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AFC North training camp preview: Key issues, players to watch

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It might feel like the dog days of summer for football fans, but the 2017 campaign is rapidly coming down the pike. With training camps opening later this month, Around The NFL's Conor Orr, Kevin Patra and Marc Sessler are examining the key issues for each team in this division-by-division series. Here's the AFC North camp primer:

Baltimore Ravens

Training camp report dates: rookies (July 19) and veterans (July 26).
Location: Under Armour Performance Center in Owings Mills, Maryland.

Most important position battle: Who will start at center? OK, OK. It's not the most exciting camp tussle in the AFC North, but the Ravens will field a legitimate competition in the middle of their offensive line. With Jeremy Zuttah traded away to the 49ers, Baltimore will allow Ryan Jensen and math wizard John Urschel to battle for the starting job after the duo took most of the reps this offseason. With right tackle also up in the air after the free-agency loss of Ricky Wagner, Baltimore's line will be a hotspot for competition all camp long.

Newcomer to watch: WR Jeremy Maclin. There are plenty of questions to be answered at wide receiver, too, but the June addition of Maclin does wonders for this position group. Expected to start in the slot, the former Eagles and Chiefs star will function as the centerpiece of the passing game with Breshad Perriman and Mike Wallace out wide. If the team can milk a breakout season from Perriman, the Ravens have a chance to make up for the frustrating loss of tight end Dennis Pitta. Put it this way: Were it not for the signing of Maclin, we'd point to this pass-catching group as a burning concern.

Looming camp question: Who will replace Tavon Young at cornerback? In the wake of Young suffering a year-ending ACL tear in June, the Ravens are searching for a starter in the slot. With Brandon Carr and Jimmy Smith locked into outside roles, look for Lardarius Webb, Brandon Boykin and second-year cover man Maurice Canady to compete for the nickel role. Canady impressed during the offseason, with coordinator Dean Pees saying in June: "The guy makes plays. That is the whole bottom line on defense." First-rounder Marlon Humphrey adds depth, but the future starter isn't expected to play a major role out of the gate. Beyond the loss of Young, the Ravens deserve credit for bolstering a secondary that was a disaster a few seasons ago. The safety duo of Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson should be one of the AFC's best.

Cincinnati Bengals

Training camp report dates: rookies (July 25) and veterans (July 27).
Location: Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.

Most important position battle: Jeremy Hill vs. Joe Mixon. Mixon has drawn rave reviews so far -- one staffer called the rookie "a beast" on offense -- so it's fair to ask how long this battle will last. With Giovani Bernard still recovering from a November ACL tear, it's likely the Bengals will use a combination of Mixon and Hill to open the campaign, but Cincinnati went into the offseason determined to find an upgrade over Hill, who is coming off an inconsistent 2016. Don't be surprised if the rookie flat-out steals the job by Labor Day.

Newcomer to watch: WR John Ross: Like the Panthers in the NFC South, the Bengals used the draft to massively upgrade their speed on offense. Mixon gives the team a devastating runner who can double as a legitimate pass-catching asset, while Ross blew people away by breaking Chris Johnson's 40-yard dash record with a 4.22 at the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine. Shoulder surgery could delay his participation for camp, but Ross promises to be a tantalizing element across from Pro Bowler A.J. Green.

Looming camp question: Will the O-line mesh? Quarterback Andy Dalton was unmercifully banged around last season to the tune of 41 sacks. Only Buffalo's Tyrod Taylor took more (42), an ominous stat for a Bengals line that proceeded to lose reliable guard Kevin Zeitler and Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth in free agency. With disappointing 2015 first-rounder Cedric Ogbuehi slotted to take over the blind-side role and up-and-down Jake Fisher manning the right bookend, the Bengals have more questions than answers up front.

Cleveland Browns

Training camp report dates: rookies (July 23) and veterans (July 26).
Location: Cleveland Browns Training Complex in Berea, Ohio.

Most important position battle: Cody Kessler vs. Brock Osweiler vs. DeShone Kizer. Stop me if you've heard this before: The Browns have a quarterback issue. One that charts back to the turn of the century, considering that no signal caller has started a full 16 games in a season since Tim Couch pulled that off in 2001. I'm mildly surprised Osweiler is still on the roster after he was acquired through a wild March trade with the Texans that netted the Browns a second-round draft pick. I don't expect him to win this job, but anything is possible. Look for Kessler to be given a long look, while Kizer -- an intriguing physical specimen -- has a legitimate shot to start sooner than later if he impresses coach Hue Jackson.

Newcomer to watch: DE Myles Garrett. The roster-churning Browns have a million "newcomers" every season, but Garrett is something different. A rare physical freak with dazzling potential, the first overall pick in April's draft gives Cleveland a player to build around for years to come. As long as the lateral foot sprain he suffered in minicamp doesn't delay his launch, Garrett will hit camp as the immediate focal point for a defense that hasn't laid a hurt on teams since Bill Belichick ran the show in the mid-1990s.

Looming camp question: Will this defense be any different? The addition of coordinator Gregg Williams has produced its share of juicy quotes out of Cleveland. "He tells us that we have been losing here for a reason, and he is here to change it," cornerback Joe Haden said, talking about Williams bringing a new level of "accountability" to a unit that has ranked 29th and 30th in points allowed over the past two seasons. Williams has enjoyed success in the NFL, but his scheme fell apart with the Rams last season. While the Browns have intriguing pieces -- Garrett, Emmanuel Ogbah, Danny Shelton, Jamie Collins and Christian Kirksey -- in the front seven, the secondary is a concern.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Training camp report date: rookies and veterans (July 27).
Location: Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania

Most important position battle: Wideout pecking order. I've predicted Pittsburgh will make the Super Bowl five years running, and I've been wrong every time. They've come dangerously close, though, because of a Ben Roethlisberger-led offense littered with star power. Beyond Le'Veon Bell in the backfield, the receiving corps -- led by the sensational Antonio Brown -- is ready to burst with red-zone wonder Martavis Bryant returning from his year-long suspension. He "looks like a stud, as usual," Big Ben said in June. Bryant is a front-runner to start alongside Brown, but it will be interesting to see how the rest of the pecking order shakes out with Sammie Coates and second-rounder JuJu Smith-Schuster. This team has the talent to score a mountain of points on a weekly basis.

Newcomer to watch: OLB T.J. Watt. It's unclear how big a role Watt will have with the Steelers' defense as a rookie, but the surname alone will guarantee plenty of buzz for the pass-rushing prospect and brother of J.J. With the Wisconsin product slotted for snaps behind Bud Dupree and James Harrison, the Steelers have a player they can get creative with right away in 2017. Pittsburgh rarely rushes along defensive rookies, but this could be an exception.

Looming camp question: Where is the mind at? I started banging out a graf about Pittsburgh's questions in the secondary, but training camp -- the beginning of a journey -- raises a larger, hazier concern: Do the Steelers truly believe they can take down the Patriots? Whether it was New England in 2016 or Denver the season prior, something always seems to get in the way of Pittsburgh vanquishing all comers in the AFC. This is arguably the most talented roster in the conference -- maybe the NFL -- but like with the Packers, it's become customary to wonder how Pittsburgh will unravel come January. Teams don't think this way, trained instead to take a militaristic, week-by-week approach to the challenges ahead. Still, I think we'll know right away if this Steelers team has the feel of a championship club.

Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter @MarcSesslerNFL.

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