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State of AFC North: Osweiler to start in preseason; Tomlin rewarded; Ravens add depth

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The Ravens placed Crockett Gillmore on I.R., Mike Tomlin gets an extension from the Steelers and the Browns’ defense looks like it could actually stop a few drives next season.

Washington Redskins v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Todd Olszewski/Getty Images

With the preseason beginning this week, it’s time for another look around the AFC North to see what the Cincinnati Bengals’ divisional rivals are up to.

The Ravens added some depth to their offensive line following the sudden retirement of John Urschel. The Browns are trying to improve on defense, but the race for the starting quarterback position is still a draw. The Steelers rewarded Mike Tomlin with a contract extension, meanwhile Le’Veon Bell is still holding out.

Baltimore Ravens

Gillmore clears waivers; placed on IR

Ravens tight end Crockett Gillmore came into the season expecting to be a major part of the team’s offense, but he injured his knee early on in camp and underwent season-ending surgery.

The Ravens decided to waive the tight end and hope he cleared waivers. Considering Gillmore’s health status and the fact he only has one year left (this year) on his deal, the chances of him getting claimed were very low. He managed to clear waivers, and will now remain on Injured/Reserve for the rest of the year. That is a huge blow to Gillmore’s career and the Ravens’ lineup. The Ravens hoped the 6’6” tight end could become a threat on offense, but injuries constantly had him sidelined. He’s played 16 games in his three year career and if you count this year, that will be a total of 48 games missed during his rookie contract. Overall, that’s not exactly what the Ravens hoped for when selecting Crockett in the third round back in 2014.

Baltimore signs Howard

The Ravens finally addressed their thin offensive line by signing Austin Howard, who was released by the Raiders earlier this offseason. Howard is going to compete with James Hurst for the starting right tackle spot. There are some big shoes left behind by Rick Wagner, who left for Detroit in free agency. They also lost John Urschel to retirement and Nico Siragusa to a knee injury during camp.

Overall the Ravens’ line, outside of Marshal Yanda and Ronnie Stanley, is a work in progress. The Ravens are very thin up front, and they tried to rectify this by signing Howard.

Howard was part of a very productive offensive line in Oakland, but he was easily the weakest link. This isn’t a criticism of the Ravens either. At this point Howard was probably the best they could do, but to say this move is going to shore up their protection in a significant way is far fetched.

Cleveland Browns

No quarterback is pulling away

It is still very earlier in one of the most compelling competitions around the NFL: the starting quarterback competition for the Cleveland Browns. Okay maybe it’s not compelling, but it is usually interesting to see who will get the first shot.

The Browns are trying to decide between Brock Osweiler, Cody Kessler and DeShone Kizer. Each have their reasons to be the starter and for Week 1 of the preseason, it’s going to be Osweiler.

Kessler played decently last season behind an awful offensive line and the Browns had very few weapons as well. Kessler started eight games for the Browns last season completing just more than 65 percent of his throws. He did only have six touchdowns and two interceptions though, which really shows how conservative he was as a quarterback.

Osweiler has the most experience, and he is the highest paid. After signing what ended up being an embarrassing deal for the Texans, the Browns were given a second round pick to take on his contract. Still, the Browns have been talking him up so far during camp, and at the very least he hasn’t fallen out of contention yet.

Kizer is probably the future. The Browns drafted him in the second round this year, and the team has been impressed with him during the offseason. He has come in prepared to run the offense. By the end of the season, Kizer will probably be the starter, unless one of the other quarterbacks leads the team to an extremely surprising run of success. For now, the team is going with Osweiler as the starter in the preseason, but we’ll need to see how long that lasts.

Browns defense making progress

It isn’t hard to improve a defense that was basically a doormat last season, but it is still worth noting that improvement is happening for the Browns.

The team hired new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who is best known for his role in the Saints’ bounty scandal, but he is also known for his ability to light a fire under his players.

The Browns also used the first overall pick on Myles Garrett to bookend the pass rush with Jamie Collins, who re-signed with the Browns this offseason. Garrett and Collins have both been impressing so far during camp, and that spells trouble for the rest of the league. If Garrett can do this regularly he would be worth that 1-15 season the Browns had to endure to get him.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Steelers expect Bryant to be fully reinstated this week

The Steelers and Martavis Bryant may be experiencing some complications with the receiver’s reinstatement. He has been conditionally reinstated, which means he can’t play or practice with the team, yet. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but whatever conditions the NFL had for his reinstatement haven’t made it through the league’s office yet.

He was held off the field for practice on Friday night after getting suited up and everything and thinking he was going to be cleared to go. Clearly there has been some miscommunication between the NFL and the Steelers over what he is and isn’t allowed to do. Reports are surfacing now though that Bryant will be fully reinstated at some point this week.

Obviously, it would be great for the Steelers to have Bryant available this season opposite of Antonio Brown. If you combine him with Brown and Le’Veon Bell on offense, it makes the Steelers almost impossible to stop.

Tomlin gets contract extension

The Steelers announced Friday they extended Mike Tomlin’s contract through the 2020 season. Tomlin has had a fair amount of success with the team. The Steelers have never had a losing season with him, and he even at the helm of their last Super Bowl win. Tomlin is 103-57 all time with Pittsburgh.

Tomlin inherited a pretty great situation having a franchise quarterback like Ben Roethlisberger, but to his credit he has maintained success during his career with the team. The true test will come when Roethlisberger moves one, which he has hinted at for the past couple of seasons. It makes sense to reward Tomlin; that level of success deserves recognition.