Time for a Thursday morning run through the headlines around the NFC South.
With the Falcons roughly a quarter of the way through training camp, D. Orlando Ledbetter has his first-quarter grades on the rookies. Guard Peter Konz gets the only A. Konz also might be the only rookie with a realistic chance to be in the starting lineup on opening day.
Running back Art Malone, who spent five seasons with the Falcons in the 1970s, has passed away.
Receiver Jared Green is the son of former NFL player Darrell Green. He’s an undrafted rookie free agent, but he’s made some impressive plays in camp. Still, it might be tough for Green to earn a roster spot. Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell, Louis Murphy, David Gettis, Kealoha Pilares and Joe Adams are all ahead of him on the projected depth chart.
Speaking of Carolina’s receivers, coach Ron Rivera said it’s time for third-year pro Brandon LaFell to step up and firmly grab the No. 2 job opposite Smith. LaFell has been getting the first-team work during camp. The word I got when I visited the Panthers for their June minicamp was they were happy with what LaFell was showing. It sounds like a situation where he should have a starting job, as long as he doesn’t step back in what’s left of camp and in the preseason games.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
When asked about the recent criticism from New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees on how discipline is handled in the NFL, commissioner Roger Goodell said he expects criticism. He said his job isn’t to be popular, but to do what is right for the league.
Although Jonathan Amaya and Isa Abdul-Quddus have played mostly just on special teams, the Saints appear ready to go with them as their top backups at safety behind Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper.
While the rest of the Saints are learning a new defense, linebacker Chris Chamberlain has an advantage. He played in the same system in St. Louis, where defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo was the head coach the past three years.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
It may only be training camp, but the Bucs did something they haven’t done in quite some time Tuesday. Quarterback Josh Freeman led the Bucs on what would have been a game-winning drive in the team’s situational two-minute drill. Freeman connected with Mike Williams for the winning touchdown. That’s a really good sign that Freeman’s confidence may be back or on its way back. Freeman showed the ability to lead comebacks in 2010. But the Bucs didn’t come back from much of anything last season as they lost their final 10 games.
Ira Kaufman writes that the Bucs never have had a receiver quite like Vincent Jackson. He’s right. The Bucs never have had a receiver with Jackson’s combination of size, speed and ability to get open down the field. That may be another reason why Freeman’s confidence appears to be on the rise.
Just like they’ve done in recent years, the Bucs put up huge photos of some of their key players on the exterior of Raymond James Stadium on Wednesday. The featured players are Jackson, rookie safety Mark Barron, defensive end Adrian Clayborn, guard Carl Nicks, cornerback Ronde Barber, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, Freeman, Williams and Jackson. It’s fair to wonder about the absence of running back LeGarrette Blount, who have been featured in the past. I’m taking this as another sign that rookie Doug Martin is going to be the main running back.