- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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A look at the top Monday morning headlines from around the NFC South:
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
General manger Mickey Loomis begins his eight-game suspension Monday. Assistant head coach Joe Vitt also starts a six-game suspension and defensive end Will Smith begins a four-game suspension. Aaron Kromer will coach the team in Vitt’s absence. Director of pro scouting Ryan Pace will lead the front office during Loomis’ absence.
After cutting down to 53 players, the New Orleans Saints tweaked their roster Sunday. They claimed cornerback Jerome Murphy off waivers from the St. Louis Rams and released cornerback Elbert Mack. This one is not a huge surprise. Although Mack did some good things in the preseason, Murphy played for New Orleans defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo with the Rams.
The last time the Falcons faced the Chiefs, who they’ll open the season against Sunday, was in 2008. At that time, Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez was with the Chiefs. It also was the third game Matt Ryan started at quarterback for the Falcons, who won that game, 38-14.
Captains Jon Beason and Steve Smith returned to practice Sunday after missing significant time. Smith missed two weeks with a foot infection. Beason missed nearly a month with a hamstring injury. Both are expected to play in Sunday’s opener with Tampa Bay. Running back Jonathan Stewart remains out with an ankle injury and his condition is expected to be evaluated later in the week.
Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis, who is coming back from his third torn ACL, says he plans to play at a high level. It might seem difficult to imagine Davis being the player he was before the injuries, but I wouldn’t bet against this guy.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Tampa Bay receiver Arrelious Benn, who had been out with an injury since the first day of training camp, returned to practice over the weekend and said he hopes to be ready for the season opener with Carolina. I don’t know if it will happen immediately, but it shouldn’t be too long before Benn is the third receiver behind Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams.
With it looking like a very strong possibility that the NFL will be using replacement referees to start the season, several of the Bucs say they have concerns. Cornerback Ronde Barber said the replacement refs are not incompetent, but aren’t used to working on the NFL level. In a league that says its first priority is the safety of the players, I don’t know that going with replacement refs is the best way to keep everyone safe.