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AFC North News Watch: Day 18

AFC NORTH TEAMS

While the AFC North was free of any meaningful personnel moves yesterday, there was still a lot of news coming through the division pertaining to the future plans of each team as the league now turns its attention after the Owners Meetings to the 2015 NFL Draft in a little over a month.

The Cleveland Browns have spent much of this free agency period—in fact, the past two free agency periods—essentially trading like for like, allowing significant free agents to sign elsewhere while replacing them with arguably comparable, if not older models.

Last year, for example, they allowed safety T.J. Ward to leave and instead signed Donte Whitner. This year, cornerback Buster Skrine moved on and they recently signed Tramon Williams.

But one player for whom there is no ‘lateral’ move, as we saw last season, is center Alex Mack, and the Pro Bowl lineman is taking a cautious approach to his recovery from a broken leg, which could reportedly keep him out beyond the start of the regular season in 2015.

The offensive line this year will be critical to the Browns’ success as they, presumably, continue to navigate through an unstable quarterback situation.

Their trio of young running backs excelled early one behind a strong offensive line interior, but when Mack went down, the team’s production in the running back fell off dramatically. The center is essential to whatever success the Browns plan to have on offense in 2015.

While there is some sense for the Cincinnati Bengals that the work that they have put in to rebuilding their defensive line during free agency may preclude them from targeting the position during the draft—some believe that they already have nine roster locks along the line—the team continues to look at linebackers, as their website reports that they are checking out former undrafted free agent Brandon Copeland, who participated in the veteran combine.

As for the Baltimore Ravens, an article from the team’s website writes that former second-round draft pick Courtney Upshaw could come to see a larger role in the pass rushing defense with the departure of Pernell McPhee.

The Ravens heavily used four outside linebackers a year ago, but McPhee was more of the pass rusher, while Upshaw has always been seen as a run stuffer. There is a belief in the organization that his pass rushing has been improving, and that he could take on more snaps getting after the quarterback.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are not completely done bargain hunting in free agency, but by and large, their focus has for some time now been turned to the draft, with head coach Mike Tomlin and others being a regular fixture in the Pro Day circuit.

It was reported yesterday that Tomlin had dinner on Thursday with Jalen Collins, a cornerback with potential first-round pedigree, and defensive end Danielle Hunter, prior to the LSU Pro Day.  Said Pro Day took place yesterday, with offensive lineman La’el Collins representing another potential first-round target for the Steelers.

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