Here are the latest Whispers we're hearing from our sources throughout the AFC:
• Owner Bud Adams put the entire Titans organization on notice following the team's disgraceful Week Nine showing against the Bears, but we hear Adams needs to take a long look in the mirror before throwing his team under the bus again. After all, it was Adams’ offseason meddling, namely his failed pursuit of QB Peyton Manning, that prevented Tennessee’s front office from achieving its original offseason plans — shoring up both lines. Steve Hutchinson and Kamerion Wimbley, neither of whom has proven to be the answer the Titans are still in search of, were secondary targets after Manning settled on the Broncos. We will never know what the 2012 Titans would have been had they landed their top free-agent targets.
• ILB Jerrell Freeman has gone from a CFL cast-off to a defender who never comes off the field for the Colts — even with starter Pat Angerer back in the fold. That Indianapolis is rotating Angerer and Kavell Conner, two of the club’s most promising young defensive players, while keeping Freeman on the field not only indicates how well Freeman is playing — it says that the Colts view him as much more than a temporary fix. GM Ryan Grigson and head coach Chuck Pagano are really proud of finding Freeman, who they think is a keeper for the long haul.
• One question that still needs to be answered about the Texans is, “can they win games in the fourth quarter?” That has long been one of the biggest knocks on QB Matt Schaub — can he do it in crunch time? — thus it is pretty ironic that Houston has not needed to come from behind this season — or 2011, for that matter.
• Jaguars top pick Justin Blackmon has had myriad issues as a rookie, including drops and poor route running, but we hear the most troubling aspect of his struggles is that he simply can’t create adequate separation more than 8-10 yards downfield.
• One of the Chargers’ struggles this season has come on punt returns. Their 6.0-yard average in that area is one of the worst marks in the league. Eddie Royal has been injured and ineffective, and FS Eric Weddle fumbled a punt against the Chiefs. We hear that starting CB Antoine Cason has expressed a desire to return punts. He could solve their problem. In 2010, Cason averaged 16.5 yards on 14 punt returns.
• At the age of 31, Patriots DT Vince Wilfork continues to impress those around the league with his play. One daily team observer pointed out how surprising it is that Wilfork is playing at a high level despite seeing increased snaps last season. He still plays on the majority of defensive snaps and has not missed a game since 2009. Wilfork has two tackles for loss, three passes defensed and three fumble recoveries this season.
• For the first time in what could be a Hall of Fame career, questions are being raised about whether Raiders P Shane Lechler is in decline. Raiders head coach Dennis Allen said recently that he does not think the surgery Lechler underwent on his knee in the offseason has been a factor for the 36-year-old punter this season, but Lechler’s gross and net punting averages are down and he’s on pace to pin a career-low 14 punts inside the 20-yard line. Lechler is in the final year of his contract and the Raiders are said to be high on rookie P Marquette King, whom they signed to a three-year contract as an undrafted free agent in May and placed on injured reserve with a toe injury the last week of the preseason.
• Andrew Luck exposed the Dolphins’ secondary in Week Nine, and that unit took a hit this week when Miami placed CB Richard Marshall on injured reserve. Marshall began the season as the starter opposite Sean Smith, and he helped make Vontae Davis expendable. Nolan Carroll has played better than some observers expected, but is still a downgrade from Marshall at the No. 2 corner spot. Second-year DB Jimmy Wilson has been playing the nickel, and head coach Joe Philbin told reporters Thursday that Wilson’s coverage has improved and that he “has developed nicely.” Wilson and Carroll both need to elevate their play with Marshall shelved for the year.
• The Steelers’ OL depth has proven a real strength this season. Rookie ORT Mike Adams has held up well in place of Marcus Gilbert (knee), and veteran ORG Ramon Foster has filled in nicely for slated starter David DeCastro. The way we hear it, it’s unclear whether DeCastro (knee) will be back this season, but he’s a definite key part of the plans going forward, and with DeCastro, OLG Willie Colon and C Maurkice Pouncey, the Steelers would have an enviable trio along the interior of the line in 2013. Adams, meanwhile, has drawn praise for his run blocking.
• The way we hear it, one Steelers defender quietly still producing after all of these years is NT Casey Hampton. At 35, Hampton, a free agent at season’s end, has started every game, and he’s shown well.