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NFC Surprises of Summer

The SportsXchange

As NFL teams hone their rosters for the 2013 season, each will be impacted by at least one player who was a pleasant surprise of summer, or an SOS.

This includes rookies who overcame some negative issues to make a positive impression, such as Arizona rookie safety Tyrann Mathieu, who has limited his disruptive and dramatic behavior to the field.

It also includes veterans whose careers seemed to be at a turning point, which fits the case of Detroit Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley, who shed weight and blockers in impressive style this summer.

Correspondents for The Sports Xchange were asked to declare the best Surprise of the Summer for each team. Here is a look at the SOS for each team in the NFC this year (teams listed alphabetically):

ARIZONA CARDINALS -- Safety Tyrann Mathieu.

The Cardinals took a risk by drafting Mathieu in the third round. He was kicked off the LSU team last year because of multiple failed drug tests he now admits was caused by multiple failed drug tests. In his first summer in the NFL, Mathieu has stayed clean off the field. On the field, he is everywhere. He has played well through two preseason games and it appears he will be an integral part of substitute packages and perhaps more.

ATLANTA FALCONS -- Linebacker Paul Worrilow.

A walk-on at Delaware, Worrilow has been a tackling machine this offseason after signing as an undrafted rookie free agent. He led the team with six tackles and had a sack against the Ravens. He also had 11 tackles in 49 snaps against the Bengals in the preseason opener.

CAROLINA PANTHERS -- Wide receiver Armanti Edwards.

He had only five receptions in three NFL seasons, all of them last year. Edwards started the summer very much in danger of losing his roster spot and ended camp taking snaps with the first team. A couple catches in the preseason opener against the Bears helped him show he could produce when the lights came on, but that game also gave him a setback. He tweaked a hamstring that night, and he hasn't practiced since but is expected back and on the roster.

CHICAGO BEARS -- Offensive tackle Jordan Mills.

Mills came out of nowhere to emerge a favorite to take the starting right tackle spot -- or at least secure the swing tackle spot -- depending on how quickly veteran right tackle Jonathan Scott can come back from a knee injury. Mills blocked well in the running game in his starting debut against San Diego and avoided a big mistake in pass blocking.

DALLAS COWBOYS -- Running back Lance Dunbar.

The undrafted free agent rookie last year had a great offseason and took that momentum into training camp. He was literally the most impressive back throughout camp. DeMarco Murray is the unquestioned starter at the position, but Dunbar made such an impression that he earned a role as a pass catcher out of the backfield and a speedy change-of-pace back. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones compared him with former Eagles running back Brian Westbrook.

DETROIT LIONS -- Defensive tackle Nick Fairley.

When Fairley left the team after minicamp, he was maybe 10 pounds heavier than the team wanted him and the coaches challenged him to use the six-week break wisely and come back ready to prove he can stay on the field for a full season. Mission accomplished -- so far. He played at 320 pounds last season and was heavier than that after minicamp. He came back at 306 and has been a dominant player.

GREEN BAY PACKERS -- Cornerback Micah Hyde.

A fifth-round draft pick, Hyde has looked like a playmaker throughout the summer. He looks like a slot corner, a position that presumably will go back to Casey Hayward once his hamstring is healthy. Hyde has played himself into some type of role on defense to start the season --- and also is drawing consideration as a punt returner as he ran back one for a team-best 13 yards on Saturday.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS -- Wide receiver Stephen Burton.

After two seasons of disappointing play, Burton has been stronger, more decisive and impressive as a receiver and even returned a kickoff for a touchdown, although it was nullified because of a penalty. He is probably battling former quarterback Joe Webb for a fifth WR spot.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS -- Wide receiver Kenny Stills.

Stills was flying under the radar when training camp started because most observers were expecting Joe Morgan and Nick Toon to battle for the third wideout spot behind Marques Colston and Lance Moore. But Stills, a fifth-round draft pick, made the best of extra reps with the No. 1 offense because of injuries to Colston and Morgan.

NEW YORK GIANTS -- Tight end Larry Donnell.

Donnell spent his rookie season on the practice squad, so it wasn't a surprise that he received an invitation to compete for a roster spot on the final 53-man roster this year. He enhanced his chance by working as a backup fullback. He further endeared himself to teammates and coaches by playing in last week's preseason game after tweaking his knee in practice. Said coach Tom Coughlin: "His attitude really more than anything else determined that he wanted to play and he did."

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES -- Offensive lineman Allen Barbe.

Barbre was signed in January as a street free agent. Cut by Seattle last October, he hasn't played in an NFL regular-season game in two years. He was brought in as a guard and all of his reps in the spring and the early part of training camp were at guard. But when left tackle Jason Peters and backup tackle Dennis Kelly got hurt, he received an opportunity to start both of the Eagles' first two preseason games against New England and Carolina and played well.

ST. LOUIS RAMS -- Wide receiver Andrew Helmick.

Helmick, from Division II Lindenwood University, was added to the Rams' roster in the offseason after a tryout and was just considered another body for training camp. However, Helmick has made plays whenever given the chance in practice, despite missing more than a week because of a hamstring injury. He missed the preseason opener but returned Saturday against Green Bay and had a 30-yard reception.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS -- Wide receiver Chad Hall.

Hall has consistently been one of the top playmakers in practice dating to when the team acquired him late last season. He appears on track to make the team and play a significant role as the 49ers try to find other options to complement Anquan Boldin.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS -- Wide receiver Jermaine Kearse.

A second year pro, Kearse is making the most of his opportunities with receiver Percy Harvin out indefinitely after hip surgery. An undrafted rookie free agent out of the University of Washington, Kearse earned his way onto the active roster in 2012 on special teams but has looked good as a receiver in camp and returned a kickoff 107 yards for a touchdown against Denver.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS -- Running back Brian Leonard.

A free agent from the Rams who played for coach Greg Schiano at Rutgers, Leonard has been so impressive that the Bucs held him out of the second preseason game in New England to give longer looks to rookie Mike James and Peyton Hillis. He can play fullback in a two-back set and is a good pass protector and route runner to play on third down as well.

WASHINGTON REDSKINS -- Running back Roy Helu.

Helu led Washington in rushing as a rookie in 2011, but a toe injury cost him most of last season. Helu returned to full practice in late May and the former former Nebraska standout impressed in the first two preseason games -- 13 carries, 57 yards.

--Team correspondents for The Sports Xchange contributed material for this story.
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