- Jamison Hensley, ESPN Staff Writer
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If it seems like it was just a short while ago that the Baltimore Ravens were celebrating in New Orleans, you're not the only one. It's hard for me to believe that the preseason officially kicks off in the AFC North tonight. But that's what the schedule tells me. I will provide my observations on the preseason openers for the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns after the games have ended. Let's kick off the day like we usually do on the blog -- with the wake-up call.
RAVENS: Jeff Saturday, a longtime NFL center and current ESPN analyst, weighed in on the Ravens' competition at center between Gino Gradkowski and A.Q. Shipley. "I like the kid out of Delaware, Gradkowski," Saturday told The Baltimore Sun. "I liked him a lot coming out of there. I know that (Matt) Birk has spoken very highly of him, respects the way he takes care of business. He's capable and ready to get that job. Coming from a guy like Birk to think that highly of you, that's very impressive. He would know what Gino can do. Talking to people around the NFL, I've heard nothing but good things about him."
BENGALS: How much the starters play in the preseason opener will be dictated by how well they play. "That's the carrot you have," coach Marvin Lewis told the team's official website. "We'll get the first guys crisp snaps and we'll see how many snaps they earn based on how they go out there and do things. Coming here (to practice against the Falcons) is a great opportunity for them to get more exposure than they'll get Thursday night."
STEELERS: The Steelers drafted Shamarko Thomas in the fourth round because his speed, agility and football aptitude outweighed his lack of height (he's 5-foot-9). “We have had some pretty good short players around here,” defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau told The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “If a guy plays good football, we don't overexcite ourselves with his height. A good safety can bring guys down to his level.”
BROWNS: Running back Trent Richardson (shin) and safety T.J. Ward (hamstring) have been ruled out for the preseason opener by coach Rob Chudzinski. "Those guys would be available to play normally,” Chudzinski said, via the Akron Beacon Journal. “But since it’s the preseason we’re going to be smart with them and hold them for the game.” With Richardson and backup Montario Hardesty (hamstring) out, Dion Lewis will get the start at running back.