"People love sausage, but they don't want to see how it's made."
Buddy Stephens' quote was about coaching, but it could also apply to the success of an offense. Most fans would probably prefer to talk about the more glamorous positions, especially quarterback. But, at the end of the day, the effectiveness of an offensive line will largely determine the success of the entire offense and, therefore, the entire team.
The AFC North has a slew of intriguing position battles heading into the start of the 2020 regular season, with some of the most critical battles taking place on the offensive line. Let's take a look at each team's biggest biggest position battles entering training camp, starting with the team that has won the division each of the past two years.
Baltimore Ravens: Right guard
The Ravens' offensive line was a major reason why Baltimore set an NFL record with 3,296 yards gained on the ground in 2019. Baltimore's line featured three Pro Bowlers last season in left tackle Ronnie Stanley, right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. and right guard Marshal Yanda. And while Yanda's offseason retirement has left a considerable void, the Ravens have set themselves up to have a spirited competition to fill their open spot at right guard.
Baltimore's top candidates to replace Yanda include Ben Powers, Patrick Mekari, Ben Bredeson and D.J. Flunker. And while Powers -- a fourth-round pick out of Oklahoma last season -- should be considered the favorite heading into camp, he will certainly have his work cut out for him. A day after Yanda announced his retirement, Baltimore signed Fluker, the 11th overall pick in the 2013 draft. Fluker, who started in 88 games during his time with the Chargers, Giants and Seahawks, is reunited in Baltimore with Joe D'Alessandris, his offensive line coach during his first three NFL seasons. Fluker will also come into camp in phenomenal shape after making changes to his diet and workout regimen during the offseason.
Along with the addition of Fluker, the Ravens also spent two draft picks on offensive lineman, selecting Tyre Phillips in the third round and Bredeson in the fourth round. While Phillips is expected to transition to left tackle, Bredeson, who made 46 starts during his four seasons at the University of Michigan, will be in the thick of things as it relates to the team's position battle at right guard. Another lineman who may be asked to participate in this position battle is Mekari, who will enter training camp as Baltimore's backup center after playing well in that position in a reserve role in 2019, his rookie season.
Cincinnati Bengals: Linebacker
The Bengals used free agency to address their needs in the secondary as well as on the offensive and defensive lines. They spent a significant amount of money on former Vikings cornerbacks Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander as well as former Texans defensive tackle D.J. Reader. They also signed guard Xavier Su'a-Filo, linebacker Josh Bynes and safety Von Bell, a former Saints second-round pick. And while they were able to sign Bynes in free agency, the Bengals largely addressed their void at linebacker during the draft, selecting Logan Wilson and Akeem Davis-Gaiter in the third and fourth rounds, respectively. They also spent a seventh-round pick on former Purdue linebacker Markus Bailey.
Pratt, the team's starting weak side linebacker in 2019, is expected to retain his position heading into the training camp. In order to keep his spot, however, Pratt will have to hold off Bailey, who filled up the stat sheet during his time with the Boilermakers. Bynes is slated to be the Bengals' starting middle linebacker, while Wilson should be considered the front-runner to be the team's starting strong side linebacker, with Davis-Gaiter battling veteran Austin Calitro for the primary backup spot.
Wilson, who arrived at Wyoming as a cornerback, gained 50 pounds in college as he transitioned over to linebacker. Aaron Bohl, who was Wilson's linebackers coach at Wyoming, recently said that Wilson's experience as a cornerback should help him considerably at the next level.
"When you see NFL players miss plays in space, it's not because they're not good enough to make those plays. It's because they feel uncomfortable in space," Bohl recently told The Enquirer. "There's no one else around him, so they start to get tense since they're not used to that situation ... (Wilson) was out there by himself as a cornerback all the time. So when he was in college making plays in space, he never got nervous since that's something he did all the way growing up."
Cleveland Browns: Right guard
If David Njoku is traded, that would leave an interesting position battle between Pharaoh Brown and rookie Harrison Bryant to fill his role as one of the Browns' starting tight ends. But the Browns' biggest current position battle is at right guard, where Wyatt Teller will look to hold off Drew Forbes, Colby Gossett and Willie Wright.
A third year veteran, Teller received a career high nine starts in 2019, his first year with the Browns after spending his rookie season in Buffalo. Forbes, a 2019 six-round pick who saw his rookie season cut short due to an injury, has spent his offseason working on a farm that is owned by his wife's family. Forbes' responsibilities on the farm have included milking cows, driving a tractor and hauling hay. He said the work has helped him stay in shape as he continues to await the start of camp.
"That's been my second job right now," Forbes recently told the team's website when discussing his offseason on the farm. "It's kind of fun. I can't say I've ever done it before. It's a whole new world to me — waking up early and getting all this done. It's opened our eyes to a simpler way of life, but we love it."
A 2018 sixth-round pick, Gossett spent time with the Vikings, Cardinals and Patriots before joining the Browns' practice squad last fall. Wright, a four-year starter at Tulsa before joining the Browns as an undrafted rookie, has been staying in shape by pushing his Toyota Tundra, as many NFL players have found unorthodox ways to stay fit during this unusual offseason.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Left guard/right tackle
There are plenty of questions as it relates to the Steelers' offensive line, which earlier this season witnessed the retirement of longtime starting left guard Ramon Foster. Matt Feiler, the starting right tackle in 2019, will enter camp as the new starting left guard. Feiler will have to hold off veteran Stefen Wisniewski, a free agent signee who started on two of the past three Super Bowl champions' offensive lines in Philadelphia and Kansas City.
Feiler's position change has created another position battle at right tackle between Zach Banner and Chukwuma Okorafor. Banner, who became a bit of a cult hero in Pittsburgh during the 2019 season, appeared in a career-high 14 games last season, his third year with the Steelers. Okorafor, a third-round pick in the 2018 draft, has earned four starts over the past two seasons. He more than held his own in 2018, when he started against Denver Pro Bowl pass rusher Von Miller in Denver.
Craig Wolfley, a former Steelers offensive lineman who is currently a member of the media, is giving the slight edge to Okorafor ... for now.
"Right now, Chuks has a slight edge in the competition," Wolfley recently wrote on Steel City Insider. "But hear me now, and believe me later, we're a long way from settling the issue. Both guys have a great opportunity to represent themselves and show their capabilities. I, for one am looking forward to watching this battle for the right tackle position."
The Steelers are also looking for a new backup guard/center after B.J. Finney signed with the Seahawks during free agency. Look for rookie guard Kevin Dotson, who has received high marks from offensive line coach Shaun Sarrett, to possibly fill that role.