Here are some Whispers we've been hearing from our sources around the AFC:
• One positive early in Ravens camp: third-year OLB Sergio Kindle has shown some promise. If Kindle can give the Ravens any sort of contribution on defense after his struggles in his first two NFL seasons, it would be a positive. Kindle missed his rookie season after suffering a head injury in a fall and played sparingly a season ago. “He seems to have his balance back from what we saw in college, and he’s done a great job of learning the defense,” head coach John Harbaugh said, noting that Kindle’s “quickness is back.”
• Two Dolphins special-teams contributors are making their case to see the field at wide receiver. We heard that both Roberto Wallace and Julius Pruitt impressed observers in spring practice, and they caught a teammate’s eye at the opening of training camp. “Two guys that are definitely getting their fair shot,” CB Sean Smith said of the pair, according to the Palm Beach Post. Wallace has the size (6-4, 222 pounds) and Pruitt has always impressed in practice, but neither has shown much as a receiver in regular-season games.
• Rex Ryan lauded the offseason work of third-year OL Vladimir Ducasse in the spring, and training camp opened with Ducasse competing at left guard with Matt Slauson, who has started every game for Gang Green over the past two seasons. The trade for OT Jeff Otah, who, when healthy, will challenge Wayne Hunter at right tackle, indicates that the team believes Ducasse, who once was considered a candidate to play some tackle, is best utilized inside.
• For the second summer in a row, Bills DE Shawne Merriman feels healthy and is looking to make an impact. With Mario Williams and Mark Anderson aboard, there isn’t nearly as much pressure on Merriman to spark the team’s pass rush as existed last preseason. Merriman will play with his hand in the dirt in the team’s 4-3 defense. If Merriman can stay healthy — a big ‘if’ considering he has played only eight games the past three seasons — his largest contributions would likely come as a situational pass rusher.
• When Chiefs first-round NT Dontari Poe reported to camp, he found someone in front of him. Anthony Toribo was the starter ahead of Poe, a designation likely used as a motivation tactic by head coach Romeo Crennel, who is quite aware of Poe’s college reputation of not always playing to his talent level and athleticism. But it’s not the entire story, either. Toribo has impressed Crennel with his technique and just might carve out a defined role in the defensive rotation, even after Poe beats him out for a starting spot eventually.
• One Broncos player we hear is under pressure this summer is second-year ORT Orlando Franklin, who was an effective run blocker but allowed eight sacks and had four holding penalties as a rookie. Veteran Ryan Harris, who did not play last year but has 34 career starts with Denver, could push Franklin, as the O-line needs to be very stout protecting Peyton Manning.
• Arguably no Texans rookie has received more attention this offseason than third-round OG Brandon Brooks, who will battle with veteran Antoine Caldwell for the starting ORG spot vacated by Mike Brisiel. Brooks is an impressive athlete, and if he keeps his weight in check, the Texans think he has a very bright future. After being ripped publicly by head coach Gary Kubiak in the club’s June minicamp for being overweight, Brooks turned heads by appearing for training camp nearly 20 pounds lighter, prompting Kubiak to say “he is a totally different animal.”
• The Titans’ acquisition of veteran S Aaron Francisco, who was out of the league last season after starting 12 games for the Colts in 2010, was a solid move, the way we hear it. Francisco is a dependable special-teams player who provides much-needed depth behind starters Michael Griffin and Jordan Babineaux. The club likes what it has seen this offseason out of Robert Johnson, who could see time in the dime package, but the extent of his NFL experience is three games on special teams at the end of last season.
• The progress of Colts second-year OL Ben Ijalana will be an important situation to monitor throughout training camp. Ijalana has the versatility to play guard and tackle, and he will battle with Joe Reitz for the starting left guard spot. (He also potentially could figure in at right tackle, if free-agent acquisition Winston Justice falters.) However, Ijalana is less than a year removed from a torn left ACL, and his health could have a big impact on the production and depth of the unit.
• If the Ravens decide to go with Michael Oher at left tackle, second-round rookie Kelechi Osemele would be a prime candidate to get the call at right tackle, the way we hear it. “Obviously, he is in the mix,” Ravens head coach John Harbaugh told reporters of the Iowa State product. “We drafted him for a reason. We were jumping up and down when he was still on the board. So, we will just let it play out, but obviously, we think he’s going to be a really good player.”
• Early in training camp, Browns head coach Pat Shurmur had an interesting take on how he has grown into the job in his second NFL season. Early in camp a year ago, Shurmur said, “I was watching numbers walk by. Now as I watch a guy walk by, I know his wife. I talked to him this morning. I know what he did last year. I know how to push his buttons. I know how he responds to adversity. It’s a whole different year from that standpoint and I feel more confident about how they function together.”