Time for a Thursday morning run through the headlines from around the NFC South:
Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan says he believes second-year pro Akeem Dent is ready to take over as the starter at middle linebacker. He better be ready. After parting ways with Lofa Tatupu, the Falcons really don’t have any other options. Veteran Mike Peterson, who also plays the outside, could step into the middle for a few games. But the Falcons need Dent to be a steady force in the middle for this defense to work the way they want.
Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon gets it. Check out this column by Daniel Cox in which Weatherspoon brings up his chances of having a Pro Bowl season. This isn’t the typical “I want to go to the Pro Bowl’’ statement. It’s Weatherspoon saying that, if he’s in the discussion, it probably will be because the Falcons are having a good season. That’s what you want to hear from the guy that’s expected to be the defensive leader.
Although the Democratic National Convention’s big Thursday night event has been moved out of Bank of America Stadium due to the threat of bad weather, the Panthers said they’re happy they left early for Florida. They say setting up at IMG Academy is like having a few extra days of training camp before they open their season at Tampa Bay on Sunday.
Tom Sorensen has a very nice column on receiver Steve Smith, who is working to raise money to buy shoes for needy children. Smith has done some great things for others during his career. He’s also had some ugly incidents that, at times, have overshadowed the good. Call it maturity or whatever you want, but Smith seems to be approaching a point where the good consistently outweighs the bad.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
The last time New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees faced Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III was in a football video game before the Super Bowl in Indianapolis. Brees won that game with a last-second touchdown pass to Lance Moore. File that away and see if history repeats itself Sunday.
This is Griffin’s first NFL game and the Saints don’t know what to expect from him and Washington’s offense. But linebacker Curtis Lofton said the best thing a defense can do with any rookie quarterback is to put the pressure on him.
Temporary New Orleans coach Aaron Kromer said linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive end Will Smith could play Sunday if they’re able to gain a temporary restraining order on their suspensions. I have no doubt Smith, who went through training camp and the preseason, could step right back into the lineup. But Vilma was working on rehabbing his knee before his suspension began and it’s unclear how healthy that knee is.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Defensive back Ronde Barber isn’t crazy about the notion that luck is involved in him making his 200th career start on Sunday. He’s right. In the NFL, you create your own luck. You have to be good and, if you’re able to avoid serious injury for that long, it probably has more to do with taking care of yourself than with luck.
I don’t know if it will change anything, but a Tampa Bay fan drew laughter when asking NFL commissioner Roger Goodell why the league doesn’t drop its “archaic’’ television blackout policy during a question-and-answer session Wednesday. We should get word Thursday afternoon if Sunday’s home opener will be aired on local television. Unless the Bucs have sold 9,000 tickets since Friday, that probably isn’t going to happen.