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AFC Whispers

Sweed will have to earn playing time

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By PFW staff

Here are some of the whispers we are hearing related to AFC teams:

• The sudden departure of WR Santonio Holmes, dealt to the Jets for all of a fifth-round pick after Pittsburgh tired of his off-the-field problems, means Mike Wallace ascends to his spot in the starting lineup. And it potentially opens the door for third-year WR Limas Sweed to get more playing time than he would have otherwise received. However, a source close to the club suggests Sweed will have to earn his way onto the field, and that will come when he consistently catches the ball in game situations — something he hasn't done. The Steelers added another pass catcher to the mix with the selection of SMU's Emmanuel Sanders in Round Three, thus ramping up the competition for catches.

• If Browns FB-RB Peyton Hillis makes an impact in the Cleveland offense this season, it's more likely to be as a ballcarrier or a receiver, not as a blocker. The Browns' incumbent fullback, Lawrence Vickers, comes off of a strong season. Hillis, acquired in the trade that sent Brady Quinn to Denver, has the bulk needed to be an asset in situations when a power back is needed and relatively good athleticism for his size. However, how the repetitions will be divided up in the Browns' backfield will be interesting to see. Jerome Harrison seems likely to be the starter, with second-round pick Montario Hardesty — whom Cleveland traded up to select — getting work spelling the diminutive Harrison.

• The Bills' decision to draft Clemson RB C.J. Spiller in the first round may have surprised some onlookers, but the team knew all along that he was the guy it wanted. "We are void of big playmakers," said GM Buddy Nix. "We have good players, but a guy that has this kind of world-class speed can help us in so many ways. ... (Head coach Chan Gailey) will use him in a lot of different spots and be creative in ways to get him the ball." Spiller is expected to split time in the backfield with Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch, if Lynch isn't traded or released.

• The Patriots' drafting of CB Devin McCourty with their top pick sent a message to 2008 second-round pick Terrence Wheatley. So far, Wheatley has barely seen the field and hasn't been effective when he has. There is a good chance he'll be cut in training camp if he doesn't show major improvement, because the CB position is starting to get a little crowded.

• In addition to obtaining a crop of rookies during the draft, the Dolphins also acquired a veteran player who should help out on special teams. ILB Tim Dobbins was sent to Miami from San Diego as part of the trade that gave the Chargers the No. 12 overall pick. He'll play on special-teams units and could take some snaps away from Channing Crowder at inside 'backer.

• We hear all signs point toward Adam Vinatieri, who missed a major chunk of the 2009 season due to knee issues, being ready to resume his normal duties as the Colts' starting placekicker. "If they really thought there was still an issue, they would have re-signed Matt Stover," said one team insider. "He actually thought he could have played in the postseason and was a little disappointed that he didn't."

• In addition to the position battles expected at wide receiver, linebacker and safety this summer, we hear the interior of the Jaguars' offensive line could also see some healthy competition. C Brad Meester's struggles last season were well documented, but we hear that ORG Uche Nwaneri may also be in a battle to keep his starting position. Veteran OG Kynan Forney is the more experienced pass protector, and second-year ORT Eben Britton can also play guard or center.

• With the Colts having released Chad Simpson, our sources are expecting a wide-open competition for the primary kick-return job. Likely to be included in the mix, we hear, will be shifty Sam Giguere, who had an audition in snowy Buffalo late in '09; Austin Collie; and Jerraud Powers.

• Before the Texans selected Alabama CB Kareem Jackson with their first-round pick, the sense was that veteran Jacques Reeves rated a slight edge over Houston's other veteran corners to start opposite LCB Glover Quin in the secondary. However, the Texans will give Jackson "every opportunity to be a starter for our football team and contribute," defensive coordinator Frank Bush said. "There are not a lot of holes, per se, in his game," Bush told Houston reporters of how Jackson looks on film. "And the more you watched him, the more you liked him. The kid's got tremendous ball skills. He's got quick feet. He will come up and tackle you. He showed some leadership on the field."

• It cost the Chargers an early second-round pick to move up 16 spots in the first round and grab Fresno State RB Ryan Mathews, but the team wasn't worried about parting with that bounty because of how much it coveted Mathews. The Bolts planned to come away with either Mathews or C.J. Spiller on Thursday night, and once Spiller was taken at No. 9, they realized they'd need to trade up to secure their guy. Already comparing him to LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego feels Mathews is good enough to step right in and make an impact.

NFC Whispers


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