Time for a look at the top headlines from around the division:
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Tom Jones writes that Tampa Bay’s pass rush still could be a liability. The Bucs produced just 23 sacks last offseason and didn’t make any dramatic additions up front. In fact, they lost defensive end Da’Quan Bowers to a torn Achilles tendon. Bowers is expected to miss at least half the season and could miss it all. If Tampa Bay is going to have more of an impact with the pass rush, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and defensive end Adrian Clayborn, a pair of former first-round picks, will have to be stars. It would be nice if some other guys stepped up and contributed, but I don’t know if anyone beyond McCoy and Clayborn has the talent to make a real impact.
The Bucs made some moves at the bottom of the roster, signing cornerback James Rogers and defensive tackle Teryl White after parting ways with cornerback Derrick Roberson and defensive lineman Jayme Mitchell.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
It appears as if there will be no settlement reached between the NFL and New Orleans linebacker Jonathan Vilma before a judge decides whether or not to issue a restraining order on Vilma’s season-long suspension. That’s according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, who also reports the judge could issue the decision Friday or soon after that.
New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham appeared to suffer a back injury during Wednesday’s practice with the Patriots. He left practice and didn’t return. Assistant head coach Joe Vitt said the injury was nothing serious. But, if Graham is even slightly banged up, I wouldn’t count on seeing him in Thursday’s preseason game.
Nakia Hogan has a list of things to watch in the preseason game between the Saints and Patriots. One of those items is New Orleans’ young cornerbacks. With a bunch of injuries at the position, Corey White and Marquis Johnson are expected to get a lot of playing time. You wouldn’t want to see them going against Tom Brady in the New England offense in a regular-season game. But the preseason is different and this is a chance for White and Johnson to gain some valuable experience.
Carolina Huddle has a list of things to watch in Saturday’s preseason game between the Panthers and Texans. One item on that list is the battle between kickers Olindo Mare and Justin Medlock. I think this competition is tighter than people realize. Medlock has been having an excellent camp and the veteran Mare needs to redeem himself after missing too many field goals last season.
The Panthers are getting a little banged up. Receiver Steve Smith missed Wednesday’s practice with a bruised knee. Linebacker Jon Beason tweaked a hamstring and was held out of Wednesday night’s walk-through session. All indications are the injury to Smith is minor and it’s not a bad thing for a veteran receiver to get some rest in training camp. The Panthers don’t believe Beason’s injury is serious, but it’s still concerning because he missed almost all of last season with an injury and the Carolina defense crumbled as soon as he went down.
D. Orlando Ledbetter has his list of five players to watch in Atlanta’s preseason opener. One of them is wide receiver Kerry Meier. He has a chance to wrap up the No. 4 receiver spot. Also a regular on special teams, Meier has yet to make much of an impact as a receiver. But that could change this season because the Falcons like the versatility of Meier, a former college quarterback.
Atlanta Field Report has its list of five things to watch in the game between the Falcons and the Ravens. High on the list is pass blocking. That’s fitting because this was a problem spot last year. The Falcons addressed the area by adding offensive line coach Pat Hill and drafting guard Peter Konz in the offseason. We’ll start to get an idea if they can make a difference.