• The Falcons may have jeopardized Matt Ryan's long-term health by allowing him to play in the final three games of the season despite a lingering turf-toe injury, but he escaped without doing further damage to his big toe. Word is he will rest up in the next few months and is expected to be ready when Atlanta begins its offseason workout program March 24.
• Buccaneers SS Sabby Piscitelli is not in danger of being cut this offseason, sources say, but we hear the team is not convinced that he'll be their starting strong safety for years to come. Piscitelli has all the athletic tools to be a good player, and he's shown potential. His technique is poor, however, and he makes too many mistakes that lead to big plays by the opposing offense. Don't be surprised if head coach Raheem Morris, who used to coach the Tampa Bay secondary, spends a lot of time focusing on Piscitelli in the offseason.
• Panthers OG Mackenzy Bernadeau stepped up to the challenge when injuries cleared a starting spot for him this season, and he could be in the mix to win a starting job heading into the 2010 campaign. Bernadeau started seven games at left guard after Jordan Gross was placed on injured reserve, which forced Travelle Wharton to move from left guard to fill the void left by Gross at left tackle. The Panthers' starting right guard, Keydrick Vincent, will be an unrestricted free agent in March, and Carolina isn't expected to re-sign him, opening up a potential spot for Bernadeau.
• Saints RB Pierre Thomas sat out in Week 17 but is expected to play through three fractured ribs in the team's playoff opener. He said he is going to wear extra protection around the injury to try to avoid aggravating it.
• Their names were hardly mentioned this season, but we hear the Bears really feel young offensive linemen Lance Louis, a seventh-round rookie who was buried on the depth chart this season, and James Marten, who spent the season on the practice squad, could have bright futures at guard and tackle, respectively.
• Mark down Packers QB coach Tom Clements as an intriguing long shot for the Bears' vacant offensive coordinator position. Clements was previously stripped of play-calling duties in Buffalo by Mike Mularkey — a fairly substantial blotch on his résumé, according to league insiders. But the consensus among our Packers insiders is that Clements has done a marvelous job with Aaron Rodgers, who raves about him.
• The Lions are not expected to make major changes to their coaching staff, if any. But there are some close to the team who think special-teams coordinator Stan Kwan might be one could who could be let go. Head coach Jim Schwartz was vague — even evasive — when asked if coaching staff changes would be made, and the Lions' special teams were a disappointment this season after being one of the few bright spots in 2008.
• Vikings TE Visanthe Shiancoe has been banged up. He has dealt with rib and thigh injuries this season, and lately he has been saddled with a sore turf toe that has caused him to spend last week — a week Brad Childress gave the Vikings' players off — often in the team's trainers' room getting worked on.
• The way we hear it, the Eagles will not be crushed with the loss of GM Tom Heckert to the Browns. Although Andy Reid and the staff appreciate the work Heckert has done, there is a firm system in place where most major decisions run through Reid and vice president of player personnel Howie Roseman, so the Eagles would be well equipped to replace Heckert without too much unsettlement to the front office.
• The strong play of OT William Beatty could convince the Giants to insert him at left tackle and kick David Diehl inside to left guard. Diehl has resisted such a move, but he previously has played every position on the line and appears a better fit inside. Beatty has "left tackle feet" according to Giants sources and has been groomed for the position. Such a move would make Rich Seubert a reserve.
• Redskins OG Randy Thomas has torn both triceps muscles in each of his arms two of the past three seasons, and his time in Washington — and possibly his career — could be over. The team is looking to upgrade across the board on the offensive line. Reports say that Thomas would like to continue playing, but it likely will be with another team.
• A quiet contributor to the Cowboys' defensive flourish has been SS Gerald Sensabaugh, who has solidified things in the secondary. His tackling has been more sure than his predecessors, and he has made more plays on the ball than even the Cowboys could have anticipated.
• None of our sources in San Francisco saw the ouster of Niners special-teams coach Al Everest coming. Everest has long been considered one of the league's better special-teams coaches, as well as a terrific motivator. But the team's dead-last ranking in punt-return average, periodic coverage lapses and a fumble on an ill-advised reverse on a punt return, which triggered an agonizing loss to a subpar Seahawks team, would appear to have sealed Everest's fate.
• Our Rams insiders believe the possibility of head coach Steve Spagnuolo being reunited with DE Osi Umenyiora, who appears to have fallen out of favor with the Giants, is certainly worth considering. "Spagnuolo has had some success with old Giants like (S James) Butler and (S Craig) Dahl. If Umenyiora is available and his health is OK, and with Chris Long looking like the only end certain to be back next season, who knows? Maybe it's not too bad an idea.
• We hear the Cardinals have become increasingly comfortable with starting C Lyle Sendlein, who was hampered by shoulder problems last season that often caused him to get overpowered at the point of attack. "They've been happy with him," said one team insider of the third-year pro. "He's become just a real solid center with very good technique."
• Word is the Seahawks could consider switching sixth-year pro Sean Locklear, who has proven to be nothing more than an ordinary starting left tackle when he's been healthy enough to play, to guard next season.
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