TAMPA, Fla. -- I’m sitting here looking at Tampa Bay’s unofficial depth chart for this week and it made me wonder how many rookies across the NFC South we’re going to see in the starting lineup in the opening week of the regular season.
Let’s take a look at the prospects for each team.
Tampa Bay: Currently, the Bucs list receiver Mike Williams and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy as starters. We’ve also got to include punter Brent Bowden. I think those three are set as starters, but the Bucs may have even more rookies in the lineup. Defensive tackle Brian Price fell behind a bit because of an injury, but he could vault ahead of Roy Miller. Second-round pick Arrelious Benn has come along a bit slower than Williams. He could move into the starting lineup at some point later in the season, but it looks like the Bucs will open the season with Reggie Brown, Sammie Stroughter or Maurice Stovall as their other receiver.
Carolina: Even though they are having a youth movement, there’s a chance the Panthers could open the season without a rookie in the starting lineup. Receiver Brandon LaFell is probably the best bet, even though the Panthers have been singing the praises of Dwayne Jarrett lately. Second-round pick Jimmy Clausen has been good in camp and was very good in the first preseason game, but the starting quarterback job still belongs to Matt Moore. Greg Hardy and Eric Norwood have had great camps, but probably will open the season as situational pass rushers.
Atlanta: It looks like first-round pick Sean Weatherspoon will start, but it still is unclear if he’ll be taking the spot of Stephan Nicholas or Mike Peterson. Third-round pick Corey Peters has a very real chance to be in the starting lineup, with defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux suspended for the opener and Peria Jerry coming back gradually from injury. At the very least, Peters is going to get significant playing time.
New Orleans: It’s looking like the Saints won’t have any rookies starting anytime soon. That’s not the mark of a bad draft. That’s the mark of general manager Mickey Loomis doing a nice job keeping the Super Bowl champions pretty much intact. You’ll probably see some of cornerback Patrick Robinson, offensive tackle Charles Brown and tight end Jimmy Graham as the season goes on.