NFC South: Desmond Trufant

Matt Ryan and Patrick WillisUSA TODAY SportsPatrick Willis and the 49ers' pass rush could make Monday night miserable for Atlanta's Matt Ryan.
The NFL schedule-makers tried to get this right.

They planned for the final game played at Candlestick Park to be special. They set a 2012 NFC Championship Game rematch between the 49ers and the Falcons. However, the Falcons have not held up their end of the bargain. They are 4-10 as they try getting revenge against the 49ers for their road win in the title game in January.

The 49ers have done their part, as they are 10-4 and can clinch a playoff berth with either an Arizona loss at Seattle or by beating the Falcons. The 49ers are focused on sending out Candlestick the right way.

Coach Jim Harbaugh said this week the 49ers are the group that “doesn’t want to screw up" the Candlestick finale.

ESPN.com Falcons reporter Vaughn McClure and 49ers reporter Bill Williamson discuss the game:

McClure: Bill, the 49ers and Vernon Davis had their way in the passing game against the Falcons in the NFC Championship Game. And the Falcons have had trouble covering tight ends again this season. Do you think Davis will expose their poor coverage once again?

Williamson: The 49ers' passing game is really coming together. The return of Michael Crabtree has sparked it. Crabtree has played the past three games and he is getting better each week. It opens up possibilities for Davis and Anquan Boldin. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick and Davis have a nice chemistry. Davis is a mismatch for nearly every defense and he's particularly good against defenses that struggle against the tight end. He had eight catches for 180 yards against Arizona in October. Vaughn, do you see any way the Falcons can slow down the 49ers’ receiving weapons?

McClure: Not really. The Falcons started three rookies in the secondary last Sunday against the Redskins and gave up pass plays of 62 and 53 yards, the latter for a touchdown. All three rookies -– cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford and free safety Zeke Motta –- made some mistakes in coverage. But Trufant has held his own most of the season after coming in as the team’s first-round draft pick, so he’s going to compete, but Alford still has some ground to make up. Motta might not even play with regular starter Thomas DeCoud possibly returning from a concussion. However the Falcons line up, they have to play with better eye discipline and technique. Not to mention the pass rush has to make an effort to put pressure on the elusive Kaepernick or else he’ll carve up the Falcons and let loose to Davis, Boldin, and Crabtree.

The Falcons were supposed to be challenged heavily by the read-option this season with matchups against Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III and Kaepernick. Wilson didn’t use it much and RGIII didn’t play. So, will Kaepernick and the 49ers utilize the strategy on Monday night, or has it just not been as effective this season?

Williamson: They haven’t used it much this season. It’s been used occasionally. But I will tell you this: Kaepernick has been running with a lot of confidence in the past few games. I think it is because the passing game has opened up and it has affected the entire offense positively. Vaughn, do you get the sense the Falcons have a lack of confidence facing Kaepernick and this offense because of the loss in the NFC title game?

McClure: The Falcons can’t be too confident about much of anything, at 4-10. From a defensive standpoint, six starters who faced Kaepernick last season either are no longer with the team or have been benched. And if DeCoud doesn’t return this week from a concussion, there’s a possibility that five rookies will start against the 49ers offense come Monday night. It will be quite a lesson for those players, to face a true dual-threat quarterback. The Falcons haven’t looked too confident the past two weeks defending against a pair of backup quarterbacks, Matt Flynn and Kirk Cousins.

A lot has been made of Aldon Smith's off-field issues this season. In fact, Falcons receiver Roddy White actually stepped out and said Smith was a "good dude" who just made a mistake. How has Smith responded after his time away from the team, and is he back to his normal self on the field yet?

Williamson: Yes, Smith is back to his dominating self. He has been back for six games and he was eased into the defense after missing five games while seeking treatment for substance abuse. Smith has been particularly good for the past four games, and he’s been dominant the past two games. He is his normal self as a pass-rusher and he is continuing to grow as a complete player. He is a major cog in a defense that is playing at a high level. Vaughn, do you see any way the Falcons can slow Smith and crew Monday night?

McClure: No. Not at all. This offensive line has been like a sieve all season long. Don’t be fooled by the Falcons being ranked eighth in sacks given up per pass attempt. They’ve allowed Matt Ryan to be sacked or hit way too many times despite Ryan making a conscious effort to get the ball out quicker this season. Right now, the Falcons are relying on second-year left tackle Lamar Holmes to protect Ryan’s blind side, and Holmes is coming off being abused by Brian Orakpo of the Redskins. Plus, the Falcons have to be aware of Ahmad Brooks along with Smith. I covered a game last season during which the 49ers totally dominated the Chicago Bears with a swarming pass rush, led by Smith. I can envision the same thing happening to the Falcons.

Young Falcons bend, but don't break

December, 15, 2013
12/15/13
7:40
PM ET
video
ATLANTA -- It seemed only fitting that Atlanta Falcons rookie cornerback Desmond Trufant tipped away a gutsy two-point conversion attempt by the Washington Redskins to preserve Sunday's 27-26 win.

No matter how the turnover-filled game was dissected, it marked yet another step in the Falcons' youth movement as the organization continues preparation for the future.

True, there are going to be some hiccups along the way, as was evident throughout Sunday's matchup. But the resilience shown by Trufant and some of the other young players to shake off their inconsistent play was an encouraging sign.

"At my position, sometimes you're going to give up some," said Trufant, who was displeased about allowing a touchdown. "That's just the nature of the game. This is the best in the world. You've got to stay mentally strong. You can't get down on yourself because it's a long football game. Like you saw, we can turn it around and make big plays."

[+] EnlargeAtlanta's Desmond Trufant
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesRookie Desmond Trufant breaks up a two-point conversion attempt intended for Pierre Garcon.
A defense starting three rookies in the secondary and two at linebacker -- as well as second-year player Jonathan Massaquoi over Osi Umenyiora at right defensive end -- got exposed early and often by new Redskins starter Kirk Cousins. But the Falcons still managed to come up with seven turnovers, the most they've had in a game since 1988. They scored 20 points off those turnovers.

Days before the game, veteran safety William Moore expressed confidence in his rookie defensive backs, but vowed to step up his game in the process. He followed through with a key interception immediately after the Falcons' offense failed to punch it in on fourth-and-goal midway through the third quarter. Moore's turnover led to Steven Jackson's 2-yard touchdown run.

Trufant also had a fourth-quarter interception that set up Matt Bryant's 51-yard field goal.

Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan made an adjustment with the defensive backfield at halftime after the Falcons surrendered 320 first-half yards, including a 53-yard touchdown from Cousins to Pierre Garcon. In the second half, the secondary played more quarters coverage -- a four-deep, three-underneath zone. In the third quarter, the defense allowed the Redskins just 13 yards in 10 plays.

The defensive switch seemed to make rookie defensive backs Robert Alford and Zeke Motta more comfortable in their respective roles. Motta admitted he blew his over-the-top coverage on Cousins' 23-yard touchdown pass to tight end Fred Davis. But the rookie settled down afterward.

"It was a learning day for those rookies," coach Mike Smith said. "We gave up some big, explosive plays on the corners. Then we came back and made a play.

"That was a heck of an interception that Desmond Trufant had there in the second half of the ballgame. There's going to be plays made and there's going to be plays given up. We need to continue to focus on not giving up those explosive plays. It's been our Achilles' heel for the entire season on defense."

Although veteran such as Moore (interception, fumble recovery) and defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (two fumble recoveries) spearheaded Sunday's effort, Smith has plenty to be encouraged about in terms of his young players growing up. Trufant, the team's first-round pick, has been steady all season long and undrafted linebacker Paul Worrilow fell one tackle short of his seventh consecutive double-digit tackle game. Second-rounder pick Alford had nine tackles while fourth-round pick Malliciah Goodman came up with a fumble recovery.

"We're going to be around here a long time, so I think it's good for us to get out there and just get on the same page and get used to playing with each other," Alford said. "To finish strong, that's really what we're trying to do. We're trying to finish strong so we can have momentum coming into next year."
ATLANTA -- A few halftime notes with the Atlanta Falcons trailing the Washington Redskins, 20-17:

• The youth movement isn't working so well today: Rookie cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford have had their issues in coverage. Rookie safety Zeke Motta took a bad angle on one play and got blocked off another. And rookie right tackle Ryan Schraeder has had issues against Redskins pass-rusher Ryan Kerrigan, just like second-year left tackle Lamar Holmes has had issues stopping Brian Orakpo. True, this is valuable experience for the inexperienced Falcons. But they should be enjoying better success against an equally bad Redskins team. At least one of the young Falcons -- guard Harland Gunn -- made the most of his opportunities.

Osi Umenyiora is no longer a starter: The veteran defensive end did not start Sunday's game despite being a regular starter all season. At least Umenyiora didn't pout on the sideline. He came into the game off the bench and immediately forced a fumble, recovered by teammate Jonathan Babineaux. The Falcons started Jonathan Massaquoi and Peria Jerry at the defensive end spots. Umenyiora primarily played the role of situational, third-down pass-rusher in the first half. So what about his future with the team? Besides, the Falcons already made a statement by benching veteran cornerback Asante Samuel for Alford.

• The Falcons are trying to send Tony Gonzalez out in style: Quarterback Matt Ryan seems to be making Gonzalez a priority today. He hit the soon-to-be-retired tight end for a 13-yard touchdown in the first quarter. And the aging Gonzalez didn't dunk it over the goal posts. Gonzalez extended his consecutive games with a reception streak to 209.

• Although the Falcons have been terrible on defense, Babineaux has been extremely disrupted. He's set to become a free agent an obviously wants to prove his value.
Come Sunday, the Atlanta Falcons could provide a glimpse of how their secondary might come together for years to come.

Three rookies – free safety Zeke Motta and cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford -- are slated to start in the defensive backfield as the Falcons prepare to face the embattled Washington Redskins.

Much was expected of Trufant, the first-round pick from Washington who has started all 13 games. He has met those expectations and has been a steady, disruptive force most of the season.

But Alford, a second-round pick from Southeastern Louisiana, and Motta, a seventh-round pick from Notre Dame, have been brought along at a slower pace. Alford recently surpassed veteran Asante Samuel for the starting job at left cornerback while Motta -- primarily a special-teamer -- will fill in on Sunday for veteran Thomas DeCoud, who is out with a concussion.

Fortunately for the rookies, they won’t have to chase around Robert Griffin III as the Redskins opted to bench the struggling and not fully healthy quarterback. Yet new starter Kirk Cousins is certain to take some shots against the young secondary. Cousins connected with Santana Moss for a 77-yard touchdown in last year’s meeting between the teams.

It will be intriguing to see how Motta responds in coverage, in particular.

All the Falcons have to be ready to help stop the run, and the sure-tackling Motta should thrive in that aspect. The Redskins, behind Alfred Morris, boast the league’s second-best rushing offense at 143.8 yards per game. The Falcons have one of the league’s worst run defenses, allowing 133.6 yards per game.

Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan recently discussed how disappointed he has been with tackling, and he specifically mentioned how the secondary has done a poor job in that aspect. Both DeCoud and Samuel have had their struggles tackling.

Veteran strong safety William Moore can’t do it alone, so he'll need help from the rookies.

They're capable. They just need a lot more experience. So, Sunday should be another building block toward the future.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers lead the Atlanta Falcons, 14-10.

Here are some notes at halftime:

" Matt Ryan threw yet another interception when he tried to force a ball to tight end Tony Gonzalez with three defenders around. Ryan now has five interceptions in his last two games. He had three interceptions through the first six games.

" Speaking of Gonzalez, he caught a pass in his 203rd consecutive game in the first half, the longest active streak in the NFL. He scored a 17-yard touchdown near the end of the first half, his team-leading fourth touchdown reception of the season. Gonzalez has no problem getting behind the coverage of Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly.

" Steven Jackson looks a lot better running the ball for the Falcons. He has a modest 34 yards on nine carries, but Jackson continues to run hard. He even pushed teammate Justin Blalock out of the way on one play. Jackson’s longest run is eight yards. He also did a masterful job picking up the blitz on one play.

" Cornerback Asante Samuel left the game twice after getting banged up with injuries. The last came near the end of the half when Samuel was pushed out of bounds. He walked off the field under his own power, and Robert McClain entered the game as the extra defensive backs along with rookies Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford.

" It has been an up-and-down half for Trufant. He recorded his first-career interception while picking off a deep ball by Cam Newton. But Trufant also was whistled for two pass-interference penalties. On the second one, Falcons coach Mike Smith tried to tell the officials that the ball was tipped. Fellow rookie Alford had an amazing interception at the end of the half, tip-toeing before going out of bounds.

Rapid Reaction: Saints 23, Falcons 17

September, 8, 2013
9/08/13
4:21
PM ET

NEW ORLEANS -- My thoughts on the New Orleans Saints' 23-17 win against the Atlanta Falcons:

What it means: It means New Orleans has the early lead in the NFC South race. The Saints held serve. No team has ever repeated as champion in the division since realignment in 2002, which is what the Falcons are trying to do. The Saints have other ideas, especially now that they have coach Sean Payton back. It’s early, but the advantage goes to New Orleans.

Stock watch, Part I: The Saints' defense looked much, much better. You know the deal with the New Orleans defense. It was historically bad in 2012, which cost Steve Spagnuolo his job as defensive coordinator after just one season. Enter former Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. Even with a decimated linebacking corps, the Saints were able to have an aggressive defense that held its own in coverage, and by midway through the first half they were getting pressure on Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan and his suspect offensive line. The Saints' goal-line stand at the end of the game was the difference between a W and an L.

Stock watch, Part II: Because of a thigh injury to veteran cornerback Asante Samuel, fourth-year cornerback Robert McClain started on the outside opposite rookie Desmond Trufant, the Falcons' first-round draft pick. That meant fellow rookie Robert Alford started as the nickel cornerback (instead of McClain). All three corners were tested early, and Alford had an interception that he basically took away from New Orleans wide receiver Marques Colston. The future at cornerback looks bright for the Falcons.

Where was Osi? Former New York Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora was one of the Falcons' big offseason acquisitions, stepping in for John Abraham as one of the team’s primary pass-rushers. While Smith praised Umenyiora’s leadership and locker room presence, Umenyiora was a nonfactor on the field.

What’s next: The Falcons host the St. Louis Rams at 1 p.m. next Sunday. The Saints travel to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a 4:05 p.m. start.
Since the start of training camp, we’ve been hearing reports that Atlanta rookie cornerback Desmond Trufant is struggling. On Tuesday, we heard similar reports about Tampa Bay rookie Johnthan Banks.

There’s a reason for the reports. Trufant and Banks are struggling.

But it’s not time to hit the panic button. Instead, it’s time to put the struggles in perspective. Trufant and Banks aren’t going through anything unusual.

It’s only natural for rookie cornerbacks to struggle early on. That’s especially true in the case of Trufant, who has had to go against Roddy White and Julio Jones every day. Lots of veteran cornerbacks have struggled with those two.

Then, there is Banks, who had been holding his own in camp. But the Bucs are holding two days of workouts with the Patriots before playing a preseason game at New England. There were all sorts of reports coming out of New England about how Banks struggled during Tuesday’s opening session.

Well, let’s keep in mind that Banks was going against Tom Brady, a quarterback who has made many cornerbacks look bad.

What Trufant and Banks are going through is a blessing in disguise. They’re getting baptisms by fire now. Maybe that will have them prepared to hold their own when the regular season gets started.

Around the NFC South

August, 14, 2013
8/14/13
9:01
AM ET
Time for a look at the top morning headlines from around the division:

ATLANTA FALCONS

Guard Phillipkeith Manley has been getting some work at left tackle. He’s not a threat to challenge Sam Baker, but becoming more versatile would only help Manley’s chances of sticking on the roster.

The folks at Pro Football Focus gave cornerback Desmond Trufant a low grade for his performance in the preseason opener.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Receiver Domenik Hixon said he’s about a week away from returning from a hamstring injury. Hixon needs to get back on the field as soon as possible. He had been ticketed for the No. 3 receiver spot. But Armanti Edwards and Ted Ginn Jr. have performed well in his absence.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Bradley Handwerger writes that defensive end Jay Richardson, who has bounced in and out of the league in recent years, is keeping an eye from a distance on his insurance firm as he tries to make the roster. Richardson, who also can play linebacker, might have a shot after Kenyon Coleman and Victor Butler suffered season-ending injuries.

Linebacker Martez Wilson, who has been dealing with an arm injury, said he has no doubt he’ll be ready for the regular-season opener.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

It’s no surprise that the Bucs have eight players from Rutgers on their roster, because that’s where Greg Schiano coached previously. But the surprising thing is that New England has nine former Rutgers players on its roster.

Observations on the Falcons

August, 8, 2013
8/08/13
10:59
PM ET
If they don’t cut them down, the “empty calories’’ Atlanta coach Mike Smith talks so much about are going to end up costing the Atlanta Falcons.

One drive in a 34-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals exposed a lingering problem. Early in the second quarter Cincinnati backup quarterback Josh Johnson had two runs for 57 yards on a lengthy drive. The Falcons were able to hold the Bengals to a field goal, which was nice. But the point is the Falcons have to get better when they’re facing mobile quarterbacks.

They have a schedule that includes dates with Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson and Cam Newton (twice). Newton gave the Falcons headaches twice last season and Kaepernick and Wilson had success against Atlanta in the playoffs.

The Falcons spent part of the offseason consulting with college coaches to get ideas on how to stop the read option. If the Falcons don’t get better at dealing with mobile quarterbacks, they’re going to run into some big problems in the regular season.

Some other observations on the Falcons:
  • Second-year pro Jonathan Massaquoi showed several flashes, including a second-quarter sack. The Falcons are looking for one of their young defensive ends to complement Osi Umenyiora. So far, Massaquoi seems to be the leading candidate for that role.
  • I was impressed with rookie cornerback Robert Alford. He made some physical tackles and made some plays in coverage. Alford, a second-round pick, might be ahead of first-round pick Desmond Trufant.
  • Drew Davis had a 31-yard catch in the first quarter. He seems to be in the lead for the fourth receiver spot.
  • I’ve been skeptical about Atlanta’s decision not to bring in a veteran backup for quarterback Matt Ryan. After watching Dominique Davis on Thursday night, I’m even more skeptical. Davis struggled with accuracy as he completed 8 of 19 passes for 78 yards with one touchdown and an interception. I still think Davis has tremendous upside, but I think the Falcons should bring in a veteran for insurance.
  • It instantly was obvious that running back Steven Jackson is a big upgrade over Michael Turner. But I don’t think backup Jacquizz Rodgers is going to disappear. Rodgers has home-run potential and the Falcons need to make sure he continues to have a role in the offense.
  • Although the Falcons pulled most of their starters late in the first quarter, they let right tackle Lamar Holmes play into the third quarter. The Falcons gave Holmes an extended audition because they lost starter Mike Johnson to an injury earlier this week.
Three things to watch in Thursday night’s preseason game between the Atlanta Falcons and Cincinnati Bengals:

1. Lamar Holmes. With starting right tackle Mike Johnson going down with a season-ending injury earlier this week, the Falcons will take a long look at Holmes. The second-year pro wasn’t ready to contribute as a rookie, and there are no guarantees he’s ready to start now. But the Falcons will use this game as a gauge to see if they think Holmes has a shot or if they need to go outside and find a new right tackle.

2. Dominique Davis. Starting quarterback Matt Ryan is expected to play only briefly because the Falcons already know what he can do. But Davis is going to get a bunch of playing time. The Falcons have held off on bringing in a veteran backup because they think Davis has great potential. A solid showing by Davis could cement his role as the backup.

3. Rookie cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford against Cincinnati receivers A.J. Green and Mohamed Sanu. Trufant and Alford have been taking their lumps from Roddy White and Julio Jones in practices, so it might be refreshing to go against some other receivers. Green and Sanu will provide a good test on how quickly Trufant and Alford are progressing.
The Atlanta Falcons have put out their first unofficial depth chart of the preseason and it contains no major surprises.

Perhaps the most notable thing on there is that rookie cornerback Desmond Trufant is listed with the first team. Trufant, the team’s first-round draft pick, is listed ahead of fellow rookie Robert Alford and veteran Robert McClain.

The other notable item on defense is that Kroy Biermann is listed as a starting defensive end. But Biermann has spent a large part of camp working at outside linebacker. Cliff Matthews and Jonathan Massaquoi are listed as the top two backups at defensive end.

On offense, right tackle might be the position where things are the most competitive. Mike Johnson is listed with the first team and Lamar Holmes is No. 2 on the depth chart.

NFC South afternoon update

August, 1, 2013
8/01/13
4:11
PM ET
Time for an afternoon run through some news and notes from around the division:

ATLANTA FALCONS

Although rookie cornerback Desmond Trufant has had his hands full with Roddy White and Julio Jones, defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said the first-round draft pick is not struggling. But Trufant might be at a slight disadvantage compared to second-round pick Robert Alford. Trufant missed most of the offseason program because of NCAA and NFL rules, while Alford got an early start working with his teammates and coaches.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Offensive tackle Jordan Gross said if he plays in 2014 it will be only with the Panthers, the only team he has ever played for. Gross could consider retirement, and his contract voids in March. But quality left tackles don’t grow on trees. If Gross stays healthy and productive this year and the Panthers aren’t in a spot to get a left tackle in the draft or free agency, I could see him returning for one more season.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Middle linebacker Curtis Lofton, who had missed some time with a sore back, returned to practice Thursday. The Saints have encountered several injuries at outside linebacker, and it’s important to have Lofton, who is the leader of the defense, on the field as much as possible as the team installs coordinator Rob Ryan’s defense.

Although he apparently is healthy, running back Mark Ingram was given a day off from practice Thursday. Coach Sean Payton said he expects Ingram to practice Friday. This could be a sign the Saints plan to use Ingram more this season and are trying to keep him fresh.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

In yet another sign that rookie Akeem Spence could be an immediate starter at defensive tackle, coach Greg Schiano said the fourth-round pick has shown better pass-rush skills than the team anticipated. Spence was drafted mainly to play the run, but anything he can give as a rusher is a bonus.

Around the NFC South

July, 29, 2013
7/29/13
10:32
AM ET
SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- I’m spending another day with the Carolina Panthers. But let’s take this time to run through some headlines from around the division:

ATLANTA FALCONS

D. Orlando Ledbetter writes that undrafted rookie Martel Moore has been turning some heads in camp. I saw him make a spectacular diving catch Friday when I was at camp. Still, Moore faces an uphill battle to make the roster. He’ll need to beat out Drew Davis and Kevin Cone for one of the final two receiver spots.

First-round pick Desmond Trufant has been working at right cornerback and nickel back early in camp. Trufant has taken some lumps while trying to cover Julio Jones and Roddy White. That’s natural because those are two elite receivers. But the Falcons are hoping Trufant will be ready to start by the beginning of the regular season.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Tom Sorensen has a column on rookie running back Kenjon Barner. The team is deep at that position with veterans DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert. But Barner’s speed has stood out the last two days as I’ve watched camp and he also has return ability. If he keeps progressing, Barner should be able to earn a roster spot and may even have a chance to have a role in the offense.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Terrance Harris writes that Nick Toon, who missed his rookie season with an injury, has shown big-play ability early in camp. If he keeps doing that, Toon could have a shot at the third receiver job.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Stephen Holder writes about the competition for the No. 3 receiver spot between Kevin Ogletree and Tiquan Underwood. Coach Greg Schiano has said both have a shot to win the job. The third receiver could have a critical role in an offense that doesn’t have an established receiving threat at tight end.

NFC South afternoon update

July, 26, 2013
7/26/13
3:19
PM ET
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- I’m about to head out to watch the Atlanta Falcons practice. But, first, let’s take a quick trip through the headlines from around the division:

ATLANTA FALCONS

Michael Cunningham writes that rookie cornerback Desmond Trufant had a rough first practice on Thursday. That was to be expected. Trufant got victimized several times by Julio Jones. Lots of defensive backs have been beaten by Jones, who is one of the top receivers in the league. The upside to this is that competing against Jones on a daily basis is going to help get Trufant ready for the regular season.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

With Atlanta’s Matt Ryan getting a new contract Thursday, Cam Newton was asked if that made him think about eventually getting his own contract extension. The quarterback, who hasn’t always handled the media to perfection, gave the right answer. Newton said he’s focused on wins and not thinking about his contract situation. If Newton produces enough wins, the contract situation eventually will take care of itself.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Mike Triplett writes that Will Smith worked at strong-side linebacker and Junior Galette worked at the “Jack’’ linebacker position. That’s surprising because the “Jack’’ position is expected to include a lot of pass rushing and Smith is a converted defensive end. But I wouldn’t read too much into this just yet. The Saints are likely to do a lot of experimentation with their new defense and Smith could end up back at the “Jack’’ position. Martez Wilson also is likely to get some first-team work and could end up with a starting position.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Roy Cummings writes that Tampa Bay’s overhauled secondary looked good in Friday’s practice. That’s what the Bucs were aiming for when they went out and got veterans Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson and drafted Johnthan Banks. Revis isn’t even taking part in team drills yet. But the early evidence of improvement is a very encouraging sign for the Bucs.

Around the NFC South

July, 25, 2013
7/25/13
7:47
AM ET
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers begin practicing Thursday and the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers report to training camp. That means there’s a lot going on around the division. Let’s take a look:

ATLANTA FALCONS

D. Orlando Ledbetter reports that the contract signed by first-round pick Desmond Trufant is a four-year deal worth $8.16 million and includes a $4.31 million signing bonus.

Running back Steven Jackson said he left money on the table with the St. Louis Rams to join the Falcons because he thinks Atlanta has a chance at a Super Bowl. You can’t blame Jackson for that. He played on plenty of mediocre teams in St. Louis and it’s only natural he wants to be part of a winner.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

The status of running back Jonathan Stewart, who had surgery on both ankles in the offseason, won’t be determined until he arrives at camp and has an extensive physical. It’s possible Stewart could be held out of the start of camp or limited in his participation. The Panthers are optimistic linebacker Jon Beason, who also is coming back from injury, will be ready for the start of camp.

Although the Panthers have used the combination of black jerseys, black pants and blue socks just once in franchise history, that combination won NFL.com’s “Greatest Uniform in NFL History’’ contest. Equipment manager Jackie Miles told Scott Fowler the team plans to wear that combination at least five times this year.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Mike Triplett has an overview of the situation at offensive tackle. Zach Strief appears set at right tackle, but the job at left tackle is wide open. Veterans Charles Brown and Jason Smith will compete with rookie Terron Armstead. There does not appear to be a clear-cut favorite.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

General manager Mark Dominik described wide receiver Mike Williams as a “football junkie." That’s a big part of the reason the Bucs went ahead and gave Williams a six-year, $40.5 million contract. Coach Greg Schiano likes guys who are all about football and that’s why the Bucs were willing to invest in Williams.

Schiano said newly signed running back Peyton Hillis will also get some practice time at fullback. The Bucs can use a backup behind Erik Lorig.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

NFC SOUTH SCOREBOARD