NFC South: Hunter Cantwell

Ron RiveraAP Photo/Chuck BurtonNew Carolina coach Ron Rivera said he's willing to employ a more "balanced offense."
Watching Ron Rivera’s first news conference as coach of the Carolina Panthers was a lot like watching John Fox’s introduction back in 2002.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Although Fox’s time with the Panthers didn’t end well, his overall tenure was a success. Rivera’s can be even better if he learns some lessons from what went right and what went wrong for Fox.

“I’d like to be an aggressive, physical football team,’’ Rivera said Tuesday afternoon as he met with the media in Charlotte.

That was Fox’s message coming in and pretty much throughout his entire tenure. That style worked, especially in Fox’s early years. In those days, Fox built his team around his defensive line and the Panthers truly were an aggressive and physical team. They went to the Super Bowl in Fox’s second year and it wasn’t really until a trip to the NFC Championship Game in the 2005 season that Fox’s flaws started to show.

Back in the early years, Fox stuck to what he knew: defense. One of his first hires was Dan Henning as offensive coordinator -- Fox viewed that as a coup at the time. Early on, Fox trusted the veteran Henning with his offense and the Panthers won with ball control and the occasional big play.

Things began to fall apart in the 2006 season when the Panthers got too conservative on offense. Henning took the fall for that and was fired at the end of that season. In hindsight, Fox was the guy to blame. He insisted on sticking with his style even when it obviously wasn’t working. Fox brought in Jeff Davidson as the replacement and the Panthers haven’t had much of a passing game since.

That’s why I’m saying Rivera could end up being better than Fox. When Rivera uttered the words “balanced offense," I could almost hear fans in the Carolinas cheering.

I almost cheered when someone asked Rivera to describe himself for people who don’t know him.

“A listener, someone who understands,’’ Rivera said.

That’s a great thing because Fox refused to change or adapt and that's why he's gone. I’m certain general manager Marty Hurney, team president Danny Morrison and owner Jerry Richardson made it clear the Panthers must be much better and much more open minded when it comes to offense.

Rivera said he’s going to stick mostly with the defense and let the assistants he hires handle the offense.

“I’m looking for guys that are going to coach and teach," Rivera said.

That’s a good thing because the Carolina brain trust didn’t feel there was enough teaching or coaching going on at the end of Fox’s tenure. That was needed because the team had gone to a full-blown youth movement. You can bet that Rivera has already given some names of potential offensive coaches to Hurney, Morrison and Richardson. They probably wouldn’t have offered him the job if they didn’t like those names.

Ron Turner, Rob Chudzinski and Marc Trestman are coaches Rivera might target and that’s a good start. Rivera ran through his offensive roster and sounded very satisfied with the offensive line and the running backs. That’s usually as far as Fox’s eyes went on offense.

But Rivera kept going. He talked about the three tight ends -- Jeff King, Dante Rosario and Gary Barnidge -- and said he liked them all and the Panthers could upgrade in the draft or free agency. Rivera also praised young receivers Brandon LaFell and David Gettis. Then he saluted wide receiver Steve Smith's career and said he’d “love to visit with him and see how he’s doing."

That’s important. Smith might be the best player in franchise history. He’s been frustrated by the losing and the team's offensive struggles. Smith has not asked to be traded or released, but team officials have told him to think about his future. They’ve made it clear to him that he’s welcome back if he’s satisfied with the new direction of the team. If not, they’ll accommodate him and trade him.

Smith still has some good years left and Rivera can do himself a favor by winning over the receiver. But that might have to be done over time because Rivera must take care of some other challenges first.

“We need to see if there is a quarterback on this roster that can be that franchise guy that you need,’’ Rivera said.

In other words, Rivera and whoever he hires as his offensive coaches must decide if Jimmy Clausen can be a franchise quarterback. Fox never really gave Clausen a chance in his rookie season. He made Clausen spend much of training camp working behind Hunter Cantwell, who didn’t even make the team.

Fox only turned to Clausen after Matt Moore got off to a disastrous start. Fox benched Clausen twice after that and the offensive system made it impossible to tell if the rookie has any upside.

At the very least, Rivera made it sound like he’s at least open to giving Clausen a chance. The Panthers took a hit when Stanford’s Andrew Luck decided not to enter the draft. The Carolina brass realizes the franchise's hopes can’t be put entirely on Clausen, and it’s certain that another quarterback will be added through the draft or free agency.

That puts Rivera one up on Fox. He’s coming in with an open mind about the offense. He’s not coming in hell bent on using square pegs when you’ve got a bunch of round ones.

Hitting the NFC South hot spots

December, 25, 2010
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Let’s hit some Christmas morning hot spots around the NFC South.

Scott in Lansing, Mich., says that I should wait until Matt Ryan wins his first career playoff before I declare him a better quarterback than Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees.

Pat Yasinskas: I think my opinion and the parameters for it were totally clear. All I said is that I believe, in the first 14 games of this season, Ryan has been slightly better than Brees. I didn’t say he’s had a better career or anything close to that. In fact, I said, if I were coaching an NFC South all-star team, Brees would be my quarterback. There’s no doubt he’s had a better career than Ryan has so far. But that particular point was limited specifically to what Brees and Ryan have done this season.


Russell in Denver, N.C., says I appear to be jumping on the anti-Jimmy Clausen bandwagon with everyone else. Russell says Clausen may not be the answer, but he hasn’t been given a fair shot.

Pat Yasinskas: Wow, generally, Carolina fans tell me that I’ve gone too easy on Clausen and they like to point at the rookie quarterback as the root of all evil. Maybe I was a little more harsh on Clausen than usual in my wrap-up of Thursday night’s loss to the Steelers. But, overall, I agree with Russell. Clausen hasn’t been given a fair shot at all. The offense is in total disarray and coach John Fox has gone out of his way to make things tough on Clausen -- making him spend much of training camp behind Hunter Cantwell, who didn’t even make the team, and yanking the rookie several times. Bottom line on this, my opinion on Clausen hasn’t really changed because I don’t really have an opinion on Clausen. I don’t think you can judge much on him this season because he’s been put in an impossible situation. I’d at least like to see the kid get a look in a real offense and with a coach who isn’t trying to make a statement by setting him up for failure.


Ricky in Los Angeles asks if Tampa Bay’s rash of injuries are just bad luck or if the strength and conditioning staff deserves some blame.

Pat Yasinskas: I don’t think there is any big conspiracy theory behind this one. Football is a tough game, injuries happen and the Bucs have been hit pretty hard by them. Simple as that.


Tom in Baltimore writes: Think about the quarterbacks in the NFC South if the Panthers draft Andrew Luck with the first pick -- Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Josh Freeman and Andrew Luck. That would be ridiculous.

Pat Yasinskas: I do think about that possibility quite often. If Luck enters the draft, the Panthers almost have to take him. If he’s anywhere close to the hype, that would give the NFC South four franchise quarterbacks. Could make my job fun for a very long time. Ryan and Freeman are probably going to be going strong for at least another decade and Luck would be in the same age bracket. Brees is older than the rest, but it looks like he has quite a few good years left in him.

Hitting the NFC South hot spots

December, 23, 2010
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Time for what probably will be a final dip into the mailbag before Christmas. Joey in Marietta, Ga., asked the usual question about the lack of attention the NFC South -- and particularly the Falcons -- get from the national media and wonders if that will change if the Falcons go deep into the playoffs.

Pat Yasinskas: Well, I won’t promise that it’s for the long haul. But I think things are at least starting to change for the short term. With the upcoming "Monday Night Football" game, the Saints and Falcons definitely will be in the spotlight. The Saints certainly got their time in the national media last season. The NFC South is often in a tough spot because the franchises aren’t storied and the markets aren't big. But the solution for that is to just go out and there will come a point where you can’t be overlooked.


Dan in Leesburg, Va., showed his appreciation for my reference to the movie “Kingpin’’ in Wednesday’s Stock Watch item on Carolina receivers Brandon LaFell and David Gettis.

Pat Yasinskas: Thanks. Glad someone caught it and wasn’t too stuck on being literal to appreciate the humor in that one. "Kingpin" was a great movie and you might see another reference to it from time to time. I’m trying to figure out how to reference the scene where Randy Quaid’s character Ish tells Roy Munson, played by Woody Harrelson, that he has a 279 average. After he goes out and rolls a game well below that, Munson reminds asks him about the 279 average. Ish confirms it, but quickly adds, “Where I come from we bowl 15 frames." Classic stuff, in my eyes. Some regular readers have noticed that "Caddyshack'' and "Something About Mary'' references sometimes are used here.


Eric in Gainesville, Ga., asks if I’ve ever seen more excitement surrounding the Atlanta Falcons and also goes on to sing the praises of owner Arthur Blank.

Pat Yasinskas: It’s definitely the most excitement about the Falcons I’ve seen since I’ve been in this role, which is nice to see. I’m sure there was plenty of excitement when the Falcons last went to the Super Bowl in the 1998 season, but I wasn’t covering the Falcons then, so I can’t really offer a good comparison there. However, I will tell you I think the Falcons are a fun team to cover and I think they’re a very likable team for fans. Kind of goes back to Joey’s question above. If the Falcons keep winning, I think they can develop a decent national following because they’ve got some high-profile players with interesting personalities. And, yes, I’ll side with you on Blank. He clearly is an owner who went through some tough times. But the man learned from his mistakes, fixed them and is a big part of the reason why this team is where it is now.


Adam in Gastonia asks if the Panthers should add a veteran quarterback in free agency, even if they draft another quarterback early next year.

Pat Yasinskas: Absolutely. I think one of the mistakes the team made this year was not having any real experience at quarterback. The Panthers wanted to find out what they had in Matt Moore and they surrounded him with rookies Jimmy Clausen and Tony Pike. Then, to make matters worse, coach John Fox spent much of training camp giving Hunter Cantwell the second-team work ahead of Clausen and Pike, which infuriated some important people within the organization. No matter what happens, I’m of the opinion that the Panthers should carry at least one veteran quarterback. He doesn’t have to be a particularly good one and doesn’t even have to play. It would just be nice for the young guys to have someone to lean on as a mentor.


Scott in Tampa asks if Tampa Bay receiver Mike Williams and LeGarrette Blount have a chance at rookie of the year.

Pat Yasinskas: They both have been excellent, but I think they’ll end up a little short in the voting and St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford will win it. Not saying that’s entirely fair, but that’s the way it usually works. Bradford is a quarterback, so he’s going to draw the attention.


Troy in New Orleans writes: Are you saying Trent Dilfer presented you with a gift because he just lit up the NFC South buzz for you or are you saying it to be facetious because you absolutely disagree with him?

Pat Yasinskas: I was being facetious because Trent created an unexpected buzz and a lot of traffic during a holiday week when things can be a little quiet. I really couldn’t care less on what Trent said and, in my role, I'm going to try my best to play it straight down the middle in any arguments over Atlanta and New Orleans. Part of my job is to throw things out there for readers to elicit their reaction. In this case, Trent handed me a waist-high fastball and I tossed it out there as a softball for readers to debate. Judging by the number of comments, it seems to have served its purpose. Thanks to Trent and, now, Roddy White, this has become a much more interesting and busy week than I was anticipating, which is nice.

Around the NFC South

November, 18, 2010
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Time for a trip through the afternoon headlines around the NFC South.

Atlanta rookie linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who has been out more than a month with a knee injury, practiced Thursday. But it was only on a limited basis. That could mean Weatherspoon’s return to game action will wait another week.

Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher admitted he has second thoughts “every day’’ about the decision to expose running back LeGarrette Blount to waivers in the preseason. The plan was to let Blount clear waivers and bring him back to Tennessee’s practice squad. But Tampa Bay stepped in, claimed Blount and he’s become the team’s best running back.

It sounds like Tampa Bay linebacker Quincy Black might miss his second straight start due to injury. That would mean a second straight start for rookie DeKoda Watson.

New Orleans running back Reggie Bush continued to practice on a limited basis. But there have been multiple reports that Bush is expected to play Sunday against Seattle.

Conspiracy theorists, get ready. I think we’ve stumbled on the real reason Carolina coach John Fox decided to start Brian St. Pierre at quarterback against Baltimore. It turns out the Ravens’ coaching staff has been tapping into Hunter Cantwell for details on Carolina’s offense. Gee, that must have been a long conversation. Anyway, Cantwell was with the Panthers in the preseason, so he could have given them a scouting report on Tony Pike. So, there, Fox fooled the Ravens because there is no scouting report on St. Pierre.

Carolina Panthers cutdown analysis

September, 4, 2010
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Click here for a full list of Carolina’s roster moves.

Biggest surprise: There really were no surprise cuts, so the real surprise might be who actually did make the roster. The biggest shocker is that undrafted free agent Andre Neblett still is on the roster as a defensive tackle. A Temple product, Neblett took the Panthers by surprise and allowed them to cut Corvey Irvin and Tank Tyler, who went to camp looking like they had shots at roster spots.

No-brainer: When the Panthers went through their June workouts, and even at the start of training camp, Hunter Cantwell was working as the No. 2 quarterback behind Matt Moore. A lot of fans read way too much into that and the proof came as Cantwell was cut Saturday. Although the Panthers liked the guy who spent some time on their practice squad last year, Cantwell never really had a chance. With the Panthers taking Jimmy Clausen in the second round and Tony Pike in the sixth, it was clear Cantwell’s days were numbered. Coach John Fox is a creature of habit and Cantwell got some time in the No. 2 role simply because he knew the offense. As soon as Clausen had the playbook memorized, he stepped into the backup role. That left a minor competition between Cantwell and Pike. As the draft pick, the only way Pike was going to lose out was if he had a disastrous preseason. He did not.

What’s next: In the old days, Fox and general manager Marty Hurney usually set their opening roster in stone and didn’t touch it unless there were injuries. But these aren’t the old days with Carolina deeply into a youth movement. Hurney was active at this time last year, touching up the defensive tackle jobs and he’s likely to be active in several areas this year. The Panthers don’t feel great about their linebacker depth beyond Jamar Williams. Depth at wide receiver also looks to be an area the Panthers might be looking to improve.

Pike wins No. 3 QB job in Carolina

September, 4, 2010
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We still are waiting for the Carolina Panthers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints to announce their full list of roster cuts. We’ll have a full analysis on each team as soon as they make the full announcements.

But there are some moves trickling out and a couple of them are of some significance, although not really surprising.

First, Tampa Bay receiver Michael Clayton reportedly has been cut. It was obvious Clayton, who has been a disappointment since his rookie season, was on the bubble, especially with the Bucs making it pretty obvious that Mike Williams, Reggie Brown, Arrelious Benn and Sammie Stroughter are going to be the first four receivers. The interesting thing here is that the Bucs still have to pay Clayton $3 million that was guaranteed when he signed a new contract last year.

Next, the Panthers reportedly have told quarterback Hunter Cantwell that he’s been released. Again, not a huge surprise. With Matt Moore and Jimmy Clausen in the first two spots, it came down to a decision between rookie Tony Pike and Cantwell. Pike was a draft pick and that might have been the difference. Cantwell remains eligible for the practice squad if he’s not signed by another team.
Although Jimmy Clausen has agreed to contract terms with the Carolina Panthers, that doesn’t mean he’ll step right in as the starting quarterback.

Clausen
At least for the moment, that job belongs to Matt Moore, who played well at the end of last season and spent the entire offseason working with the first team. As long as Moore plays reasonably well in camp and during the preseason, he’ll open the season as the starter.

Clausen’s status as a second-round pick might make an instant candidate to start elsewhere, but not in Carolina, where coach John Fox isn’t a big believer in playing rookie quarterbacks. Clausen’s contract doesn’t create any added pressure to play him right away. The four-year deal could be worth as much as $6.3 million, according to our Adam Schefter, and includes $2.533 million in guaranteed money. Moore is making $3 million this year.

Hunter Cantwell got most of the second-team work in the offseason, but Clausen and fellow rookie Tony Pike are likely to challenge him in camp for the backup job. With Clausen wrapped up, the Panthers, who report to camp today, are the first NFC South team to have all of their players signed.

video

NFC South links: Ryan studies top QBs

July, 12, 2010
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Atlanta Falcons

Matt Ryan took charge of Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback column this week, writing he's spent a lot of time this offseason studying how to become a better quarterback. He writes, "I learned several things about the game and about my own game during my film work, but I was mostly impressed with the patience under fire exhibited by [Peyton] Manning and [Tom] Brady.

In its countdown of the top Florida State players of all time, the Orlando Sentinel ranks former Falcons center Jamie Dukes No. 19.

Carolina Panthers

Panthers quarterback Hunter Cantwell has moved to No. 2 on the depth chart.

Continuing its series looking at Ravens' 2010 opponents, The Baltimore Sun scouts the Carolina Panthers.

FoxSports.com's Hunter Ansley thinks the Panthers are the NFC South's sleepers.

New Orleans Saints

The New York Times previews the Saints' 2010 season.

NOLA.com has a Q&A with Saints second-year tight end Tyler Lorenzen... and another with running back Chris Ivory.

Former Saints running back Deuce McAllister was honored at a retirement dinner Friday night.

NewOrleans.com's Rene Nadeau has a "Where are they now?" with former Saints wide receiver Brett Bech.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Buccaneers have gotten away from the youth movement with recent signings.

However, according to NFC West blogger Mike Sando, the Bucs have the second-youngest roster in the NFL with players that average 25.10 years old. The Panthers own the league's youngest roster (excluding kicking specialists) at 25.0.
NFC On the Radar: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A player, coach or issue that should be on your radar as training camp approaches.

There’s a chance some of you have never even heard of Rip Scherer. If you haven’t, go ahead and put him on your radar.

He’s the quarterbacks coach for the Carolina Panthers and that could ultimately put him in a position to influence whether John Fox, who is in the last year of his contract, stays or goes.

[+] EnlargeRip Scherer
AP Photo/Mike McCarnWith such young quarterbacks, Rip Scherer will have to do a lot of teaching in training camp.
Scherer joined the Panthers last year after long-time quarterbacks coach Mike McCoy took a promotion with Denver. Scherer wasn’t able to solve the problems that started for quarterback Jake Delhomme at the end of the 2008 season, but I don’t think you can hang that on Scherer. Whatever Delhomme’s problem was, it was something within him. Delhomme’s gone now.

That means Scherer is starting with essentially a fresh slate. Matt Moore is the only quarterback with any experience and he’ll go to camp as the heavy favorite to open the season as the starter. The Panthers have high hopes for second-round draft pick Jimmy Clausen, but it probably would take a horrible preseason by Moore and a great one from Clausen for there to be a switch at the top of the depth chart. Rookie Tony Pike and Hunter Cantwell will be battling for the No. 3 job.

That’s a lot of youth and that means Scherer will have to do a lot of teaching. After a lengthy run as a college assistant, Scherer worked as head coach at James Madison and Memphis and first worked in the NFL in 2005 when he joined the Cleveland Browns, where he learned the same system coordinator Jeff Davidson now runs in Carolina.

There is no doubt Moore and Clausen have some talent, but it’s going to be up to Scherer to get them “coached up’’ quickly. With a very strong running game, a good offensive line and wide receiver Steve Smith, steady, mistake-free play could make a quarterback a big success in this system. Scherer’s job is to have Moore and/or Clausen ready.

Panthers sign QB Tony Pike

June, 22, 2010
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TAMPA, Fla. -- I’m getting ready to listen to Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris speak as the Buccaneers finish minicamp, but wanted to share one quick NFC South note.

The Panthers just announced they’ve signed rookie quarterback Tony Pike. A sixth-round draft pick out of Cincinnati, Pike is expected to compete with Hunter Cantwell for the No. 3 job.

After Morris finishes, I’ll be back with a wrap-up on the Buccaneers.
Colleague John Clayton drew the trip to Charlotte this time. I was there for last month’s minicamp. I’m just hoping Carolina equipment manager Jackie Miles rolled out the welcome wagon for Clayton the way he did for me.

From what I saw when I was in Charlotte and what I’ve heard since, I’m in total agreement with Clayton’s assessment of the rookie receivers, the depth at linebacker, the pass-rush situation and the strength on the offensive line.

The only part of Clayton’s column that made me raise an eyebrow wasn’t really an analysis by Clayton, who is the best in the business. It was the mere fact that he wrote that rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen still is working with the third team. Hunter Cantwell is working second behind Matt Moore.

This is vintage John Fox, making a rookie pay his dues. In this case, I don’t agree with it. Let’s be honest, there’s a very real chance Cantwell isn’t on the team at the start of the season. The Panthers also used a draft pick on quarterback Tony Pike, who is the favorite for the No. 3 spot.

The Panthers have made it clear they plan to open the season with Moore as starter, but there’s no doubt Clausen will open as backup. In his first week or two in the system, it made sense to let Clausen take turns behind Cantwell, who was familiar with the offense. But Clausen should be familiar with the offense now and the Panthers aren’t helping his development by making him work with a bunch of third-string guys who probably won’t make the team.

Memorial Day mailbag

May, 31, 2010
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Adam in Tampa writes: I'd like your thoughts on this: Is Ronde Barber a Hall of Famer? He's got 25 sacks and 37 interceptions in his career, has made a ton of big plays and won a Super Bowl. His interception return in the conference title game against Philadelphia was a fantastic moment. He has a 10-interception season. But I feel like he hasn't really been regarded as one of the league's top cornerbacks throughout his career, perhaps because he's always played zone rather than man-to-man. What do you think?

Pat Yasinskas: This may not be the answer Tampa Bay fans want to hear, but I don’t think Ronde Barber is a future Hall of Famer. Just my honest opinion. I think he’s been a very good player for a very long time. But I don’t think he’s ever been a dominant player. Also, I think Barber was fortunate to have Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp and John Lynch around him for much of his career and they made all the players around them look better. I think Brooks and Sapp are automatic Hall of Famers and I think Lynch has a chance to join them.


Sam in Boston writes: Is there any chance the Falcons would try to sign Antonio Pierce? He's been on the market for a while so I'm sure he will accept a lower paying contract.

Pat Yasinskas: I’ve got no indication the Falcons are interested in Pierce. After drafting Sean Weatherspoon, I think they’re happy with what they have at linebacker.


Miles in Morganton, NC writes: Seeing as the Carolina Panthers haven't made a splash in the free agent market this year, do you see this as a sign of a rebuilding year for the Panthers?

Pat Yasinskas: I don’t see it as a rebuilding year for the Panthers. They really haven’t done much in free agency since they signed Ken Lucas and Mike Wahle to huge contracts. Their philosophy is to build through the draft and that’s what they’re doing. Yes, they let a bunch of players go in the offseason. But, aside from Julius Peppers, who was a story in himself, all those guys were old and were no longer very significant. I don’t think you can call a team that has Steve Smith, Jordan Gross, Thomas Davis, Jon Beason, Chris Gamble, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart as its core a rebuilding team.


Graham in Macon, GA writes: Entering his third year in the league do you think Curtis Lofton could make the jump into Pro Bowl caliber player and become a household name like Beason has done in Carolina?

Pat Yasinskas: Yes, I do. Lofton became an every-down player last year and did a very nice job. The Atlanta coaches think he’s only starting to reach his full potential. Of course, it would be nice if the defensive line improves and allows him room to make more plays.


Ryan in Charlotte writes: In Carolina everybody mentions Matt Moore, Jimmy Clausen, and Tony Pike when talking quarterbacks but what about Hunter Cantwell? I was wondering if you had any information on how he is doing?

Pat Yasinskas: Cantwell is a guy the Panthers like. But, obviously, they drafted two quarterbacks so they don’t think Cantwell’s anything real special. Moore and Clausen will be the top two quarterbacks. Cantwell and Pike will compete for the No. 3 job. The fact the Panthers used a draft pick on Pike probably gives him the edge. Cantwell may end up on the practice squad or somewhere else.

NFC South mailbag

May, 5, 2010
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JM in Charlotte writes: So, let's say that Carolina carries three QBs on their regular season roster. We can expect that Matt Moore and Jimmy Clausen (in whatever order) will be first and second string...who do you think would be the third string?

Pat Yasinskas: That’s going to be an interesting battle in training camp between draft pick Tony Pike and Hunter Cantwell, who spent much of last season on the practice squad. I watched both in minicamp over the weekend and Pike and Cantwell throw pretty well. My guess is the Panthers would like to keep one of them on the roster and put the other on the practice squad. Training camp will decide who has the upper hand, but it might be easier to cut Cantwell and bring him back to the practice squad. Pike’s a draft pick and there are some other teams out there that liked him and they could grab him if he is released.


Patrick in Atlanta writes: Are you going to Falcons minicamp?

Pat Yasinskas: Yes, I am. In fact, I’m multitasking right now -- working on my laundry and this mailbag. Looking forward to heading up to Flowery Branch and seeing the Falcons. Actually driving up this time just to put a little variety in my life. Sometimes, I get a little tired of getting on planes and this should be a nice time of the year to see Georgia and Northern Florida.


Bill in Laplace, La., writes: My question to you is, how can anybody take the ex security director for the Saints seriously? He tries to get money from the Saints to not file a suit, then, when rebuffed, files a civil suit. Seems to me, he would have a lot more credibility if he would have reported this immediately to the proper authorities without wanting money. Your thoughts?

Pat Yasinskas: I’m staying in the middle of the road on this one right now and don’t have any real opinion yet. Quite simply, I don’t feel like I know enough, based on the limited information that’s come out on this so far. I’m going to wait and see if there are more details coming through the legal system or from law enforcement before forming any real opinion.


Kyle in Bossier City, La., writes: Darren Sharper’s signing has answered one question. The next question that comes to my mind is how many of these DBs, or "embarrassment of riches" as you have so adequately described them, will the Saints realistically be able to keep do to regular season roster restrictions?

Pat Yasinskas: The Saints are as loaded at defensive back as any team I’ve ever seen. With Jabari Greer, Tracy Porter, Malcolm Jenkins, Patrick Robinson and Randall Gay, I see five cornerbacks who are capable of starting. Jenkins could switch over to free safety and compete with Sharper, who is coming off knee surgery and Roman Harper’s a solid strong safety. The Saints also have Usama Young, who is a quality backup, Chip Vaughn is coming back after missing his rookie season with an injury and there are a few other young defensive backs with promise. The Saints probably will carry 10 defensive backs in the regular season. There will be some tough calls to make, but this is a nice problem to have. The little “slump’’ the Saints had last season was when Porter, Greer and Sharper were banged-up. The Saints weathered that storm and they’ve positioned themselves to weather just about any injury in the defensive backfield.


Ben in Tampa writes: What happened to USF receiver Carlton Mitchell? You said in a previous post that his pro day went so well you had him as a possible 2nd round draft pick. He didn't even get drafted, what happened?

Pat Yasinskas: Actually, he did get drafted. But it wasn’t until the sixth round by Cleveland. That surprised me because I thought Mitchell would go much earlier. He’s a guy with good size and speed and he looked very good in his workouts. I think the apprehension came because Mitchell came out of school early and might not be real polished. But I think he’s someone who could develop into a solid receiver.


Jonathan in Fort Mill, S.C., writes: The rumors coming out of the mini-camp is that Armanti Edwards electrified the coaches with his abilities. After Marty Hurney took so much heat for trading next year's 2nd round pick, (I know it’s early) but is Armanti Edwards the real deal?

Pat Yasinskas: “Rumors’’ might not be accurate. I think it’s fair to say Edwards was, in fact, electrifying in his first minicamp. The coaches saw and I saw it (along with the other media) on the sideline. It was a very promising start. But let’s keep it in perspective for now. This was only one minicamp. Also, I think it’s key that John Fox abandons his conservative nature and lets offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson be creative with Edwards.
Jimmy ClausenAP Photo/Darron CummingsJimmy Clausen had to wait to be drafted, but may play right away for the Carolina Panthers.
If Matt Moore is the starting quarterback for the Carolina Panthers when they close the regular season Jan. 2 in Atlanta, John Fox will be the happiest coach in the NFL.

It will mean the Panthers are headed to the playoffs and Fox will have earned the contract extension the Panthers have been so hesitant to give him. If Moore lasts that long, it means everything’s gone right for the Panthers. It means they’ve found a No. 2 receiver, a pass-rusher and a big run-stuffer.

If Moore lasts that long as the starter, I’ll be stunned. That’s not an indictment of Moore. As Fox likes to say, “It is what it is’’.

Here’s what it is. The Panthers drafted Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen with the No. 48 overall pick Friday night. He’s a second-round pick with first-round talent and he was Carolina’s first pick in this draft. The Panthers were trying to trade up to early in the second round to get Clausen, but didn’t have enough ammunition to get there.

Clausen still tumbled and the Panthers didn’t hesitate. You can read a lot into that and consider it a pretty major statement. Fox and general manager Marty Hurney never have taken a quarterback earlier than the fourth round of the draft and they’ve spent the offseason singing Moore’s praises.

That’s great because Moore looked pretty good the last five games of last season. Hurney likes to tell you his mentor, Bobby Beathard, used to say a quarterback has to take advantage when his window opens.

There still might be a window for Moore, but it shut by about 50 percent the minute the Panthers selected Clausen. The Panthers will spend the rest of the offseason saying Clausen and Moore will compete for the job in training camp, while making it sound like Moore has the inside track on the starting position.

Probably true, to a degree. Moore’s been in the system for three years and he deserves a shot. When I first started to think through this column, I was planning on saying Clausen instantly becomes the starter. After a little more thought, I’m toning that down, but only a little.

Fox and Hurney are loyal (sometimes to a fault) and you can’t question the integrity of either man. They’ll give Moore a shot. Unless Clausen totally outplays him in training camp and the preseason, Moore will be the starter on opening day.

It’s the fair thing to do. It’s probably the prudent thing to do. The Panthers have a good running game, and, if the defense is any good, Moore could be completely functional for this team.

But keep one thing in mind, even as you ponder that whole concept of fairness and loyalty. Moore really isn’t Fox and Hurney’s guy. He’s in this position pretty much by default. Moore was an undrafted free agent plucked off the waiver wire from the Cowboys three years ago. He got thrown into the lineup last year after Jake Delhomme was injured, which happened after Delhomme played poorly for most of the season.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Clausen
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesJimmy Clausen passed for 3,722 yards and 28 touchdowns for Notre Dame in 2009.
Delhomme was Fox and Hurney’s guy. They stuck with him far too long and when they finally cut him in February, Moore became the heir apparent partly because of his play last year, but mainly because he was the only other quarterback on the roster besides Hunter Cantwell.

By draft right, and by Fox’s close friendship with former Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis, Clausen automatically becomes Fox and Hurney’s guy. That carries a lot of implications for a coach and a general manager, who clearly are heading into the season on the hottest of seats.

Let’s go on the assumption that Moore starts on opening day. It gives him his shot and it prevents Clausen from having to play his first NFL game in the hostile atmosphere of the new Giants Stadium.

After the trip to New York, the Panthers host the Buccaneers and Bengals. Then, they go to New Orleans before hosting Chicago. After that, they’ve got their bye week and that’s when things could get interesting. Let’s say the Panthers are 3-2 or better at that point. Moore stays as the starter.

But let’s say they’re 2-3 or worse. Let’s say Fox and Hurney are scratching and clawing for their jobs and receiver Steve Smith relinquishes his position as the president of the Matt Moore Fan Club. At that point, there’s no other option.

They have to hand it off to their guy. They have to go to the guy with the Notre Dame pedigree. They have to win, or at least convince owner Jerry Richardson they’ve found their franchise quarterback and are on the verge of winning big. Anything less than that and Clausen could be playing for Bill Cowher in 2011 -- if there is a 2011 season.

But Fox and Hurney can’t worry about the league’s uncertain labor situation. They’ve got a more immediate uncertainty about their own labor situation.

If Clausen sits his entire rookie season, Fox and Hurney will be thrilled they didn’t have to throw him into a fire that never got too hot. If they start him, he’ll be going into an inferno, but he’ll be Fox and Hurney’s last chance to put out the flames. Actually, Clausen’s the best chance to put out those flames.

What the Panthers did Friday night was draft a potentially better version of a young Delhomme. Remember back in 2003 when Fox and Hurney quietly signed Delhomme as a free agent and opened the season with Rodney Peete as their starting quarterback?

How long did that last? Precisely one half of the first game. A few months later, Delhomme had the Panthers in the Super Bowl.

Delhomme was Fox and Hurney’s hand-picked guy. Now, Clausen is. The two are a lot alike and I’m using the young Delhomme as a measuring stick. That Delhomme was a gunslinger and so is this Clausen. That Delhomme took chances and this Clausen takes chances. That Delhomme was cocky. So is this Clausen.

The 2003 season was the shining moment for Fox and Hurney. When people have their backs pinned to the wall, they tend to go back in their past to what worked best.

Fox and Hurney would have been thrilled -- and probably stunned -- if Peete had stayed the starter and taken that team to the Super Bowl. But they didn’t really give him much of a chance to do that.

At the first sign of trouble, they turned to Delhomme. It’s going to be history repeating itself -- at least in theory. Moore’s going to get a shot. But the first time the Panthers lose a couple games in a row, Fox and Hurney are going to turn to their guy.

That’s Clausen.

Around the NFC South

April, 15, 2010
4/15/10
6:16
PM ET
Time for a quick spin around the NFC South.

Here’s a very unique story about New Orleans offensive lineman Carl Nicks. He stopped by the University of Nebraska to apologize for his behavior while he was a student there. Sounds like a kid who has grown up.

New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees said his wife, Brittany, is pregnant with the couple’s second child.

Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan said he thinks the Falcons can catch the Saints this year.

Former Tampa Bay coach Sam Wyche revisits the 1995 draft and recalls how the Bucs wound up with Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks. That draft is an important part of Tampa Bay’s history and Wyche deserves some credit because Brooks and Sapp formed the nucleus of what Tony Dungy turned into a winner and Jon Gruden turned into a Super Bowl champion. But I think Wyche gets a little carried away in taking credit for discovering John Lynch. If memory serves me correctly, and I covered the team on a daily basis at the time, Lynch really didn’t become much of a factor until Dungy took over.

The Falcons made a couple of moves on the business end, promoting Tim Zulawski to vice president of sponsorship sales and services and naming Jim Smith as chief marketing officer.

Former Tampa Bay linebacker and radio announcer Hardy Nickerson is back in football, this time coaching his son’s high school team in California.

Atlanta coach Mike Smith isn’t disputing what the experts are predicting for the Falcons in the draft.

Not a huge surprise here, but Steve Reed reports receiver Muhsin Muhammad won’t be returning to the Panthers.

With Matt Moore and Hunter Cantwell on the roster, the Panthers have fewer quarterback starts than any other team in the league.

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