NFC South: Jamar Williams

Carolina inactives and lineup changes

October, 10, 2010
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- As expected, the Panthers will be without injured receiver Steve Smith, safety Sherrod Martin and offensive tackle Jeff Otah.

Those three highlight Carolina’s list of inactives, which also includes running back Tyrell Sutton, linebacker Jamar Williams, center Chris Morris and defensive tackle Andre Neblett.

David Gettis will start in Smith’s place and Geoff Schwartz will start for Otah. The Panthers have not announced who will start in Martin’s spot at free safety, but it’s likely to be rookie Jordan Pugh.

Dwayne Jarrett active for Panthers

October, 3, 2010
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NEW ORLEANS – Looks like the Carolina Panthers are pulling out their secret weapon against the New Orleans Saints.

At least technically, wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett is listed as active today. We’ll see how active Jarrett is, but I wouldn’t expect his career to suddenly take off or for him to get significant playing time. Jarrett, a second-round pick in 2007, was inactive last week and hasn’t been much of a factor throughout his career.

Speaking of highly-drafted receivers that haven’t done much, rookie Armanti Edwards is inactive for the fourth straight week.

Also inactive for the Panthers are running back Tyrell Sutton, linebacker Jamar Williams, offensive lineman Chris Morris, defensive tackle Andre Neblett and offensive tackle Jeff Otah.

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.

Ranking the NFC South linebackers

August, 27, 2010
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The linebackers are next in our series of NFC South position rankings and this one took a lot longer and was way more agonizing than our previous installments on safeties and cornerbacks.

It started right at the very top because this division has two linebackers I’d put up against anybody. Everyone knows Jonathan Vilma and Jon Beason are absolutely great. But how the heck do you pick between the two? I don’t want to overdramatize this, but my gut said this was like picking between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson or Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio. You make a call, but there’s a part of you that feels like you’re slighting the other guy.

For all of these rankings, I rely on conversations with coaches, personnel guys and players to make my decision. When it came down to making the call between Beason and Vilma, I reached for the phone and made even more calls. The sources are anonymous, but I called some high-ranking people that I trust most on this one and they also were torn.

I took what they said, processed it and analyzed it and came to the decision that ultimately was mine. Here it is:
    [+] EnlargeJon Beason
    Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesJon Beason edged out New Orleans' Jonathan Vilma as best linebacker in the division by a hair.

  1. Jon Beason, Panthers. What it really came down to was this: I viewed Beason and Vilma as equals in virtually every sense based on the past. These rankings are based to some degree on projections for the 2010 season and that’s where I saw a slight edge emerge. Beason is moving from middle linebacker to the weak side and that’s very significant because coordinator Ron Meeks runs a Tampa Two defense. In that scheme, the weakside linebacker takes on huge importance. Think of Derrick Brooks in the Tampa Bay glory days. Beason might not have the supporting cast around him that Brooks did, but he’s going to have a chance to make more tackles and more big plays than he did in the middle.
  2. Jonathan Vilma, Saints. You couldn’t ask for a more complete middle linebacker and that’s a very important spot in New Orleans’ scheme. I don’t know that there’s a smarter defensive player in the division. Vilma also is a fantastic leader. Not sure if this works as a consolation prize for Vilma, but I’ll say something I never thought I would. As someone who was born and raised hearing and seeing Penn State called Linebacker U., I’ll admit Beason and Vilma have forced me to give the nod to Miami -- at least for the moment.
  3. Curtis Lofton, Falcons. This guy makes me worry that I’ll be trying to sort out a three-way race at this time next year. Lofton had a very good rookie year, got better in his second year and everybody I talk to believes he’s ready to step to the elite level this year. Much like Vilma, he’s a middle linebacker that can do it all.
  4. Geno Hayes, Buccaneers. This may come as a shock to some Tampa Bay fans who believe Barrett Ruud is the Buccaneers best linebacker. That’s no knock on Ruud and we’ll come to him very soon. But the people around One Buccaneer Place keep singing Hayes’ praises and they’re all saying he’s poised for a breakout season. Hayes is going to be an every-down linebacker. Now that the Bucs are back to playing the Tampa Two scheme, Hayes should be in position to make a lot of big plays.
  5. Barrett Ruud, Buccaneers. Ruud does what he’s supposed to do in this system. He makes tackles and he should make more this year because the Bucs did him a favor by putting so much emphasis on adding defensive tackles early in the draft. Ruud’s been wanting a contract extension for some time and it hasn’t happened. If he goes out and makes some big plays and shows he’s the leader of the defense, he might get his wish. But the middle linebacker in the true Tampa Two isn’t the most important guy on the field.
  6. Dan Connor, Panthers. Before you go bringing up the Penn State angle, you should know this. Two of my panelists urged me to put Connor ahead of Ruud. I went against them because Ruud has a track record and Connor really doesn’t. The Panthers are throwing him into the middle and we’ll see how he does. But Carolina wouldn’t have moved Beason to the weak side to take the spot of the injured Thomas Davis (he'd be high on this list if he were playing) unless the coaching staff had a lot of faith in Connor.
  7. [+] EnlargeJonathan Casillas
    David Butler II/US PresswireJonathan Casillas is replacing Scott Fujita on the outside of the Saints' linebacking corps.

  8. Jonathan Casillas, Saints. This is a bit of a leap, but I saw very good things out of Casillas in training camp and early in the preseason. He moves well and he tackles well and I don’t think the Saints are going to miss Scott Fujita all that much. It also won’t hurt Casillas that he’ll be lining up next to Vilma.
  9. Sean Weatherspoon, Falcons. He’s a rookie, but he’s incredibly talented. The Falcons say he can play the strong side or the weak side equally well. My guess is Weatherspoon ends up starting on the strong side and making an immediate contribution.
  10. Mike Peterson, Falcons. He’s a question mark as he nears the end of his career. But the Falcons believe Peterson has at least a year in him. Their sudden depth at linebacker might cut into his versatility.
  11. Stephen Nicholas, Falcons. He started last year and was average. With Nicholas and Coy Wire, the Falcons think they have quality linebacker depth. If Nicholas ends up starting again, the Falcons wouldn’t be all that upset.
  12. James Anderson, Panthers. He’ll get the first shot at the starting job on the strong side. Anderson’s been a quality backup and special-teams player and we’ll find out if he can do more than that.
  13. Quincy Black, Buccaneers. The Bucs have been praising Black just as much as Hayes. But there’s one difference. Hayes will stay on the field with Ruud when the Bucs go to their nickel package.
  14. Scott Shanle, Saints. A very dependable veteran and he helped the Saints win the Super Bowl last season. But Shanle’s skills as a run defender might be starting to erode.
  15. Jamar Williams, Panthers. While Anderson will open as the starter on the strong side, he hasn’t really distanced himself from Williams. If Anderson stumbles at all, the Panthers won’t hesitate to start Williams.
Previous position rankings:
ESPN.com NFL Power Ranking (pre-camp): 22

SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- In the kindest of terms, fans and media are referring to the Carolina Panthers as a team in a youth movement.

There’s some basis for that as they opened camp with the league’s third-youngest roster after saying farewell to popular veterans such as Julius Peppers, Jake Delhomme and Brad Hoover.

In the harshest of terms, fans and media have referred to those departures as a “bloodletting’’ and are talking about the Panthers as a team without an identity, a team that’s not going to be very good.

Now, let’s turn to two guys who beg to differ.

“How do you say we’re going through a youth movement, when we beat those teams late in the season using the same key components?’’ running back DeAngelo Williams said. “People can say what they want to say. But we know what it takes to win and we have what it takes to win.’’

“The way I look at it is, I like our core guys,’’ linebacker Jon Beason said. “I think we have a great nucleus. Now we’re looking for a few good men, a few young guys who are talented. For those young guys, it’s an opportunity to come in and do great things.’’

Maybe Beason and Williams have valid points. They’re two team leaders with a pretty good feel for the pulse of the locker room. They also have impressive résumés. Williams was one of two Carolina running backs (Jonathan Stewart was the other) to run for 1,100 yards last season. Scouts, coaches and players everywhere will tell you Beason is one of the best linebackers in the NFL.

Can you really call the Panthers a team without a face?

That’s kind of a difficult statement to make when you look at Carolina’s roster and see Beason and Williams. Then, keep looking and you see Stewart, left tackle Jordan Gross, center Ryan Kalil, right tackle Jeff Otah, receiver Steve Smith and cornerbacks Chris Gamble and Richard Marshall. Those are all guys the Panthers view as core players. Look around the league and see how many teams have that many core players in place.

“There are question marks, sure,’’ coach John Fox said. “Anytime you have question marks, the expectations on the outside might not be that high. But on the inside, we know we’ve got some very good core players and those core players are going to have to have big seasons.

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeMatt Moore
Sam Sharpe/US PresswireThe Panthers' confidence in quarterback Matt Moore appears to be growing.
1. Can this team win with Matt Moore as the quarterback? Let’s cut to the chase. This team already has won with Moore as the quarterback. Moore started the final five games of last season after Delhomme was injured. The Panthers won four of those games and Moore looked sharp the entire time.

Sure, that’s not the longest of track records and the Panthers did draft Jimmy Clausen in the second round. But this isn’t the Carolina camp of 2001, where the Panthers were kind of expecting Jeff Lewis to fail and to hand the job to rookie Chris Weinke.

Williams’ point about the youth movement taking place last year might be right. Moore won this job with his play down the stretch and, so far in camp, the team’s confidence in him is only growing.

“Matt Moore is a gamer,’’ Williams said. “When he mentally locks in, the game comes easy for him. All quarterbacks in the league are pretty much the same. They can all throw the ball or they wouldn’t be here. The thing that separates the good ones from the bad ones is decision making. Matt Moore can make decisions. Matt’s going to be fine.’’

Let’s keep one other thing in mind. With an excellent offensive line, two very good running backs and Smith at wide receiver, Moore has a pretty strong supporting cast. He doesn’t need to be Peyton Manning or Drew Brees. He just needs to keep mistakes to a minimum and the job can be his as long as he wants.

2. Can the defensive line be any good? For much of Fox’s tenure, the defensive line has been the foundation of the team. But Peppers was the last in a line of supernovas that used to include Mike Rucker, Kris Jenkins and Brentson Buckner. There are no current stars on this defensive front.

But Fox and the Panthers don’t appear to view that as a bad thing. They’re not expecting any single guy to come in and replace Peppers. They believe they can get quality out of quantity and are hoping the defensive front can attack in waves. They’ve got high hopes for Charles Johnson and Everette Brown, and rookies Eric Norwood and Greg Hardy have been very impressive in camp. They brought back Tyler Brayton for a bit of continuity, but they feel they’ve got some pass-rushers who can emerge.

They also have a better feeling about defensive tackles Louis Leonard, Tank Tyler and Ed Johnson than a lot of people realize. This might not be the traditional Fox defensive front with a huge run-stuffer in the middle and a big name on the outside. But, keep in mind, the Panthers brought in Ron Meeks as defensive coordinator last year and his system is based more on speed than power up front.

“We were eighth in the league in defense a year ago with a new scheme,’’ Fox said. “It’s kind of early to tell, but we should be better with our scheme the second time around.’’

[+] EnlargeJohn Fox
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonJohn Fox owns a 71-57 record in eight seasons with the Panthers.
3. Does all this talk about Fox being in the last year of his contract really make a difference? Not at all. Fox is a creature of habit and he’s going to coach the way he always has coached.

He’s a confident guy with a pretty solid résumé. He’s not losing sleep because he knows he can get another job if it comes to that. But he wants to make it work in Carolina, a place where his family has set down roots. Keep in mind, Fox never has had a truly bad season. There have been some disappointing years, but the record’s always been close to or above .500. He’s sometimes stumbled a bit when expectations were high, but he always has done his best job when people weren’t counting on much out of the Panthers.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Greg Hardy. The defensive end was a sixth-round draft pick because his college career didn’t end all that well. But the Panthers took a shot because they thought there was uncommon physical talent sitting out there late in the draft. So far, they feel as if they might have hit a home run. Hardy has looked great in camp. Coaches are noticing him and so are other players. There were some questions about Hardy’s ability to focus on football at the pro level. But so far, so good on that end. Brayton, Johnson and Brown are competing for the starting jobs, but Hardy appears to be carving out some playing time.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Dwayne Jarrett. As they’ve been doing for his entire career, the Panthers are hoping the light suddenly comes on for this wide receiver. He’s still running with the first team, but all indications are it’s just not happening for Jarrett. There’s still some work to be done and polish to be added, but the Panthers are starting to think rookie Brandon LaFell is their best option at the starting position opposite Smith. Jarrett basically is fighting for a roster spot at this point. The fact he’s still making mental mistakes this far into his career means there’s a good chance he’s gone before the preseason is over.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Clausen
Sam Sharpe/US PresswireCarolina has been pleased with how Jimmy Clausen has looked in the early part of camp.
OBSERVATION DECK

  • As mentioned above, the Panthers are singing Moore’s praises and that’s all very legitimate. But behind the scenes, the Panthers also are thrilled with what they’ve seen from Clausen. His physical skills and mechanics are as solid as expected and Clausen’s doing everything right on and off the field. There’s not a sense of urgency to play him because Moore has looked so solid. But the Panthers believe they got a steal when they took Clausen in the second round.
  • There’s been a lot of hype about third-round draft pick Armanti Edwards. Understandable because he was a college quarterback and came from Appalachian State, which automatically makes him popular in the Carolinas. The Panthers aren’t disappointed with Edwards by any means, but the reality is he’s just feeling his way as a receiver and a return man. Don’t look for him to be a huge contributor instantly. There’s big upside here because Edwards is so dynamic and he might be in a few packages early on. But it’s going to take some time for him to become a staple in this offense.
  • The Panthers let go of Keydrick Vincent, who played every snap at right guard last season, for a reason. He was older and they had Duke Robinson waiting in the wings. Coaches, players and the front office believe Robinson can be a punishing run-blocker. Put him on the right side with Otah and the Panthers believe that side of the line can be just as good as the left, where Gross and Travelle Wharton are outstanding.
  • If you’re looking for a long shot to make the roster, I’ll throw out Trent Guy’s name. This is a tiny wide receiver, but every time I looked up during my visit to Wofford College, Guy seemed to be making a play. He’s got rare speed and good hands, and also could be a factor in the return game.
  • Thomas Davis, who had major knee surgery in June, has been hanging around at camp and working hard at his rehab. The Panthers haven’t ruled out a possible return for him later this season, but I don't see that happening for a guy who has torn his ACL twice in less than a year. The Panthers wouldn’t have moved Beason from the middle to the weak side unless they thought he’d stay there for the long haul. At the moment, they’re happy with what they’ve seen from Dan Connor in the middle and James Anderson on the strong side. That better stay that way because, aside from Jamar Williams, there’s no real depth at linebacker.
  • A lot of people have questioned why the Panthers would take Beason out of the middle where he’s been such a dominant player. The answer is simple. Under Meeks, the Panthers run the “Tampa 2’’ defense. In that scheme, everything goes through the Will linebacker. Think Derrick Brooks.

NFC South mailbag

July, 26, 2010
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John in Denver writes: This past off season the focus has been on the Falcons pass rush. My take has been that the overwhelming consensus has been they should have taken a DE. The Falcons focused more on the interior. My questions is why doesn't that count? A surge in the line is a surge in the line. If the DT's are causing havoc then the DE's should have more opportunities. Am I missing something? Why no love for the DT's?

Pat Yasinskas: It’s a natural question for the national media. The Falcons didn’t have much of a pass rush last year and they didn’t go out and get any big names at defensive end. That said, you’ve got a point. They should be stronger in the middle of the defensive line and that should help the guys on the outside. That’s the logic the Falcons followed and we’ll see how it works out.


Jacob in Atlanta writes: You used the word peripatetic to describe T.O. recently. Here's what dictionary.com says: ?adjective 1. walking or traveling about; itinerant. 2. ( initial capital letter ) of or pertaining to Aristotle, who taught philosophy while walking in the Lyceum of ancient Athens. 3. ( initial capital letter ) of or pertaining to the Aristotelian school of philosophy. I hardly think T.O. and Aristotle are similar!

Pat Yasinskas: Actually, it was my colleague, good friend and mentor Len Pasquarelli who used that word to describe Terrell Owens. Len has a much more expansive vocabulary than I do. I never would have used the term “peripatetic’’ to describe anyone because I’ve got no idea what the word means. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever noticed the word until you brought it to my attention.


Glenn in Rock Hill, S.C. writes: My question is do you see Derrick Ward breaking out this year being in a system for a full offseason and seeing it go into effect from training camp throughout the year(Jeff Jagodzski incident)?

Pat Yasinskas: No question the Bucs didn’t get as much out of Ward as they were hoping for when they signed him last year. But part of that was because Cadillac Williams made such a strong return from injury and is a favorite of the coaching staff. That staff wasn’t enamored by what it saw out of Ward last year. There still is some talent there, but Ward needs to show a lot more in camp to earn more playing time.


Mike in Pittsburgh: In reading a lot of previews for the Panthers, I notice that people are down on the linebacking corps after Thomas Davis's injury. While I agree it is a loss, I also remember that the Panthers D played its best football *after* he went to IR (This is not even mentioning Na'il Diggs was out with injury frequently too). Point being, our great depth at the position really helped us out there. Now, we've added two good pieces in Eric Norwood and Jamar Williams, yet people still seem to think that losing Davis is the difference between our LBs being average and great. Am I alone in thinking this is something of an overreaction?

Pat Yasinskas: There’s no question losing Davis hurts. He’s a great player. But it’s not like the cupboard is bare. Jon Beason is a top-notch linebacker and linebackers always seem to play well in John Fox’s defense. There might be a little dropoff without Davis, but Norwood, Williams, James Anderson and Dan Connor give the Panthers some decent options.


Vinnie in Atlanta writes: I like the Falcons' and Bucs' new unis, but the throwbacks they wore last year were cool. I could see visions of Steve Bartkowski in the Falcons' throwbacks, and who doesn't like the creamsicle Bucs' throwback if only for a couple of games. Are there any plans to wear these unis this year? As you know, teams do this to sell more merchandise.

Pat Yasinskas: Yes, the Bucs plan to wear their throwback uniforms for the game against Atlanta when they induct John McKay into the team’s Ring of Honor. The Falcons will not wear throwbacks for that game. But stay tuned. I think there might be an announcement coming about Atlanta wearing throwbacks for a home game.

NFC South training camp preview

July, 23, 2010
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The good news for the New Orleans Saints is they are defending Super Bowl champions. The bad news is that’s not a great spot to be in in the NFC South.

The 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who won the Super Bowl, and the 2003 Carolina Panthers, who lost it, didn’t even make the playoffs the following year. Since the division came into existence in 2002, there has been no such thing as a dynasty in the NFC South. No team has won the division crown in back-to-back seasons.

The Saints, who already have re-written history, will have to do it again if they want to stay on top. But the Atlanta Falcons might not be far behind, the Panthers have enough talent to be dangerous and the Buccaneers almost have to be better than last season.

We’ll find out soon enough if anyone can challenge the Saints. The test begins next week when all four NFC South teams report to training camp.

FOUR BIG QUESTIONS

Falcons: What does John Abraham have left?

[+] EnlargeJohn Abraham
Dale Zanine/US PresswireThe Falcons are confident defensive end John Abraham still has something left in the tank.
For the past couple of years, the 32-year-old defensive end has been one of those guys who doesn’t practice all the time because the Falcons go out of their way to keep him healthy and fresh. That plan isn’t likely to change this season, but the Falcons will be keeping a very close eye on Abraham in camp.

His sack total dipped from 16.5 in 2008 to 5.5 last season. The obvious question is if Abraham is on the last legs of his career. Despite the statistical evidence, the Falcons believe there’s something left. After closely watching film of Abraham from last season, the coaches firmly believe Abraham can get back to double-digit sacks. Part of their thinking is he’ll benefit from improved play from the interior of the defensive line and that Kroy Biermann and Lawrence Sidbury are ready to generate pressure from the other side. Recent history has shown the Falcons are willing to make deals late in the preseason (trading for cornerbacks Domonique Foxworth and Tye Hill) if they feel they have a weakness. But they’re hoping Abraham shows enough in camp to convince them the pass rush will be adequate.

Panthers: What must Matt Moore do to win the starting quarterback job?

A lot of people believe this training camp will be highlighted by a battle between Moore and rookie Jimmy Clausen. That’s not really the case -- or at least not how Carolina’s brass views the situation. The truth is the Panthers are going to camp with every intention of Moore being the starter. He earned that much by playing well at the end of last season.

Coach John Fox isn’t about to open the season with a rookie starting at quarterback. He could turn to Clausen later in the season if things aren’t going well. But the immediate starting job is Moore’s, and the only way he can lose it is to have a disastrous training camp and preseason.

Saints: Are the Saints ready for a return to the “real’’ world?

Rightfully so, the Saints spent a lot of time this offseason celebrating their first Super Bowl title. Great for them and great for their fans. But all that’s about to end. Coach Sean Payton runs what I think is easily the toughest camp in the NFC South, and I don’t anticipate that changing. If anything, camp might be tougher this year.

Payton is an excellent motivator and he’s well aware the Saints now are the jewel on the schedule of every opposing team. The track record of Super Bowl champions in the following season hasn’t been all that impressive in recent years. Payton knows that, and you can bet that message is going to be conveyed to his team. A big part of the reason the Saints won the Super Bowl last season is because they had such a tough and productive camp.

Buccaneers: Who are the starting wide receivers?

The Bucs truly don’t know the answer to that question right now and that’s not a bad thing. The plan is to throw all the receivers out there in camp, let them compete and see who rises up. A lot of fans were frustrated and puzzled when the Bucs let Antonio Bryant walk in free agency, leaving the team without a clear-cut No. 1 receiver. But the Bucs believe they’re better off without Bryant, who wasn’t all that productive last season and didn’t endear himself to the front office or coaching staff when he made public comments about the coaches and quarterback Josh Freeman that were far from flattering.

The Bucs used early draft picks on Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams. It’s likely at least one of them will start right away. Veterans Reggie Brown, Michael Clayton and Maurice Stovall will compete for the other job. If both rookies look good in camp, it’s possible they could be the starters because there isn’t much upside with Brown, Clayton or Stovall. Second-year pro Sammie Stroughter also is in the mix. But, ideally, the Bucs would like to use him as the slot receiver.

HOTTEST SEATS

Falcons: Brian VanGorder. The defensive coordinator has done a nice job of working with the talent he’s had the past two seasons. The Falcons haven’t always had the talent to play the kind of defense coach Mike Smith and Van Gorder want and they’ve gotten by with patchwork. But those days are over. Last year’s top picks, defensive tackle Peria Jerry and safety William Moore, return after missing almost all their rookie seasons with injuries and the Falcons used their top two picks this year on linebacker Sean Weatherspoon and defensive tackle Corey Peters. They also spent a fortune signing cornerback Dunta Robinson. Although questions remain about the pass rush, the Falcons have the talent to play their scheme. That means the defense must take a big step forward.

Panthers: Dwayne Jarrett. A former second-round pick, Jarrett has not had much of an impact. With Muhsin Muhammad retired and Steve Smith expected to miss most of training camp with a broken arm, Jarrett is going to get a very long look in training camp. In a best-case scenario, Jarrett finally reaches his potential and earns the starting wide receiver job across from Smith. For that to happen, Jarrett must show an attention to detail and consistency; both have been lacking from his game. The Panthers drafted Brandon LaFell and Armanti Edwards early because they’re not sure if Jarrett ever will blossom.

Darren Sharper
Jeff Fishbein/Icon SMIIf Darren Sharper isn't 100 percent healthy, he might not be the starter for the Saints.
Saints: Darren Sharper. The safety had a brilliant 2009 season. Sharper instantly became a fan favorite, but his lock on the starting job at free safety isn’t nearly as secure as many people think. Sharper is 34 and coming off knee surgery. We don’t even know if he physically will be able to do much during training camp. The Saints have moved Malcolm Jenkins, a first-round pick a year ago, from cornerback to safety. A lot of fans view Sharper as the Drew Brees of the defense, but I’m not so sure the coaching staff ever has seen it that way, and the Saints didn’t break the bank to re-sign Sharper in the offseason. If he’s 100 percent healthy, Sharper could stay in the starting lineup. Anything less and the Saints won’t hesitate to go with Jenkins.

Buccaneers: Ryan Sims. He was a starter with Chris Hovan at defensive tackle the past few years. The Bucs got rid of Hovan as soon as they could after last season. With the team using its top two picks on defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price, Sims can’t be feeling too secure. With Roy Miller also in the mix and the Bucs in a full-blown youth movement, Sims needs a strong camp just to secure a roster spot.

SECRET WEAPON

Under-the-radar player to keep an eye out for in camp: Clifton Smith, return man/running back, Buccaneers. It may seem like a stretch to call a guy who has been to a Pro Bowl an under-the-radar player, but Smith fits the profile. After missing most of the second half of last season with concussion problems, Smith has sort of been forgotten. That might be a mistake. Smith established himself as a top-notch return man when he made the Pro Bowl in his rookie season two years ago and helped ease the colossal mistake in which the Bucs drafted Dexter Jackson in the second round. When the new coaching staff took over last season, there was some talk about getting Smith more involved on offense. That got derailed by his injuries, but the plan could get back on track this year. Cadillac Williams is the main running back in Tampa Bay, but you could start to see Smith get some action as a situational player. With his speed, he could be an explosive receiver out of the backfield and also might be able to handle a few carries a game.

BEST POSITION BATTLE

It’s not an offensive skill position, so it won’t be flashy. But the best position battle in the NFC South will be sorted out in Spartanburg, S.C., as the Carolina Panthers try to figure what to do with their linebackers. This was supposed to be a spot with enormous strength, but an offseason knee injury to Thomas Davis has turned this into a huge question. Davis probably will miss the entire season, throwing the linebacker corps into a state of uncertainty.

The only thing that’s certain is that Jon Beason remains one of the best linebackers in the league and the unquestioned leader of this defense. But the Panthers aren’t even sure where Beason will line up. He has been fantastic in the middle, but he may move to Davis’ spot on the weak side. In what essentially amounts to a game of musical chairs, the Panthers are looking at four linebackers and trying to figure out the strongest starting trio. One reason they’re considering moving Beason is because they believe Dan Connor can be solid in the middle. He’ll get a chance to prove that in camp.

But the Panthers also will be keeping a close eye on outside linebackers Jamar Williams and James Anderson. If they both rise up, Beason could remain in the middle. If Connor rises up and the Panthers aren’t comfortable with Williams and Anderson as their starters on the outside, they won’t hesitate to move Beason.

Scouts Inc.'s look at Carolina's LBs

June, 28, 2010
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Scouts Inc. takes a look at the linebacker position for the Panthers in the wake of losing Thomas Davis for the season to a knee injury. Despite the loss of Davis, Matt Williamson is high on Carolina's linebackers, and he examines who might start where as the team replaces Davis in the starting line-up. Williamson:
The acquisition of Jamar Williams was extremely timely and he will make the loss [of Davis] more bearable. Williams didn't play a ton of snaps for the Chicago Bears, as Lance Briggs is entrenched on the weak side in Chicago. When Williams did get on the field, he played exceptionally well. As much as I like Davis, the drop-off might not be massive.

The other option on the weak side is to move superstar MLB Jon Beason to that spot. Beason is one of the top middle linebackers in the game today and very adept at making all the defensive calls and adjustments. Surely he could handle those responsibilities from the weak side. With Williams now in the fold, I would be in favor of leaving Beason in the middle. Beason did begin his career on the weak side while Dan Morgan manned the middle for Carolina. But playing the vast majority of his time in the middle, Beason has accumulated a whopping 420 tackles in his three NFL seasons. He is an elite football player.

If Beason were to move outside, that would open up the middle for Dan Connor. An instinctive player, Connor is a good tackler and always around the ball. To me, this comes down to who is the better player: Connor or Williams? Give me Williams, but that doesn't mean that Connor has to stand on the sidelines holding his helmet all game, either.

Read the rest of the article here. Insider

Hitting the links

June, 19, 2010
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Here’s another article that suggests the Panthers could move Jon Beason from middle linebacker to the weak side now that Thomas Davis is hurt again. Let me just emphasize again this is only a possibility. The Panthers have lots of options at linebacker with James Anderson and Jamar Williams as candidates to play on the outside and Dan Connor on the inside. What the Panthers have to decide on is which balancing act gives them their three best linebackers on the field.

New Orleans receiver Lance Moore officially signed his tender as a restricted free agent. There still remains the possibility the Saints could work a long-term deal with him. Moore attended offseason workouts, unlike some of the other New Orleans restricted free agents, and that fact may help his cause.

Tampa Bay co-chairman Bryan Glazer spoke at a Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce gathering Friday. He addressed the possibility of an 18-game season, said local television blackouts could be a reality this season and said the team is committed to building with youth. The Glazers get knocked quite a bit for not talking very often. There’s been a subtle change in philosophies and you’re going to see the Glazers become a bit more visible in the public eye. They’re not going to suddenly turn into Jerry Jones or Dan Snyder, but you’re going to see more of them than you have in the past.

The Bucs released linebacker Angelo Crowell. He’ll go down as one of the worst free-agent signings in franchise history. The Bucs didn’t pay Crowell a ton of money when they first signed him, but they thought he had a chance to start. He had some injuries and contributed absolutely nothing to Tampa Bay.

Atlanta owner Arthur Blank has been chosen to receive the Four Pillar Award.

On the radar: Jamar Williams

June, 10, 2010
6/10/10
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» 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.

As recently as a couple of days ago, Jamar Williams looked like a backup linebacker and special-teams player for the Carolina Panthers. Now, he could be a starter.

[+] EnlargeJamar Williams
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesJamar Williams has a chance to earn a starting role with the Panthers.
Williams seemed almost like a throw-in (a body to complete the deal) when the Panthers traded away safety Chris Harris to the Chicago Bears. But, as of today, Williams is looking like a possible starter at weakside linebacker.

With Thomas Davis suffering his second torn ACL in less than a year, the Panthers suddenly are looking for a starter and Williams may be their safest option. Although rookie Eric Norwood and some other young players could be factors, Williams is the most experienced of the candidates to replace Davis.

He’s only 25, but Williams spent four seasons with the Bears. He has started only three games in his career, but he was the top backup to Lance Briggs and got a lot of playing time, making 43 tackles. At 6-foot and 237 pounds, Williams fits Carolina’s profile of linebackers who aren’t huge, but can run.

Williams has shown the ability to cover tight ends and running backs in the passing game. He may not be a playmaker like Davis, but Williams remains a bit of an unknown and there could be an upside. Briggs prevented Williams from really getting a chance in Chicago.

But Davis’ injury is going to give Williams a chance to raise his profile in Carolina.
The Carolina Panthers took the biggest hit of any NFC South team this offseason Wednesday as linebacker Thomas Davis confirmed he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

That’s the same knee Davis tore up last season as he was emerging as one of the division’s best defensive players. It’s likely Davis, who signed a $3.3 million tender as a restricted free agent, will miss the entire 2010 season.

Davis suffered the second injury in a Tuesday workout.

With James Anderson expected to move into a starting job at one outside linebacker spot, the Panthers have veteran Jamar Williams and a host of young linebackers as candidates to take Davis’ spot. Dan Connor, who has been working at backup middle linebacker, now could become a candidate to move outside.

Previewing Panthers' minicamp

April, 28, 2010
4/28/10
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I'll be heading to Charlotte for this weekend's minicamp with the Panthers. It's going to be a little bit of a strange atmosphere up there because, for a change, the Panthers won't be the biggest story in Charlotte.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Clausen
Matt Cashore/US PresswireHow Jimmy Clausen fits in with teammates could have a bearing on the QB competition in Charlotte.
Tiger Woods is in town. He's playing in a pro-am today that also features Carolina coach John Fox, who by all accounts, can swing the sticks pretty well. But I still think Jimmy Clausen's going to get his share of attention this weekend.

Here are five things I'll be paying particular attention to at Carolina's minicamp:

1. Clausen. Although he fell to the second round, Clausen's still the biggest-name quarterback to come to the Panthers since Chris Weinke. All right, that's not exactly a flattering comparison. But Clausen comes with a lot of hype and it won't just be the media watching his every move. If this guy's going to have a shot to beat out Matt Moore from the start, he's going to have to fit in the locker room. Clausen's got a reputation for being selfish. Moore's very well liked in that locker room. Besides showing passing skills, Clausen needs to show some humility.

2. Jon Beason. This guy's been a leader since about the second game of his rookie year. It just comes naturally to Beason. But I'm expecting to see him step forward even more and officially claim this team as his own. Julius Peppers never was a leader, but some people were hesitant to do anything that might give the appearance of stepping on his toes. Safety Chris Harris, who was traded to Chicago on Tuesday, was a bit of a vocal leader on the defense, even if he wasn't the best player. Now, it's clear, Beason is the best player on the defense and a vocal leader. He's free to lead with everything he's got. It's his team and his time.

3. The wide receivers beyond Steve Smith. I'm sure we'll get some of the same old talk about how this will be the year Dwayne Jarrett finally breaks out. It could happen. But the Panthers aren't counting on that. That's why they drafted Brandon LaFell and Armanti Edwards. It's going to be hard to judge their readiness in a three-day minicamp, but I'm hoping Fox breaks his tradition of bringing rookie receivers along slowly. He needs to take a chance and turn these guys loose from the start.

4. The competition at strongside linebacker. The departure of former starter Na'il Diggs really wasn't that big a deal. He was pretty ordinary. But the Panthers are having an open competition to replace him. They've got James Anderson, Dan Connor, rookie Eric Norwood and Jamar Williams, who came over in the Harris trade. They're going to throw them all out there and see who rises up.

5. The defensive ends. Peppers is gone and someone's got to step up. I've only seen quick glimpses of Everette Brown in games last season and last year's training camp. Brown is the guy the Panthers drafted last year to eventually replace Peppers. Now is the time for him to step up.
The much-anticipated trade of Carolina safety Chris Harris to Chicago for linebacker Jamar Williams now is a done deal, John Clayton reports.

Consider this another step in Carolina’s youth movement. Harris had been a solid safety since arriving in Carolina in 2007 (interestingly, that happened via a trade with Chicago). But the Panthers are getting younger everywhere and they’ve got some young safety options with Charles Godfrey, Sherrod Martin and rookie Jordan Pugh.

In Williams, a backup to Lance Briggs in Chicago, they add a linebacker who is only 25 and fits the youth movement. Although the Panthers have an opening on the strong side with the departure of veteran Na’il Diggs, they want to see James Anderson, Dan Connor and rookie Eric Norwood compete at that spot. Williams could move over there if the Panthers don’t think they’ve found a starter. But it’s more likely he’ll stay on the weak side and be a backup to Thomas Davis, who is coming back from injury.

In related news, Carolina public relations guru Charlie Dayton now is in the market to add someone to announce Panthers' news before it's official, now that Harris and his Twitter account are out of Charlotte.

Harris deal is not done

April, 27, 2010
4/27/10
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Here’s the latest on the trade Carolina safety Chris Harris announced on his Twitter account earlier. The deal is not done.

Yes, it probably will happen and various media outlets are reporting it’s for Chicago linebacker Jamar Williams. But all that’s certain at this time, according to a league source, is that the two sides are talking and trying to put the finishing touches on this one.

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