NFC South: Dante Wesley

We always talk about how short careers are in the NFL and how rosters turn over quickly. But those ideas really just hit home with me.

I covered the 2003 Carolina Panthers, the team that made the franchise's only Super Bowl appearance. With tonight’s news that Jake Delhomme is gone and the fact Muhsin Muhammad and Julius Peppers will be free agents in less than an hour, I just grabbed a Carolina roster and did some math.

According to my calculations, that leaves the Panthers with only five guys from that Super Bowl team. They are kicker John Kasay, receiver Steve Smith, fullback Brad Hoover, offensive tackle Jordan Gross and cornerback Dante Wesley.

Kasay, Smith and Hoover were key contributors on that team and Gross, although only a rookie, had an instant impact. Wesley played a minimal role on special teams that year and left the Panthers for Chicago in 2006 before returning in 2007.
Friday is the day when NFL teams have to announce a status for their injured players and this is a particularly busy Friday with a bunch of key injuries in the NFC South. Here’s a look at the most significant ones.

With quarterback Matt Ryan already out, the Falcons are listing Michael Turner, Roddy White, Michael Jenkins, Harvey Dahl and Sam Baker as questionable. With that many injuries on offense, Atlanta’s defense and coaching staff are going to have to have their best game of the season.

John Fox told the world what it already knew. Jake Delhomme is out this week and Matt Moore will start at quarterback for Carolina. Also, running back DeAngelo Williams is questionable. If Williams is out, Moore’s job is going to be even more difficult.

Tampa Bay kick returner Clifton Smith was added to the injury report as questionable with a knee injury. If he can’t go, it will ruin his rematch with Dante Wesley. Also, the Bucs went ahead and declared that receiver Michael Clayton will be out and cornerback Aqib Talib is questionable.

Reggie Bush, Jabari Greer and Bobby McCray are questionable for the Saints. But Bush said he’s planning on playing against the Redskins.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas

It’s time to reveal the selections on special teams for our midseason All-NFC South team.

Punter: Jason Baker, Carolina. A very steady punter, who has made the Panthers forget the rocky days of Todd Sauerbrun.

Kicker: John Carney, Saints. It hasn’t been a very good year for veteran kickers in the NFC South. John Kasay and Jason Elam are well below 80 percent on their field goal attempts. Carney’s only been slightly better at 79 percent, but we have to choose someone to fill this position.

Return man: Clifton Smith, Buccaneers. Start the music. We’ve got a Buccaneer on the All-NFC South team. But this guy deserves it. He’s come back from a brutal hit by Carolina’s Dante Wesley and shown he hasn’t lost a thing.

Long-snapper: Jason Kyle, Saints. He’s switched teams, going from the Panthers to the Saints, but he remains automatic.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas

Time for a checkup on the most important injuries in the NFC South.

Get ready to see a lot of Jason Snelling in the Atlanta backfield on Sunday. Fullback Ovie Mughelli and running back Jerious Norwood each missed their second straight day of practice and it doesn’t look promising that either will play against the Cowboys. Also, starting running back Michael Turner was limited again in practice by a chest injury. Turner should be all right to play, but Snelling probably will be his primary backup and also be the backup fullback if Verron Haynes has to start in Mughelli’s place.

The Panthers had what could be a significant injury pop up Thursday. Linebacker Thomas Davis, who practiced Wednesday, sat out Thursday with a hamstring injury. Naturally, coach John Fox wouldn’t give any indication of how serious the injury is. But Davis is Carolina’s leading tackler and there would be a drop-off if he can’t play. It’s likely the Panthers would turn to either James Anderson or Dan Connor.

New Orleans linebacker Scott Fujita sat out a second straight day of practice with a calf injury. It’s looking more and more like Troy Evans, who filled in after Fujita was injured against the Giants, could get a start against the Dolphins.

Return man Clifton Smith returned to practice on a limited basis after sitting out Wednesday. Smith had a concussion when he was hit by Carolina’s Dante Wesley on Sunday.

Wesley apologizes to Smith

October, 22, 2009
10/22/09
12:24
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Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas

There’s a little update to the Clifton Smith-Dante Wesley story today.

Smith just met with reporters in Tampa for the first time since he suffered a concussion on a brutal and illegal hit by Carolina’s Wesley on a punt during Sunday’s game between the Panthers and Buccaneers. The NFL is punishing Wesley with a one-game suspension.

During his talk with the media, Smith revealed that Wesley called him to apologize. Smith said he accepted the apology.

Smith also said he expects to play in Sunday’s game against the Patriots in London. That may turn out to be true, but it may be wishful thinking on the part of a competitive player. You can be sure the Tampa Bay medical staff is going to be very cautious before letting Smith back on the field. The Bucs have a bye after the New England game and, if there are any doubts about Smith’s health, the Bucs will hold him out and let him get some more rest. With rookie Sammie Stroughter, the Bucs have a strong alternative in the return game.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas

Time for a quick run through the most significant injuries in the NFC South. Surprisingly, as we approach midseason, there aren’t that many of note.

As expected Tampa Bay return man/running back Clifton Smith was out after suffering a concussion during Sunday’s big hit by Carolina’s Dante Wesley. Look for Smith to be out at least one game and look for rookie Sammie Stroughter to handle return duties. The other injury of note is that defensive tackle Chris Hovan sat out with an ankle injury. Not sure how significant the injury is and Hovan’s nearing the end of the road, but the possibility of being without a starter is not good news as the Bucs get ready for the Patriots.

The Falcons may have to do some shuffling in the backfield as they prepare for Dallas. Jerious Norwood (hip) and Ovie Mughelli (calf) sat out practice and starting running back Michael Turner (chest) was limited. We’ll assume Turner will be ready to go, but the Falcons may have to start Verron Haynes at fullback and let Jason Snelling be the top backup at both running back and fullback.

No surprise that New Orleans linebacker Scott Fujita (calf) sat out. The injury looked somewhat serious when it happened Sunday. Troy Evans filled in for Fujita on Sunday and it looks like he’ll get the start against Miami on Sunday. Tight end Jeremy Shockey (shoulder) was limited, but the veteran might have been just getting a little rest.

Carolina remained relatively healthy, but kickoff specialist Rhys Lloyd (ankle) did not practice. If he can’t kick, punter Jason Baker or field goal kicker John Kasay would have to handle kickoffs.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas

Tampa Bay’s Sammie Stroughter has been named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week.

Stroughter, a rookie wide receiver, took over return duties after Clifton Smith was injured on a hit by Carolina’s Dante Wesley. Stroughter responded with a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and became only the third player in franchise history to return a kickoff for a touchdown. Stroughter finished with 142 yards on three returns.

Fox sheds some light on Wesley's hit

October, 20, 2009
10/20/09
6:26
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas

I was listening to Sirius NFL Radio while driving this afternoon when something very unique happened. Carolina coach John Fox actually said something interesting.

I wish I hadn’t been driving because I wanted to write down what Fox said because that’s something that usually wasn’t worth doing in the six seasons I covered him as a beat reporter (although Fox is a very gregarious guy once the cameras and microphones go off).

Anyway, I’ll have to paraphrase what Fox said, but he shed some light on what happened in Sunday’s game when Dante Wesley blasted Tampa Bay punt returner Clifton Smith. Wesley was penalized, ejected and suspended for one game by the NFL.

Fox first made it clear that he wasn’t making excuses for Wesley and what the player did was wrong. But Fox provided some background on why Wesley might have hit Smith as he was lining up to attempt to field a punt.

Fox said on the previous punt, Smith had given a bit of a wave, although he didn’t call a fair catch. That wave was enough to cause Wesley, who was clear of blockers to slow down. Fox said Wesley was angry at himself for slowing down (and maybe he heard a little of that from the coaching staff?)

Fox said that stayed in Wesley’s mind on the next punt and might have caused him to be too aggressive.

How I See It: NFC South Stock Watch

October, 20, 2009
10/20/09
11:00
AM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas

Falling

Turner
1. Michael Turner, running back, Falcons. Yes, he did score the go-ahead touchdown on a very nice run. But he didn’t put up big numbers. There’s also a disturbing trend emerging.

Turner suddenly has started to have problems with fumbles. Not sure why that’s happening because that wasn’t a problem last year. He’s got to hold on to the ball.

Wesley
2. Dante Wesley, defensive back, Panthers. His hit on Tampa Bay punt returner Clifton Smith was simply vicious and stupid. Smith was setting up to return a punt and Wesley hit him long before the ball arrived.

Wesley drew a one-game suspension from the NFL and also was ejected as soon as the incident happened. He’s lucky the suspension was only one game. That might be because Wesley had no prior history of anything along these lines. He’ll spend the rest of his career under a microscope.

Ward
3. Derrick Ward, running back, Buccaneers. This guy was supposed to be the feature back when the Bucs gave him a big contract and signed him away from the Giants. Ward has been nothing but disappointing.

He couldn’t even win the starting job. He lost it to Cadillac Williams, who was coming off his second major knee injury. Williams has played well. Ward hasn’t. His carries will continue to dwindle.

Rising

Colston
1. Marques Colston, wide receiver, Saints. Did you see him against the Giants on Sunday? Colston was a man among boys. He repeatedly outmuscled New York defensive backs. We all knew Colston was a good receiver from his first two years, but last season’s injuries knocked him down a couple of notches.

He’s back at full force now. No, wait, he’s actually significantly better than he was before. I'm also going to throw in an honorable mention for Colston's fellow receiver Lance Moore. He's healthy now and provided a reminder of his talents Sunday. This receiver corps is getting scary good.

DeCoud
2. Thomas DeCoud, safety, Falcons. DeCoud had two interceptions against the Bears in the best game of his career. DeCoud has played pretty well since taking over as a starter at the beginning of the season and he seems to be steadily improving.

This is a bit of a surprise because the Falcons drafted William Moore in April and thought he would start. But Moore had some injury problems in the preseason and DeCoud made the most of his opportunity. He’s going to remain a starter for a long time.

Williams
3. DeAngelo Williams, running back, Carolina. We had his stock falling last week, so it’s only fair it rises after he ran for 152 yards against the Buccaneers.

Williams is the same player he was a year ago. His slow start was because he wasn’t getting good blocking when he did get carries. And he wasn’t getting a lot of carries early on because the Panthers were always falling behind. Sunday was a reminder of what Williams and fellow running back Jonathan Stewart can do. But let’s remember one thing before we get too excited about Carolina’s running game. This outburst did happen against the Buccaneers.

Wesley suspension more than justified

October, 19, 2009
10/19/09
6:26
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas

The NFL just announced Carolina defensive back Dante Wesley will be suspended for one game for his hit on Tampa Bay punt returner Clifton Smith on Sunday.

Wesley will sit out Sunday’s home game against Buffalo.

My take on this is that Wesley’s getting off somewhat easily. The hit was nothing short of vicious. If you haven’t seen it yet or want to see it again, click here.

Wesley decked Smith as the return man was setting up to field a punt that hadn’t arrived yet and he caught him under the helmet with two forearms at full speed. Smith was leveled and stayed down for several minutes. He has a concussion, but has been moving around a little Monday.

My best guess is the league factored Wesley’s track record into this decision. If Wesley had a history of reckless play or infractions, the suspension probably would have been lighter. But there’s nothing like that in Wesley’s history.

There’s no question what he did was horribly wrong, but this play was out of character for Wesley.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas

A little encouraging news from Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris. Buccaneers return man Clifton Smith has been up and moving after being hospitalized following a massive hit by Carolina’s Dante Wesley on a punt return Sunday.

Wesley was called for a penalty and ejected from the game. He’s also almost certain to get a fine from the NFL very soon.

Smith suffered a concussion and there’s no indication yet of how long he’ll be out.

Search is on for Carolina's Wesley

October, 19, 2009
10/19/09
1:31
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas

I just passed by Yahoo!’s home page and happened to see a name I never would have expected (before Sunday) to be atop the list of most popular searches.

It’s Carolina defensive back Dante Wesley. He’s suddenly a topic of intrigue. That’s all because of his hit on Tampa Bay’s Clifton Smith in Sunday’s game, which got Wesley ejected.

NFC South corners market on change

March, 16, 2009
3/16/09
12:00
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  Getty Images/AP Photo
  Aqib Talib, Jabari Greer and Richard Marshall are part of the changing of the guard at the cornerback position in the NFC South.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

In an otherwise-quiet offseason, the NFC South has turned the corners.

If there's one common theme in the division, it's that there will be lots of change and plenty of youth at cornerback. For better or worse, each team is going to have at least one new starter at cornerback and many familiar faces are gone.

Get used to guys like Richard Marshall, Jabari Greer, Tracy Porter, Aqib Talib and Chevis Jackson because they're going to be the new cornerback faces in the NFC South.

Yes, Tampa Bay's Ronde Barber and New Orleans' Mike McKenzie are still around, but that may be more for show and sentiment than anything. The days of big-name cornerbacks in this division are over -- at least until some of these new guys make names for themselves and they're going to get every chance.

Somebody has to step up and guard the likes of Steve Smith, Roddy White, Marques Colston and Antonio Bryant. That may seem like a big task for a bunch of young and unproven cornerbacks, but that's what it's going to come down to.

Every team in the division suddenly needs major production from young or new cornerbacks.

 
  Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
  The Saints get a healthy Tracy Porter back after injury cut short his promising rookie campaign.

Start with the Saints because they could have the most change of all. The entire secondary has been a mess the last couple of years, but the problems have been particularly bad at cornerback. McKenzie's gone down with major injuries in each of the last two seasons and the Saints have been forced to go with the likes of the undersized Jason David and the antiquated Aaron Glenn playing big roles.

It hasn't really mattered how many yards Drew Brees has thrown for the last two seasons because the New Orleans defense has given up just as many. But the plan is for that to stop. Although McKenzie, David and Randall Gay remain on the roster, there's a chance the Saints could end up with Greer and Porter as their starters.

New defensive coordinator Gregg Williams wants to bring an aggressive approach and Greer has been the highlight of New Orleans' free-agency class. He was signed away from Buffalo, where he was a starter the last two years. The four-year, $23 million deal the Saints gave Greer likely means they're counting on him being the No. 1 cornerback.

But don't rule out the possibility of Porter being just as good before all is said and done. A second-round pick last year, Porter got off to a strong start as a rookie. He showed all the physical skills and tremendous confidence before going down with an injury just before midseason.

Tampa Bay also could have two new starters as new coach Raheem Morris takes over. You can pretty much assume that Aqib Talib, last year's first-round pick, will move into a starting role. Starter Phillip Buchanon departed through free agency and Talib showed promise as the nickelback last year. He may have to become Tampa Bay's No. 1 cornerback because nobody knows what the future holds for Barber, who is nearing the end of his career.

The Bucs pursued Greer and several other free-agent cornerbacks. They likely aren't done making moves at this position and that could be a sign that they're considering moving Barber to the nickel role.

Only a year ago, a lot of people thought Carolina had the best trio of cornerbacks in the NFL. But that trio is now just a duo. Chris Gamble remains as probably the division's best cornerback, but he's going to have a new starter beside him.

The Panthers whacked veteran Ken Lucas in a salary-cap move this week. Lucas' play declined late last season. There are a lot of people who believe Richard Marshall, the nickelback the last couple of years, is ready to step in and provide an upgrade over Lucas.

That may turn out to be true, but Marshall's elevation raises another question that doesn't have an obvious answer: Who's going to be the nickelback? All the Panthers have at the moment is C.J. Wilson, who barely has played and veteran Dante Wesley, who may not be much more than a special-teams player. That means there's a good chance the Panthers, who have almost no salary-cap room, will have to draft a cornerback.

 
  AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin
  Chevis Jackson, a third-round pick in 2008, should have a larger role in 2009.

That's a route the Falcons may also follow because they have the division's least-defined cornerback situation at the moment. This team unloaded the talented, but troubled DeAngelo Hall before last season and made it to the playoffs with smoke, mirrors
and luck at cornerback last season. But some of that luck already is gone.

Domonique Foxworth, who emerged as a pleasant surprise last season, went to Baltimore after getting a massive deal in free agency. But the Falcons don't seem too worried. They could have made a stronger attempt to keep Foxworth, but didn't.

That makes you wonder whether coach Mike Smith has a higher opinion of his cornerbacks than the rest of us do. Chris Houston returns as a starter, but he hasn't yet shown he can be a true No. 1 cornerback. Smith must be thinking Houston can grow into that role because there aren't any other options on the roster.

In fact, it's far from clear who the other starter will be. Von Hutchins will be back after missing last season with an injury and Brent Grimes, who was a part-time starter last year, also remains a possibility.

But keep an eye on Jackson, a third-round pick last year, who started to show some big-play capability at the end of last season. The Falcons may be looking for Jackson to start or, at very least, be the nickelback.

If Jackson can do that, he'll fill a big void. He'll also be one of the faces of change at cornerback in the NFC South.

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