NFC South: Jake Delhomme

TAMPA, Fla. -- You could make an argument that the McCowns are the first family of the NFC South.

Josh McCown plays for Tampa Bay and previously played for Carolina. Brother Luke plays for New Orleans and previously played for Atlanta.

Their current teams will square off Sunday when the Bucs visit the Saints.

"We have Charlotte, Atlanta, Tampa and New Orleans covered," Josh said Thursday. "We know where to eat at. We know where all the spots are. It’s just where the journey has taken us, and it’s been fun. All of our stops along the way and the guys we’ve gotten to work with whether it’s myself and Jake Delhomme in Carolina or Matt (Ryan) and Drew (Brees) with Luke, it’s been great."

The McCowns might not play Sunday -- Josh is dealing with a thumb injury and Luke is the backup quarterback to Brees, but the meeting still will be special.

"It will be cool," Josh said. "I’ve said it over and over, it’s a blessing just to be in the NFL for one person. For two people in the same family, those are long odds. It’ll be fun Sunday. It will be special for Luke and I."

Josh still was wearing a brace on his right hand Thursday and he has yet to grip a football, but he said he believes he’s making progress.

"It feels like I’m gaining ground and improving," he said. "But there’s still a healing time that has to occur. We just have to let the process take place."

Josh said surgery remains an option if the injury doesn’t heal with therapy and rest. But that is an option McCown wants to avoid.

"You never say never," McCown said. "You don’t know. But we’re hopeful. We’re very encouraged by where we’re at now. But, again, you can’t take anything off the table."
When I looked at Josh McCown's bio Tuesday night, I saw Rodney Peete.

I’m talking circa 2002 when Peete quietly landed with the Carolina Panthers and ended up as the starter. In my eyes, the McCown of today and the Peete of more than a decade ago are the same guy -- smart, experienced and not prone to mistakes.

But, just like Peete was for the Panthers, McCown is at absolute best a short-term answer. McCown turns 35 in July.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have to keep that in mind as McCown makes a free-agent visit that started Tuesday night. McCown isn’t going to come in and be the franchise guy for the next five or 10 years. Besides, if McCown was all that great, he would have started more than the 38 games he has in a career that dates to 2002.

At the absolute best, McCown is a "bridge quarterback" in that he could serve as a bridge until the Bucs find their quarterback for the long term. McCown is the kind of guy that can get you by as long as the rest of the team is good. But he’s not going to do anything special.

Peete was the ultimate bridge quarterback. He beat out Chris Weinke and started for a year until the Panthers found the guy they were looking for in Jake Delhomme, who took them to a Super Bowl in his first season.

At worst, McCown is a backup. That would be a good thing, because it would mean that Mike Glennon, who started 13 games as a rookie, emerges out of training camp and the preseason as the starter. In a perfect world, Glennon never lets go of the job and the Bucs remain happy with him. With Glennon, there is upside and the chance to play more than another decade.

With McCown as the starter, the Bucs would be just buying time.

Delhomme: Current Panthers dangerous

November, 3, 2013
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Jake Delhomme was a part of arguably the best team in Carolina Panthers history, and he says the current team has a chance to be better.

"This is a dangerous football team," Carolina's all-time leading passer said prior to Sundays' game against the Atlanta Falcons. "I don't think too many teams in the NFL want to play this football team."

Delhomme quarterbacked the Panthers (4-3), winners of three straight games and four of five, to the Super Bowl in 2003 where a last-second field goal by the New England Patriots kept them from being World Champions.

He was released after the 2009 season and retired two years later after stints with Cleveland and Houston.

Sunday was his first time back at Carolina for a game since being released. He was brought here to pound the big snare drum before the game to inspire the crowd.

Delhomme has been impressed of late by the play of quarterback Cam Newton, who over the last three games has completed 77.3 percent of his passes and compiled a quarterback rating of over 130.0. But what Delhomme likes best about Newton is his legs.

"When he takes off running, defenses, you don't want to tackle that guy," Delhomme said. "He's a freak of nature."

While at Carolina, Delhomme played for now-Denver coach John Fox, who was hospitalized in Charlotte on Saturday for a heart condition. Delhomme texted Fox on Sunday morning but hadn't heard back.

He did hear from Fox a week ago.

"He sent me a text last Saturday morning out of the blue," Delhomme said. "I think he was updating his iPhone. He sent me in clips, JD, this is JF, still your number? So we went back and forth about the families."

NFC South afternoon update

August, 21, 2013
Time for a quick spin through some odds and ends from around the division:


Former Atlanta defensive end Claude Humphrey might finally get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It was announced Wednesday that Humphrey and Ray Guy are the two candidates nominated by the senior committee for the Class of 2014. The final selection will come the day before the Super Bowl.


Former Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme addressed the team Wednesday. Most of the current players never played with Delhomme, but they’d be wise to listen to the only quarterback ever to take the team to a Super Bowl. I’m glad Delhomme still has a relationship with the team. His time in Carolina didn’t end well, but fans need to get over that and remember that there were a lot of good times with Delhomme.


The team released offensive tackle Jason Smith on Wednesday. The Saints took a shot on Smith, who was the second overall pick of the 2009 draft by St. Louis because they thought he still might have some upside. They gave him a look first at left tackle, but Charles Brown and rookie Terron Armstead quickly moved ahead of him. Smith later switched to right tackle, but fell behind Bryce Harris as the backup to starter Zach Strief.


Kicker Rian Lindell, who was signed by the Bucs on Wednesday, sent a classy letter to the fans of the Buffalo Bills, the team he played for the previous 10 seasons.

Quarterback Josh Freeman took the high road when asked about recent criticism by Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton. Freeman said the important thing is to have the respect of his coaches and teammates.

Vote for 'Madden NFL 25' cover

March, 12, 2013
The “Madden NFL 25’’ cover voting has arrived with a twist.

Instead of including only current players, one “legend’’ from each team is included. One current player from each team also is on the ballot.

Let’s start with the NFC South legends. Former Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme is matched up against Joe Montana. Delhomme is one of the nicest guys I’ve ever covered, but he’s got no chance of getting by a guy that might be the best quarterback ever.

Speaking of unfortunate draws, former Tampa Bay linebacker Derrick Brooks, who might be the best player out of the NFC South, is matched against Baltimore’s Ray Lewis. The timing here is horrible for Brooks because Lewis’ final act before retirement was to lead his team to a Super Bowl championship and that makes him a sentimental favorite.

Retired New Orleans running back Deuce McAllister also ended up with a tough draw. He goes against former Dallas quarterback Troy Aikman. Saints’ fans are passionate, so let’s see if they can pull off an upset against one of the brightest stars from America’s team.

The only NFC South legend that appears to be a favorite is former Atlanta cornerback Deion Sanders, who goes against former Seattle defensive lineman Cortez Kennedy.

Oh, and there’s one more total mismatch that’s tied to the NFC South in the legends division. Carolina coach Ron Rivera is representing Chicago against Detroit’s Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders. No offense to Rivera, who was a nice player, but wouldn’t Dick Butkus, Gale Sayers or Walter Payton at least stand a chance to win against Sanders?

Switching over to the active players, two of the NFC South’s bright young stars are matched up. Atlanta receiver Julio Jones and New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham are paired against each other.

Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin is matched against Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford. Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly is up against Baltimore running back Ray Rice.

Go do your civic duty and vote.
What happened with the Carolina Panthers on Monday morning is a reminder that the NFL is a cold, hard business and the win-loss record is all that really matters.

The Panthers fired general manager Marty Hurney. It was inevitable. Carolina came into the season with very high expectations but is off to a 1-5 start. The Panthers haven’t had a winning season since 2008.

Fans are getting restless, and so is team owner Jerry Richardson, a man who spent a ton of money coming out of this past summer’s lockout.

[+] EnlargeMarty Hurney
AP Photo/Bob LeveroneMarty Hurney had been the Panthers' GM since 2002.
Someone had to take the fall, and Hurney was the choice. You can question whether Hurney was the right guy to sacrifice, and some already are doing that.

“Marty wasn't the reason we are losing!" Carolina defensive end Charles Johnson said on his Twitter account. “That's bs! Unbelievable! Marty might be the realist GM that I know #InMyMind BS BS BS BS!"

You can wonder if maybe head coach Ron Rivera, offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski or defensive coordinator Sean McDermott should have been ousted. At least to me, it looks as though the Panthers have a talented roster that is not being coached very well.

And you can certainly question the timing of Hurney’s firing. Does it really make sense to fire the guy who runs the personnel department after Week 7?

No, it doesn’t. The Panthers will bring in someone from outside or elevate director of pro scouting Mark Koncz, but either way, they’re not going to right the ship in the middle of the season. Any personnel moves that can help this team will have to come in the offseason.

But this wasn’t just a football move. It went much deeper than that.

To understand what I mean by that, you have to know a bit about Hurney and Richardson. They were -- and even now probably will remain -- exceptionally close. After saying he’d never have a general manager again after Bill Polian’s ugly departure, Richardson hired Hurney to manage the salary cap in 1998.

The two hit it off, and Hurney quickly gained Richardson’s trust. When former coach George Seifert ran the franchise into the ground in 2001, Richardson reversed course and promoted Hurney to general manager. He also essentially let Hurney hire John Fox as coach.

The Panthers reached the Super Bowl in Hurney and Fox's second season together, 2003. Two seasons later, they were back in the NFC Championship Game.

But soon after that, Richardson started to see cracks. He wanted to see back-to-back winning seasons, and he was starting to worry about growing egos.

Richardson’s worries eventually turned into realities. Fox never produced consecutive winning seasons, and the level of trust between the coach and Richardson seemed to erode to a point where things became downright hostile in Fox’s final season, 2010.

But the Richardson-Hurney relationship survived all that, and Richardson let Hurney hire Rivera to replace Fox. Part of the reason is Hurney is one of the nicest, most down-to-earth people you’ll ever meet in football or anywhere else. He’s the kind of guy who picked up the phone to offer condolences to a reporter whose father had died the moment he heard about it.

Hurney is the kind of guy who would call a reporter on draft night just to exchange thoughts on what happened around the league. He’s the kind of guy who would never lie to you and always try to steer a reporter in the right direction, even if it wasn’t necessarily in his best interest.

On the job, Hurney made some brilliant moves through the years -- signing Jake Delhomme and Stephen Davis as free agents, drafting the likes of Julius Peppers, Jordan Gross and Ryan Kalil. His drafting of quarterback Cam Newton looked brilliant last year, but not so much this season.

He also made some very questionable moves -- signing Delhomme to a big contract extension after the quarterback had flamed out, drafting Armanti Edwards, Jimmy Clausen, Dwayne Jarrett, Terrell McClain, Eric Norwood, Everette Brown, Jeff Otah and some other busts. He also committed $80 million of Richardson’s money to running backs DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert.

But for some reason, the coaching staff isn’t making much use out of Williams, Stewart and Tolbert. Is that Hurney’s fault?

I don’t think so. And I don’t think Richardson totally believes that, either.

Still, it really doesn’t matter. Richardson needed a scapegoat, and it had to be hard for him to decide on Hurney. But keep in mind, Richardson once fired his two sons (Mark as team president and Jon as stadium president). His logic on that move was that their dysfunctional relationship was taking a toll on the other 300 people who worked in the building and on fans.

The logic on Hurney was similar. Things weren’t going well, and fans were giving up on the Panthers.

When I spoke to Hurney last week, he seemed resigned to the idea that his time was running out, but it seemed he thought the move would come more toward the end of the season.

That might have been more logical. But Richardson had to send a message now to his fans that he still cares about winning and that the current product is unsatisfactory. It would be difficult to fire the entire coaching staff or fire Rivera and elevate one of his assistants in the middle of the season.

Someone had to go now, and that was Hurney. But I think it should be clear to Rivera, every assistant coach in the building and every player that if Richardson is willing to get rid of Hurney, no one is sacred.

There’s going to be a lot more housecleaning in Carolina after the season. This was just the first step.

Cam Newton needs a new act

October, 4, 2012
Cameron NewtonStreeter Lecka/Getty ImagesCam Newton's sideline demeanor has come under scrutiny the past two weeks.
After watching Cam Newton in his past two games, it occurred to me: I have seen this act before.

The incredibly talented Carolina quarterback has been sulking on the sidelines when things don’t go well, waiting nearly an hour to talk to the media after a game and not saying much when he does. Instead of acting like an NFL quarterback, Newton is acting like a child.

I saw the same thing back in small-town Pennsylvania in the 1970s and '80s. I had a neighbor and friend who was a grade behind me in school. Like Newton, he was a physical specimen. He also had one of those late birthdays, so in his final year of Little League he was playing with kids a grade behind him in school.

You know the type -- at 12, they’re 6 feet and 175 pounds. You see one of them carrying a team to Williamsport every year, and that’s exactly what was expected of my friend. He hit home runs in bunches and struck out almost every batter he faced during his regular Little League season.

Then he got to an All-Star game against a team from a much larger town. Late in the game, he gave up a crucial home run with a couple of guys on base. In anger, he slung his glove toward the dugout and his athletic career essentially flew with it. He was tossed from the game.

By high school, he’d given up baseball and basketball because he no longer took any joy from them. His final athletic stand came when he was the starting quarterback as a junior, and a team with high expectations started 0-3. I remember thinking it was time for my friend to come down with an injury or simply walk away. In the fourth game, he hurt his knee.

It was the kind of injury that coaches thought might cost him only a few games. But my friend never played again. An enormous amount of athletic talent was wasted, not because he never learned to lose, but because he never learned how to deal with adversity and overcome it.

I’m not drawing the parallel to suggest Newton is going to just give up. He’s not, because he’s too much of a competitor. But that’s part of his problem.

There’s no question Newton can play quarterback in the NFL. But, if he wants to truly succeed, he has to start acting like an NFL quarterback and act with some balance.

Watch Drew Brees some time. No one is as competitive as Brees. But out on the field, you never see Brees let his emotions get the best of him. It’s similar with the other two NFC South quarterbacks, Matt Ryan and Josh Freeman. Winning or losing, you usually can’t tell by their actions or body language.

I think back on quarterbacks through Carolina’s history. Steve Beuerlein and Rodney Peete were as even-keeled as they come. Jake Delhomme had a visible competitive edge about him but never freaked out when things didn’t go well. In fact, Delhomme was at his best when things got tight.

That’s part of being an NFL quarterback. You have to set the tone for your team, and it can’t be too high or too low.

There’s no question Newton is in a pressure cooker. After a record-setting rookie year, the expectations in Carolina went up about six notches. Center Ryan Kalil bought a full-page ad in The Charlotte Observer promising a Super Bowl win. Fans just nodded their heads and agreed.

But the Panthers are off to a 1-3 start, and most of the blame is falling on Newton. Some of that’s simply because Newton is the quarterback, so he’s always going to warrant attention.

But sometimes it’s about how you handle attention that determines perception and reality, and Newton is not doing a great job of that. He has set himself up for the fall by doing his Superman pose when things do go well. And he has made the fall even steeper by pouting when things go wrong.

ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported that Newton has been working with a life coach to help deal with the pressure. Newton denied that report. But maybe Newton should be letting his feelings out privately to someone.

He’s not helping anyone by letting his feelings run wild on the field, and he’s not helping anyone by being so adamant about not changing.

“Losing is difficult, period,” said Newton, who won a national championship in college and junior college. “A person that says losing is not difficult, I don’t even want to be around that person. Obviously that person has never won anything relevant in their life. So for a person to say, 'Yeah, we lost and we have to keep going …' yeah, you keep saying that and sooner or later you’re going to look up and be 0-16. You have to take it personal. Do I take it personal? Absolutely right. Do I take it too personal? Who knows? But I’d rather take it too personal than lackadaisical.”

I respect the fact that Newton doesn’t like losing, and that he takes it personally. You want that, to some degree, from every player on your roster.

But Newton, who spent a lot of time in the offseason talking about how he wanted to be a better teammate, isn’t helping himself or his team with his actions.

I realize Newton is only 23. Not many of us were finished products at 23. But, then again, not many of us were NFL quarterbacks at 23, or ever.

When you’re making millions of dollars and are the face of an NFL franchise, the standards are a lot different, and you can’t act like you’re 12.

Newton needs to find a new standard -- one that’s not too high or too low -- that his teammates can follow. It’s time for Newton to grow up, mature or whatever you want to call it.

If he doesn’t, you’re going to see a lot more people pouting on Carolina’s sideline and in the stands.

Numbers say Matt Ryan already elite

September, 5, 2012
Over the past few years, and especially this preseason, there’s been a lot of debate about if Atlanta’s Matt Ryan is an “elite’’ quarterback.

I’m not sure what the exact qualifications are for elite status. But I’ve always been a big believer that the most important thing a quarterback can do is win games.

If that’s true, Ryan qualifies as elite. In four seasons, he’s won a lot of games. Ryan’s career record as a starter is 43-19. That’s a .694 winning percentage, which puts him third among active NFL quarterbacks that have made 10 regular-season starts.

Only Tom Brady (.780) and Ben Roethlisberger (.708) have better winning percentages, and I think pretty much everyone agrees they’re elite. Ryan’s winning percentage is ahead of guys like Peyton Manning (.678), Aaron Rodgers (.661) and Drew Brees (.601) and I don’t think there’s any question they’re elite quarterbacks.

Yeah, I know the difference with Ryan is that he never has won a postseason game. But people used to knock Manning for not being able to win the big one early in his career and he now is on his way to the Hall of Fame.

I think Ryan already is an elite quarterback. But there’s only one way to permanently end the argument. That’s for Ryan to go out and start winning some postseason games.

By the way, Ryan’s winning percentage is far superior to predecessor Michael Vick’s (.588). It’s also better than another guy who had some success in the NFC South -- former Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme (.583).

Aside from Ryan and Brees, let’s take a look at the career winning percentages of the other current NFC South quarterbacks.

Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman is 17-23 (.425). Carolina’s Cam Newton is 6-10 (.375).

There are even a few NFC South backups who qualified for the list by making at least 10 career starts, but their winning percentages aren’t very impressive. Carolina’s Derek Anderson is at .419, Tampa Bay’s Dan Orlovsky is at .167 and Carolina’s Jimmy Clausen is at .100. But, hey, at least Clausen doesn’t rank dead last in winning percentage among active quarterbacks with at least 10 career starts. Tyler Thigpen (.083) holds that distinction.

Legend of Cam Newton keeps growing

August, 14, 2012
The latest sign that Carolina quarterback Cam Newton is the biggest athlete ever to hit Charlotte has arrived.

Newton is featured on the cover of the latest issue of GQ.

I’m pretty certain that’s a first for the Panthers. And I seriously doubt any member of the Hornets or Bobcats ever made the cover. And Cal Ripken Jr., who played minor-league baseball in Charlotte back in the day, doesn't count because he was playing minor-league baseball.

The Panthers have had some stars (Julius Peppers, Steve Smith, Jake Delhomme and Sam Mills to name a few) through the years, but none have grabbed the imagination of a region and a nation like Newton has. When he’s not posing for magazine covers, you can see Newton on national television commercials.

“We’ve never had anything close,’’ left tackle Jordan Gross, who joined the Panthers in 2003, said last week when I asked him about Newton’s popularity. “Pep was always a big star. He was probably the biggest star we’ve had, but he was always so quiet and kept to himself. Cam embraces it. Cam’s smart to go and throw a ball into the stands at Fan Fest or to sign autographs every day because the people love him and it’s good for our team to have somebody that people want to cheer for and it makes them excited to come to our games. It’s amazing what one guy can do to change that.’’

Carolina’s been viewed as a smaller market since the Panthers arrived in 1995. For much of the existence of the front office and coaching staffs have preferred to keep players out of the spotlight. I understand the reason for that, but Newton is different. He’s a phenomenal athlete, who happens to play the most glamorous of positions. He also appears to enjoy the spotlight and seems more than capable of handling it.

Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil, who went to college at Southern California and is a friend of actor Will Ferrell, knows a little about Hollywood hype, but said that really doesn’t apply to Newton.

“From the outside, you can get that sense,’’ Kalil said. “The good thing about Cam and what we’ve come to respect is his work ethic and what he was able to do last year without much offseason in such a complex offense with so many moving pieces. (Offensive coordinator Rob) Chudzinski is the mad scientist because he is constantly evolving this thing. We built on what we did last year and we’re changing a lot of things. It’s a very tedious offense and you have to really be on it every single day and Cam does a real good job of making sure he knows every single bit of it. I think the respect comes from the way he plays as well as the way he approaches each work day and how he makes sure he knows what he needs to know.’’
In its infancy, the NFC South was a division filled with defensive superstars.

In the division's first year of existence (2002), Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp, John Lynch and Simeon Rice led Tampa Bay to a Super Bowl title. The Bucs were so good on defense that they won it all with Brad Johnson, an average quarterback at best.

In 2003, Carolina defensive linemen Julius Peppers and Kris Jenkins emerged as the second coming of Rice and Sapp. With a little help from linebacker Dan Morgan, who was relatively healthy that season, they carried the Panthers all the way to the Super Bowl -- and that came with Jake Delhomme in his first full season as a starting quarterback.

But Sapp, Lynch and Rice eventually left the Bucs. Jenkins was dominant for a bit, but his career flamed out after a couple of knee injuries. The last true defensive superstars disappeared from the NFC South when the Bucs unceremoniously released Brooks after the 2008 season and Peppers signed with the Chicago Bears after the 2009 season. There hasn’t been anything close to a dominant defensive player in the division since. The Saints won their Super Bowl in 2009 with defensive standouts Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith and Darren Sharper having nice seasons, but quarterback Drew Brees was the reason for that title.

Could this be the year the NFC South returns to its roots and a dominant defensive player emerges? Of course, the NFL is a quarterback-driven league and rules favor offense. But there are several prospects in the division who could turn out to be the NFC South’s next defensive superstar. Here's a rundown:

[+] EnlargeSean Weatherspoon
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesWith his athleticism and leadership skills, Sean Weatherspoon has become the focal point of Atlanta's defense.
Sean Weatherspoon, linebacker, Falcons. Based on what the Falcons have said about Weatherspoon this offseason, you would think he already is a Pro Bowl regular. He has had two promising seasons but really hasn’t done anything special, so maybe the Falcons are getting ahead of themselves here.

Weatherspoon is a very athletic outside linebacker. His potential and leadership skills were partially why Atlanta was willing to part with Curtis Lofton, even though that probably means a dropoff at middle linebacker. New coordinator Mike Nolan apparently wants to build his defense around Weatherspoon. That might not be a bad idea. The great Tampa Bay defenses were built around Brooks, not the guy in the middle. Of course, that concept only works if Weatherspoon turns out to be the next Brooks.

Luke Kuechly, linebacker, Panthers. Carolina didn’t have a desperate need at linebacker with Jon Beason and Thomas Davis returning from injuries and James Anderson already in place. There were more obvious needs elsewhere. But the Panthers locked in on Kuechly with the No. 9 overall pick in this year’s draft.

The Panthers have yet to declare if Kuechly or Beason will open the season in the middle. But it’s clear the Panthers have huge plans for Kuechly. Coach Ron Rivera comes from a defensive background and he needed to reload his defense. He drafted Kuechly to build a defense around him.

Don’t underestimate the influence of general manager Marty Hurney on this pick. Hurney was around during the Morgan days, and he’s one of many people in Carolina’s building who believe Morgan would be headed for the Pro Football Hall of Fame if he had been able to stay healthy. In Kuechly, the Panthers envision a healthy and young Morgan.

Mark Barron, safety, Buccaneers. Rivera didn’t get to use his first draft pick on a defensive player because the Panthers had to take quarterback Cam Newton with the No. 1 overall pick in 2011. But Greg Schiano already had Josh Freeman at QB when he took over in Tampa Bay, allowing Schiano to focus on defense. He selected Barron with the No. 7 pick.

Conventional wisdom says that might be a little high to draft a safety. But with passing games dominating, maybe conventional wisdom must change. We don’t know exactly what Schiano’s defense will look like, but investing so much in Barron is a pretty strong clue that safety will be a very important position.

Malcolm Jenkins, safety, Saints. Scouts and coaches have predicted greatness from Jenkins since he came into the league. Entering his fourth season, he did not have an interception last season. But Jenkins has physical talent and a great work ethic, and I think this season he will put everything together. In former coordinator Gregg Williams’ system, Jenkins often had to blitz or cover for other defensive backs who blitzed. In Steve Spagnuolo’s defense, Jenkins will be allowed to simply play center field, which is what he does best.

Adrian Clayborn, defensive end, Buccaneers. In a rookie year in which everything around him went wrong, Clayborn put together a nice season in 2011. He had 7.5 sacks and forced three fumbles. If he was able to do that amid chaos, he should be able to do much more in Schiano’s new world. Of course, it would help if Gerald McCoy and Brian Price could stay healthy and provide some help at defensive tackle.

Charles Johnson, defensive end, Panthers. He just turned 26 and, of all the players on this list, he has done the most so far. Johnson had 20.5 sacks the past two seasons for a team that often played from behind. Carolina has a good offense now, and the addition of Kuechly and the return of injured players should help the defense. If Johnson's sack total reaches the high double digits, he could become what Peppers once was -- a dominant NFC South defensive player.

Saints looking for third QB

May, 31, 2012
While repeatedly saying he’s confident Drew Brees’ contract situation will be worked out, New Orleans assistant head coach Joe Vitt said Thursday the Saints likely will add a third quarterback before the start of next week’s minicamp.

The Saints have gone through the early part of their offseason workouts with Chase Daniel working with the first team and only Sean Canfield behind him. Vitt said the Saints will work out some quarterbacks in the coming days.

Assuming the Brees situation eventually gets resolved, the Saints aren’t looking for a starter. That’s a good thing because there aren’t any real starters available at this time of year. The list of available guys is basically a list of guys that could provide an extra arm for minicamp and the rest of the offseason program.

The Saints previously worked out Brian Brohm and he could be a candidate. Tyler Palko and Mark Brunell have spent time with the Saints in the past and could be possibilities. But I don’t know that the Saints would want Brunnell because he’s 41. If you’re looking for a third arm, you might as well bring in a guy that at least has the potential to blossom in your system.

Another former Saint, Jake Delhomme, remains available. But Delhomme falls into the same category as Brunell. Same for Jeff Garcia.

After that, the list of available quarterbacks isn’t any more impressive. It includes guys like Luke McCown, J.P. Losman, Kyle Boller, Kevin O’Connell, Dennis Dixon, A.J. Feeley, Brian St. Pierre, Jim Sorgi and J.T. O’Sullivan.

We’ll have more from Vitt, once I get a complete transcript of his media session later this afternoon. But I’ll give you one hint about something that’s coming. Defensive end Will Smith has been getting some work at defensive tackle. I’ll be back with more on what was said on that topic.

Around the NFC South

May, 16, 2012
Time for a look at the top Wednesday morning headlines from around the NFC South.
  • I don’t know if it will change anything, but New Orleans linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive end Will Smith and former Saints Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove will have appeals of their suspensions for their roles in the bounty program heard by an arbitrator Wednesday. Even if nothing comes of this, this isn’t the end of the line. The NFL Players Association has filed a separate grievance with the league’s system arbitrator. They also have filed an appeal with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who issued the punishments in the first place.
  • Although the Saints have a veteran coaching staff and roster, Jeff Duncan writes they already miss suspended coach Sean Payton. I think the Saints potentially can weather this one, but it’s going to be a process and some assistant coaches and some of the leadership among the players will have to step forward to help compensate for some of the intangibles that left the building with Payton.
  • Here’s a column that takes issue with the prospect of taxpayer money being used to potentially finance a new stadium for the Atlanta Falcons. I totally understand the argument that the people of Georgia have other needs and that Falcons’ owner Arthur Blank already makes plenty of money. But, in today’s NFL, you need state-of-the-art stadiums to stay competitive. It may not be ideal, but the norm is for taxpayers to pick up at least some of the tab for a new stadium.
  • Speaking of sports and the economy, let’s go a little outside the box. I don’t do much reading in the world of finance, but a former co-worker passed along this column by a financial planner, who writes that recent events have caused him to lose his life-long passion for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the NFL in general. The author concludes that professional sports are a waste of time, money and energy. I don’t necessarily agree with that, but he brings up some points worth pondering.
  • Former Carolina Panthers running back Stephen Davis was inducted into the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame. Davis earned the honor exclusively for his spectacular high school career, when he was nicknamed “Little Herschel’’ after Herschel Walker. But I’ll always remember Davis for his role in the Panthers’ 2003 season. That year, Davis arrived in Carolina and instantly became the focus of the offense. Jake Delhomme, Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad each made some big plays along the way, but Davis was the glue to the Carolina offense as the Panthers went to their only Super Bowl.
  • Brian Allee-Walsh has a theory that agent Tom Condon isn’t simply looking for a new deal for New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees. He speculates that Condon is trying to raise the bar for all quarterback contracts. There’s some logic in there because Condon’s agency represents nearly half of the NFL’s starting quarterbacks.
The Atlanta Falcons may stay within the organization when they fill their vacancy at quarterbacks coach. Glenn Thomas is a leading candidate for that role, D. Orlando Ledbetter reports.

It makes plenty of sense. Thomas, 34, has been an offensive quality-control coach for the Falcons since the arrival of coach Mike Smith in 2008. He obviously has to know quarterback Matt Ryan pretty well.

The Falcons lost quarterbacks coach Bob Bratkowski, who became the offensive coordinator in Jacksonville when former Atlanta coordinator Mike Mularkey became the Jaguars' head coach earlier in January.

Bratkowski spent only the 2011 season with the Falcons. He replaced Bill Musgrave, who had been Ryan’s quarterbacks coach in his first three seasons. Musgrave left after last season to become offensive coordinator in Minnesota.

Former Jacksonville coordinator Dirk Koetter has been hired as Atlanta’s offensive coordinator. Koetter obviously will bring some subtle changes to Atlanta’s offense. But promoting Thomas to quarterbacks coach could provide some familiarity and continuity for Ryan.

Smith is a coach who believes in loyalty and promoting Thomas would illustrate that. It’s also not a bad thing to start moving young coaches up the ladder.

The best example I can give you of that is Mike McCoy. I saw him join the Carolina Panthers as a quality-control assistant under George Seifert. McCoy later worked his way up to quarterbacks coach and he had a strong relationship, and a fair amount of success, with Jake Delhomme.

That success put McCoy on the radar for bigger things and he was hired as Denver’s offensive coordinator in 2009. He was reunited there with former Carolina coach John Fox in 2011 and McCoy largely was credited for the success of Denver quarterback Tim Tebow. That led to McCoy getting several interviews for jobs as a head coach this offseason.

Around the NFC South

December, 16, 2011
ATLANTA – Time for a look at the top headlines from around the NFC South.

New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees said talks about a new contract have been tabled until after the season. Smart move. The Saints are down to crunch time and the team and Brees don’t need any distractions.

Atlanta linebacker Stephen Nicholas, who returned Thursday night after missing two games with a quadriceps injury, suffered a knee injury in the victory over Jacksonville. The severity of the injury isn’t known yet, but the Falcons don’t play again until Dec. 26.

Atlanta coach Mike Smith will undergo a stress test Friday at Emory Hospital. Smith was taken to a Charlotte hospital Sunday after experiencing chest pains. After Thursday night’s game, Smith said he’s fine and politely said he doesn’t want to discuss his health any further.

Carolina receiver Steve Smith said there’s no comparison between Cam Newton and Denver quarterback Tim Tebow. Smith said Newton is a more complete player. No argument here.

The Panthers play at Houston on Sunday. Reliant Stadium was the site of Carolina’s only Super Bowl, a loss to New England in Super Bowl XXXVIII. The only current Panthers who were on that team are tackle Jordan Gross and Smith. Jake Delhomme was the quarterback of that team. Ironically, he now is with the Texans.

Former Tampa Bay defensive lineman Chidi Ahanotu wrote a guest column for that’s very interesting. Not sure I agree with his opinion that the Bucs shouldn’t fire coach Raheem Morris. But Ahanotu is a smart guy and has spent a lot of time in locker rooms. His opinion is at least worth a look.

Gary Shelton has a column that asks a very valid question – if the Bucs fire Morris, does general manager Mark Dominik go as well? Dominik’s had his share of hits and misses and he certainly deserves blame for a season gone awry. But my best guess is Dominik stays. Some coaches and general managers are package deals. I think the Bucs provided a big hint that they don’t view Morris and Dominik that way after last season. They gave Dominik a four-year contract extension and simply picked up two option years on Morris’ contract.

Steve Smith reflects on 10,000 yards

December, 12, 2011
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina’s Steve Smith became the 35th player in NFL history to reach the 10,000-yard receiving mark.

Smith got very reflective after Sunday’s loss to Atlanta as he talked about the milestone.

“It’s a lot of people, a lot of men and a lot of boys’ dream,’’ Smith said. “But there are few men who get the opportunity to live out their dream, so I’m fortunate enough. I’ve had the opportunity for about a decade to do it and it’s been enjoyable. I’ve had fun. I’ve also had some bonehead situations, but that’s the opportunity to live and so it’s pretty cool.’’

Smith then went on to thank just about every quarterback he ever has played with. He mentioned Chris Weinke, Rodney Peete, Jake Delhomme, Vinny Testaverde, Cam Newton, David Carr, Brian St. Pierre, Jimmy Clausen and Matt Moore.

Smith went on to mention a bunch of receivers he played with through the years.

“Isaac Byrd, Karl Hankton, Ricky Proehl, Muhsin Muhammad and Donald Hayes because when I first came here, they were the guys who took me under their wing and showed me how to play,’’ Smith said. “There were times I was annoying to them and I followed them and watched them.’’