NFC South: Matt Moore

Who's better than Dan Orlovsky?

February, 14, 2013
Right after the regular season ended, Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano caused a bit of a stir when he said he’d like to bring in some competition for quarterback Josh Freeman.

Any time there’s talk of movement at the quarterback position, people tend to get excited. But, as I look at the crop of free-agent quarterbacks, I can feel my pulse slow. Aside from Joe Flacco, who is not going to get out of Baltimore, there’s absolutely nothing to get excited about.

Byron Leftwich? Josh Johnson? Luke McCown? Bruce Gradkowski?

They’ve all cycled through Tampa Bay once, and the Bucs don’t need to take a step back.

Matt Leinart? Brady Quinn? David Carr?

They’re all busts, high draft picks that have turned out to be nothing more than backups.

Is there any potential free agent out there that really would be much of an upgrade over current backup Dan Orlovsky?

The only two guys I’m seeing that intrigue me (just a little) are Jason Campbell and Matt Moore. I thought Campbell never really got a fair shake in his Washington days. Moore’s not going to wow anyone. But when he’s had the chance to play in Miami and Carolina, he’s shown some intangibles. Given the right circumstances, I think Campbell and Moore would at least have a shot at succeeding if they ended up as a starter.

There’s no doubt the current list of free agents will grow as teams release players before the start of free agency. And there could be some decent quarterbacks available via trade (Alex Smith?). The draft also is an option, but this isn’t the best year to be looking for a quarterback.

This will play out in time, and like I said, the pool could get deeper. But, for right now, the Bucs might as well hang onto Orlovsky.
In a memo to all 32 NFL teams announcing the revised punishment from the alleged three-year bounty program run by the New Orleans Saints, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell revealed a significant detail about a 2010 game with Carolina.

In a previous memo, Goodell wrote that the Saints had a bounty on Carolina quarterback Cam Newton last season. In a section of this letter, Goodell details how the Saints rewarded defensive players for injuring opponents.

He referred to a 2010 game in which the New Orleans defense was commended for three “cart-offs’’ and one player placed on injured reserve.

“In that game,’’ Goodell wrote. “Three Carolina players were seriously injured: running backs Jonathan Stewart and Tyrell Sutton, who were literally carted off the field with a head/neck and ankle injury, respectively, and quarterback Matt Moore, who was later placed on injured reserve, unable to return for the remainder of the season, with a torn labrum. These all satisfied (defensive coordinator Gregg) Williams’ definition of cart-offs: ‘big hits that resulted in an opposing player leaving the game due to the hit."

The Panthers are on bye this week, so it’s a little difficult to track down people for reaction. But, when the bounty on Newton was first revealed, I can tell you that some high-ranking team officials were not very pleased with the Saints.

Pat Yasinskas' QB Watch

December, 21, 2011
Cam Newton, Andy DaltonUS PresswireThe Panthers (with Cam Newton) and Bengals (with Andy Dalton) are two examples of teams that successfully used the draft to fill a void at quarterback.
In the past few months, we’ve seen the Panthers, 49ers and Bengals discover they’re just fine at quarterback. In those same few months, we’ve seen even more teams discover that they’re not in great shape.

That’s why the 2012 draft and free-agency period could provide a shopping spree for teams looking for starting quarterbacks. I’m looking around the league and seeing that roughly a quarter of the 32 teams could change starters in 2012.

Maybe they'll find solutions in the draft, as the Panthers did with Cam Newton and the Bengals with Andy Dalton. Or maybe they'll take a guy who has been around for a while, put him in the right situation and find out he can play, the way the 49ers did with Alex Smith.

But neither method is foolproof. Drafting a quarterback early doesn’t always work. That’s why I’m putting the Vikings and Jaguars on my list of teams that might look for a starter in the offseason. Bringing in a veteran, as the Cardinals did with Kevin Kolb, didn’t bring any dramatic changes, and that’s why Arizona also is on my list of teams with uncertain quarterback futures.

Let’s run through the list, in no particular order.

Redskins. Who really thought it was a good idea to go into a season with John Beck and Rex Grossman as your only options? Owner Daniel Snyder and coach Mike Shanahan must realize now that they’re going nowhere with journeyman quarterbacks. That’s why they have to find someone who can be a franchise quarterback.

Seahawks. Same story as the Redskins. Pete Carroll generally had more talent and depth in his quarterback groups at USC than he did when he decided to go with Tarvaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst. Letting Matt Hasselbeck go wasn’t necessarily a bad move, but heading into a season with guys who never have been and never will be any good made no sense.

Dolphins. The tandem of Chad Henne and Matt Moore was as uninspiring as what the Seahawks and Redskins brought to the table. That’s why the Dolphins will be looking for a new coach. Moore has played pretty well at times, but ownership seems intent on making a big splash to bring some life back to this franchise. The quickest way to make waves is to add a high-profile quarterback, but keeping Moore around as a backup is a nice insurance policy.

Colts. Had Indianapolis had a backup like Moore, this season wouldn’t have been so disastrous. Everything fell apart as soon as it became apparent that Peyton Manning wouldn't play because of a neck injury. The Colts could get a healthy Manning back, or they could draft Andrew Luck. But, if they let Manning go and draft Luck, they should go out and get a backup who is capable of starting.

Vikings. They tried to use Donovan McNabb as a bridge to first-round draft pick Christian Ponder. The bridge quickly collapsed, and Ponder was thrown in over his head. Ponder may eventually turn into a decent starter, but we’ve seen no solid evidence that will happen. That’s why the Vikings need to have an alternative.

Jaguars. You can put Blaine Gabbert in the same category as Ponder. The jury is still out on him. Like Miami, this is another franchise that will hire a new coach and try to energize a fan base. Just a thought here, but there’s a hometown guy who could sell out the stadium every week, if he somehow becomes available. (See below.)

Broncos. Tim Tebow has pulled off miracles by putting the Broncos in playoff contention. The guy has all sorts of intangibles, but he doesn’t throw like an NFL quarterback. That’s why it looks as though John Fox and John Elway are forcing smiles every time Tebow leads them to an awkward victory. You get the sense that, deep down, Fox and Elway would rather have a conventional quarterback.

Cardinals. The Cardinals thought they found their franchise guy when they traded for Kolb. He hasn’t played like a franchise quarterback, but the Cardinals don’t necessarily have to go outside on a shopping trip. John Skelton has played pretty well in relief of Kolb. Come training camp next summer, let Kolb and Skelton compete and settle this thing once and for all.



Steve Smith reflects on 10,000 yards

December, 12, 2011
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina’s Steve Smith became the 35th player in NFL history to reach the 10,000-yard receiving mark.

Smith got very reflective after Sunday’s loss to Atlanta as he talked about the milestone.

“It’s a lot of people, a lot of men and a lot of boys’ dream,’’ Smith said. “But there are few men who get the opportunity to live out their dream, so I’m fortunate enough. I’ve had the opportunity for about a decade to do it and it’s been enjoyable. I’ve had fun. I’ve also had some bonehead situations, but that’s the opportunity to live and so it’s pretty cool.’’

Smith then went on to thank just about every quarterback he ever has played with. He mentioned Chris Weinke, Rodney Peete, Jake Delhomme, Vinny Testaverde, Cam Newton, David Carr, Brian St. Pierre, Jimmy Clausen and Matt Moore.

Smith went on to mention a bunch of receivers he played with through the years.

“Isaac Byrd, Karl Hankton, Ricky Proehl, Muhsin Muhammad and Donald Hayes because when I first came here, they were the guys who took me under their wing and showed me how to play,’’ Smith said. “There were times I was annoying to them and I followed them and watched them.’’

Cam Newton a top-10 quarterback?

December, 9, 2011
Sports Illustrated’s Jim Trotter has a thought-provoking column in which he ranks the league’s starting quarterbacks.

I found his rankings on the four NFC South quarterbacks quite interesting and, after a bit of thought, very accurate.

He has New Orleans’ Drew Brees ranked No. 2. I can’t really argue with that. Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers will win the Most Valuable Player award, but Brees at least deserves to be in the conversation. The guy is on pace to set the record for most passing yards in a season.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Trotter ranks Carolina rookie Cam Newton at No. 9.

At first, I wondered if Newton should be a top-10 quarterback. Then, I looked at the three guys ranked directly in front of Newton – Eli Manning, Tony Romo and Alex Smith. After seeing that, I no longer have any doubt Newton belongs in the top 10, maybe even up a few spots from where he is.

Atlanta’s Matt Ryan is No. 15. My first instinct was to argue that one, especially when I saw Matt Moore and Michael Vick ranked directly ahead of Ryan. But, then, I thought about Ryan’s performance in Sunday’s loss to Houston and his inconsistency for much of the season. He’s right about where he belongs.

Trotter put Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman at No. 25. That’s one spot behind Seattle’s Tarvaris Jackson. If you’re talking purely about talent, there’s no comparison between Freeman and Jackson. Freeman’s way better. But Trotter is talking about production and Freeman hasn’t produced this season.

By the numbers on Saints, Panthers

October, 31, 2011
Sunday was not a good day in the NFC South. The Buccaneers and Falcons were on bye and the Panthers and Saints each lost.

The Saints lot to a previously winless St. Louis team and the Panthers lost by a field goal to a Minnesota team that came in with only one win.

With some help from ESPN Stats & Information and Elias Sports Bureau, let’s take a look at some statistical nuggets on the Saints and Panthers. We’ll start with the Saints.

St. Louis’ victory marked only the second time in the past 14 seasons that a winless team with at least six losses defeated a first-place team. The last such victory was by an 0-6 Miami team against a 4-2 St. Louis team in 2004.

Defense continues to be a problem area for the Saints. The Rams scored 17 points in the first half. That was one point more than the Rams had scored in any full game prior to Sunday. The Rams hadn’t scored 31 points in a game since Week 12 of the 2010 season.

The Saints allowed St. Louis defensive end Chris Long to record three sacks. He’s the first player from the Rams to do that since Leonard Little in Week 13 of the 2003 season.

The Saints came in averaging a league-high 34.1 points. The Rams were averaging a league-low 9.3 points per game. This game marked only the second time in the past 30 years that the league’s lowest-scoring team defeated the highest scoring team.

Now, let’s move over to the Panthers.

Carolina’s Cam Newton and Minnesota’s Christian Ponder made a little history. For the first time ever, two opposing rookies each passed for at least 200 yards without throwing an interception.

Carolina’s Jeremy Shockey and Greg Olsen each had a touchdown catch. It marked just the second time in franchise history that two Carolina tight ends had receiving touchdowns in the same game. The first time was by Dante Rosario and Christian Fauria in 2007.

Newton became the first Carolina quarterback to throw for three touchdown passes in a home game since Matt Moore in 2009.

Newton joined Kordell Stewart as the only player since 1970 to record 11 passing touchdowns and seven rushing touchdowns in the first eight games of the season.

Carolina’s Steve Smith had his fifth 100-yard receiving game of the season. Smith had only two such games in the 2009 and 2010 seasons combined.

Newton’s 1,381 passing yards in October is the highest in NFL history by a rookie in one calendar month. The previous record was 1,230 yards by Matthew Stafford in November 2009.

Cam Newton wins Rookie of the Month

September, 29, 2011
This one should come as no surprise. The NFL just announced that Carolina quarterback Cam Newton has been named the Offensive Rookie of the Month for September.

The No. 1 overall pick in the draft, Newton threw for 1,012 yards, the most ever by a player in his first three NFL games. He threw for four touchdowns and ran for two.

Newton threw for 422 yards in his debut, the most ever by a player in his first game. He followed that by throwing for 432 yards in Week 2.

Newton is only the third Carolina player to earn Rookie of the Month honors. Julius Peppers won the defensive award in October 2002 and Matt Moore won it for offense in Dec. 2007.

Sam Bradford (October and November 2010) and Tim Couch (October 1999) are the only other quarterbacks drafted No. 1 overall to be named NFL Rookie of the Month and Newton is the only one to earn the award in his first month of play.

Washington linebacker Ryan Kerrigan won Defensive Rookie of the Month.

Panthers looking at veteran QB, CB

August, 1, 2011
SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- The Carolina Panthers don’t practice until late Monday, but they’re already making news.

One potential move might excite you and the other will probably come as a bit of a disappointment. Let’s start a Monday morning by getting the news that’s not likely to be well received by fans out of the way.

The Panthers are bringing in free-agent quarterback Derek Anderson for a visit and probably will sign him, barring any problems with a physical exam or contract talks. The Panthers had said they were looking for a veteran to help mentor Cam Newton and Jimmy Clausen.

They’re about to give you Anderson, who didn’t do all that much in his Cleveland days. Not sure about you, but I think the Panthers would have been just as well off keeping Matt Moore and I don’t even think Moore’s that good. I think they would have been even better off bringing back Jake Delhomme, who recently was released by Cleveland.

But, as often is the case, you have to look at ties to the coaching staff when a player is brought in. Anderson had his one decent season (2007) in Cleveland, when Carolina offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski was with the Browns.

Now, onto the news that probably will go over well with fans. The Panthers are showing interest in veteran cornerback Carlos Rogers, who has spent his entire career with the Washington Redskins and been a starter most of that time.

After letting Richard Marshall go in free agency, the Panthers are looking for a cornerback to start opposite Chris Gamble.

Hitting the NFC South links

July, 26, 2011
Let's do some speed reading to cover all sorts of ground on a variety of developments across the NFC South.

Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik didn’t flat out say free-agent linebacker Barrett Ruud is out of the picture. But he sure implied it when he started talking about the Bucs moving forward with rookie Mason Foster.

Can’t say this one’s a surprise. Matt Ryan was the first player to arrive at the Falcons’ complex Tuesday. He spoke with the media about how he’s looking forward to working with new quarterbacks coach Bob Bratkowski and rookie receiver Julio Jones.

Can’t say this one’s a surprise either. The Weather Channel ranked the 10 hottest venues for training camps. All four NFC South sites made the list.

Continuing with the theme of no surprises, quarterback Matt Moore said he doesn’t expect to be back with the Panthers.

The Saints reportedly have reached agreements with two more undrafted free agents, North Dakota State cornerback Josh Gatlin and Marian University offensive tackle Coy Beilby. The Saints also reportedly have agreed to deals with Nebraska offensive tackle Mike Smith and Belhaven wide receiver Kevin Dizer.

LSU kicker Josh Jasper said he has agreed to terms with the Buccaneers.

Tampa Bay wide receiver Arrelious Benn, who is coming off major knee surgery, said he passed his physical and expects to be 100 percent for the regular-season opener.

Hitting the NFC South hot spots

July, 17, 2011
The NFC South mailbag got pretty full while I took my last bit of time off before training camps open, so let’s go ahead and get to some of your questions.

Jordan in New Orleans wrote to ask if Reggie Bush could be primed for a big season if he stays in New Orleans.

Pat Yasinskas: We’ll go on the assumption that Bush and the Saints work out a way to handle his contract and answer your question. Part of the reason that Bush has never put up the kind of numbers so many people expected is because he has dealt with a variety of injuries during his career. I think he’s a guy who possibly could benefit from the lockout. He’s had an entire offseason to let his body recover and get fully healthy. Let’s say he stays that way. Bush has only played a full 16-game season once in his career. That was 2006, his rookie season. Combine his rushing and receiving numbers from that season and you come up with more than 1,300 yards and eight touchdowns. I expect Mark Ingram to sort of fill the old Deuce McAllister role. In 2006, McAllister and Bush made a nice tandem. Plus, I think Sean Payton has had an entire offseason to come up with different ways to utilize Bush’s talents. I think it’s possible he could put up numbers similar to what he did as a rookie, if he can stay healthy all year.

Dustin in San Diego asks about the possibility of Tampa Bay pursuing Atlanta free-agent tackle Tyson Clabo.

Pat Yasinskas: Not out of the realm of possibility. Right tackle Jeremy Trueblood is a free agent and he lost his job to James Lee last season. I don’t think the Bucs are going to make a huge effort to re-sign Trueblood. Atlanta may try to keep Clabo, but the Bucs might be wise to make a run at him. Clabo would be an upgrade over Trueblood or Lee.

Jason in Winston-Salem, N.C., asks if there’s any chance of the Panthers keeping quarterback Matt Moore.

Pat Yasinskas: I just don’t see it. Cam Newton and Jimmy Clausen are guaranteed roster spots, unless they get injured. The Panthers also have Tony Pike and have talked about signing a veteran to mentor the young quarterbacks. Moore has a little experience, but not enough to really be the true mentor type. I still think Moore can be a decent NFL backup. I just think it’s in his best interest to go somewhere else and get a fresh start.

Jill in Atlanta wanted to know my thoughts on Ricky Bell as a potential member of Tampa Bay’s Ring of Honor.

Pat Yasinskas: I think Bell is someone who should get in to the Ring of Honor in the next couple of years, if the Bucs continue to go in some sort of chronological order. Bell was a little before my time and I was in junior high school in Pennsylvania most of the time he played for the Bucs. But, even from a distance, I remember Bell in the same category as Lee Roy Selmon and Doug Williams, especially in that wondrous 1979 season. That might have been Bell’s finest season and he had several good years. Sadly, his career was cut short by illness and he died in 1984. I’ve talked to several former teammates about Bell and they all say he was a marvelous talent and wonder what he could have done if he had a longer career. I think he did enough to earn a spot in the Ring of Honor.

Brian in Athens, Ga., inquired about the status of Atlanta defensive tackle Peria Jerry.

Pat Yasinskas: I’ve asked that question of coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff several times this offseason. Every time, each of them has given the same answer: they’re expecting big things from Jerry, their first-round pick in 2009. He had a major knee injury early in his rookie season. Jerry came back last season, but was only a situational player with rookie Corey Peters playing ahead of him. Smith and Dimitroff have admitted the plan was to go slowly with Jerry last season. They firmly believe this is the season his knee will be totally healthy and they think he can finally be the player they thought they were getting when they drafted him.

Mike in Chapel Hill, N.C., said he’s read a lot about players working out on their own or in groups during the offseason, but wonders what coaches have been doing during the lockout.

Pat Yasinskas: Excellent question and not much has been written about this. Around the league, coaches were more involved in the draft than in past years. They’ve also spent a lot of time working with personnel staffs to prepare for free agency. I think that’s one bright side of the lockout because coaching staffs and personnel staffs have had more time to get on the same page about who they want in free agency. Beyond that, I’ve heard that coaches have spent a lot of time reviewing the players they already have and thinking about ways to make them better. I’ve also heard coaches have done a lot more advance film work on their opponents for this season.
We still don’t know the exact structure of any potential labor agreement. But with talks continuing and cautious optimism from both sides, it’s time to at least begin looking ahead to the start of free agency.

We can safely assume that players with at least six accrued seasons will be unrestricted free agents in any scenario. Players with four or five seasons could be unrestricted or restricted free agents, depending on the terms of a potential new deal and if they received qualifying tenders prior to the start of the lockout.

Players with three seasons will be restricted free agents unless they did not receive a qualifying offer. With some help from ESPN Stats & Information, let’s take a look at the notable potential free agents from NFC South team. We’ll list the players, followed by their number of accrued seasons.

Buccaneers: RB Cadillac Williams 6; LB Barrett Ruud 6; G Davin Joseph 5; DE Stylez G. White 4.

Falcons: LB Mike Peterson 12; T Tyson Clabo 5; G Harvey Dahl 5; G Justin Blalock 4; CB Brent Grimes 3.

Panthers: LB Thomas Davis 6; RB DeAngelo Williams 5; LB James Anderson 5; CB Richard Marshall 5; QB Matt Moore 4; TE Dante Rosario 4; DE Charles Johnson 4.

Saints: S Darren Sharper 14; FB Heath Evans 10; RB LaDell Betts 9; RB Julius Jones 7; TE David Thomas 5; S Roman Harper 5; T Jermon Bushrod 4; G Carl Nicks 3.
Time for a plunge into the NFC South mailbag.

Nate in Palmer, Alaska asks if there’s any update on Cadillac Williams.

Pat Yasinskas: Not really. He wasn’t at the two recent workouts, led by Josh Freeman, that I’ve attended. But I do know Williams worked out with Freeman and some others at IMG Academy in Bradenton not too long ago and has joined his teammates at other times this offseason. Williams is scheduled to be a free agent whenever the lockout ends. He has said he wants to test free agency. The Bucs have said they’d like to keep him in the third-down-back role he filled so nicely the second half of last season and Williams is a great locker-room guy. We’ll see how it plays out. But, sometimes, the role and salary a player wants for himself and the role and salary a team projects for him don’t mesh.

James in Charlotte asks what’s the status of quarterback Matt Moore with Carolina.

Pat Yasinskas: He’s not under contract for 2011. With the Panthers using a first-round pick on Cam Newton this year and a second-round pick on Jimmy Clausen last year, I don’t see any real future for Moore with the Panthers. I do think he can be a decent backup somewhere else.

Kayin in Iraq wrote to say there’s been a lot of reports about possible trades and potential free-agent signings and asks at what point teams would violate tampering rules.

Pat Yasinskas: We’re in a unique year due to the lockout and fans and media have been speculating about moves that could come when the lockout is lifted. That’s mainly because we don’t have much else to do. Teams can’t talk to their own players and they certainly can’t talk to potential free agents from other teams. If they do, that would violate the tampering rule. As far as teams discussing possible trades, I don’t think there are any rules against that, but no trades can be made while the lockout is in place.

Derrek in Slidell, La. says we should do Power Rankings on best game environments and best fans.

Pat Yasinskas: Careful what you wish for. I can’t give away all our plans. But I can tell you that if the lockout continues to linger, you just might see some of what you suggested – and more along those same lines -- this summer.

John in Houston asks what New Orleans defensive tackle Shaun Rogers has been up to in the offseason, if he’s been working out with the other Saints and keeping himself in shape.

Pat Yasinskas: I recently heard from someone close to Rogers that he’s been rehabilitating an injury on his own and is in very good shape. He hasn’t joined the Saints yet for any of their workouts, but don’t be surprised if it happens once the rehabilitation is completely done.

Denzel is Houston asks what kind of rookie seasons Cam Newton, Mark Ingram and Julio Jones will have if training camps are shortened.

Pat Yasinskas: That scenario could cause problems for those three players and just about any rookie. Let’s say there is labor peace sometime after training camps should have started and the start of the regular season stays on schedule. It could take some time for draft picks to get signed, and every missed practice session hurts rookies. As a quarterback, Newton stands to lose the most. The Panthers won’t be able to put him out there right away if he hasn’t had enough practice time. It could also be an issue for Jones because wide receivers, historically, start slowly. Again, in general terms, rookie running backs usually make an impact pretty quickly. I’d guess that Ingram would have the fastest impact of the guys you mentioned in that scenario.

Brad in Lancaster, Pa. asks if Cam Newton can mirror Josh Freeman.

Pat Yasinskas: Newton has frequently been compared to Freeman and Ben Roethlisberger. He’s a big, strong quarterback who can scramble out of the pocket. Guys like Freeman and Roethlisberger can get downfield because they’re big enough and strong enough that they usually can endure hits from linebackers and defensive backs without much risk of injury. Funny you should ask about the comparison now. A few days ago, I was talking to Freeman and said I thought Newton is a lot like him. Freeman nodded and said, “Yeah, but Cam’s got way better speed than I do.’’
The NFL draft and its busy aftermath prevented me from getting a look at the NFC South mailbag for a bit. But it's time to catch up on the mailbag. I tried to pick questions that seemed to be on the minds of multiple readers.

Brian in Surprise, Ariz., wrote to say he knows I don’t like the Atlanta Falcons’ pick of Julio Jones or any of the team’s draft picks and goes on to explain how he sees Jones and running back Jacquizz Rodgers fitting into the offense.

Pat Yasinskas: Brian, I’ve got a surprise for you. I do like Atlanta’s draft. I like it very much. The only thing I can surmise as to why you think I didn’t like the draft was that I mentioned the cost of trading up to get Jones was steep. There’s no denying that. But Jones is a very talented receiver, and he’s coming to a team that wanted to add an explosive receiver. Rodgers should be a great fit in an offense that hasn’t really had a speed back the past few years. He should be what Jerious Norwood was supposed to be. I don’t see a true weakness on this offense.

Matt in Camden, N.J., wrote to ask why we’ve made such a big deal about Drew Brees organizing workouts with the Saints while there has been only casual mention about Josh Freeman and some of the Buccaneers working out together in Tampa.

Pat Yasinskas: Excellent question, so let me explain the difference. Brees assembled roughly 40 Saints at Tulane University and opened the first day to the media. It was a large-scale event, magnified by the fact that the Saints truly are the only thing that matters in New Orleans. (I know the Hornets are there, but they exist in the hefty shadow of the Saints.) Freeman’s been doing things a little more quietly and not on nearly as large a scale, and I salute him for going about his business quietly. Freeman’s gone out to the University of South Florida and worked out with some receivers and a few running backs. He’s also gone down to a private training facility with some teammates near Bradenton. The Tampa Bay media’s been kind of tied up with NHL’s Lightning and MLB’s Rays, so Freeman’s workouts haven’t been a huge local story. Some members of the Panthers and Falcons also are working out in smaller groups. But like the Bucs, they’re not getting as much attention because they didn’t bring in most of the roster and open up a whole session to the media.

Will in Middletown, Conn., asks what the Saints must do differently this season if they’re going to get back to winning the Super Bowl.

Pat Yasinskas: There were two big differences I saw between the 2009 season and the 2010 season for the Saints. In 2009, the defense produced turnovers in bunches and capitalized on them. That didn’t happen nearly as often last season. The other difference was on offense. The running game in 2010 just wasn’t as consistent as it was in 2009. Injuries played a big role in that. In theory, the Saints addressed both issues with their first two draft picks. Defensive end Cameron Jordan should bring more pressure up front, and pressure on quarterbacks should lead to more turnovers. Adding Mark Ingram to the backfield also should give the Saints more depth and consistency in the running game.

Michael in Perry, Ga., asks what I think about the Carolina Panthers possibly bringing back Jake Delhomme to serve as a mentor to Cam Newton.

Pat Yasinskas: On the surface, there are some merits to that suggestion. Delhomme’s a good guy to have in your locker room and he has plenty of experience. I respect and like Delhomme as much as any player I’ve ever covered. But I think fans get a little too caught up in the “mentor’’ role. Like just about any athlete, Delhomme’s a competitive guy and he’s going to do his best to try to get on the field. I’m not saying he would do anything to undercut Newton, and he could provide some help. But the Panthers are moving far away from their past, and I don’t think it would be productive to bring back Delhomme. In fact, I’ll say I don’t think the Panthers need to add a veteran quarterback at all. They’ve got Newton, Jimmy Clausen and Tony Pike. Adding a veteran would mean they’d have to unload a young guy with upside. I think the “mentor’’ thing is overrated. The Panthers have Rob Chudzinski as their offensive coordinator and Mike Shula as their quarterbacks coach. They can be the mentors. I know everybody's talking about how young the Panthers are at quarterback, and that's true. But the fact is, their current group of quarterbacks has more career starts (10 by Clausen last season) than last year's group. The Panthers opened last season with Matt Moore, Clausen and Pike as the three quarterbacks on the roster. Moore had eight career starts entering the season, and Clausen and Pike were rookies.

Hitting the NFC South hot spots

April, 9, 2011
Let’s take a look into the NFC South mailbag and hit on some of the questions that seem to be on a lot of minds.

Justin in San Francisco wrote to say, with talk of teams cutting staff members due to the lockout, how many people does an NFL team employ beyond players and coaches?

Pat Yasinskas: Very good question, because a lot more people behind-the-scenes are being affected by the lockout. To the best of my knowledge, the NFC South teams seem to be doing a pretty good job of protecting most of their employees so far, and I don’t know of any major cuts within the division. With coaching staffs and players alone, you’re generally talking about 80 people. Then, you have to throw in personnel people and scouts. After that, there are all sorts of people ranging from business executives to groundskeepers and people in the equipment department, and we won’t even go into the part-time people who are brought in for game days. There is no exact number for full-time employees because it varies from team to team. But I would say 300 is probably somewhere close to the average.

Michael in Baltimore asks why no one is talking about the Carolina Panthers bringing back Matt Moore next season.

Pat Yasinskas: Michael also points out Moore played better than Jimmy Clausen last year, and I don’t disagree with that. But Moore’s contract is up, and I don’t think the Panthers will bring him back. They’re probably going to draft a quarterback, and they might even bring in a veteran to mix with Clausen and Tony Pike. Those two were drafted by the Panthers last year and are still under contract. Harsh as this may sound, Moore got his shot last year, however brief, and things didn’t fall into place. I know that wasn’t entirely his fault by any means. But I think he’ll probably move on and try to land a backup job somewhere else.

Dan in Houston wrote to say he read our post about Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl bid and said he agrees with my suggestion on rotating Super Bowls among Miami, Tampa, New Orleans and Arizona, but wonders why I didn’t include Houston on the list.

Pat Yasinskas: Good point. I’ll be totally honest and admit that Houston slipped my mind. I’m glad you reminded me. I was covering the Panthers for The Charlotte Observer when they played in the Super Bowl hosted by Houston after the 2003 season. Can’t say I got to spend a lot of time out on the town because that was a hectic week. But that Super Bowl seemed to go off very well, Reliant Stadium is first-class and Houston’s weather rarely gets too cold that time of year. I’ll add Houston to my list.

Stan in Thomaston, Ga. wrote to ask why Atlanta isn’t bidding for the 2015 Super Bowl and if the city would have a chance if it bid on that or any future Super Bowl.

Pat Yasinskas: As far as I know, Atlanta hasn’t entered the mix for the 2015 Super Bowl, which is expected to be awarded in the fall. We all know the Falcons are seeking a new, outdoor stadium, and Atlanta may be awaiting the outcome of that before pursuing any future Super Bowls. But I’m not sure the idea of an outdoor stadium works in Atlanta’s favor when it comes to getting another Super Bowl. The last Super Bowl in Atlanta didn’t go off that well, even though the game was played indoors in the Georgia Dome. That wasn’t the fault of the people in Atlanta or the people running the logistics for the Super Bowl. It just so happened that week was exceptionally cold, and Atlanta got hit hard by an ice storm that caused many problems. It was very similar to what happened in North Texas this year, and I think the NFL is going to be a little more cautious about going to cities where there’s the potential for bad weather when awarding future Super Bowls. As I’ve said before, it’s not just about game day. The week leading into the Super Bowl is all part of the event, and weather can cause problems with that. If Atlanta gets an outdoor stadium, that could make future Super Bowls a tough sell.

Charles in Metairie, La. says he’s disappointed in the people who are down on Drew Brees because of his involvement in the labor situation. He adds that Brees always has been a leader and is simply following through on that.

Pat Yasinskas: No argument here. Brees accepted his role on behalf of the players four years ago. I would expect him to handle that the same way he handles everything else -- by doing his job to the best of his ability.

Brandon in Houston asks if Lynell Hamilton is still in the plans for the Saints.

Pat Yasinskas: He hasn’t been forgotten. He scored some points with the coaching staff before last year’s injury and there’s still hope for him. That said, Chris Ivory emerged last season, Pierre Thomas got a new contract and the Saints have made it sound like Reggie Bush is staying. There’s plenty of speculation the Saints could draft another running back, and I don’t disagree with that. But, even if someone is added in the draft, Hamilton still has a shot. All the injuries at running back last year showed the Saints the importance of depth at that position.

Michael in Perry, Ga. wrote to say he thinks many in the media are wrong for portraying Carolina as a team with no talent.

Pat Yasinskas: I agree. It's not the typical 2-14 team. Now, there still are some questions to play out as far as free agency, possible trades and possible contract extensions once the lockout is over. But you look at Carolina’s roster right now, and it includes guys like Jordan Gross, Steve Smith, Ryan Kalil, DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Charles Johnson and Jon Beason. Heck, if healthy, you might be able to include Thomas Davis and Jeff Otah on that list. Those are guys most people would qualify as “core players,’’ and the Panthers aren’t that far off other teams in terms of core players. What they need, however, is a quarterback and some spark on offense. If they can add that, I see no reason why this team can’t instantly be a lot more competitive than last season.

Tyler in Florida wrote to say he knows players can’t be traded during a lockout, but wonders if draft picks can be exchanged.

Pat Yasinskas: Teams can still trade draft picks in a lockout. But there can’t be any transactions involving current players until the lockout is resolved.

Leading Questions: NFC South

February, 15, 2011
With the offseason in full swing, let’s take a look at one major question facing each NFC South team as it begins preparations for the 2011 season:


How do the Falcons take the next step?

Atlanta went an NFC-best 13-3 in the regular season, but got eliminated at home in the playoffs by Green Bay. That was painful proof that the Falcons haven’t quite arrived despite three consecutive winning seasons since coach Mike Smith took over. The Falcons played like a well-oiled machine through most of the regular season and it would be easy to say the machine just got clogged in the playoffs. But that’s not what really happened. The Falcons were successful during the regular season because they played smart football and didn’t do anything to beat themselves. But the reality here is the machine might need a few more parts for the Falcons truly to go out and beat other teams.

The core is solid with guys like quarterback Matt Ryan, receiver Roddy White, running back Michael Turner and linebacker Curtis Lofton. But White was the only real playmaker on offense last season, and defensive end John Abraham, who is nearing the end of his career, was the only one on defense. Whether it’s a speed back or a wide receiver who can provide a deep threat, the Falcons need to find a difference-maker on offense. They need the same thing on defense, and a pass-rusher to complement, and eventually replace, Abraham could be the top priority in the draft.


What does Carolina do at quarterback?

A new era is starting with the arrival of coach Ron Rivera, and everyone in the organization knows it can’t be like the final few seasons of John Fox’s tenure. The Panthers simply stopped having a legitimate NFL offense. Fox’s conservative approach to offense certainly played a role, but the real problem is that the Panthers simply haven’t had a dependable quarterback since Jake Delhomme fell apart in a playoff loss to Arizona at the end of the 2008 season. That’s handcuffed the entire franchise and was the major reason the Panthers went 2-14 last year.

In typical Fox fashion, he handed the starting job to career backup Matt Moore. When that didn’t work, Fox reluctantly turned to Jimmy Clausen and didn’t help the rookie’s confidence by yanking him out of the lineup several times. Although some in the organization believe, with a fresh start, Clausen can develop into a decent starter, the Panthers can’t rely totally on that. This franchise has to do something major to get a viable alternative at quarterback. With the No. 1 pick in the draft, the Panthers could take a leap on Blaine Gabbert or Cam Newton, but neither comes with any guarantees. With talk that Donovan McNabb, Carson Palmer, Vince Young and Kevin Kolb could be available, the Panthers might have to break from tradition and sign or trade for a veteran. With receiver Steve Smith, running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart and a talented offensive line, the Panthers can’t afford to continue to let the offense rot away due to ineffective play at quarterback.


Can the Saints get back to the Super Bowl?

The nucleus of the 2009 team that went on to win the Super Bowl remains largely in place, so there’s no reason the Saints shouldn’t at least be in contention for a deep playoff run. They never really suffered the collapse that’s been common for many recent Super Bowl winners as they went 11-5 in 2010. But they weren’t the same dominant and explosive team. Injuries played a role in that and a few holes were exposed.

But a little better luck on the injury front and a few tweaks could put the Saints right back where they were. After the season, quarterback Drew Brees admitted he played part of the year with a sprained knee. That might explain why he wasn’t as precise as the Super Bowl season, and a healthy Brees automatically would make the Saints better. But the biggest issue on offense is the running game. With Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush banged-up for most of the season, the Saints weren’t able to run the ball consistently. Chris Ivory stepped in and did a nice job at times, but the Saints know they have to upgrade in this area. Thomas probably will be allowed to leave as a free agent. The Saints probably will use an early draft pick on a running back or sign someone of significance in free agency. On defense, the Saints have to get back to being opportunistic and taking advantage of turnovers like they did in the Super Bowl season. Upgrading the pass rush is the best way to make sure that happens.


Where will the Bucs find an outside pass rush?

Not on their current roster. Stylez G. White and Tim Crowder are just “guys’’ and that showed all too often as Tampa Bay’s pass rush was anemic. The Bucs broke from tradition and won with offense -- mainly quarterback Josh Freeman -- for the first time in franchise history last season. There is talent elsewhere on defense, but the Bucs need to improve the pass rush to elevate the overall play of the defense and make this a complete team.

Look for something similar to last offseason when the Bucs realized they had problems at defensive tackle. They went out and used their first two draft picks on Gerald McCoy and Brian Price. Both ended up having their seasons shortened by injuries, but both showed some promise. They’ll be back healthy and will be joined by Roy Miller in the middle. That trio should create a decent inside pass rush, but the Bucs know they need more talent on the outside. It might not be the same scenario as last year with the Bucs using their top two picks on defensive ends. They may draft one early and look for another potential starter in free agency.