Following are a number of whispers we've been hearing from around the AFC:
• The Colts sent a message in Week Nine to rookie RB Delone Carter after his second fumble in three weeks, sending him to the bench. That opened the door for Donald Brown, who gained 70 yards on only 16 carries. We hear that although Brown continues to show encouraging signs, he too often reverts to old habits. Carter, whom the Colts are sky-high on, will be under the microscope in the coming weeks to see if his ball security issues have been corrected.
• The Titans are hurting in the pass-rush department, an area in which 2010 first-rounder Derrick Morgan was supposed to excel. Although Morgan has recorded only two sacks this season, a team source told PFW that he has been the club's most consistent defensive lineman this season. Among the players whom the club needs to get more from is rookie SLB Akeem Ayers. The Titans' coaching staff raved about Ayers in the offseason, talking about the variety of ways it hoped to use him. But we hear Ayers has made a minimal impact, prompting one team observer to say the second-rounder has been "just a guy."
• Texans OLB Mario Williams, on injured reserve since Week Five with a torn pectoral muscle, is a free agent at season's end. It will be interesting to see how the situation unfolds because both sides seem to have some leverage. Houston badly wants Williams back but also has seen what rookie OLB Brooks Reed is capable of in Williams' absence — four sacks and 13 tackles in Weeks 7-9.
• Bills C Eric Wood has garnered plenty of respect from around the league for his play this season, and he was the center on PFW's midseason All-Pro team. We hear that Wood is the player whom the improved O-line rallies around in Buffalo. "He can be there for 10-12 years," said one daily team observer.
• The Patriots placed FS Josh Barrett on injured reserve Nov. 9; he's a player they wanted to be a starter. To increase the depth in the secondary after the loss of Barrett, Sterling Moore was called up from the practice squad. We hear that Moore could play safety, as the Patriots have not found a consistent safety partner for Patrick Chung, and Moore, an undrafted rookie from SMU, may be the next player to get a shot in some sub packages.
• Jets second-year OL Vladimir Ducasse has played all over the O-line in the preseason and is one of two OL reserves on the roster. "I thought Vlad had a great camp," OG Brandon Moore told PFW. "I saw a growth process with the more reps and more experience he got — he wasn't making the same mistakes." Ducasse has been used in certain jumbo packages, but with a veteran offensive line, he is only an injury replacement at this point. "I expect good things from him. He's smart, he's got good feet and he just needs to build on what he had in training camp," Moore added.
• The odd man out in the Ravens' WR corps, for now, appears to be rookie Tandon Doss, who has been targeted just once this season and is listed as third-string on the depth chart. The Ravens' other third-string wideout, undrafted rookie LaQuan Williams, has played in every game, and he's been targeted 11 times. He made a pair of catches in the Ravens' win over Pittsburgh in Week Nine, including one on the Ravens' game-winning TD drive. "You are what you do in this league, and he's proven it," Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said of Williams, who's also been a regular contributor on special teams.
• Bengals WR Jerome Simpson has struggled with drops at times this season, which his position coach, James Urban, chalks up to "trying to do too much." Said Urban: "He has tremendous hands; there is no doubt about that." Simpson's problem is an age-old one, Urban said — running before securing the catch.
• Urban has been impressed with rookie QB Andy Dalton's leadership of the Bengals' offense. "He's a machine," Urban said of Dalton, whom he called "very focused but personable." Urban added that Dalton is able to offer advice to his wide receivers in a constructive way.
• For Browns defensive coordinator Dick Jauron, the effectiveness of a defense vs. the run is better determined by the opposition's yards per carry than total rushing yards gained. "I'm not concerned with total yardage, but the yards per carry, when that gets consistently out of whack, then you got issues," he told reporters this week. The Browns allowed 6.5 yards per carry at Houston and are surrendering 4.4 yards per carry on the season, which ranks in the middle tier of the league.
• Broncos DB Chris Harris has seen a major increase in playing time and production over the past few games since becoming the nickel back. The undrafted rookie earned a spot on the roster by showing toughness and confidence in training camp, and that has spilled over to the regular season. A good run defender, Harris has had no problem stepping up from his corner spot to slow down backs, registering a combined 20 tackles in Weeks Eight and Nine. His pass coverage isn't too bad either, as Harris had an interception in the Week Nine win over the Raiders.
• The Chiefs were hesitant to give WR Dwayne Bowe a long-term contract after the 2010 season and wanted to make sure he wasn't a one-year wonder before rewarding him with a new deal. With another standout season in progress, expect the team and Bowe to begin working on an extension soon.
• Chargers QB Philip Rivers said following the team's loss to the Raiders he isn't frustrated, just that he hates to lose. Yet, after throwing an interception in the endzone on a play in which it appeared WR Vincent Jackson lost the ball in the air, Rivers was visibly upset on the sideline, though it was unclear if his anger was directed at Jackson, the play call or his own throw. Rivers' total of 15 interceptions is the most in the league.
• Even when Darren McFadden returns from a foot injury, we hear that rookie Taiwan Jones will be part of the Raiders' backfield rotation. The rookie showed some impressive moves in Oakland's Week 10 win, gaining more than five yards per carry. With rare speed and athleticism, Jones will still touch the ball a few times a game despite being behind McFadden and Michael Bush on the depth chart.