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NFC Whispers

Lions rookie Young carving out key role

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By PFW staff

Following are a number of whispers we've been hearing from our sources in the NFC:

• Lions rookie WR Titus Young has carved an important role in the Detroit passing game. Young averaged 15.1 yards per reception through the first four games, tops among the Lions' wideouts, and he was targeted 20 times in Weeks 2-4. We hear the speedy Young has QB Matthew Stafford's confidence.

• Green Bay's defense might not be playing as well as it did last season, but one veteran starter who daily team observers believe is playing better than he did in 2010 is DL Ryan Pickett. After playing strictly at left end last season, Pickett is playing a lot more on the nose, which is a much more comfortable position for him. Word is he is also benefiting from being a few pounds lighter this season.

• Despite the Vikings' early-season troubles, FS Husain Abdullah has had a nice go of things so far. He has been instinctive and continues to make progress from last season, when he was unexpectedly thrust into a starting role. The team likes his range and anticipatory skills.

• The Bears had LBs Keaton Kristick and Pisa Tinoisamoa, who spent the previous two seasons with the Bears, in for tryouts this week but didn't sign either player. Both of them are still available if the Bears do decide they want to add depth at one of their thinner positions. The team has addressed the depth issue at linebacker by moving undrafted rookie Winston Venable from backup safety to third-string strong-side linebacker. At 210 pounds, Venable is very undersized for the position, but he's a physical player.

Laurent Robinson has pushed aside Kevin Ogletree on the Cowboys' WR pecking order. Despite being in town only a short time, Robinson has been far more effective at getting open and earning yards after the catch, quickly earning QB Tony Romo's trust.

• Redskins RS Brandon Banks has leveled off quite a bit. Since his 35-yard punt return in Week Two, he has not had a return longer than 10 yards and has one fumble and one negative return. On kickoffs, he has been similarly quiet — only two returns longer than 25 yards this season and a long of 31. We hear it's not a confidence thing, but he might be pressing the issue a little too much, trying to hit a home run. That pressure likely comes from the fact that the Redskins keep Banks on the roster despite using him almost exclusively as a returner.

• Expect to see a lot more shuffling on the Eagles' defensive front in the next few weeks until DEs Trent Cole (calf) and Brandon Graham (knee) are possibly back in the fold. With DT Antonio Dixon out for the season, you could see more of Trevor Laws and recently re-signed Derek Landri rotating inside, and Cullen Jenkins could pinch down inside, if needed. Jason Babin also can play both DE spots, although he primarily has rushed off the left side in the early going.

• Could DE Justin Tuck be out until Week Seven, after the Giants' bye? His neck injury hasn't healed the way he had hoped, after limiting him to playing in two of the first four games. Our sources say his frustration has been evident but that Tuck might be willing to sacrifice in the short term to get his neck right and be healthy down the stretch.

• It's still expected that Drew Brees; his agent, Tom Condon; and the Saints will eventually come to an agreement on a long-term contract, but it doesn't appear that much progress is being made in negotiations. Sources say the pace of talks has slowed and the Saints don't appear to be feeling a sense of urgency to get a deal done before the offseason.

• Safety could be one of the positions the Buccaneers pay close attention to during preparation for next year's draft. The Bucs have shrewdly rebuilt their front seven and added weapons for QB Josh Freeman in drafts over the past couple of years. However, with the often-injured Cody Grimm out for the season and Tanard Jackson serving an indefinite suspension, the Bucs do not have a safety whom they drafted on the active roster. Tampa Bay hasn't spent a pick earlier than a fifth-rounder on a safety since it selected Sabby Piscitelli, who was cut by the Bucs in the middle of last season, in the second round in 2007. Their fifth-round pick this year, S Ahmad Black, didn't make the roster out of camp but is on the practice squad.

• Falcons FS Thomas DeCoud has started two straight games since having been demoted from the starting lineup in Week Two, and he made an interception in each of those two starts, giving him more picks than he had all of last season (one), when he started 16 games. We hear James Sanders, who started ahead of DeCoud at free safety in Week Two, will continue to see a fair share of snaps each week and will rotate in at both free and strong safety, where William Moore starts.

• Our sources on the scene in St. Louis tell us the team has not quite reached a full panic mode after a disastrous start that few predicted. "I can tell you for a fact, though, that (owner) Stan Kroenke is not happy with what's happening," one team insider told PFW. "The team has been just so uncompetitive. But if they somehow can get to 2-5 (while being) in the NFC West, there's still some hope."

• We hear there could be more than the swelling problems in P Dave Zastudil's knee behind the Cardinals' decision to re-sign Ben Graham, the team's punter the previous three seasons. Team insiders agree Zastudil has been far from an upgrade to Graham, who was much more consistent. "(Zastudil) had two 50-yard punts against the Giants but also a 30-plus punt and a low 40-yarder that helped set up the Giants' winning TD," said one insider. "You also have to wonder if him being the holder was the reason (PK) Jay Feely missed three of his first four field goals."

• Our Seahawks sources tell us the team is hopeful that sidelined OLG Robert Gallery, who has been a nonfactor up to now, will be fully recovered from his groin injury in time for the Oct. 23 game in Cleveland one week after the team's bye.

• Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh on the musical-chairs situation that has developed at right guard between Adam Snyder, who is currently starting, and 2010 starter Chilo Rachal: "There is no right guard controversy in football that I'm aware of. I mean, I could understand a QB controversy ... but I don't think there's a guard controversy."

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