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Panthers expect Otah to return to dominance

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Posted Sept. 24, 2011 @ 6:18 p.m. ET
By PFW staff

Following are whispers that we've been hearing from around the NFC:

• Panthers ORT Jeff Otah missed all of last season and, heading into Week Three, hadn't played a full game since early December 2009. We hear the Panthers are very confident, though, that the 2008 first-round pick will return to being a dominant player. They're expecting him to help boost their rushing offense vs. the Jaguars if he returns, as expected, from a concussion he suffered in the season opener.

• The Saints' receiving corps has been hindered by injuries, as Marques Colston and Lance Moore have each missed time. Devery Henderson, who was rumored to be a potential cap casualty during the offseason, has stepped up and been highly productive in their absence. Numbers haven't always done justice to Henderson's value to the Saints. He can play all three WR positions, and the team isn't having any second thoughts about its decision to keep him this offseason.

• Buccaneers FS Tanard Jackson was eligible to file for reinstatement from his indefinite suspension for a third failed drug test one year after the suspension began. That date — Sept. 22 — has come and gone, and Jackson is still suspended. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told PFW that there would be no further comment from the league on Jackson until his status changes.

• There was only one change on the Falcons' coaching staff from last season — Bob Bratkowski, the former Bengals offensive coordinator, replaced Bill Musgrave, who served as assistant head coach/quarterbacks before leaving to become the Vikings' offensive coordinator. The Falcons value stability on their staff and haven't made many changes since Mike Smith was hired in 2008. We hear Bratkowski, who has been an NFL assistant since 1992 and assisted on the college level before that, has impressed players with his knowledge of the offense, and he's fit in well.

• Redskins rookie WR Leonard Hankerson has been making some progress, we hear, and could be elevated to the active, 46-man game-day roster in due time. His biggest issues? Focus, consistency, concentration and working on the little things. Hankerson has real NFL ability, more than previous WR flameouts Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas, and could be a factor someday.

• The Giants' fallback plan at punt returner, now that Aaron Ross has been named the first option there, is rookie Jerrel Jernigan. Ross has very limited NFL experience handling punts, having done it just part time in 2010, but he's considered the safer option than Jernigan, who had a case of the yips in the preseason.

• Cowboys rookie OLB Bruce Carter, who was placed on reserve/non-football injury (torn ACL), expects to be cleared to practice in Week Eight. Carter's addition could add some electricity to the defense, which could use another athlete in the front seven to rush the passer.

• Don't be surprised if the Packers use some of their reported $7.6 million in salary-cap space to nail down a new deal sooner than later for WR Jordy Nelson, a free agent at the end of the season who appears to have picked up right where he left off last season in the Super Bowl.

• With only one fullback on the Packers' roster (John Kuhn), the prospect of NT B.J. Raji pitching in more on offense in short-yardage situations, a la former Bear behemoth William "Refrigerator" Perry, is certainly intriguing. But team insiders don't see Raji being overburdened any more than he already is with DE Mike Neal out indefinitely.

• Lions DT Nick Fairley returned to practice on Sept. 23, two days before Detroit played at Minnesota. Fairley missed most of training camp and all of the preseason because of a broken foot, and he has yet to appear in a regular-season game. "It's the first step. (He's) still got a long way to go, but there are steps along the way, and this is one of them," Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said upon Fairley's return to practice. One personnel man well-versed about Detroit's personnel told PFW he wasn't surprised the Lions have started 2011 so strongly, and he noted that Fairley's eventual return would further strengthen an already stout front four.

• Expect the Vikings to dial back the playing time of rookie DT Christian Ballard now that Kevin Williams is back in the lineup. Ballard had been on the nickel unit, but he was providing very little pass rush and could use more seasoning, we hear.

• We hear the Seahawks' decision to bench former first-round draft pick LB Aaron Curry in favor of fourth-round rookie K.J. Wright is as much due to the excellent instincts Wright has displayed as Curry's repeated shortcomings. It's looking as though Curry, whose playmaking failures have become a sore subject in Seattle, could be a long shot to return next season.

• Cardinals DT Darnell Dockett admitted this offseason that he might be more effective with fewer snaps this season. We hear veteran newcomers Nick Eason and Vonnie Holliday, each of whom can still make a big play on occasion, have indeed helped to keep Dockett a little fresher. "Eason wasn't at his best vs. Washington, but along with the rookie (David) Carter, they've done an OK job," said one daily team observer.  

• While WR Greg Salas has been thrust into a bigger role for the Rams in place of the injured Danny Amendola, fellow rookie Austin Pettis appears riveted to the inactive list for now. "He's doing better every week," Rams offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said of the third-round rookie. "I think we've seen him really grow and mature in his performance against the defense when he's on the scout team."

• We hear Shawntae Spencer, who has had an injured hamstring and is not considered in sufficient game-day shape, faces an uphill battle reclaiming the 49ers' starting RCB job from either Tarell Brown or Tramaine Brock. Brock had interceptions in each of the first two games, but he also had a bad breakdown on a 53-yard TD catch by Cowboys WR Miles Austin in Week Two.

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