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NFC Whispers

Despite errors, Bucs' Talib remains key playmaker

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By PFW staff

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

• Buccaneers CB Aqib Talib has dropped at least a few would-be interceptions this season. He committed a foolish facemask penalty in Week Seven on a third-down play that gave the Bears a fresh set of downs deep in Tampa Bay territory with the Bucs trailing by three late in the game. He makes some bad mistakes, but he's still one of the top playmakers on the Bucs' defense, and his job is very secure, we hear. The Bucs put him on the opposition's No. 1 receiver, if the team has one, when Tampa Bay is in man coverage.

• Panthers LB Thomas Davis recently indicated he would be willing to restructure his contract after the season to stay with the team. It's believed that he won't have any other choice but to accept a modified, and likely incentive-laden, contract to remain a Panther after tearing the ACL in his right knee in Week Two for the third time in 23 months.

• The Panthers have until Nov. 9 to decide whether to activate fourth-round pick Brandon Hogan from the physically-unable-to-perform list. He's been practicing for the past couple of weeks, but we hear the team feels there's no need to rush him back from the torn ACL he's been recovering from since December. There were serious question marks surrounding Hogan during the evaluation process before the draft because of his injury history and some character concerns. Yet, the Panthers were willing to take a chance on him, and the team felt it had a disciplined structure in place that would benefit Hogan. If healthy, he has the potential to compete for a starting spot in 2012.

• The Falcons are happy with their roster heading into the second half of the season, but they have very little salary-cap flexibility to make additions if injuries make them necessary. Atlanta has extended the contracts of core players during the season in the past under GM Thomas Dimitroff, and they could do so in the coming weeks to help clear some cap space and lock up key contributors before the start of 2012 free agency.

• The Cowboys believe in CB Orlando Scandrick and think he will do a fine job in Mike Jenkins' place while he's healing from a hamstring injury. Truth be told, Scandrick is more consistent and versatile, able to cover in the slot as well as on either side of the defense. It's very likely that he and Jenkins will start next season, as Terence Newman might not return. Jenkins almost didn't come back this season.

• Eagles rookie C Jason Kelce received a lot of guff for his snap into his own backside against the Cowboys, but our observers say that Kelce really has been a more consistent performer in recent weeks after a shaky start to the season. He has run-blocked well, learned the line calls and done a good job of keeping Michael Vick's passing lanes clean, too.

Eli Manning is having a terrific season and is starting to show the kind of resolve and leadership he did during the Giants' Super Bowl run. Does that mean that Manning will lead the Giants to another title this season? Not necessarily, of course. But it's worth noting that Manning, who often doesn't get much credit for his toughness and leadership, is perhaps having his finest all-around season and is doing his best to keep the Giants on top.

• Our Redskins sources say that the team's claiming of Tashard Choice is not indicative of disappointment for rookie Evan Royster, who is on the practice squad. Rather, the thinking appears to be that Choice offers a little more experience as a pass blocker and can play special teams. Royster still very well could get a chance for a promotion to the 53-man roster by season's end.

• For what it's worth, Packers veteran OLT Chad Clifton is telling team insiders that there is "no way" he will not be returning to action at some point this season. That said, word is Clifton, who has missed three straight games with an injured hamstring, could still have a ways to go in his recovery. On the other side of the ball, we hear DE Mike Neal, who has yet to play this season due to a knee injury, is further along in his recovery but still not quite back to full strength.

• TE Kyle Rudolph is starting to exhibit the kind of receiving skill that the Vikings envisioned when they made him a second-round pick, and if he continues to grow, it will lead to the team allowing Visanthe Shiancoe to walk as a free agent.

• Not enough due has been given to Vikings DE Everson Griffen for his terrific special-teams play. The second-year player, who weighs in at nearly 270 pounds, has been all over the field as a coverage player and blocker, even serving as the team's gunner. He has been fantastic in any role that coordinator Mike Priefer has asked of Griffen.

• Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh on the improvement he's seen in second-year O-line starters Anthony Davis and PFW Midseason All-Pro Mike Iupati: "I think definitely we've seen improvement in Mike and Anthony. The thing the team likes about both those guys, they don't roam the hallways as prima donna No. 1 picks. They're in early, they're staying late — doing all the things that allows them to have improvement."

• Very quietly, it appears Leon Washington has replaced Justin Forsett as the Seahawks' No. 2 running back behind Marshawn Lynch, whose chronic back problem was not common knowledge. One daily team observer tells us Lynch is constantly undergoing rigorous stretching routines in practice.

• Is Cardinals assistant head coach/offensive line Russ Grimm in any way to blame for the subpar play of the offensive line? "The fans certainly are blaming him," said one source on the scene. "He's had a reputation as one of the better O-line coaches in the league, but aside from (C Lyle) Sendlein, he hasn't really developed anyone."

• The Rams are once again thanking their lucky stars that versatile OL Adam Goldberg, who is considered much better-suited as a sixth man than as a starter, is so effectively filling the bill at right tackle for the injured Jason Smith. "He likes playing right tackle the most," said one daily team observer. "Usually the longer he's out there, the more his liabilities show. But he's a smart player who won't back down to anybody."

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