NFC South: Alex Brown

New Orleans coach Sean Payton said Monday the Saints expect to get defensive end Will Smith back sometime this week.

Smith was suspended for the first two games of this season after testing positive for the banned substance “StarCaps’’ in 2008. He also was required to forfeit four game checks. Smith hasn’t been formally reinstated yet, but Payton said he expects that by the middle of the week.

The Saints did a decent job of getting through the first two games without their top pass rusher. After a rough opener in Green Bay, the defense played a strong game in Sunday’s victory against Chicago.

There were some raised eyebrows when the Saints released veteran defensive end Alex Brown in the preseason, knowing they’d have to play without Smith. But Brown wasn’t having a great preseason and the Saints decided not to hang onto Brown as a bridge until Smith came back.

Instead, they took their chances and it worked out. Rookie Cameron Jordan got to play right away and has shown some potential and the Saints have found out that Turk McBride and Junior Galette can play.

With Smith back in the fold, the Saints will have some depth at defensive end.

Will Smith suspension official

September, 2, 2011
9/02/11
4:49
PM ET
The NFL just made the official announcement that New Orleans defensive end Will Smith has been suspended for the first two games of this season.

Smith
Smith
He’s getting the same deal as Minnesota defensive tackle Kevin Williams, who also tested positive for the banned substance StarCaps in 2008. The NFL originally planned to suspend all players involved for four games. But the case was tied up in the legal system for more than two years and the suspension was reduced to two games.

Williams and Smith each will miss an additional two game checks. In Smith’s case, he is scheduled to make $352,941 per game, so the total for four games will come to $1,411,764.

Although the Saints have known for a long time that a Smith suspension was possible, the timing isn’t great. The Saints cut Alex Brown, last year’s other starting defensive end, earlier this week and they have to play their season opener Thursday night against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.

Brown’s departure and Smith’s suspension mean it’s almost certain first-round pick Cameron Jordan will start at one defensive end spot. But there’s not another clear-cut favorite for the other job. Unless the Saints bring in a veteran from somewhere else, the choices are Jeff Charleston, Turk McBride and Junior Galette.

Will Smith suspension coming?

September, 2, 2011
9/02/11
3:31
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The Minnesota Vikings just put out a statement on their website from the NFL saying that defensive tackle Kevin Williams will be suspended for the first two games of the season.

We have not heard any word out of the New Orleans Saints yet, but I think it’s safe to assume there is similar news coming on defensive end Will Smith. He and Williams were among the players who tested positive for the banned-substance StarCaps in 2008. The NFL initially wanted to suspend all the players involved for four games.

But there were legal cases involved and the league had to wait for resolution. Assuming Smith gets the same punishment as Williams, the Saints will be without him for Thursday night’s opener against Green Bay at Lambeau Field and the Sept. 18 home game with Chicago.

The Saints cut veteran defensive end Alex Brown earlier this week. With Smith out, they’ll likely start first-round pick Cameron Jordan at one defensive end spot. The other likely will be filled by Jeff Charleston, Turk McBride or Junior Galette.

Final preseason tests for NFC South

September, 1, 2011
9/01/11
8:15
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The final preseason games for all NFC South teams are Thursday night.

Baltimore plays at Atlanta at 7:30 p.m. ET and Tampa Bay at Washington kicks off at the same time. Pittsburgh at Carolina and Tennessee at Houston start half an hour later. Since final preseason games generally don’t feature a lot of playing time for the starters, we’ll make our preview a little more comprehensive.

Instead of doing three things to watch on each team, we’ll do one.

Cam Newton’s last test. The Panthers appear to be set to go with the rookie quarterback as their starter for the regular season. He has not had a great preseason as a passer and probably won’t get a lot of playing time tonight. But it would be nice to see him complete a few passes against the Steelers. That would help his confidence and also bring some optimism to the fans.

Cameron Jordan’s role. The Saints pulled a surprise Tuesday when they cut starting defensive end Alex Brown. Conventional wisdom says that probably means they’re ready to use Jordan, a first-round draft pick, as a starter. Coach Sean Payton hasn’t committed that far and said the Saints will use a rotation at defensive end. But Jeff Charleston, Junior Galette and Turk McBride aren’t the kind of guys you expect to see in the starting lineup on a weekly basis.

Mike Johnson vs. Garrett Reynolds. This competition for Atlanta’s starting right guard job is coming down to the wire. Johnson missed some time early on with a concussion and that gave Reynolds the early edge. But coach Mike Smith has said Johnson still is a contender to start and a strong showing could be the deciding factor. No matter if it’s Johnson or Reynolds opening the regular season at Chicago on Sept. 11, the Falcons will have two new starters on the line that day. Center Todd McClure will miss the opener with a knee injury, and second-year pro Joe Hawley likely will get the start.

Rudy Carpenter in a starting role. He was Tampa Bay’s No. 3 quarterback last season. But Carpenter will get the start against the Redskins and there’s a lot riding on this one. Carpenter is in a competition with Jonathan Crompton for the No. 3 spot. But coach Raheem Morris admitted that it’s possible the Bucs may go into the regular season carrying only Josh Freeman and Josh Johnson on the active roster, which would free up a spot at another position. Carpenter needs a strong outing to prevent that from happening.
New Orleans coach Sean Payton addressed the media Tuesday evening and talked about the decision to release veteran defensive end Alex Brown.

Brown
Brown
"It was a hard decision," Payton said. "We spent a lot of time on it. A lot goes into it, and I said this to him today, [that] it wasn’t that we drafted a young player at that position. I think you try to factor in all the practice snaps and all the game film. It was something that after going through it all and looking at the timing of it, there’s still that opportunity within this next week that he’ll have a chance to sign with someone else and also that door is not totally shut if that opportunity presents itself here. Nonetheless, it was a hard decision we had to make."

What I take out of that is the Saints weren’t impressed with what they’ve seen out of Brown in preseason games and practices. I don't think they were impressed with him last season either and Brown was scheduled to make $3 million this year. The Saints also freed up $3 million in cap space with the move.

Payton also didn't rule out the possibility of bringing Brown back at some point, but I think that's a long shot. The Saints did draft defensive end Cameron Jordan in the first round this year, but Payton didn’t go ahead and name the rookie the starter.

"To some degree, we have less time this season than normal to evaluate players without the offseason," Payton said. "We’re going to have to look closely at our rotation. I think the actual starters that you guys know, especially on the defensive front and the receiver position, who lines up there to start the game is going to vary with how many starts they get. Obviously we’re going to substitute a handful of guys in there. That being said, in this time frame of a week and a half we have to look closely at who’s opposite of Will (Smith)."

Jordan, who sat out Tuesday's practice with an unspecified injury, could factor into that rotation, along with veteran Jeff Charleston. Turk McBride and Junior Galette are two other defensive ends the Saints like.

Smith is New Orleans’ top defensive end, but there’s uncertainty with him. It remains possible he could be suspended this season for testing positive for a banned substance in 2008. But Payton said the uncertainty around Smith didn’t impact the decision on Brown.

“We really tried not to because then we would be making a decision predicated on a possible suspension,’’ Payton said. “We really tried to look at it and evaluate all aspects of it but I would say that it didn’t come into play because if it had come into play more we would have gone in a different direction.”
As friend and former co-worker Scott Fowler first reported earlier Tuesday, John Kasay is staying in the NFC South.

He has signed with the New Orleans Saints. The team just sent out the official announcement. Kasay’s signing comes after kicker Garrett Hartley injured his hip in Sunday’s preseason game. We still don’t know how serious Hartley’s injury is and if Kasay’s stay will be for the short term or the long term.

Kasay hit 86.2 percent of his field-goal attempts last season and was the last remaining player from the 1995 expansion Panthers. He was released partly because the Panthers didn’t want to carry a kickoff specialist and Kasay hadn’t handled kickoffs in several years. The Panthers brought in Olindo Mare to handle place-kicking and kickoff duties. Kickoffs won’t be a problem for the Saints because punter Thomas Morstead can do that.

The Saints also confirmed the release of defensive end Alex Brown. In other moves to get down to Tuesday’s 80-man roster limit, the Saints waived the following players and designated them as injured – guard Roger Allen, linebacker Ezra Butler, receiver Jarred Fayson and running back Chris Taylor. The Saints also waived receiver John Chiles, tackle Dan Gay, fullback Kolby Hurt, safety DeAndre McDaniel, cornerback Mark Parson and center Ryan Taylor.
We mentioned some Carolina transactions in the earlier item on the Saints releasing defensive end Alex Brown. But the Panthers just sent out their official list of transactions, so let’s get them all on the record for posterity.

The Panthers reached an injury settlement with quarterback Tony Pike. They also waived (injured) guard Duke Robinson and released long-snapper Chris Massey.

The Panthers also placed tight end Gary Barnidge, guard Geoff Schwartz, center Zack Williams and receiver David Gettis on the injured reserve list. That puts the roster at 80 players. The Panthers and the rest of the league have until Saturday evening to get down to 53 players.

NFC South Stock Watch

August, 30, 2011
8/30/11
3:27
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We won't officially start our Stock Watch feature until the regular season. But there's plenty going on right now, so let's give you an unofficial preseason version of Stock Watch.

FALLING

Aubrayo Franklin, defensive tackle, Saints. There was a buzz early in camp about Franklin and Shaun Rogers, who both were added to help the Saints get stronger in the middle. Hopes remain high that Franklin will have a big impact, but those hopes might have to wait a bit. Franklin has a sprained knee and could miss a little time at the start of the season.

The Falcons and their Super Bowl chances. Veteran Sports Illustrated writer Peter King has picked the Falcons to win the Super Bowl. That may be music to the ears of fans. But, believe me, it’s not what coach Mike Smith wants to hear. Like a lot of coaches, the guy is very superstitious and probably thinks his team has been jinxed. I've seen and heard Smith plead with writers not to pick his team to win the Super Bowl or the division. On the bright side, King was right last year when he picked Green Bay and Pittsburgh to reach the Super Bowl.

Corvey Irvin, defensive tackle, Panthers. A third-round draft pick in 2009, Irvin continues to be listed as a starter on the depth chart the Panthers sent out for their final preseason game. But Irvin is in jeopardy of not even making the 53-man roster. The Panthers thought they had improved themselves a lot at defensive tackle when they signed free-agent Ron Edwards. But he’s going to miss the season with an injury. The team also used a pair of third-round picks to get Terrell McClain and Sione Fua. The rookies could end up starting right away. The Panthers recently picked up Kentwan Balmer and they’re probably not done yet. They’ll keep an eye on who becomes available elsewhere because they’re not sold on Irvin.

RISING

Michael Bennett, defensive end, Buccaneers. The team used its top two draft picks on defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers. The Bucs remain high on both, but Bennett has been a star this preseason. He likely will start opposite Clayborn and Bowers and will be used as a situational pass rusher at the start of the season.

Joe Hawley, center, Falcons. Veteran Todd McClure had what the team called a minor procedure on his knee. It’s unknown if McClure will be ready for the opener. If he’s not, the Falcons likely will have to start Hawley, a second-year pro. Hawley hasn’t looked great in preseason games, but he was drafted last year to be McClure’s eventual replacement. The Falcons haven’t gone out and added a veteran, so they must believe Hawley can step up if given the chance.

Cameron Jordan, defensive end, Saints. New Orleans had been bringing the first-round pick along slowly. But the coaching staff must have liked what it saw out of Jordan in practice. The team made a bold move Tuesday by releasing veteran starter Alex Brown. He was a dependable player with plenty of experience, but the Saints must believe Jordan has more upside.
Surprising news out of New Orleans. Defensive end Alex Brown, who has worked with the first team throughout the preseason, sent out a tweet saying he’s been released.

Consider that a sign that the Saints are pleased with the progress of first-round draft pick Cameron Jordan. Brown had been starting opposite Will Smith, who could serve a suspension for testing positive for a banned substance in 2008. Even though there is uncertainty about Smith’s situation, the Saints must feel good about Jordan and some of their other defensive ends.

Veteran Jeff Charleston has been a steady backup, and the team likes what Turk McBride has shown in the preseason. The release of Brown could also help Junior Galette’s chances of staying on the roster.

The release of Brown comes with no salary-cap implications. He was scheduled to make $3 million in base salary and had no outstanding roster bonus pro-rations. His release clears up $3 million in cap space.

Teams have to have rosters down to 80 players by the end of the day and there have been some smaller moves around the division.

The Carolina Panthers released second-year quarterback Tony Pike and offensive lineman Duke Robinson. The Panthers also placed guard Geoff Schwartz and tight end Gary Barnidge on the injured reserve list.

The Saints haven’t announced any official moves yet, but receivers John Chiles and Jarred Fayson reportedly have been released.

Earlier in the day, New Orleans safety DeAndre McDaniel tweeted that he had been released.

Stay tuned. We’ll update you with any official announcements from teams as they come. But Saturday is the main day for roster cuts. That’s when teams have to go from 80 players to 53.

NFC South rookies getting starts

August, 29, 2011
8/29/11
4:33
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Colleague Mike Sando has an interesting chart over on the NFC West blog that chronicles which first-round draft picks have been starting in the preseason.

It’s notable when it comes to the NFC South because the division has three first-round picks among the 21 who have started. But the NFC South also has two first-round picks that have not started a game.

Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, the top overall draft pick, has started two of the Panthers’ three games. Tampa Bay defensive end Adrian Clayborn and Atlanta receiver Julio Jones have started all three of their team’s games.

The exceptions are New Orleans’ two first-round picks – running back Mark Ingram and defensive end Cameron Jordan. Don’t take that as a sign that Ingram and Jordan are struggling.

Ingram has played plenty, but the Saints have been starting veteran Pierre Thomas. Ingram’s likely to be a big part of a backfield rotation with Thomas and Darren Sproles. He could become the starter at some point. But, even if he’s not starting, Ingram’s going to get playing time.

The Saints are bringing Jordan along slowly, mainly because they can. They have Alex Brown and Will Smith as veteran starters and they also have some veteran backups. But Jordan’s chance for playing time could be accelerated if Smith is suspended. Smith tested positive for a banned substance in 2008 and the case was tied up in the legal system, but recently was resolved. There have been reports that Smith could be suspended for between two and four games.

Camp Confidential: Saints

August, 12, 2011
8/12/11
10:45
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METAIRIE, La. -- Jonathan Vilma grabbed the question and treated it much the same way he would a running back.

He grabbed it forcefully and drove it straight to the proper destination.

“It’s really very, very simple,’’ the middle linebacker for the New Orleans Saints said. “If we want to get back to being the Super Bowl champions, we have to play defense the way we played it in 2009, not the way we did in 2010. We have to go out there and start making turnovers happen again.’’

[+] EnlargeJonathan Vilma
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireJonathan Vilma, right, wants the Saints' defense to return to its 2009 playmaking form.
It's not as though the 2010 season was a complete disaster for the Saints. They went 11-5 and made the playoffs. But they went out to Seattle for the first round of the postseason and got upset by a team that didn’t even have a winning record. That ended New Orleans’ defense of its first Super Bowl championship, and Vilma put the reason for that squarely on the defense.

“Look, we still had [quarterback] Drew Brees and all sorts of weapons on the other side of the ball,’’ Vilma said. “Last year’s problem wasn’t our offense. It was our defense. We just didn’t make things happen the way we did in 2009. We played well at times, but we also left a lot of big plays on the field because, for whatever reason, we just didn’t make the same plays we did the year before.’’

Vilma pointed to one statistic to demonstrate his point. In 2009, the Saints were plus-11 in turnover ratio. In 2010, they were minus-6.

They have the personnel to reverse that trend, and Vilma said a little more help from the defense could be all it takes to get back to the Super Bowl.

“You think of McDonald’s and you think of Burger King, you know what you’re going to get across the world,’’ Vilma said. “So we want people to think of Saints defense, you know what you’re going to get. You’re going to get takeaways, hitting, relentlessness, running to the ball. I think we’re starting to build that brand, we are still working toward it, and one thing we won’t do is take a step back.”

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. Can the defense really get back to 2009 form? Yes, it’s very possible. Gregg Williams is one of the league’s best and most aggressive defensive coordinators. When I visited camp recently, the defensive players were picking up every loose ball, even well after plays were done. That’s something Williams brought when he arrived in 2009. It didn’t really stop in 2010. But you can tell the Saints are approaching loose balls with much more gusto in this camp.

That’s great, but just taking that mental approach won’t be enough. The Saints have made some personnel moves that should make the overall defense better and should help produce turnovers. The Saints added defensive tackles Shaun Rogers and Aubrayo Franklin and suddenly are much bigger on the defensive line. Rotate Rogers and Franklin with a healthy Sedrick Ellis, and the Saints suddenly could be much stronger than they’ve been in the middle of the line in recent years.

That should help the pass rush, particularly Will Smith, Alex Brown and rookie Cameron Jordan. Smith and Brown didn’t get as much pressure on opposing quarterbacks as the coaches would have liked last season. Pressure is the key to a Williams’ defense. If the Saints can get pressure, the turnovers will come naturally.

2. Is the defense really to blame for last year? Not quite as much as Vilma claims. He’s right that the defense wasn’t the turnover machine it was in 2009. But the offense wasn’t exactly the perfectly tuned machine it was in the Super Bowl season. The Saints scored 64 touchdowns in 2009 (and five of those came on interception returns by the defense), but that number dropped to 44 last season. Maybe the defense could have helped a bit more with field position, but this offense had some flaws.

It’s tough to criticize Brees, who has carried the Saints since his arrival in 2006. But numbers don’t lie, and they’ll tell you Brees had an off year last season. His passing yardage and touchdowns were similar to 2009, but the huge difference was interceptions.

Brees threw only 11 interceptions in 2009 but had a career-high 22 last season. He never missed any playing time or complained about it, but Brees never seemed to be quite the same after injuring his knee in a Week 3 game with Atlanta. That might have had more to do with his "slump'' than we'll ever know.

But Brees has had a whole offseason to recover, and I expect him to bounce back. His cast of receivers remains largely the same, and replacing center Jonathan Goodwin with Olin Kreutz should not hurt an offensive line that already is very good.

[+] EnlargeMark Ingram
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireMark Ingram, right, should become a workhorse for the Saints right away.
3. How will the Saints use their running backs? Whether you loved him or not, Reggie Bush is gone, and that’s going to have an impact. Although he never put up huge numbers, Bush was the kind of player who made defenses account for him every time he was on the field.

It’s easy to say the Saints will try to replace Bush by committee and, to some degree, that’s true. They brought in Darren Sproles to do a lot of what Bush did -- run outside, catch passes out of the backfield and work as a return man. They also have Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory, who are pretty solid all-around backs.

But the biggest offensive move the Saints made this offseason was drafting Mark Ingram. He’s a running back who can do everything well, and he'll probably be used the way Deuce McAllister was in the early years of coach Sean Payton’s tenure. Sproles will inherit the packages Bush was in on, but Ingram’s going to get most of the playing time -- and carries.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Nobody got very excited when the Saints added Will Herring. That’s understandable, because he spent four seasons in Seattle as a backup linebacker and special-teams player. Herring has only seven career starts, but a coaching staff and front office that have been known to find some steals might have another one. Herring has been getting most of the first-team work on the strong side in training camp, and the coaches have been raving about him. He’s quick and he’s smart, and the change of scenery apparently has him playing better than ever.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

When he’s healthy and on the field, Tracy Porter is a solid cornerback. But Porter hasn’t been on the field this training camp. He’s been walking around the sidelines with his left knee wrapped as he recovers from offseason surgery. There’s hope Porter will be ready for the regular season, and there is even higher hope he’ll be motivated to have a huge year because he can become a free agent after the season.

But there’s also some skepticism, because this isn’t the first injury for Porter. He missed four games last year and four the year before. Fellow starter Jabari Greer also has a history of injury problems. If Porter and Greer have more problems, the Saints could be thin at cornerback. They signed veteran Fabian Washington, but he has missed some camp time with an injury.

The upside is the absence of Porter and Washington has given second-year pro Patrick Robinson and rookie Johnny Patrick more work. Williams has been praising both of them. If either or both continue to impress and Porter’s recovery lingers, we could see a change in the lineup. That also wouldn't help Porter's chances of earning a big contract and staying with the Saints next season.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Wide receiver Robert Meachem was a close runner-up for the biggest-surprise category above. Meachem is coming off ankle surgery for an injury that slowed him last year, and he's having an excellent camp. He has caught just about every pass thrown his way and seems to be moving much better than a year ago. Meachem was a force as a deep threat in 2009, and it looks as if he might be returning to that form.
  • Herring has been working on the strong side and Scott Shanle on the weak side. But nothing’s settled yet. Herring appears headed for a starting job, but Shanle is aging. The Saints have liked what they’ve seen from Clint Ingram and Jonathan Casillas, and they know what they have in Jo-Lonn Dunbar. They’ll probably go through several preseason games before deciding firmly on their starting linebackers. Even then, they could still rotate linebackers because the coaches view all of them as pretty close to equal.
  • One linebacker who is struggling a bit is third-round pick Martez Wilson. You can see he has good athleticism, but he looks lost at times during team drills. The Saints aren’t anywhere close to being ready to give up on him, because he has lots of upside. But a lot of fans thought he’d be an instant starter. That’s not going to happen.
  • The Saints never have been afraid to take a shot on a reclamation project, and that’s what they did with Rogers at defensive tackle. He came into the league with a lot of hype back in 2001 but has spent his career stuck with some pretty bad teams in Detroit and Cleveland. Rogers even lost his starting job with the Browns last year, and there have been questions about his conditioning and attitude throughout his career. But this might be a perfect fit. Rogers is on a good team for perhaps the first time in his career, and Williams is a master motivator. Even if Rogers doesn’t work out, I like how the Saints hedged their bet by bringing in Franklin.
  • The Saints also took a shot on another former first-round pick. That’s offensive tackle Alex Barron. But he’s not off to a great start. He has been sidelined by injury, and unless he comes back soon and makes a big impression, he probably won’t make the roster.
  • Since entering the league in 2009, punter Thomas Morstead has been known as a guy with a big leg. That hasn’t changed. But Morstead put in a lot of work on his directional punting in the offseason, and you can see the results in practice. That should help the defense with field position.

Observations on the Saints

August, 9, 2011
8/09/11
8:40
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METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints just finished a fully-padded practice on what unquestionably has been the hottest day of the 2011 NFC South Training Camp Tour.

How hot was it? Well, let’s skip the weather terms and put a different kind of number on it. Defensive end Alex Brown just tweeted that he was nine pounds lighter after he got back to the locker room. Brown said he weighed in at 243 pounds -- that’s linebacker size.

Speaking of the heat, the Saints are going to get away from it. The Saints are going to play a preseason game at Houston. After that, they’re heading to Oxnard, Calif. They’ll spend a week practicing there before playing the Oakland Raiders.

“I think we’ll benefit for a lot of reasons,’’ coach Sean Payton said. “The weather and the environment is something I’m familiar with. Going out there and playing Oakland, it will be a good week for us to finish up.’’

Payton’s familiar with Oxnard from his days with Dallas because the Cowboys have trained there. Oxnard’s known for its low humidity. Payton also said the trip sort of gives the Saints an extra week of training camp.

A few other observations from Tuesday’s practice.
  • Receivers Marques Colston, Adrian Arrington and Jarred Fayson all missed practice. Payton said he’s not worried about a shortage of receivers for Friday’s preseason opener. Payton said he expects some or all of the injured receivers to return soon.
  • Backup quarterback Chase Daniel had a very nice practice. I saw him throw three touchdown passes in team drills. The high-light was a back-shoulder touchdown to Jimmy Graham.
  • Until Tuesday, I had only seen rookie running back Mark Ingram play on television. In person, he’s even more impressive. I saw him running with power and the best thing I can say is he looked faster than I thought he was. The Saints are bringing just about all their other rookies along slowly, but Ingram’s getting all sorts of work with the starters.
  • The outside linebacker spots are still up for grabs, but Scott Shanle's working with the first team on the weak side and Will Herring's working on the strong side. But Clint Ingram got some first-team reps on the strong side on Tuesday and is very much in the mix. I like the way the Saints are handling the situation at outside linebackers. They've got a whole bunch of candidates and they're going to use the preseason to throw them all out there and see who rises up.
  • One thing that really stood out was the fact that the middle of the defensive line is a lot bigger than last year. That’s largely due to the arrival of Shaun Rogers and Aubrayo Franklin.
  • I'll have more on the Saints on Wednesday and their Camp Confidential profile is scheduled for Friday.

Hitting the NFC South links

August, 7, 2011
8/07/11
11:16
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Let's take a stroll through the Sunday morning headlines from around the NFC South.

Defensive end Jeff Charleston has re-signed with the Saints. No big surprise here. Charleston’s a solid backup and the Saints wanted to keep him all along. Even though they drafted Cameron Jordan and have veterans Will Smith and Alex Brown, there still is a role for Charleston. Plus, coach Sean Payton has said that expects Smith will have to serve a four-game suspension this season, so that only made it more important to keep Charleston.

Bradley Handwerger writes that New Orleans receiver Adrian Arrington might have trouble making the roster. Arrington’s been missing time with an ankle injury. The Saints are set with their top four receivers and several young players have been having good camps. One of them could edge Arrington for the fifth-receiver spot.

Some fine work by my friend Steve Reed. He’s got a five-part series that looks back at the history of the Carolina Panthers. It’s a must-read for any Carolina fan.

With Tracy Porter missing time with an injury, second-year cornerback Patrick Robinson has been getting a lot of first-team work with the Saints. Robinson didn’t do much as a rookie last season. But neither did Malcolm Jenkins the year before that. Jenkins emerged as an impact player last season. I’m expecting Robinson to follow a similar path this season. At worst, he’ll be the nickel back. But Porter and fellow starter Jabari Greer each have a history that includes some injuries, and Robinson could end up starting.

Carolina receiver Steve Smith said the new offense of coordinator Rob Chudzinski is refreshing. It’s important to keep Smith happy. If he’s content, he could be a very valuable weapon for Cam Newton.

Tampa Bay co-chairman Bryan Glazer was asked Saturday night if he’s expecting sellouts this season. The Bucs didn’t sell out a single-home game last season, and those games couldn’t be carried on local television. Glazer made it sound like some games could sell out, but not all of them.

With the addition of Keith Millard and Grade Stretz as defensive line coaches, the Tampa Bay defensive linemen will be using new stances.

It’s not official or straight from the coaching staff. But D. Orlando Ledbetter has a projected depth chart for the Falcons that’s based on his own observations after watching all the camp practices.

Around the NFC South

July, 28, 2011
7/28/11
10:13
AM ET
Things are moving at a furious pace, so let's use the headlines from around the NFC South to help us cover more ground.

Very accurate and concise statement by Steve Reed as he says the reality is that Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson “never has been cheap. It’s just that some folks have short memories." That sums it up nicely. Yeah, Richardson might have made some unpopular moves as he prepared his franchise for the lockout. But Richardson always has been willing to do what it takes to win and Wednesday’s spending spree shows that desire is still there.

When I first heard the Panthers had agreed to terms with Olindo Mare, my initial thought was that John Kasay must have decided to retire. It turns out, that's not the case -- at least not yet. The Panthers plan to release Kasay later Thursday and general manager Marty Hurney said he would be surprised if Kasay continues kicking in the NFL. It could happen. But I think there also is the possibility that, once reality sets in, Kasay could decide it's time to stop playing.

James Varney writes that the Saints are close to deals with draft picks Martez Wilson and Nate Bussey, but it’s unclear how close the Saints are with their other rookies. With practice starting Friday, I’d expect a flurry of activity today.

Scratch defensive end Jason Babin off Atlanta’s wish list, if he was ever on it. Babin is going to Philadelphia.

D. Orlando Ledbetter writes that tackle Tyson Clabo has had some talks with Buffalo. I think the Falcons are going to do their best to keep Clabo. Ledbetter also reports that Tampa Bay made a strong push for linebacker Stephen Nicholas before he re-signed with Atlanta. Makes me think the Bucs are probably still looking for linebacker help, even after re-signing Quincy Black.

New Orleans free-agent defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson has drawn interest from Seattle. However, he’s still talking to the Saints. It would be easy to view Wilkerson as expendable because the Saints have Will Smith, Alex Brown and rookie Cameron Jordan. But Smith could face a four-game suspension to start the season and that could prompt the Saints to keep Wilkerson.

Roy Cummings looks at five key issues facing the Bucs as they report to training camp. The first two deal with a defensive line that’s going to be very young.

As just about everyone expected, the Atlanta Falcons have told running back Jerious Norwood they don’t plan to re-sign him. Norwood showed a few flashes of brilliance through the years, but never was able to stay healthy.

Hitting the NFC South hot spots

July, 18, 2011
7/18/11
1:53
PM ET
Let’s take a plunge into the NFC South mailbag.

Joshua in Canton, N.C., asks if the Panthers will pursue a wide receiver in free agency and wonders if they’ll go that route only if Steve Smith leaves.

Pat Yasinskas: With or without Smith, the Panthers are pretty high on young receivers David Gettis and Brandon LaFell. If Smith is gone, they’ll be the starters. If he stays, they’ve got a pretty good trio of receivers. While I could see Carolina adding a receiver if Smith leaves, I don’t think it will be a big name. The Panthers want Gettis and LaFell on the field as much as possible. They also have second-year pro Armanti Edwards. As a former college quarterback, Edwards is a project, but the team wants to give him a chance to contribute as a receiver this year.


Richard in Arbor Mich., says that the possibility of a four-game suspension for Will Smith could force the Saints to keep Alex Brown.

Pat Yasinskas: True, Smith could be suspended and that increases the chances of the Saints keeping Brown. They added rookie Cameron Jordan in the draft, but they don’t know for sure what he’ll bring. Brown isn’t spectacular, but he’s a solid player. And while his $3 million cap figure is a bit high, the Saints will probably keep him.


Wade in Chicago takes exception to Jerry Kramer’s comments that Drew Brees hasn’t faced any of life’s hardships.

Pat Yasinskas: I agree. Brees has endured plenty. He had a major shoulder injury and was forced out of San Diego. He also has had some family issues, including the death of his mother. Brees has endured all that as well as possible.


Ryan in Durham, N.C., wonders about the possibility of Randy Moss landing with the Saints.

Pat Yasinskas: The Saints have been known to take chances on guys with baggage. Moss reportedly is in great shape and highly motivated. I wouldn’t rule this one out.


Ned in parts unknown asks how good Atlanta linebacker Sean Weatherspoon can be.

Pat Yasinskas: Weatherspoon was starting to show some real promise before injuries slowed him down as a rookie. He should be starting off healthy this year, and the Falcons believe he can be the type of linebacker who makes big plays. I think you’ll see him have a much bigger impact this year.

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