The Ravens rookies have reported to camp to begin their quest to solidify a spot on the team’s 53-man roster. The rosters around the division will soon begin to take shape, so let’s take a look at the battles surrounding the North.
What’s on the running back radar?
Following a common theme in the division, the Browns have a crowded backfield competition going into camp.
Bringing in Ben Tate from Houston could have huge upside in a pounding division like the AFC North. Tate was utilized as a change-of-pace back in Houston behind Arian Foster, and he’ll get a chance to be “the guy” in Cleveland this season.
Behind Tate are Dion Lewis, Terrance West, and Isaiah Crowell. West and Crowell are two rookies that could emerge as training camp standouts, while Lewis is a young gun from Philly who could break out and make the race in the pre-season very interesting. Watch out for someone like Crowell or Lewis to make a name for themselves and present the Cleveland staff a tough decision.
A little more “Swagger” in Cleveland.
This is not a drill: The Cleveland Browns will have a live bulldog mascot named “Swagger” for the 2014 season
The dog mascot is an attempt to re-connect with Cleveland’s Dawg Pound of the past. The notoriously rowdy bleacher section in old Municipal Stadium gave Cleveland one of the best home-field advantages.
Does this reek of desperation to anyone else? First Manziel, now Swagger?
Most balanced offense in the AFC?
There’s no doubt the Bengals have the potential for an offensive breakout on the ground in 2014 (something we touched on in our last Behind Enemy Lines), but the air attack with Andy Dalton looks primed to be better than ever this year.
I expect Tyler Eifert, a second-year guy from Notre Dame, to have a breakout season across from Jermaine Gresham. Eifert had just 39 grabs last year, giving him the opportunity to ease into the league and successfully double his numbers from 2013.
With A.J Green, Marvin Jones, and natural pass-catching back Giovani Bernard, Dalton could have his best year to date this season.
Offensive Coordinator Hue Jackson will have all the pieces available to produce a balanced attack.
Is Marvin Lewis an average “hot-seat” coach?
NFL.com’s Elliot Harrison recently ranked all 32 NFL head coaches, and while John Harbaugh got the nod as the league’s 4th-best coach, Marvin Lewis snuck onto the list ranked #15.
Here’s what Harrison said:
You’re staring at the longest-tenured head coach in the NFL not named Bill Belichick. It’s a bit surprising, given the Bengals’ lack of postseason success and Lewis’ so-so popularity, both in town and in league circles. None of this is to say he hasn’t done a nice job, considering this team was nothing short of awful from 1991 to 2002. Lewis took charge in 2003, taking Cincy to the playoffs in ’05, ’09, ’11, ’12 and ’13. Still, no postseason wins to date.
If the Bengals fail to get that all-important postseason win in 2014, it might be time for a coaching mix-up. This will undoubtedly be a year Lewis and his staff rely on their big guns on both sides of the ball. A collapse from those guys this year could bring an end to the Lewis-era in Cincy.
Receiving troubles to come?
When looking at the receiving corps in Pittsburgh, there’s not much to be thrilled about for the fans of the black and gold.
After Antonio Brown, young guys like Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant will be called upon to be the “leaders” of the group.
There have been rumors of the offense expanding the no-huddle this year, but will they be capable of working a fluid speed-oriented game plan with the inexperienced group? Even Lance Moore from New Orleans is new to the Roethlisberger-led offense. How quickly can he pick up on the scheme and blend into the offense?
The unit’s cohesiveness will be an interesting storyline as we move through camp and the preseason.
Finley the answer to questions on offense?
After suffering a near career-ending injury in Green Bay, tight end Jermichael Finley is looking to make an NFL comeback with a contending team.
Rumor has it the Steelers have actually offered a deal to the former Packer. Here’s a spot from NFL.com about Finley’s health and potential comeback:
According to Finley, Maroon said the chances are “99.9 percent that if I get back on the field, I’ll be more protected and in better shape than I was before my injury.”
Finley hopes Wednesday’s examination will convince a team the same. In the meantime, he’s content to work out and stay patient for the right opportunity.
“As long as I wait, you know and I know, guys are going to go down and the money’s going to shoot up,” Finley said. “It’s all a waiting game right now.”
Paired with Heath Miller, there’s no doubt that Finley would work extremely well in the Todd Haley-led offense. However, can Tomlin and Co. go into 2014 relying on yet another injury-prone weapon?