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Saturday, May 21, 2011
Hitting the NFC South hot spots

By Pat Yasinskas
ESPN.com

Before I get ready to watch the Tampa Bay Lightning game (yes, the lockout has started turning me into a hockey fan), let's take a run through the NFC South mailbag.

Ellis in Houston wrote to say Drew Brees was No. 3 in our Power Rankings for quarterbacks and Sean Payton No. 5 for coaches, but points out the rest of the Saints haven’t gotten much recognition even though they’ve been a top team the past couple of years. He asks if there’s a lack of recognition or if the Saints are a team that’s sum is greater than its individual parts.

Pat Yasinskas: Excellent question. I think it’s largely a sign of how well the Saints are constructed, coached and play together. I think of a guy like Marques Colston. If he played on another team, he might be on a list of top 10 receivers because his numbers might be a lot better. Colston is as talented as just about any receiver and he’s productive. But his individual numbers are held back a bit because the Saints spread the ball around so much. At running back, the Saints have used a committee approach. On defense, they’ve got steady middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma and rising safety Malcolm Jenkins. This is a team without a bunch of individual stars, but the results have been very positive. I’ll take that over individual recognition any day. By the way, if the lockout continues and we get to Power Rankings on guards, I think you can count on Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks making the top 10. They're two of the best in the league at what they do.


Charlie in Chattanooga, Tenn., asks if the Panthers are getting together for organized workouts like the Saints and Falcons have.

Pat Yasinskas: I know a lot of Panthers have been working out on their own or in small groups. But I recently heard that offensive tackle Jordan Gross is organizing something on a bigger scale. I don’t know all the details, but I take this as a good sign. The Panthers obviously are very young at quarterback, so they don’t have a Brees, Matt Ryan or Josh Freeman to lead the way. Gross is a respected veteran, and he should be able to get most of his teammates to show up. The real disadvantage the Panthers face is they don’t really know their playbook yet because it’s new. Brees, Ryan and Freeman have the luxury of working off playbooks that have been in place for several years.


Russell in Asheville, N.C., wrote to say he hopes my career tanks just as quickly as Cam Newton’s career because of the “cheerleading job’’ I did before the draft and says I helped ruin Carolina’s franchise.

Pat Yasinskas: Thanks for that cheery note. You really think Marty Hurney, Jerry Richardson and Ron Rivera sat around and read my stuff and said, “Gee, if he thinks we should draft Cam Newton, we darn sure better draft Cam Newton"? I think you missed reality by half a mile here. I was writing that the Panthers were going to draft Newton because my sources kept telling me that. I simply was doing my job and preparing fans for what was coming. You can disagree with the drafting of Newton all you want. I don’t know if it was the right move and we won’t know for several years. But shooting the messenger isn’t going to do any good. Hurney, Richardson and Rivera are the ones who drafted Newton.


Michael in Orlando asks if the Bucs have enough firepower at wide receiver or if they should pursue a free agent.

Pat Yasinskas: I think the Bucs are in good shape there. Mike Williams immediately emerged as a No. 1 receiver last season. Arrelious Benn started slowly and was just starting to come on before getting injured. Benn’s been progressing in his recovery and has been running and working out with backup quarterback Rudy Carpenter in California. He should be ready for the season and he’s the No. 2 guy. After that, the Bucs have Sammie Stroughter and Dezmon Briscoe and are high on both. Micheal Spurlock also factors into the mix as a receiver and special-teams player. The Bucs might bring an undrafted free agent or two to compete for a roster spot, but I don’t think there’s any need to make any major moves.


Chris in Marietta, Ga., wrote to say it makes some sense for the Falcons to go after Nnamdi Asomugha in free agency. They have Dunta Robinson, but could add another quality cornerback to really solidify the defensive backfield.

Pat Yasinskas: I won’t totally rule that one out because the Falcons have made it clear they’re “all-in’’ for this season. I’d still like to see them get a pass-rusher and think they have decent talent at cornerback. But if they could add a pass-rusher and Asomugha, they could have a truly dominant defense. It would be costly, of course, but Arthur Blank doesn’t seem to be afraid to spend money.