- Jamison Hensley, ESPN Staff Writer
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Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:
Steelers safety Troy Polamalu changed his usual offseason routine and attended all of the offseason practices this year.
It was assumed that Polamalu was asserting himself as a leader after Pittsburgh lost veterans James Farrior and Aaron Smith. But Polamalu doesn't see himself as a leader -- and definitely not a vocal one. He doesn't believe the Steelers need one or two leaders to step up in order for the defense to maintain its success.
“We’ve always had phantom leadership in that we have tradition,” Polamalu told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “There’s a certain way that we do things around here for as far back as I can remember, to Joe Greene and those guys, the way that we prepare ourselves and the way that we play. When you have that sort of phantom leadership, you don’t need a rah-rah guy that’s the face of the franchise that’s always pushing people.”
Hensley's slant: Whether he accepts it or not, Polamalu demonstrated leadership qualities when he came for all 12 offseason practices. He'll never be a Ray Lewis-type leader who is in every player's ear. But younger players will look to follow his example in camp and in the regular season. Polamalu's toughness and aggressiveness makes him a perfect role model.
BENGALS: The players saluted coach Marvin Lewis, who signed an extension that will keep him with the team through the 2014 season. "Thank God," defensive tackle Domata Peko said of the news, via the Bengals' official website. "I couldn't see myself playing for anyone else. When you come to Cincinnati, you know Marvin Lewis is a hell of a coach and he's going to look after his players. That's what kind of coach he is. A player's coach." Hensley's slant: There is no question that this is Lewis' team. Here's an interesting note from the team's website: Everyone on this roster has only played for Lewis in Cincinnati. This includes cornerback Nate Clements, the only player on the Bengals' team who was in the league before Lewis became the Bengals coach in 2003.
BROWNS: A national panel polled by the Associated Press ranked the Browns 30th out of 32 teams. Two media members, former quarterback Rich Gannon from CBS Sports and Clark Judge from CBSSports.com, had the Browns as the worst team in the NFL. The highest ranking came from ESPN's Chris Berman, who put the Browns at No. 25. "Trent Richardson should solve lots of problems," Berman said. Hensley's slant: There's reason to hope now in Cleveland with the additions of Richardson, Brandon Weeden and Josh Gordon. But the Browns won't change anyone's perception of the franchise until they win on the field. That's what happens when a team loses 46 times over the past four seasons.
RAVENS: Starting center Matt Birk will get more days off than others in training camp. Birk, who turned 36 last week, sat out his second straight practice Tuesday. "Matt's at a stage in his career where he's going to practice less than he's not going to practice," Harbaugh said, via the Baltimore Sun. "And I think that would be the best thing for Matt getting ready to go." Hensley's slant: Not really concerned about Birk missing practice time. He's always been ready on game day, starting 96 straight games (second-longest active streak among centers in the NFL). But the Ravens would prefer to have Birk and left tackle Bryant McKinnie on the field to maintain that chemistry along the offensive line.