- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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A look at the Friday morning headlines from around the division:
Coach Mike Smith said he had no update on middle linebacker Akeem Dent, who suffered an apparent head injury Thursday night. The Falcons may have to look for more depth at linebacker if Dent is going to be out for an extended period.
Dent’s injury came while he was on the punt coverage unit. Smith said he had no regrets about using a starter on special teams.
D. Orlando Ledbetter points out that the Falcons allowed the Ravens to rally with 24 unanswered points. That’s absolutely true, but it’s not as bad as it sounds. The first-team offense looked great and the first-team defense looked very good. The Falcons didn’t run into trouble until after they had pulled their starters.
Defensive end Eric Norwood enters his third NFL season with one career sack, but is expecting bigger things this season. The Panthers would love for that to happen because they want much more production from their defensive ends beyond Charles Johnson.
Jon Beason’s hamstring injury doesn’t sound too serious. He’s expected to miss Saturday’s preseason opener, but the Panthers are expected to start Jason Phillips at middle linebacker. If there was any threat of Beason being out at the start of the regular season, the Panthers quickly would slide Luke Kuechly into the middle. They’re not doing that. They’re keeping Kuechly on the weak side.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
A federal judge will hold another hearing Friday morning as New Orleans linebacker Jonathan Vilma attempts to get a temporary restraining order that would halt his season-long suspension. It's unknown if the judge will issue a ruling immediately.
Rookie defensive tackle Akiem Hicks got his first game action and made the most of the opportunity. Hicks swatted down one pass on the line of scrimmage and put pressure on the quarterback that helped force an interception by Marquis Johnson.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Left tackle Donald Penn, who hasn’t practice this training camp due to a calf strain, will not play in Friday’s exhibition opener. Penn apparently is anxious to get back on the field. But coach Greg Schiano doesn’t seem to be in a rush. Schiano said he wants Penn in top physical condition before he returns. Getting Penn, who has been doing a lot of work on the side with the trainers, into the best physical shape of his career might be the smart approach. Penn is a big guy and, in the past, has often started fast, but faded as the season went on. Maybe getting him in top shape will keep him playing well all season. Demar Dotson has been getting all the first-team work in Penn's absence, so I wouldn't expect quarterback Josh Freeman to take a lot of deep drops while he's in Friday night's game.
Although it’s his first game as an NFL head coach, Schiano said he’s not excited about the preseason opener in Miami. That’s the way it should be. This is just a preseason game and Schiano has plenty of logistical issues to deal with. If he wants to get excited for the regular-season opener, that’s fine because that game will have some meaning.