Around the NFC South
June, 2, 2012
By Pat Yasinskas | ESPN.com
For a Saturday in June, we have a relatively high number of headlines from around the NFC South to work with. So let's take a run through them.
- The NFL reportedly has a ledger that details the accounting of the New Orleans Saints’ bounty program. The public and the suspended players have been making lots of noise about wanting to see evidence to support the harsh penalties against the Saints. The NFL is not obligated to produce any evidence. But maybe the league should do so in this case. The public outrage by New Orleans fans has been so strong that the league might want to consider putting the ledger and some other evidence out there. I know the league wants to protect confidential informants. But the ledger and some other tangible evidence might be enough to satisfy the cries for evidence. Besides, one of the league’s mantras throughout all this is that bounty programs can never again exist anywhere. The other 31 teams would see the evidence as well and that may scare them off from doing anything similar in the future.
- The same knee that has limited Carolina right tackle Jeff Otah the past few years has flared up again. Otah has had some tests, but the results aren’t known yet. But this could be significant if Otah has reinjured the knee. The Panthers have kept him around in hopes that he could return as the same dominant run blocker he was before the injury. But he keeps getting hurt. If this injury is anything serious, it might be time for the Panthers to move on. Byron Bell played well in his place last season and the Panthers also added Bruce Campbell for depth. If Otah’s not completely healthy, he’s expendable.
- Reserve quarterback Jimmy Clausen has been playing well in Carolina’s offseason program. Coach Ron Rivera said he believes Clausen can be an NFL starter. That’s encouraging, but the reality is that Clausen probably never will have the chance to start in Carolina because the Panthers are set with Cam Newton as their franchise quarterback. The best thing Clausen can do is to keep practicing well and put some good film together in preseason games. That could only help him down the road by enhancing his trade value or making a potential target for other teams when he becomes a free agent.
- Rivera said he views Mike Tolbert primarily as a fullback. But Rivera said Tolbert also can line up as a short-yardage running back or at wide receiver. The Panthers paid Tolbert some good money to sign and offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski previously worked with him in San Diego. I’m sure you’ll sometimes see Tolbert serving as the lead blocker for DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. But I also think Chudzinski will find some other creative ways to get him involved in the offense.
- Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano threw out the first pitch before Friday night’s Tampa Bay Rays game. Let’s just say his pitch was a bit high. It nearly hit the backstop on the fly.
- Scott Carasik writes that Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan is poised for a breakout season. I tend to agree with him. Ryan’s been pretty good throughout his career and he had his best statistical season last year. He also goes about things the right way in his preparation and is an excellent leader. But I think he’s been held back by several things. Ryan has an excellent supporting cast at the skill positions and the Falcons are working to improve the offensive line. Perhaps more importantly, Dirk Koetter now is the offensive coordinator. From everything I’ve heard Koetter is putting in a system that’s better suited for Ryan’s skills than what the Falcons ran under predecessor Mike Mularkey. If Ryan can just win a playoff game or two, I think this is the year he takes the leap from pretty good to elite. Plus, a playoff win or two would go a long way in getting fans and the media off Ryan's back.