Here are some Whispers we're hearing around the AFC:
• Patriots S Patrick Chung is being counted on to make a big leap in Year Two and was praised by the staff this offseason. But if the first few training-camp practices are an indication, Chung still has noticeable room for improvement, we hear. The biggest concern came in red-zone drills, where Chung failed to match up against bigger, stronger tight ends.
• The Jets' interest in veteran free-agent receivers before training camp has created the perception that they lack confidence in WRs Brad Smith and David Clowney, who are in line to be the club's third and fourth receivers while Santonio Holmes serves a four-game suspension to start the year. The Jets had talks with Terrell Owens' agent before he signed with the Bengals and had Laveranues Coles in for a workout July 30.
• There was speculation that Dolphins QB Chad Pennington would be placed on the physically-unable-to-perform list at the start of training camp as he recovers from a third surgery on the shoulder of his throwing arm, but he reported to camp ready to participate. Head coach Tony Sparano said Pennington will compete to become Chad Henne's primary backup.
• The way we hear it, the Bengals are likely to go into the 2010 season with Roy Williams as the strong safety and Chris Crocker as the free safety, just as they did at the beginning of last year before Williams suffered a season-ending arm injury. Steady veteran FS Gibril Wilson, whom the Bengals added in May, figures as a reserve.
• The sense in Cleveland is WR Josh Cribbs will keep his starting spot, the way we hear it. Cribbs played all 16 games last season (12 starts) and caught just 20 passes, but he did attempt 55 rushes, and his ability to be deployed in various ways is quite valuable to an offense that lacks punch.
• There's some sentiment that the return of ILB Larry Foote and CB Bryant McFadden to the Steelers' defense will, in addition to bolstering the club's depth at their respective positions, have a positive effect on the defense's chemistry. McFadden is expected to start, while Foote is likely to be a reserve.
• Browns president Mike Holmgren, speaking to reporters before training camp, praised the influence QB Jake Delhomme has already had on the offense. "I am really glad we have him," Holmgren said. "He (has) already made an imprint on this football team. We needed the leadership, in my opinion. We needed the leadership there as much as anything. The passing I didn't worry about too much, but I needed someone to bring everyone together, and I think he's done a nice job of that so far."
• We hear it is possible that RB Maurice Jones-Drew will be on the field less often on third downs this season. Jones-Drew's production tailed off in the second half in 2009 — he averaged 3.7 yards per carry in the last seven games after banging out 5.1 yards per carry in the first nine games — and the club really likes the pass-catching abilities of second-year RB Rashad Jennings and rookie RB Deji Karim.
• Titans TE Jared Cook's productivity could be tied to how ready to contribute WR Kenny Britt is after a disappointing offseason, a source close to the team suggests. Cook, who has very good speed, has the ability to be split out wide and could be used more in that role if Britt disappoints, the way we hear it.
• Word is defensive coordinator Larry Coyer wants to get rookie DE Jerry Hughes on the field with Pro Bowl DEs Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis as much as possible this season. We could see Hughes, who is more athletic and verstaile than former Colts DL Raheem Brock, on the field sometimes as a fourth linebacker.
• We're hearing that disgruntled Chiefs S Jarrad Page, a restricted free agent who still has not signed his one-year tender, is more likely to be cut than traded. With teams offering nothing more than a sixth-round draft pick for the fifth-year veteran, Kansas City would rather prove a point by releasing him instead of acquiescing to his trade demands. The Chiefs could change their tune if a club offers a fourth-rounder in exchange for Page, but that appears very unlikely.
• Raiders DE Richard Seymour had a couple of surprises for team observers in the early days of training camp. He was the first player off the bus that transported rookies to camp, putting to rest any doubts about his eagerness to join the team, and took reps exclusively at defensive tackle in one practice while rookie Lamarr Houston played next to him at defensive end. Seymour could still line up at both tackle and end this season, as he did last year.
• Raiders WR Chaz Schilens' durability continues to be a concern. Schilens, who has undergone two surgeries on his left foot within the past year, left training-camp practice early on July 29, which led to speculation about his health. Schilens missed eight games last season recovering from surgery to repair a broken metatarsal.
• Although he is not looking for more money or a long-term contract, OLB Shawne Merriman recently said that he plans to stay away from Chargers training camp until the team assures him that he won't be on the trading block this season. The unsigned restricted free agent, whose name was reportedly brought up in trade talks over draft weekend, said he is perfectly fine playing on a one-year deal, but he needs the Bolts to give him a sense of security before he reports to camp.
Related link: NFC Whispers
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