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AFC Whispers

Dolphins expected to seek pass rusher to pair with Wake

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By PFW staff

Following are some whispers that we've been hearing from around the AFC:

• With OLB Jason Taylor's decision to retire comes another offseason in which adding a pass-rushing outside linebacker is a priority for the Dolphins. Assuming they remain in the 3-4, the Dolphins could use an edge rusher opposite OLB Cameron Wake. Second-year pro OLB Koa Misi showed some strides but proved better against the run. Taylor recorded seven sacks in his final season and Miami could look to the draft to replace his production.

• SS Brian Dawkins' neck injury has limited his playing time in recent weeks, but the veteran doesn't believe it will force him to retire when the Broncos' playoff run is over. A team source told PFW that the safety feels that he has recovered from worse injuries and that the injury will not impact his decision to return or not in 2012. He may retire, per the source, but it will not be because of the neck issue.

• There could be an interesting training-camp battle between Chargers PKs Nate Kaeding and Nick Novak. Both players are under contract for 2012 and have shown that they can kick at a high level. Kaeding, who was injured on the opening kickoff of the 2011 season, told a team source he believes he should get his job back when his torn ACL fully heals. However, Novak was impressive as his replacement, is cheaper and doesn't have the baggage of playoff disappointments that Kaeding carries with him.

• After a few years with dips in his production, Raiders DT Tommy Kelly has now posted consecutive seasons with seven or more sacks. We hear he has improved his conditioning and has greatly benefitted from playing alongside DT Richard Seymour. Kelly has also become more a vocal presence in the Oakland locker room and is well-respected by his teammates.

• Because he doesn't play to CB Brandon Flowers' level, we hear it is unrealistic to expect Chiefs CB Brandon Carr to receive a contract similar to Flowers'. Flowers signed a five-year, $50 million contract last September. However, Carr is well-respected by Kansas City's front office and he's likely to receive an extension. The team is pleased with the cornerback duo of Carr and Flowers.

• The center position has been a revolving door for the Patriots all season, ever since they lost veteran Dan Koppen in the season opener. Four different players have started there this season: Koppen, Ryan Wendell, Dan Connolly and Nick McDonald. We hear that the team wants Connolly to start, and he has started the last two games, but Wendell has replaced him at times. Connolly is a superior run blocker, while Wendell is good at pass blocking. Ideally, in the playoffs, Connolly would bring the consistency the position requires.

• One of the many facets of the game that dropped off for the Jets this season was special teams. PK Nick Folk had a solid season and KR Joe McKnight was one of the league's best returners, but the Jets had six special-teams fumbles. P T.J. Conley, who joined a host of players who have punted for Gang Green since 2001, when Mike Westhoff took over, was 20th in the league with his 38.8-yard net punting average.

• One of the big free-agent decisions facing the Jaguars this offseason is PK Josh Scobee. Scobee, 29, is coming off by far the best season of his career and is likely to draw interest around the league. Will the Jaguars let him get away? We hear Jacksonville would like to resign Scobee — and it is likely to make an offer — but don't forget the direction the Jaguars went last season with their punter. They invested all their energy revamping the "D" while allowing Adam Podlesh to escape. It wouldn't be shocking if Scobee escaped similarly, as Jacksonville's main priority this offseason will be bolstering the WR corps.
• The Texans ride into their first-ever postseason on a three-game slide. They are relatively green in terms of postseason experience, with only 14 players having been to the big dance. It might sound like Houston is lacking confidence. Think again. Word is the Texans are extremely confident they can regain the form they displayed during their seven-game winning streak that stretched from Oct. 23 through Dec. 11. Remember, this is new to a lot of the players, but the coaching staff has a wealth of postseason experience.
• Titans head coach Mike Munchak went into the season confident his O-line would be one of the team's strengths. He was half right. Tennessee's pass protection was exceptional in 2011, allowing just 24 sacks — tied for second-best in the league. But the blocking in the running game was too inconsistent, making it quite possible that the same five guys won't be starting next season. The Titans love their tackles — it is the interior that might need upgrading. With ORG Jake Scott an unrestricted free agent who could be on the way out, keep an eye on 26-year-old Fernando Velasco, whom we hear the club is high on.

Mike Logan has a unique perspective on Steelers S Ryan Mundy, who will start for Ryan Clark at Denver on Sunday. Like Mundy, Logan played collegiately at West Virginia, and he has also played safety in Dick LeBeau's scheme. Logan told PFW that Mundy, who's in his third season with Pittsburgh, has become more confident in himself and his style of play. "What I think he's gotten better at is just belief in himself," said Logan, who played 10 NFL seasons, including six with Pittsburgh (2001-06). Said Logan of Mundy: "You see him in position. You see him in close proximity to wide receivers." Clark, who will miss the Denver game because of potential health risks from playing at high altitude due to sickle-cell trait, is a vital part of the defense. Clark, Logan said, is entrusted to cover up any mistakes made by other players. Moreover, Clark has to be aware of what the daring SS Troy Polamalu is doing on a given play. "He doesn't know where Troy is going to be," Logan said. Mundy, while learning from Polamalu and Clark, has his own style, Logan said, and he hasn't tried to be who he isn't. That will be key on Sunday, Logan said. "I think the biggest challenge for Ryan Mundy is just playing his game," he noted.

• Browns GM Tom Heckert said RB Brandon Jackson, who missed the season with turf toe, is "ready to go for 2012." Heckert told the Cleveland media that Jackson had passed a physical. Jackson's return will bolster the Browns' RB depth entering next season.



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