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AFC Whispers

Raiders likely to move to 3-4 defense under new coach

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By PFW staff

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

• Expect the Raiders to transform to a 3-4 defense when they hire a new head coach. Several of their top defenders — including Richard Seymour, Kamerion Wimbley and Rolando McClain — have played in the scheme during their professional or college careers. However, the team would need to find some more depth at linebacker and potentially defensive end if some of their current linemen can't make the transition from playing defensive tackle to end.

• A Chiefs starter who might be out of a first-team role next season is ILB Jovan Belcher. Despite Belcher having finished second on the team in tackles with 87, there is a belief the team will try to upgrade the spot next to star ILB Derrick Johnson next season. Brandon Siler, who was placed on I.R. in training camp, just signed a one-year extension with the team, and inside 'backer is expected to be a position the team targets in the upcoming draft. Belcher, who went undrafted out of Maine in 2009, was called "an impressive player considering where he came from" by a team insider, who also added "but Belcher just isn't very good overall."

• While a ton of credit has gone to head coach John Fox for the Broncos' successful season, more and more attention has been given to coordinators Mike McCoy and Dennis Allen recently. McCoy, who leads the offense, interviewed for the Jaguars' head-coaching job before it was given to Mike Mularkey. Allen, the defensive coordinator, spoke with the Rams about their head-coaching job before they went with Jeff Fisher. A source told PFW he wouldn't be surprised if both men eventually become head coaches some day.

• Even with both Philip Rivers and Billy Volek being over 30 years old, don't expect the Chargers to target a young quarterback this offseason. A team source said the front office is pleased with the depth at the position and won't use a draft choice or much cap space to find a younger option. There is a possibility the team could sign an undrafted rookie and develop him through the offseason and camp, giving them the option of a third QB if the player progresses.

• The Bills, who lost QB coach George Cortez to a head-coaching job with the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats, hired David Lee, the Dolphins' quarterback coach from 2008-10. Although Dolphins QB Chad Henne did not have a lot of success, Lee was well known for helping install the "Wildcat" and could look to keep it going with Brad Smith. GM Buddy Nix admitted that the need for Smith at wideout late in the season was part of the reason the team's third-down efficiency decreased. "We were going along there and running the 'Wildcat' with him and had that in," Nix said.

• With Plaxico Burress set to be an unrestricted free agent, a need could be opening at wide receiver for the Jets. Especially when you consider the case of Santonio Holmes, whom the team appears stuck with this season, but after 2012, is another story. New offensive coordinator Tony Sparano worked mainly with three wide receivers in Miami, and he has a pair of youngsters who showed upside in New York in Jeremy Kerley and Patrick Turner, the latter of whom Sparano and the Dolphins drafted in 2009. The Jets still might add to the group, but the need does not appear particularly pressing.

• It will be interesting to see how the Steelers proceed at cornerback. Yes, Ike Taylor struggled mightily in the wild-card playoff loss to Denver, but his complete body of work in 2011 was quite good, and he remains the team's top corner. The other starting spot, however, bears watching, with William Gay slated to be an unrestricted free agent. Could the Steelers go young at this spot? It's possible, the way we hear it. The Steelers like 2011 fourth-rounder Cortez Allen and 2009 third-rounder Keenan Lewis, and each stands a chance at getting a longer look next season.

• Another unit to watch in Pittsburgh is the defensive line, with longtime starting DLE Aaron Smith's future up in the air after he suffered season-ending injuries in each of the past three seasons (a total of 15 games played over that span). Also, DRE Brett Keisel (groin) and NT Casey Hampton (ACL) suffered injuries in the wild-card loss to Denver. However, there are hopes Keisel's injury isn't serious, the way we hear it. Also, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported Hampton's injury didn't necessitate surgery for the time being. We're told one key 2012 contributor could be Steve McLendon, who can play nose tackle and end.

• The progress of Bengals S Taylor Mays bears watching as he enters his third NFL season, the way we hear it. There could be an opportunity for Mays to earn more playing time in 2012 with FS Reggie Nelson a free agent and SS Chris Crocker turning 32 in March. Mays played 10 games for Cincinnati in 2011 after he was acquired from San Francisco.

• The fact that the Titans rejected the Bears' request to interview QB coach/passing game coordinator Dowell Loggains for Chicago's passing coordinator position was not a big surprise. Not only would Loggains' departure be a lateral move, but the Titans view him as a bright, young guy with a promising future. One source told PFW that Tennessee thinks Loggains will be a coordinator one day, as the players really like him and the coaches really respect him. Loggains has been doing a very nice job working with Jake Locker behind the scenes, we hear.
 
• It will be interesting to see how Colts GM Ryan Grigson and owner Jim Irsay approach the head-coaching situation. If they decide to move on from Jim Caldwell, will the new coach's offense be to QB Peyton Manning's liking? We continue to hear Manning will be back if he is healthy, but will he want to learn a brand new offense at this stage of his career? Would Irsay mandate that his new head coach keep some of the previous coaching staff in place as he did when Tony Dungy was hired (Irsay required Dungy to retain Tom Moore, Howard Mudd and Gene Huey)? These are important questions as the dominoes continue to fall in Indianapolis.

• One Jaguar who will have a spotlight shining brightly on him in 2012 is TE Marcedes Lewis. Coming off a hugely disappointing campaign, Lewis will be a focal point of the offense next season under new head coach Mike Mularkey, a former NFL tight end. We hear new offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski did not have any tight ends as dynamic as Lewis during his tenure in Cincinnati, and QB Blaine Gabbert needs all the weapons he can get. Don't be surprised if Lewis bounces back in a big way in '12.

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