NFC South: Kerry Meier

NFC South afternoon update

April, 22, 2013
Darrelle Revis and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been dominating the news, but let's take a quick spin through some odds and ends from around the rest of the division:


In his latest mock draft, D. Orlando Ledbetter has the Falcons taking tight end Zach Ertz at No. 30. We’re doing our Blog Network mock draft Tuesday. I view Ertz as a possibility, but he’s not at the top of my list for Atlanta at the moment.

The Falcons announced Tuesday afternoon that they have released receiver Kerry Meier.


In his latest Insider mock draft , Todd McShay gives the Panthers Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. In his latest Insider mock draft , Mel Kiper gives the Panthers Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. I’m thinking there is a very good chance I could take either one of them in Tuesday’s mock draft. But I also am not ruling out the possibility of Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro.


Linebacker Scott Fujita signed a one-day contract (from Peru) so he officially could retire as a member of the Saints. Fujita was with New Orleans from 2006 through 2009.

The New York Jets reportedly have offered a sixth-round pick for running back Chris Ivory. But the Saints might try to hold out a bit and get a fifth-round choice.

NFC South afternoon update

April, 2, 2013
Time for an afternoon run through some odds and ends from around the division:


Cornerback Eric Wright reportedly met with coach Greg Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik, which could clear the way for him to stay with a restructured contract. Don't look for this to put an end to talk of a trade for Darrelle Revis. The Bucs need all the help they can get at cornerback.

The team officially announced the signing of receiver Steve Smith (not the one of Carolina fame) and four others that previously were reported. Smith has had some injury problems in recent years, but he had a productive run with the New York Giants. Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan used to be with the Giants. Smith should get a chance to compete with Kevin Ogletree and Tiquan Underwood for the third receiver spot.


Mike Triplett has a list of five potential draft picks for the Saints. They’re all defensive guys, which makes plenty of sense because the Saints had so many problems on defense last season. But I have to wonder if the Saints would take a left tackle in the first round after losing Jermon Bushrod.

Tracy Porter won’t be re-uniting with the Saints. Although he visited with his former team last week, Porter signed a one-year deal with the Oakland Raiders.


Jonathan Jones takes a look at who some of the experts have the Panthers taking in mock drafts. The one name that’s intriguing to me is North Carolina defensive tackle Sylvester Williams. He’s not one of the big names, but there seems to be a growing buzz that he could sneak into the first round.


Receiver Kerry Meier will be one of 23 current or former NFL players to participate in the NFL Business Management Business Management Entrepreneurial “Investment for Impact” program at Notre Dame later this month. Injuries have limited Meier’s career, but I still think he’s a guy the Falcons believe can be a contributor as a backup receiver and special-teams player.

Bucs, Falcons make most of injuries

December, 4, 2012
When a team’s season goes bad, one common response is to point to injuries.

Sometimes that holds merit and sometimes it doesn’t. We don’t have to look any further than the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers to see that.

At least at the moment, the Panthers lead the division with 13 players on injured reserve. They are linebacker Jon Beason, defensive tackle Ron Edwards, cornerback Chris Gamble, center Ryan Kalil, defensive end Thomas Keiser, cornerback Nate Ness, linebacker Kenny Onatolu, receiver Kealoha Pilares, guard Mike Pollak, safety Sherrod Martin, defensive lineman Antwan Applewhite, running back Tauren Poole and tackle Lee Ziemba.

The Buccaneers are right behind them with 10 players on injured reserve. They are receiver Arrelious Benn, linebacker Quincy Black, defensive end Adrian Clayborn, safety Cody Grimm, guard Davin Joseph, guard Carl Nicks, tight end Danny Noble, receiver Sammie Stroughter, tackle Jeremy Trueblood and offensive lineman Desmond Wynn.

Beason, Edwards, Gamble and Kalil were starters and Pilares was the kick returner. No doubt those injuries have hurt the Panthers.

But, guess what? Tampa Bay’s injury situation is virtually the same. Black, Clayborn, Joseph and Nicks were starters and Benn was returning kicks before he went down.

The difference is Tampa Bay has used its next-man-up philosophy, especially on the offensive line, and fared pretty well. The Panthers are 3-9 and I’ve got a hunch their record might be pretty close to the same even if all the injured guys were healthy.

Injuries matter but they’re not a cover-it-all excuse. We can look to the other two NFC South teams for proof of that. The Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints each have eight players on injured reserve.

Atlanta’s injured players are fullback Bradie Ewing, tight end Tommy Gallarda, receiver Kerry Meier, tight end Adam Nissley, guard Garrett Reynolds, safety Shann Schillinger and tackle Will Svitek.

New Orleans’ injured reserve list includes linebacker Chris Chamberlain, receiver Chris Givens, tackle Bryce Harris, tackle Marcel Jones, defensive end Greg Romeus, guard Andrew Tiller, receiver Nick Toon and tackle Fenuki Tupou.

Grimes was a starter for the Falcons and Ewing might have been. Reynolds was starting up until his injury, but I think there’s a chance the Falcons still might have put rookie Peter Konz into the lineup. Chamberlain might have been a full-time starter for the Saints, but none of the rest of their injured guys would have been key players.

You could make a case the Falcons were hit harder than the Saints by injuries. But the Falcons are 11-1 and the Saints are 5-7.

Around the NFC South

August, 9, 2012
Time for a look at the top headlines from around the division:


Tom Jones writes that Tampa Bay’s pass rush still could be a liability. The Bucs produced just 23 sacks last offseason and didn’t make any dramatic additions up front. In fact, they lost defensive end Da’Quan Bowers to a torn Achilles tendon. Bowers is expected to miss at least half the season and could miss it all. If Tampa Bay is going to have more of an impact with the pass rush, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and defensive end Adrian Clayborn, a pair of former first-round picks, will have to be stars. It would be nice if some other guys stepped up and contributed, but I don’t know if anyone beyond McCoy and Clayborn has the talent to make a real impact.

The Bucs made some moves at the bottom of the roster, signing cornerback James Rogers and defensive tackle Teryl White after parting ways with cornerback Derrick Roberson and defensive lineman Jayme Mitchell.


It appears as if there will be no settlement reached between the NFL and New Orleans linebacker Jonathan Vilma before a judge decides whether or not to issue a restraining order on Vilma’s season-long suspension. That’s according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, who also reports the judge could issue the decision Friday or soon after that.

New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham appeared to suffer a back injury during Wednesday’s practice with the Patriots. He left practice and didn’t return. Assistant head coach Joe Vitt said the injury was nothing serious. But, if Graham is even slightly banged up, I wouldn’t count on seeing him in Thursday’s preseason game.

Nakia Hogan has a list of things to watch in the preseason game between the Saints and Patriots. One of those items is New Orleans’ young cornerbacks. With a bunch of injuries at the position, Corey White and Marquis Johnson are expected to get a lot of playing time. You wouldn’t want to see them going against Tom Brady in the New England offense in a regular-season game. But the preseason is different and this is a chance for White and Johnson to gain some valuable experience.


Carolina Huddle has a list of things to watch in Saturday’s preseason game between the Panthers and Texans. One item on that list is the battle between kickers Olindo Mare and Justin Medlock. I think this competition is tighter than people realize. Medlock has been having an excellent camp and the veteran Mare needs to redeem himself after missing too many field goals last season.

The Panthers are getting a little banged up. Receiver Steve Smith missed Wednesday’s practice with a bruised knee. Linebacker Jon Beason tweaked a hamstring and was held out of Wednesday night’s walk-through session. All indications are the injury to Smith is minor and it’s not a bad thing for a veteran receiver to get some rest in training camp. The Panthers don’t believe Beason’s injury is serious, but it’s still concerning because he missed almost all of last season with an injury and the Carolina defense crumbled as soon as he went down.


D. Orlando Ledbetter has his list of five players to watch in Atlanta’s preseason opener. One of them is wide receiver Kerry Meier. He has a chance to wrap up the No. 4 receiver spot. Also a regular on special teams, Meier has yet to make much of an impact as a receiver. But that could change this season because the Falcons like the versatility of Meier, a former college quarterback.

Atlanta Field Report has its list of five things to watch in the game between the Falcons and the Ravens. High on the list is pass blocking. That’s fitting because this was a problem spot last year. The Falcons addressed the area by adding offensive line coach Pat Hill and drafting guard Peter Konz in the offseason. We’ll start to get an idea if they can make a difference.

Camp Confidential: Atlanta Falcons

August, 2, 2012
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- As you first watch and listen to the Atlanta Falcons in training camp, you quickly realize something is different.

They’ve got a bunch of marquee players (Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez, Michael Turner, John Abraham and Asante Samuel), but the buzz isn’t about them. Instead, most of the talk is about two new assistant coaches -- offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. That’s understandable, because a lot of people thought the Falcons needed some major changes after they got thumped by the New York Giants in the first round of last season’s playoffs.

With offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey (now head coach in Jacksonville) and defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder (now defensive coordinator at Auburn) leaving, Koetter and Nolan are big storylines. They might not have star power all by themselves, but watch and listen a little more and you’ll see the two new coaches have plenty of star power behind them.

“Mike Nolan and Dirk Koetter have done a fine job of bringing their respective systems to the table and working with (coach) Mike Smith and the rest of the staff and developing a system that is melding well with all of our coaching opinions,’’ general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. “It’s a collaborative effort. It’s not just one stamp from one coordinator or the other. It’s been really interesting seeing everyone come together on the respective sides of the football to develop this new system.’’

In conversations with Smith and Dimitroff, each repeatedly emphasized that key players (the guys listed above and a few others) have had extensive input into what the Falcons will do on each side of the ball. As soon as league rules allowed coaches and players to get together in the offseason, Ryan and Koetter began meeting regularly and discussing what the playbook should look like.

“There are a lot of things we’ve done well over the last few years, and the first thing Dirk asked me was what I liked and what I felt most comfortable with,’’ Ryan said. “Then, we took the things I said and looked at our production in those situations and some of it was surprising because we didn’t have as much success as I would have thought in some of the things I said I was most comfortable with, and we had some pretty good success with some of the things I didn’t necessarily think I liked.

"We also watched a lot of film of Jacksonville (where Koetter was offensive coordinator last year), and we talked a lot about why they did certain things at certain times. There was a lot of very good give-and-take. He’s extremely open to input, which is great for players, and I know he sat down and did the same thing with some other guys. But he also has his own opinions and is firm on his own opinions, and I like that about him.’’

The Falcons have been very public about some of the ways their offense will change. They said they don’t want Turner having to endure a 300-carry season. They said they want to use the screen pass more, after almost completely ignoring it in recent years. And they’ve made it very clear that they want to improve their downfield passing game.

What the actual playbook looks like is likely to be a combination of what both Koetter and the Falcons have done in the past.

The changes on defense are likely to be similar because Nolan also has consulted extensively with his key players. Nolan has spent 14 years as a defensive coordinator in the NFL, seven of them in the 4-3 defense and seven in the 3-4. The Falcons will continue to use the 4-3 as their base, but there could be some 3-4 looks and principles.

“We just have a lot of different things that we can do,’’ outside linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said. “We’re going to be aggressive. We’re not being passive at all. Our mindset is that we want to go out there and dictate. We don’t want to adjust to what an offense is doing. We want to put it on them to make changes.’’

That would be a change from the VanGorder days, when the Falcons had some individual talent and a fair amount of overall success, but never really had an identity as a defense. The Falcons will be different on both sides of the ball.

“When you have new eyes, so to speak, you get a different view,’’ Smith said. “We may have had a view that this guy’s strengths are A, B and C and his weaknesses are D, E and F, and a new guy comes in and, because he’s coming from a different perspective, he sees it differently. I think that’s interesting in terms of evaluating your roster because you have two new sets of eyes.’’

Maybe the eyes will have it. Maybe the new coordinators and new playbooks will be enough to help the Falcons win a playoff game for the first time since Smith, Dimitroff and Ryan arrived in 2008.


Jacquizz Rodgers
Daniel Shirey/US PresswireSecond-year running back Jacquizz Rodgers could play a larger role in the running game this season.
1. The running game with Turner’s limit on carries. Despite all the talk about the downfield passing game, I don’t think the Falcons want to suddenly just abandon the running game. Turner still is powerful and can help open things up for the passing game. The Falcons just don’t want to wear him out. They’ve used Jason Snelling at times to give Turner some rest, and Snelling will be involved again this season. But I don’t think he’s really the guy the Falcons are looking at to pick up a big chunk of Turner’s carries.

I’m almost certain they have big plans for second-year pro Jacquizz Rodgers, and I think those plans might be a lot bigger than people realize. That’s largely because Rodgers is bigger than the Falcons realized when they drafted him last year.

“Jacquizz is not little,’’ Smith said. “He’s short, but he’s thick. People projected him to be a third-down back, a change-of-pace back. I think the guy has the skill set to play on all three downs. One of the things that stood out to me more than anything is his ability to pass protect. A lot of times, your change-of-pace back, you’ve got to get him the ball and not ask him to be a part of the protection. I don’t think that’s the case with Jacquizz. I think Jacquizz is an all-around back that can play on all three downs.’’

Translation: The Falcons aren’t looking for Rodgers to be what Jerious Norwood once was. They want him to be more like what Warrick Dunn once was.

2. Positive reinforcement. I don’t know if they were veiled shots at Mularkey, VanGorder and former middle linebacker and defensive leader Curtis Lofton, but I think it was significant that Smith and Dimitroff repeatedly used the word “positive’’ when they talked about the coaching styles of Koetter and Nolan, and as they talked about the leadership qualities Samuel brings, and what kind of leader they expect Weatherspoon to become.

“Sean is such a positive guy,’’ Smith said. “He is vocal, but he’s never negative in the way he speaks. He’s always very positive.’’

Samuel was described in the same way. So were Nolan and Koetter.

I never sensed a lot of negativity from Mularkey, VanGorder or Lofton, but I also never sensed any of them were rah-rah guys. It sure seems like Smith and Dimitroff feel their team needed more positive reinforcement.

3. The pass rush. For far too long, Atlanta’s pass rush has consisted of Abraham and almost nothing else. Maybe fellow defensive end Ray Edwards steps up after an injury-filled season that limited him to 3.5 sacks. Or maybe reserves Lawrence Sidbury and Kroy Biermann produce more. But I get the sense Nolan isn’t looking to have only defensive ends rush the passer.

“The way practice is going right now, we’re really excited about getting the linebackers more involved in rushing the passer,’’ Weatherspoon said. “Even in seven-on-seven, we’re going. That will help those guys out there on the edge because now offenses are going to have to account for us all day. It’ll be better because we’ll be able to keep them on their heels.’’

And it won’t be just the linebackers. Look for the cornerbacks and safeties to also get plenty of opportunities to blitz.


Matt Ryan
Daniel Shirey/US PresswireIs this the season Matt Ryan puts it all together and joins the echelon of elite quarterbacks?
Time to fly. A lot of great young quarterbacks have seemed to hit a wall early in their careers. Even Peyton Manning had a reputation for not being able to win the big one early in his career, and look how that’s worked out. I’m not saying Ryan is going to turn into the second coming of Manning, but I think this is the year in which Ryan finally can earn a firm spot in the category of elite quarterbacks.

The guy has done some very good things in his first four seasons and he’s worked very hard to bulk up this offseason, so that he’s not worn down when the playoffs roll around. Ryan has a good arm, excellent mental skills and a strong work ethic. But, for some reason, he just hasn’t been able to take the next step. Last year, the Falcons brought in Jones to give him another weapon to go with White and Gonzalez. This year, they brought in Koetter, who has obvious instructions to get the most out of Ryan’s skills.

When you keep doing things the right way, sooner or later it’s all bound to click.


The offensive line. This was a big problem spot last year. Ryan frequently didn’t have enough time to throw the deep ball. The Falcons got rid of offensive line coach Paul Boudreau and replaced him with Pat Hill, who has a nice history with offensive lines. They also used their second-round pick on guard Peter Konz.

But were those two moves enough to bring dramatic improvement up front? Should the Falcons really be sticking with Sam Baker at left tackle? And even if they want to give Baker another shot, shouldn’t they at least have brought in a viable alternative in case he struggles?

I know a lot of fans think the Falcons should have done more up front. But the Falcons think they’ve done enough. We’ll find out who is right soon enough.


  • The Falcons lost a steady return man when Eric Weems left as a free agent. They’ve thrown out a lot of names, including some undrafted rookies, as candidates to take Weems’ spot as the punt and kickoff returner. But this is a team with a lot at stake this season, and I don’t see the Falcons handing either job to an untested rookie. I think they play it safe and go with third receiver Harry Douglas as their punt returner. He could also be an option on kickoff returns. If not, reserve cornerbacks Dominique Franks and Christopher Owens, as well as Rodgers, could be possibilities.
  • Ever since he was drafted in 2010, I’ve been expecting to see some flash from wide receiver Kerry Meier. Part of that is because the Atlanta coaches still talk about the former college quarterback as a guy that can play just about any position. Meier missed his rookie season with an injury and didn’t get a lot of playing time last year. But I did see him make a couple of nice catches in camp and also saw him getting work as the backup holder on field goals and extra points. Meier may have a tough time getting much playing time at wide receiver because the Falcons are so deep. But Koetter might be able to throw off some defenses by lining up Meier at H-back, fullback and tight end at various times.
  • I don’t want to raise hopes artificially, but I saw defensive tackle Peria Jerry working with the first-team defense while I was at camp. He seemed to show a little of the burst that made him a first-round pick in 2009. But Jerry tore up his knee early in his rookie season and has been reduced to a role player. He’s getting the first-team work because Corey Peters is temporarily sidelined with an injury. Peters’ starting job will be there when he gets back. But the Falcons would get a tremendous boost if Jerry can give them some production as a backup.
  • Veteran center Todd McClure has been getting all the first-team work early in camp. But I think the Falcons would be wise to take a long look at Joe Hawley and maybe even start him in a preseason game or two. McClure is 35, and there is no question he’s slowing down. I can see a scenario in which McClure wears out or gets hurt as the season goes on, and Hawley gets thrown into the starting lineup. The better long-term approach might be to go with Hawley as the starter and have McClure as a fallback option.
  • I don’t know what the Falcons are going to do about a No. 3 tight end after Gonzalez and Michael Palmer. They have six tight ends in camp. At least while I was there, the one that seemed to stand out was Tommy Gallarda. He looks like he can catch the ball a bit. More importantly, he’s 6-foot-5 and 259 pounds and looks like he can block.
  • A lot of fans are excited about third-round pick Lamar Holmes. They believe he could end up beating out Baker for the starting left tackle job in training camp. That’s not going to happen. The Falcons are going to give Baker every benefit of the doubt. If he’s injured or really struggles, they’ll turn to Will Svitek. Holmes is viewed as a project, and it could be a couple of years before he gets on the field.
  • Since the arrival of Samuel, the common assumption among many fans is that Dunta Robinson will be the nickelback and Samuel will start opposite Brent Grimes. That’s not as automatic as most think. Yes, Robinson will play the nickel position, lining up inside against slot receivers on passing downs. But that doesn’t mean Robinson won’t be starting and playing the outside on running downs. Samuel’s age, 31, is a concern, and the Falcons may not want to overuse him. They may start Robinson and, when they go to the nickel package, insert Samuel on the outside and slide Robinson inside.

NFC South afternoon update

August, 1, 2012
Let's take a quick look at the day's headlines from around the NFC South:


Tampa Bay punter Michael Koenen said he would not have minded if the Atlanta Falcons had given permission to use their trademarks in the “Rebirth’’ statue unveiled last week outside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The statue memorializes Steve Gleason’s legendary blocked punt against the Falcons in the first game played in the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina in 2006. Koenen was Atlanta’s punter at the time. The NFL holds the rights to the use of a team’s trademarks outside their home market and the NFL asked the Falcons if they’d like to make an exception in this situation. The Falcons declined. Koenen said he has met Gleason, who has ALS, and has enormous respect for him. Koenen said he might visit the statue when the Bucs play the Saints this season.

After being troubled by injuries in his final few seasons in Indianapolis, tight end Dallas Clark appears to be totally healthy in Tampa Bay’s training camp. If he can stay that way, it would be a big plus for the Bucs. I don’t think Clark ever will be the 100-catch guy he once was, but he can provide a nice veteran target for quarterback Josh Freeman.


Before playing in the Hall of Fame Game on Sunday, the Saints will visit the Pro Football Hall of Fame and view the exhibit celebrating the Super Bowl championship from the 2009 season. That’s a natural motivational tactic. Let the guys that were on that team see and remember the work that went into the championship and let them tell the young guys all about it. And I'd be willing to bet that assistant head coach Joe Vitt will remind the troops that this season's Super Bowl will be played in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

With starting cornerbacks Jabari Greer and Patrick Robinson sitting out with injuries, Johnny Patrick is making the most of his opportunity. Patrick had a highlight play in Wednesday’s practice, intercepting a Drew Brees pass.


Chris Vivlamore ponders how good the receiving duo of Roddy White and Julio Jones can be. He also rolls out a list of his top receiving combinations in history. He has Pittsburgh’s Lynn Swann and John Stallworth at the top. We already know White is a great receiver and all indications suggest Jones can become one. But Jones needs a few big years and White needs to continue to keep playing at a high level for a few more years before you can mention them with the likes of Swann and Stallworth.

Speaking of Atlanta receivers, Knox Bardeen explores the battle between Kevin Cone and Drew Davis for the No. 5 receiver spot. Harry Douglas already is settled in as the No. 3 receiver and Kerry Meier is likely to stick around because he has value on special teams.


Defensive tackle Ron Edwards is healthy and ready to go after missing all of last season with an injury. Everyone talks about linebacker Jon Beason’s return from injury and that’s very significant. But I think Edwards’ return is just as important. He was brought in to bring the kind of run-stopping presence the Panthers have lacked since the long-ago departure of Kris Jenkins.

Tom Sorensen writes he doesn’t expect Jeff Otah to stick with the Panthers after his trade to the New York Jets was voided by a failed physical. I’m in full agreement with Sorensen. In fact, I’ve been checking my e-mail all afternoon because I’m expecting an announcement that the Panthers have released Otah. Time to check the e-mail again.

Around the NFC South

July, 31, 2012
Time for our morning run through the headlines from around the division.


Coach Mike Smith said quarterback Matt Ryan is a better athlete than people give him credit for. I agree with that. Ryan may not have top-end speed, but he can get a first down when needed. His throwing arm is much better than most people give him credit for.

Speaking of Ryan, offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter says he’s one of the league’s top 10 quarterbacks. I don’t think that’s off base.

D. Orlando Ledbetter writes that the Falcons have some competition at wide receiver beyond Roddy White, Julio Jones and Harry Douglas. It appears Kerry Meier, Kevin Cone and Drew Davis are in the mix for the fourth and fifth receiver spots.


Ryan Jones writes that a federal judge might not issue a ruling on Jonathan Vilma’s request for an injunction to stop his suspension until Aug. 10. Vilma already had his hearing on the matter and is awaiting a ruling. But the same judge also is scheduled to hear a the NFL’s request to dismiss Vilma’s filings that same day.

Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo still is getting to know his players and their abilities. But he’s experimenting a bit and one thing he’s trying out is moving defensive end Cameron Jordan to defensive tackle on third down. That might be a bad idea since the Saints don’t seem to have any interior players who are capable of generating much of a pass rush.

The Saints are switching up their practice schedule this week. They went late in the afternoon at the start of camp, but they’re moving to early-morning sessions this week. The Saints ran into some heavy storms and extreme heat when they were on the afternoon schedule.


Offensive tackle Jordan Gross, who has been with the Panthers since 2003, said he’s never seen a Carolina player draw more attention than quarterback Cam Newton. But Gross said Newton still acts like “one of the guys."

Add Panthers owner Jerry Richardson to the list of people who approve of center Ryan Kalil taking out a newspaper ad to promise a Super Bowl win. Richardson described the gesture as “pretty cool."


With a couple of cornerbacks banged up, local product Leonard Johnson has been stepping up and making some plays. If that continues, he could put himself in the mix for a roster spot.

The diet that helped quarterback Josh Freeman drop about 20 pounds in the offseason was pretty simple. Freeman said he dropped the weight mostly by eliminating fast food from his diet.

Around the NFC South

July, 23, 2012
Let’s take a look at the Monday morning headlines from around the division.
  • With Lofa Tatupu dealing with a pectoral injury that will keep him out for at least the start of training camp, D. Orlando Ledbetter speculates on veteran linebackers the Falcons possibly could add. Mike Peterson’s the logical choice. Even though he’s an outside linebacker and Tatupu plays the middle, Peterson would give the Falcons depth and flexibility. He played for Atlanta the last three seasons as a starter and a backup and has been a strong leader. A lot of Atlanta fans are wondering about the possibility of Keith Brooking returning to Atlanta. I think that’s a very long shot. The current regime decided Brooking wasn’t a fit after the 2008 season and his departure didn’t come on the best of terms. There are other veteran linebackers out there that could be better fits.
  • Here’s an overview of Atlanta’s situation at wide receiver. The first three are set with Roddy White and Julio Jones as the starters and Harry Douglas as the slot guy. But it’s wide open after that. We have yet to see much of Kerry Meier. But the Falcons remain high on him and I think this could be the year Meier becomes a factor.
  • Now that the Carolina Panthers have a new logo, they’re holding an on-line auction to sell some items bearing the old logo. The proceeds will go to charity.
  • The Times-Picayune continues its countdown of the top 25 Saints with guard Jahri Evans at No. 3. Can’t argue that one. Evans is one of the best guards in the league and may have to emerge as even more of a leader with fellow guard Carl Nicks gone to Tampa Bay through free agency.
  • Bradley Handwerger asks and answers the question of if Drew Brees will show any rust after missing the offseason program while negotiating a new contract. That’s a legitimate concern with a lot of players. But, as Handwerger writes, it shouldn’t be an issue with Brees. He always is in top physical condition and you can bet he found some receivers to workout with near his offseason home in San Diego.
  • Roy Cummings writes that it’s possible for the Buccaneers to contend for a playoff spot this year. True. They were 4-12 a year ago. But this is a team that had some talent already on the roster and upgraded it during the offseason. The new coaching staff appears to have everyone on the same page. Plus, NFC South history shows that teams that are down don’t usually stay that way for long.

NFC South programming notes

May, 14, 2012
It’s back to business as usual after a little down time.

Before we start moving ahead, though, there were two events that happened while I was off that I’d like to weigh in on.

The Atlanta Falcons released veteran fullback Ovie Mughelli. The Falcons likely would have preferred to release him back before the start of free agency, but Mughelli still was recovering from a season-ending leg injury suffered last year. Once Mughelli was healthy enough to pass a physical, the Falcons went ahead and pulled the plug. They’re taking a bit of a leap of faith in hoping that rookie Bradie Ewing or Mike Cox can fill the void. Mughelli easily was the best fullback in the NFC South the past few seasons. But age was catching up to Mughelli. That’s something the Falcons have to be conscious of at multiple positions because they still have guys like defensive end John Abraham, center Todd McClure and tight end Tony Gonzalez. This team has to start mixing in some younger players and parting ways with Mughelli was one way to move in that direction.

Mughelli was a great lead blocker for Michael Turner, but I’ve got a feeling new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter isn’t going to be using the power running game quite as much as predecessor Mike Mularkey. Yes, Ewing or Cox will take on that role at times, but I think you’ll see more one-back sets as the Falcons try to get Jacquizz Rodgers on the field more often to take advantage of his speed.

I also wouldn’t be surprised if Koetter uses an H-back from time to time. From the moment the Falcons drafted receiver Kerry Meier, they have raved about his versatility. But we really haven’t seen much of Meier except on special teams. The Falcons are deep at receiver, so using an H-back from time to time could be one way to get Meier onto the field.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers suffered a big blow when defensive end Da'Quan Bowers tore his Achilles tendon in an offseason workout. Even though the length of the offseason program has been shortened and new rules are in place limiting how much contact players can have even during regular-season practices, this type of thing still will happen. Anytime you get athletes out on the field, there is the potential for injury.

This one hurts because the Bucs thought Bowers could develop into a full-time starter in his second season. Bowers has said he expects to return at some point this season, but that may be overly optimistic. Adrian Clayborn and Michael Bennett could form a decent starting tandem, but the Bucs have to hope that someone like George Johnson can step into the third spot in the rotation. Johnson will get his chance between now and roster cuts at the end of the preseason. If he impresses, he could have a spot in the rotation. If not, the Bucs will be looking hard at the waiver wire in late August and early September.

The other thing to ponder here is what the injury means for Bowers’ career. He had micro-fracture knee surgery prior to last year’s draft and that led to a lot of speculation that his career might only last about four years. If Bowers does miss the entire season and the speculation about his knee turns out to be correct, his career could be about half over.
His 2011 season wasn’t as spectacular as his 2010 rookie campaign, but Tampa Bay’s Mike Williams still was on the field more frequently than any other NFC South wide receiver.

Williams took part in 94.5 percent of Tampa Bay’s offensive snaps. He was on the field for 965 of Tampa Bay’s 1,021 offensive plays.

Carolina’s Steve Smith and Atlanta’s Roddy White each played more snaps, but came up short of the percentage of plays Williams was in for. Williams’ percentage of playing time ranked No. 4 in the NFL.

Smith ranked No. 7 in the NFL, taking part in 91.4 percent of Carolina’s snaps. He was on the field for 956 of Carolina’s 1,046 plays. White was involved in 90.5 percent of Atlanta’s offensive plays. He was on the field for 1,020 of Atlanta’s 1,227 offensive snaps.

Let’s take a look at some other NFC South receivers and the playing time they got in 2011:

Brent Grimes out for Falcons

January, 8, 2012
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Atlanta cornerback Brent Grimes will miss Sunday’s playoff game with the New York Giants due to a knee injury.

Grimes had been listed as questionable and practiced on a limited basis. But the team elected to make him inactive Sunday morning.

Dominique Franks will start in Grimes’ place and Christopher Owens will be the third cornerback.

Starting linebacker Stephen Nicholas also will miss the game. That was expected because Nicholas was listed as doubtful with a toe injury and did not practice at all during the week. Spencer Adkins will start in his place.

The other inactives for the Falcons are quarterback John Parker Wilson, center Brett Romberg, offensive lineman Kirk Chambers, receiver Kerry Meier and defensive end Cliff Matthews.

Falcons getting healthier

January, 5, 2012
The injury news got a little more encouraging for the Falcons on Thursday as linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (head), running back Michael Turner (groin), safety William Moore (groin), receiver Kerry Meier (groin) and receiver Harry Douglas (groin) all returned to practice.

Weatherspoon participated fully, while the others took part on a limited basis. But the more concerning news is that cornerback Brent Grimes (knee) and linebacker Stephen Nicholas (toe) each missed their second straight day of practice.

Spencer Adkins would start at linebacker if Nicholas isn’t ready to play Sunday against the New York Giants. If Grimes can’t go, the Falcons likely would start Dominique Franks.

For the Giants, running back Ahmad Bradshaw (foot) did not practice Thursday.

Falcons have long injury list

January, 4, 2012
The Atlanta Falcons just sent out their first injury report for Sunday’s playoff game with the New York Giants and it’s pretty extensive.

Veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez, center Todd McClure and defensive end John Abraham did not practice Wednesday. They are not listed with injuries and the team said the three veterans were resting.

But there were some other players who did sit out with injuries that could be reasons for concern. Cornerback Brent Grimes (knee), linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (head), running back Michael Turner (groin), linebacker Stephen Nicholas (toe), safety William Moore (groin) and receivers Kerry Meier (groin) and Harry Douglas (groin) did not participate in practice.

Grimes, Nicholas out for Falcons

January, 1, 2012
ATLANTA -- The Falcons will be without injured cornerback Brent Grimes (knee) and linebacker Stephen Nicholas (toe) in Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay.

Both players have been declared inactive. Dominique Franks is expected to start in Grimes’ place. Spencer Adkins likely will start in Nicholas’ spot.

The other inactives for the Falcons are quarterback John Parker Wilson, center Brett Romberg, offensive lineman Kirk Chambers, receiver Kerry Meier and defensive end Cliff Matthews.

Checking the injuries that matter most

December, 30, 2011
The final injury reports are out for Sunday’s games, so let’s take a look at the most significant injuries around the NFC South.

The Falcons are listing linebacker Stephen Nicholas (toe) and receiver Kerry Meier (groin) as doubtful. The Falcons have been getting linebacker Spencer Adkins ready to start this week. Defensive end Ray Edwards (knee) and cornerback Brent Grimes (knee) are questionable. Edwards participated in practice on a limited basis Friday, but Grimes did not. Backup quarterback Chris Redman also is listed as questionable.

The Buccaneers have ruled right tackle Jeremy Trueblood out with a concussion. Receiver Arrelious Benn (neck), defensive end Michael Bennett (toe), defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth (knee) and defensive tackle Brian Price (ankle) are listed as questionable. Benn and Haynesworth did not practice Friday while Price and Bennett participated fully.

The Panthers have ruled receiver Legedu Naanee (foot), defensive tackle Andre Neblett (concussion) and safety Jordan Pugh (concussion) out for Sunday. Defensive end Charles Johnson (back) is listed as doubtful and did not practice all week.

The Saints said running back Mark Ingram (toe) and receiver Lance Moore (hamstring) will be out Sunday. Linebacker Jonathan Vilma (knee) and safety Malcolm Jenkins (neck) are questionable and practiced on a limited basis.