We've been hearing the following whispers around the AFC:
• Raiders WR Darrius Heyward-Bey impressed observers at recent OTAs and appears to be improving after a disappointing rookie season. Heyward-Bey made only nine catches in 11 starts before a foot injury kept him sidelined for the final five games. He was expected to open the season as a starter before his showing at OTAs, and the recent performance has only strengthened his case for the job. He could benefit from the addition of QB Jason Campbell.
• The Patriots are expecting a big jump from second-year DL Ron Brace. It's clear they were letting him know he needs to improve after appearing in only five games a year ago, when they drafted two defensive linemen and signed two veterans, Damione Lewis and Gerard Warren, at the position. We hear that Brace has been following the lead of Vince Wilfork, whose locker is next to Brace's, and trying to learn as much as he can from the veteran nose tackle.
• The Bengals have worked DE Michael Johnson at strong-side linebacker in the spring. The 6-7, 260-pound second-year pro from Georgia Tech came on in the second half of last season, notching all three sacks after Cincinnati's Week Eight bye.
• Ravens FB LeRon McClain has campaigned on Twitter for more carries, and head coach John Harbaugh is OK with that. "Well, it was brought to my attention," Harbaugh told Baltimore reporters, "and we did have a conversation about it. It was lighthearted. He kind of explained to me what he was doing, and I think he's lighthearted about it, and he's having fun with it. I want him to want more carries. I want him to want more plays. I want him to want to be on the punt team, too, and the kickoff team. You like guys who want to play, so if he wants to campaign for more carries, have at it." McClain carried just 46 times last season, and the Ravens primarily used him as a blocker. The same could happen this year if the Ravens don't carry another fullback. At present, the Ravens have only one other fullback on the roster - undrafted free agent Mike McLaughlin, who was a linebacker at Boston College.
• Head coach Gary Kubiak told Houston reporters in May that while TE Owen Daniels is "way ahead of schedule" as he recovers from tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in November, Daniels will not participate in training camp. The same goes for second-year Anthony Hill, recovering from tearing the ACL in his left knee last December. Hill "probably won't be ready until the beginning of the season," Kubiak noted.
• With Arian Foster, Steve Slaton and Ben Tate locks to make the Texans' roster, veteran Ryan Moats could be the odd man out if Houston keeps three tailbacks. Houston is also said to like reserve RBs Jeremiah Johnson and Chris Henry.
• CB Rashean Mathis' decision to not attend voluntary OTAs in the hope of getting a new deal is the product of bad advice, the way we hear it. Mathis, who has missed 12 games the past three seasons while dealing with a variety of injuries, has no leverage. Management has already shown it has little patience in these matters, having rescinded LB Clint Ingram's restricted free-agent tender last month. Mathis has a better chance of being cut or traded than getting a new contract from the Jaguars.
• The Colts think undrafted rookie Brandon James, who set four Southeastern Conference records returning kickoffs and punts at the University of Florida, could have home-run-hitting potential as the team's primary punt returner, we hear. Said one team insider: "Not having a consistent threat that could break one every time he touches the ball has been a problem, and James is a really elusive jitterbug runner."
• The Broncos released ILB Andra Davis before moving Mario Haggan from outside 'backer to fill Davis' vacated spot, giving 2009 first-round pick Robert Ayers a chance to move into the starting lineup at outside linebacker after having played in passing situations last season. Observers say Ayers, who didn't make a sack as a rookie, appears to be more prepared to handle a three-down role.
• Not long after he was pulled over for speeding and arrested for possessing 100 Vicodin pills, we hear Chargers S Kevin Ellison received a phone call from head coach Norv Turner, telling him to stay away from the team's minicamp. This raised a red flag for team observers, as other players who've been arrested during Turner's tenure have been allowed to report to practice the next day. Already expected to be in a fight for his starting job, Ellison now sees his roster spot in jeopardy as a result of this run-in with police.
Related link: NFC Whispers
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