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NFC Whispers

Cowboys RB Jones appears ready to break out

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By PFW staff

We go around the NFC, relating the Whispers we've been hearing:

• The same NFL personnel director who said NT Jay Ratliff was overpaid feels that Cowboys RB Felix Jones could be ready for his breakout season. "I saw a different guy in the preseason," the director said. "Big but not too big now. (He) looks fast, too. I saw better running through and after contact. I am not sure about the (offensive) line, and Jones has been a walking hamstring injury, but there just seems to be a different burst and drive there now."

• Although DeSean Jackson's contract certainly is big news, don't forget about that of Eagles RB LeSean McCoy. There has been more speculation recently about McCoy perhaps being a more important cog in the offense, which is much the way the Eagles felt when they had both Terrell Owens and Brian Westbrook. They chose to pay the more versatile back, and a big season out of McCoy this year could lead to a similar decision if it comes down to keeping one over the other.
• All reports from the Giants indicate that RB Brandon Jacobs is ready to have another great season. He finished strong down the stretch in 2010 and appears to be in even better shape this time around. The team is expecting big results from him and believes he could even push fumble-prone Ahmad Bradshaw for some carries.
• The Eagles don't think they'll be setting WR Steve Smith back by having him play right away to start the season. They believe his knee stability is good and that he will be able to contribute readily through the season, although clearly his play count would increase the more he shows early on.

• Lions RB Maurice Morris, listed as the top backup to Jahvid Best on the depth chart, will have "the same role" as he did a season ago, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said this week, according to the club. Also, the absence of rookie RB Mikel Leshoure "probably extends" the playing time Morris will get. Morris had 115 touches (90 carries, 25 catches) in 14 games in 2010.

• The way we hear it, the Vikings are pleased with their defensive line, despite the free-agent loss of DE Ray Edwards and the early departure of DT Kevin Williams, who is sitting out this week and next with a suspension. Letroy Guion, an annual tease, has stepped up in the preseason. Rookie Christian Ballard has looked like he can contribute. Remi Ayodele has been a nice addition. It might not be a dominant unit, but it could be a very solid one.

• Arguably the toughest spot to nail down on the Packers' final 53-man roster was the No. 6 CB role, which came down to a spirited battle between former second-round pick Patrick Lee and Josh Gordy. Despite the fact Gordy has better speed, team insiders believe Lee beat out Gorgy on the strength of Lee's solid performance in the preseason finale vs. the Chiefs.

• The Panthers made some changes at defensive end following the preseason, releasing Everette Brown and claiming George Selvie off waivers from the Rams. Carolina is still lacking quality depth behind starters Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson, though, and sources say the team is looking to add a veteran free agent after Week One, when contracts do not have to be guaranteed for the full year. Former Saint Alex Brown has history with Ron Rivera dating back to their days with the Bears, and Carolina is a potential landing spot for him.

Josh Freeman could be counted among the league's elite quarterbacks if he improves off of last season's performance, and there's already been some talk that the Buccaneers will approach him about a contract extension, even though he's signed through 2013. Tampa Bay has plenty of cap room, but it's no certainty that Freeman will be eager to sign an extension any time soon. His value could be greatly enhanced in a year or two.

• There was speculation in the offseason that the Buccaneers might release C Jeff Faine, who missed 12 starts over the previous two seasons because of injuries. He's still Tampa Bay's starting center, however, and team observers say there are no signs of lingering health issues or declining performance. There was no serious challenger for his job in the preseason.

• We hear the odds are strong that the Rams plan on using recently re-signed WR Mark Clayton immediately when he becomes eligible to come off the physically-unable-to-perform list six weeks into the season. "The Rams have an early bye (in Week Five), so he could miss only five games," one team insider said of Clayton, who made an immediate impact after being obtained in a trade from the Ravens six days before last season's opener (career-high 10 catches for 119 yards). "It gives the offense a real security blanket."

• Early concerns about the Seahawks' depth at linebacker seem to have subsided due to the strong play of rookies K.J. Wright and Malcolm Smith in the middle and on the weak side, respectively. "They just might have themselves future starters in both those guys," said one daily team observer. "Smith is explosive and can close. (LB coach) Ken Norton thinks he has the intangibles to be a great one. Wright has good size and has shown he can make all the calls inside like Lofa Tatupu did."

• Our Cardinals sources agree that the team's biggest surprise by a wide margin this offseason was sixth-round rookie David Carter, who has performed much better than expected as the backup nose tackle behind 2010 first-round pick Dan Williams. "All indications were he would be just a developmental guy," said one daily team observer of Carter, who also has made his presence felt backing up at end. "He's not really built for the nose. But he played very well in the preseason there."

• We hear the Niners couldn't be more pleased with NT Ian Williams, one of two undrafted free agents (DT Demarcus Dobbs was the other) to make the final roster. "They like him a lot," one daily team observer said of Williams. "He didn't flash in preseason games the way Dobbs did, but he's very stout. He created a lot of free movement for the linebackers behind him, like Larry Grant." Grant, who is back with the Niners for a second go-around after being picked up from the Rams, has also greatly exceeded expectations, according to our sources.

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