Wake-up: Steelers confident in Larry Foote

So, I'm glad to be back but I am a little upset. I take off one week and miss Kordell Stewart retiring as a Steeler. This made me check my calendar to make sure it was 2012 and not 2002. Maybe I'll get lucky this week and Neil O'Donnell will do the same this week.

Thanks for the responses regarding the blog, and I'll have a post today on some of the feedback.

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers remain confident that Larry Foote can replace friend and mentor in James Farrior as a starting inside linebacker.

“Larry Foote knows this defense in and out,” linebackers coach Keith Butler told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “He’s been in this defense for 10 years. If anybody knows this defense, it’s Larry Foote. Larry Foote is a very capable starter for us, and there won’t be much drop-off by having him in there.”

According to the Tribune-Review, Foote played 40 percent of the Steelers' defensive snaps last season while Farrior logged 73 percent. “I can hold my own,” Foote said. “I’ve taken the huddle of this team before in my 10 years. I know the defense. I can play.”

Hensley's slant: The Steelers showed confidence in Foote when they decided to release Farrior instead of him in their offseason salary-cap purge. Foote then caught a break when Pittsburgh drafted guard David DeCastro instead of linebacker Dont'a Hightower in the first round. In terms of performance, I agree there shouldn't be much of a drop-off from Farrior to Foote. The big question is how much the defense will miss one of its leading voices on the field and in the locker room.

BENGALS: A.J. Green became the first rookie wide receiver to make the Pro Bowl since 2003, but there's still room for improvement. A focus for the Bengals has been fine-tuning Green's route-running. “He’s always been such a good receiver that he could beat guys a lot of times just by running around them,” Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden told the National Football Post. “There were times last year when he wasn’t as detailed as he should be in terms of getting off the line, his depths and his route running. I think some of those routes will be cleaned up. He’s working on it. He’s so receptive to it. Has a ways to go, but he wants to be great. With the talent he has, throw in the desire he has, the work ethic he has, and the sky is the limit.” Hensley's slant: It's great that Green wants to improve. The key to this piece, however, is Green being present for the offseason workouts. The Bengals usually didn't have their No. 1 receiver around this time of year when Chad Ochocinco was the top target.

BROWNS: The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Mary Kay Cabot sees Dimitri Patterson rotating with Sheldon Brown at cornerback in the team's base defensive formations and gives Eric Hagg the early edge at free safety. She also reports that strong safety T.J. Ward is fully recovered from his foot injury. "I still think a premier box safety is valuable, but Ward needs to create more turnovers (two interceptions, two forced fumbles so far)," Cabot wrote. Hensley's slant: The spot to watch is free safety. I see Patterson stepping into a starting role this season and Ward developing into an impact defender if he stays healthy. The Browns need either Hagg, a seventh-round pick from a year ago, or Usama Young to fill that final spot in the secondary. This is Hagg's time to show he is more than a special-teams player.

RAVENS: Running back Ray Rice reunited with teammates over the weekend. It just happened to be at a charity softball game and not the football field. Rice did not provide an update on negotiations. "Honestly, I just let my agent take care of all of that stuff," Rice told the Baltimore Sun. "I just stay in shape and come out on days like this to get some fresh sun. I know the business side always takes care of itself. I know I've put myself in that position to kind of let it dwindle out and whatever it is at the end of the day, hopefully I'll be out there soon." If the sides don't reach a new deal by July 16, Rice would play under the $7.7 million franchise tag. Hensley's slant: As we've talked about plenty of times this offseason, the challenge is bridging a $10 million gap in guaranteed money. Rice probably feels he deserves a contract similar to the one given to Chris Johnson (six years with $30 million guaranteed). The Ravens are likely looking at a deal closer to the one signed by Arian Foster (five years, $43.5 million with $20.75 million guaranteed) and LeSean McCoy (five years, $45 million with $20.76 million guaranteed).