- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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Time for a look at the top headlines from around the division:
Atlanta offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter isn’t going to show the whole playbook in the preseason that he’s going to use a three-receiver formation (along with one running back and one tight end) frequently. That’s good because it gets slot receiver Harry Douglas on the field and he has the potential to make big plays. It also means the season-ending loss of Bradie Ewing might not be as devastating as some think because the fullbacks might not be used nearly as much as in the past.
Roddy White sometimes gets hit with the “diva receiver’’ label and, in some ways, he has those qualities. But I’ve always thought White was a little short in some of the diva categories and wasn’t as selfish as some of the receivers that really symbolize that category. The latest example of that came when White said he has told the Falcons he doesn’t want to be the NFL’s most targeted receiver and he wouldn’t mind if teammate Julio Jones ends up with better statistics. White realizes the Falcons have a lot of playmakers and have to get them all involved to be successful. If they are, he’ll still put up solid numbers.
Coach Mike Smith said Douglas will not return punts the rest of the preseason. The Falcons have been testing out cornerback Dominique Franks in that role and he’s fared well. But Douglas is still in the mix if Franks struggles in the later preseason games. The Falcons already know that Douglas can handle punt returns if needed, but they’d like to let him focus on being the third receiver. They’ll use the rest of the preseason to make sure Franks really is the guy they want returning punts.
The Panthers have been getting testy with each other in practice. That’s not a sign of dysfunction. It’s completely normal for that to happen this time of year. It means it’s time to wrap up training camp and gear up for the regular season.
DeAngelo Williams said he has no problem splitting carries with Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert because he views football as a team game. But I’ve got a hunch the Panthers have plans to give Williams more than the 155 carries he got last season.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Offensive tackle Zach Strief has had plenty of practice against Steve Spagnuolo’s new defense in recent weeks and he’s noticing some nice changes from the past. Strief said it’s much more difficult to get a big play against this defense than it was against Gregg Williams’ gambling scheme. Williams’ defense got the Saints a Super Bowl title in his first season, but became a liability after that. Spagnuolo’s bringing a more conventional approach and that should be a positive.
Strief said he wouldn’t mind seeing offensive line coach Aaron Kromer take over as the head coach when assistant head coach Joe Vitt begins his suspension at the start of the season. Strief said Kromer will be an NFL head coach at some point. Kromer’s name came up in connection with a couple of head-coaching jobs in the offseason. The Saints still haven’t announced their succession plan for when Vitt’s suspension begins, but it’s widely believed the choice will come down to Kromer, offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael and Spagnuolo.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Friday night’s preseason game has not sold out and that means it will not be televised live locally. Does that really surprise anyone? The Bucs have had attendance problems in recent years and this is a meaningless preseason game against the Tennessee Titans, a team that doesn’t exactly have huge national appeal. The real test of all the tactics the Bucs have tried to avoid television blackouts, including electing to go with the 85 percent threshold (for non-premium seats) as the standard, will come in the regular season. If the Bucs can’t sell out then, they’ll know their box-office problems are continuing.
Coach Greg Schiano said he hopes defensive tackle Gerald McCoy’s run of injuries is in the past. The Bucs are all hoping that’s the case for the third-year defensive tackle. There’s no question he has big-time talent. If he can play a full season, the Bucs will have a solid defensive line. Take McCoy out of the equation and there’s a big drop off.