NFC South: Collin Franklin

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are hoping they can get at least half a season out of defensive end Da’Quan Bowers.

The Bucs just announced they’ve placed Bowers on the physically unable to perform list, which means he can begin practicing any time after the season’s sixth week and the team then has three weeks to decide whether to activate him or put him on injured reserve for the entire season.

The fact the Bucs aren’t writing off Bowers for the entire season now is another sign they believe he might be able to return and help them this season. Bowers suffered a torn Achilles tendon in May and the instant assumption was that he would miss the entire season. But Bowers has said he believes he can return around mid-season and team officials have said in recent weeks that might be a realistic goal.

A second-round draft pick last year, Bowers seemed to be a strong candidate for a starting job before his injury. With Bowers out, Michael Bennett is expected to start at defensive end opposite Adrian Clayborn, but there’s not a lot of depth beyond that.

As expected, the Bucs also placed Pro Bowl guard Davin Joseph on injured reserve. Joseph suffered a torn patellar tendon in Friday night’s preseason game against New England.

The Bucs also made a bunch of other moves to get down to the league-mandated 75-player roster Monday afternoon, but there were no surprises. The Bucs waived running back De’Anthony Curtis, long-snapper Andrew DePaola, receiver Greg Ellingson, tight end Collin Franklin, receiver Ed Gant, punter Eric Guthrie, offensive tackle Mike Ingersoll, linebacker Brian Smith, safety Tramain Thomas and cornerback Marquese Wheaton.

Tony Gonzalez still going strong

January, 30, 2012
1/30/12
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Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez might be the oldest tight end in the NFC South, but he also got way more playing time than anyone else at the position in 2011.

Gonzalez, who will turn 36 in February, played more snaps than all of the younger tight ends in a division that suddenly has become known for its tight ends.

Gonzalez was on the field for 952 of Atlanta’s 1,157 offensive snaps. That’s 84.5 percent and it was good enough to rank Gonzalez No. 10 among all NFL tight ends. Dallas’ Jason Witten took part in a league-high 99.2 percent of his team’s offensive snaps, but New England’s Rob Gronkowski led in total plays on the field (1,092) because the Patriots had more offensive plays than the Cowboys.

Gonzalez finished the season with 80 catches for 875 yards and seven touchdowns. Shortly before the season ended, Gonzalez assured he will play at least one more season by agreeing to a one-year contract extension worth about $7 million.

In Sunday’s Pro Bowl, Gonzalez made a game-high seven catches for 114 yards. His receiving yards were the most for any tight end in the game.

Carolina’s Greg Olsen was the division’s second-most-used tight end during the regular season. Olsen was on the field for 866 of the Panthers’ 1,046 offensive snaps (82.8 percent and No. 12 in the NFL).

Tampa Bay’s Kellen Winslow participated in 822 of the Buccaneers’ 1,021 offensive snaps. That’s 80.5 percent and ranked No. 14 in the NFL.

Of the NFC South’s four regular starting tight ends, New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham took part in the fewest number of plays. Graham led all division tight ends with 99 catches for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns and was selected as the NFC’s starter in the Pro Bowl.

But the Saints use such a variety of offensive personnel that Graham’s time on the field was relatively limited. He took part in 798 of 1,152 offensive plays (69.3 percent and No. 24 in the NFL).

The Panthers used a combination of Olsen and Jeremy Shockey, who ended up taking part in 51.1 percent of Carolina’s plays.

Here’s a list of other NFC South backup tight ends and the percentage of playing time they got in 2011:

Buccaneers sign seven players

January, 6, 2012
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As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were firing Raheem Morris and beginning their search for a new head coach, they very quietly signed seven players.

No official announcement has been made by the team, but contract records obtained by ESPN.com show the Buccaneers have signed quarterback Brett Ratliff, linebacker Mike Balogun, linebacker Rennie Curran, tight end Collin Franklin, offensive lineman Mike Ingersoll, offensive lineman Chris Riley and punter/kicker Jake Rogers to futures contracts.

Balogun and Curran got two-year deals. The other five received three-year deals.

Balogun, Franklin, Ingersoll, Ratliff and Riley ended the season on Tampa Bay’s practice squad.

Freeman to Winslow = Trouble

November, 26, 2011
11/26/11
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As Tampa Bay has struggled through a four-game losing streak, it’s become trendy to pick apart the Buccaneers.

They’ve got plenty of problems on both sides of the ball. Coach Raheem Morris and his staff are frequent targets of criticism, having the league’s youngest team and a difficult schedule are convenient and somewhat-legitimate excuses, and injuries (particularly the loss of defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and running back Earnest Graham) have played roles.

But let’s take a look at a big problem spot, one that I never would have guessed would have been an issue at all. After watching quarterback Josh Freeman and tight end Kellen Winslow work out together at the University of South Florida during the lockout, I was certain I was seeing a special chemistry building. As a matter of fact, if I had time to have a fantasy football team, I would have drafted Freeman and Winslow very early.

That would have been a huge mistake. As it turns out, Freeman and Winslow simply aren’t clicking. With lots of help from NFC West colleague Mike Sando, who works part time as a rocket scientist and actuary, I got a breakdown of how Freeman has fared when targeting each of his receivers. We’ll leave out Collin Franklin and Micheal Spurlock because they each have been targeted only three times.

Although Winslow leads the team with 47 receptions and is second with 476 receiving yards, it wouldn’t be a stretch to call his connection with Freeman horrible. Winslow has been targeted 78 times. When throwing to Winslow, Freeman’s NFL passer rating is a dismal 48.9. Winslow has caught two touchdown passes. But seven of Freeman’s 15 interceptions have come on passes intended for Winslow.

Freeman’s passer rating when throwing to Winslow is worse, by far, than any other wide receiver, running back, fullback or tight end on the roster.

In fact, Mike Williams, who allegedly is Tampa Bay’s No. 1 wide receiver, is next as we move up from the bottom of the list. When throwing to Williams, Freeman’s passer rating is 70.0.

Here’s Freeman’s passer rating when throwing to all of the other Tampa Bay players who have been targeted more than twice and we’ll continue to work our way up from the bottom:
  • Arrelius Benn: 81.8
  • Earnest Graham: 88.6
Time to check in on the most important injuries around the NFC South.

The news was mixed out of Atlanta. Defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (knee) and linebacker Stephen Nicholas practiced on a limited basis for the second straight day. But center Todd McClure (knee) sat out for the second straight day. McClure had returned from a knee injury last week and stepped back into the starting lineup after Joe Hawley had started the first three games.

There were encouraging developments out of New Orleans as center Olin Kreutz (knee) and linebacker Will Herring (hamstring) returned to practice on a limited basis. Receiver Devery Henderson (calf), offensive tackle Zach Strief (knee) and tight end David Thomas (concussion) also missed practice.

Tampa Bay rookie tight end Luke Stocker likely will miss Sunday’s game at San Francisco with a knee injury. Coach Raheem Morris said Stocker will be week-to-week. Stocker has been getting a fair amount of playing time as a blocking tight end as the Bucs use Kellen Winslow mostly as a pass-catcher. Stocker’s absence could create more playing time for Zack Pianalto and Collin Franklin.

The news was positive for the Panthers on the offensive line. Right tackle Jeff Otah and right guard Geoff Hangartner, who sat out Wednesday with back injuries, went through the full practice Thursday. Tight end Jeremy Shockey (concussion) took part on a limited basis, but coach Ron Rivera was optimistic about Shockey’s chances of playing Sunday.

Grimm, Hartley placed on injured reserve

September, 28, 2011
9/28/11
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TAMPA, Fla. -- I’m out at One Buccaneer Place to gather some preview material for Monday night’s game with the Colts.

But first, let’s log in a few roster moves that are not big surprises. The Bucs just formally announced safety Cody Grimm has been placed on the injured reserve list. He injured his knee in Sunday’s game. The Bucs filled Grimm’s roster spot by promoting tight end Collin Franklin from the practice squad. They also signed offensive lineman Zane Taylor to take Franklin’s spot on the practice squad.

Also, the Saints reportedly placed kicker Garrett Hartley on the injured reserve list. Hartley suffered a hip injury in the preseason. That means veteran John Kasay, who was signed as a temporary fill-in, will remain as the team’s kicker. Kasay got off to a rough start in the preseason, but has kicked well through the first three games of the regular season.

Catching up on NFC South transactions

September, 5, 2011
9/05/11
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We told you earlier Monday the Carolina Panthers signed Geoff Hangartner, who has a chance to start immediately at right guard. There also have been a bunch of minor transactions around the division. Let’s catch up on them now.
  • The Panthers waived offensive lineman C.J. Davis to clear a roster spot for Hangartner.
  • As expected the Buccaneers officially announced the signing of linebacker Zac Diles. The team also announced it had claimed tight end Zack Pianalto off waivers from Buffalo. To create roster spots, the Bucs waived cornerback D.J. Johnson and defensive end George Johnson. Don’t be surprised if they wind up on the practice squad.
  • The Buccaneers also announce they have signed eight players to their practice squad. They are tackle Will Barker, safety Ahmad Black, quarterback Rudy Carpenter, tight end Collin Franklin, receiver Ed Gant, tight end Daniel Hardy, running back Mossis Madu and linebacker Derrell Smith. All eight were with the Bucs in the preseason.
  • The Falcons filled out their practice squad by signing tight end Marquez Branson, who spent 2010 on the team’s practice squad.
  • To make room for tight end John Gilmore, the Saints released linebacker Ramon Humber. The Saints also signed tackle William Robinson, guard Dennis Landolt and receiver Montez Billings. They released long-snapper Kyle Nelson, quarterback Sean Canfield and center Cecil Newton from the practice squad.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers trim roster

August, 29, 2011
8/29/11
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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers just announced a bunch of roster moves. The biggest name on the list was cornerback Ashton Youboty, who was released.

He was signed during camp when the Bucs had some injuries in the secondary. But he also was viewed as possible insurance if Aqib Talib was suspended. The team said Saturday night it has been told by the NFL that Talib will not be suspended during the 2011 season, so that made Youboty expendable.

The Bucs also waived receiver Aundrae Allison, cornerback Vince Anderson, tight end Collin Franklin, defensive end Brandon Gilbeaux, receiver Detron Lewis, punter Robert Malone, receiver Jock Sanders, and fullback Rendrick Taylor. They also waived/injured guard Brandon Carter.

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