CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- There's no question Cam Newton will start in the Carolina Panthers' Sept. 7 opener at Tampa Bay, but uncertainty lingers over who will protect him.

Royster
Scott
Chandler
Most of Carolina's 22 starters are set, but Thursday night's exhibition finale will have a big impact on who protects the ailing quarterback (fractured ribs) on the right side of the line.

Rookie right guard Trai Turner (groin) is out for the second straight game, and Chris Scott has played well enough to be considered the Week 1 starter.

Scott started eight games last season, all but one at right guard, before a knee injury forced him to miss time. His biggest issue since returning for offseason workouts has been conditioning. He's got that under control and has impressed the coaches.

"Chris has worked himself into position and we'll see how it goes," coach Ron Rivera said.

Nate Chandler began training camp in a heated battle with Byron Bell for the left tackle job. When Bell secured that spot after the Aug. 17 preseason win over Kansas City, Chandler settled in at right tackle.

However, Chandler's lingering knee injury and inconsistency as a pass blocker have opened the door for veteran Garry Williams. Chandler will start against Pittsburgh, but as Rivera reminded this is a big game for him to prove he's earned the job.

Other positions up for grab are strong side linebacker and nickel back. Veteran Chase Blackburn is the returning starter on the strong side, and he missed last week's game with a back injury. He's been pushed by A.J. Klein.

Charles Godfrey entered training camp as the leading candidate to be the nickel back, but rookie Bene' Benwikere has played well enough that both will play there at times until one earns it outright.

"There are three to six positions up for grabs," said Rivera, without being specific.

Rivera said the starters will play through the first quarter against Pittsburgh. Defensive end Charles Johnson (hamstring) will not make the trip, but end Greg Hardy (shoulder) will suit up and be evaluated before game time.

Both are expected to be ready for the opener.
METAIRIE, La. -- Austin Johnson went undrafted out of Tennessee in 2012, when he signed as a linebacker with the Baltimore Ravens.

So needless to say, it’s a bit of a surprise that Johnson now stands as the New Orleans Saints’ likely starting fullback heading into this season. But that is indeed the case after the 6-foot-2, 240-pounder has taken advantage of his opportunity to replace injured starter Erik Lorig during training camp.

[+] EnlargeAustin Johnson
AP Photo/Sam RicheAustin Johnson helped his cause to start for the Saints with a TD in last Saturday's preseason game.
Johnson’s 3-yard touchdown reception last Saturday night against the Indianapolis Colts showed off his versatility as an agile pass-catcher and a powerful hitter. Johnson drove through linebacker Erik Walden to reach the goal line.

"I like to show that I can do it all and that I'm not like a stiff, not-able-to-move fullback,” Johnson said. “You know, I can run, I can catch and I can also block. So I try to show that throughout my game."

Johnson played fullback early in his career at Tennessee before switching to linebacker. So teams looked at him in both roles as he came out of college. When he didn’t make the Ravens’ roster, the Saints later signed him the following January with the intention of switching him to fullback. He spent most of last season on New Orleans’ practice squad.

Johnson figured his best chance to crack the Saints’ roster this year would be through special teams. But when Lorig suffered a leg injury a week into practice, he became the No. 1 fullback.

The extent of Lorig’s injury is still unknown, though he hasn’t even appeared on the sidelines during practice yet. And Johnson will still have to fend off 13-year veteran fullback Greg Jones, whom the Saints signed in the wake of Lorig’s injury.

But so far, Johnson has done his best to make the decision easy for the Saints’ coaches.

"I knew nothing was going to be easy. I knew that I was going to have competition, and when they brought in Greg, I just knew I needed to keep playing well. I knew they weren’t just going to give me the starting spot,” Johnson said. “We’re still competing for that spot. And I’m just trying to go out there and show them what I can do and hopefully give them enough confidence that I can play.”

Coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees certainly had enough trust in Johnson to target him on that touchdown play Saturday -- which is no small thing, considering it was Brees’ first drive of the preseason, and he was no doubt eager to cap it off with a touchdown.

"He’s done a great job all camp. Obviously Erik Lorig going down was tough, but Austin has stepped in and done a great job whenever called upon in whatever role, whether that be the fullback position or special teams, you name it," Brees said. "He's one of those lunch-pail guys, comes to work, ready to do whatever's asked of him. He’s done that very, very well."
METAIRIE, La. -- Count Champ Bailey among those who believe New Orleans Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis is too under-appreciated.

When asked where he thinks Lewis fits in with other elite corners in the league, Bailey said, "He's up there. It just takes you guys to start talking about him now."

[+] EnlargeChamp Bailey
AP Photo/Bill HaberVeteran cornerback Champ Bailey says he has high expectations for the Saints' defense this season.
"I don't understand why he wasn't in the Pro Bowl last year, why he wasn't an All-Pro," Bailey said. "He played like one. Matching up every week (against opponents' top receivers), he was the guy. He is a proven No. 1 corner. I just told him to keep his nose down, keep grinding, and people will start to take notice."

True to form, Lewis' best play of the preseason didn't even get proper credit last week, when he appeared to make a diving interception after tipping a deep ball away from Indianapolis Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton. The pass was ruled incomplete, because coach Sean Payton said he figured it would be ruled inconclusive either way. But it sure looked like a pick from the end-zone camera angle.

When asked if he credited Lewis with an interception after watching the film of last week's game at Indianapolis, Bailey said, "I credited it that night."

"It looked pretty clean to me from where I was," Bailey said. "The ref was five feet away from him and didn't get it. I don't know what happened, but in our room he got a pick."

Bailey, who missed much of training camp with a minor foot injury, hadn't chatted with the media in a while. So the longtime former Denver Broncos and Washington Redskins standout was peppered with questions on a number of topics Tuesday. Here are some of the highlights:

  • On whether his foot injury was related to the plantar fasciitis that kept him sidelined for much of the 2013 season: "Well not to get too specific, it was the same foot but it was a little bit different thing to deal with. It's encouraging, because I didn't want anything lingering from last year. I feel good about where I'm going."
  • On whether the injury has hurt his chances of being an opening-day starter: "I'm not really concerned about it. I haven't lost any sleep over it. The only thing that bothers me is being hurt, period. It has gotten in the way of me playing football. That's what I love to do. Regardless of how much I'm playing, I'm always out there competing like I'm the starter or going to be."
  • On his impressions of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, before he played for him and now: "All I knew was his brother, mostly. I've seen Rob before but never met him, never been around him. He's a character, but at the same time this guy knows football. It's proven; he's one of the best X's and O's guys I know in this league. He's going to make sure we're in the right places to make the right plays."
  • On how many defensive coordinators he's played for now: "Probably 13 maybe. Twelve, 13 something like that. I lost count. I had one of those guys twice in two different systems."
  • On safety Jairus Byrd: "I talked to him at the Pro Bowl a couple of years ago and I told him how much I wanted to play with him. Who would ever think we'd be playing here together? But we are, and I'm just happy to be a part of this team."
  • On cornerback Patrick Robinson: "Great football player. I've seen him do some things that some guys can't do. That guy is fast, quick, and he gets his hands on a lot of balls in practice. It's starting to pay off, all the work he's put in."
  • On whether the Saints are as good as last year's Broncos team: "I'm not sure. It's hard to compare. It's different. The thing is, last year we weren't good enough to win. I feel like we've got some pieces here to win it, we've just got to make sure we don't worry about too far ahead, just worry about what's in front of us. The rest will take care of itself."

Telling stats about each starting QB

August, 27, 2014
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Russell Wilson, Tom Brady and Peyton ManningGetty Images

NFC EAST


Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys: Romo has led 13 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime over the past three seasons, two more than any other quarterback. Romo also ranks fifth in Total QBR in the fourth quarter and overtime since 2011.

Eli Manning, New York Giants: Manning led the NFL with a career-high and franchise-record 27 interceptions last season, five more than any other QB. It was the most interceptions by any QB in a season since Brett Favre in 2005 (29).


Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles: Foles threw 27 touchdowns and just two interceptions last season. Foles' touchdown-to-interception ratio of 13.5 was the best by any qualifying QB in a season in NFL history.


Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins: Griffin ranked fifth in the NFL with a Total QBR of 73.2 on the 0-to-100 scale as a rookie in 2012. Last season, his rating plunged to 40.1, 29th in the NFL. Griffin had the league's largest decrease in Total QBR from 2012 to 2013.


NFC WEST


Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals: Palmer led the NFL with 145 passes thrown 15 or more yards downfield last season, but he also led the league with 13 interceptions on such throws while finishing 17th in yards per attempt and 29th in touchdown-to-interception ratio on deep passes.

Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers: Kaepernick has been blitzed on a league-high 38.3 percent of his dropbacks over the past two seasons. But he's also one of the best QBs against the blitz, with the third-highest QBR since the start of 2012 (75.2).

Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks: Including playoffs, Wilson is 28-9 as a starter over the past two seasons. That's the most wins by a starting QB in his first two seasons in NFL history and tied with Peyton Manning for the most wins in the NFL since 2012.

Shaun Hill, St. Louis Rams: Shaun Hill is 13-13 with a 50.1 Total QBR (50 is average) in his career as a starting quarterback. Sam Bradford is 18-30 in 48 career starts and has never posted a Total QBR over 50.3 in a season.


NFC NORTH


Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears: During his first four seasons in Chicago, Cutler was sacked on 7.6 percent of his dropbacks, the highest rate among qualifying QBs. In his first season under Marc Trestman in 2013, Cutler was sacked on just 5.0 percent of his dropbacks (sixth-lowest rate in NFL).

Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions: Stafford threw 16 touchdown passes and six interceptions in his first eight games last season. In his last eight games, he threw 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, tied with Joe Flacco for the most interceptions in the NFL over that span.

Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers: Over the past three seasons, Rodgers ranks first in the NFL in yards per attempt (8.5) and touchdown-to-interception ratio (5.1), second in Total QBR (78.9) and third in completion percentage (67.5).


Matt Cassel, Minnesota Vikings: Cassel completed 73 percent of his passes and averaged 8.9 yards per attempt last season when targeting Greg Jennings. When targeting all other players, he completed 59 percent of his passes for 6.9 yards per attempt.


NFC SOUTH


Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons: Ryan was pressured on 203 dropbacks last season, 20 more than any other quarterback. From 2009 to 2012, he was pressured an average of just 113 times per season.


Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers: In his three NFL seasons, Newton has been sacked, hit while throwing or hit while carrying the ball 467 times. That's more than double the total for any other quarterback. Next closest is Ryan Fitzpatrick, at 230.


Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints: Brees has thrown for 5,000 yards in four seasons, including each of the past three. Every other player in league history has combined for four seasons with 5,000 or more passing yards.


Josh McCown, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: McCown had the league's third-highest completion percentage (51.2) on passes 15 or more yards downfield last season. Seventeen of his 21 completions on such throws were to Alshon Jeffery or Brandon Marshall.


AFC EAST


EJ Manuel, Buffalo Bills: Manuel was among the NFL's least effective QBs on third down last season. Manuel ranked last in the NFL in yards per attempt (5.2) on third down and second to last in completion percentage (47.5).


Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins: Tannehill was sacked 58 times last season, the most in a season since Jon Kitna for the Lions in 2006 (63). Tannehill has been sacked 93 times in his career, the most by any player in his first two NFL seasons since Jake Plummer in 1997-98 (101).

Tom Brady, New England Patriots: In 2013, Brady had his lowest completion percentage (60.5) in a full season since 2003, his fewest yards per attempt (6.9) since 2006 and his fewest TD passes (25) since 2006. However, Brady also threw a league-high 163 passes to rookies last season.

Geno Smith, New York Jets: Over the first 13 weeks of 2013, Smith was the NFL's lowest-rated QB with a Total QBR of 21.6. Over the last four weeks of 2013, Smith was the league's second-highest rated QB with a QBR of 78.9, trailing only Peyton Manning.


AFC WEST


Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos: Last year, Manning became the fourth player in NFL history to set the single-season record for passing yards and passing TDs in the same season. He joined Dan Marino (1984), Sid Luckman (1943) and Cecil Isbell (1942).

Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs: Over the past three seasons, only 17 of Smith's 1,171 passes have been intercepted, giving Smith the lowest interception percentage (1.45) of any QB since the start of 2011. Smith also ranks fourth in win percentage over that span, trailing only Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady.

Matt Schaub, Oakland Raiders: Schaub ranked last in the NFL with a Total QBR of 13.4 on play-action passes last season. Over the previous five seasons (2008-12), Schaub was the third-highest rated QB on play-action passes (86.0 Total QBR), behind only Kurt Warner and Peyton Manning.

Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers: After entering 2013 with a career completion percentage of 63.6, Rivers led the league with a 69.5 completion percentage last season. Rivers also had just 13 turnovers in 2013 after turning it over 47 times from 2011-12 (tied for second most in NFL).


AFC NORTH


Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens: Flacco has started 96 of a possible 96 games since his rookie season in 2008. According to Elias Sports Bureau, that's the second-longest starts streak by a QB to begin his career since the merger. Flacco trails Peyton Manning (208).

Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals: Dalton is 30-18 with 80 touchdown passes and 49 interceptions in 48 regular-season starts. In three postseason starts, he's 0-3 with one touchdown and six interceptions. Cincinnati has scored 33 total points in Dalton's three playoff starts.

Brian Hoyer, Cleveland Browns: Hoyer was 3-0 and completed 59.4 percent of his passes with a 47.5 Total QBR last season. All other Browns QBs were 1-12 and completed 55.0 percent of their passes with a 31.7 Total QBR.


Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers: Over the past three seasons, Roethlisberger has the league's highest completion percentage (51.8), most passing yards (1,837), most TD passes (18) and second-highest Total QBR (60.5) when he's under duress or hit while throwing. The average QBR on such plays in that span is 26.9.


AFC SOUTH


Ryan Fitzpatrick, Houston Texans: Fitzpatrick is 27-49-1 in 77 career regular-season starts. The only active QB with more regular-season starts who has never started a playoff game is Jason Campbell (79).


Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts: Luck has thrown for 8,196 yards since entering the league in 2012, the most ever by a QB in his first two seasons. Only seven quarterbacks have thrown for more yards than Luck since the start of his rookie year.

Chad Henne, Jacksonville Jaguars: Henne's average pass was just 6.5 yards downfield last season, giving him the shortest average pass attempt in the NFL. Fifty-five percent of Henne's attempts were within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage.


Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans: After backing up Matt Hasselbeck as a rookie in 2011, Locker has missed 14 games with injuries over the past two seasons. Of the 20 quarterbacks drafted in the top 10 since 2000, only Rivers and Matt Leinart threw fewer passes in their first three seasons than Locker's 563.

Lavonte David a well-kept secret

August, 27, 2014
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TAMPA, Fla. -- The comparisons started among Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans as soon as Lavonte David was drafted in 2012.

It seemed far-fetched, or at least very premature, but David instantly was seen as the second coming of Derrick Brooks. These days, that doesn’t seem like quite a stretch.

“It’s very early in his career and Derrick’s a Hall of Famer, so it’s hard to say that at this point,’’ Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said. “But if there’s anybody that has a chance as an outside linebacker to end up on the Derrick Brooks level, Lavonte has those qualities. His instincts, his ability to make big plays, and his ability to lift everyone up around him are similar to what Derrick had. Lavonte has those qualities. He has the chance to be one of the great players in this league.’’

As Brooks was, David is a weakside linebacker with a knack for big plays. David is coming off a 2013 season in which he had 145 tackles, seven sacks, two forced fumbles and five interceptions. Look at what Brooks did in the first two years of his career and David stacks up pretty well.

“It’s nerve-wracking being compared to that guy," David said. “He’s a Hall of Famer. All it does is motivate me to keep working hard, and maybe one day I can get to where he’s at."

Despite the brilliant start to his career, David remains one of the NFL’s best-kept secrets -- outside of Tampa Bay. David was overlooked for the Pro Bowl last season, but was named first-team All-Pro by the Associated Press. In ESPN.com's rankings of the NFL's top 100 defensive players, David came in at No. 25. He was 98th a year ago.

“[The Pro Bowl snub] didn't bother me as much as people might think," David said. “I can only control what I can control. I just go out there and play my hardest. Being voted first-team All-Pro is better than being voted to the Pro Bowl, in my opinion."

The Pro Bowls will come as long as David continues to produce, and all indications are he will. With Lovie Smith taking over as head coach, the Bucs are returning to the Tampa 2 defense that was famous back when Brooks was playing. Weakside linebacker is a crucial position in the Tampa 2 as that player is expected to go from side to side against the run and drop in coverage or blitz against the pass. Frazier said David is a perfect fit for the scheme.

“He sees things before they happen," Smith said. “He studies extremely hard. You should see him in the classroom. He’s asking questions all the time. He’s always looking for more. And then he goes on the football field and you can see that he’s applying what he’s learned. That’s not always the case. That makes him a very special talent."

How special can David be?

“The sky is the limit," Frazier said. “The way he works, as smart as he is, the talent he has -- he should go to a lot of Pro Bowls before his career is over. I’m looking forward to being a part of his evolution. He can be as good as any outside linebacker that’s played the game, in my opinion. I think he has those traits."
If you based Ra'Shede Hageman's progress on some of the scenes in HBO's "Hard Knocks," you might think the Atlanta Falcons' rookie was on the roster bubble.

Hageman
In reality, defensive line coach Bryan Cox sees the potential in the second-round pick from Minnesota, which is why Cox continues to ride Hageman about his conditioning and motivation.

Some of the results of Cox's tough love were evident during last Saturday's preseason game against Tennessee. Hageman showed flashes of his unique ability with his first sack and a nice stuff on a run play from his defensive line spot. He played 45 defensive snaps, second on the team among defensive players behind Javier Arenas (46).

"I think he experienced something that he never experienced in terms of the strain on his body," coach Mike Smith said of Hageman. "He had a lot of plays, and plays in the NFL are different than plays in college football. The strain on your body is completely different.

"Like the way that Ra'Shede has come along all through training camp. You see his strength. He's a big, strong man. And he's going to be a guy that's help us in the rotation of our defensive line."

Hageman (6-6, 318) assessed his performance in the 24-17 loss.

"Really, it was the fatigue that got me, man," he said. "But I had to keep on pushing for it. I made a sack for my team and there was a little celebration. But at the end of the day, it's all about winning."

It's been well-documented how frustrated Hageman tends to get with himself. Such was caught on camera during "Hard Knocks" when Hageman pulled his shirt over his head as Cox criticized his play in the film room.

"I've just got to keep on moving forward," Hageman said. "Can't really get mad at the play I don't make. I've obviously got to learn from them. I have to watch and critique the film to get better. But overall, I'm progressing."
Linebacker Kasim Edebali seemed like a considerable long shot to crack the New Orleans Saints roster at the start of training camp.

But the 25-year-old German native has never let long odds stand in his way.

Edebali moved to the United States at age 18, played two years of high school football, earned a scholarship to Boston College and eventually signed with the Saints this year as an undrafted rookie free agent.

[+] EnlargeNew Orleans' Kasim Edebali
AP Photo/Chris TilleyGerman-born Kasim Edebali, an undrafted rookie out of Boston College, has impressed this summer.
The 6-foot-2, 253-pounder has impressed this summer as a pass-rusher -- and more importantly, on special teams. And he suddenly seems to have a realistic chance to make the roster after the Saints released linebackers Victor Butler and Kevin Reddick on Tuesday.

Edebali insisted that he’s not getting caught up in the number-crunching as the final set of roster cuts looms at the end of the week. He said he just “attacks” each day, focusing on waking up and “trying to have the best practice I’ve ever had in my life.”

He said that’s been his approach ever since he first started seeing American football games on TV when he was about 10 years old.

“German sports channels, pretty much 24 hours a day they used to played soccer. Then they had football out there and I was like, ‘Wow, this looks amazing. I want to play this,’” recalled Edbali, who started out with five years of flag football before he was allowed to start tackling. He eventually played on an all-star team that included Indianapolis Colts first-round draft pick Bjoern Werner.

Edebali then came to America after he graduated high school because he wanted to pursue football. He needed two more years of high school in New Hampshire as he learned to speak more fluent English. Then he went to Boston College, where he racked up 11 career sacks (9.5 of them as a full-time starter last year).

Along the way, Edebali also got to meet his father and his “American family” for the first time.

Edebali was raised by his mother, who is from Germany. He never knew his father, an American G.I. who had been stationed overseas.

“When I was 21 years old, he saw me on TV,” said Edebali, who said he never had any hard feelings about waiting so long to meet him. “This is how life went. I wasn't mad at him or anything. It was great meeting him and my whole American family -- my grandma. I have a half-sister and a half-brother. It was a special moment, another chapter in my life. I feel blessed about that."

Now in New Orleans, Edebali has also added a new big-brother type to his life in Saints linebacker Junior Galette -- a similar-style player who took the same path as an undrafted rookie.

Galette was signing Edebali’s praises the other day as someone who has stood out both through his play and his passion.

Edebali has had two sacks this preseason. And more important for his roster chances, he was on the starting kickoff and kick return units during the Saints’ game against the Indianapolis Colts last Saturday.

Saints coach Sean Payton mentioned Edebali first when asked about a group of young linebackers hoping to crack the roster, describing him as “a guy that has been productive and around the ball.”
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Let's make one thing clear, third-string quarterback Joe Webb didn't completely back into or luck into a spot on the Carolina Panthers roster.

He earned it.

[+] EnlargeAlan Branch
AP Photo/Mike McCarn"I wish Cam all the best and to get well soon," Joe Webb said. "In the meantime, I'm going to do my best to fill the void."
Sure, the fractured rib of starting quarterback Cam Newton makes keeping three quarterbacks a necessity instead of a luxury. Newton won't begin seriously throwing again until Saturday, and by then the Panthers must have their 53-man roster set.

Even though coach Ron Rivera repeatedly has said he's confident Newton will be ready for the Sept. 7 opener at Tampa Bay, he can't risk cutting Webb and then finding out his franchise quarterback can't play.

That would leave Carolina with backup Derek Anderson and searching the trash pile for a backup. They can't depend on Webb being available as well as he's played during the preseason, completing 21 of 35 pass attempts for 271 yards and two touchdowns.

He's also rushed four times for 30 yard.

That's why this post began with Webb didn't back into a roster spot. The Panthers began talking about keeping the former University of Alabama at Birmingham star after the second preseason game.

Rivera reiterated that after Tuesday's practice when the conversation turned to how Newton's injury opened up a spot for Webb.

"It's a tough position to be in, because obviously we are going to have to let a good player go to keep the extra quarterback," Rivera said. "Because of our situation, we need to. This is a necessity move.

"But at the same time, Joe's earned that. He earned his right to be on this football team right now."

Carolina coaches talked to several of Webb's former coaches before signing him to imitate what Newton does with the read option after Newton underwent ankle surgery in March.

"They thought what we do would be a good fit for what his skill set was," Rivera said. "A lot of people thought doing some of the stuff we do with Cam would fit with him.

"They're right. Those things do fit Joe very nicely. I like who Joe is. He's a hard-working, very conscientious young man who wants to do well."

Webb spent his first three seasons with the Minnesota Vikings after being selected in the sixth round of the 2010 draft. He played quarterback for the first two, starting a playoff game in 2012.

He was moved to wide receiver in 2013, catching five passes for 2013 yards. There was a time when he thought he'd never play quarterback again. Now he's getting a chance to do that at Carolina, and possibly setting the stage for a future there with another team.

"I know I'm not only performing for the Carolina Panthers, but for 31 other teams out there," Webb said. "Pretty much your game film is your résumé and you want to put your best performance on it.

"I would never want to wish for somebody to get hurt for my benefit. It was an unfortunate situation. It's just a blessing for me to come in and show my talents to the coaching staff. I wish Cam all the best and to get well soon. In the meantime, I'm going to do my best to fill the void."
The second-to-last episode of HBO's "Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Atlanta Falcons" featured a coach going on a classic, profanity-laced tirade in the meeting room.

And guess what? It wasn't defensive line coach Bryan Cox this time.

Special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong displayed his true character as the show began with him going off on his units. Remember, the Falcons had both a punt and kicked blocked in the second preseason game at Houston.

Armstrong directed his fury toward three players in particular: Malliciah Goodman, Jacques Smith, and Ra'Shede Hageman.

"Some of you guys think you're better than it; you think you're above it," Armstrong said to the group about special teams. "Who do you think you are? The game don't mean enough to you. And that's very f---ing apparent. You better wake up and get your pride in the game.

"Come in here and you're going to go out there and play like s---. Now, the s--- was coached the right way. I don't want to hear any excuses. Selfish ass."

ESPN.com sent a text to one of the players in the room who appeared to be shook up by Armstrong's words. The players responded, "I was."

Here's a few more highlights from the show:
  • Cox continues to ride Hageman hard and doesn't think the rookie is in good enough shape at this point. That's why Cox had Hageman out running sprints -- or at least trying to run -- after a practice. Hagemen didn't take too kindly to the criticism, but he responded with inspired play in the third preseason game against the Tennessee Titans.
  • After rookie outside linebacker Smith got ejected for throwing a shot at Tennessee Titans offensive lineman Taylor Lewan, Cox was the first to tell Smith what his fate could be. "You might have just cost yourself a spot on the roster," Cox said as Smith exited the field.
  • Center Joe Hawley is being called Joe "Brawley" after getting into a fight in three consecutive weeks, starting with the rookie Smith, then the rookie Hageman, and then during a joint practice with the Titans during which he was ejected. So, it's easy understand why Hawley uses pottery as a calming mechanism.
  • Receivers coach Terry Robiskie genuinely wasn't happy with the way star receiver Julio Jones and Roddy White played in the second exhibition against Houston. He thought they were trying to be too cute.
  • Speaking of receivers, Devin Hester's handed out one of his Chicago Bears jerseys to fellow receiver Harry Douglas. That might be worth quite a bit of money if Hester, arguably the greatest return man of all time, makes the Hall of Fame.
  • During one day of practice, coach Mike Smith moved the session indoors due to inclement weather. As the storm continued, the power went out inside the indoor practice field, forcing practice to end prematurely.
  • During the first roster cutdown, everyone seemed to take the news well except rookie quarterback Jeff Mathews from Cornell, who obviously struggled picking up the verbiage of the offense. On the flipside, veteran safety Tyrell Johnson handled his release with such class, complimenting the Falcons for being a family-type atmosphere where people actually care about the players. "It's not like that at other places. ... You're just a body somewhere else."
  • Rookie running back Devonta Freeman got a pedicure, and actually liked it.
  • The other coaches admire how defensive coordinator Mike Nolan is able to stay in shape at age 55 by sweating it out on an exercise bike. Nolan actually was spotted doing some serious stretching before Tuesday's practice.
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- All three of the Atlanta Falcons' candidates for the nickelback role were on the field for special teams at the start of Tuesday's practice.

The battle between Robert McClain, Javier Arenas, and Josh Wilson remains unsettled, according to coach Mike Smith. But McClain, also a standout on special teams, would appear to have a decisive advantage.

Whatever the case, the trio will get one more chance to compete in Thursday night's final preseason game at Jacksonville.

Smith refused to reveal which of the three would be up first in the nickel spot.

"I don't really want to talk about who's going to get the first look, but all three are going to play," Smith said. "I don't think you can read into who gets the first snaps. It's going to be a matter of guys getting an opportunity to go out there and compete. We will put them in much quicker in the ball game then we have in the previous weeks. They won't take a whole half. It will be rotations by series."
  • Right guard Jon Asamoah, who sat out Monday's practice with a slight limp, was back on the field with a helmet for Tuesday's session. It's unclear how much work Asamoah did because media is now only allowed to view the start of practice. He held the heavy bag for his fellow offensive linemen at the start of individual drills as they worked on their hands. Smith said Asamoah's apparent leg injury wasn't serious, so it was good news to see him back on the field immediately.
  • Speaking of offensive lineman, Gabe Carimi had his second day of practice coming off an ankle injury and is poised to make a final push for the starting right tackle spot. "Gabe will play in the game," Smith said of the final exhibition. "He's had an opportunity to practice. We need to get an evaluation. Gabe, unfortunately, was injured in the scrimmage against the Tennessee Titans and missed basically all of the preseason. And we need to get a good evaluation. He'll get a look at multiple positions, if we can."
  • Extra points: Rookie safety Dez Southward remained sidelined at practice as he continued to go through the concussion protocol. ... Running back Steven Jackson, who returned from a left hamstring injury, practiced for the second consecutive day. ... Rookie linebacker Prince Shembo was not on the field for the start of practice, but he emerged just before the start of individual drills. ... Former Falcons backup quarterback Dominique Davis signed with the Tennessee Titans.

Saints Camp Report: Day 22

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
7:10
PM ET
METAIRIE, La. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of New Orleans Saints training camp:
  • Saints kickers Shayne Graham and Derek Dimke both stumbled a bit during a windy practice Tuesday. Based on the unofficial consensus from media members, they each missed two field goals out of an estimated seven attempts. Neither kicker has been consistent enough to lock down the job this summer, but they’ve both been solid in preseason games (the only miss coming on Graham’s missed 33-yard extra point in Week 1). And coach Sean Payton continued to speak highly of both contenders. “I say this: Both of them are going to be kicking this season. I think other teams see us as a place that has a kicker possibly that is good enough to play for them,” Payton said.
  • Another position battle seems close to being decided. Center Jonathan Goodwin has continued to take snaps with the starters in practice all week after starting each of the past two preseason games. Goodwin has played very well this summer, calling it the best camp he’s had in 13 years. But Payton hasn’t conceded anything yet in Goodwin’s battle against second-year pro Tim Lelito. “We will see where that’s headed, but we are getting pretty good consistent play (from both), and that is encouraging,” Payton said Monday.
  • Cornerback Patrick Robinson had a nice practice with a pass breakup in the end zone during team drills and a stripped ball in 7-on-7, among other highlights. Payton revealed that it was a hamstring injury that had limited Robinson earlier in camp. But he said he’s encouraged by his progress. Robinson certainly looks like the front-runner to start opposite Keenan Lewis in Week 1 -- though veteran Champ Bailey has also looked solid in his return from a foot injury.
  • The offensive standout during Tuesday’s practice was probably receiver Joe Morgan, who made a diving catch of a deep pass from Drew Brees that hung up in the air during a two-minute drill late in practice. Morgan sure looks like he has a good beat on a roster spot this year and could be on the field in Week 1 -- especially if Kenny Stills remains out with a quad injury.
  • Stills, safeties Rafael Bush and Marcus Ball, linebacker Khairi Fortt and fullback Erik Lorig did not participate in Tuesday’s practice, though Ball made his first appearance in nearly a week as he watched from the sideline. Cornerback Trevin Wade was limited. Receiver Marques Colston appeared to wave himself out during a set of team drills late in practice, then he chatted with a trainer before watching the rest of practice. He didn’t appear to be dealing with anything significant, though.
  • That’s a wrap for training camp. The Saints are scheduled to hold a walk-through that’s closed to the media Wednesday before playing their final preseason game in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Thursday night against the Baltimore Ravens.
Most significant move: The team released Eric Page, who handled the return duties last year. This is a pretty clear sign that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will go with undrafted rookie Solomon Patton as their primary return man. Page was reliable but unspectacular. Patton has the potential to be more explosive.

Surprise, surprise: Most fans thought wide receiver Tommy Streeter would make it to the final cut and maybe even make the roster. That's because Streeter had flashed promise early in camp and caught a touchdown pass in the first preseason game. But Streeter’s shot at a roster spot was doomed because he didn’t have the tools or experience to play regularly on special teams.

What’s next: The Bucs have to trim their roster to 53 players by Saturday afternoon.

Bucs' cuts: Released OT Matt Patchan, OT J.B. Shugarts, CB Deveron Carr, WR Tommy Streeter, LS Jeremy Cain, DT Euclid Cummings, G Jace Daniels, WR Skye Dawson, OL Jason Foster, DE Ryne Giddins, G R.J. Mattes, WR Eric Page, DE Chaz Sutton, QB Alex Tanney and FB Ian Thompson. Placed CB Danny Gorrer on injured reserve. Claimed CB Marc Anthony and G Jeremiah Warren off waivers.
Most significant move: Releasing linebacker Victor Butler was a small surprise, but a huge shame. I was one of many analysts who thought the pass-rush specialist could have a huge impact when he joined the New Orleans Saints last year, following defensive coordinator Rob Ryan from Dallas. Unfortunately, Butler missed all of last season with a torn ACL, then he missed three weeks of training camp this year with an ankle injury. In the meantime, the Saints continued to develop two other breakout pass-rushers in Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette. Hopefully Butler can get healthy and get another opportunity somewhere, because he’s an energetic, well-liked guy who showed a ton of promise before the injuries.

One-year wonders: I was equally surprised to see the Saints release second-year linebacker Kevin Reddick, who had been a mainstay on all of their special teams units last season and this preseason. But it goes to show how much depth the Saints have at linebacker. This probably guarantees that guys such as Keyunta Dawson and Kyle Knox will make the team and maybe open up a spot for undrafted rookie Kasim Edebali. ... Cornerback Rod Sweeting also got cut after spending all of last season on the roster as an undrafted rookie. And 2013 sixth-round pick Rufus Johnson Jr. got waived as well -- less surprising after both had fallen behind in the pecking order throughout the summer.

What’s next: Two of the most compelling battles that will be decided by week’s end are at backup quarterback (Luke McCown vs. Ryan Griffin) and kicker (Shayne Graham vs. Derek Dimke). It’s starting to look more and more like McCown will win the backup job. If that happens, the Saints will probably keep three quarterbacks since they like Griffin’s long-term potential. ... I don’t anticipate any more veteran surprises, but you can never rule them out. If I had to make my final roster projection right now, I’d have four guys battling for the last three spots (McCown, Edebali, safety Marcus Ball and defensive lineman Brandon Deaderick).

Saints' cuts: LB Victor Butler, LB Kevin Reddick, DE Rufus Johnson Jr., CB Rod Sweeting, S Ty Zimmerman, DE George Uko, WR Andy Tanner (injured), QB Logan Kilgore, TE Travis Beckum, OT Manase Foketi, OT Ty Nsekhe (injured).
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Charles Godfrey's value went up when Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton fractured his ribs.

Even though Newton is expected to start in the Sept. 7 opener at Tampa Bay, the Panthers appear set on keeping three quarterbacks on their final 53-man roster.

Godfrey
That means somebody at another position has to go. In this case, that means a defensive back, which is why Godfrey was back working at strong safety on Tuesday after spending all of the preseason at cornerback.

Because Godfrey can play cornerback, nickel and both safety positions, Carolina can juggle the defensive back numbers to keep one less player -- most likely a safety.

"When you've got a guy that can play all three positions, you might as well keep him up on everything," Godfrey said. "You never know what will happen."

Godfrey was a starting safety for his first six years with the Panthers before suffering a season-ending Achilles injury in Week 2 against Buffalo last September.

Because of his high salary-cap figure and the uncertainty of his return to full strength, the Panthers moved him to cornerback and renegotiated his contract to save more than $4 million in cap space.

But with the Panthers planning to keep Newton, Derek Anderson and Joe Webb at quarterback and the injuries at strong safety -- starter Roman Harper just returned from turf toe, backup Robert Lester is out with an ankle injury and rookie Tre Boston has been slowed by a sports hernia -- it was time to reintroduce Godfrey to safety.

He will take reps there in Thursday night's exhibition finale at Pittsburgh as well.

"That adds value to who Charles is," coach Ron Rivera said. "He can play corner, he can play nickel. Because of the slow progression of Tre, knowing that [Godfrey] is one of our guys that makes the 53, what are we going to do if we get that situation? That's why we did what we did.

"That's out of necessity. If we were to keep five safeties and those guys aren't up, that only gives us three. Knowing that Charles has that ability, we wanted to get a couple reps with him this week just to make sure on that."

Godfrey will continue to work at corner, primarily as a nickel with the top three every down corners spots belonging to Antoine Cason, Melvin White and Josh Norman.

Rivera made it clear the move to safety was not permanent.

"We've put a lot on his plate, but he seems to be handling it very nicely," he said.

Godfrey said the return to safety wasn't difficult and he likes the challenge of playing different positions.

"Like I said before we went to camp, I can play pretty much any position right there," he said. "Just keeps me polished up on things. I did a great job at corner. I'm still corner, still nickel. Just keeping me polished up on safety."
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TAMPA, Fla. -- Ever since they were hired, coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht have been saying they want to win right away. They also have been saying they want to do things the right way.

What happened Tuesday showed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are very serious on both counts. The Bucs traded tight end Tim Wright and a fourth-round draft pick next year to the New England Patriots for guard Logan Mankins. That’s a steep price, and Mankins also will take up $6 million of Tampa Bay’s salary cap for this season.

But you get what you pay for. What the Bucs got is a quality player to patch their problems at guard. Mankins, 32, is a six-time Pro Bowler and known as a great locker room guy.

“We have a responsibility to our team and to our fans to put the best possible football team on the field that we can,’’ Smith said. “By adding Pro Bowler Logan Mankins to the mix, we feel like we’re definitely a better football team.’’

Mankins beats the heck out of the alternative, which was Richie Incognito. The Bucs visited with Incognito, who was the central figure in the Miami Dolphins’ bullying scandal last season, on Monday night. On Tuesday, talks with the Patriots heated up in a hurry, and a deal got done.

Licht said the trade doesn't necessarily mean the team no longer is interested in Incognito.

“We always are going to leave options open of players that we think can be good fits and also be good players for us,’’ Licht said. “So, I wouldn’t put an end to that. That’s just one of several options that are out there right now.’’

But I think Licht was just being politically correct. I don’t think the door really remains open for Incognito. That’s because Mankins gives the Bucs precisely what they need. Unlike Incognito, there aren’t really any questions about Mankins, except for his age. Mankins is only a year older than Incognito.

“This was a guy we just felt like we couldn’t pass on,’’ Smith said.

Licht, who worked in the Patriots’ front office for three years, said he hasn’t seen any signs that Mankins is slowing down.

“To me, he looked the same as when I was there in 2009, ’10 and ’11,’’ Licht said. “He’s a good athlete and he’s very strong. He’s very smart. He’s very tough. He’s a tenacious player. A quiet type of toughness that as a defensive player you just don’t like playing against him. He brings that to the field and he brings exceptional leadership off the field.’’

Incognito might have looked appealing when the Bucs were desperate for help at guard. But Mankins is a better player and a much better fit in the locker room. The Bucs aren’t desperate anymore.

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