NFC South: John Gilmore

Saints: First look at free agency

January, 31, 2012
No NFC South team faces a more challenging period between now and the start of free agency than the New Orleans Saints.

They have to find a way to re-sign quarterback Drew Brees, and there are at least a couple other players that it’s essential the Saints retain. They’ve also got some important role players and will need to find ways to keep several of them despite a difficult salary-cap situation.

Let’s take a look at New Orleans’ potential free agents. They’re all unrestricted, unless noted otherwise:

Brees, defensive end Jeff Charleston, receiver Marques Colston, linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar, defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin, tight end John Gilmore, tight end Tory Humphrey, kicker John Kasay, defensive end Turk McBride, offensive lineman Pat McQuistan, receiver Robert Meachem, guard Carl Nicks, cornerback Tracy Porter, receiver/return man Courtney Roby, defensive tackle Shaun Rogers, cornerback Leigh Torrence, safety Jonathon Amaya (exclusive rights), receiver Adrian Arrington (exclusive rights), center Brian de la Puente (exclusive rights), offensive lineman Justin Drescher (exclusive rights), linebacker Jonathan Casillas (restricted), quarterback Chase Daniel (restricted) and linebacker Ramon Humber (restricted).

Whatever deal Brees signs, it’s likely he’ll take up somewhere around $15 million of the 2012 salary cap. But the Saints will have to continue to spend big money. It’s imperative they keep Nicks. He might be the best guard in the league and he’s Brees’ top protector. Keeping Colston also would seem to be a top priority because he’s one of Brees’ favorite targets.

Once the accounting is done on Brees, Nicks and Colston, the Saints will have to make some tough financial decisions. Porter and Meachem are important role players. But they could have market value elsewhere. The Saints might not be able to afford to keep them. That would hurt, but it might not be disastrous because the Saints have good depth at receiver and cornerback.

Tony Gonzalez still going strong

January, 30, 2012
Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez might be the oldest tight end in the NFC South, but he also got way more playing time than anyone else at the position in 2011.

Gonzalez, who will turn 36 in February, played more snaps than all of the younger tight ends in a division that suddenly has become known for its tight ends.

Gonzalez was on the field for 952 of Atlanta’s 1,157 offensive snaps. That’s 84.5 percent and it was good enough to rank Gonzalez No. 10 among all NFL tight ends. Dallas’ Jason Witten took part in a league-high 99.2 percent of his team’s offensive snaps, but New England’s Rob Gronkowski led in total plays on the field (1,092) because the Patriots had more offensive plays than the Cowboys.

Gonzalez finished the season with 80 catches for 875 yards and seven touchdowns. Shortly before the season ended, Gonzalez assured he will play at least one more season by agreeing to a one-year contract extension worth about $7 million.

In Sunday’s Pro Bowl, Gonzalez made a game-high seven catches for 114 yards. His receiving yards were the most for any tight end in the game.

Carolina’s Greg Olsen was the division’s second-most-used tight end during the regular season. Olsen was on the field for 866 of the Panthers’ 1,046 offensive snaps (82.8 percent and No. 12 in the NFL).

Tampa Bay’s Kellen Winslow participated in 822 of the Buccaneers’ 1,021 offensive snaps. That’s 80.5 percent and ranked No. 14 in the NFL.

Of the NFC South’s four regular starting tight ends, New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham took part in the fewest number of plays. Graham led all division tight ends with 99 catches for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns and was selected as the NFC’s starter in the Pro Bowl.

But the Saints use such a variety of offensive personnel that Graham’s time on the field was relatively limited. He took part in 798 of 1,152 offensive plays (69.3 percent and No. 24 in the NFL).

The Panthers used a combination of Olsen and Jeremy Shockey, who ended up taking part in 51.1 percent of Carolina’s plays.

Here’s a list of other NFC South backup tight ends and the percentage of playing time they got in 2011:

Inactives for the Saints

January, 14, 2012
There’s a bit of good news on the injury front for the New Orleans Saints. Linebacker Jonathan Casillas, who had been listed as questionable with a knee injury, is active for Saturday’s playoff game against the 49ers.

As expected, injured receiver Lance Moore (hamstring) and back up tight end John Gilmore (toe) are out.

The other inactives for the Saints are cornerback Leigh Torrence, linebacker Nate Bussey, tight end Tory Humphrey and offensive lineman Eric Olsen.

Lance Moore out for Saints

January, 13, 2012
The final injury report for the Saints for Saturday’s playoff game with San Francisco is out, and the news is mixed.

Receiver Lance Moore (hamstring) will miss his second straight playoff game. The Saints can get by with Marques Colston, Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem as their first three receivers. But Moore’s absence means the Saints likely will keep Adrian Arrington active. Arrington played some last week, but he doesn’t have nearly as much experience as Moore.

Backup tight end John Gilmore (toe) also has been declared out for Saturday. Linebacker Jonathan Casillas (knee) is listed as questionable and practiced on a limited basis Friday. If Casillas can’t play, we likely will see more of Martez Wilson and Ramon Humber.

On the positive side, middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma (knee), strong safety Roman Harper (ankle) and Meachem all are listed as probable.
The New Orleans Saints didn’t get much healthier as they went through practice Thursday before leaving for San Francisco.

Receiver Lance Moore (hamstring) missed another day of practice. Tight end John Gilmore (toe) and linebacker Jonathan Vilma (knee) also did not practice.

Strong safety Roman Harper (ankle) did return to practice but only on a limited basis. Linebacker Jonathan Casillas (knee) also was limited. Receiver Robert Meachem also is listed on the report with a knee injury, but he has participated in practice each of the past two days.
The New Orleans Saints could be without wide receiver Lance Moore for a second straight postseason game.

Moore did not participate in Wednesday’s practice due to a hamstring injury. He missed the opening-round win against Detroit. The Saints got by because they have plenty of depth at receiver with Marques Colston, Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem. Moore’s absence also led to a little bit of playing time for Adrian Arrington.

Strong safety Roman Harper (ankle) and tight end John Gilmore (toe) also missed Wednesday’s practice. On the bright side, linebacker Jonathan Casillas (knee) practiced on a limited basis after sitting out the Detroit game. Middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma (knee) also participated on a limited basis.

The only other player on the New Orleans injury report is Meachem. He is listed with a knee injury, but participated fully in Wednesday’s practice.

Lance Moore out for Saints

January, 6, 2012
The New Orleans Saints have declared wide receiver Lance Moore (hamstring) out for Saturday’s playoff game with Detroit.

New Orleans still has plenty of healthy receivers with Marques Colston, Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson. But the Saints use all sorts of different personnel groupings and Adrian Arrington could pick up some of Moore’s playing time. Arrington has very limited playing experience.

The Saints also declared linebacker Jonathan Casillas (knee) and tight end John Gilmore (toe) out for Saturday. Martez Wilson and Ramon Humber could get more playing time with Casillas out.

The Saints are listing Meachem (knee), linebacker Jonathan Vilma (knee), safety Malcolm Jenkins (neck) and safety Jonathon Amaya (shoulder) as probable.

The only Detroit player who is listed as anything other than probable is safety Chris Harris, who is doubtful with a back injury.
It looks like there’s a growing chance the New Orleans Saints might have to play their wild-card playoff game against Detroit without wide receiver Lance Moore.

He missed his second straight day of practice with a hamstring injury. Moore missed the regular-season finale. The Saints have good depth at wide receiver as Marques Colston, Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson are all capable of handling lots of playing time. But the Saints like to work with different personnel groupings and that could mean an increased role for Adrian Arrington, who does not have a lot of experience.

Linebacker Jonathan Casillas also missed another practice with a knee injury, making it likely he will not be able to play against Detroit. That could mean more playing time for Ramon Humber and Martez Wilson.

Reserve tight end John Gilmore (toe) also missed Thursday’s practice. Middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma participated on a limited basis for the second straight day.
The New Orleans Saints appear to be getting relatively healthy as they prepare for Saturday’s playoff game with Detroit.

Safety Malcolm Jenkins, who sat out the regular-season finale with a neck injury, practiced fully Wednesday. Linebacker Jonathan Vilma (knee), who also missed the final regular-season game, practiced on a limited basis.

Receiver Lance Moore (hamstring), tight end John Gilmore (toe) and linebacker Jonathan Casillas (knee) did not practice Wednesday.

NFC South players not signed for 2012

December, 22, 2011
A lot can change between now and the start of free agency and I sure don’t see any way the New Orleans Saints let quarterback/King Drew Brees walk away. I also think there’s a pretty good chance tight end Tony Gonzalez can return to the Atlanta Falcons if he chooses. Same for cornerback Ronde Barber with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and maybe even Jeremy Shockey with the Carolina Panthers.

But all we know about those guys at the moment is they’re not under contract for 2012. We’ll do much more on free agency as it gets closer but I’ve got the complete list of every NFC South player presently not under contract for 2012.

I’ll list them by team here and we’ll only go with the guys who have at least four years of service and can become unrestricted free agents. We’ll deal with restricted and exclusive-rights free agents at another time.

Atlanta Falcons: Tony Gonzalez, tight end; Reggie Kelly, tight end; Todd McClure, center; Mike Peterson, linebacker; John Abraham, defensive end; Joe Zelenka, long-snapper; Chris Redman, quarterback; Kirk Chambers, offensive line; Kelvin Hayden, cornerback; Brett Romberg, offensive line; James Sanders, safety; Jason Snelling, running back; Kroy Biermann, defensive end; Thomas DeCoud, safety; Harry Douglas, receiver; Brent Grimes, cornerback; Curtis Lofton, linebacker; Eric Weems, receiver.

Carolina Panthers: Jeremy Shockey, tight end; Reggie Wells, offensive line; Derek Anderson, quarterback; Geoff Hangartner, center/guard; Omar Gaither, linebacker; Cletis Gordon, cornerback; Legedu Naanee, receiver; Antwan Applewhite, linebacker; Mackenzy Beranadeau, offensive line; Dan Connor, linebacker; J.J. Jansen, long-snapper; Jerome Felton, fullback; Jordan Senn, linebacker.

New Orleans Saints: John Kasay, kicker; Drew Brees, quarterback; Shaun Rogers, defensive tackle; John Gilmore, tight end; Aubrayo Franklin, defensive tackle; Marques Colston, receiver; Pat McQuistan, offensive line; Courtney Roby, receiver; Leigh Torrence, cornerback; Jeff Charleston, defensive end; Turk McBride, defensive end; Robert Meachem, receiver; Jo-Lonn Dunbar, linebacker; Carl Nicks, guard; Tracy Porter, cornerback.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Ronde Barber, cornerback; Earnest Graham, running back; Sean Jones, safety; Connor Barth, kicker; Geno Hayes, linebacker; Josh Johnson, quarterback; James Lee, offensive line; Corey Lynch, safety; Elbert Mack, cornerback; Frank Okam, defensive tackle; Micheal Spurlock, receiver; Jeremy Zuttah, offensive line.

Around the NFC South

November, 23, 2011
Time for a stroll through the NFC South headlines.

The New Orleans Saints reportedly placed tight end David Thomas on injured reserve and promoted tight end Michael Higgins. They also added tight end Daniel Hardy, a seventh-round draft pick by Tampa Bay this year, to the practice squad. Thomas was a jack of all trades last season. But he wasn’t really a factor this year as he had problems with concussions. The Saints have used John Gilmore in his place at times and let fullback Jed Collins take on some of Thomas’ blocking duties.

Atlanta receiver Julio Jones said he’s not sure if he’ll play Sunday. Jones has missed time with a hamstring injury. It appears he’s close to being able to return, but how much he practices the rest of this week will provide a big clue on Jones’ status.

Carolina rookie Kealoha Pilares has won the NFC special Teams Player of the Week award after returning a kickoff for a touchdown against Detroit. Pilares is the first NFC South player to earn the weekly special teams award this season.

Stephen Holder reports that the Buccaneers fear defensive end Michael Bennett may miss some time with an injury. We’ll learn more on Bennett’s situation later Wednesday when coach Raheem Morris meets with the media. If Bennett is going to miss some games, we could see a lot more of rookie Da’Quan Bowers.
The Thursday injury reports are out, so let's take a look at the most significant injuries around the division.

Atlanta receiver Julio Jones missed another day of practice with a hamstring injury. That makes it more likely Jones will miss his second straight game. The Falcons aren’t likely to rush Jones because they have a bye week after they play Detroit. Left tackle Sam Baker (back) missed his second straight day of practice. If Baker can’t play Sunday, Will Svitek likely would get the start.

Carolina tight end Greg Olsen (toe) returned and practiced fully after sitting out Wednesday. Safety Jordan Pugh (concussion) missed another day of practice.

New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham (ankle) was added to Thursday’s injury report and did not practice. That leaves the Saints banged up at tight end. David Thomas, who has missed the past three games with a concussion, practiced on a limited basis for the second straight day and John Gilmore (neck) also was limited. Linebacker Jonathan Vilma (knee), defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis (ankle) and right tackle Zach Strief (knee) all did not practice.

Tampa Bay defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (ankle) practiced on a limited basis for the second straight day. Defensive end Michael Bennett (groin) and middle linebacker Mason Foster (ankle) each returned on a limited basis after sitting out Wednesday. Running back LeGarrette Blount (knee) did not practice and coach Raheem Morris made it sound like Blount will miss his second straight game. If Blount is out, Earnest Graham would take his place.

Bucs' win could mark turning point

October, 16, 2011
Earnest GrahamAP Photo/Brian BlancoBucs RB Earnest Graham finished with 109 yards on 17 carries against New Orleans.

TAMPA, Fla. – It’s too early to say for sure. But there might come a day when historians look back to find the precise time the Tampa Bay Buccaneers turned the corner. Sunday might end up being that day.

A team that hasn’t been to the playoffs since the 2007 season and is only slightly removed from a horrid 3-13 2009 season, did what didn’t seem possible as recently as a week ago. The Bucs pulled off their biggest win since Raheem Morris took over as head coach in 2009.

The defense created four turnovers, Earnest Graham stepped in at tailback and rushed for 109 yards, and Josh Freeman threw for 303 yards and two touchdowns as the Buccaneers defeated the New Orleans Saints 26-20 at Raymond James Stadium.

More importantly, Tampa Bay’s defense stood up to one of the NFL’s most frightening sights. That’s Drew Brees marching the New Orleans offense down the field in the final minutes of a game. That’s been the ruination of many a team and it looked like Brees was about to pull off another comeback win.

The Saints got the ball back with seven minutes and 19 seconds left. Ordinarily, that’s an eternity for Brees, who’s shown he’s capable of putting up two or three touchdowns in that amount of time.

“Nerve wracking,’’ Morris said.

Brees and the Saints started at their own 24-yard line and moved all the way down to Tampa Bay’s 4-yard line. With a fourth-and-2, Brees dropped back and his history prepared us for what should have happened next.

“The biggest challenge in the world is getting Drew Brees out there on fourth down and whatever,’’ Morris said.

What happened next is the play the historians might point to, the play that might end up turning the tide in an NFC South race that the Saints seemed poised to run away with. Brees threw to backup tight end John Gilmore. But linebacker Quincy Black stepped in to intercept the ball in the end zone with 3:16 left and effectively ended the game.

“That’s scary when Drew Brees is coming down the field,’’ Tampa Bay offensive tackle Donald Penn said. “I’m on the sideline and I’m like 'Oh man.' Drew Brees is one of the best quarterbacks in the league, especially with two minutes left. I was worried, but the defense came through.’’

The defense came through all day. That’s significant because Tampa Bay came up with three interceptions and recovered a fumble against one of the league’s top offenses. That’s significant because it came a week after Tampa Bay got thumped 48-3 by San Francisco.

“We left it there in San Francisco,’’ said Graham, who was filling in for the injured LeGarrette Blount.

What the Bucs found back home in Tampa Bay (before shipping off to London on Monday morning to play the Chicago Bears next Sunday) was a bigger win than they’ve had in several years. In a 10-6 season last year, the Bucs won a lot of games against mediocre teams. Even the biggest victory earlier this season, against Atlanta, wasn’t all that impressive because the Falcons have been up and down.

But Sunday was different. There’s no debating whether the Saints are a good team. There’s no arguing the Bucs played their most complete game since Morris has been around. Graham took care of the ground game, Freeman had his best game of the season and the defense was the story of the day.

“When our defense plays like that, there’s no one in the NFL that can beat us,’’ Penn said. “No one.’’

That may sound a little grandiose, but Penn just might be right. Tampa Bay’s two best defensive games this season have come against Atlanta and New Orleans. Those are division opponents and Tampa Bay’s defense is what could end up putting the Bucs ahead of the rest of the NFC South.

The victory put the Bucs at 4-2. That’s the same record as the Saints and Tampa Bay and New Orleans are one game ahead of Atlanta in the win column. The Bucs already have wins against the Saints and Falcons and they’re very much a player for the division title.

The Saints and Falcons each have had defensive problems. Tampa Bay’s defense is very young, but it’s showing strong signs it also is becoming very good.

You could make a case that Tampa Bay has the NFC South’s best defense. If that turns out to be the case through the rest of the season, the Bucs just might end up winning a division where Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton can put up points, but none of their teams are doing much on defense.

The prospect of the Bucs winning the division isn’t that big of a stretch.

Last year’s motto from Morris was “The Race to 10.’’ The Bucs ended last season with 10 wins, but just missed out on the playoffs.

That’s why this year’s message is different. The Bucs aren’t shooting just for 10 wins. They’ve made it clear the NFC South title is their goal.

“That’s what we’ve said from the beginning,’’ Morris said.

If they keep playing like this, the Bucs might be standing atop the NFC South at the end.

Inactives for the New Orleans Saints

September, 8, 2011
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- We just got the list of the inactives for the New Orleans Saints in Thursday night’s game against the Green Bay Packers.

Kicker Garrett Hartley, receiver Lance Moore, running back Joique Bell, cornerback Johnny Patrick, offensive lineman Matt Tennant, tight end John Gilmore and defensive tackle Tom Johnson will be inactive.

Hartley and Moore are out due to injuries. The Saints brought in veteran kicker John Kasay to fill in for Hartley. In Moore’s absence, the Saints will rely on Marques Colston, Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem, but they also have activated Adrian Arrington and he could get some playing time.

Catching up on NFC South transactions

September, 5, 2011
We told you earlier Monday the Carolina Panthers signed Geoff Hangartner, who has a chance to start immediately at right guard. There also have been a bunch of minor transactions around the division. Let’s catch up on them now.
  • The Panthers waived offensive lineman C.J. Davis to clear a roster spot for Hangartner.
  • As expected the Buccaneers officially announced the signing of linebacker Zac Diles. The team also announced it had claimed tight end Zack Pianalto off waivers from Buffalo. To create roster spots, the Bucs waived cornerback D.J. Johnson and defensive end George Johnson. Don’t be surprised if they wind up on the practice squad.
  • The Buccaneers also announce they have signed eight players to their practice squad. They are tackle Will Barker, safety Ahmad Black, quarterback Rudy Carpenter, tight end Collin Franklin, receiver Ed Gant, tight end Daniel Hardy, running back Mossis Madu and linebacker Derrell Smith. All eight were with the Bucs in the preseason.
  • The Falcons filled out their practice squad by signing tight end Marquez Branson, who spent 2010 on the team’s practice squad.
  • To make room for tight end John Gilmore, the Saints released linebacker Ramon Humber. The Saints also signed tackle William Robinson, guard Dennis Landolt and receiver Montez Billings. They released long-snapper Kyle Nelson, quarterback Sean Canfield and center Cecil Newton from the practice squad.