Here are the latest Whispers we're hearing from our sources throughout the AFC:
• The way we hear it, don’t be surprised if Browns rookie WR Josh Gordon is the club’s clear-cut top downfield threat going forward. Gordon is a big, athletic target who can stretch the field. When the Browns are looking to take big-play shots, Gordon will be an obvious option.
• The Jaguars remain firmly committed to QB Blaine Gabbert, though if the wheels continue to fall off in the coming weeks, it will be difficult not to turn to backup Chad Henne, even if only as a way of shaking things up. GM Gene Smith’s future in Jacksonville remains securely tied to the success or failure of Gabbert, but if head coach Mike Mularkey decides Henne gives his team the best chance to win, we hear Mularkey will have the authority to make that call. Gabbert’s Week Five performance against Chicago was troubling, particularly in the second half, when his internal clock was sped up and he was overly leery of the pass rush, an issue the coaching staff worked so hard to correct — and appeared to be making progress with prior to this performance.
• Chargers veteran ILB Takeo Spikes told PFW that some of the credit for the defense’s improvement goes to the unit’s new personnel. “(Rookie OLB Melvin Ingram) has been disruptive. … Aubrayo Franklin up front (has been a) great leader as far as getting guys lined up and being able to hold down the middle, because everything starts up front with the nose in a 3-4 defense. (And OLB) Jarret Johnson, being able to depend on him. (He offers) accountability, leadership. (He's a) versatile player who can come in on third down,” Spikes said.
• Texans WR Andre Johnson and TE Owen Daniels appear to be going in different directions, the way we hear it. Daniels, on pace for his best season, looks as explosive as he has been since suffering multiple knee and lower-leg injuries several seasons ago. Meanwhile, Johnson is struggling to separate, though he says he is healthy. While it is very encouraging that Daniels, the team’s leading receiver a season ago when Johnson was on the shelf for nine games with groin injuries, is in his best form, the offense definitely needs Johnson to get back to his old ways to reach peak efficiency.
• Privately, there are some Chiefs sources that believe the team is far better than the team’s record has indicated and that once it curbs the turnovers, the record will improve. However, they are afraid to express this, we’re told, very publicly because of the recent tension that has existed with the team’s fan base.
• The Raiders certainly could use help on defense. We hear they just do not know if LB Aaron Curry, who is eligible to return to practice next week, will provide it, though. Curry has been on the PUP list with injured knees, but the team has indicated it expects him to return to practice heading into Week Seven. When he returns to practice, the Raiders will have three weeks to decide whether to activate him, waive him or shut him down by placing him on injured reserve.
• The Jets’ defense has not been the strong unit we are used to, but a bright spot has been CB Antonio Cromartie, who is the top corner in Darrelle Revis' absence. He held Texans WR Andre Johnson to one catch for 15 yards in a Week Five loss. “Quite honestly, he has that kind of athletic ability where he could be the best corner in the league,” Rex Ryan told reporters on Thursday. “I think he definitely has stepped up. I see it in the meeting rooms. He's even taken some of that leadership deal over with that back end.” One daily team observer called Cromartie the team's top performer on defense thus far this season.
• Browns DE Jabaal Sheard had only one sack in the Browns’ first five games, but defensive coordinator Dick Jauron remains high on the second-year player. Jauron told Cleveland reporters that Sheard is assignment-sound and drawing more attention from opposing defenses after a strong rookie season. “I have no problems with Jabaal Sheard and the way he plays the game,” Jauron said leading up to Week Six. “The guy is really a good football player and he’s playing at a high level. Sometimes you get the numbers and sometimes you don’t. I think the longer he plays, the better he’s going to get and his numbers will get there. I think he’s a special player and a special guy too — a great teammate, team player.”
• Steelers RB Isaac Redman had his best game of the season in Week Six at Tennessee, and his primary impact came as a pass catcher, as he racked up 105 yards on just four receptions. Redman’s power and strength are his greatest assets, and there’s some sentiment that offensive coordinator Todd Haley has started to figure out how to utilize him best. However, Redman left the Tennessee game with an ankle injury. He has had a tough season on the injury front, as he has had to deal with various ailments.
• One of the many bright spots from Indianapolis’ incredible Week Five upset of the Packers was CB Cassius Vaughn, forced into duty with Vontae Davis and former Colts nickelback Justin King inactive because of injuries. Vaughn played with great physicality, making several big open-field tackles and playing with great confidence in coverage. Word is Vaughn’s strong performance helped persuade the Colts to release King, though it is a small step for Vaughn, with the hope being that he can now string several strong performances together — both as a starter until Davis returns, and as the Colts’ nickelback afterwards.