|ESPN.com: NFC South||[Print without images]|
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
More than any other year in its brief existence, the NFC South has changed its face in the offseason.
Derrick Brooks, Deuce McAllister and Keith Brooking -- guys who had been the symbols of their teams -- are gone. So are big names such as Joey Galloway, Ken Lucas and Jeff Garcia.
In some cases, their departures were surprising. In others, it simply was the culmination of a year spent on the hot seat. They're gone, but there are plenty of other big-name players to take their chairs.
Here's a look at five prominent NFC South players who could be on the hot seat this year.
Ronde Barber, cornerback, Tampa Bay. A lot of critics said he was on the hot seat and on his way out last year. But Barber survived the Tampa Bay purge of old guys that claimed Brooks, Galloway, Garcia and Warrick Dunn. There's a reason for that. New coach Raheem Morris previously was Barber's position coach and he knows better than anyone what's left in Barber's tank. Sure, Barber is 34 and he got off to a very rough start last year. But the fact is Barber's play was one of the few bright spots as Tampa Bay collapsed late last year. It doesn't hurt to have someone with Barber's experience to help ease the transition. Besides, the Bucs don't really have a legitimate option to start opposite Aqib Talib. If Elbert Mack somehow ends up in that role, then we'll know Barber is through.
Muhsin Muhammad, wide receiver, Carolina. Although he hasn't so far, logic says Muhammad's age will catch up to him at some point. He's 36 and coming off a solid season. He's also been the only receiver the Panthers have been able to get consistent production out of lining up across from Steve Smith. Muhammad and Smith have a very peaceful coexistence and that's part of the reason why the Panthers want to keep them together. Muhammad's a top-notch blocker in the running game and never has been known for his speed. But the first step Muhammad loses will be one too many. The Panthers have spent the last two years grooming Dwayne Jarrett and he seemed to win the trust of the coaching staff late last season. The Panthers believe Jarrett is the future at this position and they may look to gradually move him ahead of Muhammad.
Charles Grant, defensive end, New Orleans. This guy's been in the league since 2002 and he really hasn't done much since the 2004 season. Grant had three sacks in an injury-shortened year last season and 2.5 in 2007. He's been on the hot seat basically since the arrival of coach Sean Payton in 2006. But that seat is hotter than ever. Grant is scheduled to serve a four-game suspension to start the season. So is fellow starting defensive end Will Smith. The Saints have known this for months and they've got Bobby McCray and Paul Spicer ready to open the season as their starters. If one of them steps up, they could stay in Grant's starting role even after he returns.Jamaal Anderson, defensive end, Atlanta. This guy was the eighth overall pick in the 2007 draft. To date, he has two career sacks. Bobby Petrino and Rich McKay drafted Anderson and that means coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff don't have any particular allegiance to him. They realize Anderson has a lot of potential and they'll give him one more training camp to show something. But they've got Chauncey Davis waiting in the wings and they also drafted Lawrence Sidbury.
Gaines Adams, defensive end, Tampa Bay. Adams came from the same draft class as Anderson and was selected No. 4 overall. His career has been slightly better than Anderson's, but Adams hasn't been anywhere close to dominant. He has 12.5 sacks in two seasons and those have come almost entirely via his speed. Adams has yet to show any moves as a pass rusher. Tampa Bay's new regime has spent the offseason trying to help Adams develop some moves. If he doesn't flash them soon, he might end up moving on. Stylez White is a competent third end and new defensive coordinator Jim Bates won't hesitate to turn to him if Adams doesn't start producing.