The Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens will hold their mandatory minicamps this week, and I plan to make a stop at every one. Yes, three camps in three days. Along the way, I will see how the teams look (except for Pittsburgh, where they only allow local reporters to watch practice) and pick up some good grub (ribs are my staple in Cincinnati). Hopefully, my AFC North tour won't resemble anything like a road trip from the movies. My first stop is tomorrow in Cincinnati. Here's your wake-up call ...
RAVENS: Running back Ray Rice believes he's ahead of where he was last year, when he skipped offseason workouts after being given the franchise tag. He signed a five-year, $35 million contract last July and has been a fixture at Ravens headquarters this year. "I only missed one OTA for a family reason. I’ll be here for mandatory minicamp," Rice said, via The Baltimore Sun. "I wasn’t playing football at this time last year. That was totally different. I’m picking up right where I left off. It took me about a week and a half into camp to get my football stuff back. Now that I’m actually playing football, when training camp comes, start throwing stuff at me again, I will be able to pick up on it right away.”
BENGALS: Veteran center Kyle Cook has been mentoring the young players who are filling in for injured starters at the offseason workouts. But Cook knows he will have to battle Trevor Robinson for the starting center job in training camp, when Robinson is expected to recover from a shoulder injury. “If anything it is one more challenge for me to overcome. You do whatever you can to make this team and yourself better,” Cook told The Cincinnati Enquirer. “I don’t have a say, but if it is up to the way I play, perform and lead, I would like to think I will still be here.” Cook has made 53 starts, including the playoffs, over the past four seasons.
STEELERS: Coach Mike Tomlin doesn't believe the Steelers' 2012 team was fit and he didn't like how that team closed out games, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Five of the Steelers' eight losses were decided by three points. Tomlin has preached the importance of conditioning this spring, players told the paper. “Four games we should have won. Do that, and we're 12-4, but that's how the league goes,” linebacker Larry Foote said. “The year before, we made the playoffs and we could have lost four games. The bottom line is we lost some games that we should have won and we didn't.”
BROWNS: When the Browns cut linebacker Chris Gocong earlier this offseason, it was assumed that the team would replace him with either Craig Robertson or James-Michael Johnson. According to The Plain Dealer's Terry Pluto, the starting inside linebacker is Robertson and the backups are L.J. Fort and Tank Carder. "James-Michael Johnson seems nowhere in the plans and is likely to be cut," Pluto wrote of the Browns' fourth-round pick from a year ago. "He was considered a starter by the previous coaching staff. He had some injuries and missed six games. He did play 45 percent of the snaps when he was healthy. But he is lost in this system."