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NFC Whispers

Changes coming to Falcons' O-line?

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By PFW staff

We've been hearing the following whispers from around the NFC:

• The Falcons are considering their options, including personnel changes, on the offensive line after a poor first few games, particularly in pass protection, by the front five. OLT Sam Baker's hold on his starting job is the most tenuous of all the starting O-linemen, we hear.

Garrett Hartley will not attempt a field goal for the Saints this season, but we hear he still has the team's confidence. Hartley was placed on injured reserve Sept. 27 after missing the first three games with a hip injury he suffered in the third preseason game. John Kasay, whom the Saints signed after Hartley suffered his injury, has yet to miss a field goal this season, and the team is very happy with him, but Kasay is viewed as a one-year rental. Hartley signed a long-term contract before the lockout.

• Saints WR Marques Colston, who is in the final year of a three-year contract, signed a shorter extension with the Saints in 2008 with the hope he would get another chance to sign a contract while he was still in his prime. His start to this season — he broke his collarbone in Week One and missed the next two games — hasn't been ideal, but the Saints fared well without him. It's something the team will likely keep in mind when it comes time to negotiate his next deal.

• There's been a major adjustment for the Panthers' offensive linemen this season, changing schemes and going from a run-heavy offense to throwing more than 62 percent of the time. C Ryan Kalil recently told PFW that his familiarity with his fellow O-linemen has been key to making that transition a smooth one. The only new starter is Geoff Hangartner at right guard, and he's no stranger to Kalil or the Panthers, having played for them from 2005-08. "It makes it easier when you know the guys you are playing next to, and it's easier to communicate and adjust," Kalil said.

• Keep an eye on Redskins reserve OLB Rob Jackson, who still needs to find the ball better and improve on his run defense, but he is emerging as a part-time playmaker. Jackson has a nose for the ball and could see his role expand slightly in certain packages.

• Giants LB Michael Boley is off to a great start, much as he was two seasons ago in a different scheme. Last season, Boley's play leveled off, but insiders credit Boley's improved familiarity with coordinator Perry Fewell's scheme as a big reason why his play has improved this year. Boley is a run-and-chase linebacker who is taking advantage of an aggressive system to make more plays than he has in more than a season.

• The Cowboys have been banged up in the secondary, but defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has gotten the most out of the unit. The safeties no longer are a shortcoming as they were last season, and CB Mike Jenkins is playing at a level far closer to his Pro Bowl 2009 season than during his major struggles last season.

• It was only a matter of time before Nate Allen, who started 13 games last season and looked mostly good as a rookie, replaced Kurt Coleman in the starting lineup. Coleman's suspect tackling and range and Allen's improved confidence coming off a knee injury were the key factors that allowed the Eagles to make that switch this week.

Chris Cooley did an admirable job at fullback in the loss to the Cowboys, and it shows that he still has a viable and valuable role on the Redskins. Once FB Darrel Young is healthy — and it could be in Week Four — Cooley will return to more of an in-line TE role.

• The Bears showed great confidence in Kellen Davis this offseason, trading away Greg Olsen and making Davis their starter at tight end. Davis has great size, but he's been exposed in one-on-one blocking situations this season, and that's a weakness that is difficult to overcome in Mike Martz's offense, in which tight ends are asked to block so frequently.

• Packers DE Mike Neal, who underwent surgery in mid-September to remove torn cartilage from his left knee, has been telling our sources he is on course for a return to practice by the end of October. Neal said the swelling in his knee immediately started to go down after the surgery and that he does not plan on wearing any kind of a protective brace when he does return. Ideally, he should be ready to play again in the Nov. 6 game at San Diego, a week after the team's bye.

• The Lions' special-teams coverage has had its problems early in the season. The Buccaneers' Sammie Stroughter broke a long kickoff return in Week One, and the Lions surrendered at least 10 yards on four of Marcus Sherels' punt returns in Week Three at Minnesota. Said head coach Jim Schwartz about the coverage: "Our defense has done a good job of putting fires out, and we can't count on that continuing. We have good talent there (in coverage) and we have good specialists."

• The Vikings are using Everson Griffen, an athletic big man, at linebacker as well as defensive end when they employ three-man lines. Although they have not featured this formation a ton, it has been effective in small doses. One reason is that Griffen is very nimble for a 273-pound end.

• The word out of the desert is that the main reason Cardinals second-year LB O'Brien Schofield has not seen as much action as our sources thought he might is that his problems grasping new defensive coordinator Ray Horton's system are offsetting his promising pass-rush skills. We hear it's likely rookie Sam Acho, who has proven to be a much quicker study, could get more playing time in the coming weeks than Schofield.

• Looking for a reason not to rule out a turnaround by beleaguered Seahawks OLB Aaron Curry? Look no further than fellow OLB Leroy Hill, who has been playing like his old self on the weak side after having seemingly been as good as gone a year ago at this time. Said one daily team observer: "I think (Hill) fully realizes that he has been given one last chance to turn things around, and he's making the most out of it."

• A huge early problem for the Rams has been dropped passes, as just about every receiver has had problems holding on to the ball. The Rams' wide receivers aren't garnering much respect leaguewide. "If they offered to trade their entire group of wide receivers to another team in need of help at the position, there would be no takers," one NFL personnel director told PFW.

• Don't get too comfortable with Niners rookie Bruce Miller as a replacement for the injured Moran Norris (fibula) as the starting fullback just yet. "(Miller) is not bad as a lead blocker, which is Norris' strength, and he's much more of a threat to make a play out of the backfield," said one daily team observer. "But he still needs to improve his blitz pickup."

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