NFC South: Louis Leonard

LaFell sitting out for Panthers

September, 19, 2010
9/19/10
11:46
AM ET
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Rookie wide receiver Brandon LaFell who opened the season as a starter will not be active today, the Panthers just said.

LaFell has a hamstring injury and will sit out. The Panthers haven’t named his replacement in the starting lineup yet, but it’s likely to be Dwayne Jarrett.

Also inactive for the Panthers are receiver Armanti Edwards, linebacker Jordan Senn, tackle Jeff Otah, defensive tackle Louis Leonard, defensive end Tyler Brayton and defensive back C.J. Wilson.
I already had a pretty good idea that defensive line isn’t strong overall in the NFC South. But that’s been reinforced over the past few days as I’ve worked my way up to the front four in our series of position rankings.

We looked at the defensive ends on Monday and saw that the list was topped by Will Smith and an aging John Abraham, and filled out with a bunch of prospects and role players. We’re looking at defensive tackles today and the pickings might be even more slender.

  1. [+] EnlargeJonathan Babineaux
    Dale Zanine/US PresswireJonathan Babineaux had 47 tackles, including six sacks for the Falcons last season.
    Jonathan Babineaux, Falcons.
    This one was easy. Babineaux is by no means an All-Pro, but he’s proven over time he’s a very solid defensive tackle, which might make him the only one in the division. Babineaux should be helped by having Peria Jerry and Corey Peters joining the rotation this year. Last season, Babineaux led the Falcons with 6 sacks.
  2. Sedrick Ellis, Saints. No, he hasn’t dominated like a lot of people thought he would coming into the league two years ago. But the main reasons for that have been injuries. When he’s healthy, Ellis isn’t far from the same level as Babineaux, and, eventually, could turn out to be better.
  3. Gerald McCoy, Buccaneers. Yep, I’m going with a rookie this high. Part of it is because there’s not a lot to choose from. But part of it is because I think McCoy’s going to be really good right from the start. Don’t be surprised if he’s at the top of this list a year from now. I’ve had two general managers from other teams with early picks that they had McCoy ranked ahead of Ndamukong Suh, who went one pick ahead of McCoy to Detroit.
  4. Anthony Hargrove, Saints. Like a lot of NFL teams, the Saints rotate their defensive tackles a lot and Hargrove technically might not be a starter. But Hargrove’s going to play a lot. He straightened his life around as he joined the Saints last year and it looks like the arrow continues to point up on this guy.
  5. Peria Jerry, Falcons. We’ll see if this one ends up being a reach or not. There are big questions about Jerry’s health as he comes back from a major knee injury that sidelined him for most of his rookie year. But the guy was a first-round pick. The Falcons are going to rotate their tackles heavily and may be a little cautious with Jerry at first, but they’re hoping he can emerge as a force as the season goes on.
  6. Roy Miller, Buccaneers. McCoy and second-round pick Brian Price are getting all the attention, but Miller’s another young defensive tackle the Bucs are expecting big things from. He’ll probably start next to McCoy. Miller’s not the kind of guy who will put up big stats, but he’s a “plugger’’ and should be a big boast for the run defense.
  7. Brian Price, Buccaneers. He’s more explosive than Miller and although McCoy’s been drawing all the comparisons to Warren Sapp, Price is the guy that actually is built like Sapp, and, theoretically, should be able to play like Sapp did. But a preseason injury set back Price just enough to probably keep him out of the starting lineup. That doesn’t really matter. He’ll rotate in a lot.
  8. Corey Peters, Falcons. If Jerry’s not healthy, the Falcons are going to have to rely on Peters a lot. Either way, Peters will have a prominent role in the rotation. He showed more polish in camp than the Falcons expected from a third-round choice.
  9. Louis Leonard, Panthers. His health remains a question. But, if Leonard is on the field, he’s the best defensive tackle the Panthers have.
  10. Remi Ayodele, Saints. Yeah, I know this guy started 13 games for the Super Bowl champions last year and he could start again. But Ayodele is more role player than anything else. He’s all right against the run, but doesn’t bring anything special to the table.
  11. Ed Johnson, Panthers. If he keeps dropping weight like he has throughout the preseason, Johnson probably will end up starting or getting significant playing time. The Panthers took a chance on this guy because he played under defensive coordinator Ron Meeks with the Colts before running into some trouble. But Johnson appears to be getting his career back on track.
  12. Trey Lewis, Falcons. Again, much will depend on Jerry’s health. But with Babineaux suspended for the first game, Lewis might have some role in a rotation.
ESPN.com NFL Power Ranking (pre-camp): 22

SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- In the kindest of terms, fans and media are referring to the Carolina Panthers as a team in a youth movement.

There’s some basis for that as they opened camp with the league’s third-youngest roster after saying farewell to popular veterans such as Julius Peppers, Jake Delhomme and Brad Hoover.

In the harshest of terms, fans and media have referred to those departures as a “bloodletting’’ and are talking about the Panthers as a team without an identity, a team that’s not going to be very good.

Now, let’s turn to two guys who beg to differ.

“How do you say we’re going through a youth movement, when we beat those teams late in the season using the same key components?’’ running back DeAngelo Williams said. “People can say what they want to say. But we know what it takes to win and we have what it takes to win.’’

“The way I look at it is, I like our core guys,’’ linebacker Jon Beason said. “I think we have a great nucleus. Now we’re looking for a few good men, a few young guys who are talented. For those young guys, it’s an opportunity to come in and do great things.’’

Maybe Beason and Williams have valid points. They’re two team leaders with a pretty good feel for the pulse of the locker room. They also have impressive résumés. Williams was one of two Carolina running backs (Jonathan Stewart was the other) to run for 1,100 yards last season. Scouts, coaches and players everywhere will tell you Beason is one of the best linebackers in the NFL.

Can you really call the Panthers a team without a face?

That’s kind of a difficult statement to make when you look at Carolina’s roster and see Beason and Williams. Then, keep looking and you see Stewart, left tackle Jordan Gross, center Ryan Kalil, right tackle Jeff Otah, receiver Steve Smith and cornerbacks Chris Gamble and Richard Marshall. Those are all guys the Panthers view as core players. Look around the league and see how many teams have that many core players in place.

“There are question marks, sure,’’ coach John Fox said. “Anytime you have question marks, the expectations on the outside might not be that high. But on the inside, we know we’ve got some very good core players and those core players are going to have to have big seasons.

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeMatt Moore
Sam Sharpe/US PresswireThe Panthers' confidence in quarterback Matt Moore appears to be growing.
1. Can this team win with Matt Moore as the quarterback? Let’s cut to the chase. This team already has won with Moore as the quarterback. Moore started the final five games of last season after Delhomme was injured. The Panthers won four of those games and Moore looked sharp the entire time.

Sure, that’s not the longest of track records and the Panthers did draft Jimmy Clausen in the second round. But this isn’t the Carolina camp of 2001, where the Panthers were kind of expecting Jeff Lewis to fail and to hand the job to rookie Chris Weinke.

Williams’ point about the youth movement taking place last year might be right. Moore won this job with his play down the stretch and, so far in camp, the team’s confidence in him is only growing.

“Matt Moore is a gamer,’’ Williams said. “When he mentally locks in, the game comes easy for him. All quarterbacks in the league are pretty much the same. They can all throw the ball or they wouldn’t be here. The thing that separates the good ones from the bad ones is decision making. Matt Moore can make decisions. Matt’s going to be fine.’’

Let’s keep one other thing in mind. With an excellent offensive line, two very good running backs and Smith at wide receiver, Moore has a pretty strong supporting cast. He doesn’t need to be Peyton Manning or Drew Brees. He just needs to keep mistakes to a minimum and the job can be his as long as he wants.

2. Can the defensive line be any good? For much of Fox’s tenure, the defensive line has been the foundation of the team. But Peppers was the last in a line of supernovas that used to include Mike Rucker, Kris Jenkins and Brentson Buckner. There are no current stars on this defensive front.

But Fox and the Panthers don’t appear to view that as a bad thing. They’re not expecting any single guy to come in and replace Peppers. They believe they can get quality out of quantity and are hoping the defensive front can attack in waves. They’ve got high hopes for Charles Johnson and Everette Brown, and rookies Eric Norwood and Greg Hardy have been very impressive in camp. They brought back Tyler Brayton for a bit of continuity, but they feel they’ve got some pass-rushers who can emerge.

They also have a better feeling about defensive tackles Louis Leonard, Tank Tyler and Ed Johnson than a lot of people realize. This might not be the traditional Fox defensive front with a huge run-stuffer in the middle and a big name on the outside. But, keep in mind, the Panthers brought in Ron Meeks as defensive coordinator last year and his system is based more on speed than power up front.

“We were eighth in the league in defense a year ago with a new scheme,’’ Fox said. “It’s kind of early to tell, but we should be better with our scheme the second time around.’’

[+] EnlargeJohn Fox
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonJohn Fox owns a 71-57 record in eight seasons with the Panthers.
3. Does all this talk about Fox being in the last year of his contract really make a difference? Not at all. Fox is a creature of habit and he’s going to coach the way he always has coached.

He’s a confident guy with a pretty solid résumé. He’s not losing sleep because he knows he can get another job if it comes to that. But he wants to make it work in Carolina, a place where his family has set down roots. Keep in mind, Fox never has had a truly bad season. There have been some disappointing years, but the record’s always been close to or above .500. He’s sometimes stumbled a bit when expectations were high, but he always has done his best job when people weren’t counting on much out of the Panthers.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Greg Hardy. The defensive end was a sixth-round draft pick because his college career didn’t end all that well. But the Panthers took a shot because they thought there was uncommon physical talent sitting out there late in the draft. So far, they feel as if they might have hit a home run. Hardy has looked great in camp. Coaches are noticing him and so are other players. There were some questions about Hardy’s ability to focus on football at the pro level. But so far, so good on that end. Brayton, Johnson and Brown are competing for the starting jobs, but Hardy appears to be carving out some playing time.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Dwayne Jarrett. As they’ve been doing for his entire career, the Panthers are hoping the light suddenly comes on for this wide receiver. He’s still running with the first team, but all indications are it’s just not happening for Jarrett. There’s still some work to be done and polish to be added, but the Panthers are starting to think rookie Brandon LaFell is their best option at the starting position opposite Smith. Jarrett basically is fighting for a roster spot at this point. The fact he’s still making mental mistakes this far into his career means there’s a good chance he’s gone before the preseason is over.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Clausen
Sam Sharpe/US PresswireCarolina has been pleased with how Jimmy Clausen has looked in the early part of camp.
OBSERVATION DECK

  • As mentioned above, the Panthers are singing Moore’s praises and that’s all very legitimate. But behind the scenes, the Panthers also are thrilled with what they’ve seen from Clausen. His physical skills and mechanics are as solid as expected and Clausen’s doing everything right on and off the field. There’s not a sense of urgency to play him because Moore has looked so solid. But the Panthers believe they got a steal when they took Clausen in the second round.
  • There’s been a lot of hype about third-round draft pick Armanti Edwards. Understandable because he was a college quarterback and came from Appalachian State, which automatically makes him popular in the Carolinas. The Panthers aren’t disappointed with Edwards by any means, but the reality is he’s just feeling his way as a receiver and a return man. Don’t look for him to be a huge contributor instantly. There’s big upside here because Edwards is so dynamic and he might be in a few packages early on. But it’s going to take some time for him to become a staple in this offense.
  • The Panthers let go of Keydrick Vincent, who played every snap at right guard last season, for a reason. He was older and they had Duke Robinson waiting in the wings. Coaches, players and the front office believe Robinson can be a punishing run-blocker. Put him on the right side with Otah and the Panthers believe that side of the line can be just as good as the left, where Gross and Travelle Wharton are outstanding.
  • If you’re looking for a long shot to make the roster, I’ll throw out Trent Guy’s name. This is a tiny wide receiver, but every time I looked up during my visit to Wofford College, Guy seemed to be making a play. He’s got rare speed and good hands, and also could be a factor in the return game.
  • Thomas Davis, who had major knee surgery in June, has been hanging around at camp and working hard at his rehab. The Panthers haven’t ruled out a possible return for him later this season, but I don't see that happening for a guy who has torn his ACL twice in less than a year. The Panthers wouldn’t have moved Beason from the middle to the weak side unless they thought he’d stay there for the long haul. At the moment, they’re happy with what they’ve seen from Dan Connor in the middle and James Anderson on the strong side. That better stay that way because, aside from Jamar Williams, there’s no real depth at linebacker.
  • A lot of people have questioned why the Panthers would take Beason out of the middle where he’s been such a dominant player. The answer is simple. Under Meeks, the Panthers run the “Tampa 2’’ defense. In that scheme, everything goes through the Will linebacker. Think Derrick Brooks.
SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- Apologies that I haven’t checked in from here sooner today. But I spent Monday morning watching the Carolina Panthers practice. After that I had meetings with coach John Fox and linebacker Jon Beason for some future things I’m working on.

I’m supposed to be meeting with general manager Marty Hurney a bit later this afternoon. But I wanted to check in with some quick observations from this morning and from the regular media interviews.
    [+] EnlargeMoore
    AP Photo/Chuck BurtonPanthers quarterback Matt Moore is taking a more active role in the offense.
  • Let’s start with quarterback Matt Moore. I thought he looked good out there. He always could throw the ball, but it was interesting to see him taking a really active role, talking to Fox and assistant coaches between plays. Moore is not just a young quarterback getting coached anymore. He’s a starter, taking a very active role in the relationship and offering his input.
  • Speaking of quarterbacks, I know rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen is a big name and could have a big future. He looked all right throwing the ball, but he’s working with the third team and I didn’t see anything that really stood out. The only time I really saw any flash around Clausen was when he took off on a scramble and a defensive linemen put a little hit on him. It was pretty amazing how quickly and sternly the coaching staff jumped in and reminded the defense that the quarterbacks aren’t supposed to be touched.
  • One reader asked yesterday how rookie defensive end Greg Hardy is coming along. I watched him some this morning and he’s very athletic. In fact, I’d say he’s the closest thing to Julius Peppers the Panthers have right now -- purely in terms of athletic ability among the defensive ends. I also asked Fox and Beason about what they saw in Hardy and the answers were very positive. I’ll share those with you in a future post.
  • The Panthers took defensive tackle Louis Leonard and guard Duke Robinson off the physically-unable-to-perform list Monday and they were on the practice field for the first time. It’s early, but both of those guys are very much in the mix to challenge for starting jobs.
  • I’ve been impressed with what I’ve seen out of rookie receiver Armanti Edwards on the field so far and that goes back to May minicamp. The former college quarterback is explosive and makes some big plays. But, listening to Edwards talk after practice, he sounded like we’ve yet to see his best. He admitted he still is very much in an adjustment period. “I expected it to be rough and it’s been what I expected.’’
  • Speaking of wide receivers, the one guy that really has stood out so far is Trent Guy. He's an undrafted free agent and is working as a backup. But he keeps making plays and is very fast. He's got a shot at a roster spot. At worst, I think he could end up on a practice squad somewhere. Speed like that doesn't come along often.

Carolina weakness: Defensive tackle

June, 30, 2010
6/30/10
12:00
PM ET
» NFC South Weaknesses: Falcons (6/29) | Panthers (6/30) | Saints (7/1) | Bucs (7/2)

Steve Smith broke his arm and outside of him, this team has had very little in terms of receiving options of late. Without him, the Panthers will be among the weakest teams in this regard in the NFL -- even with a few rookie pass-catchers added to the equation. It seems as though there is a good chance Smith will be ready for the opener, but even if he is unable to go, the Panthers have a bigger weakness than their pass-catchers.

Even the most casual of fans realize Carolina lost Julius Peppers during free agency, but there is some young talent there in Charles Johnson and Everette Brown. At defensive tackle, Damione Lewis and Maake Kemoeatu are gone, and what remains is frankly very disturbing.

[+] EnlargeLouis Leonard
Ed Wolfstein/Icon SMIThe Panthers traded for Louis Leonard last September, but he played in only two games before breaking his ankle.
As of today, the foursome that should expect to see playing time at tackle consists of Nick Hayden, Louis Leonard, Tank Tyler and Corvey Irvin. And maybe Ed Johnson or Derek Landri will factor in. Seriously? Let me just go on record to say that this is the worst group of defensive tackles in the league, and I am not even sure that dubious competition is close.

I understand you can sometimes get away with tough guys who play hard and hold their ground at this position to help free up those around them, and I understand that several of these guys battled injury last season, but there isn’t a playmaker in this bunch, nor is there a guy who commands a double-team in the run game. Compounding matters for the long term, there isn't a young pup in the group who has yet to develop and is dripping with upside. I really don’t see a lot of hope here.

The Panthers’ run defense wasn’t very good last season. With this group of defensive tackles and now the loss of LB Thomas Davis (knee injury), expect it to be even worse in 2010. If the defense can’t get off the field, it will certainly make playing a ball-control, run-first style on offense all the more difficult.

NFC South mailbag

March, 19, 2010
3/19/10
12:35
PM ET
Time for the Friday edition of the NFC South mailbag.

James in Austin, Texas, writes: Do you think by the Bucs signing Sean Jones, he is just a 'safety' net because both Tanard Jackson and Jermaine Phillips didn’t play the full length of the season? Does it mean they are not going to draft Eric Berry? Instead they could draft Jason Pierre-Paul who would be crucial in the Tampa 2.

Pat Yasinskas: I think the best way to summarize the Sean Jones signing is that he gives them flexibility at safety and in the draft. I don’t think you can rule out the possibility of them taking Berry at No. 3 if the two defensive tackles are not available. But I think the arrival of Jones means the Bucs don’t have to absolutely draft a safety early.


Dave in Valdosta, Ga., writes: Any chance on the Bucs looking at T.O. for their receiver? It seems he did a really good job for the Bills. He seemed to be a team player. This way the Bucs could draft a good WR but not have to throw to him in on every play. I know the Bucs are trying to get younger but sign him to a 1-year contract. What do you think?

Pat Yasinskas: I just don’t think Terrell Owens fits the plan in Tampa Bay. Sure, he’s a talented receiver, but he’s older. Also, it’s all about Josh Freeman in Tampa Bay. Yes, Owens can help a quarterback, but he also has the ability to ruin a quarterback. I think the downside is too much here.


Neil in Jackson, Miss., writes: You mentioned that the Saints don't have to lose a free agent to sign Justin Fargas because he was released by the Raiders. But couldn't we sign him anyways because of the Scott Fujita signing? Surely we aren't planning to pay Justin Fargas more than we were willing to pay Scott Fujita.

Pat Yasinskas: The Saints could sign Fargas and it would have nothing to do with them losing Fujita. As part of the final eight, the Saints can only sign an unrestricted free agent when they lose one. Yes, they have lost Fujita and that clears the way for them to sign a free agent at a similar price. But Fargas is not a true unrestricted free agent because he was released by the Raiders. There are no limitations on the Saints signing players released by other teams.


Mario in Panama writes: I put a lot of importance on a position people don't: fullback. In my view, Heath Evans was on its way to a Pro Bowl season when he went down, and Saints overall offensive production incidentally went down, after that. What do you think about it and how is his recovery going?

Pat Yasinskas: Agree totally. Thought Evans was a great addition to the Saints and there was a visible drop-off in the offense in the first few games after he got hurt. Everything I’ve heard is that he’s on track for a full recovery.


Ned in parts unknown writes: Since the Falcons don’t have a second round pick, do you think packaging John Abraham and Jamaal Anderson into a deal for a team’s second-round pick would pay off for the falcons?

Pat Yasinskas: If some team were willing to make that deal, I’m sure the Falcons would jump on it. Fact is, Abraham and Anderson aren’t going to get you a second-round pick. They simply don’t have that kind of value. Abraham is old and Anderson never has played up to his potential.


Al in Washington, D.C., writes: I'm intrigued by your take on the Panthers' DTs. I feel good about a starting rotation of Louis Leonard, Tank Tyler, and Ed Johnson. Corvey Irvin is a project with a lot of upside, which would give us 4 guys. Ron Meeks likes to move DTs inside anyway, and Tyler Brayton and Charles Johnson can handle that. Granted, I wouldn't like to see Nick Hayden and Derek Landri pressed into significant service at this point, but I won't be upset if this is our opening day roster. Am I putting too much faith in those first three, or undervaluing experienced depth?

Pat Yasinskas: In my opinion, Leonard, Tyler and Johnson aren’t guys I’d want to count on as the definitive starters. Yes, they have some good qualities. But the John Fox defense always has been built around the defensive line. Right now, the Panthers have “just guys’’ at defensive tackle. I think they need to add one quality defensive tackle.


Randy in Hampton, Va., writes: I know the Falcons organization is turning itself around and looking for quality "good" character guys. Do you think that the Falcons would release Jonathan Babineaux given his off-field trouble, or is it safe to say that with the D-line being so bad they wouldn't?

Pat Yasinskas: I don’t think Babineaux is going anywhere. He is the best defensive lineman the Falcons have. Yes, he had some trouble off the field last year. But I think that has been dealt with and Babineaux has been told that can’t happen again.

NFC South: Free-agency primer

March, 4, 2010
3/04/10
10:27
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Atlanta Falcons

Potential unrestricted free agents: CB Brian Williams, WR Marty Booker, QB Chris Redman.

Potential restricted free agents: RB Jason Snelling, RB Jerious Norwood, P Michael Koenen, CB Brent Grimes, OL Quinn Ojinnaka, T Tyson Clabo, G Harvey Dahl.

Franchise player: None.

What to expect: General manager Thomas Dimitroff repeatedly has used the phrase “fiscally responsible’’ when talking about the approach to free agency. In other words, the Falcons aren’t going to go on some wild spending spree. This organization prefers to build through the draft. But history has shown the Falcons aren’t afraid to make a strategic strike or two in free agency. They have a huge need at defensive end and that’s a tough spot to get guaranteed production from when you’ve got the No. 19 overall pick in the draft. The Falcons aren’t likely to target elite free-agent DE Julius Peppers, but you could see them make a move for another pass-rusher.

Carolina Panthers

Potential unrestricted free agents: DE Julius Peppers, WR Muhsin Muhammad, QB Josh McCown, QB A.J. Feeley.

Potential restricted free agents: LB Thomas Davis, QB Matt Moore, TE Jeff King, CB Richard Marshall, DT Louis Leonard, LB James Anderson, DT Tank Tyler, CB C.J. Wilson.

Franchise player: None.

What to expect: Owner Jerry Richardson is very concerned about the uncertain labor situation and that may keep him from spending big money in free agency. The Panthers avoided a $20 million hit by not placing the franchise tag on Peppers, but that doesn’t mean all of that money is going to be used in free agency. The Panthers traditionally are a team that builds through the draft and they didn’t sign a single UFA last year. But look for at least a few smaller moves because coach John Fox has to win this year and needs to improve this roster, especially on the defensive line, at wide receiver and perhaps at quarterback.

New Orleans Saints

Potential unrestricted free agents: QB Mark Brunell, S Darren Sharper, TE Dan Campbell, TE Darnell Dinkins, DT Kendrick Clancy, LB Scott Fujita, S Pierson Prioleau, LS Jason Kyle.

Potential restricted free agents: G Jahri Evans, RB Mike Bell, RB Pierre Thomas, WR Lance Moore, TE David Thomas, T Jermon Bushrod, S Roman Harper, S Usama Young, DT Remi Ayodele, DT Anthony Hargrove, T Zach Strief, S Chris Reis, WR Courtney Roby, LB Marvin Mitchell.

Franchise player: None

What to expect: As a final-four team the Saints aren’t allowed to sign any unrestricted free agents unless they lose one of their own at a similar price tag. That’s likely to keep the Saints from being big players in free agency. But the good news is they don’t have a lot of dramatic needs. They will have to keep a protective eye on some of their restricted free agents, who may draw interest from other teams.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Potential unrestricted free agents: WR Antonio Bryant, DE Jimmy Wilkerson, S Will Allen, LB Angelo Crowell, S Jermaine Phillips.

Potential restricted free agents: RB Cadillac Williams, LB Barrett Ruud, T Donald Penn, WR Maurice Stovall, T Jeremy Trueblood.

Franchise player: None.

What to expect: The Bucs haven’t spent a lot of money in free agency in recent years and they’ve been sending out signals this year won’t be much different. They’re focused on the 10 draft picks they hold. But the Bucs could pull a small surprise or two. They’ve got a restless fan base and more needs than those draft picks can handle. A couple of signings in free agency could energize the fan base and help the rebuilding process. The Bucs really need a No. 1 wide receiver and they’re not truly positioned to get that in the draft.

Analyzing Tuesday's transactions

September, 22, 2009
9/22/09
7:12
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Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas

We had a flurry of transactions in the NFC South on Tuesday, but I don’t think any of them are reasons to go buying tickets to Miami for the Super Bowl.

Every team except the Saints made some minor roster moves. Here’s a quick analysis of what happened:

Buccaneers. They placed safety Jermaine Phillips on the injured-reserve list and released safety Steve Cargile. Hmm, anybody think the Bucs will be adding two safeties in the next 12-16 hours? Might be a good landing spot for any safety on the streets because a starting job is within reach pretty quickly. The starters right now are Will Allen and Sabby Piscitelli and the Giants are coming to town with a group of emerging wide receivers. On the bright side, Tanard Jackson only has two games left on his suspension.

Panthers. Carolina signed defensive tackle Antwon Burton, mainly because he weighs 325 pounds. At the rate the Panthers are going, they’ll probably be signing Shane Burton before too long. I’m just kidding on that one (I think). Shane Burton was a backup on some very good Carolina defensive lines, back when Carolina had very good defensive lines. He’s got to be pushing 40 now, but he’s probably better than any defensive tackle the Panthers have right now. Back to Antwon Burton: He’s appeared in eight games since coming into the league as an undrafted free agent. The Panthers also placed Louis Leonard on the injured-reserve list, where he’ll join Maake Kemoeatu, who was supposed to be the starter heading into camp. Nick Hayden, the Week One starter by default, miss Week Two because of a toe injury. Not sure if he’ll be back this week, but the Panthers now have three healthy defensive tackles in Antwon Burton, Ra’Shon Harris and Damione Lewis. Does that trio scare anybody – besides Carolina fans? In other news, the Panthers waived safety Nate Salley from the injured-reserve list and released defensive tackle George Hypolite from the practice squad. We won’t analyze those moves because …well, basically, because they mean nothing.

Falcons. A day after elevating defensive tackle Vance Walker from the practice squad to take the roster spot of the injured Peria Jerry, the Falcons signed defensive tackle Jeremy Clark to the practice squad. This move might be a little more significant than it looks. Clark has spent some time on the practice squads of the Giants and Eagles, two teams with pretty good defenses. With sudden uncertainty at defensive tackle, Clark could move up to the regular roster if he shows some promise.

Panthers made run at DT Boone

September, 21, 2009
9/21/09
10:11
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas


The Carolina Panthers, desperate for help at defensive tackle made a run at Alfonso Boone, a league source said.

But Boone appears to be headed for San Diego, where he has history with defensive coordinator Ron Rivera.

That leaves the Panthers still looking for help. They lost Louis Leonard to a broken ankle Sunday and Nick Hayden sat out Sunday’s game with a toe injury. Damione Lewis and Ra’Shon Harris are the only healthy defensive tackles on the roster at the moment.

Panthers again scrambling for DT help

September, 21, 2009
9/21/09
1:57
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas


I just got back home from Atlanta and am going through what’s come out of Monday’s NFC South news conferences and we’ll deal with the injuries first.

Carolina defensive tackle Louis Leonard has a broken ankle. Coach John Fox wouldn’t say if Leonard will be placed on the injured reserve list, but that’s what’s going to happen. You can also bet that the Panthers will sign another defensive tackle because they lack depth at this spot after a series of injuries.

It started on the first day of training camp when Maake Kemoeatu went down with a season-ending injury and that instantly put the Panthers into a crisis situation -- that could have been avoided with a little foresight.

Kemoeatu and Damione Lewis were the only established defensive tackles on the roster entering the preseason and the Panthers should at least had one more option there. But they didn’t. They started second-year pro Nick Hayden in the opener, but he missed Sunday’s game with a toe injury.

At the moment, Lewis and Ra’Shon “Sunny’’ Harris are the only healthy defensive tackles on the roster.

Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas


We’ve got some key injury situations in the NFC South that are worth watching as the weekend gets closer.

Tampa Bay receiver Antonio Bryant did not participate in practice because of a knee injury. Bryant had surgery in the preseason, but appeared to make a successful return in the season opener. This one is potentially troubling for the Bucs, who aren’t loaded with experience at wide receiver. If Bryant can’t play Sunday at Buffalo, rookie Sammie Stroughter or Maurice Stovall likely would get the start.

In Carolina, right tackle Jeff Otah was held out of practice with a shoulder injury. If Otah is unable to play, Carolina’s loss of veteran depth (Frank Omiyale, Jeremy Bridges and Geoff Hangartner) could catch up to the Panthers. Carolina has a pair of unproven backups in Garry Williams and Geoff Schwartz.

Defensive tackle Nick Hayden missed his second day of practice with a toe injury. Hayden had taken over as a starter when Maake Kemoeatu went down on the first day of training camp with a season-ending injury. If Hayden can’t play, the Panthers have only Ra’Shon Harris and Louis Leonard, who both were added late in the preseason, as backups. Think you might see Atlanta’s Michael Turner headed for the middle of Carolina’s defense a few times on Sunday.

Things are more positive in New Orleans, where running back Pierre Thomas returned to practice after sitting out Sunday. The only issue here is how that will impact the rotation at running back with Thomas joining Mike Bell and Reggie Bush.

Atlanta fans, relax at the moment. The Falcons had all 53 players participate in practice Thursday.

Panthers: Cutdown analysis

September, 5, 2009
9/05/09
7:45
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas


Biggest surprise: Jeremy Leman was an instant hit with fans in the preseason. He moved quickly around the field, made some nice hits and made himself even more noticeable with celebrations after he made plays. But celebrations don’t earn you a roster spot and there were reasons why Leman wasn’t drafted and why he was cut Saturday. Leman looked good competing against third-stringers, but he wasn’t nearly at the level of starter Jon Beason and backup Dan Connor. Leman may end up on the practice squad and could develop into something over time.

No-brainer: Did you really think defensive tackle Marlon Favorite was going to make the team as an undrafted free agent? Sure, he was one of the first guys the Panthers plugged in when Maake Kemoeatu went down with an injury on the first day of camp. But that’s only because Favorite was there. Even with rookie Corvey Irvin going on the injured-reserve list, the Panthers knew Favorite wasn’t ready to solve their problems at defensive tackle. They might not be done there yet because all they have is Damione Lewis, who really isn’t an every-down player, Nick Hayden and Louis Leonard, who they traded for last week. But the Panthers got a long look at Favorite in the preseason and decided they probably can find someone better somewhere else.

What’s left: The Panthers shed some very good offensive line depth in the offseason when they let Geoff Hangartner, Jeremy Bridges and Frank Omiyale go. They have high hopes for Geoff Schwartz and Mackenzy Bernadeau, but they’re young and inexperienced. The Panthers didn’t bring in any veterans because they had limited cap space. They still don’t have a lot, but they could look to add a veteran who was cut by someone else at a minimal price.

Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas


Carolina fans, don’t go buying tickets to the Super Bowl in Miami just yet. But the Panthers did at least make a move toward patching up their most glaring hole Tuesday morning.

They traded an undisclosed (in other words, very late-round) draft pick to the Cleveland Browns for defensive tackle Louis Leonard. In two seasons with Cleveland, Leonard made four starts and 33 tackles. But the most impressive number with Leonard is 325. That’s how many pounds he carries and that’s all that really matters here.

The Panthers have been looking for some beef up front ever since Maake Kemoeatu went out with an injury on the first day of camp. It’s pretty amazing how the loss of Kemoeatu, who is, at best, an ordinary player, created such a problem. But the Panthers had virtually nothing behind him. They’ve been plugging Nick Hayden and Marlon Favorite into the spot next to Damione Lewis, but neither of those guys fit the Kemoeatu mold.

What the Panthers needed was a wide-body defensive tackle. Leonard at least fits that profile. But don’t look at Leonard as a guy who’s going to come in and totally solve the problem. I don’t think the Panthers view him as that type of player and they still could be on the lookout for one more defensive tackle.

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