AFC North: Camp goals, roster breakdown

By The Sports Xchange
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green (18) runs in for the touchdown under pressure from Pittsburgh Steelers' William Gay (22) during the second half of play in their NFL Wild Card Round game at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio, January 9, 2016. Photo by John Sommers II/UPI
1 of 4 | Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green (18) runs in for the touchdown under pressure from Pittsburgh Steelers' William Gay (22) during the second half of play in their NFL Wild Card Round game at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio, January 9, 2016. Photo by John Sommers II/UPI | License Photo


CAMP CALENDAR: Rookies report July 22; veterans report July 27; camp breaks Aug. 19.



--Stabilize the secondary: The Ravens' secondary has been hampered by injuries over the past couple of years, forcing Harbaugh to start players who might not have been ready for an extended role. In the offseason, Baltimore signed Eric Weddle to provide a veteran presence at safety. Another veteran, Lardarius Webb, will make the full-time switch from cornerback to free safety. Jimmy Smith is expected to be fully healthy and can be a lockdown corner. Shareece Wright, who signed a three-year deal in March, could start opposite Smith. Jerraud Powers, a former starter for the Arizona Cardinals, was signed to a one-year deal in the offseason and could thrive as the team's nickel corner. Will Davis, who is back after tearing his ACL last season, will push for playing time. It will be crucial for this group to perform, especially with so many playmaking wide receivers in the AFC North.


--Develop a more effective vertical passing game: When the Ravens selected wide receiver Breshad Perriman in the first round of the 2015 draft, general manager Ozzie Newsome was confident the team had added a new dimension to the offense. Perriman, however, injured his knee on the first day of training camp and never played a down. As a result, the Ravens never had a legitimate downfield threat that could stretch opposing secondaries, which hampered the offense. The Ravens got another scare when Perriman injured his knee again in the offseason. The team caught a break when arthroscopic surgery showed Perriman did not have a torn ACL and didn't need another season-ending procedure.

As insurance, Baltimore added wide receiver Mike Wallace, who is a proven veteran with 414 receptions for 6,307 yards and 49 touchdowns over his seven-year career. Baltimore also drafted Chris Moore in the fourth round of this year's draft from the University of Cincinnati. At 6-foot-1, 206 pounds, he is another potential big-play threat after averaging 21.1 yards per reception last season -- eighth best in the nation.

Baltimore is optimistic one of these players will emerge as a viable downfield target for Flacco.



QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Joe Flacco. Backup - Ryan Mallett.

The Ravens have carried just two quarterbacks for the past six seasons and that trend will likely continue. After undergoing offseason knee surgery, Flacco is expected to be ready for the start of training camp. Flacco's health will be one of the main storylines of the preseason. Mallett signed a two-year deal with the team on Dec. 15 and was uneven as the starter. Baltimore could still bring in another veteran to compete for that backup role.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter - Justin Forsett. Backups - Javorius "Buck" Allen, Kenneth Dixon, Terrance West, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Trent Richardson, FB Kyle Juszczyk.

Forsett is returning from a broken arm that ended his season Nov. 22 against the Rams. Despite the setback, Forsett still finished as the team's leading rusher with 641 yards on 151 carries. Forsett was solid in offseason workouts and has the edge as the starter. Second-year player Allen showed he is also capable of carrying the load and will push Forsett. The rookie Dixon will also battle for playing time after running for 1,070 yards with 26 touchdowns for Louisiana Tech last year. West has impressed coaches with his work ethic. While many NFL teams have moved away from using a fullback, Juszczyk has proven he can be a capable weapon for the Ravens. Last season, he set career highs in receptions (41), receiving yards (321) and touchdown catches (four).


TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Benjamin Watson. Backups - Crockett Gillmore, Maxx Williams, Dennis Pitta, Nick Boyle, Darren Waller.

Watson signed a two-year, $8 million deal in the offseason and the veteran will likely get the nod as the starter. Gillmore has been effective, but has battled injuries. Williams will look to build on an effective rookie season and will vie for snaps. Pitta is trying to battle back from two devastating hip injuries, but appeared healthy during the OTAs. Boyle and Waller are suspended and could face an uphill battle to remain on the roster.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Kamar Aiken, Mike Wallace. Backups - Steve Smith, Breshad Perriman, Chris Moore, Mike Wallace, Keenan Reynolds, Michael Campanaro, Jeremy Butler, Chris Matthews, Kaelin Clay, Daniel Brown.

Smith suffered a season-ending torn Achilles in Week 8, and there is still uncertainty whether he will be ready for the start of the regular season. Aiken shined in Smith's absence last year and set career highs for receptions (75), receiving yards (944) and touchdown catches (five). He also tied a franchise record of catching at least five passes in nine straight games. Perriman, the team's first-round pick in 2015, is also battling a knee injury for the second consecutive year, which could open the door for Wallace to start as the team's downfield threat. Chris Moore, a fourth-round selection from Cincinnati in this year's draft, could provide another big-play threat for Flacco. After that group, Campanaro, the rookie Reynolds, Matthews and Butler will likely be fighting for two available spots. Their ability to play special teams could help their chances.


OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Ronnie Stanley, LG John Urschel, C Jeremy Zuttah, RG Marshal Yanda, RT Rick Wagner. Backups - Ryan Jensen, Alex Lewis, James Hurst, De'Ondre Wesley, Vladimir Ducasse.

The Stanley era at left tackle began sooner rather than later after the Ravens released the oft-injured Eugene Monroe. The line took a hit when LG Kelechi Osemele left for Oakland. However, Baltimore should have enough depth to absorb that loss with third-year player Urschel taking Osemele's spot. The Ravens have continuity at the remaining positions and the offensive line could once again be the strength of the team.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - DT Timmy Jernigan, NT Brandon Williams, DRE Lawrence Guy. Backups -- Carl Davis, Willie Henry, Bronson Kaufusi, Brent Urban.

Jernigan and Williams are two of the top players at their position and will look to continue their solid development. The veteran Guy might have the inside track with starting at defensive end, but rookie third-round pick Kaufusi has been impressive. Urban has also showed promise when healthy. Davis will be a key backup for Williams and Jernigan.

LINEBACKERS: Starters - OLB Terrell Suggs, MLB C.J. Mosley, MLB Zachary Orr, SLB Elvis Dumervil. Backups - Za'Darius Smith, Matt Judon, Kamalei Correa, Arthur Brown, Albert McClellan, Brennen Beyer, Chris Carter, Cavellis Luckett, Victor Ochi, Mario Ojemudia, Patrick Onwuasor, Zachary Orr.


Much of the focus will be on Suggs and whether he is fully recovered from a torn Achilles he suffered in the 2015 season opener. With Suggs out, teams were able to focus on Dumervil, who finished with six sacks in 2015 after leading the team with 17 the prior year. Mosley has been solid and has emerged as one of the leaders on defense. Orr took snaps with the first team in offseason workouts after the Ravens released veteran Daryl Smith. A player to watch is second-round pick Correa, who has looked effective in offseason workouts and could push for time at inside linebacker.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Shareece Wright, RCB Jimmy Smith, FS Eric Weddle, SS Lardarius Webb. Backups - Jerraud Powers, Will Davis, Tavon Young, Maurice Canady, Sheldon Price, Jumal Rolle, Julian Wilson, Terrence Brooks, Matt Elam, Kendrick Lewis, Kyle Arrington.

When healthy, Smith is regarded as one of the top corners in the league. Wright, who signed a three-year extension in the offseason, will likely enter camp as the starter on the opposite side. Davis could also push for the starting job at corner and he appears healthy after suffering a torn ACL last season. At safety, Webb is transitioning from cornerback, but he already showed he is capable of playing effectively at that position last season. Weddle was signed in the offseason to provide a veteran presence and he has embraced that leadership role throughout offseason workouts.


SPECIAL TEAMS: K Justin Tucker, P Sam Koch, LS Morgan Cox, KOR Kaelin Clay, PR Kaelin Clay.

Tucker got the franchise tag in the offseason, but eventually came to terms on a four-year deal. Koch is one of the best punters in the game and the Ravens will have continuity with the return of Cox. Clay has the edge as the returner after performing well in 2015. However, rookie Keenan Reynolds could also play a role in some capacity. He spent portions of the offseason workouts catching punts and his confidence continues to grow.


CAMP CALENDAR: Full squad reports July 29. The Bengals will practice with the Minnesota Vikings on Aug. 10 and 11.


--Get comfortable in Ken Zampese's offense: There's quite a bit of familiarity between quarterback Andy Dalton and first-year offensive coordinator Zampese, who had spent the past four seasons working closely together. But Zampese no longer is the quarterbacks coach, a role he held for 12 years. With Hue Jackson gone, it's up to Zampese to maintain the momentum created by Dalton prior to his season-ending thumb injury, find the proper mix of receivers with the loss of Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones and tread water with the tight ends until Tyler Eifert is healthy. Jackson was known for his wide variety of formations and gimmicky plays. Zampese appears more no-nonsense, but needs to get the most out of his personnel.


--Turn the page: With little competition at most positions, this training camp might be more about the Bengals moving on from one of the most difficult losses in franchise history and setting their sights on another playoff run. The loss to rival Pittsburgh in the AFC wild-card stung, but it also was mostly self-inflicted. The fallout will linger, especially when linebacker Vontaze Burfict returns from his three-game suspension that resulted from his actions late in that game.


QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Andy Dalton. Backups -- AJ McCarron, Keith Wenning, Joe Licata.

Dalton passed for 3,250 yards and 25 touchdowns last season and looked good during summer workouts coming off a season-ending thumb injury. McCarron established himself as one of the NFL's most adept backups during Dalton's absence. Wenning and Licata will battle for a practice squad spot.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter(s) -- Jeremy Hill, Gio Bernard. Backups -- Cedric Peerman, Rex Burkhead, Tra Carson, Bronson Hill, DyShawn Mobley.

Hill's costly fumble in the fourth quarter of the AFC Wild Card game led to a stunning loss to Pittsburgh. Hill owned up to his mistake but has to regain some trust beginning in training camp. Bernard signed a new long-term deal this offseason and his versatility as an elusive runner and pass catcher will be a big part of the offense. Peerman earned a Pro Bowl spot on special teams. This is among the Bengals' deepest positions.


TIGHT ENDS: Starter(s) -- Tyler Eifert. Backups -- Ryan Hewitt, Tyler Kroft, C.J. Uzomah, Matt Lengel, John Peters.

Eifert's status will be a major storyline during training camp. He's coming off ankle surgery after injuring it during the Pro Bowl. Hewitt, Kroft and Uzomah spent much of the summer battling for the starting role in case Eifert isn't ready by the opener. If he can't, Uzomah is the early front runner to assume a temporary role.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, Brandon LaFell. Backups -- Mario Alford, Michael Bennett, Cody Core, Alex Erickson, Antwane, Grant, Jake Kumerow, Alonzo Russell, Brandon Tate, James Wright.

The departures of Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones in free agency caused some turnover in what's been among the Bengals' most stable positions. Green is the star and veteran presence. But, LaFell established himself as a mentor and burgeoning talent during summer workouts. Tate's versatility on special teams keeps him on the roster. From there, it's up for grabs.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT Andrew Whitworth, LG Kevin Zeitler, C Russell Bodine, RG Clint Boling, RT Cedric Ogbuehi. Backups -- G Eric Winston, OT John Weidenaar, G/C Alex Redmond, G/C Trip Thurman, OT Aaron Epps, OT Jake Fisher, C T.J. Johnson, G/C Alex Cooper, G Trey Hopkins, G Christian Westerman.


The group is deep but beginning to age. An opportunity exists for a number of the younger guys, particularly Johnson, who played only 16 offensive snaps but established himself as a serviceable backup. Whitworth is a strong locker-room presence and will be counted on again in that role to help mentor the youngsters.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters DT Geno Atkins, DE Carlos Dunlap, DE Michael Johnson, DT Domata Peko. Backups -- DT Andrew Billings, DT Pat Sims, DE Ryan Brown, DE Will Clarke, DT David Dean, DT Marcus Hardison, DE Margus Hunt, DE Dezmond Johnson, DT Brandon Thompson, DT DeShawn Williams.

The wild card in this group is veteran pass rusher Dwight Freeney, who could join the roster by the start of camp. This is a strength of the team with Dunlap and Atkins among the NFL's most dynamic pass rushers. Hunt and Clarke likely will be backups. This is one of the positions that is pretty much set as the Bengals enter camp.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- WLB Vontaze Burfict, MLB Rey Maualuga, SLB Karlos Dansby. Backups -- WLB Vincent Rey, SLB Trevor Roach, LB Jeff Luc, WLB P.J. Dawson, LB Jayson DiManche, LB Marquis Flowers, LB Darien Harris.


This position will be in flux for the first month of the regular season with Burfict and Mays suspended. Burfict is out three games for multiple player-safety violations and Mays is out four for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. Maualuga is the veteran anchor with newly acquired Dansby expected to play a big role.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Dre Kirkpatrick, RCB Adam Jones, SS George Iloka, FS Shawn Williams. Backups -- LCB Darqueze Dennard, LCB Josh Shaw, RCB Chris Lewis-Harris, FS Derron Smith, CB Chykie Brown, S Clayton Fejedelum, CB Darius Hillary, CB William Jackson, S Taylor Mays.

The secondary took a hit in free agency with the departures of veteran corner Leon Hall and safety Reggie Nelson. But, plenty of depth remains. Dennard is coming back from a season-ending shoulder injury. The Bengals hope Kirkpatrick can overcome some inconsistency that has plagued his young career. Jones is the fiery leader who fuels this group's aggressive persona.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Mike Nugent, K Zach Hocker, P Kevin Huber, LS Clark Harris, KOR Brandon Tate, PR Adam Jones.

This group is pretty much set, aside from getting a look at Hocker, who had a solid season with the St. Louis Rams last season. Otherwise, the familiar faces will be back for Week 1.



CAMP CALENDAR: Rookies, quarterbacks and injured veterans report July 25; remaining veterans report July 28; first practice July 29; intrasquad scrimmage at Ohio Stadium in Columbus on Aug. 6; camp breaks Aug. 15; joint practice with Buccaneers in Tampa on Aug. 23-24 before to preseason game Aug. 26.


--Settle on a starting quarterback: Head coach Hue Jackson has a reputation of developing quarterbacks. In this case he is trying to resurrect one -- Robert Griffin III. Jackson inherited Josh McCown. Jackson led the charge to sign Griffin when no other team showed interest in the former Redskin. That alone seems to give the edge to Griffin, but RG3 was inconsistent in OTAs and minicamp, so he does not have a lock on the job.

--Improve the pass rush: There are many reasons the Browns gave up 34 passing touchdowns last season. One of them is that the pass rush was one of the worst in the league. The Browns had 29 sacks and ranked 28th in sacks per pass play. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton is confident outside linebackers Paul Kruger and Barkevious Mingo will flourish in his scheme. If so, the pass rush should improve.



QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Robert Griffin III. Backups -- Josh McCown, Cody Kessler, Austin Davis.

Griffin spent most of May getting used to receivers that were new to him. His passing accuracy was inconsistent but did improve during the June minicamp. He will have to become more of a pocket passer than he was while with the Redskins. McCown is capable of beating out Griffin if the competition is on an even playing field. A problem for head coach Hue Jackson is both are injury prone and Kessler is nowhere near ready to start an NFL game. Davis is a longshot to make the team.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter -- Isaiah Crowell, FB Malcolm Johnson

Backups -- RBs Duke Johnson, Glenn Winston, Raheem Mostert, Terrell Watson. FB Patrick Skov.

Jackson made the running game an integral part of the Bengals' offense when he was offensive coordinator in Cincinnati and has plans to do the same thing as head coach of the Browns. Jackson wants Crowell to have better vision when attacking the holes opened by the offensive line. Johnson is a better receiver than Crowell, but Johnson is not a one dimensional back. There will be times when the Browns will open in a two-back set with Malcom Johnson at fullback. He is a crunching blocker and catches the ball well in short yardage. Mostert proved in minicamp he can catch the ball. He is primarily a special teams player.


TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Gary Barnidge. Backups -- E.J. Bibbs, Seth DeValve Connor Hamlet, J.P. Holtz, Randall Telfer.

Barnidge caught 79 passes for 1,043 yards and nine touchdowns last season. His new head coach makes the tight end a prominent player in the offense, as Tyler Eifert demonstrated in Cincinnati last year. The fight for two backup jobs is wide open. Bibbs is primarily a blocker. DeValve is a rookie with enough skill as a receiver to split out wide on occasion. Telfer is the unknown. He spent all of 2015 on the NFI injury list recovering from foot surgery. Telfer is primarily a blocker, so one job could boil down to a battle between Bibbs and Telfer. However, Barnidge is the star here. He makes clutch catches and is the epitome of a team player. He has absolutely no ego.

WIDE RECEIVER: Starters -- Corey Coleman, Andrew Hawkins. Backups -- Taylor Gabriel, Ricardo Smith, Terrelle Pryor, Rannell Hall, Rashard Higgins, Darius Jennings, Marlon Moore, Dennis Parks, Jordan Payton, Josh Gordon.

Wide receiver was by far the weakest position for the Browns last year. To resolve that issue they drafted four receivers, but only Coleman, picked 15th overall, seems ready to contribute immediately. Louis, Higgins and Payton might take time to fit into the NFL. Coleman has his own challenges because he ran limited pass routes at Baylor.


Pryor, beginning his second training camp as a wide receiver, has made vast improvement from last summer. He could challenge for a starting job. Pryor caught the ball well in spring practice and most importantly he is healthy. Last year be battled a hamstring injury most of camp. The Browns wide receivers caught a total of eight touchdown passes last year. Travis Benjamin, now playing for the Chargers, caught five of them. Gordon is suspended indefinitely by the NFL for repeated substance abuse violations, but he can apply for reinstatement in August.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT Joe Thomas, LG Joel Bitonio, C Cameron Erving, RG John Greco, RT Alvin Bailey. Backups -- RT Shon Coleman, G/T Spencer Drango, G/T Austin Pasztor, T Michael Bowie, G Conor Boffeli, T Dan France, C Garth Gerhart, G Kaleb Johnson, T Erle Ladson, C Mike Matthews.

The left side of the offensive line is solid with perennial Pro Bowl tackle Thomas next to Bitonio, but after that there are plenty of question marks. Greco will have to cover at times for Erving, as will Bitonio. Bailey will have to anchor right tackle while Coleman adjusts to the speed of NFL defensive ends and outside linebackers.


There is some experience behind the starters. Pasztor filled in in 2015 when Bitonio's season was cut short by an ankle injury. Pasztor can also play tackle. Pass protection was an issue last season, as was short-yardage blocking. Jackson won't be shy about getting in a lineman's face if he doesn't like the technique being used. Like most positions on a 3-13 team, the offensive line is a work in progress.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LDE Xavier Cooper, NT Danny Shelton, RDE John Hughes. Backups -- DT Nile Lawrence-Stample, NT Jamie Meder, DE Carl Nassib, DE Dylan Wynn, DT Kyle Rose

The defensive line suffered a major setback when 2015 sack leader Desmond Bryant sustained what will likely be a season-ending pectoral injury working out during the first week of July. Second-year player Cooper has a quick first step and will step in as the starter on the left side, but that leaves the Browns thin on the bench.

The Browns are looking for a big leap from Shelton in his second season. He lost 30 pounds so he can be quicker. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton wants him to be a three-down player. Hughes started only three games last season, but his tackle total (24) should increase with last year's starter, Randy Starks, no longer on the team. Nassib led Division I college football with 17.5 sacks last year. Anything close to that would be a bonus.


LINEBACKERS: Starters -- WLB Nate Orchard, MLB DeMario Davis, ILB Chris Kirksey, SLB Paul Kruger. Backups -- OLB Barkevious Mingo, OLB Dominique Alexander, OLB Armonty Bryant, MLB Tank Carder, OLB Cam Johnson, OLB Emmanuel Ogbah, ILB Joel Schobert, ILB Justin Tuggle, ILB Scooby Wright III.

The new-look Browns under Hue Jackson include a new set of starting inside linebackers. Davis is a hard-hitting run stopper and Kirksey, who made five starts in 2015, is ready to assume a regular starting role in his third season. The Browns were 30th in the league in run defense last season, so the theory is some fresh blood can help. Rookie Ogbah could challenge Kruger for playing time.

Defensive coordinator Horton is determined to improve the pass rush, which means Orchard and Mingo could rotate at one outside linebacker spot. Bryant is suspended for the first four games of the season for violating the league's substance abuse policy. Wright is coming off a knee injury. He could have returned to college for his senior season, but decided to go pro a year early. He and Schobert probably will earn their bread on special teams, at least early in the season.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Joe Haden, RCB Tramon Williams, FS Jordan Poyer, SS Ibraheim Campbell. Backups -- CB Justin Gilbert, DB K'Waun Williams, CB Pierre Desir, FS Don Jones, S Derrick Kindred, CB Trey Caldwell, S Sean Baker, CB Mikell Everette, CB Charles Gaines, CB Tracy Howard, S Rahim Moore, CB Eric Patterson, S Tim Scott, FS A.J. Stamps, CB Jamar Taylor.


Haden is looking for a bounce back year after playing only five games in 2015. Gilbert could push Williams at right corner if he convinces the coaches he is reliable. Safety is in a state of transition. Campbell is in his second season but has to prove he can cover tight ends. Poyer has already proven he can start at free safety but he hasn't had to do it for 16 games. Moore and Taylor are looking for redemption after the Texans and Dolphins respectively gave up on them.

K'Waun Williams is one of the best nickel backs in the league when healthy, but staying healthy has been a problem. Gaines, Kindred and Caldwell will help form the core of special teams. Desir could be squeezed out of a job. He was exposed when left out on an island at left cornerback last year while Haden was injured.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Travis Coons. Backup -- Patrick Murray. P Andy Lee. LS Charley Hughlett. KR Raheem Mostert. Backup -- Justin Gilbert. PR Corey Coleman.

Coons missed only four kicks last season, and every one was blocked. He has worked extensively to get better trajectory. Murray will get a chance to unseat Coons, but it is Coons' job to lose. Lee has no competition. He averaged 46.7 yards a punt in 2015. He punted 70 times and only four resulted in touchbacks. Hughlett is steady as a long snapper. Mostert played only briefly last season, but showed spark as a kick returner. His ability to catch passes as a running back will help him, but Gilbert is capable of longer returns, so this battle could extend through the preseason. Coleman compares himself to Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He wants to play wide receiver and return punts. So far the Browns are open to letting him do both.



CAMP CALENDAR: Full squad reports July 28; first practice July 29; practice with Lions Aug. 9-10; camp breaks Aug. 17.


--Fix the secondary: The Steelers have to fill starting jobs at cornerback and safety after the team elected not to re-sign Antwon Blake and Will Allen after last season. Blake started all 16 games and Allen started all but three. The candidates to replace Blake are veteran Ross Cockrell and rookie first-round pick Artie Burns. The candidates to replace Allen are veteran Robert Golden and rookie second-round pick Sean Davis. The Steelers also must replace slot corner Brandon Boykin, another veteran they elected not to re-sign. Senquez Golson, the team's second-round pick in 2015, is expected to win that job, but he missed his first season with a shoulder injury. The Steelers are hoping the infusion of new talent will help the pass defense, which ranked 30th in the NFL last season.

--Groom a replacement for Martavis Bryant: Bryant, the ultra-talented but troubled receiver, will not play this season under an NFL drug suspension. The Steelers have to find someone who will replace his 765 receiving yards and six touchdowns. The most likely candidate is second-year pro Sammie Coates. But Coates played only a handful of snaps as a rookie and must prove he is capable of handling the job. He has all the tools to be successful. The Steelers selected Coates in the third round of the 2015 draft because he had size and speed, two traits that Bryant also possessed. They drafted a Bryant clone because the team knew Bryant was in the NFL drug program. So this is planned. Now it's up to Coates to fulfill his promise.



QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Ben Roethlisberger. Backups - Landry Jones, Bruce Gradkowski, Dustin Vaughan.

Roethlisberger completed a career-high 68 percent of his passes in an injury-riddled 2015 season. If he is able to stay healthy, he has the weapons to post one of the best seasons of his career. Jones became the backup last season after Gradkowski was placed on injured reserve and Mike Vick struggled. Coach Mike Tomlin said in the spring he was in no hurry to name a backup and that their reps this summer will determine who wins the job.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters - Le'Veon Bell and Roosevelt Nix. Backups - DeAngelo Williams, Fitzgerald Toussaint, Cam Stingily, Brandon Johnson, Brandon Brown-Dukes, Daryl Richardson.

Bell was suspended last week for four games because he failed to take a mandatory drug test. Bell missed the final eight games of the regular season and two playoff games with a knee injury. He expected to be ready for the regular-season opener after undergoing surgery to repair his damaged PCL and MCL. He was an All-Pro in 2014. Williams filled in admirably until he was injured in the regular-season finale at Cleveland and missed both playoff games. Williams rushed for 907 yards and scored 11 touchdowns. Toussaint was elevated from the practice squad to the active roster halfway through last season and got the bulk of the carries in the two playoff contests. TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Ladarius Green. Backups - Matt Spaeth, Jesse James, Xavier Grimble, David Johnson, Paul Lang.


Green was signed to replace Heath Miller, who retired in February. Green spent the past four seasons as the backup to Antonio Gates in San Diego and was the Steelers' big free agent acquisition of the offseason. He had ankle surgery and missed OTAs and minicamp. Tomlin expects him to be ready for the season opener. The Steelers kept four tight ends last season. Spaeth and Johnson are solid in the run game but offer little in terms of pass-catching ability. James has the most potential among the backups and played well last season in limited opportunities. Grimble has a shot to make the roster because of his abilities as a receiver, but he needs to work on his blocking.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Antonio Brown and Markus Wheaton. Backups - Sammie Coates, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Eli Rogers, Demarcus Ayers, Shakim Phillips, Levi Norwood, Canaan Severin, Marcus Tucker, Isaac Blakeney.

Brown is an All-Pro and is coming off one of the best seasons ever for a receiver in the NFL. He had 136 receptions for 1,834 yards. Had Roethlisberger been able to stay healthy for all 16 games, Brown would have seriously challenged NFL records for catches and yards in a season. Wheaton has a chance to have a big season in a contract year. Martavis Bryant is suspended for the season, and the Steelers needed Wheaton and others to produce more. Coates is a Bryant clone -- elite size and speed -- and was drafted to take his place in the lineup if Bryant could not play. Heyward-Bey has Roethlisberger's trust and is a solid fourth receiver. Rogers and Ayers will likely battle for the final roster spot for receivers.


OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Alejandro Villanueva, LG Ramon Foster, C Maurkice Pouncey, RG David DeCastro, RT Marcus Gilbert. Backups - C/G Cody Wallace, C/G Chris Hubbard, T Ryan Harris, C/G B.J. Finney, T Jerald Hawkins, T Matt Feiler, C Quinton Schooley, G Cole Manhart, T Brian Mihalik.

Pouncey, the former two-time All-Pro, is healthy after missing last season with a leg injury. DeCastro, the former first-round pick in 2012, has developed into one of the best guards in the league and is coming off his first All-Pro season. Gilbert has quietly developed into a top-notch right tackle, and Foster earned a new contract with his fine play last season. The only question mark -- and it's a big one -- is left tackle. Villanueva played the final 10 regular-season games and two playoff games after Kelvin Beachum was lost for the season with a knee injury. Beachum signed as a free agent in Jacksonville, and the Steelers signed Harris as a free agent to compete with Villanueva. Wallace filled in for Pouncey last season, but he'll be the top reserve at center and guard this season as long as the starters stay healthy. Finney has a chance to make the roster if he can beat out Hubbard.


DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - DLE Stephon Tuitt, NT Daniel McCullers, DRE Cam Heyward. Backups - NT Javon Hargrave, DE Ricardo Mathews, DE L.T. Walton, DE Chasaud Lyons, DE Johnny Maxey, DE Devauntae Sigler, NT Lavon Hooks, NT Roy Philon.

Heyward has emerged as one of the top 3-4 defensive ends in the NFL and Tuitt isn't far behind. They form a strong tandem that will be among the best in the league if they can stay healthy. If they don't, it will be a big problem for the Steelers because there isn't much depth behind them. Mathews was signed as a free agent to provide depth and the Steelers are hoping he's better than Cam Thomas, who was a disappointment for the two seasons he spent with the Steelers. Walton did not play much as a rookie, but he has some upside and might be able to provide some depth along with Mathews. McCullers, a sixth-round pick in 2014, is the new starting nose tackle after the Steelers elected not to re-sign Steve McLendon. McCullers will anchor the line on runs down and rookie third pick Hargrave is expected to have a role as a pass rusher in the nickel and dime.


LINEBACKERS: Starters - SLB Jarvis Jones, WLB Bud Dupree, MLB Ryan Shazier, MLB Lawrence Timmons. Backups - OLB James Harrison, OLB Arthur Moats, OLB Anthony Chickillo, OLB Travis Feeney, LB Vince Williams, LB L.J. Fort, LB Steven Johnson, Tyler Matakevich, LB Jordan Zumwalt, LB Matt Reilly.

Shazier and Timmons form one of the top inside linebacker tandems in the league, but the Steelers are looking for more sack production from their outside linebackers. Dupree and Jones combined for just six sacks between them last season. Both are former first-round picks. Jones, drafted in 2013, did not have his fifth-year option picked up and is playing out the final year of his rookie contract. Harrison and Moats split time with Jones and Dupree last season and both played well in spurts. Williams is a strong reserve in the middle and has started games the past two years when Shazier hasn't been healthy. Timmons is entering the final year of his contract. Fort, Johnson, Matakevich and Zumwalt will compete for the other backup spot on the inside.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB William Gay, RCB Ross Cockrell, FS Mike Mitchell, SS Robert Golden. Backups - CB Senquez Golson, Artie Burns, CB Doran Grant, Al-Hajj Shabazz, S Sean Davis, Shamarko Thomas, Jordan Dangerfield, Ross Ventrone, Jacob Hagen.


This is the biggest area of weakness on the team. Gay is the only corner with an experienced NFL resume. Cockrell will keep the starting seat warm for Burns, who probably needs some time to develop into a starter. Golson is expected to earn the job as slot corner, but he missed his rookie season with a shoulder injury and didn't practice much this spring because of a hamstring injury. Mitchell played much better in his second season with the Steelers, but he'll have to break in a new strong safety. The Steelers did not re-sign Will Allen and veteran Golden is the likely starter until Davis, this year's second-round pick, proves he is ready to play.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Chris Boswell, P Jordan Berry, LS Greg Warren, KOR Markus Wheaton, PR Antonio Brown.

Boswell made 29 of 32 field goal attempts after being signed four games into the season. He solidified the position after Shaun Suisham went down with a knee injury in the preseason. Suisham was released in June after failing a physical. Berry has a strong leg, but the Steelers would like to see him perform with more consistency. Brown is one of the best punt returners in the NFL, but the Steelers would like to lighten his load and take the punt return duties away from him. Rookie seventh-round pick Demarcus Ayers was drafted for that reason and could assume that role if he makes the team.


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