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AFC Whispers

Criner could be another Raiders draft steal

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By PFW staff

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

• A season ago, the Raiders landed a steal in the fifth round of the draft in WR Denarius Moore, who averaged 18.7 yards per catch as a rookie. The team may have done it again in this year's fifth round with the selection of WR Juron Criner. According to one observer of Raiders minicamp last week, Criner was the best receiver on the field, making tough plays in traffic and fighting off defensive backs for the ball. Given his size (6-2½, 221) and strength, Criner could move up the depth chart quickly.

• The talk of a kicking competition in San Diego is just that — talk. According to one Chargers insider, the job belongs to Nate Kaeding, the most accurate placekicker in NFL history. Kaeding tore his left ACL in Week One of the 2011 season, forcing the team to sign Nick Novak as his fill-in. Both will be on the roster in training camp, but unless Kaeding has a setback in rehab before the regular season begins, he'll be the team's kicker in 2012.

• When the Jets hired Tony Sparano as offensive coordinator, we heard that his “no-nonsense” style appealed to a team looking to regain its locker room, and it hasn’t taken long for Sparano to make an impact in that regard. “He definitely runs a tighter ship than I’ve seen from anyone before, and he’s not going to let anyone slip up,” TE Dustin Keller told The Star-Ledger this week. Sparano’s simplified offense is also getting praise from players. “Everybody had a sigh of relief when we didn’t have the same amount of plays we had last year,” RB Joe McKnight told reporters. Sparano’s offense should ease the transition for rookie WR Stephen Hill and help QB Mark Sanchez. One daily team observer pointed out that former offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s offense had too many “bells and whistles.”

Willie Colon’s move from right tackle to left guard opens the door for the Steelers to potentially have two new starting guards and two new starting tackles compared to Week One a season ago. Colon stands a good chance to start at left guard, with first-round pick David DeCastro the probable favorite at right guard. Ramon Foster and Doug Legursky, who finished 2011 as the starting guards, likely will compete for reserve roles. It’s unclear how the Steelers will proceed at right tackle. Second-year OT Marcus Gilbert started much of the season on the right side after Colon suffered a season-ending triceps injury in Week One. If Gilbert stays at right tackle, rookie Mike Adams could vie to immediately start on the left side. (It’s also possible that Gilbert moves to the left side, with Adams vying for playing time on the right side.) Veteran Jonathan Scott, who began 2011 as the left tackle, could also be in the mix, but he’s probably just a short-term starting option. Max Starks, who ended last season as the left tackle, suffered an ACL injury in January and is unsigned. Any way you look at it, the Steelers’ offensive line will have a much different look in 2012, an intriguing development considering the group’s struggles in recent years.

• “He looks better and better every day,” Steelers RB Jonathan Dwyer told PFW about his position coach, Kirby Wilson, who suffered serious burns in a January fire. Wilson was able to return to work in April.

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