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Finnegan hurts chances of receiving big contract

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By PFW staff

Following are whispers we've been hearing from around the AFC:

• Titans CB Cortland Finnegan's unannounced departure from training camp the first week of August hurt his credibility with the club, the way we hear it. It's not impossible that Finnegan and the Titans still could come to an agreement on a new long-term deal, but Finnegan is going to have to lower his demands before progress can be made.

• First-round DE J.J. Watt wasted little time impressing team observers at Texans camp. We hear Watt has been very disruptive, batting down passes and making a living in the backfield. "This kid is going to be special," a source close to the team said.

• One of the most intriguing position battles developing in Jaguars camp is at left guard, where free-agent acquisition Jason Spitz is trying to hold off rookie Will Rackley. Although Spitz was listed as the starter on Jacksonville's first unofficial depth chart, we hear it is Rackley's job to lose.

• Titans new offensive coordinator Chris Palmer said recently that veteran QB Matt Hasselbeck has struggled to grasp the new playbook. Don't read too much into it, though, according to a source close to the team. "They're not paying Hasselbeck $9 million this season to be a backup," said the source. "[Rookie Jake] Locker's time will come, but the Titans are Hasselbeck's team this season."

• The Colts have a number of undrafted rookies who are competing for roster spots. One player to keep an eye on is former TCU C Jake Kirkpatrick. Word is the 2010 Rimington Trophy winner has made a strong early impression in camp.

Justin Houston, the Chiefs' third-round pick in April, was drafted to be a pass-rushing complement to Tamba Hali at outside linebacker. So far, however, Houston has shown none of those skills. The rookie missed a week of camp because of a contract holdout, then showed up out of shape and unmotivated. Character and work-ethic concerns caused Houston — whom some considered a first-round talent — to drop in the draft. Now the Chiefs are learning why.

• The Raiders are using the preseason to experiment with different formations, especially in their secondary. In one set, CB Chris Johnson is subbed out, SS Tyvon Branch moves to corner and reserve Stevie Brown comes in at safety. Brown opened some eyes in 2010, as he always seemed to be around the ball when he came into the game, and the team is looking for a way to get his playmaking skills on the field more often.

• Special teams were a disaster for the Chargers in 2010, and because of that, the team brought in a new coordinator for the unit this season. Rich Bisaccia is taking players from both the offense and defense to form his coverage and return teams, calling the third phase of the game the "We-fense." A source said the group is spirited in practice and is eager to show its improvement this season.

• Last season, the Patriots had a few undrafted rookies make an impact on their defense — Kyle Love, Dane Fletcher and Sergio Brown. This year's candidate could be OLB Jeff Tarpinian out of Iowa, who has gotten a lot of attention at camp. If he makes the team, look for Tarpinian to make his mark on special teams.

• Bills fans didn't get a chance to see LB Danny Batten in his rookie season, as he began his career on injured reserve. Assistant head coach/ILBs coach Dave Wannstedt said Batten has brought a lot of energy to training camp. "He should be a core special-teams guy for us," Wannstedt told PFW. "With his physicality, he can play over a tight end and move to the outside with some pass-rushing abilities."

• The Jets did not re-sign S James Ihedigbo, and we hear that second-year pro Emanuel Cook will be counted on to step in and fill his role as a reserve safety and core special-teams player. Cook played in four games last season and recorded a forced fumble. Meanwhile, Ihedigbo tied for the team lead in special-teams tackles.

• We hear that Dolphins seventh-round CB Jimmy Wilson has been impressive in camp. He is physical and has been laying the lumber in practice. Wilson is expected to make the 53-man roster and should contribute on special teams and factor in as a backup nickel back.

• One interesting position to watch in Cleveland as cuts loom: tight end. The Browns have three keepers in Benjamin Watson, Evan Moore and rookie Jordan Cameron, but the fourth tight end on the depth chart, Alex Smith, has had a nice summer, the way we hear it. Smith, 29, has 133 career receptions, and it's reasonable to think he could be better than the third TE option on other teams if he were released. That said, the Browns did keep four tight ends a season ago, including Smith.

• One AFC North team that could need help at tight end, the way we hear it, is Pittsburgh. The Steelers lost Matt Spaeth, who started in two-TE sets, in free agency. The club added ex-Buccaneer John Gilmore via free agency and also had ex-Bengal Reggie Kelly, noted for his blocking, in for a visit, though he didn't sign.

• After a wave of personnel losses, the Ravens don't look as deep as they did a season ago, with quarterback, center and offensive tackle among the positions where the depth is somewhat unproven. However, it's not all bad news on the depth front. For example, the Ravens' secondary looks reasonably deep. The addition of ex-Texan Bernard Pollard bolsters the safety depth. Also, we're told reserve CB Cary Williams, listed as the third-stringer on the right side, is having another solid summer. 

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