We've been hearing the following whispers around the AFC:
• We hear Dolphins DE Phillip Merling is on thin ice with the team heading into training camp. We're told the Dolphins' staff was unhappy with Merling even before he was arrested for aggravated battery earlier this offseason, and he didn't help himself with that incident. Merling could face a suspension for violating the league's personal-conduct policy because of his involvement in a domestic dispute with his pregnant girlfriend. A former first-round pick who was expected to be a starter, Merling was easily beat out for a starting job by Randy Starks last year.
• The Raiders are often ridiculed for being a dysfunctional franchise, but DE Jay Richardson told PFW the team is operating much differently than it did a couple seasons ago. "Top to bottom things have changed from players we have in the locker room to having meetings start on time every time," he said. "Everybody's in their seats when they're supposed to be. Knock on wood, we haven't had too many off-the-field problems with guys on our team currently."
• The Jaguars can ill afford a lengthy contract holdout from first-round DT Tyson Alualu. Alualu, whom the club is counting on to make an immediate impact in the middle of its new-look front four, has already said that contract negotiations are "out of his hands" and ultimately the decision will be up to his agent, Ken Zuckerman.
• Could the Patriots use less of their vaunted spread offense this season? There was evidence of more three- and four-WR formations down the stretch last season and fewer of the five-wides that the team used to near perfection in 2007 and often beyond that. With the team drafting TEs Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez and possessing a fairly strong run game, don't be shocked to see fewer formations with five wideouts on the field, especially with Wes Welker coming off a serious knee injury.
• Some speculated that the attention Tim Tebow would draw when he entered the NFL wouldn't exactly endear him to his veteran teammates, but Brady Quinn said that's not the case in Denver. "That's just how the media takes it sometimes, but it's a great locker room," Quinn told PFW. "(Tebow's) a good kid. He works hard. … He's a good character guy." Tebow is third on the depth chart, behind Quinn and starter Kyle Orton, heading into training camp.
• The Chargers are expecting to have better depth along the defensive line this season following the return of Ryon Bingham. After a torn triceps kept him out for the entire 2009 campaign, Bingham came back healthy this offseason, and we hear that the team wants him to be the same versatile backup that he was before going down. Along with Travis Johnson, San Diego has two players who can play anywhere along the D-line, helping to keep the starters fresh.
• The Jaguars like what they see in undrafted rookie DE Aaron Morgan. At 6-4, 238 pounds, the athletic Morgan came on strong as a pass rusher late in OTAs and is considered very much in the mix for a roster spot.
• Colts SS Bob Sanders is coming off his best spring ever after participating fully in OTAs for the first time in his career. Sanders looked like a "fresh colt," appearing very excited and energetic. A healthy Sanders bodes very well for the Colts, of course, and particularly for a secondary that has battled injuries of late.
• There is an "outside chance" the Colts could bring back LB Tyjuan Hagler to add depth if the injury bug bites the LB corps in training camp. The club always liked Hagler, but he was often battling injuries of his own during his tenure in Indianapolis.
• While the Titans have two punters — Brett Kern and Ricky Schmitt — on the roster, we hear Kern is still the odds-on favorite to win the starting job. Schmitt is also listed as a placekicker on the Titans' roster and appeared in one game as San Francisco's kicker last season.
• At the University of Texas, Steelers OT Tony Hills replaced Jonathan Scott at left tackle when Scott moved on to the NFL. Now, Hills and Scott are back on the same team, as both vie for playing time with Pittsburgh. Of Scott, Hills said, " He plays the game hard. … He has a big frame, good feet, good hands." Hills, who moved to tackle in college after playing tight end in high school, noted that Scott was "one of the (offensive linemen) who took me under his wing" at Texas. Scott, who signed with Pittsburgh in March, started eight games at tackle for the Bills in 2009.
• The Bengals' improved defensive depth will leave the coaching staff with some tough decisions as rosters are pared to the 53-player limit at the end of the preseason, a source close to the club suggests. Four of the Bengals' top six draft picks were defenders, and the club added CB Adam "Pacman" Jones and S Gibril Wilson in May.
• One of the interesting story lines of Titans training camp will be whether some of the club's late-round picks can make the club. It would not be a surprise if sixth-round QB Rusty Smith beats out Chris Simms for the No. 3 QB job, the way we hear it. Beyond Jones, it appears S Myron Rolle (Round Six) and WR Mark Mariani (Round Seven) will also be vying for some of the final spots on the roster.
• Although Bills head coach Chan Gailey hasn't revealed his quarterback depth chart entering training camp, we hear that Trent Edwards is very likely to begin camp as the starter, followed by Brian Brohm and Ryan Fitzpatrick. After his solid offseason, Buffalo wants to give Brohm a legitimate chance to capture the job, and he could knock Edwards out of the driver's seat if he continues to perform. Fitzpatrick doesn't appear to be in the starting mix right now; he's viewed as a respectable backup.
• While second-year veteran Matt Slauson will get a chance to compete to become the Jets' starting left guard, we hear rookie Vladimir Ducasse is still the heavy favorite to win that job. Ducasse, a second-round pick, would replace Alan Faneca, who was released after the team drafted Ducasse in April.
Related link: NFC Whispers
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