NFC South: Martez Wilson

METAIRIE, La. -- New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton said releasing third-year linebacker Martez Wilson was a tough decision. But he said, “I think overall it was just trying to pay attention to production.”

“We had a chance to visit yesterday. I know that he’ll have another opportunity, and you want to see him do well,” said Payton, whose prediction proved correct when Wilson was claimed off waivers by the Oakland Raiders later in the day. “But those are the decisions that are tough oftentimes during the season.”

Wilson, who was drafted in the third round out of Illinois in 2011, is a standout athlete who showed great potential but was never able to find a fit while switching positions and defensive coordinators every year. He was released Tuesday when the Saints needed to free a roster spot to promote rookie quarterback Ryan Griffin to the active roster to keep him from being signed away by another quarterback-needy team.

Wilson’s closest friend on the team, outside linebacker Junior Galette, admitted it was a tough loss Wednesday -- and a reality check.

“Martez became my best friend, I feel like, on and off the field. It’s tough for me, but it’s the business we’re in,” said Galette, a former undrafted free agent in 2010 who is having his best season to date. “Football is a fun game, but that’s just a reminder it’s a serious business. Phenomenal athlete, probably the best athlete I’ve probably ever seen, 6-4, 255, can run sub 4.4, can do all the things that a NFL DB can do as far as running. That just goes to show, you’ve got to bring your ‘A’ game every day and you have to produce at the end of the day.”

When asked why he thinks it didn’t work out for Wilson in New Orleans, Galette said, “That’s not really for me to comment on. I know he feels like, just from talking to him, he didn’t get the amount of opportunities he wanted. But listen, this is the business we’re in. And this might be the next Rob Ninkovich story (Ninkovich was released twice by the Saints before thriving with the New England Patriots).

“Like I told (Wilson), it might be the best thing for him. You might not see it right now, but everybody has their own path. You know, I had to wait three years to be where I’m at right now. And I still feel like I’ve got to keep working harder than I did before. So everybody has their own path, it’s just how you deal with the adversity he’s going through right now. You’ve got to rise above that.”

Griffin, meanwhile, declined to get into any details about any possible opportunities with other teams. He reportedly had an offer to sign with the St. Louis Rams.

"It's a good situation here and I believe in what we're doing here. I like what we're doing offensively and everything's good," said Griffin, who said he talked with Payton. "We just talked about, you know, kind of how he sees me in the future and where he sees me at. It was very encouraging, and so I'm just happy to be here."

Saints waive LB Martez Wilson

October, 22, 2013
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The New Orleans Saints waived linebacker Martez Wilson on Tuesday to make room for rookie quarterback Ryan Griffin on their 53-man roster. The move isn’t shocking, since Wilson had been phased out of the Saints’ defense in recent weeks. But it’s a pretty stunning end for a career that began with so much promise.

The Saints drafted the athletic 6-foot-4, 252-pounder out of Illinois in the third round in 2011. But he was never able to find a consistent role on the defense while switching positions and defensive coordinators every year.

It seemed like Rob Ryan’s 3-4 scheme would be the best fit yet for Wilson, who seemed ideally suited to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 with his size and athleticism. But an elbow injury that wiped out his entire preseason didn’t help his development. And then the Saints have rarely lined up in their base 3-4 package this season, usually preferring a four-man front with five defensive backs. Wilson’s snaps were limited all season until he was declared as a healthy inactive in Week 6.

Wilson had one sack and four tackles this season. In his three-year career, he had a total of five sacks, 33 tackles and a forced fumble.

Chances are he’ll get picked up somewhere else around the league, since athletes of his caliber aren’t easy to find.

Wilson ran the fastest 40-yard dash of any linebacker at the 2011 scouting combine (4.49 seconds). And his former Illinois coach and former defensive coordinator Ron Zook once said, “Probably, other than [former Saints pass-rusher] Joe Johnson, he might be more of a pure athlete than anyone I coached with the Saints.”

The Saints tried Wilson at outside linebacker in coordinator Gregg Williams’ base 4-3 scheme in 2011, then defensive end in coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s 4-3 scheme in 2012. But Wilson never earned a consistent role in the rotation.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New Orleans Saints right tackle Zach Strief was declared inactive for Sunday’s game against the New England Patriots with an ankle injury. Second-year pro Bryce Harris is expected to make his second career start in Strief’s place.

That’s definitely a setback for the Saints since Harris is unproven. But Harris has played in every game this year as the sixth lineman/extra tight end in jumbo sets. And he said this week that it helps to get the first-string snaps in practice all week.

Also inactive for the Saints are receiver Lance Moore (hand) and running back Mark Ingram (toe), who were listed as questionable. The Saints have played without both offensive weapons for several weeks, though, so they’ve proven they can absorb those losses with their deep offense. Safety Roman Harper (knee) and defensive lineman Tyrunn Walker (knee) were previously declared out.

A surprise healthy inactive is outside linebacker Martez Wilson, who has played sparingly as a backup this year. Rookie cornerback Rod Sweeting is also a healthy inactive.
Steven Jackson, Mark IngramGetty ImagesSteven Jackson and Mark Ingram will try to bring more balance to two pass-heavy offenses.
Sean Payton is back to right the wrongs of last season, when his New Orleans Saints went off the rails in his absence. The first test of the season is a fitting one: The Saints open against their hated NFC South rivals, the Atlanta Falcons, who ran away with the division last season even though they split with New Orleans.

Have Payton and new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan fixed that horrid defense of a year ago? Will the Saints have much of a running game? Can the Falcons protect their franchise quarterback and give him time to find his myriad weapons?

ESPN.com NFL columnist Ashley Fox and NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas discuss what Saints and Falcons fans can expect from the latest installment of this heated rivalry.

Fox: He’s back. It is redemption time for Payton after missing a year because of the bounty scandal. I’m sure, given how beloved Payton is in New Orleans, that the Mercedes-Benz Superdome will be so loud it might lift off. I’ve seen different estimates for Payton’s worth. How many wins do you think he’s worth to the Saints?

Yasinskas: I think Payton's presence instantly takes the Saints from a nonplayoff team to a playoff team. His skills as an offensive guru are well known, and that certainly will help. But I think the more subtle benefit to having Payton back is his skill as a motivator. He's a master in that area, and he'll have his team ready for big games. Speaking of changes that came in the offseason, what do you think was the biggest move for the Falcons?

Fox: To me, the biggest change was the addition of Steven Jackson. As you well know, the Falcons struggled to run the ball late last season, when Michael Turner clearly had nothing left in the tank. I know Jackson has hit the age when running backs typically decline, but the Falcons don't need him to carry the load. They're going to pass to get a lead and run to win the game. As long as he can stay healthy, Jackson should be able to do that. How effective do you think the Saints' running game will be?

Yasinskas: That's a very timely question. Several times this offseason, Payton has said he wants more out of his running game. The Saints always are going to be a pass-first team. But if you look back at their Super Bowl year, their running game ranked in the top 10. Payton wants to get back to that, and I believe he has the tools to do that with Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles and Mark Ingram. I think you'll see more of Ingram this year. He's a guy who needs 10 to 15 carries to get going, and he can bring more balance to the offense. Speaking of balance, the Falcons seem to have plenty of that. How potent is their offense going to be?

Fox: I think they have a chance to be as potent, if not more so, than last season. The newly signed Matt Ryan has all of his toys back -- Roddy White, Julio Jones, Harry Douglas and Tony Gonzalez. He threw for more than 4,700 yards last season and set career highs for completion percentage, attempts and completions. He could break those again this season. It will be interesting to see if the preseason, when the Falcons were flagged for countless penalties, was an aberration. They were the least penalized team in NFL history last season. As far as setting NFL records, the Saints' defense did last season and not in a good way. Do you think it is going to be any better this season under Ryan?

Yasinskas: It's hard to imagine the New Orleans defense being any worse than it was a year ago. Things just never worked for former coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. I think there will be improvement with Ryan, but I'm not sure how significant it will be. The Saints are switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4 scheme, and I'm not sure they have all the personnel they need to be successful. Time will tell, but it's more than fair to say the defense is the biggest question mark for the Saints. Speaking of question marks, do the Falcons have any glaring weaknesses?

Fox: It is the offensive line. If Ryan is worth his salt as a defensive coordinator, he will strike the right side of the Falcons' line. That’s where the potential problems are. After 13 seasons and 194 starts, center Todd McClure retired after last season. Peter Konz, who started nine games as a rookie at right guard, slides back to his natural position at center. Left guard Justin Blaylock and left tackle Sam Baker are veteran rocks. That’s not the problem. The Falcons let right tackle Tyson Clabo walk in free agency. His replacement, Mike Johnson, broke his leg during training camp. Johnson's replacement, Lamar Holmes, was bad enough in the preseason that the Falcons signed Jeremy Trueblood earlier this week. Right guard Garrett Reynolds missed the second half of last season with an injury. How do you think Ryan will try to exploit the weakness?

Yasinskas: I agree with what you said about Atlanta's offensive line. It potentially could be a huge problem, and I'm sure Ryan is well aware of that. I'd look for him to try to exploit the right side of the line as much as possible. But the Saints have had their share of injuries on defense, and it still isn't clear how they'll apply pressure. Defensive end Cameron Jordan really is the only proven commodity as a pass-rusher. The Saints have big hopes for outside linebackers Junior Galette and Martez Wilson, and those guys need to become forces in a hurry. Atlanta has so many offensive weapons that the Saints need to get some pressure on the quarterback. Speaking of Atlanta's offensive weapons, is White completely healthy?

Fox: The Falcons better hope so. And they say he is, more or less. White sprained an ankle in the second preseason game but finally returned to practice this week. He is Mr. Reliable, having started 128 straight games, and had only two drops last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Only Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald had fewer among receivers who were targeted at least 100 times. So the Falcons need White to be healthy and productive. What’s up with the Saints’ third receiver situation?

Yasinskas: The Saints just brought back Robert Meachem, who didn't work out as a free agent in San Diego. I think Meachem can get back to being an impact player as a third or fourth receiver in time. But I think the Saints will open the season with rookie Kenny Stills as their third receiver. He has big-time speed, and the Saints need a downfield weapon to go along with Marques Colston and Lance Moore. Stills is an under-the-radar player who could have a big impact on this game. Do you see any Falcons who fall into that same category?

Fox: There are two undrafted rookie free agents on defense who won’t start but should see plenty of action. One is Joplo Bartu, a 6-foot-2, 230-pound linebacker out of Texas State. The other is Paul Worrilow, a 6-foot, 230-pound linebacker out of Delaware. Both are unheralded guys who are big and strong and really caught the coaches a little by surprise. Remember those two. OK, so give me a prediction. Who wins?

Around the NFC South

August, 27, 2013
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Time for a morning run through the headlines from around the NFC South:

ATLANTA FALCONS

Coach Mike Smith said that receiver Roddy White, cornerback Asante Samuel, defensive tackle Peria Jerry and kicker Matt Bryant, who all have been sidelined with injuries, are expected to be ready for the regular-season opener.

Undrafted rookie linebacker Paul Worrilow, who has been having a sensational preseason, moved up a spot on the depth chart. He now is listed with the second team.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Running back Jonathan Stewart is scheduled to meet with a doctor Tuesday. Stewart has been sidelined with an ankle injury the entire preseason. He might end up opening the season on the physically unable to perform list.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

After losing outside linebackers Will Smith and Victor Butler to season-ending injuries, the Saints reportedly have made a trade with San Francisco for linebacker Parys Haralson. He’ll get a chance at immediate playing time, but the Saints still need Martez Wilson and Junior Galette to step up as pass rushers.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Mark Cook writes that, despite a shaky preseason, quarterback Josh Freeman still gives the Buccaneers the best chance of winning. I agree. Freeman’s performance in preseason games has been dismal, but preseason results often are misleading. The alternative is rookie Mike Glennon, who hasn’t looked great in the preseason. The Bucs need to open the season with Freeman. If his struggles continue, then you start think about making a switch.

Saints running out of healthy LBs

August, 26, 2013
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At a time when they’re switching their defensive scheme to include an extra linebacker, the New Orleans Saints are running out of players to play the position.

Outside linebacker Will Smith reportedly will miss the season after injuring his knee in Sunday’s preseason game with Houston.

That comes after the Saints lost Victor Butler, a projected starter at the other outside linebacker position, to injury in June. Outside linebackers Martez Wilson (elbow) and Junior Galette (leg) also have missed significant time in the preseason. Inside linebacker Jonathan Vilma also has been sidelined after having knee surgery. Defensive end Kenyon Coleman also is out for the season with a pectoral injury.

Vilma’s space is being filled by David Hawthorne. But the outside linebacker positions are a bigger concern. The Saints are hoping Wilson and Galette can get healthy. Veteran backup Jay Richardson could be in the mix for more playing time. Rookies Rufus Johnson and Eric Martin have done some good things in the preseason, but I’m not sure they’re ready to be starters.

The Saints might have to comb the waiver wire for linebacker help in the coming days.

Around the NFC South

August, 14, 2013
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Time for a look at the top morning headlines from around the division:

ATLANTA FALCONS

Guard Phillipkeith Manley has been getting some work at left tackle. He’s not a threat to challenge Sam Baker, but becoming more versatile would only help Manley’s chances of sticking on the roster.

The folks at Pro Football Focus gave cornerback Desmond Trufant a low grade for his performance in the preseason opener.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Receiver Domenik Hixon said he’s about a week away from returning from a hamstring injury. Hixon needs to get back on the field as soon as possible. He had been ticketed for the No. 3 receiver spot. But Armanti Edwards and Ted Ginn Jr. have performed well in his absence.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Bradley Handwerger writes that defensive end Jay Richardson, who has bounced in and out of the league in recent years, is keeping an eye from a distance on his insurance firm as he tries to make the roster. Richardson, who also can play linebacker, might have a shot after Kenyon Coleman and Victor Butler suffered season-ending injuries.

Linebacker Martez Wilson, who has been dealing with an arm injury, said he has no doubt he’ll be ready for the regular-season opener.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

It’s no surprise that the Bucs have eight players from Rutgers on their roster, because that’s where Greg Schiano coached previously. But the surprising thing is that New England has nine former Rutgers players on its roster.

NFC South afternoon update

August, 13, 2013
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Time for an afternoon trip through the headlines from around the division:

ATLANTA FALCONS

Offensive tackle Ryan Schraeder has been getting work on the right and left sides. The undrafted free agent has made a good early impression and may have a shot at making the roster.

Speaking of undrafted players and the Falcons, D. Orlando Ledbetter reports that Donald Russell and Ronnie Wingo could get increased playing time in the second preseason game.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Coach Ron Rivera compared rookie linebacker A.J. Klein to Luke Kuechly, who was last year’s Defensive Rookie of the Year. That’s high praise and Klein might be a good guy to have around due to the injury histories for Jon Beason and Thomas Davis.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Running back Pierre Thomas and linebacker Martez Wilson returned to practice on a limited basis.

Mike Triplett observes that the offense has yet to truly catch fire so far in camp. I don’t think that’s a big concern. The Saints have an offense that’s loaded and you know Drew Brees and his crew will show up when the real stuff starts. The best part of this news might be that the defense is playing well.

Friday’s game will be the last for Jerry Romig as the public-address announcer at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Romig is retiring after 44 years.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Rookie cornerback Johnthan Banks had some rough patches against New England’s Tom Brady in a joint workout. Banks is not the first cornerback that Brady has exploited and he won’t be the last. The upside for Banks is that he has a chance to grow by facing Brady.

Although general manager Mark Dominik indicated there’s a chance Darrelle Revis could play in the third exhibition game, the cornerback said it’s too early to tell.
METAIRIE, La. -- The first thing I noticed when watching the New Orleans Saints practice was the silence.

There was no messing around and no coaches screaming at players. Instead, the Saints looked like a veteran team that is intensely focused -- more focused than last year, when chaos surrounded the entire season. Maybe even more focused than in 2009, when the Saints eventually won their first Super Bowl championship.

The quiet practices are a firm sign that coach Sean Payton is back in charge and that this team wants to put last season as far in the past as possible. The bounty scandal that led to the season-long suspension of Payton and a disappointing 7-9 record is over, and the Saints want to return to their winning ways.

“Last year was an apparition," quarterback Drew Brees said. “It was a different time with all the situations that had taken place. This year, just knowing that we’ve got everybody here, this is our team. Nobody’s missing. This is the team that can accomplish great things, and there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. Here’s our window of time to bring it together. We know there’s going to be tough times. We know there’s going to be adversity. Build that attitude, build that chemistry, and get ready to make a run at it.”

Payton’s return alone should make a big difference. He’s one of the league’s best coaches and possesses a brilliant offensive mind. After watching his team from a distance last year, Payton had some strong critiques for his players, even the superstars.

Soon after Payton was reinstated, he called tight end Jimmy Graham and told him that a season in which he caught 85 passes but led the league in drops, according to ESPN Stats & Information, wasn’t good enough.

“First, he called me and I didn’t recognize the number so I didn’t pick it up," Graham said. “He was pretty mad because it took like two or three days for me to call him back. The conversation was very serious, talking about his expectations for me and the things that I need to correct from last year and how he’s ready to be back. He’s ready to see my growth even more."

Payton needs to see growth from more than Graham. He’s made it clear that he wants to run the ball more often and that the Saints have to be substantially better on defense.

If the Saints can combine those things with Brees and the passing game, they should be right back in playoff contention.

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. The defensive overhaul. Payton is an offensive guru, but the first order of business upon his reinstatement was to replace defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo with Rob Ryan. Spagnuolo’s defense never caught on in New Orleans, and the Saints finished last season ranked No. 32 in total defense.

The Saints aren’t just switching coordinators. They’re switching schemes. With Payton’s blessing, Ryan is installing a 3-4 scheme. The pass rush now will have to come from the outside linebackers, particularly Junior Galette, Will Smith and Martez Wilson, a trio of guys that previously played defensive end.

The secondary also is going through some major changes. The Saints signed free-agent cornerback Keenan Lewis and drafted safety Kenny Vaccaro in the first round.

The defense will look a lot different because Ryan uses a lot of exotic looks. If the results are different from last season, the Saints will be in good shape.

[+] EnlargeMark Ingram
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireThere won't be any excuses for Mark Ingram this season, as the Saints plan to keep him involved in their running game.
Ingram’s time? Payton repeatedly has said the Saints need to get back to running the ball more efficiently. They were good in that area in their Super Bowl season but got away from the run last season.

There really is no reason the Saints shouldn’t be able to get production from the running game. They have a good offensive line and three talented running backs -- Mark Ingram, Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas.

The real wild card is Ingram. Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis used a first-round pick on Ingram in 2011, but he hasn’t produced a lot in his first two years. I think Payton is going to make it a point to give Ingram more carries this season.

A new age of receivers. A few years ago, the Saints had a receiving corps as deep as any in the league, which came in handy because they use so many three- and four-receiver sets. But Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson left over the past two seasons. Joe Morgan, who had been ticketed for the third receiver spot, suffered a season-ending injury in camp.

That leaves starters Marques Colston and Lance Moore as the only sure things. Beyond them, there’s a lot of uncertainty. But the Saints hope veteran Steve Breaston, who was signed this week, and second-year pro Nick Toon, who missed his rookie season with an injury, can fill the void.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

Any team that has Brees as its quarterback is going to be competitive. With weapons such as Graham, Colston and Sproles, the Saints are going to score plenty of points. It would be difficult for the defense to be any worse than last season.

If the Saints can just put a middle-of-the-pack defense on the field, they can be a dangerous team.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

Rob Ryan
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsRob Ryan will bring an aggressive new 3-4 attack to New Orleans, but do the Saints have the proper personnel to run it effectively off the bat?
The Saints already have had some tough breaks when it comes to injuries. Defensive end Kenyon Coleman and outside linebacker Victor Butler, who were brought in specifically to fill important roles in Ryan’s defensive scheme, already have suffered season-ending injuries.

Ryan is an aggressive coach, and the 3-4 has had plenty of success around the league in recent years. But I’m not sure Ryan has the personnel to make this defense succeed. It could take another offseason to get this defense fully stocked.

OBSERVATION DECK

One of the brightest spots in training camp has been the play of second-year defensive lineman Akiem Hicks. I saw him make several big plays during my visit. Hicks is going to get his chance to shine in the regular season, and with Coleman out, it looks like he'll be a starter at defensive end.

In another sign that the Saints are serious about running the ball more, Graham has bulked up. The tight end said he now weighs about 270 pounds and that he’s focusing on becoming a better blocker.

The Saints have a history of finding unheralded running backs who end up making a contribution (see Chris Ivory and Travaris Cadet). They might have found another one in Khiry Robinson, an undrafted free agent out of West Texas A&M. Robinson has flashed big-play ability in camp. The Saints have so much depth at running back that it might be tough for him to make the roster, but he could end up on the practice squad.

There was some thought that Jason Smith, a former first-round pick by the St. Louis Rams, could end up as the starting left tackle. But it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. Charles Brown has been getting virtually all the first-team work. Smith has fallen to third on the depth chart and is working behind rookie Terron Armstead. It’s looking like Smith might not even make the roster.

In recent years, the Saints have brought rookie defensive backs along slowly. Malcolm Jenkins and Patrick Robinson didn’t play significant roles in their first seasons. But I don’t think the Saints are going to be cautious with Vaccaro. Whether it’s at one of the safety spots or as the nickelback, Vaccaro is going to play a lot this season.

Around the NFC South

July, 30, 2013
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Let's take a morning run through some odds and ends from around the division:

ATLANTA FALCONS

Linebackers coach Glenn Pires said rookie Brian Banks is progressing well. Banks is one of the best stories in the league this year. He’s playing football for the first time in more than 10 years after being exonerated of a charge that kept him in prison for more than five years. Banks quickly has become a fan favorite, but it remains to be seen if he’ll make the roster.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Injuries have been a problem for the Panthers since the arrival of coach Ron Rivera. They’ve had 16 players on injured reserve each of the past two seasons. But Rivera has made multiple changes to his camp routine in an effort to keep his team healthier.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Larry Holder reports that the elbow injury outside linebacker Martez Wilson suffered Monday is likely to sideline him two to four weeks. That means Will Smith and Junior Galette will get all of the first-team work for the rest of the preseason. It also could open the door for rookie Rufus Johnson to have a shot at some playing time.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Coach Greg Schiano has brought plenty of ideas from college to the NFL. Here’s another one: Instead of keeping Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers at the same positions all the time, the Bucs plan to flip-flop their defensive ends between the right and left side.

NFC South afternoon update

July, 29, 2013
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SPARTANBURG, S.C. – I’m wrapping up my time at Carolina’s training camp. But I still have plenty of stuff for the coming days on the Panthers. Their Camp Confidential profile is scheduled to run Wednesday.

I have to make my way up to Charlotte to catch a flight home to NFC South Blog headquarters tonight. I’ll get out to see the Tampa Bay Buccaneers later this week and I’ll head to New Orleans to see the Saints next week.

Before I travel, I’ll leave you with some quick news and notes from around the division:

ATLANTA FALCONS

Although pass-rusher Shawne Merriman took to Twitter to lobby the Falcons to sign him, D. Orlando Ledbetter writes that it’s unlikely Merriman will end up with Atlanta. I know fans get worked up about Merriman and other veterans. But the fact is the Falcons have high hopes for a lot of their young players. Their plan is to go with what they already have on their roster. The only way I see the Falcons adding any veterans is if they have some injuries.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Jonathan Jones writes that free-agent pickup Mike Mitchell has been making some noise at strong safety so far in camp. I saw Mitchell make several nice plays Monday morning. Mitchell’s main competitor appears to be D.J. Campbell.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Outside linebacker Martez Wilson had to leave practice with an elbow injury. Coach Sean Payton said the injury didn’t appear to be serious. But the Saints are a little thin at outside linebacker if Wilson has to miss any practice time. They already have lost Victor Butler to a season-ending injury. If Wilson is out for any extended period, rookie Rufus Johnson could get more work behind Will Smith and Junior Galette.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Cornerback Darrelle Revis got a planned day off as he continues his comeback from knee surgery. Receiver Mike Williams limped off the field with an apparent leg injury, but coach Greg Schiano indicated it was nothing serious.

NFC South afternoon update

July, 26, 2013
7/26/13
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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- I’m about to head out to watch the Atlanta Falcons practice. But, first, let’s take a quick trip through the headlines from around the division:

ATLANTA FALCONS

Michael Cunningham writes that rookie cornerback Desmond Trufant had a rough first practice on Thursday. That was to be expected. Trufant got victimized several times by Julio Jones. Lots of defensive backs have been beaten by Jones, who is one of the top receivers in the league. The upside to this is that competing against Jones on a daily basis is going to help get Trufant ready for the regular season.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

With Atlanta’s Matt Ryan getting a new contract Thursday, Cam Newton was asked if that made him think about eventually getting his own contract extension. The quarterback, who hasn’t always handled the media to perfection, gave the right answer. Newton said he’s focused on wins and not thinking about his contract situation. If Newton produces enough wins, the contract situation eventually will take care of itself.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Mike Triplett writes that Will Smith worked at strong-side linebacker and Junior Galette worked at the “Jack’’ linebacker position. That’s surprising because the “Jack’’ position is expected to include a lot of pass rushing and Smith is a converted defensive end. But I wouldn’t read too much into this just yet. The Saints are likely to do a lot of experimentation with their new defense and Smith could end up back at the “Jack’’ position. Martez Wilson also is likely to get some first-team work and could end up with a starting position.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Roy Cummings writes that Tampa Bay’s overhauled secondary looked good in Friday’s practice. That’s what the Bucs were aiming for when they went out and got veterans Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson and drafted Johnthan Banks. Revis isn’t even taking part in team drills yet. But the early evidence of improvement is a very encouraging sign for the Bucs.

Around the NFC South

July, 23, 2013
7/23/13
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Time for a morning look at the top headlines from around the division:

ATLANTA FALCONS

D. Orlando Ledbetter reports that both sides are optimistic first-round draft pick Desmond Trufant will be signed before the start of training camp Thursday. Under the current labor agreement, there shouldn’t be any reason for holdouts since salaries are basically slotted.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

The Panthers made a couple of minor roster moves as they get ready for camp. They waived offensive lineman Thomas Austin and placed receiver Lamont Bryant on the non-football injury list. Bryant is eligible to be activated any time before the final roster cuts.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Katherine Terrell has an overview of the situation at outside linebacker. Will Smith and Martez Wilson are scheduled to go to camp as the starters and the team is hoping they can generate a consistent pass rush. Don’t be surprised if Junior Galette, who also has some pass-rushing skills, earns some playing time.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Roy Cummings has a list of five under-the-radar players. He starts it off with fifth-round draft pick Steven Means, who played linebacker in college but is making the transition to defensive end. If Means has a strong training camp, he has a chance to earn time in the rotation behind starters Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers.

Five key questions

July, 22, 2013
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With all four NFC South training camps starting later this week, let’s take a look at five key questions:

1. Will Darrelle Revis be ready from the start? The Bucs have said Revis will be on the field in some capacity on the first day. But Revis is coming off a torn ACL and I expect the Bucs to exercise some caution with their big investment. Revis may be doing some things from the start of camp, but I look for the Bucs to keep him on a pitch count.

2. How much will we see of Tony Gonzalez in camp? Probably not much at all. The Falcons went to great lengths to keep Gonzalez from retiring. Part of the deal might have been that Gonzalez doesn't have to go through the grind of a training camp. He’ll show up for camp, but I wouldn’t expect to see him practicing very much.

3. Who will be the outside linebacker for the Saints on the strong side after Victor Butler’s injury? All indications are that Martez Wilson will get the first crack at that job. The Saints didn’t panic and sign anyone after Butler was injured. That’s a pretty strong indication that the coaching staff feels confident with Wilson.

4. Is Carolina running back Jonathan Stewart healthy? Coach Ron Rivera has stopped short of saying Stewart will be ready for the first day of training camp. Stewart is coming off surgery on both ankles. I get the sense it might be more toward the middle or end of camp before we see much of Stewart.

5. Any chance Matt Ryan’s contract extension gets done before camp starts? I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that the Falcons and Ryan reach an agreement before Thursday afternoon. This deal has been in the works for months and it would be a good idea to start camp off without something that could be a big distraction.

Around the NFC South

July, 22, 2013
7/22/13
9:30
AM ET
Time for a look at some news and notes from around the division.

ATLANTA FALCONS

First-round draft pick Desmond Trufant remains unsigned. He is ticketed to start at cornerback, but a holdout could interfere with that plan. Trufant had to miss most of the offseason program because his University of Washington class had not graduated. If Trufant misses much of training camp, fellow rookie Robert Alford or veteran Robert McClain could jump ahead of him on the depth chart.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Jonathan Jones points to numerous statistics that show Carolina’s offense was better in the second half of last season than it was in the first. The reason is pretty clear: Once the Panthers cut back on the zone read and used a more traditional running game, they had a lot more offensive success. I think it’s pretty safe to expect this year’s Carolina offense to look a lot more like it did in the second half of last season.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Mike Triplett writes that outside linebackers Junior Galette and Martez Wilson are excited about the upcoming season. They’re two of the more intriguing players on the defense. Both spent last year as defensive ends, but are moving to linebacker as the Saints switch to a 3-4 scheme. Galette and Wilson have potential as pass-rushers, but they’ll get a chance to produce more, especially after the loss of Victor Butler to an injury that will keep him out all season.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Scott Reynolds points out that wide receiver Mike Williams is scheduled to make less money this year than some of the team’s backup receivers. Williams and the Bucs have been talking about a contract extension for months, but nothing has happened yet. I wouldn’t be surprised if that changes soon and the Bucs lock up Williams sometime before the start of the regular season.

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