NFC South: Hall of Fame Game

Upcoming key dates

June, 13, 2013
6/13/13
3:18
PM ET
With most minicamps already done and players and coaches off until training camp, let’s take a look at some important upcoming dates:
  • Mid-July: Teams are allowed to open training camp for rookies and first-year players no more than 22 days prior to the team’s first preseason game. Veteran players may report to training camp no earlier than 15 days before the first preseason game.
  • Aug. 3: Hall of Fame enshrinement, which includes former Tampa Bay defensive tackle Warren Sapp.
  • Aug. 4: Hall of Fame Game, Dallas against Miami.
  • Aug. 6: Deadline for players under contract to report to their teams to earn an accrued season for free agency.
  • Aug. 6: If a drafted rookie has not signed with his club by this date, he cannot be traded to any other club in 2013 and may sign a contract only with the team that drafted him until the first day of the 2014 draft.
  • Aug. 8-11: First preseason weekend.
  • Aug. 27: Teams must reduce their rosters to 75 players.
  • Aug. 29: Final preseason games.
  • Aug. 31: Teams must reduce their rosters to 53 players.
  • Sept. 1: Teams can establish a practice squad of eight players.
  • Sept. 5: The top 51 salary-cap figures no longer comprise the team’s salary-cap commitment. At this point, all contracts, practice-squad contracts, tender offers and miscellaneous amounts begin counting toward the salary cap.
  • Sept. 5: The regular season opens.
  • Sept. 24: The claiming priority for players that were waived begins to go in inverse order of the current season’s standings.
  • Oct. 15: Starting the day after the conclusion of the sixth regular-season weekend and continuing through the day after the 11th regular-season weekend, teams are allowed to begin practicing players on the physically unable to perform and non-football injury or illness list. If a player is activated, it has to come within 21 days of the day he begins practicing.
  • Oct. 29: Deadline for trading.

Observation deck: Saints-Titans

August, 30, 2012
8/30/12
10:03
PM ET

Some quick observations from the Saints' 10-6 loss to the Tennessee Titans in Thursday night's preseason finale:
  • Assistant head coach Joe Vitt went almost exclusively with backups, which isn’t at all surprising when you consider the Saints were playing their fifth preseason game, including the Hall of Fame Game. The Saints started third-string quarterback Sean Canfield. He is a long way from being Drew Brees and even backup Chase Daniel, but Canfield looked better than I’ve ever seen him in practice and previous preseason games. Canfield did turn the ball over a couple of times, but I think he at least made a case for the Saints to keep him around.
  • I think a lot of people thought third-round defensive tackle Akiem Hicks would be a project because he played his college football in Canada. I think a lot of people might have sold Hicks short. He continues to impress. He sacked Jake Locker in the first quarter. It’s pretty obvious Hicks has earned a spot in the rotation behind starters Brodrick Bunkley and Sedrick Ellis. You could even look a year ahead and perhaps picture Hicks as a starter because Ellis’ contract is up after this season and the Saints will have a tight salary-cap situation in 2013.
  • Receiver Joseph Morgan continues to look good. I think he probably holds the edge on rookie Nick Toon for the No. 4 receiver spot (I count Courtney Roby, a return man) as the fifth receiver. That makes you wonder if the Saints will keep six receivers on the roster. My guess is they will. Toon’s a guy they were high on before his preseason got interrupted by an injury. Toon’s healthy now and I don’t think he’s a guy you want to risk losing by releasing him and hoping to get him back on the practice squad.
  • The competition for the fourth running back spot remains close between Chris Ivory and Travaris Cadet. But I think Ivory might have gained a bit of ground in this game because Cadet lost a fumble.
  • A lot of people were stunned when safety Isa Abdul-Quddus made the team last year. I was one of them, but I’m starting to see why now. Quddus knocked a ball loose in the second quarter and Elbert Mack recovered the fumble. Quddus already has established a role as a special-teams player. But I think he’s turning into a solid backup at safety, and somewhere in the future he could end up starting.

Big night ahead in the NFC South

August, 9, 2012
8/09/12
10:56
AM ET
It’s going to be a big night in the NFC South with the Atlanta Falcons hosting the Baltimore Ravens and the New Orleans Saints playing at the New England Patriots.

Both game are scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m. ET. It’s the preseason opener for the Falcons, so I wouldn’t count on seeing the starters play very long. That’s just the typical protocol, and the Falcons are likely to give their starters more playing time in the second and third exhibition games.

But I’m expecting to see more of New Orleans’ starters on Thursday night. The Saints already have played one preseason game -- a win against Arizona in Sunday’s Hall of Fame Game. Quarterback Drew Brees only got one series in that game and the first-team defense played only slightly longer. But, if assistant head coach Joe Vitt follows the normal routine -- and he usually does -- you’ll probably see the New Orleans starters playing at least the full first quarter and maybe even into the second quarter.

I’ve got the technology set up so I can watch both games at the same time at NFC South Blog headquarters. Soon after the games end, I’ll post observations on the Falcons and Saints on the blog.

We’ll do it again Friday when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers play at Miami at 7:30 p.m. ET and on Saturday when the Carolina Panthers host the Houston Texans at 7 p.m. ET.

NFC South programming notes

August, 8, 2012
8/08/12
11:29
AM ET
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- I’m about to begin the trek home to NFC South blog headquarters.

As always, keep an eye on the “headlines’’ section of our main NFL page for any breaking news. I’ll weigh in with analysis on any breaking news as soon as I get home and also will be checking in on anything else of note across the division later in the afternoon.

It’s going to be another busy few days in the NFC South as the preseason gets into full swing. The New Orleans Saints already have played in the Hall of Fame Game and they’re scheduled to play at New England on Thursday night. The Atlanta Falcons also are scheduled to host the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will open their preseason Friday night at Miami and the Carolina Panthers will host the Houston Texans on Saturday. I’ll be posting observations on all of them, shortly after each game ends.

Our NFC South chat remains on its regular schedule for Friday at 1 p.m. ET.

We’ll have the Camp Confidential profile on the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. I’ve already been out to Tampa Bay’s camp a couple times and I’ll make a few more trips there as soon as the Bucs get back from Miami. The Camp Confidential segment on the Bucs is scheduled to run Aug. 15.

Around the NFC South

August, 6, 2012
8/06/12
8:56
AM ET
SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- I’m getting ready to head out to watch the Carolina Panthers go through their morning walk-through session, and then I'll do some interviews. But first, let’s take a run through the headlines from around the NFC South.

ATLANTA FALCONS

There has been a lot of talk about how the Falcons plan to reduce the number of carries for running back Michael Turner. That’s fine with Turner, as long as the reduction isn’t too substantial. I don’t think it will be. I don’t see Turner getting chopped to 10 carries a game. I just don’t see him averaging more than 20 carries a game as he has in past seasons. I think the Falcons are serious about getting Jacquizz Rodgers more playing time, but I think Turner still will get at least 15 carries per game. The whole reason behind this plan is to keep Turner fresh late in the season and into the postseason.

The Falcons will hold a joint workout with the Tennessee Titans on Monday. The last time these teams worked out together was 2004, and that session spawned a series of fights that led to several injuries, including a strained hamstring for former Falcons quarterback Michael Vick. I wouldn’t look for things to be as heated. Atlanta coach Mike Smith runs a calm, but firm ship, and nobody ever said that about Jim Mora Jr., who was coaching the Falcons in 2004.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Ron Green Jr. has an in-depth profile of Carolina rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly. It includes a great anecdote about Kuechly having dinner with quarterback Cam Newton and NBA legend Michael Jordan on his first night in Charlotte after being drafted by the Panthers.

The only current Carolina player that was at the franchise’s inaugural game in 1995 is undrafted rookie receiver Brenton Bersin. He was 5 at the time and was sitting in the stands. Bersin also grew up as a neighbor of Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, and played at Richardson’s alma mater. That’s Wofford College, where the Panthers hold training camp.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Jeff Duncan writes that you shouldn’t draw too many conclusions from the Saints’ victory against Arizona in the Hall of Fame Game, but the important thing is the team got back to playing football after a turbulent offseason. He’s right. Preseason games mean very little, but just getting back on the field was a major step as the Saints try to move forward.

New Orleans wide receiver Adrian Arrington has a knee injury and will visit a specialist. It’s not yet clear if Arrington will require surgery. If it does, that could increase the chances of a young receiver, such as Joseph Morgan or Andy Tanner, claiming a roster spot.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Stephen Holder has a list of guys that have surprised so far in training camp. This isn’t the typical list of long shots that are making a bid for a roster spot, because it starts off with veteran tight end Dallas Clark. But Clark’s performance so far has been a surprise. After a lot of injury problems in Indianapolis in recent years, Clark appears to be totally healthy, and has yet to miss a practice.

Roy Cummings has a feature story on safety Cody Grimm, a former starter who could be on the roster bubble. Ronde Barber and rookie Mark Barron have been getting the first-team work, and Ahmad Black and Larry Asante have been running with the second team. But Grimm was held back in the offseason program as he recovered from injury and just now is getting back to full health. Grimm might need a strong showing in the preseason to land a roster spot. But I wouldn’t count this guy out, because he’s been surprising people since the moment he entered the league.

Observation deck: Cardinals-Saints

August, 5, 2012
8/05/12
11:21
PM ET
Let’s run through some thoughts and observations from the New Orleans Saints’ 17-10 victory against the Arizona Cardinals in Sunday night’s Hall of Fame Game.
  • Quarterback Drew Brees and most of the first-team offense played only the first series of the game. But it was a very efficient drive. The Saints went 77 yards on 10 plays to score a touchdown. Brees didn’t do anything fancy, but completed four of five passes for 41 yards and the first offense looked as smooth as you could hope for in a preseason opener.
  • Second-year running back Mark Ingram scored the opening touchdown on a 1-yard run. Ingram also had a nice 10-yard cutback run before that. Ingram missed part of his rookie season with injuries and had knee and toe surgery this offseason. But he looked like he’s completely healthy and that means he likely will share time in the backfield with Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas.
  • Free safety Malcolm Jenkins didn’t produce a single interception last season. He got one precisely five minutes into this game, jumping a route and picking off Kevin Kolb. I expect a lot more interceptions out of Jenkins this season as he gets a chance to be a true center fielder for the first time in his career.
  • Curtis Lofton had a tackle for a 2-yard loss on a run by LaRod Stephens-Howling on Arizona’s second possession. Get used to that. Lofton is better than any linebacker the Saints had last season, particularly against the running game.
  • Defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, who hasn’t been known as a pass-rusher, got nice pressure on Kolb in the Arizona end zone midway through the first quarter. Kolb barely got a pass off to avoid a safety. He also was shaken up on the play and left the game.
  • Overall, the Saints' first-team defense didn’t do anything that stood out either way. The unit wasn’t real sharp with its tackling against the Arizona running game.
  • There were some encouraging things from the Saints' second-team defense. Martez Wilson, who is making the move from linebacker to defensive end, produced a sack in the second quarter and another early in the third quarter.
  • Joseph Morgan and Laron Scott each misjudged a punt return in the first quarter. Scott redeemed himself with a nice kickoff return in the second quarter.
  • Undrafted rookie running back Travaris Cadet looked great catching the ball out of the backfield and in the return game. But it’s going to be tough for Cadet to make a roster that already includes Ingram, Sproles, Thomas and Chris Ivory. Cadet’s best hope might be to catch on with another team or to end up on New Orleans’ practice squad.

NFC South programming notes

August, 5, 2012
8/05/12
11:23
AM ET
TAMPA, Fla. -- The next stop on the NFC South tour of training camps will be Spartanburg, S.C. and the Carolina Panthers.

I’ll be heading out to catch a flight to Charlotte shortly and then making the drive down to Spartanburg. I’ll be watching the Panthers practice and doing interviews Monday and Tuesday as I gather information for their Camp Confidential profile, which will be running a few days after my visit. But I’ll also provide some live updates from camp.

But, before I get to see the Panthers practice, we’ll all get a chance to see the New Orleans Saints play. They take on the Arizona Cardinals in Sunday night’s Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio. Stay tuned shortly after the game because I’ll be sharing my observations on the Saints.

Around the NFC South

August, 5, 2012
8/05/12
9:15
AM ET
Time for a look at the top Sunday morning headlines from around the division:

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Jeff Duncan writes the Saints have no one to blame for the bounty drama but themselves. He’s absolutely right. Although fans like to put the blame on NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, alleged “snitches’’ and the media, the Saints could have diminished this situation or totally avoided it. The NFL told them to stop the bounty program back in the 2009 season. That didn’t happen and the league says the bounty system lasted through the 2011 season. The Saints continue to insist there was no bounty program. But they knew they were doing something to at least give the league the impression there was a bounty program. If they had cut out whatever they were doing or at least satisfactorily explained to the league that it wasn’t a bounty program, this whole drama would have gone away a long time ago and there probably wouldn’t have been any suspensions.

Assistant head coach Joe Vitt declined to say how much he’ll play his starters in Sunday night’s Hall of Fame Game. But he did say the team will follow a plan similar to what it used when it played in the game in 2007. In other words, you probably won’t see quarterback Drew Brees and the rest of the starters for more than two series.

Suspended coach Sean Payton paid a brief visit to the Saints on Saturday as he was in Canton, Ohio for the Pro Football Hall of Fame inductions. Payton did nothing more than say some brief hellos. For those thinking he violated the NFL’s rule against Payton having contact with anyone employed by the Saints, I don’t think that’s an issue. Payton’s not in a position to test the league and all indications are he checked with the NFL and found out he was allowed to stop by and say a very quick hello to his team.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

The boo birds were out in Charlotte at Saturday’s Fan Fest as kicker Olindo Mare missed two of four field-goal attempts and had another one blocked. Mare didn’t have a great season last year and the Panthers brought in Justin Medlock to push him. The Panthers were hoping Mare could just forget about last year and bounce back to the form that previously made him one of the league’s more dependable kickers. But it doesn’t appear that’s happened. Looks like the Panthers have a full-fledged kicking competition on their hands.

Quarterback Cam Newton drew most of the cheers during Fan Fest, but the most encouraging sign of the day might have come when he was intercepted by rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly. Carolina’s defense wasn’t very good last season and Kuechly was drafted to make it better. Looks like he already is having an impact.

Tom Sorensen writes about the competitive spirit of Captain Munnerlyn. Although he’s undersized, that spirit is what has made Munnerlyn successful. The Panthers are hoping to shift Munnerlyn to nickel back this season and start either Brandon Hogan or Josh Morgan. But I think it’s safe to say Munnerlyn is doing everything in his power to try to hold onto the starting job.

ATLANTA FALCONS

The Saints are the only NFC South team playing five preseason games. But the Falcons will get some practice work against another team Monday when they hold a joint workout with the Tennessee Titans. I’m not a big believer in preseason games and I think these joint practices can be at least as beneficial.

One thing you won’t see in the joint workout is tackling. Coach Mike Smith said he and Tennessee coach Mike Munchak want their players to get to work against another team and there will be some hitting. But Smith and Munchak don’t want their players bringing each other to the ground.

The Falcons reached an injury settlement with Robbie Frey and released the running back Saturday. An undrafted free agent, Frey had been sidelined by a foot injury and had almost no chance of making the team.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

The Bucs say they’ve seen some encouraging signs at the box office and they’re going to take advantage of a new NFL rule that allows them to declare a sellout if they’ve sold 85 percent of their general admission seats. But co-chairman Bryan Glazer said he’s not prepared to predict that every home game will be a sellout. The Bucs have had only two home sellouts the last two seasons. I think the Bucs have taken some steps that could help by lowering some ticket prices, adding some big-name free agents and by utilizing the 85-percent rule. But I think the best way to make sure most of the games aren’t blacked out on local television will come if new coach Greg Schiano and his team get off to a fast start.

Although rookie Doug Martin appears to be the leader for the starting running back job so far, the Bucs won’t make a decision until they see their backs in preseason games. That’s understandable because the backs aren’t really subject to hits in practices. But I think the job is Martin’s to lose. They only way he’s not the starting running back is if he has a disappointing preseason and LeGarrette Blount has a tremendous one.

Receiver Vincent Jackson and quarterback Josh Freeman still are working to develop chemistry. But Jackson has shown an uncommon work ethic on the practice field and in the meeting rooms. He also is the most physically talented receiver in Tampa Bay history. Jackson could be just what Freeman needs to get his career back on track.

Around the NFC South

August, 4, 2012
8/04/12
6:11
AM ET
A look at the top Saturday morning headlines from around the division:

ATLANTA FALCONS
  • Defensive end Lawrence Sidbury and wide receiver Michael Calvin stood out in Atlanta’s scrimmage Friday night. Sidbury’s performance should be particularly encouraging for Atlanta fans. He had two sacks while lining up at defensive end at times and as a hybrid linebacker at other times. The Falcons also had some of their other defensive ends standing up at times. That’s a wrinkle being added by new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan as he tries to get more production from the pass rush. Calvin had a couple of nice catches, but they came against backup defenders. Still, the performance could help Calvin as he tries to earn a roster spot or at least convince the Falcons to keep him around on the practice squad.
  • The Falcons signed defensive tackle Conrad Obi on Friday night. They needed to add some temporary depth at the position as Corey Peters and Vance Walker have been missing time with injuries. Obi went to high school in the Atlanta area and played his college ball at Colorado. He originally signed with Arizona as an undrafted free agent just after this year’s draft, but was released.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
  • The latest legal moves in the Saints’ bounty drama have the NFL asking a court to dismiss Jonathan Vilma’s attempt to have his season-long suspension overturned. The league says its collective bargaining agreement gives commissioner Roger Goodell the right to suspend players. The NFL Players Association is asking for the suspensions to be vacated and a neutral arbitrator to be appointed.
  • New Orleans receiver Joe Morgan, who had been making some plays early in camp, had a tough day Friday as he dropped a couple of passes. But Andy Tanner and Adrian Arrington, who are competing with Morgan for jobs as backup receivers, each made big plays in Friday’s practice.
  • New Orleans starting cornerbacks Jabari Greer and Patrick Robinson and rookie receiver Nick Toon will sit out Sunday’s Hall of Fame Game due to injuries.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
  • Tampa Bay cornerback Myron Lewis had a flashy hit on De’Anthony Curtis that left the running back briefly on the ground before getting up very slowly. This is notable because Lewis isn’t known as a big hitter. But don’t get too excited about this one. The play more or less ran directly into Lewis and he merely reacted. It also came at a time when the defense wasn’t supposed to be tackling.
  • Tampa Bay rookie safety Mark Barron has been getting some tips from veteran Ronde Barber. That’s great because Barber is the most experienced player on the roster and he knows quite a bit about secondary play. But this is a two-way street. Barber, who is making the transition from cornerback to safety, also is tapping Barron’s knowledge of the finer points of safety play.
  • The Bucs will hold a night practice Saturday at Raymond James Stadium. The session is open to the public and there is no charge for admission or parking.
CAROLINA PANTHERS
  • Safety Haruki Nakamura spent the past four seasons as Ed Reed’s backup in Baltimore. He also knows a thing or two about winning because the Ravens did a lot of it in his time with the team. But Nakamura might have a chance to be more than just a backup with the Panthers. He’s competing with Sherrod Martin for a starting job.
  • The Panthers also will be working out in their own house Saturday. They’ll be practicing at Bank of America Stadium and the session is open to the public.

NFC South quick hits

August, 3, 2012
8/03/12
2:23
PM ET
We just finished the NFC South chat and we’ve got some items from around the division that are worth weighing in on. Let’s take a quick look at some headlines.
  • Larry Holder reports that suspended New Orleans coach Sean Payton will attend the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony, but not Sunday’s Hall of Fame Game between the Saints and Cardinals. Payton reportedly has received NFL permission to attend the ceremony, but he has 24 hours to inform the league if he has contact with anyone employed by any NFL team. That would be a violation of one of the conditions of his suspension. Payton has to play by the rules because he really has no other choice. I think what’s happening here is that he’s attending the ceremony as a salute to Cortez Kennedy, who has worked as a consultant for the Saints.
  • Assistant head coach Joe Vitt would not reveal his plans for the quarterback rotation in Sunday’s game. But I think it’s fair to say we probably can expect to see Drew Brees for only a series or two. The Saints have an extra preseason game and I’m sure they’ll be cautious about playing their starters a lot in the first game.
  • Carolina coach Ron Rivera said an MRI revealed no structural damage to linebacker Thomas Davis’ knee. Rivera said Davis tweaked the knee and also has a calf injury. This is good news for a player that’s coming off his third torn ACL. But it’s still a reminder of how tenuous Davis’ situation is. The Panthers prepared for that by drafting Luke Kuechly in the first round. If they get anything at all out of Davis, it’s a bonus.
  • Scott Reynolds reports that Tampa Bay offensive tackle Jeremy Trueblood restructured his contract and took a $1 million cut in pay. The deal was done July 23, but it’s important to note the new deal makes Trueblood’s $4 million base salary for this season guaranteed. Nothing was guaranteed in the old contract.

Akiem Hicks ready for action

August, 2, 2012
8/02/12
2:44
PM ET
The New Orleans Saints finally will get their first real look at their top draft choice.

Defensive tackle Akiem Hicks said Thursday he expects to take part in Friday’s padded practice. Hicks had been sidelined by a hand injury, but it sounds like he’s about to get thrown right into the mix. Hicks said he’s been told he’ll play in Sunday’s Hall of Fame Game against the Arizona Cardinals.

Hicks said he’s used the time on the sideline to get as ready as possible.

“I’ve taken more mental reps than I’ve taken my whole life,’’ Hicks said. “Every play I’m into it, I’m waiting for the next call, I’m ready, I’m doing my own moves on the side and trying to figure out what I need to be ready for when I come back to full contact. A lot of mental reps.”

A third-round choice (the Saints didn’t have a pick in the first two rounds), Hicks has a chance at immediate playing time. The Saints are likely to use Brodrick Bunkley and Sedrick Ellis as their starting defensive tackles. But Hicks will be given a chance to earn a spot in the rotation.

NFC South afternoon update

August, 1, 2012
8/01/12
5:31
PM ET
Let's take a quick look at the day's headlines from around the NFC South:

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Tampa Bay punter Michael Koenen said he would not have minded if the Atlanta Falcons had given permission to use their trademarks in the “Rebirth’’ statue unveiled last week outside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The statue memorializes Steve Gleason’s legendary blocked punt against the Falcons in the first game played in the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina in 2006. Koenen was Atlanta’s punter at the time. The NFL holds the rights to the use of a team’s trademarks outside their home market and the NFL asked the Falcons if they’d like to make an exception in this situation. The Falcons declined. Koenen said he has met Gleason, who has ALS, and has enormous respect for him. Koenen said he might visit the statue when the Bucs play the Saints this season.

After being troubled by injuries in his final few seasons in Indianapolis, tight end Dallas Clark appears to be totally healthy in Tampa Bay’s training camp. If he can stay that way, it would be a big plus for the Bucs. I don’t think Clark ever will be the 100-catch guy he once was, but he can provide a nice veteran target for quarterback Josh Freeman.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Before playing in the Hall of Fame Game on Sunday, the Saints will visit the Pro Football Hall of Fame and view the exhibit celebrating the Super Bowl championship from the 2009 season. That’s a natural motivational tactic. Let the guys that were on that team see and remember the work that went into the championship and let them tell the young guys all about it. And I'd be willing to bet that assistant head coach Joe Vitt will remind the troops that this season's Super Bowl will be played in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

With starting cornerbacks Jabari Greer and Patrick Robinson sitting out with injuries, Johnny Patrick is making the most of his opportunity. Patrick had a highlight play in Wednesday’s practice, intercepting a Drew Brees pass.

ATLANTA FALCONS

Chris Vivlamore ponders how good the receiving duo of Roddy White and Julio Jones can be. He also rolls out a list of his top receiving combinations in history. He has Pittsburgh’s Lynn Swann and John Stallworth at the top. We already know White is a great receiver and all indications suggest Jones can become one. But Jones needs a few big years and White needs to continue to keep playing at a high level for a few more years before you can mention them with the likes of Swann and Stallworth.

Speaking of Atlanta receivers, Knox Bardeen explores the battle between Kevin Cone and Drew Davis for the No. 5 receiver spot. Harry Douglas already is settled in as the No. 3 receiver and Kerry Meier is likely to stick around because he has value on special teams.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Defensive tackle Ron Edwards is healthy and ready to go after missing all of last season with an injury. Everyone talks about linebacker Jon Beason’s return from injury and that’s very significant. But I think Edwards’ return is just as important. He was brought in to bring the kind of run-stopping presence the Panthers have lacked since the long-ago departure of Kris Jenkins.

Tom Sorensen writes he doesn’t expect Jeff Otah to stick with the Panthers after his trade to the New York Jets was voided by a failed physical. I’m in full agreement with Sorensen. In fact, I’ve been checking my e-mail all afternoon because I’m expecting an announcement that the Panthers have released Otah. Time to check the e-mail again.
What interim head coach Joe Vitt hinted at back in June now is official -- the New Orleans Saints will spend part of their preseason practicing with the New England Patriots.

The Saints just announced their training camp schedule and it includes a summer vacation to (almost) Cape Cod. They’ll be practicing with the Patriots in Foxborough, Mass. After opening their preseason in the Hall of Fame Game against Arizona in Canton, Ohio on Aug. 5, the Saints will fly to New England. They will do a walk-through practice at Gillette Stadium on Aug. 6 and hold a full practice with the Patriots on Aug. 7. They’ll do another walk-through practice on Aug. 8. The times of those sessions haven’t been announced.

The two teams then will play a preseason game at 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 9.

The Saints then will get three straight days off before finishing up training camp with four practices at their facility in Metairie, La. They’ll close camp Aug. 16, one day before hosting the Jacksonville Jaguars in their third preseason game.

Checking in on the Saints

May, 14, 2012
5/14/12
7:46
PM ET
We’re finally reaching the point where there’s some football news out of the New Orleans Saints.

The team had its rookie minicamp over the weekend and assistant head coach Joe Vitt, who is stepping in for suspended coach Sean Payton, and the coordinators met with the New Orleans media Monday afternoon. There was no major news, but I’m looking at the transcripts and seeing several items that are worth discussing.

The veteran Saints have yet to hit the field in their offseason workouts, but that will come next week. With the contract situation of quarterback Drew Brees still very much up in the air, the Saints have to prepare to take the field without their leader. The Brees situation could change with a phone call, but the Saints are preparing to begin their on-field workouts with Chase Daniel and Sean Canfield as their quarterbacks.

“We’re going to throw the volume of offense at them that we would in a normal week,’’ offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. said. “It won’t be any different in that aspect.”

The Saints aren’t ruling out the possibility of adding another quarterback before they hit the field. They had Brian Brohm in for a tryout during the camp and could possibly sign him or someone else in the coming days. But, for the moment, they’re looking at proceeding with the quarterbacks they have under contract.

“This is going to be an opportunity for Chase and Sean to get more reps and get a good look at those guys,’’ Carmichael said.

There have been reports the Saints and Brees have made no progress toward a long-term contract. Vitt said the negotiations are between general manager Mickey Loomis and Brees’ agent, but still remained optimistic that the quarterback will have a contract before training camp.

“I’ve never been a math major and I’m not an accounting major so there’s nothing I could advise Mickey to do that what he already knows how to do,’’ Vitt said. “Those guys are both on the same page and have the same aspirations and same goals. This is going to get done. I don’t (believe) anybody ever thought it was going to be easy. I think they’re both working to the same goal.”

Vitt and the coordinators also addressed several other topics of significance.

The Saints have re-signed veteran kicker John Kasay, who stepped in last year when Garrett Hartley was injured. Special teams coordinator Greg McMahon said neither kicker is guaranteed a roster spot.

“We’re going to make it competitive, absolutely,’’ McMahon said. “All phases of our team are. We re-signed John for a reason. Garrett knows that and it will certainly be good competition. It’s healthy. It’s good for us.”

Uncertainty remains about the status of linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive end Will Smith. The NFL has suspended Vilma for the entire 2012 season and Smith is scheduled to be suspended for the first four games of the season for their roles in the bounty program. But those suspensions are on hold because both players have appealed.

“Both of those players were in the building today and we’re moving forward,’’ Vitt said. “We had a great film session with these guys. I think I have to go back to what we said a couple weeks ago. We’re trying to win today. Today, we got a little bit better than yesterday. This weekend we got a little bit better than the previous weekend. We’re going to adjust those challenges when we have to face them.”

Vitt also said the Saints will open training camp at their facility in Metairie, but suggested they will spend some time practicing against one of their preseason opponents. The Saints open the preseason by playing in the Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio against the Arizona Cardinals. They follow that with a road game in New England, home games with Jacksonville and Houston and close out the preseason with a game at Tennessee.

“We’ll open up (camp) a little early because we have the Hall of Fame game and then we’ll probably go and practice against one of our upcoming opponents in training camp,’’ Vitt said. “I think Mickey’s ready to talk about it in a week when it gets settled, but we’ll go away, kind of like we did in California (last preseason) for a week. We did it two years before that in Houston. We’ll go away and practice with an opponent that we have in our preseason schedule.”

Vitt also addressed the status of running back Mark Ingram, who recently had arthroscopic knee surgery.

“I think anytime you see a player limping around with a late-season offseason surgery like he had, you’re concerned,’’ Vitt said. “What I’m not concerned about is his dedication to getting better and his accountability to his teammates. He’s shows up to treatment on time every day. He’s not late. He’s taken a good business approach to this thing. The surgery is probably something that he didn’t have to get done, but as an organization we all agreed that he should get it done to make him a stronger player. Mark a dependable guy now. He’s not going to miss his treatment. He gets his work done. You’re concerned obviously with this, but not much with him.”

Vitt said the Saints may proceed cautiously with Ingram at the start of training camp, but have no doubt he’ll be ready for the beginning of the regular season.

New Orleans preseason schedule

April, 4, 2012
4/04/12
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The New Orleans Saints will get plenty of national exposure in the preseason and they’ll also play an extra game.

It already had been announced the Saints will kick off the NFL’s preseason schedule against the Arizona Cardinals in the Aug. 5 Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio. That game will be carried on NFL Network. The Saints also will play a nationally televised game Aug. 25, when they host Houston in a CBS game.

The exact dates haven’t been set for the other three games. But the Saints will play at New England sometime between Aug. 9 and 13. They’ll host Jacksonville between Aug. 16 and 20. They’ll finish their preseason either Aug. 29 or Aug. 30 at Tennessee.

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