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Monday, May 14, 2012
NFC South programming notes

By Pat Yasinskas
ESPN.com

It’s back to business as usual after a little down time.

Before we start moving ahead, though, there were two events that happened while I was off that I’d like to weigh in on.

The Atlanta Falcons released veteran fullback Ovie Mughelli. The Falcons likely would have preferred to release him back before the start of free agency, but Mughelli still was recovering from a season-ending leg injury suffered last year. Once Mughelli was healthy enough to pass a physical, the Falcons went ahead and pulled the plug. They’re taking a bit of a leap of faith in hoping that rookie Bradie Ewing or Mike Cox can fill the void. Mughelli easily was the best fullback in the NFC South the past few seasons. But age was catching up to Mughelli. That’s something the Falcons have to be conscious of at multiple positions because they still have guys like defensive end John Abraham, center Todd McClure and tight end Tony Gonzalez. This team has to start mixing in some younger players and parting ways with Mughelli was one way to move in that direction.

Mughelli was a great lead blocker for Michael Turner, but I’ve got a feeling new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter isn’t going to be using the power running game quite as much as predecessor Mike Mularkey. Yes, Ewing or Cox will take on that role at times, but I think you’ll see more one-back sets as the Falcons try to get Jacquizz Rodgers on the field more often to take advantage of his speed.

I also wouldn’t be surprised if Koetter uses an H-back from time to time. From the moment the Falcons drafted receiver Kerry Meier, they have raved about his versatility. But we really haven’t seen much of Meier except on special teams. The Falcons are deep at receiver, so using an H-back from time to time could be one way to get Meier onto the field.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers suffered a big blow when defensive end Da'Quan Bowers tore his Achilles tendon in an offseason workout. Even though the length of the offseason program has been shortened and new rules are in place limiting how much contact players can have even during regular-season practices, this type of thing still will happen. Anytime you get athletes out on the field, there is the potential for injury.

This one hurts because the Bucs thought Bowers could develop into a full-time starter in his second season. Bowers has said he expects to return at some point this season, but that may be overly optimistic. Adrian Clayborn and Michael Bennett could form a decent starting tandem, but the Bucs have to hope that someone like George Johnson can step into the third spot in the rotation. Johnson will get his chance between now and roster cuts at the end of the preseason. If he impresses, he could have a spot in the rotation. If not, the Bucs will be looking hard at the waiver wire in late August and early September.

The other thing to ponder here is what the injury means for Bowers’ career. He had micro-fracture knee surgery prior to last year’s draft and that led to a lot of speculation that his career might only last about four years. If Bowers does miss the entire season and the speculation about his knee turns out to be correct, his career could be about half over.