Here are some Whispers we've been hearing from our sources around the NFC:
• It’s looking more and more as if Felix Jones will be in his final season with the Cowboys. The oft-injured running back now appears to have lost his biggest asset — his burst through the hole. Jones has ceded a starting job to DeMarco Murray and though he’s in no real danger of being cut, Jones could fall behind Phillip Tanner, who appears to have locked up a roster spot.
• Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has been a strong proponent of King Dunlap for a few years now, so it shouldn’t be shocking that Dunlap is starting ahead of Demetress Bell at left tackle right. “King has played well when he’s had the chance,” Mornhinweg told PFW. “He knows the scheme well, too. Demetress, he’s still learning it. He has really good feet, but he’s got to get everything down.”
• There is growing concern about the health of Giants OLT Will Beatty’s back, but the team has several options to replace him if needed. Dave Diehl can move from right tackle to left, where he played down the stretch last season. Sean Locklear can step in at either OT position, now that he’s working at left tackle in practice. Kevin Boothe is versatile, too. The Giants really want Beatty healthy because they like him a lot, but the depth up front allows them to be cautious.
• Redskins TE Niles Paul has made a fairly nice transition from wide receiver and now appears to be a pretty solid bet to make the 53-man roster. Although his receiving skills outpace his blocking ability right now, Paul has done a good job as an in-line tight end and has started to release better from a three-point stance. He told PFW that he is just now starting to feel comfortable at the position. “This week I have turned the corner a little bit,” Paul said. “I just have been getting my feet under me better. Every day I pick up a little more.”
• The Vikings are seeking a starting wide receiver opposite Percy Harvin for the first three games while Jerome Simpson (suspension) sits. The answer has yet to emerge. Michael Jenkins took a paycut to stick with the team, but he has not had a great preseason. Neither has Devin Aromashodu. Could second-year WRs Stephen Burton or Emmanuel Arceneaux or rookie Jarius Wright be considered there? Possibly, although the team instead could opt for more “22” personnel — two running backs, two tight ends and one wide receiver — to fit their power-running style.
• Lions DE Willie Young had the following to say about DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, whose work ethic is widely praised: “I don’t know if you’ve ever seen Vanden Bosch practice, but from the time he enters the building to the time he leaves, he’s full-speed. … He obviously sets the tempo, and it’s nothing like it.”
• With Cedric Benson wasting no time establishing himself as the Packers’ new No. 1 running back, we hear James Starks, who continues to have big problems staying healthy — he is currently sidelined with turf toe — could be in real danger of getting cut. Both Alex Green, who is in the early stages of regaining the explosiveness he possessed before tearing his ACL last October, and Brandon Saine, who is versatile and does not make mistakes, look like better bets to stick around than Starks.
• Of the Packers’ eight draft choices, we hear the most likely to get released is fifth-round LB Terrell Manning, who could have a real tough time beating out Robert Francois, Jamari Lattimore and Brad Jones for a backup ILB job.
• So much for an ongoing position battle for the Rams’ starting ORT job between struggling incumbent Jason Smith and ex-Chief Barry Richardson. “After taking all the first-team reps three weeks in a row, I think it’s Richardson’s job to lose,” one team insider said. As for the starting OLG job, we hear it could be only a matter of time before fifth-round rookie Rokevious Watkins, who showed up out of shape this offseason much to the dismay of head coach Jeff Fisher, overtakes free-agent addition Quinn Ojinnaka. “They think Watkins could be physically imposing,” the insider said, “especially as a run blocker.”
• While the dominant story line on the Bears’ offensive line is the ups and downs of OLT J’Marcus Webb, OLG Chris Spencer is having his share of issues as well, including some very poor stretches in the preseason. Spencer’s backup, Chilo Rachal, has shown improvement after a slow start to camp, but we hear the team still wants Spencer to be the starter at left guard. The Bears are not ready to write him off.
• We hear the Bears are very happy with the way DE Israel Idonije has performed in training camp and the preseason. Idonije is still the starting left end, but his role has changed since last season. He has been moving inside to three-technique in the nickel package to clear a spot at left end for rookie Shea McClellin, and the team is optimistic about the push Idonije can provide from the interior.
• We hear it’s unlikely the Rams would consider cutting second-year WR Greg Salas while fellow WR Austin Pettis serves the remaining two games of his four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy. But when Pettis returns in Week Three, don’t be stunned if Salas gets a pink slip.
• Despite the fact that Seahawks seventh-round rookie J.R. Sweezy, a converted defensive tackle, has reportedly knocked assistant head coach/offensive line Tom Cable’s socks off with his “phenomenal” work at right guard, we hear 2011 third-rounder John Moffitt, who is on the mend from elbow surgery, will be back as the starting right guard in Week One.
• We hear the Seahawks are likely to keep Doug Baldwin, the team’s leading receiver last season, in moth balls the entire preseason while he recovers from a hamstring injury.
• Nobody in the desert is ruling out a sudden suspension for Cardinals veteran OLB Clark Haggans, even though the incident for which Haggans would possibly be suspended occurred more than a year ago during the lockout.
• It will be a big surprise if Cardinals RB William Powell doesn’t make the final 53-man roster as the team’s No. 4 back behind Beanie Wells, Ryan Williams and LaRod Stephens-Howling. Powell, who was released after training camp last season but re-signed to the practice squad last December, has looked impressive leading the team in rushing and TD this preseason — an occurrence that doesn’t bode well for either holdover Alfonso Smith or Javarris James.
• One creative offensive wrinkle we hear the 49ers might employ on occasion this season is an option package showcasing the legs of second-year QB Colin Kaepernick, who had a couple of perimeter runs after read-option fakes to rookie RB LaMichael James that were real eye-openers this preseason.
• It appears Niners second-year pro Demarcus Dobbs is making a strong case to fill a two-way role this season as a nickel defensive end on defense and tight end on offense.