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Behind Enemy Lines: Baltimore Ravens

Despite falling short of a trip to the Super Bowl after losing to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game, the Baltimore Ravens aren’t looking to change much in the offseason.

he Ravens are looking at 21 free agents from their 2011-2012 squad, 13 of them unrestricted, four restricted and four players with which the Ravens have exclusive rights. Key free agents include: LB Brendon Ayanbadejo, G Ben Grubbs, LB Jameel McClain, S Haruki Nakamura, DE Cory Redding, RB Ray Rice and CB Ladarius Webb.

Jameel McClain is the key defensive player in question for the Ravens. With Ray Lewis racking up a few nagging injuries, McClain proved to be a crucial anchor in the middle linebacker position for the Ravens. McClain will be pursued by the Ravens as an unrestricted free agent; however, it is rumored he is not opposed to going somewhere that provides him with a better contract deal.

Ray Rice is rumored to be franchise tagged by the Ravens if they are unable to negotiate a new deal with him before free agency hits. Rice rushed for 1,364 yards last season and scored 12 touchdowns. With Ricky Williams retiring, Rice is the key to the Ravens backfield.

The Ravens also underwent a few offseason coaching changes. With the Indianapolis Colts letting go of head coach Jim Caldwell, Baltimore picked up Caldwell as their new quarterbacks coach. Caldwell’s availability, however, opened up a job for Baltimore’s esteemed defensive coordinator, Chuck Pagano, who moved on to the Colts as their new head coach. The Ravens promoted linebackers coach Dean Pees to the defensive coordinator slot.

Going into the draft, the Ravens are expected to take a close look at Wisconsin center Peter Konz. With Matt Birk thinking about retirement, a new anchor to the Ravens offensive line will be much needed.

Cincinnati Bengals
After a 4-12 season in 2010, the Cincinnati Bengals and their rookie quarterback out of TCU, Andy Dalton, posted a 9-7 record and reached the playoffs for just the third time since 1990. Going into 2012, the Bengals are looking at 27 free agents from their 2011 roster: 20 unrestricted, 3 restricted and 4photo by Chuck LeClaire exclusive rights free agents. Key players on the list include: RB Cedric Benson, WR Jerome Simpson, G Nate Livings, OT Dennis Roland, LB Manny Lawson and K Mike Nugent.

Cedric Benson is expected to be leaving the Bengals, especially given the negative publicity and comments he’s spoken out about since the end of the Bengals’ season. Benson, who rushed for 1,067 yards and six touchdowns last season, was a key part of the Bengals backfield but is considered to be a replaceable asset to the team.

The Bengals lost their secondary coach, Kevin Coyle, to the Miami Dolphins where he was hired as the new defensive coordinator. However, the vacancy of the position was short-lived with the signing of Hue Jackson. Jackson spent last season with the Oakland Raiders and as the offensive coordinator, helped lead the team to an 8-8 record in the AFC West.

Key needs from the Bengals going into the 2012 NFL Draft include a running back and offensive linemen. Cincinnati is expected to try and take an offensive lineman in the first round; however, drafting behind teams such as the Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys with the same needs, finding the right fit might be difficult. Three potential draftees include: G David DeCastro out of Stanford, G Cordy Glenn out of Georgia and G Kevin Zeitler out of Wisconsin.

Cleveland Browns
After a disappointing 2011 campaign posting a 4-12 record, the Cleveland Browns are once again at the tail end of the AFC North division. One of the lone bright spots of the Browns defense was Jabaal Sheard, former University of Pittsburgh defensive lineman. Going into 2012, the Browns are looking at 14 free agents: 7 unrestricted and 7 restricted. Key players on the list include: RB Peyton Hillis, LB D’Qwell Jackson and K Phil Dawson.

photo by Chuck LeClairePeyton Hillis had a breakout year in 2010. However, 2011 was far from the same. Hillis was injured a good portion of the season and rumors swirled around his effort and dedication. Hillis played in a few games for the Browns in 2011 but look for Cleveland to let him go into free agency. With Montario Hardesty looking good for the Browns in the backfield, it looks as if Hillis will be out of a job in Cleveland.

The Cleveland Browns hired a new offensive coordinator during this offseason: former Minnesota Vikings head coach Brad Childress. Childress coached the Vikings from 2006-2010 and was the offensive coordinator in Philadelphia from 2003-2005. In Philly, Childress and current Browns head coach, Pat Shurmur, worked together calling plays for the Eagles’ offense. The two are expected to mesh well and make changes to the Browns offense, making them more of a threat in the AFC.

With Colt McCoy being a disappointment in Cleveland, the Browns are expected to consider Robert Griffin III, this year’s Heisman Trophy winner out of Baylor, as their first pick in the 2012 draft. Other options for the Browns’ first round draft choice include WR Justin Blackmon out of Oklahoma State. Either college prospect would be a good fit for the Browns struggling offense.

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