AFC North Notes: McKinnie keeping his promise

ITEM: McKinnie continues to slim down
There was a reason he was referred to as Mount McKinnie, and it wasn't necessarily flattering.

Baltimore Ravens tackle Bryant McKinnie has battled weight issues through various seasons of his 10-year career, but he has been working hard to make sure 2012 is not one of those. Aaron Wilson of the Carroll County Times reported recently that McKinnie has been a regular participant in the team's offseason conditioning program and looks more svelte.

"I'm glad I'm here so I can go through this now instead of what happened last year," McKinnie told Wilson. "Last year, I felt like I was on Celebrity Fit Club."

McKinnie said he weighs 358 pounds with a goal to get down to 345.

"He's been working really hard," said Coach John Harbaugh. "He has been around here most of the time. Conditioning has been a paramount priority, and he has done a good job. We'll just have to see how he does as we go forward. I think he'll do well."

A year ago, McKinnie allowed his weight to balloon to nearly 400 pounds during the NFL lockout, and he subsequently was cut by the Minnesota Vikings. The Ravens signed McKinnie just before the start of the regular season, and he started every game. When McKinnie promised General Manager Ozzie Newsome that he would work himself into better shape, the Ravens paid a $500,000 roister bonus and McKinnie has been true to his word.

"I've been working and trying to stay active, and I didn't have much time off since we actually have an offseason," McKinnie said. "That helps out a lot. I came back here and have been participating in a big majority of what's going on here. When I came up here in March he said to show commitment and I'll stay committed to you. I feel like I need to take part, and it helps me."

Wilson also reported that the Ravens are having Paul Kruger line up at Terrell Suggs' rush outside linebacker spot.

"That's the spot where I feel like I fit the best," said Kruger, who also played some strong side linebacker. "It's early to say what will happen, but this is what we're doing now. I'm told where I'm going to line up and I do it. They feel more comfortable with me there, and that's where I've been playing. I'm learning both. They can always switch us around."

Rookie Courtney Upshaw is at outside linebacker on the strong side, which had been manned by Jarrett Johnson before he left as an unrestricted free agent.

"It's coming easier to me," Upshaw said. "It's been a great experience. I come in and be the student. I'm getting to the point where I'm kind of comfortable with it, but I still have to keep improving."

ITEM: Sheldon Brown embraces role as a leader
As the roster turnover continues for the Cleveland Browns, and the coaching staff works to acclimate the new players to its offensive and defensive systems, some of the veterans have started to do what they can to help the process along.

"You have to make up your mind early and I think it's important to be a professional," cornerback Sheldon Brown told "You can't be one of the guys and be cool, this and that and make it in this league. This is your livelihood. This is how you support your family and friends, and it's very important that you're held accountable to your teammates. When you have a veteran that's been there and done that and can tell you what to expect, it puts you ahead of the eight-ball."

Part of Brown's message has been that there is a lot of work between now and being able to wear an NFL uniform on the opening weekend of the 2012 season.

"Sundays are the fun part of it," Brown said. "These are the times where it's tough and you're in the offseason program. Who's going to be held accountable? How hard are you going to work? You find out the true person, the true individual. You find out their background and values. This is what it's about; this is where championships are made. Everybody sees Sunday and they just see kids out there playing football, but they don't know what it takes to get to Sunday. That's a lot of hard work, dedication and sacrifice."

ITEM A.J. Green is growing up fast
He's only about to embark on his second professional season, but Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green's production has put him in position to be a leader. And he said he plans to take advantage.

"I just want to be that leader that I know I can," Green told "I really don't lead by being vocal, I lead by example. I always want to be the first one in a drill and doing everything to the best of my ability. Some of the young guys can actually come along and watch what I do. Work the same, and we work together and build this team. "

During his rookie season – one that he played without the benefit of a rookie orientation or an offseason program – Green set Bengals' rookie records in receiving yards with 1,057, and in 100-yard games with four, and he also became the first rookie receiver on any team to make the Pro Bowl since 2003.

"My ability, my foundation is set high and everything is set high off my first season," Green said. "I feel a lot more comfortable. I've been in the system for a year. I know what to expect."

The Bengals have a chance to make back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time in 30 years, and a good bit of the optimism for them to succeed is due to Green and second-year quarterback Andy Dalton.

"Andy's the leader of this team. As I go Andy goes and vice versa," Green said. "We got a veteran offensive line, we got some new guys, but we got Whit and Andre, guys that be here, new running back that really can tote the ball with B-Scott and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. I think we are going to be fine this year, another great year for us."

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