NFC South: Jamaal Brown
He has agreed to a contract with the Chicago Bears, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
Although Bushrod is the guy that was responsible for protecting Drew Brees’ blind side, this isn’t a total surprise. The Saints knew Bushrod was going to have a pretty strong market value and they knew their cap situation was going to limit what they could do to keep him. Bushrod will also be reunited with former Saints offensive line coach Aaron Kromer, who now is the offensive coordinator in Chicago.
I don’t want to diminish the loss of Bushrod, who made it to two Pro Bowls with the Saints. But this isn’t the end of the world for the Saints because they put their offensive line together differently than most teams. The Saints build from the inside out.
They paid huge money to guard Jahri Evans and good money to fellow guard Ben Grubbs. As long as the Saints are strong at the two guard positions, their philosophy is that they can get by with average guys at the other spots on the offensive line.
There’s precedent there. In recent years, the Saints let right tackle Jon Stinchcomb and left tackle Jammal Brown leave. They replaced them with Zach Strief and Bushrod. That worked out all right.
Maybe now is the time for Charles Brown to step up. Or maybe it’s time for the Saints to bring in some marginal guy from outside. Either way, history has shown that playing with strong guards in New Orleans can make a tackle look good.
Pat Yasinskas: Williams has been emphatic that what happened at Syracuse last year hasn’t been portrayed accurately. He claims he didn’t quit on his teammates, but left because he was facing a suspension. He’s said and done all the right things since coming to Tampa Bay. He also has looked good in offseason workouts. I think there’s a real chance the Bucs open the season with Williams and fellow rookie Arrelious Benn as their starting receivers. Then again, there aren’t a lot of other good alternatives. Also, the Bucs claim they've done extensive research on Williams and are not concerned about his character.
Patrick in Reno, Nev., writes: I know the Saints may simply rely on Lynell Hamilton to take Mike Bell's place as the short yardage back. Do you think it makes sense for them to maybe bring in Marshawn Lynch to fill that role? They could probably get him for a 4th or 5th rounder or put a package together involving Jamaal Brown.
Pat Yasinskas: Well, let’s see what happens with Pierre Thomas’ contract situation first. Reports are that Thomas is asking for huge money and I don’t know that the Saints think he’s worth that. If they are not able to resolve things with Thomas, they’ll have to bring in another back to go with Reggie Bush and Hamilton. I think they believe Hamilton can carry the load in the short-yardage game. But, if they don’t have Thomas, I think they’ll look for a back that can do a little bit of everything.
Shaun in Calif., writes: Having been a lifelong Panther's fan since they were founded when I was 10, I am puzzled by your assessment of Muhsin Muhammad as "not genuine". I am still curious personally as to what that means. He is such a fan favorite in Carolina and always seemed like a great addition to the team from a personality and even media standpoint.
Pat Yasinskas: I covered Muhammad for much of his career and that’s my assessment of him. I know there are members of the media in Carolina and Chicago that feel the same way. In fairness to Muhammad, he is a wide receiver and almost all wide receivers have a selfish streak. Muhammad is known as “The Flower’’ in media circles because he once made a comment after his team got beat 52-9 in Oakland that “amid all the rubble, a flower bloomed’’ because he got his 100th catch of the season. Muhammad can turn on the charm for the cameras when he wants, but I’ve seen another side. That said, his coaches and teammates always have considered him a “team’’ guy.
Haile in Durham, N.C., writes: Who is running with the first time defense for ROLB? James Anderson or Dan Connor?
Pat Yasinskas: Anderson’s been getting just about all the first-team work there through the offseason and that makes him the favorite to be the starter. Connor hasn’t been getting any work on the outside, although he has the ability to play there if needed. Connor’s been working in the middle as Jon Beason’s backup.
It’s time for the New Orleans Saints in our tour of team-by-team mailbags.
Marty in Shakopee, Minn. writes: Hi Pat - Thanks for all the great NFC South info. Being a Saints fan, living in Vikings territory & married to a Purple fan has made this season interesting. I try to take it one game at a time, but it's tough not to look ahead, especially since the Saints schedule is very favorable going forward. Where can the Saints improve? At times our LB's are exposed to the short passing game, but GW has given this defense the freedom to make plays and it has been successful. There is balance in the offense now; Sean seems to be pushing all the right buttons.
Pat Yasinskas: Yep, there’s no question Sean Payton and Gregg Williams are doing tremendous jobs. Where can the Saints improve? Hmm, there really aren’t many weaknesses at all. They just have to stay healthy and they’re on course for the playoffs, maybe a run deep into the playoffs.
Adrien in Miss. writes: Pat, with Fujita out for a while, do you think that Troy Evans will be able to fill in for Scott well enough or struggle? And if he does struggle, do you see the Saints signing another linebacker such as...I dunno...Derrick Brooks?
Pat Yasinskas: Payton and Williams seem ready to go with Evans until Scott Fujita comes back. I’ve only seen a little bit of Evans as a linebacker, but I’ve seen a lot of him on special teams and been impressed. He’s a good athlete. Payton and Williams know a lot more than I do and they seem comfortable going with Evans. If they were going to sign Derrick Brooks, I think it would have happened months ago.
Jeff in Charleston, S.C. writes: Hey Pat. My question is, who have the Saints beaten this year, really? Detroit with a Rookie QB, a rapidly declining Jets team with Rookie QB, a horribly-coached (I'm sorry, Reid is clueless at times) Philly team with practically a Rookie QB, a horribly bad Buffalo team, and a NYG team that is plagued with injuries all over the field at critical positions and in my mind is way overrated. No question the Saints have made major strides since last year, especially on Defense and I know that its all about getting W's, but honestly, who have they REALLY beaten? Just take a look at the current status of all those afore mentioned teams, would you say they are in good shape, with the exception of the NYG, who have some serious questions to answer and major injuries to deal with.
Pat Yasinskas: I’ve got to disagree with you. First off, the Jets were undefeated at the time they played the Saints. I’d argue strongly that you’re wrong in calling Andy Reid clueless. He’s one of the best coaches in the league. And going into Philadelphia, which is always one of the toughest places to play, and winning is a major accomplishment. Even the Buffalo game was a nice win because it was on the road and any road win is a good win. The victory against the Giants speaks for itself. Now, I will give you the Detroit game. But other than that, I don’t think you can take any of the shine off what the Saints have done by talking about who they’ve played.
Matt in Miami writes: Why do the Saints not use Lance Moore on trick plays? He is the team's emergency third QB on game day, so why not use him on a reverse play and let him throw the ball? I know they don't want to take the ball out of Brees' hands, and I understand that, but once or twice a game could work. And it would give opposing defenses so much more to prepare for, and make our offense that much more potent. Thanks.
Pat Yasinskas: No question Lance Moore is a great athlete. In general, I’d say the Saints don’t need trick plays and they don’t need to take the ball out of Drew Brees’ hands. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a couple of trick plays in the playbook and Payton may pull them out as time goes on, especially now that Moore seems healthy.
Morris in Colorado Springs writes: Pat let’s not forget how great Jermon Bushrod played against one of the top pass rushers in the game in Osi Umenyiora. He’s played great with replacing Jamaal Brown and i really think if he keeps this up we may have just replaced a Pro Bowl LT with another Pro Bowl LT what do you think Pat?
Pat Yasinskas: Kudos to Bushrod, who I think has played very well in stepping in for the injured Brown. He’s been more than adequate. But I wouldn’t go calling Bushrod a Pro Bowler just yet. He’s got to keep proving himself every week.
John in Oak Harbor, Wash. writes: I am a die-hard Saints fan, and I appreciate everything Drew Brees has done for the team and the city, but I wanted to point out that even though he is the corner stone of the offense, the Saints are better off when he passes less. THAT'S RIGHT, I SAID IT!!! He led the team to an 8-8 record last year while leading the league in attempts (635.) In 2009, the Saints are 5-0, and he is ranked 20th in the league in attempts (159.) I know that his ridiculous amount of passing didn't lead to the eight losses, but it seems that his passer rating is soaring because he no longer has to shoulder the burden. Also, I just wanted to say thanks for the good work. Even when you had the Saints ranked third in your pre-season rankings, you had a way of making it not sound that bad.
Pat Yasinskas: Well, I had the Saints third, but I did mention they could be better if their defense got better. The defense is markedly better and the Saints have answered all my questions. As for your theory on Brees, I tend to agree. When you’re passing for 5,000 yards, that’s probably a sign that your team is behind a lot. The Saints recognized a need to improve the running game to balance out the offense and they went out and made it happen and it’s working out nicely.
METAIRIE, La. -- There was a moment that looked scarier than it actual was in the Saints' afternoon minicamp practice Saturday. Starting left tackle Jammal Brown limped off the field about halfway through the session, causing immediate speculation that he had injured his leg or back.
But that's not the case.
Coach Sean Payton just said Brown left because he was struggling with a stomach virus. Brown was taken to the locker room where he was receiving intravenous fluids. Payton also said running back Pierre Thomas suffered a bruised wrist, but was able to return to practice.
The Saints will finish their minicamp with a Sunday morning practice that's not open to the public.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
New Orleans tackle Jamaal Brown has been added to the NFC Pro Bowl roster as an injury replacement.
There's a bit of justice in that because Brown was selected as a starter in 2006, but had to pull out of the game in 2006 because of an injury. It also gives the Saints their second representative in the game. Quarterback Drew Brees previously was selected to the squad.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
Some notes from around the NFC South.
Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden said the Bucs got some good news on linebacker Derrick Brooks, who suffered a rib injury Sunday. Gruden said Brooks' injury isn't as serious as first thought. Brooks didn't practice, but Gruden said he's hopeful the linebacker can continue his streak of playing in every game since coming to the NFL in 1995.
Gruden also said he hopes Jeff Garcia (calf) will be ready to start Sunday. Garcia practiced on a limited basis, but the Bucs changed up their practice schedule a bit to get backups Brian Griese and Luke McCown some work with the first team. Defensive ends Gaines Adams and Stylez (formerly Greg) White and offensive lineman Jeremy Zuttah were limited in practice. Defensive tackles Jovan Haye and Chris Hovan, who had been bothered by injuries, were able to practice. Punter Josh Bidwell did not practice because of an illness.
Carolina's in danger of having a defensive starter miss a game for the first time this season. Defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu (ankle) missed Wednesday's practice. Offensive guard Keydrick Vincent (groin) also missed practice. Darwin Walker would be the likely starter if Kemoeatu can't go and Geoff Hangartner is the top backup at guard.
ESPN Stats & Information passed along some notes on Carolina's road record. The Panthers are 3-3 on the road, but the wins have come against teams (Chargers, Raiders and Packers) that currently are a combined 14-28. Carolina's three losses (all on the road) are against teams (Vikings, Bucs and Falcons) that currently have winning records. Carolina's losses have all been by double digits and quarterback Jake Delhomme has thrown just one touchdown in those three games. Delhomme's passer rating at home is 100.8. On the road, it's 63.3.
Left tackle Jammal Brown returned to practice after missing last week's game with an injury. The Saints also signed cornerback Michael Lehan off Miami's practice squad to fill the roster spot that came open after the Saints placed Reggie Bush on the injured reserve list.
For those who have been asking for Atlanta's playoff scenarios since about Week 10, the NFL finally has sent out an official list of ways the Falcons can get into the playoffs this week.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
Alternates for the Pro Bowl can be a little tricky to track down. Some teams announce them, and some teams don't (the latter philosophy is it works against a team in contract negotiations) and sometimes it takes a few days for all the alternates to become public.
Here's what I've been able to gather so far in terms of NFC South alternates for the Pro Bowl. Carolina's DeAngelo Williams is the first alternate at running back for the NFC. New Orleans' Jammal Brown is the first alternate at tackle and teammate Reggie Bush is first alternate as the kick returner. New Orleans' Jonathan Vilma is the second alternate at middle linebacker.
Still trying to find out if Atlanta has any alternates. I'm guessing defensive end John Abraham and quarterback Matt Ryan are alternates of some sort, but haven't been able to get confirmation on that. Also, still working on Tampa Bay and the complete list for Carolina.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
ATLANTA -- We've heard a lot about the rapid development of rookie quarterback Matt Ryan.
But how about the development of Atlanta's defense? A week after shutting out the Raiders, the Falcons have held the Saints' high-power offense to two first-half field goals. They've done it with a secondary that doesn't really have any big names and they've done it with starting cornerback Brent Grimes sitting out most of the first half with an ankle injury. Domonique Foxworth and rookie Chevis Jackson have been filling in and they're doing a solid job against Drew Brees and his receivers.
Atlanta's other starting cornerback, Chris Houston, just made one of the biggest defensive plays of the season. With the Saints facing a fourth-and-3 from the Atlanta 28-yard line late in the first half, New Orleans elected to go for a first down, instead of another field goal.
That didn't work out for the Saints because Houston stepped in and knocked down a pass for Marques Colston. One other very big reason the Atlanta defense is playing so well is defensive end John Abraham. Some critics have said Abraham's stats are misleading and that most of his sacks have come against bad teams.
Not sure if the Saints fall into that category, but they're usually very good at protecting Brees. That's not so today. Abraham has one sack (his 11th of the season) and has been putting pressure on Brees consistently. I've zeroed in on the battle between Abraham and left tackle Jammal Brown. Abraham's been winning it and has gotten several strong hits on Brees just as he released passes.
Abraham went down right at the end of the first half. We're not sure what the injury is yet and not sure if he'll play in the second half.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
With no team worse than 4-4 and three teams with winning records, the NFC South has had a very strong first half. You could assemble an all-star team from the division that would hold up pretty well against any of the seven others.
That's what I did. With some input from scouts and coaches, I assembled the All-NFC South midseason team. A couple of notes: When it came to picking positions like offensive tackle, linebacker and safety, I didn't necessarily break it down to left and right tackle, middle or outside linebacker or strong and free safety. I just went with the players who've been the best so far this season.
Here's the team:
Running back: Michael Turner, Falcons. Perhaps the best free-agent signing in the entire NFL.
Fullback: Ovie Mughelli, Falcons. Has only one carry, but he's been opening a lot of holes for Turner.
Wide receiver: Roddy White, Falcons. Emerged as a No. 1 receiver amid last year's turmoil. But, now, it really matters.
Wide receiver: Steve Smith, Panthers. Missed the first two games due to suspension, but he's still the most explosive player in the division.
Tight end: Alex Smith, Buccaneers. In a division where tight ends aren't big factors, Smith has been solid with three touchdowns and a two-point conversion.
Tackle: Jordan Gross, Panthers. Closest thing the division has to a dominant left tackle.
Tackle: Jamaal Brown, Saints. Not having his best season, but he's still a better-than-average left tackle. If you insist on a right tackle, Tampa Bay's Jeremy Trueblood would get the nod because of his run blocking.
Guard: Jahri Evans, Saints. Most consistent player on a line that keeps Brees from rarely getting pressure.
Center: Jeff Faine, Buccaneers. Tampa Bay made him the league's highest-paid center and he hasn't disappointed.
End: John Abraham, Falcons. Already has 10 sacks and Falcons have done a good job of keeping him fresh by limiting his snaps.
End: Julius Peppers, Panthers. At times, he's looked like the dominant player of old, which is much more than he did last year. He gets a slight nod over Tampa Bay's Gaines Adams, who is emerging fast.
Tackle: Jonathan Babineaux, Falcons. Quietly has anchored the interior of a defensive line that's been far better than anybody expected.
Tackle: Chris Hovan, Buccaneers. Not spectacular by any means, but the Bucs have yet to allow an opposing running back to gain 100 yards.
Linebacker: Barrett Ruud, Buccaneers. He's having a breakout year and continues to get better.
Linebacker: Derrick Brooks, Buccaneers. Yes, New Orleans' Jonathan Vilma, Carolina's Thomas Davis and Atlanta's Michael Boley and Curtis Lofton got strong consideration here and putting any of them on this team would be valid. But Brooks gets the nod for lifetime achievement, leadership and for helping the development of Ruud.
Cornerback: Chris Gamble, Panthers. Very quietly, he's become a shutdown corner.
Cornerback: Ken Lucas, Panthers. Has been solid on the field. But his acceptance of Steve Smith's apology for a fight in training camp has brought harmony in Carolina.
Safety: Tanard Jackson, Buccaneers. He's got a knack for being in the right place at the right time. Isn't that what you want from a safety?
Safety: Chris Harris, Panthers. He's always been a big hitter, but his pass coverage has improved dramatically this year.
Kicker: Matt Bryant, Buccaneers. His only misses have come from 49, 51 and 51 yards and his strong performance days after losing his son was one of the most impressive games any player has had this season.
Punter: Josh Bidwell, Buccaneers. Already has put 18 punts inside the 20-yard line.
Return man: Reggie Bush, Saints. He's returned three punts for touchdowns and has the potential to score any time he touches the ball.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
With ESPN.com's new NFL Blog Network, I've decided to do something that's never been done before. I'm going to pick a preseason All-NFC South team.
We'll start with the offense today, unveil the defense tomorrow and, after the season, we'll go back and do it all over again -- when it actually will be based on production, not speculation.
QUARTERBACK: Drew Brees, New Orleans
Jake Delhomme and Jeff Garcia also have been to the Pro Bowl and they could get there again this year. But Brees is the safest choice of the four quarterbacks because there are no questions about his health or age.
RUNNING BACK: Michael Turner, Atlanta
I know, Turner's never been a starter before and the Falcons probably aren't going to be very good. But, remember, this is all speculative. Besides, there aren't a lot of choices here. If this were a lifetime achievement award, Deuce McAllister and Warrick Dunn would be worthy. But it remains to be seen how healthy McAllister is and Dunn may be nothing more than a third-down back. Reggie Bush and DeAngelo Williams are question marks and I'm not going to anoint Carolina rookie Jonathan Stewart before he's ever taken a snap, although I think he's going to be good. Tampa Bay's Earnest Graham is solid, but there's not much upside. I'm going with Turner because there aren't questions about his age or health and he's got upside.
FULLBACK: Mike Karney, New Orleans
Close call here because Carolina's Brad Hoover, Atlanta's Ovie Mughelli and Tampa Bay's B.J. Askew are all pretty much the same guy as Karney. They're all solid blockers and none of them are real threats with the ball. Karney gets the nod because he's got an All-Pro selection (2006, second team) on his resume.
TIGHT END: Jeremy Shockey, New Orleans
This is the easiest choice on the entire offense. Shockey's the only true pass-catching threat in the division at this position.
Roddy White and Joey Galloway also got consideration, but you can't beat Smith and Colston. In fact, if you could put them together, their contrasting size and style might make the perfect receiver duo.
CENTER: Jeff Faine, Tampa Bay
The Bucs paid him a ton of money to anchor their offensive line. Faine's a pro's pro and he's already become the leader of this line.
Very quietly, Evans has developed into a very solid player. Blalock gets the nod over Tampa Bay's Davin Joseph, who is out with a broken foot. Blalock's only a second-year pro, but the Falcons are expecting big things from him. Blalock's presence at left guard is one reason why the Falcons are comfortable starting rookie Sam Baker at left tackle.
Yeah, I know, they're both left tackles. But this is a paper team and there's flexibility. Besides, Gross has spent a large chunk of his career on the right side. If this team ever had to take the field, I'd put Gross on the right side and Brown on the left because they're the two best tackles in the division.
KICKER: Carolina's John Kasay
Until he had a dismal preseason, Tampa Bay's Matt Bryant would have been in the argument. Atlanta's Jason Elam also got strong consideration. Bottom line: If I needed someone to kick a field goal to win a game, Kasay's the guy.