Good morning to the AFC North blog family. The preseason is sneaking up on us with the first games in the division starting Thursday (Ravens at Atlanta and Steelers at Philadelphia). I'll be packing my bags later today for my trip to Cincinnati. My training camp visit starts Tuesday. Enough of the chit-chat and here's your wake-up call:
BENGALS: Before a crowd of 6,500 at Paul Brown Stadium, Andy Dalton had a slow start in Sunday's mock game, going 0-for-4 with an interception. But he rebounded to finish 14-of-16 passing for 190 yards and two touchdowns. "Everybody thought we could go out there and score anytime we wanted because they're the [starters]," offensive coordinator Jay Gruden told the team's official website. "I think everyone was a little bit lackadaisical, a little lethargic, and we had a couple of stops and everyone woke up a little." In other news, the Bengals made a surprise move by cutting Derrick Harvey, a 2008 first-round pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars who was competing for a backup defensive end spot. His $60,000 signing bonus now becomes dead money on the salary cap. Hensley's slant: Dalton's interception bounced off some hands and into the arms of linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who went from a first-round prospect to an undrafted free agent in an unprecedented free fall. Head coach Marvin Lewis said Burfict is off to "great start" to make the team.
BROWNS: Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz had plenty of resources to get him prepared for the NFL from his brother, Geoff, a four-year NFL lineman, to Browns center Alex Mack, a teammate at Cal. "He has everything you need in a right tackle," Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "He's in meeting rooms already making calls and answering questions that frankly I'm surprised he knows the answers to." Hensley's slant: As I wrote in my Browns' Camp Confidential (yes, shameless plug), Schwartz is still on track to start at right tackle even though he has struggled against speed rushers like Jabaal Sheard. The Browns would be in trouble if their second-round pick couldn't beat out Oniel Cousins, a third-round bust from Baltimore.
RAVENS: Offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie's weight has ballooned up to 360 pounds after injuring his lower back in a fall at his South Florida home. His goal this offseason was to get to a playing weight of 345 pounds. "I think it's my metabolism," McKinnie told the Carroll County (Md.) Times. "I don’t know how to diagnose it until I find out on Monday. It’s just to better help me with my whole weight thing because this wasn’t an issue my whole career until about three years ago. I think there’s kind of like an imbalance or something maybe that is going on with metabolism. Thank the Ravens for even going out and getting a doctor to come in and check me out so we can take care of this issue.” Hensley's slant: For all the issues with McKinnie's weight, he has been dependable as far as suiting up on game days. He's played all 16 games in eight of the past nine seasons and has made 60 straight starts. The Ravens are keeping their fingers crossed that this streak doesn't end this year.
STEELERS: Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was held out of Sunday's practice but he is expected to return Tuesday (the team's day off is Monday). Roethlisberger denied a USA Today report that he sprained his left ankle, saying it's "simple bruise." Head coach Mike Tomlin said, "He should be fine. We'll take a look at it, he'll be a day-to-day thing, see how he goes from there." Hensley's slant: As I said Sunday, it's gotten to the point it's news when Roethlisberger isn't hurt. The real injury news is that five players on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list -- nose tackle Casey Hampton, outside linebackers James Harrison and Jason Worilds, running back Rashard Mendenhall and offensive tackle Max Starks -- will miss the preseason opener and won't be cleared until the end of the week at the earliest.