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PFW: Whispers 10-24-05


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Looking for the most under-the-radar key to Seattle’s success so far this season? According to our sources, the vote has to go to veteran FB Mack Strong, whose off-the-field leadership and excellent blocking have been key positive factors.

The mood of Ravens MLB Ray Lewis is a source of speculation in Baltimore. Lewis, who is taking a less active role instructing his teammates on the sideline, isn’t talking to the Baltimore media.

It’s bad enough that Cardinals rookie RB J.J. Arrington has oftentimes looked clueless on the field this season. Making matters worse, we hear, is the second-round pick’s apparent lack of hunger. Our sources tell us Arrington is surprisingly nonchalant, especially compared to fellow RB Marcel Shipp, who couldn’t be more driven.

We’re told that Raiders head coach Norv Turner is likely safe through the season, but his job status will be evaluated with more scrutiny if the play-calling, execution and motivation shown by his team remain concerns the rest of the way.

Vikings team observers believe CB Brian Williams is being extra cautious coming back from a knee injury suffered in Week Three. Williams played hurt last season, but the prospects of unrestricted free agency, combined with Williams’ frustration over the team signing Fred Smoot in the offseason, helped prompt Williams to take his time rehabbing the sprained knee.

Word is that the Jets have been quite pleased with the play of OLT Adrian Jones since he swapped positions with ex-OLT Jason Fabini prior to Week Four.

We hear that a big reason why Patriots S Eugene Wilson has not played well since Rodney Harrison went down with a season-ending knee injury in Week Three is that Wilson is struggling to adapt to his added responsibilities as the secondary’s quarterback — calling out coverages and getting guys lined up properly has been difficult for him.

Word from Buffalo is that the Bills are discussing terms for a contract extension with starting CB Terrence McGee, who went to the Pro Bowl last year as a kick returner. The fourth-round draft pick in 2003 out of Northwestern State (La.) is considered to be one of the top young corners in the AFC. He is in the last year of his rookie deal.

We hear the Packers are smitten with practice-squad RB Samkon Gado, a 5-10, 226-pounder claimed from the Chiefs last week. One scout said Gado, who attended Liberty, runs a 4.43 40-yard dash, 4.13-second short shuttle and has serious upside, and he even called Gado the next Willie Parker.

With ORT Mike Rosenthal struggling with penalties and technique, the Vikings have adjusted the depth chart to reflect rookie Marcus Johnson as the top backup at right guard and right tackle. The Vikings view Johnson, who started the first four games this season at guard, as a natural tackle.

The Vikings realized from shopping RB Michael Bennett over the last year that there wasn’t enough of a market for him to float his name at the trading deadline. Bennett can become an unrestricted free agent in March.

Packers head coach Mike Sherman said rookie FS Nick Collins is on schedule in his development. Collins became more aggressive and confident about one month into the season, according to team observers.

Team president Bill Polian told PFW that the 2005 version of the Colts has come as close to matching the blueprint drawn up by head coach Tony Dungy and Polian in 2002 as any team they’ve had thus far.

We hear the Jaguars have been able to survive with journeymen Kenny Wright and Terry Cousin as their No. 2 and No. 3 cornerbacks because defensive coordinator Mike Smith almost never puts those players in man coverage. Wright has been fine as the starter, but he plays well off the line of scrimmage as part of the Jaguars’ plan to concede short passes to avoid giving up a bigger play.

First, the good news from Rams Park: We hear the players have reacted very favorably to the jobs being turned in by assistant coaches Joe Vitt and Steve Fairchild in head coach Mike Martz’s absence, and that Vitt, the interim head coach, has displayed a steady hand and a naturally fiery personality without going overboard. Now the bad news: Certain players have acknowledged that Martz’s health problems, coupled with the recent murder of DE Leonard Little’s 24-year-old brother, Jermaine, have definitely taken their emotional toll on the team. We’re told Little was extremely close to his brother. Little missed the Week Seven game vs. the Saints.

Although it’s not a given, don’t be surprised if Seahawks second-year ORT Sean Locklear remains in the starting lineup ahead of Floyd “Pork Chop” Womack, who has been injured much of the season. It appears to many close to the scene that Locklear is playing just too good to sit.

Our sources in St. Louis tell us it wouldn’t be a surprise if WR Isaac Bruce, who continues to be bothered by a nagging turf-toe injury, remains on the sideline until after the Rams’ Week Nine bye.

We hear Niners CB Ahmed Plummer, out with an ankle injury, is still a good month away from being ready to play again.

Texans owner Robert C. McNair chatted with the Houston media last week to urge fans to continue to support the club. Houston’s struggles this season have tested the fan base, which has also been distracted by the Astros’ appearance in the World Series.

The shoulder injury suffered by Steelers QB Tommy Maddox in the Week Six loss to Jacksonville is one factor that could keep him third on the team’s depth chart. The way we hear it, Charlie Batch could be next in line for a shot to play if starter Ben Roethlisberger misses time. Maddox played poorly vs. the Jaguars, throwing three interceptions and losing a fumble. The turnovers did not dispel the notion that Maddox is in decline.

The Browns’ special teams have become a cause for concern. Penalties have been major concerns; for instance, two Dennis Northcutt punt returns for scores have been called back because of flags.

Sources close to the Panthers tell us the team is once again worried about MLB Dan Morgan’s health. Morgan suffered a separated shoulder in Week Six vs. the Lions and was wearing a sling around the team’s practice facility during the bye week. He signed a five-year, $28 million contract extension in the offseason despite never having played more than 12 games in a pro season due to injuries.

Saints SLB James Allen (knee/hamstring injuries) was placed on injured reserve last week after playing in only three games this season. The Saints were so impressed with Allen’s play at the end of last season that they chose not to draft a linebacker with their first-round pick and not to pursue a starting linebacker in free agency, even though linebacker was the team’s weakest position on defense.

Jamar Nesbit started at right tackle for New Orleans the past two games because of an ankle injury to rookie Jammal Brown. The Saints moved Nesbit, who has played guard and center in the pros but who hadn’t played tackle since college, to tackle in training camp after backup OT Jon Stinchcomb suffered a season-ending injury. We hear that Saints coaches have been impressed with Nesbit’s play at tackle, but once healthy, Brown will regain his starting spot.

Team observers in Atlanta tell us that the Falcons are overloaded with weak-side linebackers. MLB Ed Hartwell is the Falcons’ only true one-position linebacker, but he’s out for the season with a torn Achilles tendon. Starters Michael Boley, Demorrio Williams and Keith Brooking are hybrids who play better in space, and only Williams is playing on his natural side. Boley is starting on the strong side, and Brooking is lining up in the middle.

We hear that Buccaneers RB Michael Pittman was not fined for slowing down at the end of a TD run vs. the Dolphins, when he was almost caught from behind by DE Jason Taylor. Bucs head coach Jon Gruden at first thought Pittman’s actions were showboating, but then he learned Pittman’s shoulder injury at times sends shooting pain through his neck that makes it hard for him to turn his head around.

Losing WR Patrick Crayton, an emerging playmaker, hurts the Cowboys not only on offense but on punt returns. Though Peerless Price, Crayton’s replacement at nickel receiver, could get a chance on punts, so too will rookie RB Marion Barber and CB Terence Newman.

While Giants LBs Carlos Emmons and Reggie Torbor have battled injuries and Barrett Green has been slow to recover from knee surgery, Nick Greisen quietly has become a very solid performer and has been commended for his consistency.

Eagles DRE N.D. Kalu, slowed recently by a knee injury, has struggled to get pressure on the quarterback, and it has really affected Jevon Kearse, who has been frustrated with constant double-teams. The Eagles were hopeful to get Jerome McDougle back for the second half of the season to rotate with Kalu, but McDougle was shut down for the season following complications in his rehab from a gunshot wound.

With Titans RB Travis Henry due to return this week following a four-game suspension, don’t expect Jarrett Payton to be cut to make room for Henry. Though Payton’s production has been modest, the team has liked his work to date and should keep him on the roster all season.

The Titans have been getting killed by penalty-sustaining drives on defense, and CB Pacman Jones has been the biggest culprit. At least five times this season, a Jones penalty has resulted in an opponent’s first down that led eventually to a score. Teams are picking on Jones in the passing game, and his lack of discipline (he’s leading the team in defensive penalties) has been somewhat alarming.

With teams increasing their focus on defending the run, expect to see the Broncos open up their previously conservative offense a little more in the coming weeks and take more shots downfield to WRs Ashley Lelie and Rod Smith.

Chargers GM A.J. Smith has said not to read too much into his team’s acquisition of former Dolphins QB A.J. Feeley in terms of the team’s plan for 2006. He is insisting his goal is to “just try to stockpile the best players you can” for a playoff run. Speculation ran rampant last week that the trade for Feeley signifies the team’s preparation for the eventual trade of backup and former first-round pick Philip Rivers. But Smith is known to value having options, and Feeley, with more experience than Rivers, could eventually jump him on the depth chart down the stretch, much as Doug Flutie did last year.

Chiefs rookie LB Derrick Johnson gave PFW his opinion on what it’s like to play for defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham: “He’s a passionate coach, I would say (laughs). He’s a good guy, and a tough guy too, so you get a little bit of both worlds out there. He’ll hug you and give you a high-five when you do good, and then when you mess up, he’ll let you hear it. But he’s a good coach. He’s teaching us how to be mentally tough and how to play a tough game. That’s what he thrives on.”

Although the Raiders as a whole are still allowing opposing quarterbacks to have far too much time in the pocket, they would be a lot worse off without the play of new DE Derrick Burgess, who has made several nice pass-rush moves the last few weeks and already has more sacks than any Raider did last season.

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