Here are the latest Whispers we're hearing from our sources throughout the AFC:
• Much is made about the Steelers’ age on defense, and it’s logical to believe they could add a little more youth to that side of the ball next offseason, most likely in the draft, where Pittsburgh usually does its business. However, the way we hear it, don’t overlook the potential for the Steelers to have some real needs on offense should WR Mike Wallace and RB Rashard Mendenhall depart in free agency. Both players face uncertain futures in Pittsburgh beyond this season. Mendenhall was benched, then suspended for a game, while Wallace hasn’t been especially consistent. Nevertheless, both have their strengths, and were they to leave, the Steelers would be weaker at those positions. Wallace’s deep speed is his calling card, and Mendenhall brings some playmaking ability to the RB group. It’s something to ponder for those looking ahead to 2013.
• One of the major positives for the Ravens’ defense of late has been the play of OLB Paul Kruger. The way we hear it, there is a feeling the Ravens have really figured out how to best utilize Kruger, who has been a real pass-rushing threat of late.
• Micheal Spurlock rejoined the Chargers and came out of nowhere to be a key piece to their win in Week 14, catching seven passes — six for first downs. Spurlock’s teammate, Malcom Floyd, wasn’t surprised. “Spurlock, I can’t believe he’s been released by a few teams here and there,” Floyd told PFW. “He’s a great athlete.”
• Bills GM Buddy Nix keeps dropping hints of the team’s draft strategies for April, reiterating the need for a quarterback. During an interview on Friday with WGR-AM in Buffalo, Nix also mentioned adding a big, physical, outside receiver, and the possibility of moving Stevie Johnson to the slot. Johnson is known for his route-running abilities and told reporters Friday that the slot “seems like easy money for me.”
• Broncos LB D.J. Williams came back from suspension at a convenient time, as Wesley Woodyard has been battling an ankle injury that kept him out of the team’s Week 14 contest. Woodyard, originally considered a stopgap for Williams, has exceeded expectations. Woodyard has been a tackling machine, but there wasn’t much of a drop-off with Williams back in the lineup, showing Denver’s depth in the front seven.
• The Patriots used their short-term injured reserve designation on free-agent acquisition TE Visanthe Shiancoe, showing the team had some plans of using him. But Shiancoe contributed little once he was activated, and he was released last week. One observer pointed out that with Michael Hoomanawanui and Daniel Fells being better blockers, Shiancoe became expendable when the Patriots became thin at wideout.
• Though RB Donald Brown’s season is over after he was placed on injured reserve earlier this week with an ankle injury, we hear his stint in Indianapolis likely isn’t. The coaching staff likes Brown, a first-round pick in 2009, and we hear he will likely have a chance to return for the final year of his rookie deal. Brown doesn’t get the consistent chunk plays one might expect from a back of his pedigree — and interim head coach Bruce Arians hasn’t been shy about his affinity for rookie Vick Ballard — but Brown still gives the Colts’ backfield something it otherwise lacks: home run potential every time he touches the ball.
• After narrowly missing the postseason in 2011, the Titans set out last offseason with two main objectives: bolstering both the interior of the offensive line and the pass-rushing production off the edges. Once Tennessee’s hugely disappointing 2012 campaign wraps up, we hear it will enter the offseason with the exact same goals. OLG Steve Hutchinson, before being placed on injured reserve earlier this month, was “mediocre at best,” according to a source, and he is obviously not part of the club’s long-term plans. DRE Kamerion Wimbley has been far too inconsistent, and the Titans still need help in that department. As we mentioned earlier in the season, the onus for these players not panning out falls much more on owner Bud Adams, who forced GM Ruston Webster and head coach Mike Munchak to abandon their preferred free-agent targets while pursuing Broncos QB Peyton Manning.