NFC South: Jon Vilma
The New Orleans Saints are already in midseason form. They put up 512 yards of total offense in a 40-20 preseason victory over the Oakland Raiders.
After up-and-down performances in their first two preseason games, the Saints played a complete game against the Raiders.
“I was pleased with the effort and I was pleased with our energy,’’ New Orleans coach Sean Payton said. “That is something that was a goal of ours in this game; just playing hard and spending more time about each play then the final score or the score at any point.’’
Quarterback Drew Brees completed 15 of 23 passes for 189 yards and left the game early with New Orleans looking sharp on offense.
“He had enough snaps,’’ Payton said. “It was kind of similar, if you remember two years ago, to I think it was the third preseason game that you want to have an idea of how many snaps you want guys to play and you have to use some game-day awareness in regards to where guys are at. We substituted [Jon] Vilma, and a few others and then gradually got into our second phase, probably early part of that third quarter.’’
After a week in Oxnard, Calif., the Saints got an extra week of training camp and appear ready for the regular season.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
Time for another round of the mailbag. Before we get to your questions, let me just thank all those who have submitted questions. There have been lots of great questions and I really appreciate the knowledge and interest you are showing. That's making the mailbag a lot of fun for me. Anyway, onto the questions.
Jeff in Kinston, NC writes: Do we know what started the Steve Smith/Ken Lucas fight? From the pics, it looks like Lucas is on top. I know Smitty can be hot headed, but do we know that the entire blame lies with him? Yes he hit Bright in 2002, but now everyone is calling for his head saying he does it a lot. Just wondering if those who were there could shed more light on it before I pass judgement myself. Thanks.
Pat Yasinskas: Great question and I wish I could give a more definitive answer. I was at training camp when the fight broke out, but the rest of the media and I were standing about 60 yards away and did not see what prompted it. I caught movement out of the corner of my eye and looked over, but they were already well into the fight. There are some rumors out there as to what might have prompted it, but they're just rumors and I'm not going to get into that. You raise a good point that the entire blame might not lie with Smith. I can tell you that Smith and Lucas have a long history of verbal battles during practices and I've witnessed several of those, but never anything that escalated to the point that Friday's situation did.
Daryl in Alberta, Canada writes: How has Tim Shaw looked so far in training camp? will he stick with the panthers?
Pat Yasinskas: Tim Shaw is having a nice camp and the Panthers liked what they saw out of him last year. That said, Carolina is very deep at linebacker and Shaw may be on the bubble. I grew up as a Penn State fan and may be a little partial to guys from Happy Valley and the Panthers also have rookie Dan Connor. Even if Shaw doesn't stick on Carolina's roster, he'll land somewhere because he's good enough to play in this league.
Craig in Miami writes: How does Andre Tippett make it into the HOF and Ricky Jackson, who has been on the ballot for the past eight years, not even make it to the final vote? Jackson played 4 more years, made one more Pro Bowl, had 36 more sacks (8 unofficial), had more fumble recoveries and Jackson actually won a Super Bowl ring. The only thing Tippett has on Jackson is Tippett scored more TD's, I think. Please explain why Jackson has been snubbed so far.
Pat Yasinskas: A very valid question and one I've heard from several Saints fans in recent weeks. I think Jackson was good enough to be in the Hall of Fame and, in time, will be. The major thing he's got working against him is that he spent most of his career in a relatively small market. But there is strong sentiment out there and the Hall of Fame voters usually are pretty good about correcting oversights. It just sometimes takes time for that to happen.
Joe in Philadelphia writes: Do any of these teams have a real chance of being an NFC title contender, or in reality will they be vying for a shot at the division and that's it?
Pat Yasinskas: The Cowboys and Giants are the favorites of most people in the NFC right now and that's justified. But it's a long season and anything can happen. The NFC East teams run the risk of beating each other up and that could open the door for an NFC South team. New Orleans, Carolina and Tampa Bay all have playoff potential. If things fall right, as far as injuries, etc., the Saints, Panthers and Bucs each have the potential to challenge for the NFC title.
Alex in Orlando writes: I just read your column about Lynch and the Bucs. I'm absolutely disgusted at how Gruden and Allen have handled the team these past few years. Last year's playoff run was a complete fluke, considering the horridness of the once-awesome NFC South. However, the fact that Allen and Gruden have treated Lynch this way is awful. He's a great man and a great player, and for him not to be able to retire a Buccaneer is unthinkable. What's next? Will he enter the Hall of Fame as a Bronco?
Pat Yasinskas: I agree with you completely. I covered John Lynch early in his Tampa Bay days and there's not a better human being in the NFL. He's bitter at the Bucs and I don't blame him. But, someday, he'll get his due. The current regime won't be there forever and ownership knows how much Lynch meant to the franchise. And the Pro Football Hall of Fame isn't like the Baseball Hall of Fame -- players don't go in representing one team. If Lynch goes in, he'll go in on his own and Tampa Bay fans will always think of him as a Buc.
Kyle in Bossier City writes: With moves in the offseason how improved do you think the Saints defense is? Will the Saints return to there 06 form and be a true contender in the NFC race this year?
Pat Yasinskas: Defense will definitely be better. Adding Jon Vilma and Sedrick Ellis will make a big difference and the secondary should be a little better. This might not be ready to be a top 10 defense, but it will be respectable. That's good enough because the offense is very good and that could make the Saints a serious playoff contender.
Petter in Stockholm, Sweden writes: What's up with Lawyer Milloy? I'm hearing he's turned down every interview request since camp begun. Milloy is usually the most outspoken Falcon. Now he won't say anything, not even about that blow-up he had with Harry Douglas. Does Milloy seem unhappy about being part of yet another Falcons attempt att re-building? Does he, like Joe Horn, want out and go help a contender?
Pat Yasinskas: I'm trying not to read Milloy's mind until he does talk. But you have to wonder if he's unhappy. It's a tough spot for an older player, who has been on very successful teams, to be on a rebuilding team. But Milloy is a pro and the Falcons need veteran leadership to get them through this transition. If guys like Milloy and Keith Brooking step up as leaders, they might not be as bad as a lot of people expect.
Jon from Sault Ste Marie, Ontario writes: Hey Pat, What do you anticipate as the split between the rookie Stewart and Williams? I have heard that Stew looks fantastic and may start as 60-40 carry split but by midseason take over as the featured back. What is your opinion?
Pat Yasinskas: I think the 60-40 split might be conservative. The Panthers used a high draft pick on Stewart for a reason. John Fox sees him as a young Stephen Davis and he's going to get him on the field a lot. DeAngelo Williams will be a situational player, but Stewart will get the bulk of the carries.