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ESPN Insider PWF Whispers from around the NFL 10-7


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Whispers from around the NFL

Pro Football Weekly


Insiders are crediting RB Stephen Davis for the Panthers' resurgence because of his ability to get through a hole quickly and make would-be tacklers miss in the secondary. Davis also keeps the offensive line charged up in a way that former RB Lamar Smith never could.

Texans offensive coordinator Chris Palmer set an offseason goal for the offensive line to give up 50 sacks, a third less than the 76 sacks surrendered last year. Through four games, the improved line is on pace to only allow 28.

Cardinals RB Emmitt Smith on his backup, Marcel Shipp: "As a player, I think he is a tremendous talent. & I could see him being a Priest Holmes-type running back, and I think we have a great working relationship."

The Saints are very disappointed in the lack of development in WR Donté Stallworth, who the team had hoped would become the No. 2 receiver this season, because he isn't making the kinds of plays that premier wideouts make.

With Packers WR Robert Ferguson near 100 percent, free-agent addition Antonio Freeman will only see the field in four-WR packages. "Donald Driver, Javon Walker and Robert are our top three," offensive coordinator Tom Rossley told PFW. "If Freeman can help those guys, it's a plus."

The Lions believe DLE Kalimba Edwards can still have a breakout season. Edwards, recovered from a sports hernia that kept him out of preseason action, is working into the lineup with DE James Hall but is getting his burst back. Coaches believe it is only a matter of time for Edwards.

Although the talk of Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi retiring is nothing new, don't be surprised if director of player personnel Jerry Reese -- not assistant GM Kevin Abrams -- emerges as the team's leading candidate as Accorsi's replacement.

It is entirely possible that Giants No. 4 RB Ron Dayne, barring an injury to one of the backs ahead of him on the depth chart, will not suit up for the Giants this season.

The Redskins have legitimate interest in TE Byron Chamberlain, who was released by the Vikings, because sources say head coach Steve Spurrier thinks a big-play tight end would add a new dimension to the offense. In the meantime, the team has been using WR Darnerian McCants as a pseudo tight end in red-zone situations.

Although his statistics are not phenomenal, the Eagles have been quietly pleased with the play of Darwin Walker, who has moved to end because of all the team's injuries at the position.

By saying he had seen players with similar injuries come back sooner than Cowboys CB Derek Ross has, head coach Bill Parcells was challenging the second-year player, whom he called a "street player" during the preseason.

The Cowboys were so convinced in the abilities of rookie RS Zuriel Smith that they traded Reggie Swinton to Green Bay. And don't be surprised if the team tries to get Smith on the field as a receiver by season's end as well.

One of the bigger disappointments in New York has been the lack of production out of No. 3 WR Tim Carter, who has done little in what has been a pass-happy offense. Insiders say Carter has not gotten much separation despite his much-ballyhooed speed.

A Steelers source says the team's early-season rushing woes are primarily due to the offensive line. However, RB Amos Zereoue too often hasn't hit the hole as quickly as he should.

A Browns source is mystified by the play of RB Jamel White, who has been in a funk all season. White remains the team's top pass-catching back, but we're told that it's unlikely he will get more carries even if starter William Green struggles.

Ravens RB Jamal Lewis is on pace for a record-breaking season, and FB Alan Ricard deserves some credit. "Jamal doesn't have the success if he doesn't have a lead blocker that gives his body up for him, and that's just reality," Ravens RB coach Matt Simon told PFW.

The Bengals like what they're seeing from PK Shayne Graham. He's been accurate on field goals, and his kickoffs, while not particularly long, have been high. However, P Nick Harris is on the hot seat, and it's safe to say his job may be on the line.

The Jets promoted WR Santana Moss to the starting lineup to infuse some youth, and players such as LBs Victor Hobson and Kenyatta Wright, WR Jonathan Carter and FB B.J. Askew could see an increase in playing time if the Jets continue to slog through the schedule.

After nailing a 53-yard field goal in the Rams' Week Four win over the Cardinals, Rams PK Jeff Wilkins believes he has finally regained his confidence in making long-distance three-pointers. Sources say Wilkins had been extremely bothered by his long-distance slump before connecting on the bomb vs. Arizona -- especially since his kickoffs were still getting good distance (he led the NFC with four touchbacks heading into Week Five).

Word is Seahawks CB Shawn Springs, who has missed the season up to now with a broken right shoulder blade, has his sights set on returning for the Week Eight (Oct. 26) game in Cincinnati.

After extending the contracts of LB Raynoch Thompson and P Scott Player late last week, we hear the Cardinals are very likely to follow suit with OLT L.J. Shelton and CB David Barrett. Although nothing was imminent at presstime, we're told it's a good bet the pair will get new deals done before the season is over.

After showing signs in the Niners' first two games that he was finally living up to his first-round status, we hear the Niners continue to be deeply frustrated by the wildly erratic play of CB Mike Rumph, whose shouting match with DB coach Brett Maxie in the second half of the Niners' Week Four loss to to the Vikings spoke volumes.

OLB Travian Smith has stepped in to replace Bill Romanowski in the Raiders' lineup while Romanowski contemplates his future after battling numerous concussions. Speed and pass-rush ability are Smith's strengths, but his football intelligence and coverage skills are not comparable to that of the veteran Romanowski. The Raiders also figure to lose something on special teams, where Smith was a standout.

Broncos defensive coordinator Larry Coyer told PFW about his aggressive approach that has worked so well in Denver: "I don't know if it's my style, but I think it's the nature of the National Football League that if you can't cover 'em and rush with four, then you're not going to do very well. But I also think there's a two-edged sword to that deal that if you're not razor-sharp every week, you can go from the penthouse to the outhouse pretty quick. ... We're nothing special unless we're full speed ahead. And if we're not full speed ahead, we're average or less."

Some concerns arose when the Broncos' running game was shut down vs. the Lions in Week Four without the services of Clinton Portis. Head coach Mike Shanahan said it had more to do with a lack of blocking than the play of RBs Mike Anderson and Quentin Griffin.

The Raiders are in the process of simplifying or "dumbing down" their defensive schemes, much like they did last season, in hopes of providing a spark to a struggling defense. Sources indicate that coordinator Chuck Bresnahan has a tendency to get too fancy with his play-calling at times.

The Raiders have shown to be lacking discipline at the DE position, especially against scrambling quarterbacks and misdirection plays.

Although he is not seeing quite as many double-teams, Chiefs TE Tony Gonzalez is still not allowed to get into his routes cleanly because of contact near the line of scrimmage.

The Chargers plan to keep an eye on the inner-ear infection WR Eric Parker is battling.

It wouldn't be a surprise to see the Chargers use the bye week to experiment getting MLB Carlos Polk and rookie S Terrence Kiel in the lineup more.

We're told the Saints may place DE Darren Howard, who has been out all season with a wrist injury, on injured reserve if the team continues to struggle and falls out of the playoff race. We hear that such a decision could be made within a couple of weeks.

We hear the Panthers' coaching staff has gained trust in rookie OG Jordan Gross and are starting to give him more complex responsibilities on the line.

Although the Buccaneers groaned when the 2003 schedule was announced because they were given a bye week in Week Four, we're told head coach Jon Gruden was pleased with the break because the team opened training camp two weeks earlier than anyone else and played five preseason games, which made the off week in Week Four seem more like Week Eight.

Bucs WR Joe Jurevicius is close to returning to practice with the team and is expected to return to action in the next couple of weeks.

Insiders are putting the likelihood of Falcons QB Mike Vick's return from the broken leg that has sidelined him all season at 30 percent for Week Seven vs. the Saints and believe he will be held out until the Nov. 2 matchup with Philadelphia.

There is speculation that Falcons head coach Dan Reeves may have decided to start RB T.J. Duckett over Warrick Dunn in the past couple of weeks because he was tired of hearing questions from the media about Duckett's role.

We hear that Colts DE Dwight Freeney is still only 85-90 percent recovered from ankle and abdomen injuries, but he played in Week Four because he desperately wanted to return to action.

While Titans coaches like rookie Tyrone Calico's work ethic, he has fallen out of the mix at wide receiver after some poor practice performances.

Titans QB Steve McNair's rushing numbers have decreased but only because he has become a more patient quarterback and more apt to throw the ball away in dangerous situations.

Titans OLB Rocky Boiman should adequately replace injured OLB Peter Sirmon. While Boiman lacks Sirmon's instincts, he possesses greater speed. However, if there's another injury to the LB corps, we hear the Titans will be in trouble.

Expect FS Marlon McCree, recently acquired by the Texans, to challenge FS Matt Stevens for his starting position. However, Stevens has seen the writing on the wall and picked up his play in the last two weeks.

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Texans offensive coordinator Chris Palmer set an offseason goal for the offensive line to give up 50 sacks, a third less than the 76 sacks surrendered last year. Through four games, the improved line is on pace to only allow 28.

Take note Helton!!

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