NFL Week 10: Pre-game notes

The latest buzz and information you need to know from locker rooms around the NFL - including the 49ers and Bears - entering Week 10 of the season.

49ERS

One of the pleasant surprises of a trying season for the struggling Niners has been the play of second-year CB Bruce Thornton, who could keep the starting job on the left side over the incumbent, Ahmed Plummer, who is coming back from an ankle injury. Thornton did a great job against Colts' WR Marvin Harrison last month and has graded out well by San Francisco coaches on a consistent basis.

If Thornton continues to play well, coaches won't just hand back the starting position to Plummer, who has been the regular starter at left cornerback for the team since his rookie season of 2000. Coaches also are anxious to see how Plummer responds to the situation and how willing he'll be to contribute as a backup cornerback and on special teams.

Chicago Bears

Most around the league believe rookie QB Kyle Orton will keep the starting job once Rex Grossman is cleared to play. Orton, who will make his ninth consecutive start Sunday against the 49ers, has done a good job of managing the game and has shown steady improvement over the course of the season.

One of the more underrated players on the team is SLB Hunter Hillenmeyer who is a full-time starter for the first time in his three-year career. Hillenmeyer has been a pretty sure tackler and has shown a solid improvement in pass coverage.

Arizona Cardinals

The team is pretty much decimated by injury at the receiver position heading in to Sunday's game at Detroit with two out of their top three players out. Anquan Boldin (knee) could return within the next two games but is out for Sunday. No. 3 man Bryant Johnson (shoulder) isn't expected to play which leaves untested WR Reggie Newhouse, who was released by the team earlier this season only to re-sign recently, and rookie WR LaRon McCoy as the only other options.

Baltimore Ravens

How bad has it gotten for second-year WR Clarence Moore? He began the season as a starter but after dropping too many passes and not always running the correct routes, he has been inactive the last five games and there is no sign that he'll be re-involved in the passing game the rest of the season.

Buffalo Bills

Coming out of their bye, look for rookie WR Roscoe Parrish to be more involved in the passing game going forward. He had a terrific training camp before he broke his wrist. Players said he was next to impossible to cover in the slot.

Carolina Panthers

The team is very pleased with the development of second-year TE Michael Gaines who has supplanted third-year TE Mike Seidman for the No. 2 role. Gaines came in to the league from a small school program and was very overweight. However, he showed good athletic ability in private workouts so the team selected him before the draft ended (seventh round). Gaines could make his first NFL start on Sunday in place of injured starter Kris Mangum.

Detroit Lions

One of the remarkable stories during a disappointing season for the team has been the play of WR Scottie Vines. He was released prior to the season then worked out for the team during an off day on September 20. He was re-signed the following week and because of injury, has started the last two games. Over his last three games, Vines has 19 catches and had his first career 100-yard receiving game last week at Minnesota. It will be interesting to see how the team uses him once all of their name receivers get healthy.

Houston Texans

One player that has stood out on the offensive side of the ball in an otherwise dismal season has been fourth-year WR Jabar Gaffney. He's on pace for 60 catches which would be 19 more than his career high. It's a good thing that he's doing well as he's on the final year of his contract.

The Texans might be starting only one offensive lineman Sunday at the same position they began the season at. The team practiced this week with C Steve McKinney at left guard, rookie C Drew Hodgdon inside, and Milford Brown at right guard for Zach Wiegert who is out with a sprained ankle. Only right tackle Todd Wade has started at his position all season.

Jacksonville Jaguars

While he has been productive since being selected in the third round of the 2002 draft, it's unlikely that the team will re-sign SLB Akin Ayodele after this season. The Jaguars acquired 49ers' OLB Jamie Winborn before the trading deadline, and he appears destined to eventually replace Ayodele.

Minnesota Vikings

Look for the coaches to continue to have RBs Michael Bennett and Mewelde Moore split playing time as they did last week. Bennett, who ran for close to 1,300 yards in 2002, hasn't been used much this season but has looked better in practice recently. Bennett ran quite well last week against Detroit and the coaches believe the two backs could provide a pretty good one-two punch against opposing defenses.

Philadelphia Eagles One of the keys for the team in Monday night's contest against Dallas will be the play of new starting lineman Jamaal Jackson. He has yet to play in a regular season game and will face a Dallas team that brings with them a pretty stout 3-4 scheme.

Another test will be for new starting WR Reggie Brown who is coming off a solid debut last week against Washington. Brown faces one of the better secondaries in the league and look for the Cowboys to get physical with him.

Seattle Seahawks

A player to watch is rookie LB LeRoy Hill who is slated to start for Jamie Sharper on Sunday on the strong side. Hill impressed practice observers with his performance during Senior Bowl week so much so that he jumped from a middle round pick to the third round. Hill started on the weak side for D.D. Lewis last week.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

While many are pointing to the demise of their running game to the injuries suffered by rookie Cadillac Williams, those who have watched the team's game film say the play of the offensive line has really waned in recent weeks. Many of their linemen are getting beat at the point of attack and, in some instances, are getting dominated, something that was evident during the Bucs' 15-10 loss to the 49ers on Oct. 30.


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