NFC South: Chris Ivory

METAIRIE, La. -- As I wrote earlier, New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton said it was impossible to single out any one area that deserved blame for Sunday's 26-20 loss to the New York Jets, since there were fundamental breakdowns across the board.

However, the Saints' run defense was clearly near the top of that list of offenders.

“The thing that's disappointing about yesterday is we knew getting off the bus this is a team that was gonna run the football,” Payton said. “They knew they were gonna run the football. I think everyone at MetLife Stadium knew they were gonna run the football. And we weren't able to stop them. That's frustrating, and we've got to figure out why and make those corrections.”

[+] EnlargeNew York's Chris Ivory
AP Photo/Bill KostrounChris Ivory gained 109 of his 139 yards on three carries against the Saints.
The Saints gave up 198 rushing yards to the Jets. But almost all of the damage came on three plays. Running back Chris Ivory busted loose for gains of 52, 30 and 27 yards -- going virtually untouched on all three runs.

When asked how much of that was simply Ivory having a great game, Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton wasn't about to surrender any of the blame.

“I wouldn't say that. He had great numbers stat-wise, but there wasn't anything in his way most of the time he ran,” Lofton said. “That's more so (our fault). We didn't do our jobs or execute the way we should execute.”

The Saints either got blocked out of the way or took poor angles to the runner in every level of their defense. And they got caught over-pursuing on blitzes on the first two runs (the 27-yarder in the first quarter and the 52-yarder in the second quarter).

Those types of breakdowns haven't been a consistent problem for the Saints this year, even though they rank 26th in rushing yards allowed (121.3 per game). They have occasionally let some long gains slip through -- but never to this degree. And never against an opponent that was so obviously planning to run against them all day long.

Payton pointed to the 52-yard run while the Jets were backed up with a second-and-12 from their own 2-yard line as one of the two biggest turning points in the game.

He just as easily could've mentioned Ivory's 30-yard run on third-and-2 late in the third quarter.

“What went wrong was, I'd say it was a couple of things. Misalignment, not being lined up, not having people in the right spots, and just missing tackles, too, which led to big plays and getting gashed,” Lofton said. “That's something we haven't done in the previous games and it reared its head this game. We've got to get back to the basics and get ready for Dallas this weekend.”

Here's a specific breakdown from the tape of those three runs:

  • 27 yards off right tackle on first-and-10 from the Saints' 48-yard line: The Jets were lined up in the shotgun with two running backs in the backfield, and the Saints stacked eight men in the box. But the Saints got burned with an aggressive blitz. Lofton shot into the line, and outside linebacker Parys Haralson came around behind Lofton on a stunt. When Haralson got to the open hole, he overshot Ivory's path, and Ivory ran untouched deep into the secondary.
  • 52 yards off right tackle on second-and-12 from the Jets' 2-yard line: The Jets were lined up in a base formation, with Ivory behind a fullback in the backfield. Again the Saints blitzed, which took safety Kenny Vaccaro out of the play to the Saints' right side. Meanwhile, Ivory came around to the Saints' left side behind pulling guard Brian Winters. Winters got in Lofton's way, forcing Lofton to try and bring down Ivory with just an arm tackle -- which wasn't going to get it done. Deep safety Rafael Bush wasn't able to get across the field to help out. Luckily, Vaccaro wound up catching Ivory from behind, or else it might have been a 98-yard touchdown run.
  • 30 yards around left end on third-and-2 from the Jets' 27-yard line: Ivory was the lone back next to quarterback Geno Smith in a shotgun formation, with three wide receivers and a tight end. The Saints had eight men in the box, but they didn't blitz. This time, Ivory followed pulling guard Willie Colon around the left end. Colon took out Lofton, and Bush took too shallow of an angle while coming from the deep safety position.

Upon Further Review: Saints Week 9

November, 4, 2013
11/04/13
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An review of four hot issues from the New Orleans Saints' 26-20 loss to the New York Jets on the road in MetLife Stadium:

Missing Ivory? I focused my postgame stories on the Saints' inability to stop former running back Chris Ivory and their inability to establish a run game of their own. So it's hard to ignore the question: Do they miss Ivory? I still say the answer is no. If he had stayed in New Orleans, he'd certainly have some highlight moments, like he did in the past. But he would also have quiet days, like he did in the past, for a Saints team that doesn't feature the run as often or as well as the Jets.

[+] EnlargeNew Orleans' Drew Brees
Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY SportsDrew Brees was sacked twice in the final 20 minutes.
The trade made sense for the Saints, since their backfield is still overcrowded and they got good value in return for him (a fourth-round pick). But obviously the Saints need to figure out how to establish a more consistent run game, from their play calling to their blocking to the runners themselves.

Protection breakdown: The Saints became one-dimensional when they trailed by nine points throughout much of the second half. And the offensive line didn't hold up well under the pressure. Over the final 20 minutes, quarterback Drew Brees was sacked twice, guard Jahri Evans and center Brian de la Puente were flagged for holding, and guard Ben Grubbs was flagged for illegal hands to the face. Brees was also pressured into some incomplete passes, and the Saints failed to score a second-half touchdown.

The Jets do have one of the NFL's most disruptive defensive fronts. But the Saints' pass protection has been more up and down than usual this year, with most of the pressure coming up the gut.

Defensive breakdown: The Saints' run defense also broke down too often Sunday, allowing Ivory to bust loose for gains of 52, 30 and 27 yards. It was obviously unsettling, since the Saints had made it their primary focus to stop the run against a Jets team that doesn't throw the ball very well. The Saints now rank 26th in the NFL in run defense this year, allowing 121.3 yards per game.

However, I still don't see this as a huge area of concern going forward. The Jets are the first team all year that really dominated the Saints with the run game. And most of their damage came on those three long runs. Ivory gained only 30 yards on his other 15 runs.

Hartley's redemption: One of the best things that came out of the Saints' second-half offensive struggles is that it gave kicker Garrett Hartley the opportunity to make two high-pressure field goals from 55 and 43 yards. Before that, Hartley had missed three consecutive field goals -- including a 43-yarder wide left in the first quarter against the Jets. The two made field goals should help him settle back into a groove.

Halftime report: Jets 20, Saints 14

November, 3, 2013
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New Orleans Saints are trailing the New York Jets 20-14 at halftime after a sloppy first half on both sides of the ball. Here are a few thoughts on the action so far:

Ivory’s revenge: Former Saints tailback Chris Ivory is making the Saints pay for trading him to the Jets this offseason. He has 10 carries for 93 yards, including a 52-yarder, a 27-yarder and a 3-yard touchdown. It’s not really a “revenge” game for Ivory, since the Saints did him a favor by trading him to New York’s less-crowded backfield. But he’s showing them what they missed out on, regardless.

Two picks for Brees: Saints quarterback Drew Brees has thrown two interceptions in this game after throwing just five in the first seven games. Both of them were tipped balls -- the first when he threw too far behind tight end Benjamin Watson, the second when receiver Nick Toon bobbled a pass. Toon is having a rough day, wasting his chance to step up in Marques Colston’s absence. He also dropped a deep ball down the left sideline earlier in the game.

The Saints are losing the turnover battle 2-0, flipping the script from the rest of the season. Heading into the game, the Saints had a turnover ratio of plus-8 and the Jets minus-12.

Sproles out: The Saints lost one of their top playmakers, running back Darren Sproles, to a concussion on the first series. He’ll be missed today since the Saints are relying heavily on their passing game. The Jets have the NFL’s No. 1-ranked run defense, and they’ve held New Orleans to 16 yards on five carries today.

Graham, Meachem thriving: Two weapons have been thriving for the Saints today. Tight end Jimmy Graham has four catches for 72 yards and two touchdowns. Receiver Robert Meachem has three catches for 88 yards, including a 60-yarder. Expect Brees to lean heavily on Graham in the second half.

Hartley misses again: Saints kicker Garrett Hartley missed another 43-yard field goal, wide left, on the opening drive. He’s now missed three in a row. He can’t afford another miss in a tight game like this.
METAIRIE, La. -- The first thing I noticed when watching the New Orleans Saints practice was the silence.

There was no messing around and no coaches screaming at players. Instead, the Saints looked like a veteran team that is intensely focused -- more focused than last year, when chaos surrounded the entire season. Maybe even more focused than in 2009, when the Saints eventually won their first Super Bowl championship.

The quiet practices are a firm sign that coach Sean Payton is back in charge and that this team wants to put last season as far in the past as possible. The bounty scandal that led to the season-long suspension of Payton and a disappointing 7-9 record is over, and the Saints want to return to their winning ways.

“Last year was an apparition," quarterback Drew Brees said. “It was a different time with all the situations that had taken place. This year, just knowing that we’ve got everybody here, this is our team. Nobody’s missing. This is the team that can accomplish great things, and there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. Here’s our window of time to bring it together. We know there’s going to be tough times. We know there’s going to be adversity. Build that attitude, build that chemistry, and get ready to make a run at it.”

Payton’s return alone should make a big difference. He’s one of the league’s best coaches and possesses a brilliant offensive mind. After watching his team from a distance last year, Payton had some strong critiques for his players, even the superstars.

Soon after Payton was reinstated, he called tight end Jimmy Graham and told him that a season in which he caught 85 passes but led the league in drops, according to ESPN Stats & Information, wasn’t good enough.

“First, he called me and I didn’t recognize the number so I didn’t pick it up," Graham said. “He was pretty mad because it took like two or three days for me to call him back. The conversation was very serious, talking about his expectations for me and the things that I need to correct from last year and how he’s ready to be back. He’s ready to see my growth even more."

Payton needs to see growth from more than Graham. He’s made it clear that he wants to run the ball more often and that the Saints have to be substantially better on defense.

If the Saints can combine those things with Brees and the passing game, they should be right back in playoff contention.

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. The defensive overhaul. Payton is an offensive guru, but the first order of business upon his reinstatement was to replace defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo with Rob Ryan. Spagnuolo’s defense never caught on in New Orleans, and the Saints finished last season ranked No. 32 in total defense.

The Saints aren’t just switching coordinators. They’re switching schemes. With Payton’s blessing, Ryan is installing a 3-4 scheme. The pass rush now will have to come from the outside linebackers, particularly Junior Galette, Will Smith and Martez Wilson, a trio of guys that previously played defensive end.

The secondary also is going through some major changes. The Saints signed free-agent cornerback Keenan Lewis and drafted safety Kenny Vaccaro in the first round.

The defense will look a lot different because Ryan uses a lot of exotic looks. If the results are different from last season, the Saints will be in good shape.

[+] EnlargeMark Ingram
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireThere won't be any excuses for Mark Ingram this season, as the Saints plan to keep him involved in their running game.
Ingram’s time? Payton repeatedly has said the Saints need to get back to running the ball more efficiently. They were good in that area in their Super Bowl season but got away from the run last season.

There really is no reason the Saints shouldn’t be able to get production from the running game. They have a good offensive line and three talented running backs -- Mark Ingram, Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas.

The real wild card is Ingram. Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis used a first-round pick on Ingram in 2011, but he hasn’t produced a lot in his first two years. I think Payton is going to make it a point to give Ingram more carries this season.

A new age of receivers. A few years ago, the Saints had a receiving corps as deep as any in the league, which came in handy because they use so many three- and four-receiver sets. But Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson left over the past two seasons. Joe Morgan, who had been ticketed for the third receiver spot, suffered a season-ending injury in camp.

That leaves starters Marques Colston and Lance Moore as the only sure things. Beyond them, there’s a lot of uncertainty. But the Saints hope veteran Steve Breaston, who was signed this week, and second-year pro Nick Toon, who missed his rookie season with an injury, can fill the void.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

Any team that has Brees as its quarterback is going to be competitive. With weapons such as Graham, Colston and Sproles, the Saints are going to score plenty of points. It would be difficult for the defense to be any worse than last season.

If the Saints can just put a middle-of-the-pack defense on the field, they can be a dangerous team.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

Rob Ryan
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsRob Ryan will bring an aggressive new 3-4 attack to New Orleans, but do the Saints have the proper personnel to run it effectively off the bat?
The Saints already have had some tough breaks when it comes to injuries. Defensive end Kenyon Coleman and outside linebacker Victor Butler, who were brought in specifically to fill important roles in Ryan’s defensive scheme, already have suffered season-ending injuries.

Ryan is an aggressive coach, and the 3-4 has had plenty of success around the league in recent years. But I’m not sure Ryan has the personnel to make this defense succeed. It could take another offseason to get this defense fully stocked.

OBSERVATION DECK

One of the brightest spots in training camp has been the play of second-year defensive lineman Akiem Hicks. I saw him make several big plays during my visit. Hicks is going to get his chance to shine in the regular season, and with Coleman out, it looks like he'll be a starter at defensive end.

In another sign that the Saints are serious about running the ball more, Graham has bulked up. The tight end said he now weighs about 270 pounds and that he’s focusing on becoming a better blocker.

The Saints have a history of finding unheralded running backs who end up making a contribution (see Chris Ivory and Travaris Cadet). They might have found another one in Khiry Robinson, an undrafted free agent out of West Texas A&M. Robinson has flashed big-play ability in camp. The Saints have so much depth at running back that it might be tough for him to make the roster, but he could end up on the practice squad.

There was some thought that Jason Smith, a former first-round pick by the St. Louis Rams, could end up as the starting left tackle. But it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. Charles Brown has been getting virtually all the first-team work. Smith has fallen to third on the depth chart and is working behind rookie Terron Armstead. It’s looking like Smith might not even make the roster.

In recent years, the Saints have brought rookie defensive backs along slowly. Malcolm Jenkins and Patrick Robinson didn’t play significant roles in their first seasons. But I don’t think the Saints are going to be cautious with Vaccaro. Whether it’s at one of the safety spots or as the nickelback, Vaccaro is going to play a lot this season.
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

How does each NFC South team look at running back, and what still needs to be done?

Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons upgraded this position quite a bit in free agency by replacing Michael Turner with Steven Jackson. This will be Jackson’s 10th NFL season, but he is still running very hard and shows an impressive burst for his age. He is as physical as ever and, for the first time in recent memory, will not be facing stacked boxes down after down. Jackson is also a far superior receiver to Turner, which is extremely important in this offense, which excels with so many great receivers. Jackson might not have a lot of big years left, but I expect 2013 to be one of his finest. Jacquizz Rodgers caught 53 passes last year, but Jackson should cut into Rodgers’ role on throwing downs. And Rodgers isn’t a true answer if Jackson were to go down. That lead role probably would go to Jason Snelling, who also is not a liability catching the football. Rodgers should see a fair amount of playing time, though, in Atlanta’s three-wide receiver sets, as he did a year ago.

Carolina Panthers: The Panthers have more running backs than they know what to do with -- and have invested too many premium resources at this position. The lead guy here is Jonathan Stewart, who, if given the chance to be a featured back for an entire season and able to stay healthy, might just prove to be one of the top half-dozen backs in the league. Stewart has missed only nine games over his five seasons but is constantly fighting nagging injuries. He also averaged a meager 3.6 yards per carry last season after averaging 5.4 the year before. The Panthers recently restructured DeAngelo Williams’ contract, ensuring he'll remain in Carolina. This will be Williams’ eighth NFL season, but he hasn’t received more than 173 carries in any of the past three seasons. He has breakaway abilities and a penchant for breaking off long runs. I think he still has plenty left in the tank. Mike Tolbert is listed as a fullback, but he is a short-yardage specialist who is a bowling ball with a low center of gravity. For a back of his dimensions (5-foot-9, 245 pounds), he is also a surprisingly adept receiver. Oddly, when considering all of its other needs, Carolina used a sixth-round pick on Kenjon Barner, a perimeter and space player who comes from Chip Kelly’s high-octane Oregon offensive attack.

New Orleans Saints: Chris Ivory is now with the Jets, but the Saints still have a full stable of capable backs. In his first two NFL seasons, Mark Ingram has rushed for only 1,076 yards combined and has averaged under 4.0 yards per carry. But I expect Ingram to break out in 2013. Health issues have been a problem since he entered the league, but, as the 2012 season went along, he looked more and more comfortable. Despite its great prowess throwing the ball, Sean Payton’s offense stresses a physical, inside running game, which suits Ingram very well. Darren Sproles turns 30 before the season, but he is not at all short on quickness, speed or explosiveness. He is an elite receiving back who has caught 161 balls over his past 29 regular-season games. Pierre Thomas isn’t huge on production numbers, but he is extremely effective on a per-touch basis as a runner or receiver. He could fill in very ably in Ingram’s or Sproles’ role for a short period of time. The Saints use Thomas extremely well. Travaris Cadet could have a small role for New Orleans.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Doug Martin was a phenom in his first season, accumulating nearly 2,000 combined yards even though the Buccaneers were missing their high-priced guards to help pave the way. Martin entered the league NFL-ready with an excellent all-around game. He is a very good, but not great, receiver. The same is true for his pass protection. He should only get better in both areas. But Martin is already a very good runner who can get to the corner with speed, break long runs and handle the physical pounding at the position. He is an excellent interior runner. Rookie sixth-round pick Mike James could be Martin’s direct backup, but Tampa Bay also used a seventh-round pick last year on Michael Smith. Brian Leonard is on the roster, as well. James isn’t flashy but has size and isn’t a dancer. Smith has more quickness to his game, but probably wouldn’t be suited for a large role if Martin were to miss time. Leonard plays hard and is a good blocker and receiver. He is also an accomplished special-teams player and knows how to help a team. Don’t be surprised if the Buccaneers consider adding a veteran running back before training camp opens.

Around the NFC South

May, 10, 2013
5/10/13
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Let’s take a morning jog through the headlines from around the NFC South:

ATLANTA FALCONS

Although some teams have started signing their draft picks, I don’t expect the Falcons to move too quickly in this department. D. Orlando Ledbetter writes that the Falcons’ rookie pool will take up about $3.5 million in cap space. At the moment, the Falcons are only $2.1 million under the cap. But they’ll get a $4.5 million boost after June 1 when the cap hit for released tackle Tyson Clabo will be spread out over this year and next.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

The team will get its first on-field look at defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short on Friday when the Panthers begin their rookie camp.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Mike Triplett writes that all signs point to running back Mark Ingram having a bigger impact than he did in his first two seasons. The backfield is a little less crowded with the departure of Chris Ivory and coach Sean Payton has said the running game will be more important than in the past. It also is important to note that Ingram is fully healthy, which hasn’t always been the case since he came out of college. This guy is a former first-round pick and I think the Saints are going to make it a point this season to try to get some return on their investment.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Most Tampa Bay fans are assuming that Ronde Barber, who officially announced his retirement Thursday, is headed straight for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Some of those fans are certain Barber will make it on the first ballot. Ira Kaufman writes that those fans might want to temper their expectations a bit. He points to the fact that only four defensive backs have been elected to the Hall of Fame in the last two decades. Barber’s impressive career and statistics will at least put him in the conversation, but his selection to the Hall of Fame might not be as automatic as people think.

NFC South afternoon update

April, 30, 2013
4/30/13
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It's been a fairly quiet news day in the NFC South. But there were a few odds and ends, so let's take a run around the division:

ATLANTA FALCONS

The Georgia World Congress Center Authority board voted to approve the hiring of a Kansas City-based firm to design the new retractable-roof stadium that’s expected to open in 2017.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Bryan Strickland has a breakdown of how Carolina’s draft picks should fit in. A lot of people are wondering why the Panthers used their first two draft picks on defensive tackles. Strickland explains that first-round choice Star Lotulelei is a traditional run stuffer and second-round pick Kawann Short has interior pass-rush skills. The Panthers envision this tandem together for the long run. But Short probably will start off sharing time with Dwan Edwards who is nearing the end of his career.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Nakia Hogan points out the Saints saved a little over $2 million in cap space by trading running back Chris Ivory to the New York Jets. The Saints now have a little over $3 million in cap space and they’ll need that eventually to sign their draft picks. If they plan to make any more significant moves in free agency, they’ll have to restructure contracts of release players.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

The Bucs announced they’ll have a news conference related to this year’s Ring of Honor on Thursday. There are no firm rules about how many inductees there can be in a given year. But there’s been only one inductee per year in the past. If I had to guess on just one honoree for this year, I’d say Warren Sapp because it would go nicely with his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this summer.
Unless there’s a trade, the NFC South is done with the third round of the draft. This will be a short summary since the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons didn’t have picks in the round.

Let’s take a look at what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New Orleans Saints did in the third round:

With the 73rd overall pick, the Bucs selected North Carolina State quarterback Mike Glennon. Relax, there’s not suddenly a quarterback controversy in Tampa, at least not yet. Josh Freeman remains the starter and the Bucs are hopeful he’ll become more consistent as he enters the final year of his contract. But, if Freeman doesn’t work out, Glennon could be a candidate to start in 2014. For now, he’s competing with Dan Orlovsky for the backup job. Here’s Jon Gruden’s Insider scouting report Insider on Glennon.

At No. 75, the Saints selected Arkansas-Pine Bluff offensive tackle Terron Armstead. He becomes an instant possibility to start at left tackle after the departure of Jermon Bushrod as a free agent. The Saints have Jason Smith and Charles Brown on the roster, but they’re not sold on either one.

The Saints, who picked up a little more draft currency by trading running back Chris Ivory to the Jets, traded with Chicago to get the No. 82 pick and they used it to take Georgia defensive tackle Johnathan Jenkins. As the Saints convert to a 3-4 scheme, the massive Jenkins looks like a logical fit to rotate with Brodrick Bunkley.
With the first round of the NFL draft completed, it’s time to look ahead and see what else each NFC South team needs to accomplish.

Atlanta Falcons: They took care of their big need by trading up to get cornerback Desmond Trufant. Now, it’s all about adding depth. The defensive line, offensive tackle and linebacker are all areas that could be addressed. But I really like San Diego State’s Gavin Escobar, if he's still available late in the second round.

Carolina Panthers: They filled a huge need by drafting defensive tackle Star Lotulelei in the first round. I see Mississippi State cornerback Johnthan Banks and South Carolina safety D.J. Swearinger as nice possibilities in the second round. Beyond that, the Panthers still need to add some depth on the offensive line.

New Orleans Saints: They got safety Kenny Vaccaro in the first round, but the attention to the defense should not stop there. The Saints still need a pass-rusher and maybe another cornerback. They also need to add someone to the mix to compete for the left tackle job. The bad news is the Saints are without a second-round pick and only have four picks remaining at the moment. Don’t be surprised if the Saints trade running back Chris Ivory for a draft pick very soon.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: They weren’t in the first round after giving up that pick as part of the Darrelle Revis trade. But the Bucs have the 11th pick of the second round and I see Stanford tight end Zach Ertz as a logical target. Defensive tackle and outside linebacker are two other areas where the Bucs need to add some depth.

Around the NFC South

April, 24, 2013
4/24/13
11:22
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Time for a morning run through some news and notes from around the NFC South:

ATLANTA FALCONS

Quarterback Matt Ryan said he’s not concerned about a possible contract extension. Ryan said he’s focusing on the team’s offseason program and is confident everything else will take care of itself. But it’s likely talks will pick up shortly as Ryan’s agent and the Atlanta front office are expected to attempt to work on the deal after the draft.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

General manager Dave Gettleman said defensive line, defensive back and offensive line might be the three deepest areas in this year’s draft. That’s a good thing for Gettleman because the Panthers need help in all three areas.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

It has been reported widely that the New York Jets are interested in trading for running back Chris Ivory. General manager Mickey Loomis confirmed that, but also said several other teams are showing interest. Smart move by Loomis to make it known that more than one team is interested. That might help raise the value of what Ivory could bring in a trade.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Quarterback Josh Freeman said he doesn’t feel additional pressure as he heads into a contract year. That’s a good attitude to take. But this clearly is a crucial year for Freeman and it’s going to be a challenge to continue to not be impacted by the pressure. Freeman is talented and the best thing he can do is relax and have fun with the game. If he can do that, everything else will fall into place.

Ranking the needs: Running backs

April, 23, 2013
4/23/13
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We continue our pre-draft rankings of position-group needs with the running backs.

Remember, the earlier the ranking, the greater the need.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Bucs are in great shape with Doug Martin as their starting tailback and Erik Lorig as their fullback. The Bucs brought in Brian Leonard to replace D.J. Ware as the third-down back. But this team still could use a workhorse back just in case something happens to Martin. LeGarrette Blount remains on the roster for now, but it sure looks as if the coaching staff doesn’t have much faith in him and he could be traded or released.

Atlanta Falcons: Steven Jackson should be an upgrade over Michael Turner and I expect Jacquizz Rodgers to continue to emerge. But Jackson is not young. The Falcons are in a situation where they might be able to draft a running back (South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore perhaps?) in the middle rounds and bring him along slowly.

Carolina Panthers: Carolina is overloaded with DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert in the backfield.

New Orleans Saints: They are even more overloaded than the Panthers with Mark Ingram, Darren Sproles, Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas. The New York Jets reportedly have shown interest in trading for Ivory.

NFC South afternoon update

April, 22, 2013
4/22/13
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Darrelle Revis and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been dominating the news, but let's take a quick spin through some odds and ends from around the rest of the division:

ATLANTA FALCONS

In his latest mock draft, D. Orlando Ledbetter has the Falcons taking tight end Zach Ertz at No. 30. We’re doing our Blog Network mock draft Tuesday. I view Ertz as a possibility, but he’s not at the top of my list for Atlanta at the moment.

The Falcons announced Tuesday afternoon that they have released receiver Kerry Meier.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

In his latest Insider mock draft , Todd McShay gives the Panthers Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. In his latest Insider mock draft , Mel Kiper gives the Panthers Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. I’m thinking there is a very good chance I could take either one of them in Tuesday’s mock draft. But I also am not ruling out the possibility of Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Linebacker Scott Fujita signed a one-day contract (from Peru) so he officially could retire as a member of the Saints. Fujita was with New Orleans from 2006 through 2009.

The New York Jets reportedly have offered a sixth-round pick for running back Chris Ivory. But the Saints might try to hold out a bit and get a fifth-round choice.

Revis trade could impact Saints

April, 21, 2013
4/21/13
1:26
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Tampa Bay fans aren’t the only ones that should be paying attention to the likely deal of cornerback Darrelle Revis from the New York Jets to the Buccaneers.

If Revis passes his physical and the deal goes through, it could impact the New Orleans Saints.

The Jets reportedly are interested in trading for New Orleans running back Chris Ivory. A trade for Revis would give the Jets more flexibility in what they can offer for Ivory.

At the moment, the Jets hold one pick in each of the seven rounds in this year’s draft.

NFC South afternoon update

April, 19, 2013
4/19/13
4:03
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Let’s run through some news and notes from around the division:

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Roy Cummings throws out a unique scenario for the Buccaneers. He writes that there have been rumblings that the Minnesota Vikings are looking to trade up to get receiver Tavon Austin, and Minnesota has picks at Nos. 23 and 25. In theory, the Bucs could trade down with the Vikings and a pick in the mid-20s might still be something the New York Jets would take as part of a trade package for cornerback Darrelle Revis.

Scott Reynolds points out that Luke Stocker might be Tampa Bay’s best bet at tight end because the Bucs are unlikely to draft one early. Stocker’s production hasn’t been great so far, but he has some potential. I still think the Bucs need to address this position, but there really isn’t much left in free agency.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Restricted free agent Chris Ivory signed his offer sheet with the Saints. But the New York Jets reportedly still are interested in trading for Ivory. I think there’s a good chance the Saints would accept a fourth- or fifth-round pick because they have such a logjam at running back and needs elsewhere.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

General manager Dave Gettleman sang the praises of his cornerbacks, singling out Drayton Florence, Captain Munnerlyn and D.J. Moore. I think the Panthers have improved their depth at the position, but I still think they need to use an early draft pick to get a starting-caliber cornerback.

ATLANTA FALCONS

Amid discussing a potential contract extension for quarterback Matt Ryan and his philosophy on making draft trades, general manager Thomas Dimitroff was asked about the situation at right tackle, where veteran starter Tyson Clabo was released. Dimitroff pointed to young guys like Mike Johnson and Lamar Holmes and said they’ll have a chance to compete. But Dimitroff also said the Falcons could address the position in the draft.

Around the NFC South

April, 15, 2013
4/15/13
9:32
AM ET
Let's take a run through some odds and ends from around the NFC South:

ATLANTA FALCONS

D. Orlando Ledbetter throws out the scenario of the Falcons trading up to get Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner in the draft. I’m not ruling this out. General manager Thomas Dimitroff traded way up to get another Alabama product, receiver Julio Jones, a couple years ago and that’s worked out well. Ledbetter also mentions the possibility of the Falcons trading into the 20s to get Xavier Rhodes or Desmond Trufant. I’m not a big fan of that move. I’d prefer to see the Falcons stay at No. 30 and get Boise State cornerback Jamar Taylor. Some scouts I’ve talked to like Taylor better than Rhodes and Trufant.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Joseph Person writes about how Rock Hill, S.C., which is just over the border from Charlotte, has become a football factory. New Orleans tight end Benjamin Watson and Atlanta safety Chris Hope are among the Rock Hill products currently in the NFL. They’re about to be joined by Tennessee receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. Although the Panthers seem to have bigger needs on the defensive side of the ball, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of them taking Patterson at No. 14, if he still is available. Owner Jerry Richardson always has like having players from the Carolinas on his roster. Plus, the Panthers could use a guy who eventually could take over for Steve Smith as the No. 1 receiver.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Running back Chris Ivory visited the New York Jets last week. Ivory is a restricted free agent and the Jets would have to give the Saints a second-round pick if they sign him. But Connor Orr points out that the two teams could work a trade for a later draft pick. That would make a lot of sense because the Saints have a crowded backfield and are a little light on draft picks that could help them fill needs at other positions.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Scott Reynolds writes that the Bucs could target Alabama offensive tackle D.J. Fluker at No. 12. There’s logic in that. The recent contract extension given to right tackle Demar Dotson was for something close to backup money. Fluker would be an upgrade from Dotson and coach Greg Schiano is big on having a power running game. Schiano also isn’t opposed to using first-round picks on Alabama players. He took one last year in safety Mark Barron.

It’s well known that general manager Mark Dominik likes to front load contracts. Roy Cummings points out that shouldn’t be a potential obstacle if the Bucs trade for Darrelle Revis and sign him to a long-term extension. Revis shares the same agent as Vincent Jackson, who signed a front-loaded deal with the Bucs last year. Dominik’s philosophy is unique, but I can’t see why Revis would balk at it. He presumably would be getting a huge part of the contract in the first couple of years.

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