didn't hire Jim Fassel and Rick Neuheisel to stand on the sidelines while Kyle Boller hands the ball off 30 times a game. Nor did they acquired Derrick Mason and rookie Mark Clayton to use them as decoys. Will the Ravens throw as much as HC Brian Billick has hinted, and will we see evidence of that during camp?

  4. Is "Zeus" going to hold off the contenders at right tackle? - Orlando "Zeus" Brown will enter training camp as the Ravens starting right tackle, but there is talk that the team would like to see rookie Adam Terry win the job from Brown.

  5. (IDP) Is "Buddy Ball" back? - The Ravens new defensive coordinator, Rex Ryan (son of Buddy Ryan) is bringing back the vaunted 4-6 defense that his father made famous in Chicago and Philadelphia. Given the Ravens personnel, it's difficult to argue against any defensive formation; but Ryan believes his players are disciplined and skilled enough to implement this ultra-aggressive attacking style of play.

  6. (IDP) Tommy Polley vs. Jim Nelson vs. Bart Scott - Although most expect Tommy Polley to start at outside linebacker some published reports suggest Nelson and Scott will be given a chance to win the job in camp. Whoever wins the job will have the chance to rack up decent numbers as teams look to avoid Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs whenever possible.

Cincinnati Bengals

Location: Georgetown College (Georgetown, KY)
Dates: July 29 - August 17
Open to the public? - YES (free of charge)

  1. Is Carson Palmer ready to assume the mantle of "franchise QB"? - Palmer looked like a first year starter for much of 2004, but his final month was something to behold. Against the likes of Baltimore, New England, Cleveland and Pittsburgh, Palmer threw for 1,000 yards and 11 TDs as his understanding of the offense finally seemed to have come to fruition. Expectations are higher this year, with a playoff berth considered realistic.

  2. Can Chris Perry contribute? - A year ago, Chris Perry was thought to be the heir apparent and Rudi Johnson was the back with his head on the chopping block. A franchise record 1,454 yards from Johnson and a subsequent long-term extension has secured Johnson's role and now it's Perry who must prove that his lingering injuries of a year ago are not chronic. Perry would make a solid addition to the offense as a change of pace to Johnson, particularly as a receiver out of the backfield.

  3. Are Peter Warrick and Kelley Washington going to make the final roster? - With T.J. Houshmandzadeh re-signed to start opposite All-World Chad Johnson, the fight is on for the other rosters spots at receiver. Peter Warrick insists he'll be 100% healthy and ready to contribute in camp, and he'll have to in order to fend off talented yet mercurial Chris Henry. Warrick controls his own destiny it seems but less certain is the fate of Kelley Washington. With rookies Henry and Tab Perry (who will be used as a returner) sure to stick, Washington may be the odd man out without a strong camp.

  4. Ghiaciuc vs. Brahm - Rich Brahm agreed to come back and play this year, and he will very likely enter the regular season as the starter at center. But given his age and diminished effectiveness, rookie Eric Ghiaciuc will be given a long look as Brahm's eventual replacement. Could the future be now?

  5. (IDP) When is the defense going to start playing up to Marvin Lewis' vaunted reputation? - Lewis hopes the hiring of Chuck Bresnahan as the team's new defensive coordinator will go a long way in correcting a unit that finished 21st in points allowed and gave up more than 2,000 yards on the ground. The team added Odell Thurman and David Pollack via the draft, and both have real shots at starting this year at linebacker. Bresnahan must get the rookies and Bryan Robinson (a workmanlike lineman) to jell with the returning personnel.

Cleveland Browns

Location: Browns Training Camp Facility (Berea, OH)
Dates: July 29 - August 24
Open to the public? - YES (free of charge)

  1. Establishing a new identity - The entire franchise has undergone a transformation this offseason, with the hiring of head coach Romeo Crennel and GM Phil Savage. The team is assured of having a new starting QB, to boot, as veteran Trent Dilfer was signed to help guide the ship as they rebuild. Can Crennel and Savage foster a winning environment, and has enough of the locker room been turned over to expect major improvement in 2005? We'll start to find the answers once camp begins.

  2. Is Braylon Edwards going to make an immediate impact? - The Browns were more than one player away from contention, so they took the best player available with the 3rd overall pick in WR Braylon Edwards. Will Edwards sign and get into camp on time? Can he emerge as one of the team's starters or will Antonio Bryant, Andre Davis and Dennis Northcutt assert themselves and hold off the inevitable?

  3. Suggs vs. Droughns - The Browns traded for Reuben Droughns and he will compete with incumbent Lee Suggs for the starting tailback honors. It's conceivable the team could utilize a committee approach (with William Green a dark horse to stick on the roster too), as neither Suggs nor Droughns are undeniably suited to be a feature back. A spirited camp battle is sure to elicit interest in fantasy circles, as the winner could ultimately end up being a steal on draft day.

  4. Rebuilding the offensive line - The Browns will have at least three new starters on the line, including LT L.J. Shelton and Gs Cosey Coleman and Joe Andruzzi. While none of them are considered world beaters, they should collectively provide an upgrade over the woeful unit that took the field in 2004.

  5. (IDP) Out with the old, in with the new…Defensive line - The team is moving from a 4-3 alignment to a 3-4 (Crennel is bringing that with him from New England) and will start entirely different lineup up front. Are Orpheus Roye, Jason Fisk and Alvin McKinley up to the task?

  6. (IDP) Kenard Lang, OLB? - It's not often a 30-year old, 277 pound defensive end is moved to outside linebacker, but that's the plan in Cleveland with Kenard Lang. Lang has said in published reports that the move has invigorated him but this is an experiment that must prove out in training camp.

  7. (IDP) Jones vs. Pool vs. Crocker vs. Williams vs. Jameson at safety - The team needs two starting safeties, that much we know. But who gets the nod is something not even the coaches will know until we're a good way into training camp. Given the Browns are focused on building a perennial contender; one would think Pool and Jones, the youngsters, have the edge but that's far from a foregone conclusion.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Location: St. Vincent College (Latrobe, PA)
Dates: July 31 - August 25
Open to the public? - YES (free of charge)

  1. Will Hines get his money? - The Steelers have been in active negotiations on an extension for Hines Ward, who has one year left on his current deal. Art Rooney has called Ward's contract the team's number one priority, yet entering camp the sides haven't come to an agreement.

  2. Replacing Burress with Randle El, C. Wilson or both? - Plaxico Burress was inconsistent but he was an important cog in the Steelers offense given his size advantage and ability to get downfield. The team plans to replace his production by committee with former slot receiver Antwaan Randle El and 49ers free agent Cedrick Wilson contributing.

  3. Will Heath Miller make an impact? - Considered the best receiving tight end in the 2005 draft, the Steelers selected Heath Miller in the first round despite not having the benefit of seeing him work out (he was recovering from a hernia operation). Miller gives the Steelers a weapon at tight end for the first time in recent memory. Will offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt (a former TE himself) make proper use of him?

  4. What does the "Bus" have left in the tank? - Jerome Bettis was supposed to be relegated to a backup role last year after the Steelers signed Duce Staley as his heir apparent. But an injury to Staley forced Bettis back into the forefront and he ended up having one of his best seasons with almost 1,000 yards rushing an a personal best 13 rushing TDs. Bettis toyed with retirement but opted to return for one more run at the title. Will he split carries with Staley? Is he going to be designated as the goal line back this year? Inquiring fantasy minds need to know.

  5. Can Ben Roethlisberger make the necessary counter adjustments? - Big Ben's dream rookie season was the stuff of legend, but his play tailed off in the latter part of the year and into the playoffs as team's stopped blitzing him and forced him to throw into coverage. Teams will continue that approach until he shows the ability to make them pay; and his ability to recognize zone coverages and find the seams is likely going to be the main focal point of the passing drills in camp.

  6. Rebuilding the right side of the offensive line - When Kendall Simmons went down last preseason, the team promoted Keydrick Vincent and the line barely missed a step. But Vincent is now a Raven and starting right tackle Oliver Ross is now an Arizona Cardinal. That leaves Max Starks and Simmons (back from injury) as replacements. There's no doubt Simmons is up to the task, but his health has to be a concern. Starks, on the other hand, is unproven and there is little depth behind him.

  7. (IDP) Corners, corners everywhere - The Steelers selected Bryant McFadden in the second round of the 2005 draft but it would be a minor surprise if he entered the season ahead of Ricardo Colclough, Deshea Townsend or Willie Williams. Nevertheless, the team hasn't officially settled on the 2005 starting CB tandem yet.

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