SCOUT'S HONOR: AFC North First Look

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Here is a brief early look at how the AFC North stacks up heading into the 2003 season. The Pittsburgh remain the class of the division, but questions continue to linger in their secondary. Rookie safety and first-round draft pick brings an energized presence while and are expected to play larger roles this season. There¿s no question they¿ll have speed over the middle of the secondary, but the true key still remains the play of cornerbacks and . More consistency from them is needed if the want to reach the next level. Luckily a strong front seven hides some of their weaknesses. Starting quarterback (it still feels strange writing that) provides more balance towards the passing game on the offensive side of the ball. Now he must prove consistency for a full 16-game stretch and cut down on turnovers. The passing game should have a diverse look as they utilize the athleticism of Antwaan Randle-El more often and the addition of at tight end. There is something good about to happen with the Baltimore again. It wouldn¿t be a surprise to see them come out on top of this division this season, but they are likely another year away unless everything glues together quickly. The biggest factor in how quickly the bounce back into the playoffs is at the quarterback position. The have two solid young prospects in and . Don¿t count out Redman yet, but Boller has really intriguing potential. But they will have some ups and downs here due to inexperience. The biggest key for this offense will be to minimize turnovers. A big boost for the developing passing game will be the strong ground game and will provide. And they need Lewis to sustain drives to keep their defense fresh. The Baltimore defense isn¿t far from being a strength again. Linebackers , , and form an excellent foundation to any defense. Now add rookie draft steal to that group. The will have a strong pass rush for several seasons. That will put their secondary in a better position to make plays. Expect Ed Reed to continue solidifying himself as a leader in the secondary while should display more consistency in his second season as a starter. The Cleveland have the ingredients for a strong run game with the emergence of and the addition of rookie in the pivot. But they have a dilemma at the quarterback position. There¿s no question has a better grasp of their offense, but can he last as a 16-game starter? That question continues to play in favor of , but he must produce. Dave Campo will face a lot of challenges with this defense. They continue to have some limitations in the secondary and could also face the same problems at linebacker, but the front four will be the focus. If and don¿t step to the plate ¿ it really sets the ¿ rebuilding project behind a couple seasons. And without at middle linebacker, Warren must really clog the run lanes or the will be vulnerable against the run. Expect Marvin Lewis to create and sustain some real success for the Cincinnati . Lewis is bringing a lot of higher standards and credibility to the organization. They could get off to a slow start this season learning Lewis¿ scheme on the defensive side of the ball, but they¿ll play hard. They have solid depth and stability within the front seven, but the ability for this defense to create turnovers remains a question mark. The key on the offensive side of the ball will be how quickly the offensive line can come together as a solid, cohesive group. Adding Rod Jones and over the past year certainly provide a talent boost to that unit. will be a nice addition as a run blocker from the tight end position. I really believe will take his game to the next level as he evolves into a dangerous downfield threat, and will be more of a factor into the passing game. But the biggest question is whether can take them to that point this season before takes over. Kitna still makes too many mistakes with the football. Brian DeLucia is a respected college and pro personnel consultant around the NFL. Formerly a contributor with and, Brian is in his third season with providing commentary around the NFL and NFL Draft.
Tagged: Bengals, Browns, Lions, Ravens, Steelers, Reggie Kelly, Jon Kitna, Peter Warrick, Courtney Brown, Gerard Warren, Mike Logan, Dewayne Washington, Earl Holmes, Chris Redman, Jamal Lewis, Ray Lewis, William Green, Tommy Maddox, Carson Palmer, Terrell Suggs, Troy Polamalu, Kyle Boller, Jeff Faine, Eric Steinbach

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