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Kuechly looking disruptive in run, pass 'D'

Pro Football Weekly
Wilson, Kuechly named Rookies of the Month
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Wilson, Kuechly named Rookies of the Month

Here are some Whispers we've been hearing from our sources around the NFL:

• We hear Panthers rookie LB Luke Kuechly has looked very good in pass coverage through the early stages of training camp. Some team observers expected that part of his game would take longer to develop and that he would shine most vs. the run initially, but he appears ready to be disruptive in both areas right off the bat.

• The Bears re-signed Tim Jennings this offseason before going to the free-agent well to add competition for him at left corner. Early signals from training camp indicate that Jennings still has a fairly secure lead in the position battle, though. Former Colt and Falcon Kelvin Hayden, the top competitor for Jennings' job, has not stood out as much as Jennings in practice, we hear, and Hayden is the third corner on the depth chart at this point.

• There have been no signs of a sophomore slump from Buccaneers DE Adrian Clayborn in training camp after his strong first season, we hear. He already is one of the team’s most reliable defenders.

• The rest of the Redskins’ offensive line might be beset by question marks, but the good news is that OLT Trent Williams is displaying his terrific movement skills and appears to our sources to be playing some terrific football early in camp. The team is thrilled with what it has seen from him.

• The Giants are not disappointed with fourth-round TE Adrien Robinson so far, but it’s clear what he is: a project. Although Robinson has the athleticism to factor in as a “move” tight end and could make game-day active rosters as a special-teamer, he is not yet ready for prime time as a receiver — not if the early results in camp are any indication.

• The Eagles are loading up on cornerbacks in camp with the recent trade addition of Kevin Thomas, and their excellent depth could lead to a few interesting decisions when cutdown day approaches. With Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Thomas and fourth-round draft pick Brandon Boykin near certainties to make the final roster, that could leave Joselio Hanson, Trevard Lindley, Curtis Marsh, Brandon Hughes, Wade Bonner and Cliff Harris fighting for one or two roster spots.

• S Barry Church is starting to turn heads at Cowboys camp. He has consistently impressed the team brass and, as it stands early on, is ahead of Brodney Pool for a starting spot at strong safety. If Pool can’t win a starting job, he makes too much to be a reserve not likely to factor in on special teams and could get cut.

Brandon Fusco is almost certain to be the Vikings’ starting Week One right guard as things stand now. Geoff Schwartz suffered a sports hernia and will undergo surgery and miss a month minimum. Fusco, who played sparingly as a rookie after a big jump as a center from Division III Stony Brook, has shown a nasty side and could add a little snarl to a Vikings O-line that was inconsistent a year ago.

• We hear it’s still unclear how a fullback will be used in the Patriots’ offense, but it did seem to be one of the team’s focal points this offseason after adding Spencer Larsen and Tony Fiammetta. The Pats placed Fiammetta on the exempt-left squad list, leaving Larsen as the one to make the team as a No. 1 fullback. Josh McDaniels had Heath Evans as a fullback in New England during his first stint as the team’s offensive coordinator, and Larsen was with him in Denver. The Pats have used extra linemen and versatile players in the past as lead blockers, but getting more efficiency from that spot with a prototypical fullback like Larsen is still an option — late last season New England brought FB Lousaka Politeaboard.

• The Bills worked out, and reportedly offered a contract to former Jets S Jim Leonhard, who signed with Denver on Saturday. GM Buddy Nix mentioned adding another safety, as the team currently only goes three deep. No. 3 safety Da’Norris Searcy, who made some nice plays as a rookie, got a few snaps with the first team last week, as Chan Gailey mentioned the injury risk putting Searcy one play away from being a starter. George Wilson and Jairus Byrd form one of the league’s top safety duos but the Bills have made it a point to add depth, and Wilson missed three games last season, his first as a full-time starter. A veteran still could be added.

• With all the spring hype surrounding WR Eddie Royal, it’s easy to forget that second-year WR Vincent Brown remains a viable weapon for Philip Rivers. Royal has been out with a groin injury, and Brown has impressed after his first full offseason. Brown had 19 catches for 329 yards and two touchdowns last season. “He was put in a difficult situation during the lockout, but he’s had a great offseason,” QB Philip Rivers told reporters about Brown. “He’s another one of those guys, and we have a handful of them, he’s one who can play every position out there.”

• Two players who we hear have performed well in Jets camp are pass rushers Aaron Maybin and Ricky Sapp, a couple reclamation projects for Rex Ryan. Maybin had six sacks in 2011 and is trying to prove he can be a run stopper as well. Sapp has yet to appear in an NFL game. He was projected as a top-50 pick in PFW's 2010 Draft Preview, but injuries have plagued his career.

• Amid all the positive buzz surrounding the Cardinals’ up-and-coming young OLB trio of Daryl Washington, Sam Acho and O’Brien Schofield, it’s easy to overlook the contributions provided by savvy veteran OLBs Paris Lenon, who continues to start over Stewart Bradley at right inside linebacker, and Clark Haggans, who has been replaced in the starting lineup at the LOLB spot by Schofield. “You need guys like that,” Washington told PFW this week. “They’ve been here for a long time, and we need their experience and leadership. They don’t talk much and lead by example. You have to respect them.”

• We hear one new wrinkle worth keeping an eye on in the Cardinals’ offense is an intriguing four-WR package featuring Larry Fitzgerald and rookie Michael Floyd on the outside and Andre Roberts and Early Doucet in the slot. Daily team observers also tell us that offensive coordinator Mike Miller appears to be a bit more vocal on the practice field so far this offseason.

• We hear it could take quite a while to clear out the crowd competing for the Seahawks’ No. 2 WR job behind Sidney Rice. If there’s a front-runner among the six challengers for the position at last count, it would probably have to be third-year pro Golden Tate, who displayed some promising flashes late last season after Rice was placed on injured reserve. “But it’s hard to say with him,” one team insider said. “Just when you’re ready to anoint him, Tate backslides. He’s a heck of an athlete, but he still needs to work on refining his skills.” Ben Obomanu, Deon Butler, Kris Durham, Ricardo Lockette and Braylon Edwards are also competing for the No. 2 spot.

• We hear Rams fourth-year DT Darell Scott could be facing an uphill battle to make the final roster. But the news is a bit more promising for scrappy WR Brandon Gibson, who some observers believed could get squeezed out of a crowded WR corps. Word is Gibson continues to hold his own in competition for a starting WR job.

• Colts new head coach Chuck Pagano has drawn early comparisons to former Colts head coach Tony Dungy, who visited with Pagano on the eve of training camp beginning last week. We hear Pagano’s upbeat personality, which strikes a balance between firm and fun, has really struck the right chord with his players. Dungy was a player’s coach, but he always had control of his players, much like Pagano has early in his tenure.

• The training-camp battle between savvy veteran Rashean Mathis and ex-Giant Aaron Ross for the starting LCB spot has been fairly one-sided, the way we hear it. Ross’ youth and athleticism give him the clear upper hand over Mathis, who is still working his way back from a season-ending ACL injury. Mathis has made some plays in camp, however, and seems to be open to taking over the nickel job if that is the way the cards fall.

• The early reports on the health of Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles are good so far. Although he has had to overcome the mental part and learn to trust his rebuilt knee — which has required some rest along the way — we hear the Chiefs are happy with his progress to date, even though Charles isn’t quite 100 percent healthy.

• The Ravens are high on second-year CB Jimmy Smith, their 2011 first-round pick, and his upside is no secret. That said, Cary Williams, who held the starting CB job opposite of Lardarius Webb a season ago, is off to a good start at camp, the way we hear it, and he’s certainly not going to fade from the scene even if Smith makes major strides this season. We hear durability and consistency are areas in which Smith could stand to improve.

• Lions rookie CB Dwight "Bill" Bentley has had a nice start to his first training camp, head coach Jim Schwartz said. “He’s a good player,” Schwartz said of the third-round pick from Louisiana-Lafayette. “We liked him when we drafted him. You know, he’s done nothing but justify that pick. He’s been playing outside, he’s also been playing inside for us. He gets his hands on the ball. Still have a few too many sort of college interference and illegal contacts and he’s sort of working his way out of a lot of those. Got a long way to go, but he’s shown us some good things also.”

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