A look at the top Thursday morning headlines from around the division:
Rookie Lamar Holmes, who has missed a lot of time with an injured toe, will make his preseason debut Friday night. Good for him, but I simply am not getting why so many fans think Holmes has a chance to instantly beat out Sam Baker for the starting left tackle job. I mean, I understand that Baker is not a fan favorite, and with backup Will Svitek lost to season-ending injury, there’s no one else to root for. But let’s be realistic. Holmes was a third-round draft pick, and many had him rated as a sixth-round talent. The Falcons took him as a project, and he barely has been on the practice field so far. The Falcons aren’t anywhere close to putting him out there to protect Matt Ryan’s blind side. They’ll give Baker every chance, and if they have some doubts, I suspect they first would bring in someone from outside or move backup right tackle Mike Johnson. Hey, former Carolina tackle Jeff Otah is out there, but I’m not sure he can pass a physical.
Mark Bradley has a column on the common perception that Ryan’s right arm suddenly got stronger because the quarterback lifted some weights in the offseason. Ryan politely scoffs at that notion, and he’s correct. As I’ve said many times, Ryan’s arm always has been strong enough to throw the deep ball. It’s just that he hasn’t always had great opportunities to do that, and you can blame most of that on the play-calling or on the offensive line not blocking well enough to allow it. I think all that is going to change with Dirk Koetter taking over as the offensive coordinator and Pat Hill as the offensive line coach.
Receiver Brandon LaFell said he doesn’t think there’s a secondary in the league that can stop Carolina’s receiving corps. Might sound a little brash from a guy that hasn’t completely proven himself. But confidence is generally something you want in your wide receivers. That trait always has worked pretty well for teammate Steve Smith.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Now that they’ve gone ahead and said offensive line coach Aaron Kromer will act as head coach for the first six games of the regular season, the next logical question is who will step in for general manager Mickey Loomis as he serves an eight-game suspension to start the season. Mike Triplett writes that Loomis doesn’t plan to name an official replacement, but pro scouting director Ryan Pace will have final say on roster moves. Director of football administration Khai Harley and director of college scouting Rick Reiprish also are expected to handle some of Loomis’ duties. These are guys Loomis relies on heavily all the time, and they’re familiar with his way of operating. I wouldn’t expect any big changes in philosophy. If the Saints have some in-season injuries and need to add some depth, these guys are more than capable of finding it.
Bradley Handwerger has an excellent story on Marquis Johnson. The New Orleans cornerback is speaking out against child abuse in an effort to prevent others from having to deal with what he faced as a youngster.
Running back Darren Sproles said he’ll sit out Saturday’s preseason game with Houston, but it would be a different story if it was a regular-season game.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
After practicing with the Bucs on Wednesday, New England quarterback Tom Brady said he really doesn’t know much about Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman. He’s not alone there. Although starting NFL quarterbacks generally are considered a fraternity, the guy at the top doesn’t know everybody. The way quarterbacks generally bond is by getting to know each other at the Pro Bowl or playing against one another in the Super Bowl, especially those that are in different conferences like Freeman and Brady. That’s not an indictment of Freeman. It’s just further evidence that there’s a lot of room for growth.
Speaking of room for growth, Gary Shelton writes that all the Bucs should be taking lessons from the Patriots as the teams continue practicing together Thursday and face off in a preseason game Friday night. Can’t argue with that. The Patriots pretty much have set the standard for success in the NFL for most of the past decade or so.