AFC North Wide Open
CLEVELAND BROWNS (7-8-1)
OPEN CAMP: July 25, Berea, Ohio
LAST YEAR: Found long-term quarterback — at last. Baker Mayfield more than lived up to hype as No. 1 overall pick, taking over starting job in Week 4 and setting NFL rookie record with 27 touchdown passes. Cleveland experienced another coaching change as Hue Jackson finally fired after going 3-36-1. Freddie Kitchens, who began season in shadows as running backs coach, took over as offensive coordinator and was hired in January, Browns’ sixth coach since 2010.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: WRs Odell Beckham Jr. and Jalen Strong, RB Kareem Hunt, DE Olivier Vernon, DL Sheldon Richardson, S Morgan Burnett, TE Demetrius Harris.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: G Kevin Zeitler, S Jabrill Peppers, LB Jamie Collins, DE Emmanuel Ogbah, DB Derrick Kindred.
CAMP NEEDS: Immensely talented Beckham, who arrived in blockbuster trade with Giants, skipped majority of offseason program and needs to catch up with new offense. He also must show teammates he won’t be daily diva or distracting headache. Kitchens has full platter in first head-coaching gig. One of his early challenges is disgruntled running back Duke Johnson, who wants trade after Browns signed suspended Hunt. Former Chiefs star can practice and play in preseason but must serve eight-game NFL ban.
EXPECTATIONS: Browns are season’s trendy team. They haven’t made playoffs since 2002 — league’s longest current drought — and more difficult schedule will place more pressure on Kitchens to deliver success to fan base believing Super Bowl trip closer than ever. Vernon’s arrival makes Pro Bowl DE Myles Garrett (13 1-2 sacks in 2018) more dangerous. Mayfield’s biggest test may be getting Beckham, WR Jarvis Landry, RB Nick Chubb and others enough touches to keep all happy.
CINCINNATI BENGALS (6-10)
OPEN CAMP: July 26, Cincinnati (first practice in Dayton, Ohio on July 27)
LAST YEAR: Coach Marvin Lewis was fired after a 16th season without a playoff win, and 36-year-old Zac Taylor was hired in a notable shift for the franchise. The offense was one of the league’s worst again, with Andy Dalton and A.J. Green suffering significant injuries. The defense was by some measures the worst in team history. The Bengals slipped behind intrastate rival Cleveland and finished last in the AFC North for the first time since 2010. IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: Taylor, offensive coordinator Brian Callahan, defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo, OT Jonah Williams, G John Miller, CB B.W. Webb, TE Drew Sample, LB Germaine Pratt, QB Ryan Finley, G Michael Jordan.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: Lewis and both coordinators, G Clint Boling, LB Vincent Rey, DE Michael Johnson, TE Tyler Kroft, OT Andre Smith, OT Cedric Ogbuehi, OT Jake Fisher, Burfict.
CAMP NEEDS: The offense will be learning its third system in three years, and the defense is on its fourth coordinator in three years, so there’s a lot of adjusting going on. The offensive line is the biggest issue at the outset, as it was the two previous years as well. The Bengals took Jonah Williams with the 11th overall pick and expected him to start at left tackle, but a shoulder injury during offseason workouts required surgery and could sideline him the entire season. Boling, the left guard, retired because of a blood clot one week before the start of camp, leaving the line in a familiar state of flux.
EXPECTATIONS: Given all the newness and change, the Bengals will be a work in progress all season as they try to escape the basement. They haven’t finished last in consecutive seasons since 2001-02.
BALTIMORE RAVENS (10-7)
OPEN CAMP: July 25, Owings Mills, Maryland
LAST YEAR: Ravens ended three-year playoff hiatus in 2018, capturing AFC North with run-heavy offense and top-ranked defense in NFL. Baltimore was struggling before rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson took over for injured Joe Flacco, and 2016 Heisman Trophy winner retained starting job even after Flacco was healthy enough to play. Jackson was 6-1 as starter heading into postseason, but string of success ended against Chargers, who bottled up fleet-footed quarterback and limited his effectiveness passing.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: S Earl Thomas, RBs Mark Ingram, WR Seth Roberts, Marquise Brown and Michael Floyd, DE Shane Ray, CB Justin Bethel, offensive coordinator Greg Roman, GM Eric DeCosta.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: LBs Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley and Za’Darius Smith, WRs John Brown and Michael Crabtree, S Eric Weddle, TE Maxx Williams, GM Ozzie Newsome
CAMP NEEDS: Keeping Jackson upright is most important facet of camp, but Ravens also must hone passing game that was all but ignored after Jackson took over and turned offense into grind-it-out unit. In eight starts (including playoffs), Jackson had only one 200-yard passing game. Also of importance this summer: finding pass rushers to replace Suggs and Smith, along with tutoring Patrick Onwuasor to be new man in middle following Mosley’s exit.
EXPECTATIONS: If Jackson can take next step from rookie season and stay healthy, offense should be effective enough to keep defense off field.