Here are some of the whispers we're hearing related to AFC teams:
• How the workload is split in the Browns' backfield is a story line to closely watch. While RB Jerome Harrison, who has yet to sign his restricted free-agent tender, finished the '09 season attempting 33 rushes or more in each of the final three games, the Browns' trade back into Round Two of the recent draft to acquire Tennessee RB Montario Hardesty signals that competition for carries is coming. Hardesty is 20 pounds heavier than Harrison and carried 282 times in 13 games in his senior season with the Volunteers.
• If Brett Ratliff makes the Browns' roster, it will be as the No. 4 quarterback, and it is rare for teams to keep four passers on the 53-player roster. For the record, head coach Eric Mangini hasn't discounted the possibility and said that president Mike Holmgren and GM Tom Heckert aren't opposed to keeping four quarterbacks. "I think there are definitely some things he could've done better last year that he and I have talked about," Mangini, speaking to Cleveland reporters, said of Ratliff, who didn't play last season. "It's important for him to come out and show that he's still improving, but that's my anticipation is that he will. We will just see how it falls after that." A source close to the club suggests Ratliff's fate is likely tied to how strongly Mangini wants him on the roster, among other factors.
• As the Bills began their rookie minicamp this weekend, first-round pick C.J. Spiller said that not having to run track, as he did during the spring at Clemson, has allowed him to get into better football shape. "I am more ready for (football) than what I used to be," he said. Instead of simply running, he has been working on his conditioning while waiting for camp. "I wasn't winded out there (Friday), and that was the main thing," said the rookie. "I was fine and I was able to still have a burst." As for his playing weight, Spiller thinks that he can play at his current weight of 200 pounds, but he wouldn't mind bulking up if asked. "If I have to put on some extra pounds, I think I'll be fine."
• The Patriots did their best to shield rookie TE Aaron Hernandez from the media. He was the only first-year player requested by the media to speak who did not do so following the team's three-day rookie minicamp. Hernandez admitted to smoking pot in college in the wake of his father's death but said he failed only a single drug test at Florida, after reports had come out indicating that he had failed several. After being projected as high as a second-rounder, Hernandez fell to the Patriots in the fourth round. Despite the negative attention, he appeared quick and athletic at the minicamp and got a lot of attention from the coaching staff, who appeared pleased with his work.
• There were reports that the Colts and Seahawks inquired about trading for Dolphins OG Justin Smiley, but no deal came about, and the recent rumors that Smiley has lost strength in his surgically repaired shoulder won't help Miami find a willing trading partner. It looks like the Dolphins will be deciding whether to cut him rather than dealing him away.
• Is Colts seventh-round DL Ricardo Mathews considered an end or a tackle? "Both," said one team insider. "I think they see him in the same kind of swing role that Raheem Brock filled. Mathews has got a little more bulk than Brock, but they think he's athletic enough to be able to move outside."
• Raiders WR Chaz Schilens was held out of the Raiders' recent minicamp because he's recovering from surgery on his left foot. He apparently underwent the procedure some time after the season. Head coach Tom Cable said it's nothing serious and Schilens is expected to be fine for training camp, but some are concerned about it since it's the second surgery he's had on that foot in the past year. Schilens missed eight games last season while recovering from the first surgery. He could start alongside Darrius Heyward-Bey this season.
• Josh McDaniels said before the draft that there was a sense of frustration for all parties involved about OLB Elvis Dumervil's absence from workouts as he holds out for a long-term contract. That frustration still lingers. Dumervil, who is apparently working out on his own in Miami, is the Broncos' only unsigned restricted free agent. So far, the team and Dumervil have decided to keep the tone civil when discussing the dispute.
Related link: NFC Whispers
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