Here are some whispers we've been hearing from around the NFL:
• Following the release of Lawrence Vickers in March, James Casey is the Texans’ definite starter at fullback heading into 2012. Casey lost his starting job to Vickers early in 2011 after suffering a pectoral injury, and the running game was at its best with Vickers, not Casey, opening holes. One source close to the situation stated flat-out that keeping Casey at fullback is a mistake. The source said that because Casey has the best hands on the team, the Texans will lose out on a lot of production he could provide in the receiving game if he were the club’s replacement for Joel Dreessen as its No. 2 tight end. At fullback, Casey is not a natural lead blocker and he is unlikely to hold up for 16 games, we hear.
• The Titans need new leadership to emerge on defense after longtime CB Cortland Finnegan, who was a team captain, left for St. Louis. We hear head coach Mike Munchak may not have to leave the CB group to find guys who are ready to take on a larger leadership role. Jason McCourty, one of the team’s steadier players in 2011, and Alterraun Verner, who will replace Finnegan, are two strong candidates who stand out. In fact, McCourty and Verner were ready to take on more last season but deferred to Finnegan, who, despite being a captain, was somewhat of a polarizing figure in the locker room.
• It seems like Jeff Ireland picked a good year for the Dolphins to be in need of a wide receiver. After trading Brandon Marshall to the Bears, Miami is very thin at the position. Brian Hartline and Davone Bess are dependable starters, but neither is a “No. 1” wideout. Clyde Gates has upside, and the team will see what it has in Roberto Wallace and Marlon Moore, but clearly an upgrade is needed for Joe Philbin’s offense, and Ireland is confident about the deep WR group in the draft. “I’ll have a pretty good stack at receiver throughout my board. I can tell you that,” Ireland told reporters on Thursday. “I think it’s a pretty good position this year, to be honest with you.” The Dolphins have some flexibility with back-to-back picks in the third round and could get some help at receiver with one of their first three picks.
• With Iowa OT Riley Reiff’s draft stock slipping a bit, one position that the Bills could consider at No. 10, in addition to linebacker and wide receiver, is cornerback. The depth at corner was tested last year because of injuries to Terrence McGee and Aaron Williams. Leodis McKelvin struggled and eventually lost his starting job, and Drayton Florence was penalty-prone. “When Terrence is healthy, he’s as good as any of them. Hopefully he’ll get through this year healthy, but we’ve still got to (add a receiver) — we can’t get caught,” GM Buddy Nix told reporters Wednesday. “I don’t want to get us in a position that we were in last year and the year before. If we get one hurt, it’s a big drop-off. You lose the ability to compete.” The Bills fell from third in the league in passing yards allowed in 2010 to 19th last season. We hear the club remains very optimistic about Williams’ future, but the Bills are expected to add talent and depth at corner at some point in the draft. Defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt would want a physical, fluid, instinctive corner, and Alabama’s Dre Kirkpatrick would be a possibility if they decide to go for a cover man in the first round.
• At his pre-draft press conference, Browns GM Tom Heckert indicated that defensive end “probably wouldn’t be a big deal for us” early in the draft after the addition of DEs Frostee Rucker and Juqua Parker in free agency.
• There is speculation that the Chiefs will take an offensive guard early in the NFL draft. The team has recently gone young up front, replacing OLG Brian Waters with Jon Asamoah last offseason and C Casey Wiegmann with Rodney Hudson for the 2012 campaign. The next in line to be replaced is ORG Ryan Lilja, who has started 30 games for the team the last two years. If the team can find an impact player who can improve the line while getting younger up front, GM Scott Pioli won't be afraid to make the pick.
• Expect the Broncos to be in a lot of shootouts this season. The addition of QB Peyton Manning improves the Denver offense, but the schedule shows a lot of tough matchups for a rebuilding Broncos secondary. The team faces three Super Bowl-winning QBs in Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady and Drew Brees. They also are set to face seven other QBs who have made the Pro Bowl at least once in their careers, including two games apiece with Chargers QB Philip Rivers, Raiders QB Carson Palmer and Chiefs QB Matt Cassel.
• The Bears added another player to compete at guard this week, signing 49ers castoff Chilo Rachal to a one-year deal. A heated training-camp battle could be in store for starting spots at the position, with Rachal joining several viable contenders. Chris Williams, who started at left guard last season, will be returning from injury, and Chris Spencer, who started 14 games at right guard and played through a broken hand last season, is entering his contract year. Edwin Williams provides versatility and starting experience, as does Lance Louis — one NFL evaluator told PFW he thinks Louis has the potential to be the best of the bunch and bring a mean streak the Bears could use up front. “(Louis is) feisty and physical,” our source said. “He fights tooth and nail.”
• Lions GM Martin Mayhew said at his pre-draft press conference that RB Jahvid Best (concussion) has been participating in offseason workouts. “From what I understand, he’s doing everything as far as conditioning and working out with everybody,” Mayhew said.
• Don’t rule out Niners OL Alex Boone, who has been widely projected as a valuable backup swing tackle, as a candidate for the team’s starting job at right guard, which opened up after Adam Snyder signed with the division-rival Cardinals. Head coach Jim Harbaugh said earlier this week that Boone and second-year pros Daniel Kilgore and Mike Person were all in the mix at the position entering the draft. Considering that all three players played mostly tackle in college, we hear that the odds are stronger than ever that the Niners will spend at least one of their picks on a pure guard.
• Our sources in St. Louis aren’t wavering in their belief that the Rams are planning on drafting a defensive tackle to start alongside free-agent addition Kendall Langford. “They feel there are eight to 10 guys available (who are) capable of starting right away,” one source told PFW. As for ex-Eagle Trevor Laws, who recently signed a one-year deal with the Rams, we hear he shapes up as a strong candidate to become the team’s No. 3 DT.
• Rams head coach Jeff Fisher likes what he’s seen from ex-Saint Jo-Lonn Dunbar, who we hear is probably the best bet to become the starting strong-slide linebacker — at least entering the draft. “He played very well in the system and he’s played all three positions in the system, so that gives us flexibility there,” said Fisher. “We can plug him wherever, and right now he’s an asset as the defense goes in because he has a good understanding of it.”
• Rams veteran RB Steven Jackson has been impressed in the early going by new RB coach Ben Sirmans, who coached running backs at Boston College the past four seasons. “Great classroom guy. He knows the position, he knows the game of football,” Jackson said. “Like any guy that’s in his first year, you’ve got to fill out the difference between collegiate football and professional football, but being with me, we could both feed off of each other.”
• Sources told a Seattle-based radio station earlier this week that Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll was contacted by University of Arkansas officials about the school’s head-coaching opening following the dismissal of Bobby Petrino but that Carroll turned them down.
• Although Seahawks WR Sidney Rice, who is on the mend from surgeries on both shoulders, was not expected to practice in the team’s offseason minicamps, GM John Schneider told the local media earlier this week that “this is the healthiest he’s going to be since he’s been a professional.”
• QB Kevin Kolb told our Cardinals sources that he didn’t feel normal following the concussion he suffered on Dec. 11, which forced him to miss the final three games in 2011, until more than three weeks after the season ended.