The AFC North has been one of the more competitive divisions in football in recent seasons, and with the Baltimore Ravens winning the Super Bowl this past season but losing some key contributors, it could be more competitive than ever next season. Here's a look at some storylines from OTAs within the division.
The defending Super Bowl champions typically enter OTAs with a legacy to defend, but in the case of the Ravens, many young players on the defense instead have a tall legacy to live up to. While the offense will look similar with quarterback Joe Flacco leading the way, the defense will no longer feature future Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.
The Ravens won't be relying entirely on youth, as the team signed a leader in Elvis Dumervil in free agency. The Pro Bowl pass rusher has only had a few practices in Baltimore, but he's already taken on a leadership role with the Ravens, according to lastcallbmore of Baltimore Beatdown.
In six seasons with the Broncos, Dumervil accumulated 63.5 sacks and earned three trips to the Pro Bowl in four seasons. The Ravens finished 2012 a half sack above the pass rush league average with 37 sacks.
The second of two first round picks of the Bengals in the 2012 NFL Draft, Kevin Zeitler started all 17 games for the Bengals as a rookie and played well in the place of Bobbie Williams. Despite the strong first season in the NFL, Zeitler apparently isn't satisfied with his place in the league.
Zietler has been putting in extra work during the team's OTAs, according to Lucas Greta of Cincy Jungle:
That's right. Even after coming in and playing at a high level during the 2012 season, Zeitler still isn't satisfied. He's watched the tape. He's diagnosed his own flaws. And now he's putting in the time to correct those flaws. During OTA's. In May.
Anyone else starting to think the book is closed on the Zeitler-DeCastro debate?
The Bengals finished 2012 with the No. 12 ranked offense in scoring, but finished in the bottom half of the league in rushing and passing yards.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are a team that many believe to be in transition. They've been one of the top teams in the league for some time now, but after a down year this past season, expectations are all over the place heading into 2013.
Fortunately, things seem to be going well in OTAs. For one, safety Troy Polamalu is there, marking the second-straight season that he has attended such workouts after spending much of his career working out on his own. Behind The Steel Curtain notes that Polamalu appears to be in the best shape of his NFL career, which would be a big boost given his injuries last season.
On top of that, it seems like all of the healthy and able players are at OTAs and working on things. There aren't many storylines for the Steelers right now outside of simply staying healthy, with the team's transition from a power to an outside zone scheme in the running game being the biggest change. Early reports are that the team believes in the scheme, including running back Isaac Redman.
There hasn't been a whole lot of news out of Browns OTAs. The biggest news, by far, is the injury to running back Trent Richardson. As noted at Dawgs By Nature, Richardson has missed some of the team's OTAs due to a pulled shin muscle. Given that Richardson dealt with injury concerns throughout his rookie season, this is big news.
Much of the team's success in 2013 will depend on Richardson, as the offense and defense are once again in transition due to coaching changes. It's often said that running backs have it easier than most other positions when it comes to learning a new offense, so Richardson getting healthy is definitely important.