49ers LB Grant 'playing out of his mind'

Posted Dec. 24, 2011 @ 12:35 p.m.
Posted By PFW staff

Following are a number of whispers we've been hearing from around the NFC:

• Niners ILB Larry Grant's off-the-charts play in place of the injured Patrick Willis (four pass breakups vs. the Steelers) continues to draw praise. "He's been playing out of his mind," said one team source. "I think it helps that he's surrounded by really good players."

• DE Raheem Brock registered nine sacks for the Seahawks in 2010 and was particularly potent down the stretch. But before busting loose for a pair of sacks in the Week 15 win in Chicago, Brock had been a relative nonfactor (only one sack). "The coaches kept telling him that on film he was just missing, and that he needed to stay patient, to keep doing what he was doing, and that it would come," said one daily team observer. What's sure to come, we hear, in the next Seahawks draft, is a third pass rusher. "Raheem and (Chris) Clemons are the only two they got," the observer said.  

• While Patrick Peterson has wasted no time becoming a punt-return terror for the Cardinals, LaRod Stephens- Howling hasn't been nearly as effective returning kickoffs this season as he has been in the past. "I think he really misses Kenny Iwebema," said one daily team observer. "He threw quite a few key blocks out of the wedge for LaRod. Deeper kickoffs could also be making a difference.

• We continue to hear from our Rams insiders that, at the very least, owner Stan Kroenke will be hiring a team president that will report only to him to oversee the organization after this season. "But it might not be a football guy," one source told PFW. "It could be somebody recruited from his other business enterprises."

• We hear the Packers are leaning toward not playing ORT Bryan Bulaga, who left the Week 15 loss to the Chiefs with a knee injury, in the regular-season finale vs. the Lions. As for OLT Chad Clifton, who has been out since Week Six with a hamstring injury and has recently also been battling a back ailment, the word is there is an outside chance he could see some action vs. Detroit.

• Lions QB Matthew Stafford has thrown more than twice as many TDs (33) as interceptions (14), and head coach Jim Schwartz said there's a logical explanation for most of his picks. "His interceptions this year have very rarely been from a bad decision," he said this week. "They've either been from a tipped ball, an inaccurate pass, or a situation in the game where you couldn't make a good decision. You know, you're down 17 points to Chicago on the road, and it's windy, and you can't afford to take a check down, you got to throw the ball up."

• The nickelback position, manned by Chris Owens last season, was a spot the Packers targeted with great success in their blowout playoff win over the Falcons, and the Falcons have had to shuffle players in and out of that spot this season with Kelvin Hayden, their top nickelback, out since Week 12 due to injury. Second-year veteran Dominique Franks, not Owens, has emerged as the top backup to Hayden at the position and is getting a shot to show he deserves more playing time. He's impressed the coaching staff in practice, we hear.

• Titans WR Nate Washington called Saints SS Roman Harper a dirty player after the two teams met earlier this month. Harper was fined $22,500 by the league for the helmet-to-helmet hit and facemask penalties he was called for in that game, and Vikings RB Adrian Peterson made similar charges after playing the Saints in Week 15, saying that CB Jabari Greer was trying to twist the same ankle Peterson had sprained a few weeks earlier. We're told the Saints don't want the word "dirty" being attached to them, but they don't mind the reputation. The team's only concern is that the allegations might be leading officials to call their games more closely than they would otherwise.

• NFL Network cameras caused a bit of a stir when Buccaneers GM Mark Dominik was shown wearing a headset in the coaches booth during the Bucs' loss to the Cowboys in Week 15. Head coach Raheem Morris was asked about why Dominik wears the headset earlier this week. Morris said Dominik gives him information about injured players for both teams and also offers advice on whether to challenge rulings on the field. We're told Dominik has been doing that throughout this season and did so in prior years as well.

• Bears SS Major Wright will head into his third season still looking to put to rest doubts about his dependability. He has been in and out of the lineup, never playing more than five games in a row without missing one due to the several different injuries he's dealt with this season. Injuries kept him out for all but one game in the preseason of his rookie year, and he went on to miss five games during the regular season in 2010. There's a lot to like about what Wright can provide — he's tied for the team lead with three interceptions — but durability is a huge question mark for him.

• The Giants are quietly concerned that Osi Umenyiora will not be healthy for the final week of the season and the playoffs, if they make them. He has missed time recently with ankle and knee injuries, and the progress has been slow. The Giants have tried to survive defensively without Umenyiora, and even though he's their third-best end right now, the defensive shortcomings have been alarming and Umenyiora's addition could help.

• The Giants also are concerned about the confidence of rookie CB Prince Amukamara, but they share some of the blame for his development. They tried to throw him right into the mix after he got healthy, and the results have been very mixed. His biggest struggles have come on deep passes, as Amukamara has appeared to be thinking too much in the scheme and not merely reacting and trusting what he is seeing.

• Eagles TE Brent Celek has had a career season after a slow start. Critics said Michael Vick had far less interest in checking down to tight ends than Donovan McNabb did, but Vick has shown a lot of trust in Celek as he has shown he can separate from man coverage and find cushions in zone. The coaches have designed game plans around his skills and have made him a staple in the offense with teams focusing on LeSean McCoy and the outside weapons.

• The Redskins have shown an amazing amount of confidence for Willie Smith, replacing OLT Trent Williams (suspension), by having him go up against Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul and Vikings DE Jared Allen two straight weeks. They think Smith has the toughness and work ethic to handle the tough assignments, and he could project to a swing backup for next season.

• The Vikings are likely to have two (or more) new tight ends next season. Free agents Visanthe Shiancoe and Jim Kleinsasser could be heading into the final game of their Vikings careers in Week 17, as the team is not likely to re-sign either. Shiancoe can still play, but he is likely to command more money than the Vikings, who have more pressing needs elsewhere, can afford to pay.