NFC South: Mark Simoneau
— According to this unique formula, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had the least home-field advantage in the NFL from 2009 through 2011. On the flip side, the New Orleans Saints ranked behind only the New England Patriots when playing at home during that same span. The Falcons were No. 5 in the Georgia Dome and the Panthers No. 20 at Bank of America Stadium.
— Former Atlanta quarterback Steve Bartkowski was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame on Tuesday. He’s not the only player in the Class of 2012 with NFC South ties. Linebacker Mark Simoneau, who started his NFL career with the Falcons and had a later stint with the Saints, also was elected.
— It’s been a turbulent offseason for the Saints, but Wednesday night should provide a respite. The third annual Heath Evans Softball Classic will be held at Zephyr Field, which is adjacent to the Saints’ practice facility. More than 30 members of the Saints are expected to take part in the charity event.
— Mike Triplett writes that the Saints seem convinced their offense is in good hands with coordinator Pete Carmichael running the show while coach Sean Payton is suspended for the 2012 season. There’s good reason for that. Carmichael took over the play-calling duties last season when Payton suffered knee and leg injuries in a sideline collision and the offense didn’t miss a beat.
— Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano said he was pleased with his team’s effort, but not its execution, in Tuesday’s organized team activity. Take this as another sign that Schiano is a stickler for detail. I was out there for the practice and the Bucs didn’t look all that bad, considering they have a new coaching staff and are just getting started with their on-field work.
— Tampa Bay running back LeGarrette Blount is saying all the right things after the Bucs used a first-round pick on running back Doug Martin. Blount said he views the starting job as his “until they take it away." Martin’s got the edge because he’s the kind of all-purpose back Schiano wanted. But Blount is talented and the competition could inspire him to become a more well-rounded running back.
Not sure exactly why they’re waiting until Friday to officially make the move, but I’m sure there is some contractual reason the Saints are playing it this way.
The Saints also said they already have released veteran offensive lineman Jamar Nesbit and linebacker Mark Simoneau.
Grant, the team’s first-round pick in 2002, played in 118 games for the Saints and made 106 starts. Although his 47 sacks rank eight in team history, Grant’s production never quite matched the potential many thought he had when he came into the league.
Grant had 5.5 sacks last season, but was placed on the injured-reserve list before the postseason started. The Saints still have Anthony Hargrove, Bobby McCray and Jeff Charleston as candidates for the starting position opposite Will Smith, but probably will look to add more depth in free agency.
The Bengals weren’t the only NFL team impacted by that tragedy. New Orleans defensive assistant Adam Zimmer is the son of Mike and Vikki. He took a few minutes Thursday to discuss how the Saints’ run to the Super Bowl has helped him deal with the loss.
“Obviously, nothing is ever going to replace mom, but at least something good happened this year,’’ said Zimmer, who works primarily with linebackers and has been with the Saints since 2006. “That helped me put it in the background a little bit. When I’m working, it’s a lot easier to keep my mind off of it. I’m sure after this game, it’ll be a little harder because things will slow down and I’ll have time to think.’’
Zimmer said the Saints have rallied around him with lots of support.
“They’ve helped a lot,’’ Zimmer said. “Scott Shanle’s had me over when we’ve had time off. Mark Simoneau had me over for Christmas dinner and [assistant] Coach [Joe] Vitt had me over for Thanksgiving. They’ve been there for me. All the linebackers showed up for the funeral and that was really important to me when I saw them coming.’’
Zimmer said he and his father also have leaned heavily on each other.
“We call each other every night now,’’ Zimmer said. “He’s texting me all the time now. He hardly ever even used texting before this year, but now he’s texting me all the time. Whenever we need each other or need to talk, we give each other a shout. We’ve always been close, but this has brought us closer.’’
This season, they ended with 15 players on injured reserve, and some of those guys were significant players.
Here’s the complete list of Saints on injured reserve with comments about the more significant ones.
- FB Heath Evans: This actually might have been the most significant injury the Saints suffered. Evans was a jack-of-all-trades and a perfect fit in this offense. Without him, the Saints have had to scramble because they did not have another proven fullback. They’ve had to throw some guys in there as well as line their tight ends up in the backfield at times.
- TE Dan Campbell and TE Billy Miller: These guys also could have helped the fullback situation. They were both good blockers to go along with Jeremy Shockey, who is used mostly as a pass catcher. The Saints did pick up David Thomas and he’s done a nice role filling in.
- DE Charles Grant: He didn’t get hurt until the end of the regular season, so we won’t know the full impact until the Saints hit the field again. Backup Bobby McCray might get some time at end on passing downs. McCray is at least as good a pass rusher as Grant and Anthony Hargrove, who also plays inside.
- LT Jammal Brown: It’s pretty amazing the Saints won 13 games when they didn’t have their Pro Bowl left tackle for any of them. Jermon Bushrod and Zach Strief have alternated at the position. They’ve had some ups and downs, but the coaching staff has done an excellent job of putting help near them.
- DT Kendrick Clancy: This veteran was kind of an unsung hero. Losing him hurt, but players like Hargrove have done a nice job filling in.
- FB Marcus Mailei
- WR Rod Harper
- WR D’Juan Woods
- LB Mark Simoneau
- LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar
- LB Stanley Arnoux
- CB Leigh Torrence
- CB Reggie Jones
- S Chip Vaughn
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
Derrick Brooks, the best player in NFC South history, might be back in the NFC South.
New Orleans coach Sean Payton confirmed after Tuesday morning's practice that Brooks will work out for the Saints on Wednesday. Payton said the Saints also will work out linebacker Derek Smith. That comes after veteran backup Mark Simoneau suffered a torn triceps.
Brooks, 36, has remained unsigned since the Bucs released him in February. How much does he have left in the tank?
"That's a good question,'' Payton said. "We're bringing him in to work him out to see. When we graded him last year prior to him getting nicked up and injured, we felt like he was still playing at a high level. He's an intelligent player; he's instinctive; he's a guy that has really been a pain for us over the years. We have a lot of respect for his ability and we'll see when he comes in."
Payton also said former Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden, who recently visited camp for a few days, gave a positive scouting report on Brooks.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
The second week of training camp in the NFC South is shaping up to be even more dangerous than the first.
Last week, the Panthers lost Maake Kemoeatu and the Falcons lost Harry Douglas for the season. In the last 24 hours, there's been a rash of injuries, including some to very prominent players. None of them is season-ending, but they're all going to hurt.
Carolina coach John Fox never puts timetables on how long injured players will be out. But the agent for Steve Smith said the receiver will be out at least two weeks. Smith may be the best player in the NFC South and injuries are never a good thing. But, if Smith is only out two weeks, this isn't all negative. Smith is a veteran and knows the offensive system well. As long as he's healthy for the regular season, the Panthers will be fine. The side benefit to this one is it will give third-year pro Dwayne Jarrett a lot of work with the first team and that could help him clinch the No. 3 receiver spot.
The injury to Antonio Bryant potentially has much bigger consequences for Tampa Bay's receiving corps. Bryant's going to miss the entire preseason and you have to be a little concerned that it could spill over into the regular season. Michael Clayton, the other starting receiver, also is banged up. Yes, this provides some opportunities for guys like Maurice Stovall and Sammie Stroughter, but the Bucs are probably going to have to make a roster move to get an experienced receiver. They've sniffed around a bunch of big names previously, but it might be time to make a move for someone like a Marvin Harrison. Also, keep an eye on the Plaxico Burress situation because the Bucs sure are.
New Orleans linebacker Mark Simoneau has a torn triceps muscle and is going to be out for several weeks. That cuts into the depth at linebacker, where the Saints already lost Dan Morgan to retirement and rookie Stanley Arnoux to injury. Once again, go ahead and start the cries for the Saints to sign Derrick Brooks. But I still don't think that's going to happen.
Tampa Bay kicker Matt Bryant, who missed some time with a leg injury last week, reportedly appeared to aggravate the condition in Tuesday morning's practice. Missing more time isn't going to help Bryant in his battle with Mike Nugent.
After Monday's retirement by Dan Morgan, Payton was asked if the Saints would pursue any veteran linebackers.
"I don't think so,'' Payton said. "Right now we feel pretty comfortable with the group. We had 10 and now we have nine. Nine is what we go to training camp with. Barring something unforeseen arising, I don't think so."
"(Simoneau) has flexibility, starting at Mike and also being able to play Will,'' Payton said. "I think you're going to see him compete for snaps not only in the base, but also in the nickel. He's probably about 90% now off of surgery and coming back well. That's a positive. He was playing real well prior to getting hurt at the end of training camp last year."
Let's be very clear and say that I'm just thinking out loud here and not reporting there's any talks going on or saying this is going to happen.
With the retirement of weak-side linebacker Dan Morgan on Monday afternoon, the Saints might be looking for more depth. Sitting out there is Brooks, who just might be one of the greatest outside linebackers ever.
Brooks has been sitting out there for months, presumably waiting for the perfect situation. It hasn't presented itself so far, but there might not ever be another situation better for Brooks. Yeah, he's 36, but he's indicated he still thinks he can play.
The Saints are a team with a win-now attitude, as demonstrated by the acquisitions of Jonathan Vilma and Jeremy Shockey last year and the signing of veteran safety Darren Sharper this year. They're not in a youth movement and they've got enough cap room to handle Brooks, who shouldn't command huge money.
Also, the Saints aren't exactly loaded at linebacker these days. Morgan is gone and rookie Stanley Arnoux is out for the year with an injury. That leaves Scott Shanle as the starter on the weak side. Veteran Mark Simoneau, who has spent much of his career at middle linebacker, got some work as Shanle's backup after Morgan went down in the rookie minicamp.
Even at his age, I think Brooks could play a role here, maybe even start. Even if he was pondering retirement, Brooks has to look at what just happened to the Saints and view it as a possibility. The Saints are loaded on offense, have a rebuilt defense with potential and could be a contender to go deep into the playoffs.
They're also in the NFC South. That could be more of a factor than anything else. Brooks is a man with a lot of pride and he wasn't exactly thrilled when the Bucs unceremoniously released him in February.
From Brooks' point of view, this could be a chance at payback -- twice a year.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
Remember all that talk about the Saints' defense after opening day? You might want to forget it.
Cornerback Randall Gay, linebacker Scott Fujita and safety Roman Harper will miss the game against the Redskins. Individually, none of those injuries would be devastating because these are not the players the New Orleans defense is built around. Collectively, it's a big deal.
The defense isn't going to suddenly be as bad as it was last year and that's mainly because of the presence of linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis. There also is more depth than last year, but that's fading fast. The Saints are thin at defensive tackle, after letting the injured Hollis Thomas go.
The loss of Simoneau, a former starter, also leaves the Saints very thin at linebacker. With Fujita out, Troy Evans probably gets a start. There's a little more depth in the secondary, where veteran cornerback Aaron Glenn and safety Josh Bullocks probably will start. But Bullocks played his way out of the starting lineup last year and Glenn's not viewed as a long-term solution. There still is uncertainty if veteran cornerback Mike McKenzie, who is coming off major knee surgery, will make his return this week.