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AFC Whispers

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By PFW staff

Here are some whispers we've been hearing from around the AFC:

• The Raiders have had success running the ball, thanks in large part to Darren McFadden, but some credit also goes to the offensive line. Team insiders believe the unit responsible for blocking is the best group the team has had in a long time. OLT Jared Veldheer has been outstanding, and some within the organization believe he has a chance to be a dominant player at the position in the coming years.
• Though he still hasn't played, the debut of Chiefs first-round pick Jonathan Baldwin will be coming soon. We hear the rookie receiver, who hurt his hand during a reported altercation with RB Thomas Jones during training camp, is close to being fully rehabbed and ready to ignite the passing game. Tensions have calmed in the K.C. locker room, as a team observer says that Baldwin has taken more to his role as a rookie since the dispute with Jones, and the team put his locker in the opposite part of the room from the veteran runners.
• Because of injuries to starting DEs Luis Castillo and Jacques Cesaire, the Chargers were forced to sign free agent Tommie Harris before their Week Four game. Harris, who made the Pro Bowl three times as a member of the Bears from 2005-07, has never played end before, always having lined up at tackle. Effort and his playing shape have been concerns in recent years, though the team believes Harris can make the transition to the five-technique because of his speed and ability to fight off blockers.
• Broncos QB Kyle Orton would like some more quick-score drives, but that hasn't happened so far. Orton said that he is pleased the team has been able to score on some 14- and 15-play drives, but "we need to find a way to steal a touchdown on a two-play drive or on a three-play drive on a big play." The quarterback added that finding WR Brandon Lloyd down the field will be a priority in the coming weeks.

• Another recurring issue for the Patriots in 2010 has reared its ugly head in 2011 — injuries on the D-line. Even with reinforcements brought in, the Patriots' depth hasn't been great. Brandon Deaderick is on the PUP list, Myron Pryor is on injured reserve and Mike Wright remains out. The Pats, to no one's surprise in New England, brought back DT Gerard Warren, who was effective last season. He should also help the D-line's pass rush, which has been ineffective this season.

• The Bills lost rookie CB Aaron Williams to an injury in their Week Three win over the Patriots. Williams, who had been getting lots of snaps, is expected to be out a while. "Aaron is a big corner. He has good size and great ball skills," SS George Wilson told PFW. "It's unfortunate that his rookie campaign is being put on pause, but he has a lot of upside, and I'm encouraged by the work he has put in so far."

• The Dolphins' linebackers and safeties struggled covering tight ends last season, and the addition of LB Kevin Burnett has yet to produce improvement in that aspect on defense. Through three games, the Dolphins have allowed 315 yards receiving and three touchdowns to opposing tight ends.

• While Steelers WR Emmanuel Sanders was targeted just 11 times in the first three games, less than three other wideouts and TE Heath Miller, a daily team observer suggests Sanders is likely to be a bigger part of the offense going forward — even with Jerricho Cotchery rejoining the crowded picture at receiver.

• Ravens WR Lee Evans (ankle) was ruled out for the Week Four game vs. the Jets, and with a bye in Week Five, he will conceivably have about three weeks to rest the injury. Asked leading up to Week Four if the injury could linger, head coach John Harbaugh replied in the affirmative because it has been an issue for this long. Said Harbaugh, "Yeah, I'm worried about it now, because it's lasted longer than I thought it would. ... I'm sure we'll have another MRI and see where it's at, but as a coach, sure, you start thinking, 'Well, what's the deal?' But we'll just have to see where it goes. I'm planning on him being back for the Houston game, but we'll have to see." Evans has dealt with the injury since late in the preseason. He played in Baltimore's first two games.

• Longtime Bengals RB coach Jim Anderson had this take on how the offense is coming along under new coordinator Jay Gruden: "Our guys have really done a great job of embracing what we do. And Jay does a great job communicating to them." Added Anderson on Gruden: "I think he keeps it fresh. And he keeps them stimulated."

• With so much of the focus on a guy who is not with the team — QB Peyton Manning — the Colts' improved run defense has been somewhat overlooked. Contributing greatly to the turnaround has been rookie three-technique Drake Nevis. Indianapolis typically brings its rookies along slowly, but Nevis has shined in place of injured starter Fili Moala (ankle). Word is Moala will have to play very well upon his return to hold off the rookie, who has been a disruptive force against the run and pass.

• Titans GM Mike Reinfeldt did an excellent job building depth on his roster this offseason, the way we hear it. For instance, signing S Jordan Babineaux has proven to be a very good move. With starter Chris Hope inactive the past two weeks, there has been very little drop-off with Babineaux in the lineup. Another great example is TE Daniel Graham, who played a pivotal role in the Titans' Week Three victory over the Broncos.

• Jaguars top CB Rashean Mathis, who, in a contract year, has rebounded in a big way so far after back-to-back disappointing campaigns, did not hide his frustration over SS Courtney Greene's recent demotion. "It's a challenge," Mathis said this week. "Just from the communication standpoint, getting used to how a certain guy plays, knowing what to expect from a certain guy, it creates a challenge. Frustrating, it can be. But then you have to come back to the reality of NFL football and understand this is the game that we play."

• Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio passed the buck to offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter after the team's disappointing and ultraconservative Week Three performance offensively. It was yet another prime example of Del Rio not taking the blame for his team's struggles.

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