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NFC Whispers

Foes' press coverage affecting Giants' receivers

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By PFW staff

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

• Giants receivers have seen a lot more press coverage in recent weeks, and it has thrown off their timing a bit. Victor Cruz has proven adept at dealing with it in terms of getting off the line, but it sometimes has slightly altered his route running, which still needs work. And Hakeem Nicks' recent spell of drops might be credited to more physical coverage at the line, throwing off his concentration and the ability to turn around and focus on passes coming his way.

• The Cowboys are likely to approach WR Laurent Robinson with a contract offer in the coming weeks. He is due to hit free agency, and the team loves what he adds as a third receiver. Much as with CB Orlando Scandrick a year ago, the team considers Robinson a core performer even though he isn't a true starter and likely will make him a fair offer to reflect that.

• The Redskins have very few offensive positions set in stone for 2012, but running back appears to be one of them. With Roy Helu, Tim Hightower and Evan Royster, the team has three capable and complementary backs who could thrive together, if healthy. Helu can be the first- and second-down option who offers pass-catching versatility; Hightower is an excellent pass protector who runs hard; and Royster has filled the need of a four-minute back who can finish off games. Collectively, they could provide very good production next season.

• Tight end might be a position the Eagles want to bolster in the offseason. They love the work of athletic TEs Brent Celek and Clay Harbor, often using them together in two-TE sets. Together, they have helped anchor a running game that has been a pleasant surprise. But the position needs some depth, and another quality blocker might be on the shopping list this offseason.

• With Ryan Grant trading places with James Starks this season as the Packers' most effective running back entering the playoffs, we hear the team suddenly might not be so willing to allow Grant to depart via free agency. With Starks and rookies Brandon Saine and Alex Green providing lots of young blood at running back, it has been assumed by many for much of the season that Grant was a strong bet to split the scene. But the renewed vigor with which he has been running lately is apparently making the team think twice.

• The Lions signed Saints practice-squad RB Joique Bell to a two-year deal in the week leading up to the season finale at Green Bay, and the way we hear it, he stands a chance to win a job in 2012. The Lions' RB depth was thinned by injuries this season, and the more able tailback candidates who are on hand in Detroit, the better.

• Don't overlook the late-season additions of Vikings RBs Caleb King and Jordan Todman to the 53-man roster as they relate to next season. The injury to Adrian Peterson, who likely will miss early-season action in 2012, would seemingly open up the need for more depth through the draft or free agency. But King and Todman will get chances to earn one of those spots behind Toby Gerhart going into the offseason. Lorenzo Booker might have run his course in Minnesota.

• We hear one of the top concerns for the Falcons heading into the postseason is their health situation at cornerback. Falcons starting LCB Brent Grimes returned in Week 16 after missing three straight games while recovering from knee surgery, but he did not practice Friday and is questionable to play in Week 17. Atlanta also placed its top nickel back, Kelvin Hayden, on injured reserve earlier this week. Second-year CB Dominique Franks has shown great improvement this season and has become the starting nickel corner with Hayden sidelined, but he's inexperienced and will be trying to prove himself in the playoffs. 

• Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris benched RB LeGarrette Blount after he mishandled a handoff from QB Josh Freeman on the Bucs' first offensive snap of their Week 16 loss to the Panthers. The loose ball was recovered by Carolina, and Morris said it was obvious that Blount wasn't prepared to play. Blount's production has dipped over the past month, and he has fumbled four times in the past five games, not including the botched handoff in Week 16. Nevertheless, we're told the team is confident that Blount's recent issues will not become long-term problems.

• Rookie Martez Wilson, a third-round pick, moved from middle linebacker, where he played in his last season at Illinois, to strong-side 'backer with the Saints, and some evaluators questioned whether his instincts would catch up with his rare athletic ability. While he's flashed at times during his rookie season, Wilson has also disappeared for long stretches and is buried on the depth chart behind Jo-Lonn Dunbar and Ramon Humber. Blitzing has been his primary responsibility when he gets playing time. He has yet to record a sack, however. Wilson had his most productive game of the season back in Week 14, when he made three tackles.

• Only Rams owner Stan Kroenke knows for sure if there is any validity to the rumors suggesting that beleaguered Chargers GM A.J. Smith and former head coaches Jon Gruden and Jeff Fisher could have their sights set on the GM and head-coaching vacancies widely expected to arise in St. Louis. However, league observers agree that the likelihood of the Rams having one of the top two picks in the upcoming draft and considerable cap space (an estimated $30 million) to work the free-agent market might make the team's head-coaching job the NFL's most attractive opening if Steve Spagnuolo is fired. "That could be a very enticing combination," a team insider told PFW.

• Even though the Seahawks have numerous other free agents they'd also like to re-sign (most notably RB Marshawn Lynch, DE Red Bryant and FB Michael Robinson), we hear the odds are strong they will re-up with MLB David Hawthorne. "But forget about him getting a huge deal after having to deal with a knee injury all year," one team source surmised.

• Even though he's played a lot better the last month or so, we hear it's still doubtful the Cardinals will re-sign free-agent OLT Levi Brown.

• Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh sounds as though he has every intention of re-signing free agent-to-be WR Josh Morgan: "He's such a great youngster," Harbaugh said of Morgan, who recently indicated he's ahead of schedule recovering from the broken right leg and ankle that prematurely ended his 2011 season. "Everybody respects him. Everybody enjoys his company. And the more he's in the building and the meetings and on the sideline, the better it is for us."

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