NFC South: Laurent Robinson

Around the NFC South

August, 5, 2013
8/05/13
10:31
AM ET
Let's take a run through some odds and ends from around the division:

ATLANTA FALCONS

Wide receiver Roddy White said he wouldn’t want the Falcons to ever be the featured team on HBO’s "Hard Knocks." That’s somewhat of a surprise because White is perhaps the most outgoing member of the Falcons and likes attention. But White said he wouldn’t want the cameras to capture too much strategy and help out other teams.

The Falcons will practice with the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday and Tuesday before playing a preseason game. Part of the reason the teams are working together is because their coaches have a strong friendship. Mike Smith and Marvin Lewis worked as assistants together in Baltimore for four years.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Jonathan Jones writes that linebacker Chase Blackburn could play a big role for the Panthers. Blackburn’s signing from the New York Giants was one of the most underrated moves in free agency. He has started some games and can play all three linebacker positions. Given the injury histories of Thomas Davis and Jon Beason, Blackburn could end up being a very valuable player.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Larry Holder reports that free-agent receiver Laurent Robinson will visit with the Saints on Monday. Marques Colston has been sidelined since the start of camp and Joe Morgan got banged up in Saturday’s scrimmage. The Saints are scrambling for depth and Robinson is a guy with some experience.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Roy Cummings writes about the evolution from college basketball player to starting right tackle by Demar Dotson. Although the Bucs brought in Gabe Carimi in the offseaon, that move was just to add depth. Dotson is secure as the starting right tackle and the Bucs believe he’s only just starting to hit his full potential.
Just about everywhere you look or listen there is speculation the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be in hot pursuit of wide receiver Vincent Jackson.

It makes sense on many levels, starting with the facts that the Bucs need a true No. 1 receiver and Jackson probably is the best available in free agency. There’s likely to be competition from Chicago and Washington and perhaps some other teams. The San Diego Chargers are also holding out a bit of hope that they can re-sign Jackson.

[+] EnlargeChargers' Vincent Jackson
Kirby Lee/US PRESSWIREVincent Jackson, a proven No. 1 receiver, could help the Bucs win more games in the NFC South.
But the Chargers will only do that if his price tag is somewhere around $11 million a season. If it gets higher than that, he likely will walk and Tampa Bay’s a very logical place for one of the top members of this free-agent class.

The Bucs have about $43 million in salary-cap space and it’s become increasingly clear the Bucs want to do everything possible to put quarterback Josh Freeman in position to succeed. Jackson certainly would help in that regard.

At 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, Jackson may not sound like the deep threat so many think the Bucs need. But Jackson is a bit of a freak of nature when it comes to his speed, plus he uses his strength to get separation.

Just look at his numbers when it comes to yards per catch. Last season, Jackson averaged 18.4 yards per catch. That’s the second-highest total of his career and the highest (19.7) came in his rookie season when he was used as a third receiver.

That shows Jackson isn’t losing a step, which is a concern for a receiver who just turned 29. It looks like Jackson has several good years left and the Bucs shouldn’t let their infamous history of bringing in receivers scare them off. Jackson’s not Alvin Harper or Bert Emanuel, guys that were No. 2 receivers elsewhere that the Bucs thought could emerge as No. 1 guys. Jackson also isn’t Keyshawn Johnson, Joey Galloway or Antonio Bryant, guys who produced in the short term, but, for various reasons, didn’t last in the long term.

Jackson is a proven No. 1 receiver. Although he had some off-field problems, those appear to be behind him and teammates and media members who have covered him say Jackson doesn’t have the “diva’’ personality so many receivers do. He’s described as very quiet and always has been liked by his coaches.

If the Bucs are going to get Jackson, it likely will cost them around $12-$13 million a year. That’s a lot, but the Bucs have indicated they’re ready to spend money after going lightly in free agency in recent years.

Jackson is the one guy out there that seems like a sure thing. Pittsburgh’s Mike Wallace is a restricted free agent and I don’t think the Bucs are looking to give up draft picks. New Orleans Marques Colston isn’t a speed guy and he’s been banged up at times in the past.

If the Bucs don’t get Jackson, then they need to look in a different direction.

Robert Meachem (Saints), Mario Manningham (Giants) and Laurent Robinson (Cowboys) are guys that can stretch the field, but none of them is a true No. 1 receiver, although they'd come at a much lower price tag than Jackson. But even adding a speed guy could make it easier for Tampa Bay’s current group of receivers – Mike Williams, Arrelious Benn, Dezmon Briscoe, Preston Parker and Sammie Stroughter — to get open.

Cowboys-Buccaneers by the numbers

December, 17, 2011
12/17/11
1:40
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TAMPA, Fla. -- Let’s start getting ready for Saturday night’s game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dallas Cowboys with some nuggets from ESPN Stats & Information.

The Bucs are on a seven-game losing streak. That’s the second-longest losing streak the Bucs have had since 2001. The longest was an 11-game losing streak from Week 14 of 2008 through Week 7 of the 2009 season.

Tampa Bay running back LeGarrette Blount has five fumbles. That’s the second-highest total in the NFL.

Dallas quarterback Tony Romo is 2-0 against the Buccaneers. In those games, he has thrown eight touchdown passes and averaged 329.5 passing yards per game.

The Cowboys have had a lot of success in three-receiver sets recently. In the past seven games, Romo has eight touchdowns and zero interceptions in three-receiver sets. Laurent Robinson, who once was cast aside by the Atlanta Falcons, has caught five of those eight touchdown passes.

Dallas’ defense has been horrendous in the fourth quarter and overtime this season. The Cowboys have allowed 96 fourth-quarter or overtime points (No. 26 in the league) and 1,516 yards (No. 30).

This will be the first Saturday game for the Buccaneers since Christmas Eve 2005, when they defeated Atlanta in overtime at home.
When choosing the best draft class in the history of the NFC South (history starts in 2002, when the NFC South started), it was easy to pick the 2006 group brought in by the New Orleans Saints. Guys like Reggie Bush, Jahri Evans, Marques Colston and Roman Harper were big reasons why the Saints won the Super Bowl last season.

But 2007 also was a memorable draft for the Buccaneers and Falcons -- for all the wrong reasons. In fact, I had to have a lengthy debate with myself on if Atlanta or Tampa Bay had the worst class in division history that year.

1. 2007 by Tampa Bay. As I debated the demerits of what Atlanta and Tampa Bay did in this draft, it really came down to the fact that the Bucs hit the trifecta with their first three picks. They took Gaines Adams, Arron Sears and Sabby Piscitelli. You can’t really argue with that. Adams was a non-factor before the Bucs traded him to Chicago, Sears couldn’t play last year because of personal issues and Piscitelli showed last year that he can’t play. Safety Tanard Jackson, a fourth-round pick, has been a bright spot, but not enough to pull the Bucs out of the top spot.

2. 2007 by Atlanta. When the Bucs took Adams, they passed over Jamaal Anderson and the Falcons pounced on him with the No. 8 overall pick. If you don’t hit on a top-10 pick, you’ve got a problem. The Falcons have gotten nothing out of Anderson. They did get a solid starter in guard Justin Blalock in the second round and fourth-round pick Stephen Nicholas became a starter at linebacker last year. But Bobby Petrino and Rich McKay also gave the Falcons cornerback Chris Houston in the second round and receiver Laurent Robinson in the third. Houston started a lot of games for the Falcons, but the current Atlanta regime was thrilled to trade him to Detroit this year. Robinson never came close to being a factor.

3. 2003 by Tampa Bay. Speaking of Petrino, he played a major role in building what almost was the third-worst draft class in NFC South history. I gave very strong consideration to Carolina’s class of 2005. Louisville products Eric Shelton and Stefan LeFors were tremendous busts. Atiyyah Ellison and Jovan Haye showed they can play in the league, but only after they left the Panthers. But I couldn’t quite put Carolina in this slot because first-round pick Thomas Davis has worked out. If you want to see a class that truly flopped from top to bottom look back at the 2003 Bucs. They were without a first-round pick because it was used to help get coach Jon Gruden out of Oakland. But the Bucs jumped in after that and gave you this collection of draft picks -- Dewayne White, Chris Simms, Lance Nimmo, Austin King, Sean Mahan and Torrie Cox. Sad part is Cox, the last pick of the bunch, probably did the most of this group.

Observations on the Falcons

August, 22, 2009
8/22/09
2:22
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

I wasn't able to get a television broadcast of Atlanta's 20-13 preseason victory against St. Louis where I live Friday night, but I went for a really long drive and was able to pick up much of the game on satellite radio.

Thanks to the Falcons' radio broadcast team of Wes Durham and Dave Archer, I was able to come up with some audio observations.

  • Matt Ryan, Michael Turner and the rest of the first-team offense are ready for the regular season.
  • Really cool stat from the radio crew: The last preseason meeting between Atlanta and St. Louis came in 1991. Brett Favre, then an Atlanta rookie, was the starting quarterback for the Falcons.
  • According to Durham and Archer, cornerback Brent Grimes played very well. He was around the ball every time it was thrown his way. Then again, he was covering Laurent Robinson, who the Falcons were happy to trade to the Rams.
  • D.J. Shockley got to come in at quarterback after Ryan. Can't say he didn't look good because I didn't see it. But it didn't sound too good. Shockley's first pass should have been intercepted, but Will Witherspoon dropped it, according to the radio crew.
  •  Shockley's next pass was intercepted by James Laurinitis. Looks like another year of Chris Redman as Ryan's backup.
  • According to the radio crew, backup running back Jerious Norwood has put on eight pounds of muscle in the offseason. That's great because the Falcons want Turner to cut down on the 376 carries he had last season. But I still would not expect Norwood to get significantly more carries than he did last year. He might get a few more, but you don't want to take the ball out of Turner's hands too much.
  • Rookie Lawrence Sidbury had two sacks. The Falcons drafted him for a reason. That reason is to give him playing time if third-year pro Jamaal Anderson continues to stumble.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

Just opened up the mailbag. As is usually the case after I run team-by-team mailbags like I did Monday, I've got a lot more great questions.

That made me decide to do a quick version of team-by-team mailbags today. We'll hit two questions per team and start with the Atlanta Falcons.

Robb in Suffolk, VA writes: Pat, I've seen you, and others, use the phrase "it does not fit the profile of what the Falcons are trying to do" with regards to free agency and trades not involving draft picks. It's a nice, neat way to explain away the Falcons lack of movement this offseason. But can they take that approach too far? Just because they want to build through the draft, do they completely avoid signing defensive depth or making a trade for a Tony Scheffler (mentioned in your last blog) for that reason alone? Could they not build more effectively through the draft by acquiring some depth/starters via other means? They could still hold true to the build through the draft philosophy.

Pat Yasinskas: Excellent question. I'm going to point to some personal experience I had covering two other NFC South teams in my newspaper days. In the cases of Tony Dungy and Rich McKay joining forces with the Buccaneers in 1996 and John Fox and Marty Hurney becoming a team with the Panthers in 2002, I got to see up close two teams that decided to build through the draft. In both cases it worked very nicely. I know Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith looked at those and some other similar models when they took over the Falcons a year ago. What they're doing is taking a very calculated and deliberate approach and factoring in the salary cap and long-term implications for every move. Is it going to be the same every year? No, but the basic premise is to build through the draft and take your shots when you get them. For instance, Hurney and Fox have varied from their plan at various times, signing big free agents like Ken Lucas, Mike Wahle and Keyshawn Johnson. Interestingly, none of those guys stayed with the Panthers for long. They came in, played a role and left while the Panthers continued to build their team around the drafted core. The Falcons already have a lot of core parts in place and they'll get more in the upcoming draft. They might sign a free agent or two after the draft, but they'll be guys like linebacker Mike Peterson, who they previously signed. Peterson is basically a guy who came in at a moderate price and can plug a hole for a year or two. It might make for boring offseasons, but history has shown systems like this can work over the long term.


Eric in Nashville writes: Hey Pat, I was wondering if you had any more insight into Atlanta's trade of Laurent Robinson? The team seemed pretty happy to get him in the third round two years ago, and he showed some promise during his rookie season. I know he didn't play much last year, but I thought that was largely because of hamstring issues. What did the coaching staff not like about him? I was also curious as to how you think this will affect the Falcons' draft plans. Are they looking to spend a late-round pick on a receiver now? Clearly White, Jenkins, and Douglas are the top three guys, but there isn't much depth beyond them. Finneran is reliable, but he's old, and a lot of people were shocked that he even made the roster last year. I don't see him lasting much longer, given the youth movement everywhere else.

Pat Yasinskas: I remember arriving in Flowery Branch for training camp last year and some coaches, team officials and local media members were all thinking Laurent Robinson had a chance to win a starting job. But that prospect faded quickly. Yes, some injury issues might have played a small role. But the real reason why Robinson fell out of favor was that he wasn't much of a blocker and wasn't enthusiastic about going over the middle. The Falcons were putting in their new offense last year and both of those things are requirements for their type of receivers. Michael Jenkins was a willing and above-average blocker and that's why he won the No. 2 receiver job and had a breakout season. The Falcons are also very high on Harry Douglas, who had a nice rookie season. Along with Roddy White, they've got a nice group of top three receivers. Brian Finneran may stick around and continue to play a role, but I'm pretty sure you're going to see Atlanta add a receiver somewhere in the draft.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

I've been getting lots of questions in the mailbag recently about the chart that general managers go by when working on trades of draft picks. With that in mind, I thought you might want to take a look at the NFL draft-pick value chart.

Using that chart, NFC West colleague Mike Sando did the math on Monday's trade in which the Atlanta Falcons swapped wide receiver Laurent Robinson and two draft picks with St. Louis to move up in the fifth and sixth rounds of the draft.

Basically, the deal went pretty much according to the chart. I think the most interesting part of this is that Robinson was taken with the 75th overall pick in the 2007 draft by the Falcons. He had some promise, but his unwillingness or inability to block or be a physical presence over the middle soured the coaching staff on his ability.

In Sando's math, Robinson's value over two years dropped from the 75th overall pick to No. 189.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

The Atlanta Falcons apparently believe the second day of the draft can be important. They made a trade Monday that moves them up 22 spots in the fifth round and 20 spots in the sixth round.

Atlanta sent wide receiver Laurent Robinson to St. Louis along with a fifth-round choice (160th overall) and a sixth-round pick (No. 196). In return, the Falcons will get St. Louis' fifth-round pick (138th) and sixth-round choice (176th overall).

Robinson appeared to have a shot at a starting job in training camp last season, but fell out of favor with the coaching staff. In the meantime, Michael Jenkins established himself as the No. 2 receiver and rookie Harry Douglas showed plenty of promise last season.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

The release of Terrell Owens by Dallas brings up one obvious question. Where will the talented, but troubled, wide receiver end up next?

It's probably not going to be in the NFC South.

Here's a look at the four teams and why Owens probably doesn't fit:

Atlanta Falcons: They've got a nice starting combination in Roddy White and Michael Jenkins and some young talent with Harry Douglas and Laurent Robinson. Good chemistry was part of the reason the Falcons succeeded last year and they're not going to disrupt that. Coach Mike Smith is a no-nonsense guy and I can't see him wanting any part of Owens.

Carolina Panthers: They already bend the rules here for Steve Smith because his good side balances out the bad. Owner Jerry Richardson isn't going to bend his rules beyond Smith. Besides, putting Owens and Smith together just wouldn't work. Smith wasn't happy with the attention Keyshawn Johnson received in Charlotte and Owens brings a circus wherever he goes.

New Orleans Saints: With Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson, the Saints have a deep and talented receiving corps that doesn't cause many problems.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: This is the one team in the division that we see as a remote possibility for Owens. If Jon Gruden still was the coach, Owens might already be with the Bucs. But new coach Raheem Morris and general manager Mark Dominik might be a little more cautious with troubled guys and that may keep them away from Owens. But the Bucs do have plenty of cap room and could use a receiver who can do some things down the field.

Mailbag: Atlanta Falcons edition

February, 10, 2009
2/10/09
4:15
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

The Atlanta Falcons are the final stop in our series of team-by-team mailbags. Got lots of great questions from the Atlanta fans. Obviously, couldn't answer them all, but I tried to pick questions that represented the issues that seemed to be on most of your minds.

Here goes:

Hank in Charleston, S.C., writes: Hey Pat, thanks for keeping up with the blog even in the off season. This setup might be the best thing ESPN.com has done in quite a while. My question regards a topic that the Atlanta Falcons have been dodging (at least from what I can see). What are the options with Mike Vick when he is eventually back in the NFL? I know that some believe he will be suspended for a year, but I do believe that he will play again? I am mainly interested in what positives the Falcons can get out of this, i.e. draft picks, money, players. Any ideas? Thanks Pat.

Pat Yasinskas: Very complicated issue. At the moment, Michael Vick doesn't count against the cap, but that's kind of a cloud hanging over the Falcons because it could change. If Vick is reinstated into the NFL, the Falcons still have about $15 million in prorated bonuses hanging out there. About the only positive in that is the Falcons could try to recoup some bonus money that already was paid. I don't think the Falcons will have any luck trying to trade Vick and they'll just have to release him. There still is the possibility the NFL could suspend him.


James in Carrollton, Ga., writes: Pat, with a hot new GM and a new face of the franchise at QB, there has been talk in Atlanta about a new dome for the Falcons. Have you heard anything else about it?

Pat Yasinskas: No, I honestly haven't and although having a hot, young team might help in that regard, I don't think this is the time to go asking for a new stadium. First, the Georgia Dome was just renovated (quite nicely) before last season. Second, given the economy, I don't think Arthur Blank would be wise to ask for a new stadium, and he's a smart man. But it is something you could see happen in a few years, if the economy straightens out.


Patrick in Atlanta writes: Saw in your last post that you thought CB was a secondary need for ATL. Not sure I agree, as I think it's DT, LB and S, in that order, but assuming you're right, how would Bodden fit into our scheme? Seems the Lions might have cut bait a little early on him, but what do you think? Talent or fools gold?

Pat Yasinskas: I like Leigh Bodden as a player, and I think that's something to look at. However, I wouldn't overpay him and I think there's going to be some serious bidders for him. Also, I don't disagree with your needs of defensive tackle, linebacker and safety, but I think you can throw cornerback into that mix.


Mark in Hegins, Pa., writes: Pat I just saw a rumor that Atlanta was going to franchise Koenen the punter, which I think is a great thing, but is there any chance that another team trades for his services, because he was sensational all throughout the year with hangtime, kickoff duties and of course setting the new record for return yardage (49)?? Thanks Mark

Pat Yasinskas: Yes, that rumor is out there and it very well could happen if the Falcons aren't able to re-sign Michael Koenen. It makes sense because he is an excellent punter, and I don't see any other Falcons that would be logical choices for the franchise tag.


Bill in Atlanta writes: Pat, How effective would a premier pass catching TE be in preventing teams from putting 8-9 in the box to stop Turner?

Pat Yasinskas: I don't think they need to go out and get a tight end like Tony Gonzalez because Mike Mularkey's offense just doesn't use the tight end as a receiver enough to justify that. But I do think it would be smart to get a tight end who at least gives them a little bit of a pass-catching threat. That's really the only toy Matt Ryan doesn't have right now and it certainly would help Michael Turner and the running game. The threat of a tight end as a pass-catcher would tie up a safety and keep him out of the box. It also would open things up more for receivers Roddy White, Michael Jenkins and Harry Douglas.


JIM in ROANOKE VA writes: Who if any will the Falcons target as their big off season free agent? Will they break the bank for Albert OR Julius-I don`t see Tom D doing that?

Zach in Atlanta writes: Why should the Falcons sign Julius Peppers or Albert Haynesworth when great team chemistry is what helped them have such a fantastic 2008 season. Everyone has to put the team first. They should keep with what they're doing and build from within. That's how the Braves were so successful during the 90s.

Pat Yasinskas: I'm putting these two questions together because they tie in nicely. I've also had a lot of letters from Atlanta fans suggesting the Falcons should go after Julius Peppers or Albert Haynesworth, but I don't agree with them. First off, I think general manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith are committed to building through the draft and filling some holes with midlevel free agents. Bringing in a Haynesworth or a Peppers doesn't really fit the profile and it would be hugely expensive. I can see the Falcons adding a defensive tackle and a defensive end, but I think that will come through the draft or in the form of midlevel free agents.


Jon in parts unknown writes: Falcons Questions. Pat, how do you see the Birds' linebacker situation working out? Loften is set in the middle, but does Brooking return? Strong side seems to be wide open with Boley struggling last year and now a free agent.

Pat Yasinskas: My guess is that Keith Brooking and Michael Boley won't return. I think there's a possibility Brooking retires or gets released and I think the Falcons will let Boley, who lost his starting job last year, walk in free agency. Curtis Lofton is an emerging star in the middle and the Falcons need to surround him with quality on the outside. Coy Wire played well when he moved ahead of Boley last year, and I think the Falcons will keep him. But I think they'll also get a couple of new linebackers in free agency or the draft.


Hiro in Tokyo writes: Hey Pat, love your blog. I was wondering what p
osition the Falcons might target in Free Agency - what I mean is, what positions do you think the Falcons need more depth in. We already know the secondary is a need, but I personally think the retirement of Weiner leaves the O-line thin. Sure we have some nasty and effective olinemen, but perhaps they'll stock up on some during the offseason? Also, how do you see Jerious Norwood and Michael Turner fair next season? I still think they didn't use Jerious to his full potential, and I definitely don't want Turner getting as many carries as he did this year.

Pat Yasinskas: Good point about the retirement of Todd Weiner. He gave that offensive line a lot of versatility and depth. I think the Falcons need to get another quality offensive lineman in free agency or the draft. They've got decent starters, but I'm a little concerned about the injuries Sam Baker had as a rookie. If he has problems again, the Falcons need a solid alternative. As far as Jerious Norwood, I think you'll see him get some more carries next season. The Falcons know they used Turner an awful lot last year, and I suspect they'll try very hard to limit his carries a bit.


Zach in Atl writes: do you think the falcons will pick up a wide receiver this off season?(draft, trade, free agency)It seems like outside of Roddy White they don't have a real premier threat.

Pat Yasinskas: I don't see wide receiver being a huge need. Roddy White's a very solid No. 1 receiver and Michael Jenkins emerged as a dependable No. 2 last year. The Falcons also have some promising young talent in Laurent Robinson and Harry Douglas. In particular, I think Douglas has the potential to someday be a starter.

Falcons add TE Pollard

December, 16, 2008
12/16/08
4:38
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

The Falcons just announced a series of minor roster moves.

Receiver Laurent Robinson and cornerback/special teams player David Irons were placed on the injured reserve list. They signed veteran tight end Marcus Pollard to fill one of the roster spots and promoted safety Eric Brock from the practice squad to take the other spot.

They also signed cornerback Darius Vinnett and offensive lineman Michael Butterworth to the practice squad.

The most interesting move here is Pollard, who was with the Falcons in training camp. He's a 14-year veteran who spent most of his career with the Colts and has 40 career touchdown catches. The Falcons don't throw to their tight ends a lot and that's not going to change dramatically now. But Pollard gives a young team someone with lots of experience and he could end up making a play or two.

Evening roundup

October, 1, 2008
10/01/08
5:35
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

PANTHERS

Both starting offensive tackles sat out practice. Jordan Gross had a concussion and Jeff Otah has a sprained ankle. If Gross can't play Sunday, and it sure looks that way, the Panthers will slide left guard Travelle Wharton to left tackle and put Geoff Hangartner at left guard. If Otah can't play, Jeremy Bridges would be the starter at right tackle.

SAINTS

Running back Deuce McAllister, who got his first real work of the season Sunday, went through a full practice. McAllister said his knees feel fine. Translation: Look for the Saints to use McAllister plenty Monday night against the Vikings.

Quarterback Joey Harrington was re-signed. He was cut last week because the team needed a roster spot because of injuries at tight end.

BUCCANEERS

Coach Jon Gruden said quarterbacks Jeff Garcia and Luke McCown got some reps with the first team, but all indications are Brian Griese remains the starter. Griese has thrown six interceptions in the last two games (both victories).

"He understands that he can't turn the ball over,'' Gruden said. "He knows where I stand. He knows enough about the position to know that's critical to our success.''

Gruden also said wide receiver Joey Galloway and fullback B.J. Askew continued to sit out with injuries.

FALCONS

Tackle Sam Baker, safety Lawyer Milloy and receiver Laurent Robinson sat out practice. Defensive tackle Grady Jackson was limited.

Friday evening mailbag

September, 26, 2008
9/26/08
6:24
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

Dave in Carlisle PA writes: What is going on with Robert Meachem and Payton??? Is there a reason he isnt out on the field. He has the size to bring in balls and has the speed to get by defenders. A healthy Meachem looked great in the preseason and that was a nice catch last week for a td. Combine that with the fact that defensive coaching staffs really have no footage to gameplan with it just seems like it makes so much sense to have him out on that field. I like Hendersons ability to make a huge play but I personally enjoy seeing first downs rather than our defense after 3rd and outs. Please give me some insight into what is going on with Meachem this year.

Pat Yasinskas: That same question is on the minds of a lot of Saints' fans and it should be. Maybe last week was a turning point and will lead to more playing time for Meachem. The Saints are running out of receivers. If Meachem ever is going to prove he can play in this league, the time is now. Meachem was injured as a rookie and it took him time to learn the playbook. Last season was a waste for him. But you can't have two wasteful seasons in a row from a first-round pick, who appears to be healthy now. Throw him out on the field and see what he can do.


MR.FALCON in parts unknown writes: WHAT CAN MY BIRDS DO TO IMPROVE THIS YEAR AND DO YOU THINK LAURENT ROBINSON WILL START BY END OF THIS SEASON?

Pat Yasinskas: The Falcons just need to stick with the plan they have in place. Mike Smith wants to be able to run the ball on offense and stop the run on defense. That's not going to be easy every week and there will be bumps along the way. But Smith knows what he's doing and he's got some good parts in place. As far as Laurent Robinson, I thought he'd be a starter back in training camp. But Michael Jenkins beat him out. Robinson still could work his way back in as a starter. He just needs to be more consistent. He also needs to work on his blocking. I know that seems like a small thing for a wide receiver. But it's a big deal in Atlanta's system because Smith wants receivers who can help block for the running game.


Buccaneers in parts unknown writes: I've been a Bucs fan for as long as I can remember and year after year, draft after draft, we don't address the skill positions. When can we expect to see a QB of the future? Griese is an ok starter but not the future and Garcia isn't getting any younger. Who knows if Luke McCown or Josh Johnson are the answers. Not to mention that whoever the QB is going to be Joey Galloway isn't with us much longer and he's our only deep threat. Lets see more of Dexter Jackson besides special teams. Lets see what the future looks like for Bucs Nation.

Pat Yasinskas: Agree with you on Galloway and Dexter Jackson. But the Bucs are 2-1 and things are going well right now. I wouldn't count on any drastic lineup changes from Jon Gruden, who generally favors older players. But I think we still will be talking about who will be the Bucs' quarterback of the future in the spring. And, maybe in the spring of 2010.


Joseph in Franklinton, NC writes: I think the reason why the panthers lost the vikings was because they over rated themselve when steve smith returned. What u you think?

Pat Yasinskas: I think the bigger factor was they ran into a Minnesota team that was desperate and motivated. They got outplayed and maybe that will motivate the Panthers this week.


J in Raleigh writes: What are the Panther's weakest areas?

Pat Yasinskas: Last week, it was the offensive line. The Panthers gave up five sacks and had a bunch of penalties. The good news is it looks like left guard Travelle Wharton will be back from an injury and that will make the rest of the line better.


Chris in Las Vegas writes: Pat, Do you think that the Bucs might be better than people thought? and do you think they really showed they can find ways to win?

Pat Yasinskas: The Bucs found a way to win in Chicago. They threw the ball 67 times. But you can't do that every week. They need more balance in their offense. The capability is there with Earnest Graham and Warrick Dunn as the running backs. They're a good team and I expect them to be in the division race all season.



Ryan in Lafayette, LA writes: Pat, would you agree with the assessment that Sean Payton cost the Saints the game against the Broncos? I mean, why not put Deuce in on short-yardage situations, or do something to stop the backside linebacker. And what about putting 5-foot-8-inch Jason David on 6-foot-4-inch Brandon Marshall; that's just asking to be thrown against. I know Daivd is Randall Gay's back-up, but why not switch McKenzie on Marshall? It doesn't make sense.

Pat Yasinskas: I think there certainly is room to question Payton's coaching. I'd love to see Deuce McAllister out there more. But Payton sees him every day in practice and it seems like he would play him if Deuce has anything left. As far as Jason David on Marshall, there's no legitimate way to justify that move. I know the secondary has struggled with injuries, but they could have created a better matchup on Marshall.


Sharell in Raleigh NC writes: What's your take on Brent Grimes of the Falcons? It appears that the coaching staff thinks highly of him. Do you think he will get a chance to do punt returns over the "average" Adam Jennigns? He appears to be a breath of fresh air over MeHall. I'll be at the game on Sunday, my first professional football game!!!

Pat Yasinskas: I know the Atlanta coaches were all fired up about Grimes in training camp. They thought he was one of the best athletes on the team. There was some concern about him picking up the defensive system, but I think he's shown now that he's done that. He's playing well and he makes a lot less money than DeAngelo Hall. As far as returning punts, I wouldn't do that. Grimes has made himself valuable as a cornerback and there's no need to give him more exposure to injury. Enjoy your first pro game.


Ian in Ocala, FL writes: Pat, What do you think about the way Brandon Lloyd exposed Rhonde Barber? Orton and Lloyd made Rhonde look down right silly, especially on the TD late in the game. Is Rhonde losing a step? Thanks, Ian

Pat Yasinskas: It's definitely a cause for concern and other teams will see that film and try to do something similar. Let's keep an eye on how Barber bounces back against Green Bay on Sunday. The Bucs know Barber can't go on forever and that's part of the reason they drafted Aqib Talib.

NFC South evening roundup

September, 25, 2008
9/25/08
5:57
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

BUCCANEERS

  • The Bucs will leave it up to kicker Matt Bryant to decide whether he'll play in Sunday's game against the Packers. Bryant's infant son died Wednesday. Safety Sabby Piscitelli is the team's emergency kicker, but it's unlikely he would be the choice if Bryant doesn't play. Shane Andrus is an option if the Bucs bring in a fill-in kicker.
  • Receiver Joey Galloway could miss his second straight game due to injury. Galloway again missed practice, increasing the chances he'll sit out Sunday's game against Green Bay.

FALCONS

  • Rookie left tackle Sam Baker missed practice and has had an assortment of tests for what was believed to have been a concussion. His status for Sunday's game with the Panthers is uncertain. Todd Weiner, get ready to meet Julius Peppers.
  • Receiver Laurent Robinson said he'll miss Sunday's game at Carolina because of a sprained knee. That means Harry Douglas, Brian Finneran and Adam Jennings could get more playing time.

SAINTS

  • Add starting center Jonathan Goodwin to New Orleans' massive injury list. Goodwin didn't practice because of a hamstring injury. Cornerback Aaron Glenn already has been ruled out for Sunday.

PANTHERS

  • Carolina is healthier than it's been all season. Return man Ryne Robinson declared himself ready to go and left guard Travelle Wharton, who sat out the last two games with an injury, practiced again.

Answering the mail

September, 25, 2008
9/25/08
11:59
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

Thanks very much for filling up the mailbag. Your questions and comments have been great. I'm going to have to divide them up. I'll answer some today and get to the rest either Friday or Saturday. Here we go.

Nate in Wichita writes: Atlanta and Carolina fans have been debating all week whose RBs and WRs are better based on this years stats and last years. Who do you think have the best sets of offensive weapons? Keep in mind that Turner has only produced versus two bad run defenses in the chiefs and lions and his one game versus a good defense he has been held to a little over 40 yards. If you could clear up this debate for us it'd be greatly appreciated.

Pat Yasinskas: I don't think I can clear this one up because it's too early to give a definitive answer. You have to like the running back combinations for both teams. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart give the Panthers a great combination of power and speed and we're only just beginning to see what they can do. Same thing with Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood for Atlanta. As for the receivers, Steve Smith is the best in the division, but he's only played in one game so far. I like Muhsin Muhammad and D.J. Hackett as complements to Smith. Atlanta's Roddy White is an emerging star and Michael Jenkins is solid. I also think Atlanta's Laurent Robinson will develop into a very good receiver. Your question is one that I think will be good to revisit later in the season when we have more evidence to work with.


Ronald in Lynchburg VA writes: I suggested to my cowboys fan friend that felix jones is the same as jerious norwood. he laughed. is this a ridiculous comparison?

Pat Yasinskas: I don't think it's ridiculous. If you want to enhance your argument, tell your friend to picture Norwood running in Dallas' offense. I think he'd be very productive with that team around him.


Jonny in Huntsville, AL writes: Jon Gruden said few weeks back that the QB situation in Tampa Bay has arisen because of an injury to Jeff Garcia in the Saints game. When Gruden named Griese the starter against bears, it was also mentioned that the change is for that game only. Right now, I don't hear any sounds about Garcia being the starter or him being in the injury list. Probably Gruden wants him benched throughout the season. What kind of a future do you see for Jeff Garcia?

Pat Yasinskas: Gruden said Wednesday that Garcia's been practicing well lately. But he also pointed out how well Griese is playing. I don't see any switch coming any time soon. In fact, I don't see a switch coming at all this season. I think the Bucs will stick with Griese, as long as he's healthy. I think Garcia very well might have already taken his last snap for the Bucs. His contract is up at the end of the season and you can bet that he'll end up somewhere else next season.


Sharell in Raleigh, NC writes: Will a win over the Panthers this Sunday will you give the Falcons a little more respect and bring yourself to admit that the Panthers are an OK team?

Pat Yasinskas: I'm assuming you mean "admit that the Falcons are an OK team'' because I know you're a big Atlanta fan. First, I don't think I've not respected the Falcons. I've just been honest and said they're a work in progress, but I like what they're doing so far. Sure, a win against the Panthers would be huge for the Falcons. But the bigger test for them is to show improvement each week in the first year for coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan.


SaintsFanIn_Iraq by way of Anacoco, LA writes: Ok Pat, this is getting ridiculous. I have been sick for a week, but I still ended up waking at 1am and watching the last few minutes of the first half, and the entire second half of the game. When is Randall Gay coming back? Jason David will not do. I saw missed tackles, bad coverage, and sloppy reads. McKenzie did ok, but I could tell he was still rusty. Hopefully he will be back in top form this week. What about Scott Fujita? When will we see him? Denver ran all over us last week. We need some stability in the middle. Any word on Colston Yet? Does our injury roster exceed our actitive roster yet? It sure seems that way since Shockey and Brown just went down.

Pat Yasinskas: Yep, I'm not even sure where to start on the Saints' injuries (and Jamar Nesbit's suspension). They held eight players out of practice Wednesday and five more players were limited. The most positive news I can give you is that defensive tackle Antwan Lake and linebacker Scott Fujita were back at practice. But the flip side is that cornerbacks Randall Gay and Aaron Glenn were out. As far as Colston, he's still at least a couple weeks away from returning. I keep hearing that the Oct. 26 game in London is the target for his return. Even with the injuries, the Saints are facing a must-win situation against San Francisco on Sunday. They have to find a way to keep their heads above water until they get some of the injured players back.

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