It's a busy time in the AFC North. The offseason workout programs began Monday, and the NFL schedule is being released Tuesday night. We'll have reaction and analysis to the schedules after the big announcement. Now that we have gotten that out of the way, here is your AFC North wake-up call:
BENGALS: Starting quarterback Andy Dalton began his first NFL offseason workout program after experiencing a crash course last season.
Dalton, who guided Cincinnati to the playoffs last season, didn't have the benefit of minicamps or offseason film study as a rookie. He didn't even meet the entire team until training camp in late July.
It's a much different feeling for Dalton this year.
"I walk into the locker room for the first time and I know everybody here rather than walking in and trying to meet everybody. I'm definitely a lot more comfortable now," Dalton told the team's official website. "The biggest thing is I know my schedule. I know when I have to be here and all that stuff. It's definitely easier coming in this year than last year."
In other news, kicker Mike Nugent hasn't signed his franchise tender of $1.7 million and could decide to skip the offseason workouts like other players who received the tag.
Hensley's slant: There's no doubt that a full offseason will help the growth of Dalton. But there's another reason Dalton will better, too. As the Cincinnati Enquirer's Joe Reedy pointed out, the Bengals' top receiver was there for the first day of workouts for the first time since 2007. Life is less dramatic with A.J. Green than Chad Ochocinco.
BROWNS: Defensive end Marcus Benard participated in the start of the team's offseason program. He missed all but four games last year after breaking his hand in a motorcycle accident. "He looks actually good. I'm hoping to see the best of Marcus," Shurmur said, via the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "I've seen him a couple of times through the off-season and he was there [Monday]. I didn't get a chance to watch in the weight room. I'm not allowed to be in there yet, but from what I heard, he performed well." Shurmur indicated the team plans to keep Benard at defensive end and not move him to linebacker. Hensley's slant: Benard's recovery is key to the Browns' pass rush. They lack edge rushers and Bernard is a year removed from producing 7.5 sacks.
RAVENS: The Baltimore Sun's Mike Preston isn't concerned that running back Ray Rice is missing workouts after not signing his franchise tender. Preston described Rice as "a muscle head" and wrote: "His skin is on too tight because he loves to work out. So while he may not be over at The Castle, he is working out five times a week with his personal trainer." Hensley's slant: Rice is showing some increasing frustration with the lack of a new deal. On Monday, while the Ravens began their offseason program, Rice posted on Twitter: "To all college athletes getting ready to enter the NFL just remember the business side of the league is rough #fact."
STEELERS: Running backs coach Kirby Wilson was back at work at the Steelers' facility Monday, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The 50-year-old Wilson sustained burns on 45 percent of his body and also suffered from smoke inhalation after his house caught fire while he was sleeping on Jan. 6. In other news, cornerback Keenan Lewis and safety Ryan Mundy both signed their restricted free-agent tenders, which leaves wide receiver Mike Wallace as the team's only unsigned restricted free agent. Hensley's slant: For Wilson, this is another step in a remarkable recovery. It's only been three months since he was put in a medically induced coma. Wilson is a highly respected coach on the Steelers staff. In fact, he was reportedly in line to become the Steelers' next offensive coordinator before the accident.