Here are the latest Whispers we're hearing from our sources throughout the AFC:
• Injuries and a dearth of starting-caliber talent at left cornerback led the Raiders to move Michael Huff from free safety about a month ago so he could fill the void at the LCB spot. Huff initially struggled badly with the in-season position change, but the coaching staff anticipated a bumpy transition, we hear. The Raiders saw some positive signs from him in Week Six, as Huff made plays on the ball in coverage for the first time this season. The secondary continues to be a vulnerable area for the team, though, as Matt Giordano, who stepped in for Huff at free safety, is less reliable than Huff was at patrolling the back end.
• Not so fast on labeling Colts 2010 first-round OLB Jerry Hughes as a bust. While Hughes’ impact in his first two NFL seasons was virtually nonexistent, he is coming off his finest game as a pro against the Jets in Week Six, when he started in place of injured OLB Robert Mathis. Hughes logged eight tackles, including his first sack of the season and three QB hits. Word is he looked much more comfortable — and active — defending both the run and the pass, though the Colts will need much more from the athletic outside ’backer moving forward with Mathis still sidelined and OLB Dwight Freeney playing at less than 100 percent.
• Titans CB Jason McCourty, who received a contract extension in late August, has not played as well in 2012 as he did a season ago. However, it was a very encouraging development to see him step up his game in Week Six, after getting burned on an 82-yard Mike Wallace TD catch. McCourty responded by recording a big third-down pass breakup that led to a blocked punt on the next play, as well as an another pass breakup and interception right before half that resulted in a Titans field goal. McCourty never let his confidence get shaken — a quality that helped entice the team to give him his new deal, we hear.
• The Texans continue to have more than their fair share of special-teams difficulties, but it didn’t take long to notice a difference with rookie RS Keshawn Martin replacing Trindon Holliday, who simply didn’t make sound enough decisions. Martin, on the other hand, despite limited running lanes, looked sharp and assertive, and could be a weapon for the Texans’ return teams before long.
• Dolphins rookie QB Ryan Tannehill has been poised and turnover-free in the last two games, helping get Miami to 3-3 before their bye. We're told that he has the respect of his teammates, and veteran MLB Karlos Dansby said it's been like that from Day One. "He had the respect when he first came in the door," Dansby told PFW in a phone interview during the bye. "We knew he was the future of the team. … Coach (Joe) Philbin is doing a great job leading him and showing him this is how you get it done."
• The Chiefs finally feel like Peyton Hillis is ready to contribute the way they imagined when they signed him prior to the season. A high ankle sprain has kept him out recently, and when they return from the bye next week they expect him to help shoulder some of the running load, which had become too Jamaal Charles-dependent some weeks.
• We hear one thing to expect as a result of the Chargers' second-half collapses the past two weeks is to see them run the ball more with Ryan Mathews — like we saw in the first half and first drive of the second half against Denver — in an attempt to limit turnovers. Head coach Norv Turner maintained they will be aggressive and mix the run and pass, but he also didn't rule out being more conservative, based on the game. “We’re certainly going to look hard at the things that we’re having a tough time with. We’re going to limit some of the things that we’re doing. And I have to do a better job of making sure that we put things in there and that we’re calling things that have less risk," he told reporters on Oct. 16. "They may not have as big of a reward and this may not be quite the same big-play team, but we’re not going to turn the ball over."
• The Jets are working hard to get the run game going, and it looked very good against Indianapolis in Week Six. We continue to see Tony Sparano get extra blockers on the field to counter defenses that are bringing extra defenders near the line of scrimmage, whether it's reserve OT Jason Smith or TE Konrad Reuland, who we hear the team likes because of his blocking abilities. There is room for improvement, though, and getting WR Stephen Hill active in the passing game could help keep defenses from stacking the box.