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Thursday, May 14, 2009
Thursday morning mailbag

By Pat Yasinskas
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

Lots of great questions sitting in the mailbag already and I like to try to stay ahead on them. We'll do another series of team-by-team mailbags sometime next week. But I thought we'd do one large mailbag for the entire NFC South today. Here we go.


Mike B. in Baton Rouge writes: If you would, rather than talk about how aggressive the new defense is going to be with Gregg Williams at the helm, can you comment on who you see having a breakout year in his system? I'm thinking Porter and Harper have a good shot, praying for Ellis, and I'll be irritated if Grant or Smith don't earn some money this year. Your thoughts?

Pat Yasinskas: I agree with you on Roman Harper and Tracy Porter. Some fans got down on Harper last season and I don't think that was fair. The guy got dragged down by poor secondary play around him, but he's a good football player. With an improved secondary around him, he'll be able to do what a strong safety is supposed to do and what he does best. That's hit people. Harper's not a great cover guy, but strong safeties usually aren't. If he's allowed to play the role he's supposed to, he'll be fine. Porter's a guy who showed flashes of brilliance before getting injured as a rookie. I like the way he plays and the confidence he has. That should come in handy because he'll be competing with Jabari Greer and Malcolm Jenkins for a starting job. Sedrick Ellis had a nice rookie year and is going to keep getting better. Charles Grant and Will Smith still have enormous untapped potential. Not sure if Williams will be able to tap it or not, but he certainly is going to try. I also think defensive end Bobby McCray can be very effective if he's allowed to be a situational pass rusher.


Gary in Charlotte writes: Pat why does it seem like so many people are down on the Panthers this year? I read Peter Kings power rankings and he had them 18 and Matt Williamson said the Panthers would have one of the biggest drop offs of any of the top teams in 08. Now I know these predictions mean nothing but I think it is a little ridiculous to be down on a team that went 12-4 and is returning 21 of 22 starters. The two main arguments against the Panthers seem to be how tough the schedule is, which to me is a null point because essentialy the Panthers have the same schedule as the rest of the the NFC South. The other argument seems to be Jake Delhomme but that didnt keep the Panthers from going 12-4 last year so why should one terrible game all of the sudden change that? Also you should know this covering the Panthers for years but people seem to be underestimating the fierce competitiveness of Jake and I dont think he wants that Arizona game to be what he is known for.

Pat Yasinskas: Like you said, predictions mean nothing. I think I had the Seahawks and the Colts going to the Super Bowl last year, but I did nail it when I had the Cowboys third in the NFC East and out of the playoffs (strangely, I never heard back from the Dallas fans who sent death wishes when I made that pick). Anyway, I think a lot of the picks you're seeing are from people who are basing their choices largely on that playoff loss to Arizona. That's understandable because it was beyond ugly. But, you're right, the Panthers were 12-4 last year and have most of their team back. One other positive note for you to ponder on predictions. Maybe it's a good thing some seem to be taking the Panthers lightly. In John Fox's tenure, there have been a couple years where the Panthers were a trendy Super Bowl pick. They disappointed in those years. Yet, they've seemed to rise up in the years when the expectations haven't been that high. So maybe the low rankings right now will turn out to be a good thing.


Mookie From Snellville Ga. writes: How good do you think Rod Coleman will be ? Do you think he will get the start ? I figure Coleman and Ellis would be one of the better interior linemen tandems in the league if Coleman is completely healthy like he said he is. Your thoughts ?

Pat Yasinskas: I'm not sure Coleman will be the same player for the Saints as he was for the Falcons and I'm not sure his age will allow him to be a starter. But I think Coleman still can be a very nice role player. He's got a history with defensive line coach Bill Johnson. When they were together in Atlanta, Coleman produced 28 sacks, the most in the league by a defensive tackle in that time period. I look for Johnson to use Coleman on passing downs to try to get a rush from the interior.


Bill in laplace, la writes: Hey Pat, enjoy your chats, and updates. I know you are high on Dan Morgan if he can stay healthy. My question to you is, is he a better middle lb, or outside lb, and if its outside do you see him taking a starting role over Shanle or Fujita?

Pat Yasinskas: Morgan was a natural middle linebacker and played the position throughout his time in Carolina. But the Saints are planning to use him on the weak side and keep Jonathan Vilma in the middle. Morgan has the skills to easily make this switch. Assuming he's healthy, he's definitely a starter. Scott Fujita and Scott Shanle are solid veterans, but neither is in the class of a healthy Morgan.


Rem in Tampa writes: Hey Pat, the quarterback situation here in Tampa is a big question. But, who do you think ends up winning the starting postion in week 1? Does Freeman have a chance?

Pat Yasinskas: Here's my best guess: Luke McCown opens the season as the starter. Unless the Bucs get off to a miraculous start, I think the team will feel pressure to get Josh Freeman on the field. They've got a Week 8 game against the Patriots in London, followed by a bye week. My guess is Freeman will be starting the ninth game.


Nathan in NC writes: Great story on Hoover, one of the most unheralded players in the NFL in my opinion. I am curious, as he probably, at best, has 2 or 3 more years left, if he has made any inquiries into coaching? Would the Panthers be interested in bringing him into the franchise after retirement? Thanks

Pat Yasinskas: Brad Hoover is a Carolina Panther through and through and one of the classiest guys I've ever had the chance to cover. If he's interested in coaching or doing something else with the Panthers, I'd guess they'd be happy to have him when his career is over. But we're not there yet. Hoover's still
a big part of this team and he'll play as long as his body holds up.


Atljbo in parts unknown writes: In your opinion who was the 5 most impressive players at the Falcons mini-camp ?

Pat Yasinskas: You didn't set any parameters, but I'll go off the beaten path and try to point out some guys beyond the obvious because I think you and fans want to hear more than "Matt Ryan had a great camp'', which he did. Some lesser names that stood out to me: receiver Harry Douglas (he made some downfield plays out of the slot), linebacker Stephan Nicholas (pencil him as the strong-side starter), defensive end Jamaal Anderson (say what you want about his first two seasons, but the guy is working hard to get better), Jerious Norwood (I think this is the year he actually gets some more carries) and safety Thomas DeCoud (the Falcons draft William Moore to start, but DeCoud's not going to give up without a fight).