NFC South: Jason Smith

NFC South afternoon update

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

ATLANTA FALCONS

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.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

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.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

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.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

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.

Checking in on position battles

August, 15, 2013
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As we approach the midway point of the preseason, let’s do a status check on some of the top position competitions from around the division.

Left tackle in New Orleans. Coach Sean Payton said Wednesday that Charles Brown has pulled away from the competition. That could be a sign that Brown finally is playing up to his potential. It also could be a sign that Jason Smith and Terron Armstead aren’t very good. Either way, it looks like Brown will be protecting the blind side of Drew Brees. But that might not be a bad thing. Keep in mind, Jermon Bushrod wasn’t a stud when he first took over the position. New Orleans’ offensive line is built around guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs and they have a way of making everyone else on the line look good.

Strongside linebacker in Tampa Bay. Dekoda Watson has been given the first crack at the job and he hasn’t disappointed. Newcomer Jonathan Casillas also has performed well, but Watson remains in the lead at this position. Barring a dramatic change as the preseason winds down, Watson will be the starter and Casillas will be a backup and special teams player.

Right tackle in Atlanta. The Falcons still are trying to figure out what to do after losing Mike Johnson to a season-ending injury. The team is hoping second-year pro Lamar Holmes can claim the position, but he needs to use the rest of the preseason to show he’s ready. Undrafted rookie Ryan Schraeder has been a pleasant surprise. But the Falcons still could look to bring in a veteran from elsewhere if Holmes doesn’t distinguish himself.

Cornerbacks in Carolina. Veterans Drayton Florence and Captain Munnerlyn got most of the first-team work in training camp. But second-year pro Josh Norman helped his case a lot by intercepting two passes in the preseason opener. The Panthers would like for Norman to continue to emerge so they can start him and move Munnerlyn to nickel back, where he’s suited to match up with slot receivers.
METAIRIE, La. -- The first thing I noticed when watching the New Orleans Saints practice was the silence.

There was no messing around and no coaches screaming at players. Instead, the Saints looked like a veteran team that is intensely focused -- more focused than last year, when chaos surrounded the entire season. Maybe even more focused than in 2009, when the Saints eventually won their first Super Bowl championship.

The quiet practices are a firm sign that coach Sean Payton is back in charge and that this team wants to put last season as far in the past as possible. The bounty scandal that led to the season-long suspension of Payton and a disappointing 7-9 record is over, and the Saints want to return to their winning ways.

“Last year was an apparition," quarterback Drew Brees said. “It was a different time with all the situations that had taken place. This year, just knowing that we’ve got everybody here, this is our team. Nobody’s missing. This is the team that can accomplish great things, and there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. Here’s our window of time to bring it together. We know there’s going to be tough times. We know there’s going to be adversity. Build that attitude, build that chemistry, and get ready to make a run at it.”

Payton’s return alone should make a big difference. He’s one of the league’s best coaches and possesses a brilliant offensive mind. After watching his team from a distance last year, Payton had some strong critiques for his players, even the superstars.

Soon after Payton was reinstated, he called tight end Jimmy Graham and told him that a season in which he caught 85 passes but led the league in drops, according to ESPN Stats & Information, wasn’t good enough.

“First, he called me and I didn’t recognize the number so I didn’t pick it up," Graham said. “He was pretty mad because it took like two or three days for me to call him back. The conversation was very serious, talking about his expectations for me and the things that I need to correct from last year and how he’s ready to be back. He’s ready to see my growth even more."

Payton needs to see growth from more than Graham. He’s made it clear that he wants to run the ball more often and that the Saints have to be substantially better on defense.

If the Saints can combine those things with Brees and the passing game, they should be right back in playoff contention.

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. The defensive overhaul. Payton is an offensive guru, but the first order of business upon his reinstatement was to replace defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo with Rob Ryan. Spagnuolo’s defense never caught on in New Orleans, and the Saints finished last season ranked No. 32 in total defense.

The Saints aren’t just switching coordinators. They’re switching schemes. With Payton’s blessing, Ryan is installing a 3-4 scheme. The pass rush now will have to come from the outside linebackers, particularly Junior Galette, Will Smith and Martez Wilson, a trio of guys that previously played defensive end.

The secondary also is going through some major changes. The Saints signed free-agent cornerback Keenan Lewis and drafted safety Kenny Vaccaro in the first round.

The defense will look a lot different because Ryan uses a lot of exotic looks. If the results are different from last season, the Saints will be in good shape.

[+] EnlargeMark Ingram
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireThere won't be any excuses for Mark Ingram this season, as the Saints plan to keep him involved in their running game.
Ingram’s time? Payton repeatedly has said the Saints need to get back to running the ball more efficiently. They were good in that area in their Super Bowl season but got away from the run last season.

There really is no reason the Saints shouldn’t be able to get production from the running game. They have a good offensive line and three talented running backs -- Mark Ingram, Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas.

The real wild card is Ingram. Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis used a first-round pick on Ingram in 2011, but he hasn’t produced a lot in his first two years. I think Payton is going to make it a point to give Ingram more carries this season.

A new age of receivers. A few years ago, the Saints had a receiving corps as deep as any in the league, which came in handy because they use so many three- and four-receiver sets. But Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson left over the past two seasons. Joe Morgan, who had been ticketed for the third receiver spot, suffered a season-ending injury in camp.

That leaves starters Marques Colston and Lance Moore as the only sure things. Beyond them, there’s a lot of uncertainty. But the Saints hope veteran Steve Breaston, who was signed this week, and second-year pro Nick Toon, who missed his rookie season with an injury, can fill the void.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

Any team that has Brees as its quarterback is going to be competitive. With weapons such as Graham, Colston and Sproles, the Saints are going to score plenty of points. It would be difficult for the defense to be any worse than last season.

If the Saints can just put a middle-of-the-pack defense on the field, they can be a dangerous team.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

Rob Ryan
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsRob Ryan will bring an aggressive new 3-4 attack to New Orleans, but do the Saints have the proper personnel to run it effectively off the bat?
The Saints already have had some tough breaks when it comes to injuries. Defensive end Kenyon Coleman and outside linebacker Victor Butler, who were brought in specifically to fill important roles in Ryan’s defensive scheme, already have suffered season-ending injuries.

Ryan is an aggressive coach, and the 3-4 has had plenty of success around the league in recent years. But I’m not sure Ryan has the personnel to make this defense succeed. It could take another offseason to get this defense fully stocked.

OBSERVATION DECK

One of the brightest spots in training camp has been the play of second-year defensive lineman Akiem Hicks. I saw him make several big plays during my visit. Hicks is going to get his chance to shine in the regular season, and with Coleman out, it looks like he'll be a starter at defensive end.

In another sign that the Saints are serious about running the ball more, Graham has bulked up. The tight end said he now weighs about 270 pounds and that he’s focusing on becoming a better blocker.

The Saints have a history of finding unheralded running backs who end up making a contribution (see Chris Ivory and Travaris Cadet). They might have found another one in Khiry Robinson, an undrafted free agent out of West Texas A&M. Robinson has flashed big-play ability in camp. The Saints have so much depth at running back that it might be tough for him to make the roster, but he could end up on the practice squad.

There was some thought that Jason Smith, a former first-round pick by the St. Louis Rams, could end up as the starting left tackle. But it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. Charles Brown has been getting virtually all the first-team work. Smith has fallen to third on the depth chart and is working behind rookie Terron Armstead. It’s looking like Smith might not even make the roster.

In recent years, the Saints have brought rookie defensive backs along slowly. Malcolm Jenkins and Patrick Robinson didn’t play significant roles in their first seasons. But I don’t think the Saints are going to be cautious with Vaccaro. Whether it’s at one of the safety spots or as the nickelback, Vaccaro is going to play a lot this season.
METAIRIE, La. -- I’m about to head out to watch the New Orleans Saints practice. But, before I go, I’ll leave you with a list of things I’ll be keeping an eye on.

The left tackle situation. The Saints are letting Charles Brown, Jason Smith and rookie Terron Armstead compete for this starting job. Early indications are that Brown is in the lead. But I don’t think this competition is over with just yet. I think the preseason games will be a big factor.

The defense. It’s well known that the Saints had the worst defense in the league last season. When I visited for minicamp in June, it was hard to get a read on if the defense coordinator Rob Ryan was installing was any better because the players still were learning the system. They’ve had more time in it now, so I’m curious to see how the defense looks.

Will Smith at linebacker. Smith spent his entire career at defensive end. Now, he’s been moved to outside linebacker in the team’s new 3-4 scheme. Smith primarily will be asked to be a pass-rusher. But I want to see how he looks against the run and in coverage.

The running game. Coach Sean Payton has said he wants to run the ball more effectively this season. I think that probably means more carries for Mark Ingram, and I want to see how he looks in camp.

Kenny Vaccaro. The safety was New Orleans’ first-round pick in this year’s draft and early reports out of training camp indicate that he’s been very aggressive. That goes hand in hand with Ryan’s approach to defense.
The New Orleans Saints have put out their first unofficial depth chart in their media release for Friday night’s preseason opener. Let’s run through the positions where the competition is closest.

Charles Brown is listed as the No. 1 left tackle. Jason Smith is with the second team and Terron Armstead with the third team. But I think this competition remains very wide open and the preseason games will determine a lot.

With wide receiver Marques Colston still sidelined with an injury, the Saints are listing Joe Morgan as the starter opposite Lance Moore. That’s a sign Morgan has the inside track to be the third receiver once Colston returns.

The defensive line features Kenyon Coleman and Cameron Jordan as the first-team ends with Brodrick Bunkley at tackle. But I think Akiem Hicks still has a shot to start at defensive end and rookie John Jenkins could start at defensive tackle.

The Saints are listing first-round draft pick Kenny Vaccaro as a third-team safety. I think this is just a gesture of courtesy for the veterans. Vaccaro will be getting lots of playing time.

Around the NFC South

July, 31, 2013
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Time for our morning run through the top headlines from around the division:

ATLANTA FALCONS

Here’s some scary news for opposing defenses: Receiver Julio Jones said he has added nine pounds of muscle without losing any of his speed. Jones already was a tough matchup due to his combination of size and speed, and the added bulk could bring even more of a challenge for defensive backs.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

The Panthers signed tight end Zack Pinalto. He appears to have a shot at a roster spot behind Greg Olsen and Ben Hartsock.

Quarterback Cam Newton has taken more than his share of criticism from the national media. But here’s a story that may make you think a little differently of Newton.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Mike Triplett writes that Charles Brown has been the steadiest of the three contenders for the left tackle job so far. Brown has been getting all of the first-team work so far and hasn’t faltered. If he continues playing the way he has been, Brown should be able to hold off Jason Smith and Terron Armstead for the starting job.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Although they’re competing against each other for a starting job, second-year pro Leonard Johnson has been mentoring rookie cornerback Johnthan Banks.

NFC South quick hits

July, 30, 2013
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Things are happening rapidly across the division (except in Tampa Bay where the Buccaneers have the day off), so let’s turn to the headlines to stay up to speed.

ATLANTA FALCONS

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the Falcons have informed the Georgia World Congress Center Authority that the south site for the proposed new stadium is not feasible. The south site had been preferred by the Falcons, but deals haven’t been reached with two churches that are located on that property. The Falcons now will begin a study of the alternative north site.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Cam Newton didn’t have a great practice Tuesday. The quarterback was intercepted a couple of times. But it’s not unusual for a quarterback to hit a wall at this point because arms tend to get tired after the first four or five days of camp.

Rough practice aside, general manager Dave Gettleman said it’s time for Newton to win. We’ll have a lot more on that train of thought Wednesday when we run the Camp Confidential profile on the Panthers.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Rookie Terron Armstead got some work with the second team at left tackle. Prior to Tuesday, Armstead had been working with the third team. This might be a sign that Armstead has fared well so far. Or it might be a sign that the Saints are just mixing things up in a competition that also includes Charles Brown and Jason Smith.

Receiver Marques Colston remains on the physically unable to perform list, but coach Sean Payton said he’s making progress. Don’t be surprised if Colston begins practicing soon.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy came to camp 10 pounds under what the Bucs expected. The weight loss was by design and should make McCoy even quicker.

Around the NFC South

July, 25, 2013
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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers begin practicing Thursday and the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers report to training camp. That means there’s a lot going on around the division. Let’s take a look:

ATLANTA FALCONS

D. Orlando Ledbetter reports that the contract signed by first-round pick Desmond Trufant is a four-year deal worth $8.16 million and includes a $4.31 million signing bonus.

Running back Steven Jackson said he left money on the table with the St. Louis Rams to join the Falcons because he thinks Atlanta has a chance at a Super Bowl. You can’t blame Jackson for that. He played on plenty of mediocre teams in St. Louis and it’s only natural he wants to be part of a winner.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

The status of running back Jonathan Stewart, who had surgery on both ankles in the offseason, won’t be determined until he arrives at camp and has an extensive physical. It’s possible Stewart could be held out of the start of camp or limited in his participation. The Panthers are optimistic linebacker Jon Beason, who also is coming back from injury, will be ready for the start of camp.

Although the Panthers have used the combination of black jerseys, black pants and blue socks just once in franchise history, that combination won NFL.com’s “Greatest Uniform in NFL History’’ contest. Equipment manager Jackie Miles told Scott Fowler the team plans to wear that combination at least five times this year.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Mike Triplett has an overview of the situation at offensive tackle. Zach Strief appears set at right tackle, but the job at left tackle is wide open. Veterans Charles Brown and Jason Smith will compete with rookie Terron Armstead. There does not appear to be a clear-cut favorite.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

General manager Mark Dominik described wide receiver Mike Williams as a “football junkie." That’s a big part of the reason the Bucs went ahead and gave Williams a six-year, $40.5 million contract. Coach Greg Schiano likes guys who are all about football and that’s why the Bucs were willing to invest in Williams.

Schiano said newly signed running back Peyton Hillis will also get some practice time at fullback. The Bucs can use a backup behind Erik Lorig.
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

What are the three key camp issues facing each NFC South team?

ATLANTA FALCONS

Offense: Reshuffled offensive line
Center Todd McClure retired and right tackle Tyson Clabo was released. The Falcons elected to go with youth and stick with guys already on their roster. Second-year pro Peter Konz should be fine at center after spending much of his rookie season at guard. But the right side is a question mark with Garrett Reynolds ticketed for guard and either Mike Johnson or Lamar Holmes at tackle. If the new starters don’t step up, this offensive line could have problems.

Defense: Pass rush
It seems reasonable to expect defensive end Osi Umenyiora to fill the shoes of John Abraham. But the Falcons need the pass rush to come from other areas, as well. Kroy Biermann likely will be used as a hybrid defensive end/linebacker, and he has some pass-rushing skills. Second-year defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi also has some potential. But defensive coordinator Mike Nolan might need to get more creative and blitz his linebackers and defensive backs more often.

Wild card: Kids have to be ready
The Falcons used their first two draft picks on cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford. The Falcons need one of them to start right away, and the other likely will get a fair amount of playing time. Opponents are likely to test the rookies, so safeties Thomas DeCoud and William Moore might have to provide a lot of help early on.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Offense: Establishing an identity
The Panthers opened last season using a lot of read-option with quarterback Cam Newton. After a 2-8 start, they switched back to a more conventional running game and had much more success. I expect that trend to continue under new coordinator Mike Shula. Newton has the skills to be a very productive passer if this offense is executed the right way.

Defense: Secondary questions
Aside from free safety Charles Godfrey, no one has a clear-cut starting position in the defensive backfield. There are lots of candidates, such as Drayton Florence, Josh Norman, Josh Thomas and Captain Munnerlyn, at cornerback. But some of those guys will have to elevate their games for the Panthers to have success in defending the pass.

Wild card: Missing links?
With defensive ends Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy and linebackers Luke Kuechly, Jon Beason and Thomas Davis, Carolina has the potential to have one of the league’s best front sevens. But that is largely contingent upon rookie defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short. If they live up to the hype right off the bat, this front seven could be special.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Offense: Left tackle an open competition
After letting Jermon Bushrod go in free agency, the Saints have a glaring hole at left tackle. Charles Brown and Jason Smith haven’t done much in their careers, and rookie Terron Armstead is also in the mix. The Saints are hoping one of those three can step up. If not, the Saints might have to scramble to find a left tackle elsewhere.

Defense: Unit a question mark
After finishing last in the league in overall defense last season, the Saints brought in coordinator Rob Ryan and switched to a 3-4 scheme. The changes are probably a good thing, mainly because things can’t get much worse than they were last season. But it remains to be seen whether Ryan has the type of personnel to make his defense work.

Wild card: Payton’s return
If nothing else, Sean Payton’s suspension last year illustrated the true value of a head coach. He’s back now, and that should be a major positive. Payton is great with X's and O's, but he also is an excellent motivator. I expect Payton and the Saints to use what happened last year as fuel for this season.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Offense: Franchise quarterback?
It clearly is a make-or-break year for quarterback Josh Freeman as he heads into the last year of his contract. Freeman has done some very good things, but he has struggled to deliver the kind of consistency coach Greg Schiano wants. The Bucs have a strong running game with Doug Martin and two good receivers in Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams. There will be no one else to blame but Freeman if this offense doesn’t prosper.

Defense: Pass rush
The Bucs let last year’s leading sacker, Michael Bennett, walk in free agency. It was a calculated gamble because the Bucs have a lot invested in Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers and believe they can be a strong duo at defensive end. They'd better be right. If they’re not, the revamped secondary might not be as good as it looks on paper.

Wild card: Leadership void
Aside from recently retired Ronde Barber, this team hasn’t had a lot of obvious leadership in recent years. Even Barber was more of a leader-by-example type than a vocal leader. The Bucs need some other players to step up. Newcomers such as cornerback Darrelle Revis and safety Dashon Goldson seem to be the most likely candidates to fill the leadership void.

Most important assistant coaches

July, 15, 2013
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Assistant coaches often are anonymous, but they can be a big part of the reason why a team succeeds are fails.

Let’s take a look at the NFC South assistants, not including coordinators, that could be most important in 2013:

Atlanta Falcons. I’m going with two here because the Falcons list Tim Lewis as their secondary coach and Joe Danna as their defensive backs coach. Both will have their hands full because the Falcons released cornerback Dunta Robinson and cornerback Brent Grimes left via free agency.

Veteran starter Asante Samuel and nickel back Robert McClain remain, but the Falcons suddenly have a lot of youth at cornerback. They used their first two draft picks on cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford and Lewis and Danna will have to get those two up to speed quickly because the Falcons open their season against the pass-happy New Orleans Saints. It’s likely the Falcons will have one of the rookies starting and the other could compete with McClain for playing time.

Carolina Panthers. Aside from offensive coordinator Mike Shula, I think quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey could be the most important member of this staff. Dorsey is new to coaching. He had been working in Carolina’s scouting department the last two years, but was added to the staff when coordinator Rob Chudzinski left to become the head coach in Cleveland and Shula was promoted.

But Dorsey, who had a journeyman career as an NFL quarterback, should be able to relate well to quarterback Cam Newton. Dorsey worked as an instructor at IMG Academy when Newton was doing his combine preparation there in 2011.

New Orleans Saints. You could make a strong case for any of the defensive assistants as the Saints try to overhaul a unit that ranked No. 32 in the league last year. But I’m going with offensive line coach Brett Ingalls.

After spending the last four years as the running backs coach, Ingalls was moved to offensive line coach after Aaron Kromer left to become the offensive coordinator with the Chicago Bears. Ingalls spent a large chunk of his time as a college assistant working with offensive linemen, so this territory is not foreign to him.

Ingalls has his work cut out for him. A tight salary-cap situation prevented the Saints from re-signing Pro Bowl left tackle Jermon Bushrod. The Saints will go to camp with Charles Brown, Jason Smith and rookie Terron Armstead competing for the right to protect Drew Brees' blind side. Ingalls should be helped by the fact he has a strong interior line anchored by guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs, but he needs to get solid play out of the left tackle spot.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This one is easy because everything in Tampa Bay this season is about quarterback Josh Freeman. He’s headed into the final year of his contract and this season will determine if he has a long-term future with the Bucs.

That’s why I’m going with quarterbacks coach John McNulty. He’s new to the Bucs, but has history with coach Greg Schiano. McNulty worked for Schiano at Rutgers. Schiano tried to hire McNulty to his staff last year, but was refused permission by Arizona, where McNulty was coaching the wide receivers.

McNulty has a reputation for having a bright offensive mind and it will be up to him and offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan to help Freeman become more consistent.

Links: New Falcons stadium design OK'd

June, 19, 2013
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Atlanta Falcons

The design concept for the new Falcons stadium was approved by the Georgia World Congress Center Board of Governors, Jay Adams of AtlantaFalcons.com reports. "Our discussions and decisions have focused on creating an iconic asset for the city and state, a great game-day experience for our fans and attendees of other events that will be held in the new stadium, and a connection with the surrounding communities," Falcons President/CEO Rich McKay said. The new design concepts can be seen here.

Tight end Tony Gonzalez was chosen to be the 2013 Good Guy Award winner by the Professional Football Writers of America. The award is given annually to a player for his professionalism in helping pro football writers do their jobs.

The Falcons signed veteran tight end Colin Clohery and released tight end Anthony Miller, reports D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Carolina Panthers

The News & Observer's Joseph Person lists five "pleasant surprises" from last week's minicamp.

Defensive tackle Linden Gaydosh -- a native of Peace River, Alberta, Canada -- was the No. 1 overall pick in the CFL draft. He dreamed of playing in the NFL, but teams showed little interest until the Panthers came calling, writes Bryan Strickland for the team's website. "I had nothing, nothing up until the Panthers contacted me. I was stunned, realizing that it was a reality. Then I realized quickly that I had to show them what I could do," Gaydosh said. "If this doesn't work out, I have a job playing professional football in Canada. Not many people get that opportunity to begin with, so I'm blessed in both worlds."

New Orleans Saints

The Times-Picayune is counting down the top 25 players on the Saints. Next up at No. 24: tight end Benjamin Watson.

Jason Smith, the former Rams offensive tackle who was selected No. 2 overall in the 2009 draft, is hoping to resurrect his career with the Saints, writes the Times-Picayune's Mike Triplett. Offensive line coach Bret Ingalls: "As far as the character and want-to, it has been tremendous. He's dying to learn. He's going to fix whatever isn't right. He's showing improvement every day, so we're excited. ... But we'll know more once we get the pads on in training camp."

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Bucs are hoping to reap the rewards of stability on offense, writes Ira Kaufman of the Tampa Tribune. “We know this offense," receiver Mike Williams said. "We know when to break off routes and what zone to read. It’s a knowing instead of reacting to something. Josh Freeman's got this offense down pat. The big problem last year was we couldn’t get on the same page, knowing when to break our routes off."

New Bucs cornerback Darrelle Revis paid $50,000 to safety Mark Barron for his No. 24, the jersey number he has worn throughout his career, reports David Satriano of the New York Post.

Around the NFC South

June, 7, 2013
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Let's take our morning jog through some news and notes from around the division:

ATLANTA FALCONS

Matt Ryan was in the conversation for Most Valuable Player early last season. The 2013 season still is a long way off, but Ryan already has one MVP vote.

Receiver Roddy White said anything less than a Super Bowl trip for the Falcons will be a failure. I think a lot of people in Atlanta feel that way.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Receivers coach Ricky Proehl had some strong praise for Armanti Edwards and said the receiver has made big strides this offseason. Edwards needs to keep that going in training camp and the preseason, because he’s on the bubble for a roster spot.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Charles Brown, who has had injury problems throughout his career, said he’s completely healthy. Brown worked at left tackle with the first team in this week’s minicamp, and that means he’ll probably open training camp as the starter. Jason Smith and rookie Terron Armstead also are candidates to start at the position. But Brown seems to have the early lead, and can keep it if he stays healthy.

Jeff Duncan writes that Saalim Hakim stood out during this week’s minicamp. There’s no doubt about that. Hakim looked to be the fastest player on the field. He remains a long shot to make the roster, but his speed could end up convincing the Saints to keep him around as a receiver and return man.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Lee Roy Selmon, Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and Ronde Barber were voted by fans onto Tampa Bay’s edition of Mt. Rushmore.

Demar Dotson said he wants to be the best right tackle in the NFL. That’s a good ambition to have, but Dotson still has a long way to go to get there.
METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints just finished the first practice session of their minicamp.

Let’s take a quick run through some notes, highlights and observations:
  • Cornerback Keenan Lewis was not at practice. Coach Sean Payton said Lewis was “held out’’, but did not elaborate on the reason. Update: Nakia Hogan reports that Lewis briefly was hospitalized with stomach pains, but could be back for Wednesday's practice.
  • Jason Smith, who is competing for the starting left tackle spot, limped off the field about halfway through practice and was taken to the locker room.
  • Most of the talk about the safeties has centered on veterans Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins, and rookie Kenny Vaccaro. Harper and Jenkins worked with the first team Tuesday, and Vaccaro worked with the second team. But the one safety I saw make several big plays was backup Isa Abdul-Quddus.
  • Payton has said second-year running back Travaris Cadet has some similarities to Darren Sproles. But Cadet will have to come up with some big plays to make Payton and the coaches forget about what happened on a short pass about halfway through practice. The perfectly-thrown pass went right through Cadet’s hands and was intercepted by Corey White.
  • There clearly is a competition for the backup quarterback spot between Luke McCown and Seneca Wallace. I thought Wallace had the better performance Tuesday morning. I also think the Saints might be wise to keep Wallace. His mobility could be used on the scout team to help the defense get ready for the likes of Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick.
  • Wide receiver Jarred Fayson was the first name Payton mentioned when asked which young players stood out to him. Fayson had several nice catches. Fayson and cornerback Rod Sweeting had a brief shoving match after they collided at the end of one of Fayson’s catches.
  • Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said he was impressed by the performance of rookie linebacker Rufus Johnson. He’s working behind Will Smith and Junior Galette at “Jack’’ linebacker. I saw Johnson swat down a pass, and he looks like he has some quickness.
  • Running back Mark Ingram hasn’t been much of a threat as a pass-catcher. But the Saints seemed to be throwing to him a fair amount Tuesday. I think that might be a sign of things to come.
  • I’ll have much more on Ryan and the defense in my Thursday column. But, for now, let’s just say I was impressed with how many different defensive packages the Saints put on the field Tuesday morning.
METAIRIE, La. -- I’m getting ready to head out and watch the first session of the New Orleans Saints’ minicamp.

I’ll be back with more on the Saints later. But here are five things I’ll be keeping a close eye on.

The defensive vibe: Throughout the OTAs (organized team activities), there has been a lot of positive talk about new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. I want to see him in action. More importantly, I want to see his defense in action. New Orleans had the worst defense in the league last season, and something dramatic had to be done. I remember the stir Gregg Williams caused when he arrived as defensive coordinator in 2009. The defense was jumping after every loose ball in minicamp and training camp, and that created a swagger. I’m curious to see if Ryan is duplicating that.

Payton’s return: Coach Sean Payton has been back from his suspension for several months. But the mandatory minicamp will be his first formal time back with his players. I didn’t realize Payton’s true value to his team until he was out. Things were quieter with assistant head coach Joe Vitt running the team in minicamp and training camp last year. I’m guessing Payton’s presence will make things a bit more spirited.

The backfield rotation: In his third season, running back Mark Ingram is entering a critical time. The former first-round pick has been part of a logjam in the backfield. I think Ingram can be a solid player if he gets on the field more often. He needs to use the offseason to show the coaching staff he deserves to be on the field more than Pierre Thomas.

The third-receiver battle: The Saints used to have one of the league’s deepest receiving corps. But it’s looking a little thin after starters Marques Colston and Lance Moore right now. That said, the Saints have plenty of candidates to emerge as big parts of the offense. I want to see if Nick Toon, Joe Morgan, Preston Parker or rookie Kenny Stills steps up.

The competition at left tackle: Jermon Bushrod's departure as a free agent left a big void. The Saints don’t have a clear answer. They’re letting rookie Terron Armstead compete with Charles Brown and Jason Smith for the starting job. The minicamp should give us an indication of who’s leading the competition.

NFC South afternoon update

May, 30, 2013
5/30/13
5:17
PM ET
Time for an afternoon look at some odds and ends from around the division:

ATLANTA FALCONS

Atlanta fans might want to check out Charlie Campbell’s latest 2014 mock draft. I say that not due to the fact Campbell has the Falcons taking Oregon tight end Colt Lyerla. I say that because of where Campbell has the Falcons picking. He has them at No. 32. You know what that means.

The Falcons signed fullback Patrick DiMarco on Thursday. DiMarco played in five games for Kansas City last year. The Falcons have Bradie Ewing ticketed for the starting fullback job, but DiMarco has a chance to stick as a backup.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Coach Ron Rivera made a good point when he said the communication in the offseason program is the best it has been in his three years. The lockout prevented an offseason program in Rivera’s first season and the communication on defense is better than last year now that middle linebacker Luke Kuechly is firmly established as a leader. But that also means Rivera doesn’t have a lot of margin for error. He needs to win this year.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has made it clear that one of his main objectives is to bolster the pass rush as the team switches to a 3-4 scheme. Mike Triplett notes that there were times in Thursday’s workout when outside linebackers Will Smith, Martez Wilson and Junior Galette were on the field together and a lot of times when no true defensive tackles were on the field. The Saints didn’t make any dramatic moves to add pass-rushers in the offseason, but I think there are some guys on the roster that can get after the quarterback. It will be up to Ryan to help put them in the right position.

Rookie left tackle Terron Armstead worked with the first-team offense Thursday while Jason Smith ran with the second team and Charles Brown worked with the third team. I wouldn’t read too much into this just yet. I’d imagine the Saints are going to shuffle those three a lot in minicamp and training camp and see who steps up the most.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

In this Insider post, Chris Sprow has some fodder for the ongoing debate over whether Josh Freeman is the long-term answer at quarterback. Sprow points out that even though Freeman’s pure numbers may look gaudy to this point in his career, those numbers no longer are an accurate way of measuring a quarterback.

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