We've been hearing the following whispers around the NFC:
• The Eagles are tickled with what they have seen from rookie DE Brandon Graham so far. Graham showed some pressure in the team's preseason debut but a few times just missed on notching sacks. He acknowledged that he overran the Jaguars' quarterbacks a few times and needed to use his countermoves more. Yet, the expectations for Graham remain sky-high, and the first-round pick has been absolutely wrecking practice on a consistent basis, giving the offensive linemen fits. The team can't hold him back much longer, and he's expected to earn a starting spot at some point this season.
• It's going to be tough, we hear, for Willie Parker to make the Redskins. He's running fourth on the team's RB depth chart behind Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson and Ryan Torain and adds no special-teams value. Parker also hasn't impressed enough as a runner, receiver or pass blocker to date.
• The question right now for the Cowboys is what to do with OL Robert Brewster? The third-round pick last year has struggled badly so far, after missing all of last season with injury. He struggled in the Cowboys' preseason loss, going against the Raiders' second- and third-team defensive linemen, and right now is fighting to hold on to a roster spot. Brewster appears way too slow to be a left tackle and might have trouble making it as a guard.
• Cowboys OLB Victor Butler has continued to impress and almost certainly will have an expanded role this season. He was used sparingly as a nickel rusher as a rookie and flashed early but faded a little bit down the stretch with more reps. The thinking is that Butler is much better-prepared to handle a bigger role now, giving a breather to either Anthony Spencer or DeMarcus Ware, as a pass-rush specialist
• The light appears to have gone on for Lions DE Cliff Avril. He flashed as a rookie but struggled last season, and many have pegged this as a make-or-break season for him. If Avril continues to play as well as he has in camp, he is on his way to a fine season. The DL additions the team has made no doubt have helped Avril, but he also has shown a better determination and work ethic this year.
• The Vikings appear to be in great shape at middle linebacker. Not only has E.J. Henderson's recovery gone better than anyone ever could have imagined, but Jasper Brinkley also has impressed after an up-and-down rookie season. Both men are fighting for playing time, but defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said Henderson will start if he's deemed fully healthy. It's a nice problem to have.
• Word is the Bears continue to be frustrated by third-year DT Marcus Harrison, who continues to be outplayed by Anthony Adams despite being three inches bigger and four years younger than Adams. "They still don't know if he has what it takes mentally," said one team insider of Harrison, who has missed practice time in training camp with heat-related problems. "They've given him every opportunity, but so far he has failed to deliver."
• While new Bears offensive line coach Mike Tice has seen improvement in OLT Chris Williams, we hear he'd still like for the former first-round draft pick to show more aggressiveness.
• Packers TE Jermichael Finley, who has made a concerted effort to become more mature, can't say enough about the positive influence provided by veteran WR Donald Driver, who signed a two-year contract extension in early August. "He's helped me a lot, showing me the ropes," Finley recently told PFW at the Packers' training camp. "He's always so happy and just loves to play. He's been here for 12 years and still plays the game like he's 13 years old."
• The Falcons decided to keep WR Harry Douglas out of their first preseason game, but head coach Mike Smith has said they plan for him to "possibly play" in the second preseason game. While players and coaches say Douglas has looked good in practice, the team is still being cautious with him as he returns from an ACL tear, which he suffered in training camp last year.
• Jimmy Clausen was listed as the third quarterback on the Panthers' depth chart heading into their preseason opener, but he entered the game before No. 2 QB Hunter Cantwell. While there is still technically a competition going on between the two players, sources say it's inevitable that Clausen, a second-round pick this year, will pass Cantwell, who signed with Carolina as an undrafted free agent in 2009, on the depth chart in the near future, regardless of the order in which they enter preseason games.
• Some position battles are close to being settled in Tampa Bay, and Jeremy Zuttah looks like the clear front-runner in the left guard competition. Zuttah has been getting almost all of the reps with the first-team offense, and Keydrick Vincent will have to outplay him in the preseason to move ahead. Still, Zuttah will need to show he can clear some running lanes during preseason games to secure the job.
• It's not clear when Saints WR Robert Meachem will return to practice, but he recently said he's a month and a half ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation from the toe surgery he underwent in May.
• We hear the Cardinals are pleased with the way Deuce Lutui has been rounding into shape after flirting with 400 pounds at the start of training camp. But it's a different story with second-year pro Herman Johnson, another Cardinal offensive lineman with weight issues. "They were hoping he would get the message (as far as watching his weight), but he has really struggled at right tackle in pass protection," one team insider said of Johnson, whom the team's Web site generously lists at 6-7, 360.
• The best guess, according to our Rams sources, is that the knee injury suffered in practice by SS James Butler could keep him out up to a month. "Starting the regular-season opener might be pushing it," said one team insider. "But the Rams wouldn't be losing a whole lot if Craig Dahl, who knows (head coach Steve) Spagnuolo's system well, starts in Butler's place."
• It appears Niners head coach Mike Singletary is in no rush to anoint either David Baas or Tony Wragge as the undisputed replacement for C Eric Heitmann, who we hear could miss the season opener and possibly a few more games after suffering a fractured fibula. "I just think that it's one of those things that you have to evaluate," Singletary said.
• We hear it could be a couple more weeks before the Seahawks can count on any contributions on the offensive line from veteran free-agent addition Chester Pitts, who is still on the mend from microfracture knee surgery. Pitts reportedly attracted interest from four teams (Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and Denver) before settling on Seattle.
Related link: AFC Whispers
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