AFC North: Andre Gurode

Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:

It's been two weeks since Todd Haley was named the Steelers offensive coordinator, and he still hasn't spoken with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

"He still hasn't called yet," Roethlisberger told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review yesterday. According to the paper, Roethlisberger "had the tone that he has no intention of making the first move."

Roethlisberger acknowledged last week that he's been talking to people around the league about Haley and the response has been "good, bad and indifferent."

"I've heard a lot of things and I'm looking forward to meeting him and forming my own opinion," Roethlisberger said last week.

Hensley's slant: In taking a big-picture approach, the fact that a quarterback and offensive coordinator didn't speak in February will not affect what happens in the season opener in September. What is newsworthy about this is Roethlisberger has made it public that he is eager to talk to Haley and the offensive coordinator hasn't responded with a phone call. Haley has never been known as a player-friendly coach, and this drama hasn't done much to change that perception.

BENGALS: Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden plans to open up the offense because he believes his young players are ready to handle more of the West Coast playbook. Gruden laid out the biggest challenge to quarterback Andy Dalton. "He better get better or he won't be good enough," Gruden told the team's website. "You have to be great at that position and we think he can be great. That's why we drafted him where we did and he had a remarkable rookie season, no doubt about it. Knowing the kind of kid he is and how he works, I know he'll get better. That's why I like our offense. All our guys are like that."

Hensley's slant: The Bengals are the ones who can make it much easier for Dalton to "get better" if they spend some of that $60 million salary-cap surplus. Cincinnati needs to upgrade at running back, wide receiver and both guard positions. If the Bengals want Dalton to improve, they have to improve the supporting cast around him.

BROWNS: Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, a potential first-round target of the Cleveland Browns, said he is looking forward to talking to team executives from around the league at this week's NFL combine. "I’m excited to wow them in the interviews with the type of offense that we run, just so they can understand it’s not as simple as some people make our spread out to be. It’s a different kind of spread,” Griffin told The Associated Press. “Although I don’t agree with it, but people say I just burst on the scene this year, so no one knows much about me, whether NFL GMs or analysts, so I get a chance to put my best foot forward.”

Hensley's slant: RG3 should be excited to talk to team officials because this is where he has the advantage over Andrew Luck. While Luck has the statistics and accuracy, RG3 has the edge in charisma. It's that personality that could solidify him as the second most-wanted player in this draft.

RAVENS: Even if Matt Birk decides not to retire, there's no guarantee that the Ravens will bring back the six-time Pro Bowl center, according to the Baltimore Sun. The paper cited general manager Ozzie Newsome's comment at the State of the Ravens address that the team will add another center to the roster for next season, which "reinforces" the idea that team officials would like to get a little younger and more physical on the offensive line.

Hensley's slant: There are plenty of quality free-agent centers available -- San Diego's Nick Hardwick, Houston’s Chris Myers and Green Bay’s Scott Wells. But it will cost to sign one of them, and it is probably more than what the Ravens are willing to spend at that spot right now. I see the Ravens drafting a center and using Andre Gurode as a veteran stopgap.

Wake-up Call: Week 3 in Review

September, 26, 2011
Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:

To sum up the third week in the AFC North: There were three first-quarter touchdowns by a Ravens rookie (wide receiver Torrey Smith), two last-minute game-winning scores (by the Steelers and Browns) and one missing offense (at least that's the rumor in Cincinnati, where there were 20,000 empty seats for a home opener).

As a result, there's a three-team tie atop the AFC North with the Browns, Ravens and Steelers all sporting 2-1 records. The Bengals have lost two straight to fall into sole possession of last place.

At this moment, no other division has three teams in first place, although that could change in the NFC East if Dallas beats Washington on Monday night.
  • BROWNS: In filling in for running back Peyton Hillis (illness), Montario Hardesty ran 14 times for 67 yards and caught three passes for 19 yards. His 10-yard catch on fourth-and-4 was a key play on the game-winning touchdown drive, as the Canton Repository pointed out. Hensley's slant: There's no question that the Browns need Hillis to return. But Hardesty's play should have earned him some more well-deserved playing time.
  • BENGALS: With running back Cedric Benson possibly serving a three-game suspension from the NFL, the Bengals are bringing in Larry Johnson for a tryout, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. Johnson was signed in 2009 by the Bengals after Benson suffered a hip flexor injury. Hensley's slant: Losing Benson for a three-game stretch would be a substantial blow to Cincinnati. After watching Andy Dalton suffer through some growing pains Sunday, it's apparent that he can't carry the team, especially in third-and-long situations.
  • RAVENS: Baltimore decided to replace injured left guard Ben Grubbs (toe) with Andre Gurode instead of Mark LeVoir, and the results were much better than last Sunday's outing in Tennessee, according to The Baltimore Sun. Unlike a week ago, the offensive line opened big enough holes to allow running backs to average 9.3 yards per carry and gave Joe Flacco enough time to find Smith deep downfield. Hensley's slant: Gurode is one of the most accomplished backup offensive linemen that the Ravens have ever had. The only surprise is that Baltimore waited one week before putting him in the lineup to fill in for Grubbs.
  • STEELERS: Cornerback Bryant McFadden was scratched for the second time in three games because of a hamstring injury, according to The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. William Gay started in McFadden's place. Hensley's slant: The Steelers had better get their secondary in order before playing next week against Matt Schaub and the Texans. That includes Ike Taylor, who got saved by an overthrown pass after getting faked out on a double move.
Here are the most interesting stories Tuesday in the AFC North:
  • Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk isn't worried about the addition of Pro Bowl center Andre Gurode.
Morning take: Birk says he's healthy, which puts him in line to start Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Gurode needs to learn the scheme and get his feet under him. But Gurode is younger and could eventually be the starter.
  • The Steelers are jumping into the regular season the hard way with a tough road game against the Ravens.
Morning take: You can't find a more intense start for either team. Baltimore will be fired up after getting knocked out by Pittsburgh recently in the playoffs. Here is a poll on who AFC North fans think will win the game.
  • The Cleveland Browns' offensive line is in flux leading into their Week 1 game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Morning take: Left guard is the biggest question. You forget how important Eric Steinbach (back) is to the team until he's out for the season.
  • Bengals running back Cedric Benson is happy to be back following a brief jail stint.
Morning take: Benson was wise to get his legal issues behind him before the start of the season. He will be a big part of the Bengals' offense this season and now has a clear head.

Thoughts on Ravens, C Andre Gurode

September, 4, 2011
The Baltimore Ravens added a Pro Bowler to their offensive line on Sunday. ESPN's Adam Schefter reports the Ravens agreed to terms with Pro Bowl center Andre Gurode to a one-year deal.

Here are some thoughts on the move:
  • I like that the Ravens haven't been afraid to patch holes on their roster. Baltimore recently traded for receiver Lee Evans, signed left tackle Bryant McKinnie, and just solidified the center spot with Gurode. These were three big question marks on the team several weeks ago. That is no longer the case.
  • What does this mean for veteran center Matt Birk? He's coming off knee surgery. This could be a sign the Ravens aren't confident in Birk heading into the Steelers game. Gurode has been a starter most of his career and eventually will be a starter in Baltimore. It's just a matter of how quickly Gurode can pick up the offense.
  • I keep harping on the point that defensive lineman Haloti Ngata still has the franchise tag. The Ravens could add a couple more solid players if they reach a long-term agreement with Ngata. An extension was expected weeks ago, but talks clearly have been more difficult than expected.