NFC South: D.J. Campbell

The Carolina Panthers are making it very clear they plan on first-round draft pick Star Lotulelei being an opening-day starter at defensive tackle.

Some teams go out of their way to show courtesy to veterans, but the Panthers aren’t throwing out any smokescreens. They put out their first unofficial depth chart of the preseason Monday afternoon and Lotulelei is listed with the first team. He’s the only rookie listed as a starter.

The rest of Carolina’s depth chart doesn’t contain any surprises, but let’s take a look at a few positions where there still is competition. After releasing right guard Geoff Hangartner last week, the Panthers are listing Garry Williams as the starter and rookie Edmund Kugbila as the top backup. If Kugbila can get healthy, he has a chance to start.

The defensive backfield also is a key area of competition with free safety Charles Godfrey as the only sure starter. Mike Mitchell is listed as the No. 1 strong safety with D.J. Campbell at No. 2. Veterans Drayton Florence and Captain Munnerlyn are listed as the starting cornerbacks with Josh Thomas and Josh Norman as the top backups.

Ted Ginn Jr. is listed as the top punt and kickoff returner, but I’m expecting Kealoha Pilares, Joe Adams and Armanti Edwards to get some work in this area during the preseason games.

NFC South afternoon update

July, 29, 2013
7/29/13
3:37
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SPARTANBURG, S.C. – I’m wrapping up my time at Carolina’s training camp. But I still have plenty of stuff for the coming days on the Panthers. Their Camp Confidential profile is scheduled to run Wednesday.

I have to make my way up to Charlotte to catch a flight home to NFC South Blog headquarters tonight. I’ll get out to see the Tampa Bay Buccaneers later this week and I’ll head to New Orleans to see the Saints next week.

Before I travel, I’ll leave you with some quick news and notes from around the division:

ATLANTA FALCONS

Although pass-rusher Shawne Merriman took to Twitter to lobby the Falcons to sign him, D. Orlando Ledbetter writes that it’s unlikely Merriman will end up with Atlanta. I know fans get worked up about Merriman and other veterans. But the fact is the Falcons have high hopes for a lot of their young players. Their plan is to go with what they already have on their roster. The only way I see the Falcons adding any veterans is if they have some injuries.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Jonathan Jones writes that free-agent pickup Mike Mitchell has been making some noise at strong safety so far in camp. I saw Mitchell make several nice plays Monday morning. Mitchell’s main competitor appears to be D.J. Campbell.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Outside linebacker Martez Wilson had to leave practice with an elbow injury. Coach Sean Payton said the injury didn’t appear to be serious. But the Saints are a little thin at outside linebacker if Wilson has to miss any practice time. They already have lost Victor Butler to a season-ending injury. If Wilson is out for any extended period, rookie Rufus Johnson could get more work behind Will Smith and Junior Galette.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Cornerback Darrelle Revis got a planned day off as he continues his comeback from knee surgery. Receiver Mike Williams limped off the field with an apparent leg injury, but coach Greg Schiano indicated it was nothing serious.
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A first-year player who has turned heads in OTAs/minicamps:

Atlanta Falcons: Second-round pick Robert Alford has made a very positive impression in the OTAs and could be putting himself in position to challenge for a starting cornerback spot. First-round pick Desmond Trufant isn’t allowed to take part in OTAs until his University of Washington class graduates, and veteran Asante Samuel hasn’t been around for all of the voluntary sessions. That has allowed Alford to get plenty of first-team reps, and he’s made the most of them. He’s held his own against receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones, and the coaching staff has been very impressed with his speed and quickness.

Carolina Panthers: Every time coach Ron Rivera is asked about young guys who are making a good impression, he mentions safety Robert Lester and cornerback Melvin White, who were signed as undrafted free agents. Lester is the one I think is worth keeping a close eye on. Though he wasn’t drafted, Lester has some pedigree. He played on two national championship teams at Alabama and was an important part of the defense. Charles Godfrey is the only sure thing the Panthers have at safety. Lester has a chance to compete with D.J. Campbell and Mike Mitchell.

New Orleans Saints: Outside linebacker Rufus Johnson stood out during this week’s minicamp. He’s the product of a small school (Tarleton State), but he certainly looks like he has the tools to play in the NFL. He has a nice combination of size and quickness and has been working at the “Jack" linebacker spot behind Will Smith and Martez Wilson. Smith is nearing the end of his career, and Wilson is unproven. Johnson appears to have the potential to develop into a strong pass-rusher and could take on a bigger role in the future.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: While Darrelle Revis works with the trainers on the sideline to rehabilitate his knee, rookie cornerback Johnthan Banks has been getting a fair amount of first-team work. Banks hasn’t been flawless. But at times he’s held his own against starting receiver Mike Williams, and that is an encouraging sign. At 6-foot-2, Banks has the size to match up with the division’s bigger receivers like Marques Colston, White and Brandon LaFell. If Banks can continue to impress, there’s a good chance he’ll end up starting opposite Revis, and Eric Wright will slide inside to play the nickel position.

Looking at Panthers' defensive snaps

February, 12, 2013
2/12/13
12:07
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As I’ve been running through playing-time numbers for the 2012 season, I’ve been highlighting the guys who played huge amounts. But, in this post about Carolina’s defense, we’re going to go in the opposite direction.

Injuries were a big story for Carolina, which had 1,051 defensive snaps. But the Panthers were without some key components for most of those snaps. Due to injuries, linebacker Jon Beason was limited to 24.93 percent of the snaps, cornerback Chris Gamble participated in only 26.64 percent of the snaps and defensive tackle Ron Edwards was limited to 29.97 percent.

Here’s the complete breakdown of playing-time percentage for Carolina’s defense:

Jon Beason to play against Falcons

September, 30, 2012
9/30/12
11:40
AM ET
ATLANTA -- Carolina Panthers middle linebacker Jon Beason, who was listed as questionable with knee and shoulder injuries, will be active for Sunday’s game with the Atlanta Falcons.

The biggest item of note on Carolina’s list of inactives is that rookie receiver/return man Joe Adams will not play. Adams muffed a punt and fumbled on a kickoff return last week. Kealoha Pilares is expected to handle kickoff returns and Armanti Edwards is likely to handle punt returns.

Carolina’s other inactives are Jimmy Clausen, D.J. Campbell, Bruce Campbell, Mike Pollak, Antwan Applewhite and Frank Kearse.

As expected, Atlanta fullback Lousaka Polite, cornerback Chris Owens, tight end Michael Palmer and running back Antone Smith are inactive due to injuries. The other inactives for the Falcons are Dominique Davis, Lamar Holmes and Jonathan Massaquoi.

Saints without two injured starters

September, 16, 2012
9/16/12
11:42
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- As expected, the New Orleans Saints will be without two injured starters. Receiver Devery Henderson (concussion) and cornerback Johnny Patrick (thigh) are inactive for Sunday’s game with Carolina.

The other inactives are running back Chris Ivory, running back Travaris Cadet, defensive lineman Tyrunn Walker, offensive lineman Bryce Harris and defensive end Turk McBride. Lance Moore is likely to start in Henderson’s place with Greg Camarillo and Joe Morgan getting time as the third and fourth receivers. Jabari Greer returns after missing last week’s game and will start at cornerback opposite Patrick Robinson. Rookie Corey White is expected to be used as the third cornerback.

Also, rookie defensive tackle Akiem Hicks will be active for the first time.

Carolina’s inactives are quarterback Jimmy Clausen, defensive back D.J. Campbell, linebacker Kenny Onatolu, tackle Bruce Campbell, guard Mike Pollak, tight end Ben Hartsock and defensive tackle Frank Kearse. Receiver Steve Smith and running back Jonathan Stewart, who had been listed as questionable, are active for Carolina.

Around the NFC South

July, 27, 2012
7/27/12
11:03
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Let’s take a look at the top headlines from around the NFC South.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
  • Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik said a failed conditioning test was not the reason the Buccaneers decided to trade defensive tackle Brian Price to Chicago. Dominik said the decision was based on multiple factors and pointed to the other defensive tackles on the roster as a reason. I think you can read between the lines and figure this one out. Price’s personal situation is well known. He has struggled emotionally since the death of his sister in a car accident in the spring. He’s also had injury problems in the past. With a new regime that doesn’t seem to have a lot of time for drama, I think the Bucs simply decided Price wasn’t a good fit.
  • Speaking of guys the Bucs no longer viewed as good fits, they also released receiver Dezmon Briscoe. He also failed the conditioning test. Briscoe missed part of the offseason program while dealing with some personal issues. Besides that, the Bucs have a bunch of young receivers with potential that were around for the entire offseason.
CAROLINA PANTHERS
  • Here’s an uplifting story about Carolina rookie safety D.J. Campbell, who has overcome significant adversity. His father was sent to prison after killing his mother when Campbell was just a child. He was raised by an aunt and turned to sports to help him get through the tragedy.
  • Ron Green Jr. has a list of key questions as the Panthers begin camp. It starts with the most common question -- will quarterback Cam Newton hit the sophomore slump? I just don’t see it happening. The guy set records with no offseason program last year. With a full offseason program, I think he will only continue to progress.
ATLANTA FALCONS
  • Atlanta rookie offensive tackle Lamar Holmes has been cleared to practice after missing offseason time with a foot injury. But don’t count on Holmes stepping right into the starting lineup. He likely will work as the third left tackle, behind Sam Baker and Will Svitek.
  • Coach Mike Smith sounds confident second-year pro Akeem Dent is ready to be the starting middle linebacker. Smith’s optimism might stem partially from the fact that he has asked veteran Mike Peterson to serve as Dent’s mentor. Peterson’s near the end of his career, but he’s got even extra value this year. Peterson always has been a vocal leader. He’s also the kind of guy that is willing to help a young player, even if it costs him playing time.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
  • A federal judge decided not to make an immediate ruling on whether or not to give an injunction that would at least temporarily halt the season-long suspension of New Orleans linebacker Jonathan Vilma. Not sure exactly when the judge will make a decision, but we’ll let you know as soon as it comes.
  • Although his rookie season was interrupted by injuries and he had some offseason surgeries, New Orleans running back Mark Ingram says he’s fully healthy. That’s positive news, but Ingram still will have to have an impressive camp to earn playing time in a backfield that also includes Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory.
  • Receiver Lance Moore made the most spectacular play on the first day of camp. He caught a long pass despite good coverage by safety Malcolm Jenkins. But it should be noted, the ball went right through the hands of Jenkins, who did not record an interception last season.
I just got a look at contract numbers for most of the deals that have been signed so far by NFC South draft picks. Let’s take a run through them.

Kuechly
Kuechly
Linebacker Luke Kuechly, who was taken ninth in the first round, got a four-year deal worth $12.6 million with a $7.6 million signing bonus.

From the second round, Carolina offensive lineman Amini Silatolu got a four-year deal worth $4.9 million that includes a $2 million signing bonus. Atlanta offensive lineman Peter Konz got a four-year deal worth $3.6 million, including a $1.1 million signing bonus.

From the fourth round, Carolina defensive tackle Frank Alexander got a four-year deal worth $2.6 million, including a $470,252 signing bonus, and Carolina receiver Joe Adams got a four-year deal worth $2.6 million with a $467,552 signing bonus.

Defensive back Josh Norman, a fifth-round pick by Carolina, got a four-year deal worth $2.3 million, including a $199,000 signing bonus. Carolina punter Brad Nortman, a sixth-round pick, got a four-year deal worth $2.2 million, including a $78,680 signing bonus.

From the seventh round, Tampa Bay running back Michael Smith’s deal is worth $2.2 million with a $65,148 signing bonus. Also, Carolina defensive back D.J. Campbell got a deal worth $2.2 million with a $62,248 signing bonus, Tampa Bay tight end Drake Dunsmore’s deal is worth $2.1 million and includes a $49,000 signing bonus and Atlanta defensive tackle Travian Robertson’s contract is worth $2.1 million with a $45,896 signing bonus.

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