June 19, 2024

NFL training camp 2023: Three questions every AFC North team must answer before the season begins

The AFC seems loaded with star power, owning it most of the game’s current quarterfinals and, by default, many of the favorites to contend for the Super Bowl in 2023. The AFC division, meanwhile, might not be more jammed than the North, where Joe Burrow’s Bengals have made two straight conference title games, Lamar Jackson is motivated to get around the hip with the Ravens, the Browns are under pressure to rebound and the Steelers have not tasted a losing season for years.

That doesn’t mean, however, that any of the AFC North contenders are immune to lingering questions. With training camps underway, here are three questions each of the four clubs must answer before the start of the season:

Cincinnati Bengals

SATISFACTION

How will the tackles stand?

Every year, it feels like Cincinnati’s defense improves for Joe Burrow, and yet every year, we still wonder about his trenches. Orlando Brown Jr. is an upgrade. left tackle, to be clear, but taking him away from the mismatched help of Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs offense, he will be a big money addition to watch. Then there’s the right tackle spot, where Jonah Williams and La’el Collins are recovering from surgery, with the veteran playing on the right side for the first time in his career.

What is the plan at running back?

Joe Mixon is clearly a part of it, taking a pay cut to stick with him as the Bengals’ primary ball carrier. But he hasn’t been the most efficient back lately, averaging less than four yards per carry in two of his last three seasons. With Samaje Perine gone via free agency, their primary alternatives are Trayveon Williams and Chase Brown, who have a combined 47 carries at the front office. NFL level.

Is the new secondary look syncing?

With Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell departing and Eli Apple bidding farewell at cornerback, Cincy will rely on three new regulars in the backfield, including 2022 first-round pick Dax Hill and former Rams vet Nick Scott. The added speed of rookie defensive backs DJ Turner and Jordan Battle should help, but the entire group has plenty of projection.

Cleveland Browns

SATISFACTION

Is Deshaun Watson ready?

As it turns out, ready to run an NFL offense functionally, which wasn’t the case at the start of his first time polarizing the Browns in 2022? In fact, Watson needs to be more efficient in a make-or-break year for coach Kevin Stefanski. After an erratic emergence from his suspension, getting him settled into the system is crucial to Cleveland’s entire regime, which has so much staked on him.

Who is the real No. 1 pass target? 2?

The Browns benefited from Elijah Moore’s ill-advised split from the Jets, and the Ole Miss product has the tools for a big jump in front of Amari Cooper. But he’s still a bit of a projection, competing for targets with Donovan Peoples-Jones and tight end David Njoku, who after six seasons is still searching for a true breakout season.

Does Jim Schwartz still have it?

A difficult question to answer before the season, perhaps, but the Browns have the personnel to do some serious damage. Between Myles Garrett, Za’Darius Smith, Dalvin Tomlinson and Jordan Elliott, they should be able to pressure anyone. The X-factor lies with the new coordinator, who is usually very picky about blitzing and hasn’t called a defense in three years.

Baltimore Ravens

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Is the aggressive identity established?

Newly due, Lamar Jackson is now under pressure to not only stay on the field but make a leap as an effective superstar. Perhaps the most important ingredient for him is new coordinator Todd Monken’s system, which seems to be the case emphasis on more shots downfield and more control at the line. And yet it is vital that Jackson and Co. truly purchased in whatever changes have been made. After years of leaning heavily on Greg Roman’s first scheme, it might be hard to completely flip the switch.

Is Odell Beckham Jr. ready to add?

The Ravens are betting big that the former Giants star is — or will be — healthy enough to elevate Baltimore’s aerial attack as Jackson’s new No. 1. Now is the time. Beckham may remain a dominant phenomenon when active, but if/when he takes the field in a game, it will be the first time since the Rams win the Super Bowl in 2021.

What is the future of Patrick the Queen?

With or without the next round, the Ravens defense has the pieces to succeed, starting with fellow cornerback Roquan Smith. But Smith’s arrival at last year’s trade deadline may have been the best thing to happen to Queens, freeing up the LSU product to put up career numbers. On a post-opt-out contract year, he was a hot topic in trade rumors.

Pittsburgh Steelers

SATISFACTION

Is the offensive line stable?

Nothing slows down the development of a young quarterback like failure in advance, and although Pittsburgh has taken significant steps to upgrade its line in the last few years, it would be nice to confirm that the rookie left tackle Broderick Jones, in particular, is willing to protect Kenny Pickett’s blind side. Ex-Eagles starter Isaac Seumalo is another new face to monitor in the interior.

What is expected from Kenny Pickett this year?

Last year, Pickett didn’t see his first NFL action until October, and didn’t really hit his stride until late as a rookie. Heading into Year 2, it would be up to the Steelers brass to set the bar for the next round. Is it a disappointment if he doesn’t lead a playoff run? Postseason victory? After a veteran upgrade on both sides of the ball, the standards have definitely been raised at least a little.

Is Patrick Peterson ready for an expanded role?

The veteran corner teased this offseason has learned several new positions in his first season as a Steeler, meaning he’s a virtual lock to replace Cameron Sutton in Mike Tomlin’s secondary, with snaps at nickel, dime and safety on the board. On “D” where a lot could be asked of newcomer Joey Porter Jr., his comfort as a veteran starter is key.

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