NFC South: Dan Connor

Dan Connor a good fit with Carolina

November, 14, 2013
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Dan Connor is a linebacker and not a soothsayer, but he saw the potential the Carolina Panthers are showing when he left after the 2011 season.

It started with coach Ron Rivera.

Connor
"My last year here was coach Rivera's first,'' said Connor, who signed with the Panthers (6-3) on Wednesday after being released injured by the New York Giants. "You could see something special about him.

"So to be a part of it now when there's some success, he deserves it and it's great to be here.''

The Panthers added Connor because they had a surplus of cornerbacks and needed depth at linebacker heading into Monday night's game against New England. Chase Blackburn is nursing a sore foot that forced him out of Sunday's 10-9 victory against the San Francisco 49ers and he hasn't practiced the past two days.

So Carolina put cornerback James Dockery on injured reserve with a torn labrum and brought back Connor, who had been put on season-ending injured reserve with a neck injury that the Panthers didn't see as an issue after his physical.

"Dan knows what we're doing, he's adapted very well,'' Rivera said. "The guys in the locker room know him. So it was a natural fit.''

The Panthers were 6-10 when Connor's contract expired after the 2011 season. He signed with the Dallas Cowboys, where he started eight games in 2012 before being released in March.

He's happy to be back, sharing that he texted his wife when the Cowboys played here a year ago and told her how much he missed it.

"I was here a couple of [lean] years,'' Connor said. "That's not easy to be in that locker room. To have a winning record, you can tell guys around here are feeling good.''

Around the NFC South

March, 17, 2013
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Let's take a look at some odds and ends from around the division:

ATLANTA FALCONS

Even after bringing in running back Steven Jackson and re-signing most of their own free agents, D. Orlando Ledbetter writes that the Falcons still have some holes to fill. They need a pass-rusher and a cornerback. There still is a chance they could re-sign cornerback Brent Grimes, but it’s looking like the Falcons will have to work on the pass rush in the draft.

Speaking of Grimes, he has met with Cleveland and Miami. But it’s believed the Falcons remain in the mix to keep him.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Two former Panthers signed with the New York Giants. Louis Murphy, who spent last season as the third receiver, is headed to New York. So is linebacker Dan Connor, who spent last year in Dallas, after starting his career in Carolina. The irony here is a lot of people thought new general manager Dave Gettleman would be bringing in lots of players from New York because he previously worked for the Giants. Instead, the pipeline is flowing the other way.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

The Saints reportedly are bringing in cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha for a visit. He has history with defensive coordinator Rob Ryan from their time together in Oakland. Even in a depressed market, Asomugha still is likely to command a decent salary. The challenge for the Saints could be fitting Asomugha under their tight salary cap.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Mark Cook writes that fan frustration is building after the Bucs let starting defensive end Michael Bennett and starting defensive tackle Roy Miller leave as free agents. I get the frustration because the defensive line isn’t as good right now as it was at the end of last season. But you have to assume that general manager Mark Dominik and coach Greg Schiano have a plan to improve that line or else they wouldn’t have let two starters walk.
Ron Edwards, Jon Beason, Luke KuechlyIcon SMI, US Presswire, AP PhotoWith Ron Edwards, Jon Beason and Luke Kuechly could Carolina have the best defense in the division?
There are trees and there are limbs. As I write this, I’m standing on the smallest twig I can find.

You are about to read something you probably aren’t going to read anywhere else this offseason: The Carolina Panthers will have the best defense in the NFC South in 2012.

That’s right, I’m saying that a defense that ranked No. 28 in the league in yards per game (377.6) and allowed 406 points last season will be the best in the division.

My logic is two-pronged. I’m not completely sold on any other defense in the division. The Atlanta Falcons have a shot to be very good with Mike Nolan taking over as coordinator, but the New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers still have personnel work to do on defense.

More importantly, I’m going with Carolina because I believe the Panthers have the personnel and coaching to make things work. Sean McDermott may have taken his lumps in Philadelphia, and he’s not the most popular guy in Charlotte these days. But McDermott suddenly is the dean of NFC South defensive coordinators (Nolan, New Orleans’ Steve Spagnoulo and Tampa Bay’s Bill Sheridan each are in their first season with new teams).

[+] EnlargeRon Rivera
Sam Sharpe/US PresswireRon Rivera's defense is much healthier than it was last season.
That means Carolina is the only NFC South team that’s not implementing a new defense. The Panthers simply are plugging new (and old) players into a system that has been in place for a year. At this time a year ago, the common assumption was that Carolina’s defense would be decent because new coach Ron Rivera came from a defensive background and he had some talent on the team. But, suddenly, that talent started disappearing.

Defensive tackle Ron Edwards went down with an injury early in training camp. Linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis went down with injuries early in the regular season and the defense fell into chaos.

But, as the Panthers get ready for training camp, Edwards and Beason are healthy. So is Davis, although the Panthers are keeping their fingers crossed because he’s coming back from his third torn ACL. The Panthers protected themselves against another injury to Davis by investing a first-round pick in Boston College’s Luke Kuechly.

Factor Beason, Edwards and Kuechly into the equation and it’s not hard to see why Rivera feels a lot better about his defense than he has at any point since last September.

“I love Dan Connor (who filled in for Beason at middle linebacker last season and left for Dallas as a free agent), but Dan Connor’s not a communicator,’’ Rivera recently told The Charlotte Observer. “He’s a hard-nosed, grindstone-type guy. And that was tough on our safeties. But now you’ve got Jon Beason, who communicates like you can’t believe. You’ve got Luke Kuechly, who shows he knows how to communicate. So right through the middle of our defense we’ve gotten better.’’

Rivera believes you build a defense the same way you build a baseball team -- straight up the middle. The Panthers haven’t officially said if Beason or Kuechly will play the middle. Whichever one doesn’t will play the outside opposite either Davis or James Anderson, who was one of Carolina’s few defensive bright spots last season. That’s a good thing because Rivera also believes that once you’re set in the middle, the rest of the defense will take care of itself.

That’s why I see bright things for Carolina’s defense. There’s some talent on the outer fringes that can really blossom with a solid middle. There is defensive end Charles Johnson, who had 20.5 sacks the past two seasons while getting very little help. There’s hope that this will be the season defensive end Greg Hardy finally plays to his potential. As Rivera said, safeties Sherrod Martin and Charles Godfrey should be better just because they’ll have Beason and Kuechly telling them where to go. Veteran cornerback Chris Gamble remains solid, and that really leaves only one hole.

Starting cornerback Captain Munnerlyn is undersized and was picked on at times last season. In an ideal world, the Panthers would like rookie Josh Norman or second-year pro Brandon Hogan to claim the starting job and let Munnerlyn work exclusively as the nickel back. In a less-than-perfect world, Munnerlyn could still start but move inside to match up with slot receivers on passing downs and let one of the bigger corners play the outside.

“I want to see somebody take the bull by the horns and become the No. 2,’’ Rivera said. “If it’s Captain, awesome. If it’s somebody else, awesome. If it’s one of the younger guys, awesome. Somebody needs to step up and become that guy.’’

Somebody also needs to step up to be “that’’ defense in the NFC South.

I think Carolina has the wherewithal to be that defense. It doesn’t hurt that the Panthers have Cam Newton and an offense that can score points and stay on the field for extended periods. If the defense turns out to be the best in the NFC South, the Panthers suddenly could be a playoff contender.

NFC South evening roundup

March, 16, 2012
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Let’s take a Friday evening cruise through some odds and ends from around the NFC South.

The Carolina Panthers reportedly have agreed to terms with former Minnesota linebacker Kenny Onatolu. He was mostly a special-teams player with the Vikings and the Panthers are sure to use him in that capacity. But they did need to add a little linebacker depth after former backup Dan Connor signed with Dallas.

Tampa Bay linebacker Geno Hayes reportedly will visit with the Denver Broncos. I don’t think the Bucs have a lot of interest in bringing back Hayes, who was a starter on the outside last season. The Bucs will be making some moves at linebacker either elsewhere in free agency or in the draft. Although there had been some talk about moving Mason Foster to the outside, general manager Mark Dominik recently said the coaches may leave him in the middle.

Former Carolina guard Geoff Schwartz is scheduled to visit with the Vikings on Monday.

Former Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris was close with Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon. New coach Greg Schiano has started to build a friendship with Maddon.

Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff doesn’t agree with the perception that the Falcons are being inactive. He points to the team keeping cornerback Brent Grimes and defensive end John Abraham and also made significant changes to the coaching staff. He’s got a point. I’ll also throw in the fact the Falcons were very active on the personnel front last year. You can’t make big splashes in free agency and the draft every year.

Around the NFC South

March, 15, 2012
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Compared to Tuesday and Wednesday, Thursday has been a pretty quiet day in the NFC South, at least so far. I’m not saying that to make you think there’s something brewing tonight, but you never know.

If there is, we’ll let you know. In the meantime, let’s take a look at some news and notes from around the division.

The Tennessee Titans and Denver Broncos reportedly have shown some interest in Atlanta Falcons defensive end John Abraham. But I’m not ready to completely rule out a return to the Falcons, especially since they’re currently without a legitimate pass-rushing threat. I’m not saying I think it’s a great idea to re-sign a player who seems to be near the end of his career. But I think the Falcons might do it, if Abraham’s price tag falls below what it was at the start of free agency.

The Dallas Cowboys continue to gut the Carolina Panthers. They now have signed former Carolina linebacker Dan Connor. That comes a day after Dallas landed former Carolina offensive lineman Mackenzy Bernadeau. I’m just kidding about the “gutting’’ part. The Panthers had little interest in keeping Connor and no interest in keeping Bernardeau.

Just when I thought I’d found a free-agent linebacker who wasn’t on the Saints’ radar, I’ve got to start looking again. It turns out the Saints also reportedly have expressed interest in St. Louis’ Chris Chamberlain. But he might make some sense. New Orleans defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo coached Chamberlain with the Rams.

Speaking of the Saints and linebackers, Jo-Lonn Dunbar says it remains possible he could re-sign with New Orleans.

Everything still seems very quiet in Atlanta. But Jeff Schultz has a good overview of the situation with the Falcons, and I agree with his point that if the roster remains basically the same as last season, the coaching needs to be better next season.

Around the NFC South

March, 14, 2012
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The second day of free agency is already shaping up to be just as busy as the first across the NFC South.

As we’ve mentioned several times, New Orleans guard Carl Nicks is meeting with the Buccaneers on Wednesday morning. I’d look for the Bucs to make an offer to make Nicks the highest-paid guard in the NFL (somewhere over $8 million a season). That could make their offensive line a strength and weaken the Saints.

Carolina linebacker Dan Connor has a visit scheduled with the Dallas Cowboys. Connor is looking for a starting job and won’t get that opportunity in Carolina, where Jon Beason is returning from injury.

The Panthers will have guard Jason Brown in for a visit Wednesday. Brown is from Hendersonville, N.C., and played at the University of North Carolina. He has played for the Ravens and Rams. He also played some center earlier in his career, but has moved to guard. The Panthers released veteran Travelle Wharton on Tuesday, while re-signing Geoff Hangartner. They also have Garry Williams returning from an injury. If Brown is signed, he could end up competing with Hangartner for a starting job.

Former New Orleans receiver Robert Meachem didn’t last long on the free-agent market. He’s going to San Diego, where he’ll try to help replace Vincent Jackson, who is joining the Buccaneers. Meachem had a quick flirtation with Buffalo, but the Chargers jumped in and grabbed him with a four-year deal worth $26 million. The Saints liked Meachem, but their salary-cap situation limited them and, once they re-signed Marques Colston, it was obvious Meachem would not return.

It appears the Falcons are letting middle linebacker Curtis Lofton and defensive end John Abraham test free agency. But early indications are that neither player has received any big-money offers so far. I think the Falcons have a plan in place to proceed without Lofton and Abraham, but I also think there’s an outside chance either one could return if the price is right.

NFC South: Free-agency primer

March, 8, 2012
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AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Free agency begins Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET

Atlanta Falcons

Key free agents: CB Brent Grimes (franchise tag), LB Curtis Lofton, DE John Abraham, WR Harry Douglas and C Todd McClure.

Where they stand: The Falcons put the franchise tag on Grimes but would like to sign him to a long-term contract. That would improve a salary-cap situation that’s already decent. Keeping Lofton and Douglas, who have been developed by the current coaching staff, is also likely to be a priority. Although Abraham led the team with 9.5 sacks last season, his age and salary expectations work against the possibility of his return. Unless Abraham’s price tag drops significantly, the Falcons seem likely to let him walk. McClure could opt to retire. But if he wants to play, it’s likely the Falcons would welcome him back.

What to expect: After a quick and embarrassing exit from the postseason, owner Arthur Blank made it very clear that simply making the playoffs isn’t good enough. Blank expects to contend for a Super Bowl title. The Falcons went all in last year when they traded up to draft receiver Julio Jones and paid big money to free-agent defensive end Ray Edwards. Look for them to take a similar approach this year. The Falcons are usually good for at least one major move an offseason, and this year we could see two or three. Don’t be surprised if the Falcons go hard after Houston linebacker Mario Williams because they need a pass-rusher to replace Abraham. Without a first-round pick, the Falcons also probably will use free agency to fill a big need at left tackle. There aren’t a lot of options, but tackle Marcus McNeill could be a target if he is released, as expected, by the Chargers. The Falcons could even make a play for New Orleans guard Carl Nicks. His presence would make life easier for any left tackle, and pulling him away from the Saints also would weaken a division rival.

Carolina Panthers

Key free agents: TE Jeremy Shockey, LB Dan Connor, G Geoff Hangartner, LB/DL Antwan Applewhite and QB Derek Anderson.

Where they stand: The Panthers seem to be uncertain whether Shockey plans to retire or keep playing. If he wants to play, they’d gladly take him back because he’s a nice complement to Greg Olsen. They also are likely to make a strong attempt to keep Hangartner, who did a nice job after Carolina had several guards injured last preseason. It’s similar with Applewhite, who was signed during the season and made nice contributions. But the Panthers seem prepared to let Connor test free agency because they can’t promise him playing time with Jon Beason returning from injury as the starting middle linebacker. Anderson could return, but the Panthers likely will at least explore the possibility of looking for an upgrade as Cam Newton’s backup.

What to expect: Don’t expect a lot. The Panthers had their big splurge coming out of the lockout last summer, and they’re paying the tab for that now. They will have to release players and restructure contracts just to get below the cap before free agency starts. Linebacker Thomas Davis, who is coming off his third torn ACL, is a prime candidate for release or restructure. Although the team clearly wants to improve its defense, don’t look for any major moves in free agency. The team simply doesn’t have the cap room to make any big deals. The team might sign a midlevel free agent or two, but major upgrades will have to come through the draft.

New Orleans Saints

Key free agents: QB Drew Brees (franchise tag), G Carl Nicks, WR Marques Colston, CB Tracy Porter and WR Robert Meachem.

Where they stand: The past three years have been the most peaceful and prosperous in franchise history. But the peaceful part already has ended this offseason. In addition to getting into trouble with the NFL for a bounty program, the Saints are dealing with contract issues that are beyond challenging. They used the franchise tag on Brees and that’s going to cost them around $15 million. Even if they do reach a long-term agreement with Brees, his cap figure for this year could climb above $15 million. Either way, the Saints are going to have major cap issues. They’ve already restructured the contract of defensive end Will Smith and may do the same with linebacker Jonathan Vilma or perhaps even release him and some veterans. The Saints are going to have so much cap space tied up in Brees that they’ll have a hard time keeping their other free agents. Nicks would seem to be the priority with Colston close behind. But keeping even one of them would be a victory for the Saints.

What to expect: General manager Mickey Loomis always has been aggressive and daring, and he might have to be even more creative than usual because of the cap situation. The Saints simply aren’t the type of team to sit still. They had flaws exposed in a playoff loss to San Francisco, and they’re asking new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo to fix their defense. The problem there is a lot of the current personnel doesn’t fit all that well in Spagnuolo’s scheme. Loomis needs to find a way to get at least one more pass-rusher up front and needs to add an athletic linebacker or two. He also may have to fill more needs if the Saints lose as many free agents as most expect. This team lacks a first-round pick in the draft, so Loomis will have to make some big moves when it comes to releasing players or restructuring contracts just to give the Saints a shot at being a little bit active in free agency.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Key free agents: K Connor Barth (franchise tag), CB Ronde Barber, RB Earnest Graham, LB Geno Hayes, S Sean Jones, DE Michael Bennett (restricted) and RB LeGarrette Blount (exclusive rights).

Where they stand: The Bucs begin coach Greg Schiano’s tenure in a unique situation. They’ve got a ton of cap room and need improvement in lots of areas. But they’ll deal with what they have between now and the start of free agency. A decision on Barber probably will come very soon. Schiano has indicated he’d like the veteran back, but Barber could choose to retire, which also would create a major need at cornerback. That position also could be an issue later in March when starting cornerback Aqib Talib is scheduled for trial on an assault charge. Talib could go to prison or face a suspension from the NFL, but his fate will be unknown at the start of free agency. Hayes didn’t have a great season last year, but he has upside, and the new staff might want to keep him. The Bucs are likely to let Graham walk because of his age. A return by Jones is possible at a reasonable salary, but the Bucs still need to look to upgrade at safety.

What to expect: The exact amount will depend on how many of their free agents are brought back, but the Bucs are likely to have somewhere around $50 million in cap space at the start of free agency and that will put them near the top of the league. After barely dipping into free agency last year, the Bucs were able to carry over extra cap room, and general manager Mark Dominik has publicly said the team plans to be more active in free agency. But fans need to keep that in perspective. The Bucs aren’t going to suddenly return to the days when Jon Gruden and Bruce Allen regularly shelled out money for big-name players in their 30s. The Bucs started a youth movement three years ago, and there are some parts in place. Now, it’s time for them to supplement those parts. They’ll be active in free agency, but they’ll be focusing on players still in their 20s. They’ll also be focusing on improving the supporting cast of quarterback Josh Freeman, who they believe can become great. Look for them to add a speed receiver, perhaps someone like Mario Manningham (Giants) or Eddie Royal (Broncos). The Bucs also want to improve at running back, where Blount is a one-dimensional power runner. They could look for a pass-catching specialist or opt to look for a complete back who could even replace Blount as the starter. On defense, the Bucs probably will try to upgrade at linebacker. If Barber and/or Talib aren’t back, the Bucs will have to make a move or two at cornerback and probably wouldn’t hesitate to pay big money to someone such as Cortland Finnegan (Titans).

Around the NFC South

March, 6, 2012
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Time for a Tuesday morning run through the top headlines from around the NFC South.

Carolina middle linebacker Dan Connor reportedly is high on Philadelphia’s list of potential free-agent targets. This makes lots of sense. Connor is from suburban Philadelphia and it seems like he wants out of Carolina. With Jon Beason returning from injury, Connor is out of a starting job with the Panthers.

A record 21 players were given the franchise tag, including Atlanta’s Brent Grimes, New Orleans’ Drew Brees and Tampa Bay’s Connor Barth.

Former New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, the man who seems to be at the center of the scandal in which the Saints allegedly used a bounty program to injure other players, met with league officials in New York on Monday. Williams, who now is with the St. Louis Rams, declined to speak with the media. Williams previously issued a statement in which he admitted to organizing the program and apologized for his involvement.

John DeShazier writes that the Saints might not have won any public-relations wars with fans or Brees by using the exclusive-rights franchise tag on the quarterback. But he says it was the smart business move. He’s right. With the two sides reportedly far apart on a long-term contract, the Saints simply had to make sure there was no way Brees could walk into free agency.

This column says Williams didn’t invent the use of the bounty system, which almost certainly is true. But it says his big mistake was keeping such detailed records. No doubt about that. The NFL says it has 50,000 pages of evidence, including 18,000 emails.

With Falcons coach Mike Smith in attendance, Georgia tight end Orson Charles had disappointing times in the 40-yard dash during his pro day workout Monday. A strong wind might have played a factor. The slow times might be good news for the Falcons. They might help keep Charles out of the first round. The Falcons have a second-round pick and could be looking for an eventual successor to Tony Gonzalez.

Atlanta LB duo a fixture on the field

February, 7, 2012
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Atlanta linebackers Curtis Lofton and Sean Weatherspoon almost never left the field during the 2011 season.

According to playing-time numbers obtained by ESPN.com, Lofton participated in 986 of Atlanta’s 996 defensive plays (99 percent). Weatherspoon was right behind him, taking part in 976 plays (97.9 percent). Those two and Carolina’s James Anderson (97.3 percent) easily outdistanced the rest of the NFC South linebackers in playing time.

In fact, only Cleveland’s D'Qwell Jackson, St. Louis' James Laurinaitis, Chicago’s Lance Briggs and Washington’s Ryan Kerrigan, who each played all of their team’s defensive snaps, and Minnesota’s Chad Greenway (99.3 percent) participated in a higher percentage of plays than Lofton, Weatherspoon and Anderson.

Here’s a list at the rest of the leading NFC South linebackers in percentage of playing time:

Panthers: First look at free agency

January, 31, 2012
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Let’s continue our NFC South look ahead to free agency with the Carolina Panthers.

We'll take a look at Carolina’s potential free agents. They’re all unrestricted unless noted as restricted free agents or exclusive-rights free agents.

Quarterback Derek Anderson, linebacker/defensive lineman Antwan Applewhite, offensive lineman Mackenzy Bernadeau, linebacker Dan Connor, linebacker Omar Gaither, cornerback Cletis Gordon, offensive lineman Geoff Hangartner, long-snapper J.J. Jansen, receiver Legedu Naanee, linebacker Jordan Senn, tight end Jeremy Shockey, receiver Seyi Ajirotutu (exclusive rights), tight end Richie Brockel (exclusive rights), cornerback R.J. Stanford (exclusive rights), linebacker Thomas Williams (exclusive rights), linebacker Jason Phillips (restricted) and guard Geoff Schwartz (restricted).

There’s not a single guy on that list that the Panthers absolutely have to have back. That's good because the Panthers are going to be tight against the salary cap. But there are several players they’re likely to have interest in retaining at the right price. They liked what Senn and Applewhite showed in 2011. Shockey seemed to fit well in tandem with Greg Olsen and could return for a one-year contract. The offensive line is in pretty good shape, but the Panthers likely will keep either Schwartz or Hangartner as a starting guard.

Around the NFC South

January, 22, 2012
1/22/12
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Before the conference championship games get going later Sunday, let’s take a look at some of the top headlines from around the NFC South.

There was at least one report that said Joe Philbin was a finalist for the Tampa Bay job before he became Miami’s head coach. If so, that may be a sign that the Bucs are getting around to narrowing their list and potentially bringing back a few candidates for second interviews. But I’m not sure the report about Philbin is true. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the Bucs still interview a candidate or two still involved in the postseason. There has been a lot of speculation that the Bucs may want to interview New York Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell.

Roddy White has been recognized by the Atlanta chapter of the Pro Football Writers of America with the Good Guy award. The honor is supposed to go to the player who is most helpful to the media in doing its job. I think the writers got this one right. As someone who has spent a fair amount of time covering the Falcons, I can verify that White is accessible after wins and losses. More importantly, he’s a guy who is almost always willing to speak candidly.

There’s a lot of excitement in New Orleans about the hiring of defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. But Jeff Duncan notes that former coordinators Gregg Williams, Gary Gibbs, Rick Venturi and Ron Zook also arrived with a lot of excitement and left without big production. He notes the last defensive coordinator to leave New Orleans on good terms was Monte Kiffin in 1995. In other words, Spagnuolo has a great reputation, but he’ll have to get the defense to produce to keep that reputation.

Here’s an overview of Carolina’s linebacker situation for 2012. The Panthers have James Anderson, a quality player at one outside spot. But middle linebacker Jon Beason and outside linebacker Thomas Davis missed most of the 2011 season with injuries. Beason’s return should boost this unit considerably. But there are no guarantees. His lengthy history of injuries and the structure of his contract make it likely the Panthers will cut Davis. They eventually could bring him back at a lower salary, but Davis has torn his ACL three times and it remains to be seen if he still can be anywhere close to the player he used to be. Jordan Senn did some promising things last season and could factor into the mix going forward. But backup middle linebacker Dan Connor is a potential free agent. The Panthers may have to add a little linebacker depth in the draft or free agency.

Around the NFC South

December, 29, 2011
12/29/11
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Time for a look at the top Thursday morning headlines from around the NFC South.

New Orleans safety Malcolm Jenkins (neck) and receiver Lance Moore (hamstring) didn’t practice Wednesday. Although coach Sean Payton said his starters will play Sunday, look for him to be very cautious about using Jenkins and Moore.

Atlanta running back Michael Turner hasn’t put up big numbers lately. That’s led to speculation that he’s being slowed by a groin injury that’s caused him to miss some practice time. But Turner said Wednesday the injury has not been a factor. He said a decline in his numbers simply is because of the way recent games have unfolded.

Carolina rookie quarterback Cam Newton said he’s not upset he wasn’t selected to the Pro Bowl roster. Newton still has a shot to play in the game. He’s the first alternate behind Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Eli Manning.

Carolina linebacker Dan Connor can become an unrestricted free agent after the season and said he plans to test the market. With Jon Beason expected back from injury, Connor could have to return to a backup role if he stays with Carolina.

Tampa Bay cornerback Ronde Barber implied he might retire if coach Raheem Morris is fired. There’s no doubt Barber carries some clout. But I don’t know if the wishes of Barber and some other players will be enough to save Morris’ job.

NFC South players not signed for 2012

December, 22, 2011
12/22/11
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A lot can change between now and the start of free agency and I sure don’t see any way the New Orleans Saints let quarterback/King Drew Brees walk away. I also think there’s a pretty good chance tight end Tony Gonzalez can return to the Atlanta Falcons if he chooses. Same for cornerback Ronde Barber with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and maybe even Jeremy Shockey with the Carolina Panthers.

But all we know about those guys at the moment is they’re not under contract for 2012. We’ll do much more on free agency as it gets closer but I’ve got the complete list of every NFC South player presently not under contract for 2012.

I’ll list them by team here and we’ll only go with the guys who have at least four years of service and can become unrestricted free agents. We’ll deal with restricted and exclusive-rights free agents at another time.

Atlanta Falcons: Tony Gonzalez, tight end; Reggie Kelly, tight end; Todd McClure, center; Mike Peterson, linebacker; John Abraham, defensive end; Joe Zelenka, long-snapper; Chris Redman, quarterback; Kirk Chambers, offensive line; Kelvin Hayden, cornerback; Brett Romberg, offensive line; James Sanders, safety; Jason Snelling, running back; Kroy Biermann, defensive end; Thomas DeCoud, safety; Harry Douglas, receiver; Brent Grimes, cornerback; Curtis Lofton, linebacker; Eric Weems, receiver.

Carolina Panthers: Jeremy Shockey, tight end; Reggie Wells, offensive line; Derek Anderson, quarterback; Geoff Hangartner, center/guard; Omar Gaither, linebacker; Cletis Gordon, cornerback; Legedu Naanee, receiver; Antwan Applewhite, linebacker; Mackenzy Beranadeau, offensive line; Dan Connor, linebacker; J.J. Jansen, long-snapper; Jerome Felton, fullback; Jordan Senn, linebacker.

New Orleans Saints: John Kasay, kicker; Drew Brees, quarterback; Shaun Rogers, defensive tackle; John Gilmore, tight end; Aubrayo Franklin, defensive tackle; Marques Colston, receiver; Pat McQuistan, offensive line; Courtney Roby, receiver; Leigh Torrence, cornerback; Jeff Charleston, defensive end; Turk McBride, defensive end; Robert Meachem, receiver; Jo-Lonn Dunbar, linebacker; Carl Nicks, guard; Tracy Porter, cornerback.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Ronde Barber, cornerback; Earnest Graham, running back; Sean Jones, safety; Connor Barth, kicker; Geno Hayes, linebacker; Josh Johnson, quarterback; James Lee, offensive line; Corey Lynch, safety; Elbert Mack, cornerback; Frank Okam, defensive tackle; Micheal Spurlock, receiver; Jeremy Zuttah, offensive line.

Carolina's LB situation getting worse

November, 20, 2011
11/20/11
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The woes at linebacker for the Carolina Panthers just continue to grow. Starting middle linebacker Dan Connor (shoulder) will not play in Sunday’s game in Detroit.

That means it is likely Jordan Senn will start in Connor’s place. This will make Senn the eighth linebacker to start for Carolina this season.

The problems started early on as starters Jon Beason and Thomas Davis suffered season-ending injuries. That’s left James Anderson as the only one of the three linebackers Carolina planned to start throughout the season to still be playing.

The injuries at linebacker have been a huge part of the reason Carolina's defense has struggled, particularly against the running game.

Checking the injuries that matter most

November, 17, 2011
11/17/11
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Let’s check in on the most significant injuries around the NFC South.

Looks like Atlanta has some potentially major issues heading into Sunday’s game with Tennessee. Receiver Julio Jones (hamstring) missed another day of practice, meaning it’s becoming more likely he’ll sit out. Harry Douglas stepped up when Jones was hurt in Sunday’s loss to the Saints, but it might be nice if Roddy White could do the same. Middle linebacker Curtis Lofton was added to Thursday’s report with an ankle injury. If he can’t go, the Falcons might have to shuffle their linebackers, and that could involve some movement of the outside linebackers, which could mean more playing time for Akeem Dent and Mike Peterson. Safety William Moore (quadriceps) missed another practice. Moore missed last Sunday’s game, and veteran James Sanders could end up starting in his place again.

Tampa Bay safety Tanard Jackson (hamstring) missed his second straight day of practice. But defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth returned and practiced fully after getting what the team said was a day of rest Wednesday. Haynesworth is listed on the report with a knee injury.

Carolina tight end Jeremy Shockey (ribs) missed his second straight day of practice. Linebacker James Anderson (ankle) practiced fully after sitting out Wednesday. Middle linebacker Dan Connor (shoulder) practiced on a limited basis for the second straight day.

The New Orleans Saints have a bye and don't have to issue an injury report.

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