It's good to be back after taking the past week off to catch my breath after a long and memorable 2012 season. The AFC North blog will turn its focus to the NFL combine, which begins Wednesday, as well as free agency, which officially begins March 12. So mark your calendars. As always, let's begin our day with the wake-up call ...
RAVENS: The outlook for linebacker Jameel McClain playing football in 2013 is "positive," two sources told The Baltimore Sun. McClain suffered a spinal cord contusion in Week 14 and missed the entire postseason after being placed on injured reserve. "All is progressing well with Jameel," one source said. "The injury requires rest." The Ravens need McClain to come back this season because they're thin at inside linebacker. Ray Lewis retired and Dannell Ellerbe is an unrestricted free agent.
BENGALS: Soon-to-be free agent Michael Johnson reiterated his desire to remain with the Bengals, but the defensive end didn't sound thrilled by the prospect of staying under the franchise tag. “That’s not necessarily what you would want," Johnson told the NFL Network, via the Cincinnati Enquirer. "As a player, you would like to get a long-term deal but I’m the type of guy that I don’t worry about that type of stuff. Whatever I end up with, I’m going to go with and I’m going to be OK with it. Whether that’s this year for one year or do it again next year -- whatever, I just want to play and have fun with my guys. That’s what I’m about.”
STEELERS: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that the Steelers coaching staff still wants James Harrison in the starting lineup in 2013 but acknowledged that the outside linebacker's $6.57 million salary could be an issue as the team tries to get under the salary cap. The Steelers can save $5.1 million in cap space by releasing Harrison or they can ask him to take a pay cut. He missed the first three games of the season because he was recovering from knee surgery and finished tied for the team lead in sacks with six.
BROWNS: There is one certainty with the Browns defense under new coordinator Ray Horton: Getting after the quarterback is a priority. Only the Texans blitzed more than Horton's Cardinals last season. “The rules of the game are pro offense,” Horton told The Plain Dealer. “People want to see scoring, they don’t want to see a 7-3 game, that’s not exciting. ... The only thing we have to counteract that is to hit people, starting with the quarterback.”