Reason for concerns: AFC North
SportingNews Sep 3, 2:37 pm EDT
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A capsule look at reasons for concern among teams in the AFC North:
1. An offensive line in flux. There is no timeframe when RT Jared Gaither(notes) will return from a back injury. The top backup, Oniel Cousins(notes), has missed substantial practice time with a concussion and was inconsistent when healthy. The coaches probably will move RG Marshal Yanda(notes) to tackle and insert backup C Chris Chester(notes) at right guard. That leaves this unit with little depth. Also, LT Michael Oher(notes) has struggled to pass block speed rushers. It might take him until midseason to get a grip on the position.
2. A banged-up secondary. CB Domonique Foxworth(notes) is out for the season with a torn ACL, and the coaches don't know when S Ed Reed(notes) (hip) or CB Lardarius Webb(notes) (knee) will return. The Ravens have speed on the outside with Fabian Washington(notes) and Chris Carr(notes) but don't have a physical, man-to-man specialist. The team did trade a conditional '11 fifth-round pick to Seattle on Wednesday for CB Josh Wilson(notes), who is expected to take the nickel role. The Ravens will get solid play at safety, but they don't have a game changer like Reed.
3. Pass rush. The Ravens must get more pressure on the quarterback from the front four. With the exception of OLB/DE Terrell Suggs(notes), the Ravens don't have another pass-rush threat or a tackle who can collapse the pocket. The coaches will try to compensate with a lot of blitzing, but that would leave the cornerbacks exposed.—Mike Preston
1. Backup QB. Starter Carson Palmer(notes) must remain healthy for the club to win a second consecutive AFC North title. With Palmer on the field, the offense swaggers. Without him, the unit staggers. Backups J.T. O'Sullivan(notes) and Jordan Palmer(notes) grasp of the offense, but neither has moved the offense with any consistency. If Carson Palmer goes down, the squad is in deep trouble.
2. Offensive line depth. The team can't afford many, if any, injuries along the line. Starter Dennis Roland(notes) and backup Andre Smith(notes) fortify right tackle, but the backup talent level drops significantly at the other positions, especially with rookies Reggie Stephens(notes) and Otis Hudson(notes) backing up C Kyle Cook(notes) and RG Bobbie Williams(notes). The line's strength is run-blocking. It must continue to work on its combination blocks to protect Carson Palmer.
3. Locker room harmony. Massive egos are everywhere with the likes of diva WRs Chad Ochocinco(notes) and Terrell Owens(notes), plus RB Cedric Benson(notes), CB/PR Adam “Pacman” Jones and DT Tank Johnson(notes). Winning should keep everyone happy, but how will all the lightning-rod personalities react when adversity strikes? Coach Marvin Lewis and the team leaders (Carson Palmer, Williams, LT Andrew Whitworth(notes), MLB Dhani Jones(notes) and SS Kyries Hebert(notes)) must serve as the glue, making sure everyone sticks together.—Chick Ludwig
1. Quarterback play. An issue that never has come close to resolution in 11 years of the expansion era remains a concern. Jake Delhomme(notes), 35, must prove his strong preseason means his miserable '09 in Carolina was a mirage. Seneca Wallace(notes) was 3-5 in his busiest season as a Seattle starter. Rookie Colt McCoy's(notes) arm strength is suspect, and he clearly isn't ready to function at NFL game speed. A creative Delhomme/Wallace platoon might be worth a try.
2. Pass rush. OLB Kamerion Wimbley(notes), the '09 sacks leader, was traded to Oakland and there is no proven replacement. Coordinator Rob Ryan will be forced to blitz liberally and hope his gambles pay off. That approach worked to an extent last year (40 sacks), but the team ranked No. 31 in total defense. Offseason pickup Chris Gocong(notes) could beef up the inside rush. Second-year pro Marcus Benard(notes) must blossom as an edge rusher.
3. Running game. Questions remain about how carries will be divvied up among scatback Jerome Harrison(notes), big back Peyton Hillis(notes) and rookie all-around threat Montario Hardesty(notes). None projects as a true feature back for '10, meaning coordinator Brian Daboll must push the right buttons to keep opponents off-balance. New RT Tony Pashos(notes) must be an upgrade, and rookie RG Shaun Lauvao must grow up fast.—Steve Doerschuk
1. Life without Ben. How the team responds without suspended QB Ben Roethlisberger(notes) for four-plus games remains the biggest concern, even though the team brought back veteran Byron Leftwich(notes) to handle the situation. However, Leftwich was injured in the final preseason game, and there are questions about whether he or third-year Dennis Dixon(notes) will starter the Sept. 12 opener.
2. Right tackle. The season-ending injury to RT Willie Colon(notes) forced the team to sign veteran Flozell Adams(notes) just before camp. Adams, though, is 35 and learning a new position after playing left tackle for 13 seasons with Dallas. If Adams slows down during the season, the team would have to turn to newcomer Jonathan Scott(notes), a part-time Bills starter in '09.
3. Backup running back. The decision to not re-sign former two-time Pro Bowl RB Willie Parker(notes) left the team without a proven No. 2 back behind starter Rashard Mendenhall(notes). Veteran Mewelde Moore(notes) could handle the role in an emergency, but the team is counting on Isaac Redman(notes), a '09 practice-squad player, to fill the role. Redman is a tough inside runner with a good burst but is untested.—Gerry Dulac