NFC South: Dwan Edwards

Greg HardyAP Photo/Bob Leverone
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Ron Rivera was describing breakdowns that allowed Atlanta wide receiver Roddy White to get wide open for a 39-yard touchdown on Sunday when the Carolina Panthers coach turned the topic to what could have happened.

"The unfortunate thing is if we could have eliminated that route, Greg Hardy could have gotten his fifth sack," Rivera said this week of his Pro Bowl defensive end, who had a team-record four sacks in the regular-season finale. "He was coming off the end like the train that he is, or the Kraken that he is, and he had a chance to make a play."

It's official.

Hardy is "The Kraken."

Or "The Kraken" is Hardy.

Until that moment, I'd never heard Rivera refer to the fourth-year player out of Ole Miss as the mythical sea monster that Hardy adopted as his nickname.

Some might argue it became official when Hardy introduced himself as "Kraken" from Hogwarts during a prime-time game against New Orleans on Dec. 8.

But it's one thing to introduce yourself. It's another to have those in authority refer to you by that name.

Or maybe when you get seven sacks over the final two games of the regular season and make the Pro Bowl for the first time, people start believing you can do -- or be -- anything you want to be.

So the next logical question for Rivera was, What did you think the first time you met "The Kraken"?

"That was my first year here," he said, pausing to laugh.

"Yeah," Rivera said, pausing again. "He's ... um, he's a very unique individual. He really he. He's got so much ability, so much talent, and he really just enjoys playing the game."

Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott had a similar pause when asked the same question.

"I just found out a couple of weeks ago he puts it on his name tag [for pregame introductions]," McDermott said of the nickname.

So what's the difference between Hardy and Kraken?

"Your guess is as good as mine," McDermott said. "Whoever showed up [Sunday]."

He was referring to the player whose four sacks against Atlanta earned him NFC Defensive Player of the Week for the second time this season, the player who in his postgame interview said he dominated his breakfast.

"Which I thought was awesome," McDermott said.

For those who missed it, a reporter asked Hardy how he was able to dominate Atlanta.

"Man, I dominated breakfast when I woke up, so I don't know what you're talking about," Hardy said. "I dominate everything I do. Silly question. Next question."

The next question was what Hardy had for breakfast.

"Cereal," Hardy said. "I killed it. No spoon."

You shouldn't be surprised. This is the same person who predicted he would have 50 sacks this year.

"Still have some games left, buddy," Hardy said when reminded he came up 35 short.

[+] EnlargeCarolina Panthers fans with 'Kraken' banner
AP Photo/Bob LeveroneHardy's alter-ego has taken hold in the Carolinas.
Told the NFL only counts regular-season statistics, Hardy responded, "Says who? I make the rules. Who's going to stop me?"

The simple answer is nobody. Not even his teammates, including those who didn't take him seriously the first time he put on black contact lenses and war paint for a game.

"Until he started backing up the way he's playing, you kind of laugh," defensive tackle Dwan Edwards said. "But man, when you see the way he plays ... I'm not going to stand in his way.

"Whatever he's doing is working. We're going to let Greg be Greg, let him be The Kraken."

That's because Hardy finished the regular season with 15 sacks, tying Kevin Greene's single-season team record set in 1998.

The 6-foot-4, 290-pound Hardy has a stare that could intimidate anybody. Just ask the reporter who mentioned the black "NFC South Division Champs" cap Hardy had pulled tightly on his head on Sunday.

"You're never taking this off my head, good luck with that one," Hardy said.

Hardy doesn't just intimidate opponents. He's practicing with such intensity lately that Rivera said "it's almost scary" for Carolina players who have to face him.

"There's something that has kind of clicked in him right now," Rivera said.

As Hardy would say, the Kraken has been unleashed.

But behind the crazy comments and black contacts there's a level of intelligence that gets overlooked.

"It's weird, because people that don't know Greg maybe think he's a little short," safety Mike Mitchell said. "But Greg is one of the smartest guys on this team. Don't let him fool you. A lot of that [Kraken stuff] is created so that he is scary. It works perfectly."

Edwards agreed.

"He might fool some people, but I've had some real deep talks with Greg," he said. "He's a lot smarter than people give him credit for. There's all sorts of layers with Greg Hardy. You never know what you're going to get."

Hardy knows what he's going to get. A huge contract, whether the Panthers give him the franchise tag that would guarantee him in excess of $11.1 million next season or work out a long-term deal that will pay him more.

He might make enough to buy Hogwarts.

When pushed on the madness behind his nickname, he admitted it's more of a "mode than a persona."

"[As] I see it, something tells me I've got to flip the switch and release all the bad stuff that is outside, the bills, the accidents, the tragedies and the things that happen every day to everybody else," said Hardy, who missed most of the 2011 preseason because he was in a motorcycle accident. "I've got to let it go and get locked into details."

That's when he becomes "The Kraken" -- who also emerges when an opposing player ticks Hardy off, as one of the Falcons did on Sunday.

"I've seen situations where guys want to talk to trash to him," Edwards said. "I don't think that's what they want, to get him mad or upset and on a mission. When he goes [into Kraken mode], he turns it on and it's full go."

There also are marketing reasons behind the alias.

"To sell T-shirts, make it a person," Hardy said. "That's all I'm saying."

Having your head coach refer to you by the name doesn't hurt. Rivera even stopped by Hardy's locker on Wednesday to say he dominated his cereal without a spoon that morning.

"Yeah, it's more than a sign," Hardy said of having his alter-ego acknowledged by the head coach. "It's a warning [to the league]."

Beware of "The Kraken."

Mike Glennon has a rookie-type day

December, 1, 2013
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- There were moments in the past few weeks when it looked like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers might have something special in rookie quarterback Mike Glennon.

Glennon
He was playing efficiently and with poise, especially during a three-game winning streak. Then, along came Sunday and a matchup with the Carolina Panthers. For one of the few times since he took over as the starter in Week 4, Glennon looked like he belonged back up the road in Raleigh, where he went to college at NC State. In a 27-6 loss to the Carolina Panthers, Glennon looked vulnerable.

"I don't know 'step back' as much as he maybe looked a little more like a rookie than he's looked," coach Greg Schiano said.

For the first time in his career, Glennon went through an entire game without a touchdown pass. And Glennon had two costly turnovers.

The first came with Tampa Bay trailing 7-6 with 12:38 left in the second quarter. After Glennon hit Vincent Jackson with a 60-yard pass, the Bucs had a first-and-goal at the 4-yard line. But, on third down, a scrambling Glennon lost his grip on the ball. Carolina defensive tackle Dwan Edwards pounced on the fumble and that started the onslaught.

"The first one wasn't really a careless mistake," Glennon said. "Just the ball slipped out of my hand and it really hurt us because we would have gotten at least three points in that situation."

Glennon also looked bad on a third-quarter interception. His pass, intended for Jackson was woefully underthrown.

"I tried to make a play and I should have just thrown it away," Glennon said.

Glennon finished with 14 completions on 21 attempts for 180 yards. He was sacked five times and had a 73.5 passer rating.

"I think it is always a learning moment," Glennon said. "Like I always say, you can learn from the good; you learn from the bad. And there was some bad today that I will learn from. We will go back and watch the film and we will make the corrections."
Star LotuleleiGetty ImagesStar Lotulelei and the Panthers' front four will bring pressure on Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

Two teams battling for playoff positioning will face off Sunday when the Carolina Panthers travel to play the Miami Dolphins.

Carolina (7-3) is one of the hottest teams in the NFL behind a stout defense and improved play from quarterback and MVP candidate Cam Newton. The Dolphins (5-5) have fought through off-the-field distractions to win two of their past three games and are just a tiebreaker behind the New York Jets for the final wild-card spot in the AFC.

Who will prevail? ESPN Panthers reporter David Newton and Dolphins reporter James Walker weigh in.

James Walker: This looks like a game of matchups. One that looks concerning from Miami's perspective is Carolina's aggressive, physical defense against the Dolphins' inconsistent offense. The Dolphins are still searching for an offensive identity 10 games into their season. There is nothing they do particularly well on that side of the football: Miami is ranked 20th in passing and 24th in rushing. In fact, the Dolphins haven't scored more than 27 points in a game all season.

Is Carolina's defense as good as advertised? What kind of challenge can Miami's offense expect?

David Newton: It's hard to argue the numbers Carolina's defense has put up, particularly against the run, allowing just 84.5 yards per game. The front seven is as good as there is at making a game one-dimensional and forcing teams to pass; the defensive line can apply pressure on the quarterback, which allows seven, and sometimes eight, to drop back into coverage. It's really an unselfish group that is working as well together as any unit I've seen this season. The return of defensive tackle Dwan Edwards from a hamstring injury three weeks ago has added a more consistent third-down inside pass rush and made this unit even stronger. The defense that helped the 2003 Panthers get to the Super Bowl was good, but I believe this one is better.

The Dolphins bounced back from the loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with a solid effort at San Diego. Has this team put the off-the-field issues behind it completely?

Walker: I wouldn't say completely, because the investigation is ongoing. I don't see an end to the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin saga for at least several more weeks, if not longer. The NFL spent a lot of time at the Dolphins' training facility this week to try to get to the bottom of things, and the NFLPA will reportedly do its own investigation soon.

I thought Miami handled this situation better against San Diego, and it showed in the Dolphins' preparation. Miami put together a focused effort to pick up a big win. I think the team was a bit shell-shocked by the circumstances and the amount of media scrutiny leading up to the Tampa Bay game when everything first came out. It's really going to be a week-to-week scenario with the Dolphins as this investigation unfolds.

Carolina is coming off a short week of preparation after winning a thriller against the New England Patriots on "Monday Night Football." Is this a concern, especially going on the road, where the Panthers are 3-2?

Newton: The short week shouldn't be a problem. They had a Thursday night game a few weeks ago at Tampa and played well for having only a few days of preparation. The coaching staff has really gotten into a groove with knowing when to go hard and when to back off in practice. From a defensive standpoint, because they don't rely on a lot of fancy formations with the front four so solid, it really just comes down to tweaking things for individual matchups.

The biggest issue might be from wear and tear. They played three games in a span of 12 days a few weeks ago, and they're coming off consecutive games against San Francisco and New England, elite teams that really get after you.

Speaking of physical teams, what problems will Miami's defense cause Newton and the Carolina offense?

Walker: Miami's defense has been an enigma. There is talent and depth, especially in the front seven, but the defense hasn't lived up to its potential. The Dolphins' best chance to rattle Newton is to stop Carolina's running game and make the Panthers one-dimensional. That's a tall order. I thought Miami's defense had the talent on paper to be top 10 against the run, but that's far from the case. The Dolphins are 25th against the run.

But in games when the Dolphins have earned a second-half lead, their pass rush has been able to cause problems. Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake is healthy again and back to his old self; he has four sacks in his past three games and 6.5 overall. Fellow defensive end Olivier Vernon (5.5 sacks) has been a pleasant surprise. The Dolphins have four players with three sacks or more this season. They have the ability to pin their ears back and get to the quarterback. But the Dolphins haven't had enough leads late in games.

David, one area in which Carolina has struggled is its 28th-ranked passing offense. How can the Panthers improve?

Newton: Carolina's ranking is a bit misleading. The key number is Newton's efficiency. He's completing a much higher percentage of passes -- 63.2 -- than in his previous two seasons. He's also throwing more short passes as the offense goes with more ball control. He's more or less taking what defenses are giving him better than he has before. Because the Panthers are so balanced in rushing and passing, Newton's passing yards are down. But they have deep threats when they need them in Steve Smith and Ted Ginn. They just haven't needed them because, for most of the past two months, they've been getting big leads and running more.

James, my last question to you is, do you believe the Dolphins are a playoff team?

Walker: The Dolphins feel confident because they are still in the hunt. They are just a tiebreaker behind the Jets, and the teams still have two games against one another. But I haven't seen any consistency from Miami since its 3-0 start. Since then, the Dolphins have gone 2-5, so there isn't much reason to believe they can go 5-1 or 4-2 down the stretch to get into the playoffs. Miami has a huge three-week stretch ahead, with Carolina and games at the Jets and at Pittsburgh. All of these games are going to be tough.

Lester, Barner, Edwards doubtful

October, 11, 2013
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Starting strong safety Robert Lester missed his third straight day of practice on Friday with a hamstring injury, making him doubtful for the Carolina Panthers on Sunday at Minnesota.

The undrafted rookie, who spent the first two weeks of the season on the practice squad, has an interception in each of the last two games since becoming the starter. He would be replaced by veteran Quintin Mikell.

"We'll how Robert is [Saturday], how many reps he takes,'' coach Ron Rivera said. "We'll take Robert off to side and see how he handles it, see how he wakes up Sunday morning.

"If he's ready to go, I'll start Robert. I want to keep playing hot hand of young guys right now.''

Mikell began the season as the starter, but injured his ankle in a Week 2 loss at Buffalo. Lester was called up from the practice squad. He has played so well that Rivera and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said he would remain the starter even with Mikell back.

Lester seemed confident all week he would play Sunday, but if not Rivera thinks Mikel is ready.

"I really liked what I saw from Quinton those first two games,'' Rivera said.

Defensive tackle Dwan Edwards (hamstring) looks like he'll miss his third straight start. He'll be replaced again by Colin Cole.

Rookie running back Kenjon Barner is listed as doubtful after the pain in the foot that kept him out of the first three games resurfaced.

Injury update: Carolina Panthers

October, 3, 2013
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- End Greg Hardy missed his second day of practice with a fever. Tackle Kawann Short missed practiced with an ankle injury. Tackle Dwan Edwards, who hasn't practiced in almost three weeks, was out again with a hamstring injury.

The numbers were thin on the Carolina Panthers defensive line on Thursday, but coach Ron Rivera is confident he'll have at least Hardy and Short back on Friday and ready for the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.

Rivera said the four-man rotation at tackle shouldn't change much from what it was in a 38-0 victory against the Giants with Colin Cole likely to start if Edwards is out.

He did say Hardy might play a little more at tackle, but that will depend on schemes and what Arizona is doing.

Stewart looks fast in PUP list comeback

September, 30, 2013
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- More than a few people noticed when Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart ran at close to full speed down the sideline during Monday's practice.

Stewart
It was the first time the former first-round pick out of Oregon tested his ankles like that since undergoing offseason surgery.

"And that was exciting,'' coach Ron Rivera said.

Said Stewart, who has struggled in particular with rehabbing the right ankle, "As good as it's felt in a while.''

So could Stewart be ready to come off the physically unable to perform list in two weeks and be ready for the Oct. 20 home game against the St. Louis Rams? Neither Stewart nor Rivera wanted to get too far ahead of themselves, but Monday's workout was encouraging.

"I'm on the coaching side,'' Rivera said. "We get excited about things. [Head trainer] Ryan Vermillion and his people, they've got to be realistic about it.

"But it was really nice to see him go full ... I shouldn't say full speed, but really open up.''

A healthy Stewart would open up a Carolina offense that already ranks third in the NFL in rushing with DeAngelo Williams carrying the bulk of the load (291 yards).

A healthy Stewart could mean a return to the days when Williams and Stewart were nicknamed "Double Trouble.''

Rivera said there have been times already this season where Williams could have used a break on long drives. He also reminded that "everything is eyeing to the postseason,'' so the Panthers (1-2) don't necessarily have to rush Stewart back. A more realistic chance of seeing Stewart might be in Week 8 or 9.

On target to return this week against Arizona is another former Oregon running back, Kenjon Barner, who has been out since suffering an ankle injury in the preseason finale.

Barner definitely will be used to spell Williams and give Carolina a different look with his breakaway speed.

"He's a very diverse football player,'' Rivera said of this year's sixth-round pick. "He has the ability to run the football and catch it, and he's learned how to pass protect. A lot of [how he's used] has to do with play calling and the flow.''

Not good enough: Much of the attention before a 38-0 victory over the New York Giants was on how well Carolina practiced after an 0-2 start.

Monday's first workout after the bye weekend wasn't that good.

"Practice was good, but it wasn't good enough, and I let them know that at the end,'' Rivera said. "They did some really good things, but as we talked about, to win football games we've got to practice the whole way.''

That may be especially true coming into a game against a 2-2 Arizona team that had to rally to beat winless Tampa Bay on Sunday.

"We've just got to make sure everybody is on the same page, everybody is pushing, because we have a chance to build momentum coming off a win,'' Rivera said.

Injury updates: Starting left cornerback Josh Thomas (concussion) has been cleared to play this week after being held out against New York. Defensive tackle Dwan Edwards (thigh) and safety Quintin Mikell (ankle), who also missed the Giants game, were not in pads on Monday and did not practice in full. They will be evaluated again on Wednesday.

Panthers move up during bye week

September, 30, 2013
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A member of the Carolina Panthers staff joked last week that he'd never heard an NFL head coach say it was a bad time to have a bye week.

Sure enough, coach Ron Rivera said Week 4 was a good time for the Panthers (1-2) to have a bye.

Here are four reasons why:

You can't lose: Not to be a smart aleck, but when you don't play you can't lose. The Panthers actually moved into sole possession of second place in the NFC South thanks to losses by Atlanta (1-3) to New England and Tampa Bay (0-4) to Arizona. A loss by the New Orleans Saints (3-0) against Miami (3-0) on Monday night and they could close the gap on first.

But they did lose ground in that only five NFC teams had a better record going into Week 4 and seven do now.

Time to heal: Defensive tackle Dwan Edwards got another week to heal a thigh injury that sidelined him for Week 3. The Panthers need Edwards to maintain the solid rotation they want on the line. It also basically gave linebacker Jon Beason, who seems to be missing a step since returning from offseason knee surgery, a two-week break. He was in for only one play against the New York Giants. Cornerback Josh Thomas (concussion) and safety Quintin Mikell (ankle) also should be back this week.

Evaluation: The early break gives the coaching staff a week to break down everything that they've done right and wrong, and correct those things before they get too deep into the season.

Head start: Not that Arizona is lighting it up at 2-2, but the break gives the Panthers an extra week to prepare for the Cardinals. The only way the 38-0 victory over the Giants means anything is to follow it up with another victory. That didn't happen a year ago when Carolina lost five straight after improving to 1-1.

Panthers: Thomas out; Edwards in doubt

September, 20, 2013
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers will be without starting cornerback Josh Thomas and possibly starting defensive tackle Dwan Edwards on Sunday against the New York Giants.

That's not good news for an 0-2 team that will face quarterback Eli Manning and the league's top passing game.

Team officials said on Friday that Thomas was not cleared by doctors after suffering a concussion in Sunday's 24-23 loss at Buffalo. Thomas practiced on Thursday and Friday and, according to coach Ron Rivera, passed all the necessary team tests.

But as Thomas wrote on Twitter:

Edwards missed his third straight day of practice on Friday with a thigh injury.

"Not looking good," said Rivera, adding a decision on Edwards' status will be made on Saturday.

If Edwards can't play, Colin Cole will start beside rookie Star Lotulelei.

Rivera left it open that either veteran Drayton Florence or Josh Norman would start on the left side for Thomas. Florence was signed on Wednesday night after being among the final cuts in the preseason.

Norman has been fighting through a deep thigh bruise and sprained knee.

Safety Quintin Mikell (ankle), corner D.J. Moore (foot) and running back Kenjon Barner (foot) already have been ruled out. Backup corner James Dockery (thumb/shoulder) will be a game-time decision.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers starting defensive tackle Dwan Edwards missed his third straight day of practice on Friday and is in doubt for Sunday's 1 p.m. game against the New York Giants.

Edwards
"Not looking good," coach Ron Rivera said on Friday.

Edwards has been battling a thigh injury. Rivera said a decision on his status will be made on Saturday. If Edwards can't play Colin Cole will start beside rookie Star Lotulelei.

The good news is starting left cornerback Josh Thomas practiced for the second straight day after suffering a concussion on Sunday against Buffalo.

Thomas still has to be cleared by doctors, but Rivera said the third-year player has passed all the required team tests and he is optimistic he'll be cleared by the league.

If not cleared, Rivera left it open that either veteran Drayton Florence or Josh Norman would start. Florence was signed on Wednesday night after being among the final cuts in the preseason.

Safety Quintin Mikell (ankle), corner D.J. Moore (foot) and running back Kenyon Barner (foot) already have been ruled out. Backup corner James Dockery (thumb/shoulder) will be a game-time decision.

Injury report: DT Edwards questionable

September, 19, 2013
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera is concerned that starting defensive tackle Dwan Edwards won't be ready for Sunday's game against the New York Giants.

Edwards missed his second straight day of practice on Thursday with a thigh injury. It is the same injury that had Edwards limited the week before the opener, in which he played.

"Yes there is [a concern],'' Rivera said. "He's an older guy. Nagging thing. He was limited as far as running around. What you're hoping for is tomorrow he runs around and tells you it doesn't grab.''

The good news is cornerbacks Josh Thomas (concussion) and Josh Norman (deep thigh bruise) returned to practice on a limited basis. Thomas still hasn't been cleared by doctors to play, but he remains optimistic.

Rivera indicated that if Thomas isn't cleared, Drayton Florence will start at left cornerback. The veteran was among the final cuts in training camp after starting most of the preseason, but re-signed on Wednesday night.

Rivera said strong safety Quintin Mikell and backup running back Kenjon Barner are out for the Giants. He said rookie Robert Lester will start at strong safety with Mike Mitchell moving from strong to free safety to replace Charles Godfrey, who was put on injured reserve with a torn Achilles.

Edwards to play; Mitchell, Silatolu out

September, 8, 2013
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The good news for the Carolina Panthers is starting defensive tackle Dwan Edwards is active.

Edwards was listed as questionable on Friday with a thigh injury, but was cleared to play. Look for Edwards and former Seahawks Colin Cole to rotate.

The bad news -- but not a surprise -- is starting strong safety Mike Mitchell and starting left guard Amini Silatolu are inactive.

Veteran Quintin Mikell, signed on Monday, will start at strong safety and Chris Scott is expected to make his first NFL start at guard. But look for veteran Travelle Wharton and Scott to play that position by committee.

Carolina's inactives are: RB Kenyon Barner, LCB James Dockery, C Brian Folkerts, OG Amini Silatolu, SS Mike Mitchell, WR Domenik Hixon, DE Wes Horton.
The NFC South, a division where fans often complain about a perceived lack of national attention, has had one market cornered in recent years.

When it comes to Rookie of the Year awards, “small markets’’ haven’t stopped NFC South players from receiving big honors.

Carolina quarterback Cam Newton won the Associated Press Offensive Rookie of the Year in the 2011 season. Last year, Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly won the defensive award.

Can the trend continue in 2013?

Well, I see at least one potential candidate for each team. But any rookie awards in the NFC South will almost certainly come from the defensive side of the ball because division teams didn’t use early draft picks on offensive skill position players.

Let’s take a look at the guys I think have a chance to win Defensive Rookie of the Year.

[+] EnlargeDesmond Trufant
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsThe Falcons will be counting on rookie CB Desmond Trufant to be an impact player immediately.
Atlanta Falcons. There’s a very strong candidate here. That’s first-round pick Desmond Trufant.

All indications are the Falcons plan to start Trufant immediately after releasing Dunta Robinson and letting Brent Grimes leave via free agency. Letting those veterans go wasn’t an accident. The Falcons wanted to get younger at this position and they also used their second-round pick on cornerback Robert Alford.

The hopes also are high for Alford, but it’s Trufant that the Falcons are expecting big early returns from. The plan is to start him opposite veteran Asante Samuel and let Alford compete with Robert McClain for the job at nickel back.

That means Trufant will be targeted early and often because opponents always test rookie cornerbacks. But the Falcons believe Trufant is polished and NFL ready. If he can rise to the challenge, he could put up some big interception numbers and that could make him a candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Carolina Panthers. I actually see two candidates here. The Panthers used their first two picks on defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short. Lotulelei was the first-round choice and his best shot at any postseason honors will come if Carolina’s run defense has a strong season. Lotulelei is known more for his run-stuffing abilities than his pass-rushing skills, so he’ll really need to dominate in the middle to turn heads.

Sacks are the statistic people look to when they’re talking about defensive linemen. That’s why I think Short, a second-round pick, might have a better chance to grab attention than Lotulelei. The scouting report on Short is that he can play the run well, but also is capable of generating a pass rush from the interior.

That could translate into big production. Surrounded by the strong duo of defensive ends Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson, veteran defensive tackle Dwan Edwards produced six sacks last season. If Short can beat out Edwards right from the start, I could see him ending up with even more sacks and that could bring awards.

New Orleans Saints. In recent years, the Saints usually have brought rookies along slowly, often not starting them until their second year. But I get the sense the plan with safety Kenny Vaccaro is different this year.

The Saints blew up their defense after ranking last in the league last season. They brought in coordinator Rob Ryan and Vaccaro was the first player drafted to fit his scheme. That means Vaccaro won’t be sitting on the bench.

If Vaccaro can put up some significant interception and tackle numbers and the New Orleans defense shows strong improvement, the rookie could be in the spotlight.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The big offseason news in Tampa Bay was the trade for cornerback Darrelle Revis and the free-agent signing of safety Dashon Goldson. But there’s another guy who should benefit tremendously from the those two moves.

That’s second-round pick Johnthan Banks. He’ll either start opposite Revis or get a lot of time in nickel situations if the Bucs elect to start Eric Wright.

Either way, Banks could be in a situation where he has a chance to shine. With Revis and Goldson protecting him, Banks could have a chance to come up with a bunch of interceptions.

And keep the Rookie of the Year award in the NFC South.

NFC South afternoon update

July, 15, 2013
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Time for an afternoon drive through some odds and ends around the division:

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Gary Shelton writes that quarterback Josh Freeman just isn’t as good as the Buccaneers need him to be, but is better than a lot of his detractors believe. I think that’s a fairly concise and accurate summary of the situation. I think the talent is there for Freeman to be a very good quarterback. But, as he enters the final season of his contract, it’s time for Freeman to put it all together. If not, he’ll be looking for a new place to play next season.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Bradley Handwerger reveals the No. 1 selection on his list of the 10 most impressive wins in the Sean Payton era. It’s not the Super Bowl victory, which came in at No. 2. It’s the 2006 victory against the Falcons in New Orleans. I can’t argue with this choice even though it’s hard to trump a Super Bowl victory. This was the first game back in the Superdome for the Saints after Hurricane Katrina and that was a tremendous emotional lift. Of course, it also helped that Steve Gleason’s punt block became the stuff of legend and that the Saints won.

Larry Holder has the Oct. 6 game against Chicago at No. 5 on the list of most compelling games for the Saints. By that point in the season we should find out if Chicago left tackle Jermon Bushrod really is good or if he was just a product of the system when he was a Pro Bowler in New Orleans.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Max Henson has his overview of the defensive tackle situation. Justifiably, there has been a lot of talk about Carolina’s first two draft picks – Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short. But, for the first time in a long time, the Panthers should have some quality depth at defensive tackle. Dwan Edwards could remain a starter in the short term. Sione Fua and Frank Kearse aren’t bad and Colin Cole could be a sleeper if he can stay healthy.

ATLANTA FALCONS

Daniel Cox writes that Atlanta’s Jonathan Massaquoi hopes he’s ready to contribute more as a defensive end after being limited mostly to special teams as a rookie. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the Falcons have a bunch of young defensive ends and Massaquoi is the one the coaching staff is most optimistic about.

The Falcons are holding a contest to name a new sandwich that will be sold at their training camp. It looks good, but I think I’ll pass on it when I visit Flowery Branch because I’m trying to maintain my playing weight.

NFC South afternoon update

April, 30, 2013
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It's been a fairly quiet news day in the NFC South. But there were a few odds and ends, so let's take a run around the division:

ATLANTA FALCONS

The Georgia World Congress Center Authority board voted to approve the hiring of a Kansas City-based firm to design the new retractable-roof stadium that’s expected to open in 2017.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Bryan Strickland has a breakdown of how Carolina’s draft picks should fit in. A lot of people are wondering why the Panthers used their first two draft picks on defensive tackles. Strickland explains that first-round choice Star Lotulelei is a traditional run stuffer and second-round pick Kawann Short has interior pass-rush skills. The Panthers envision this tandem together for the long run. But Short probably will start off sharing time with Dwan Edwards who is nearing the end of his career.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Nakia Hogan points out the Saints saved a little over $2 million in cap space by trading running back Chris Ivory to the New York Jets. The Saints now have a little over $3 million in cap space and they’ll need that eventually to sign their draft picks. If they plan to make any more significant moves in free agency, they’ll have to restructure contracts of release players.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

The Bucs announced they’ll have a news conference related to this year’s Ring of Honor on Thursday. There are no firm rules about how many inductees there can be in a given year. But there’s been only one inductee per year in the past. If I had to guess on just one honoree for this year, I’d say Warren Sapp because it would go nicely with his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this summer.
As I look at what NFC South teams did in the NFL draft, I’m not seeing a lot of players that will make instant impacts.

In fact, I’m seeing only four players that are likely to be starters on opening day. Let’s take a look:

Atlanta Falcons: Go ahead and put first-round pick Desmond Trufant in the lineup as a starting cornerback opposite Asante Samuel. Second-round pick Robert Alford will get a chance to compete with Robert McClain for the job at nickel back. Levine Toilolo, a fourth-round choice, has a shot at some decent playing time as the second tight end.

Carolina Panthers: First-round pick Star Lotulelei will be an instant starter at defensive tackle next to Dwan Edwards. Second-round pick Kawann Short could start off his career rotating in for Lotulelei and Edwards. The rest of Carolina’s draft picks will begin their careers as special-teams players.

New Orleans Saints: Although the Saints brought defensive backs Malcolm Jenkins and Patrick Robinson along slowly in recent years, I think safety Kenny Vaccaro will get thrown right into the starting lineup. He’s likely to unseat Roman Harper as the Saints overhaul their defense and go to a 3-4 scheme. It might be too much to expect third-round pick Terron Armstead to be an immediate starter at left tackle. But Armstead will get a look in training camp because Charles Brown and Jason Smith are the only other options.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: At worst, second-round pick Johnthan Banks will begin his career as the third cornerback. That’s virtually the same as a starter because teams use so many nickel packages. But I think there’s a good possibility Banks vaults past Eric Wright and starts opposite Darrelle Revis. Fourth-round picks Akeem Spence and William Gholston have a chance to earn spots in the rotation on the defensive line.

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