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Lutui in battle to retain Cardinals' ORG job

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By PFW staff

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

• We hear Cardinals OG Deuce Lutui will have his work cut out for him retaining the starting job at right guard, as it appears the team has no problem with veteran Rex Hadnot manning the fort for the foreseeable future. Team insiders agree that Lutui is a more qualified candidate for the job when his weight is under control. But after tipping the scales at 381 pounds and being released by the Bengals, Lutui needs to get down to at least 350 in order to be seriously considered for a starting role again.

• Keep an eye on Cardinals seventh-round rookie WR DeMarco Sampson, who we hear has been making the same kind of positive impression in training camp as WR Stephen Williams did as an undrafted rookie a year ago at this time. Sampson, who has proven to be a very polished route runner, has caught everything in sight, according to sources on the scene.

• Does Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo think he will use ex-Falcon Jerious Norwood as a kick returner? "Yeah, I do," Spagnuolo said recently. "(Special-teams coordinator) Tom (McMahon) has had him before in Atlanta, so he's familiar with him. He's done that before and if he can do it here, it would be a big bonus for us."

• Our Rams insiders view newly acquired veteran CB Al Harris "as a player-coach, as much as anything," in the words of one source. When asked shortly after his arrival if he saw himself in that light, Harris responded: "Whatever they need me to do. I'm here to help win some games." Harris, a quality press corner in Green Bay until injuries began to take their toll, played under head coach Steve Spagnuolo in Philadelphia. "We were in the same meeting room," Harris said. "I was raised in this defense."

• The Niners' new No. 4 outside linebacker, free-agent addition Antwan Applewhite, offers a different dimension than Travis LaBoy, the player Applewhite is in effect replacing. "He's not as talented (as LaBoy); he's much more of a grunt," one team source said of Applewhite, who started 13 games for San Diego last season. "But he's a real grinder who's good against the run. He's big, almost 260 pounds, and he can also play on special teams."

• 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is impressed with the progress third-round rookie Chris Culliver is making at cornerback, despite having little experience at that position. "His progress has been coming good," Fangio said. "He's got good talent. He's got the body and the skills to be a corner in this league, he just has to learn to play corner. … He's got to pick up on his assignments."

• Right in line with the added size on the Seahawks' offensive line, we're told FB Michael Robinson came to camp looking a lot more imposing, checking in at 240 pounds — 17 pounds more than he weighed at the start of the offseason.

• The Seahawks' defense is in dire need of leadership with respected veterans Lofa Tatupu and Lawyer Milloy having moved on. The consistently productive David Hawthorne, who is replacing Tatupu in the middle after excelling on the weak side last season, could be the top candidate to fill a major void. " 'Heater' is one of those guys who will lead more by example, which is what Lofa did," one team insider said.

• It's conceivable one reason the Packers opted to open camp with first-round draft pick Derek Sherrod, who is considered the left tackle of the future, as the starter at left guard is because of the surprisingly strong showing at left tackle of second-year pro Marshall Newhouse so far in training camp. Newhouse, who has gained weight while losing body fat, was described by one daily team observer as "a real dancing bear out there."

• PFW recently spoke with Falcons free-agent addition DE Ray Edwards and asked him for his first impression of head coach Mike Smith. "He's a stand-up guy," Edwards said. "He's going to give it to you straight. There's no beating around the bush and you can respect that." Has Smith told Edwards to give up boxing, which was his lockout activity of choice this offseason? "No, he hasn't told me, 'No more boxing,' " Edwards said. "The only thing I'll say about that is stay tuned. Right now, I'm inactive."

• Saints third-round pick Martez Wilson was listed as the third-string strong-side linebacker on the team's initial depth chart. The Saints don't want to rush him into game situations before he's ready, but observers say he's making a push to be used as at least a situational substitute. Veterans Will Herring and Clint Ingram are ahead of him on the depth chart.

• Some observers interpreted the Panthers' signing of Legedu Naanee as a challenge to second-year veteran Brandon LaFell — step up or we have a veteran whom we're comfortable playing ahead of you. With a starter, David Gettis, going down with a torn ACL in training camp, those two will battle to start at receiver opposite Steve Smith, but both are likely to see a good chunk of playing time.

• The Bears were hoping Vernon Gholston would start to show signs of living up to his potential after moving from the Jets' 3-4 defense to the Bears' 4-3. He didn't have a single sack in his three seasons with the Jets. We hear he's not showing any flashes at Bears camp, though, as he battles for a spot in the rotation at defensive end. A source called him a 50-50 shot, at best, to make the roster.

• Keep an eye on Eagles sixth-round C Jason Kelce, who has been mixing in with the starters throughout camp and could push for a starting spot right away if Jamaal Jackson is not healthy by the opener. New OL coach Howard Mudd is said to be a fan of the overachieving Kelce and has compared him to former undrafted-free-agent-turned-Pro-Bowl C Jeff Saturday, whom Mudd coached with the Colts.

• Cowboys rookie WR Dwayne Harris was a standout in the first preseason game and is making some noise to be in the receiving mix this season with an opening as the No. 3 wideout behind Miles Austin and Dez Bryant. Harris has great speed, and the coaches are working with him on finishing plays and using that speed properly. He still has work to do, but Harris has opened some eyes.

• In addition to running hard since arriving via trade from Arizona, Redskins RB Tim Hightower also has looked very stout and energetic in his blitz pickup. Because the team lost its best performer in this department — Clinton Portis — it has been excited to see Hightower take so much pride in the job so far.

• All signs point to Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul having a breakout season, whether Osi Umenyiora remains on the team or not. The flashes Pierre-Paul showed in the first half of the exhibition opener against the Panthers echoed what he has flashed in camp: a quick first step, a nose for the ball and rare athleticism. Put him in coordinator Perry Fewell's deft hands and it should translate to double-digit sacks this season.

• Vikings QB Joe Webb's athleticism is his best asset right now, and he's not cracking the top two spots this season with Donovan McNabb and Christian Ponder running first and second. But with the NFL's game-day roster increasing to 46 players (with no third-QB designation anymore), look for Webb to be sprinkled into the offensive game plan as a runner a few times a game. It's a weapon the Vikings have to consider, as they appear to be short of firepower offensively.

• There has been some sentiment that this is a make-or-break year for Lions WR Derrick Williams, but he's in a good position to make the roster and perhaps have a regular role, the way we hear it. Williams is listed as the top backup to Nate Burleson and is the Lions' No. 3 WR. The leg injury to rookie second-rounder Titus Young hasn't hurt Williams' cause to make the roster, we're told.

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