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Steelers happy to end offseason

This is the second of an eight-part series on the offseason moves in the NFL. Today's installment covers the AFC North.


Has any team in the NFL had a more tumultuous offseason than the Pittsburgh Steelers?

With quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's sexual assault allegations resulting in a four- to six-week suspension and trading leading receiver Santonio Holmes, the Steelers' bid to regain their Super Bowl form of two years ago has gotten more difficult.

Though overshadowed by the Steelers' problems, the Baltimore Ravens and defending AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals had a productive offseason, upgrading their pass offenses and reinforcing already strong defenses. Meanwhile, Mike Holmgren takes over the Cleveland Browns' front office with the task of turning around a dysfunctional franchise.

Here's a review of the offseason moves in the AFC North:

*Cincinnati Bengals

Key gains: WR Antonio Bryant (Buccaneers), S Gibril Wilson (Dolphins), TE Jermaine Gresham (Oklahoma), WR Jordan Shipley (Texas), DE Carlos Dunlap (Florida).

Key losses: WR Laveranues Coles (released), RB Larry Johnson (Redskins), DT Shaun Smith (Chiefs), K Shayne Graham (Ravens).

Breakdown: Improving an anemic passing game was the top priority. After flirting with Terrell Owens, the Bengals signed Bryant, who along with first-round pick Gresham should give QB Carson Palmer additional weapons besides Chad Ochocinco. Dunlap is insurance if top pass rusher Antwan Odom doesn't come back from a season-ending Achilles injury. Cincy is the halfway house for troubled players, so CB Adam "Pacman" Jones and WR Matt Jones should fit right in.

Key questions: Will the revamped receiving corps produce? Is second-year RB Bernard Scott (Abilene Christian) a capable backup for Cedric Benson? Can Odom bounce back? How much will Wilson and Jones help the secondary? Who will be the answer at place-kicker?

*Baltimore Ravens

Key gains: WR Anquan Boldin (Cardinals), WR Donte Stallworth (Browns), OLB Sergio Kindle (Texas), NT Terrence Cody (Alabama), S Ken Hamlin (Cowboys), DT Corey Redding (Seahawks), TE Ed Dickson (Oregon), K Shayne Graham (Bengals).

Key losses: DE Dwan Edwards (Bills), DT Justin Bannan (Broncos), CB Samari Rolle (retired), OT Adam Terry (Colts).

Breakdown: The Ravens upgraded the biggest weakness on offense with Boldin and Stallworth. WR Derrick Mason also is back, giving third-year QB Joe Flacco a chance to elevate his game even more. The draft brought help for the pass rush (Kindle) and run defense (Cody).

Key questions: The secondary is a concern with starting CBs Lardarius Webb and Fabian Washington coming off major knee injuries and All-Pro S Ed Reed recovering from hip surgery. Bolstered by better receivers, will Flacco take his game to the next level? Will OT Jared Gaither be traded?

*Pittsburgh Steelers

Key gains: QB Byron Leftwich (Buccaneers), WR Antwaan Randle El (Redskins), WR Arnaz Battle (49ers), LB Larry Foote (Lions), CB Bryant McFadden (Cardinals), S Will Allen (Buccaneers), C/G Maurkice Pouncey (Florida), RB Jonathan Dwyer (Georgia Tech).

Key losses: WR Santonio Holmes (Jets), RB Willie Parker (Redskins), CB Deshea Townsend (free agent).

Breakdown: Leftwich returns to former team to compete for starting job while Roethlisberger serves his suspension. The offensive line got a much-needed boast in Pouncey. Drafting Dwyer, a big, physical back, is part of the Steelers' plan to return to their power running roots. Randle El was a starter on the Steelers' 2005 Super Bowl team. The defense wasn't the same without S Troy Polamalu and DE Aaron Smith, who are returning from injuries. Old teammates Foote and McFadden are back to add depth to the roster.

Key questions: Can Leftwich or Dennis Dixon hold down the fort until Roethlisberger is reinstated? Will Roethlisberger be the same player when he does return? How much will the Steelers miss Holmes' big-play ability? Can the defense regain its once-dominant form?

*Cleveland Browns

Key gains: QB Jake Delhomme (Panthers), CB Joe Haden (Florida), CB Sheldon Brown (Eagles), QB Seneca Wallace (Seahawks), RB Montario Hardesty (University of Tennessee), TE Benjamin Watson (Patriots), G Shawn Lauvao (Arizona State), OT Tony Pashos (49ers), LB Scott Fujita (Saints), LB Chris Gocong (Eagles).

Key losses: QB Derek Anderson (Arizona), QB Brady Quinn (Broncos), LB Kamerion Wimbley (Oakland), G Rex Hadnot (Cardinals).

Breakdown: There is no quarterback controversy this season -- yet. Delhomme is the undisputed starter as long as he doesn't repeat his 2009 meltdown. The Browns will use Wallace's great mobility in Wildcat-type packages. RB Jerome Harrison was a revelation in 2009, but he'll be pushed by the bigger, faster Hardesty. Haden and Brown drastically improve the cornerback spot. The Browns also addressed depth at linebacker.

Key questions: Is Delhomme really the answer? Is he just holding the job until third-round pick Colt McCoy (Texas) is ready? How badly will they miss NT Shaun Rogers, who is facing an NFL suspension for a gun possession charge? Why did the Browns trade their best pass rusher, Wimbley, without having a proven replacement?

NEXT: AFC South.



Bengals: Passing game key to defending title.

Ravens: Time to turn Flacco loose.

Steelers: Big Ben's troubles endanger season.

Browns: Holmgren has difficult rebuilding job.

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