Here are several whispers we've been hearing from around the NFC West:
• One growing criticism of Niners head coach Mike Singletary is his dependence on some of his rookie players to the detriment of veterans whom he would probably be better off playing. Two good examples are third-round LB NaVorro Bowman, who has struggled more often than not in the nickel LB role that team insiders believe Takeo Spikes should be filling more often, along with his starting "Ted" role, and sixth-round RB Anthony Dixon, who isn't nearly as sound a blocker in blitz pickup as the greatly underutilized Brian Westbrook.
• Our sources in St. Louis believe an overlooked aspect of star RB Steven Jackson's game is his greatly improved ability to pick up blitzes. "He really has become a more complete back," said one insider of Jackson. "He hasn't been as involved as a receiver in the passing game, and part of the reason could be how good his blitz pickups have become. He really takes a lot of pride in it."
• Cardinals rookie OLB O'Brien Schofield faces a massive learning curve after spending the first seven weeks on the non-football injury list before being activated. Although he had torn an ACL in a Senior Bowl practice, team insiders aren't ruling out the possibility that the fourth-round draft pick will provide a badly needed outside pass rush before this season ends. "They've been excited about him since Draft Day," said one insider.
• What has been the problem with Seahawks rookie WR Golden Tate? "He's just not refined enough," said one team insider. "It's all little things."