NFC South: Mike Trgovac
- New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees says he expects to have a new contract before free agency opens in mid-March. That would be a good idea. If Brees were to somehow hit the free-agent market there would be major unrest throughout the entire population of Louisiana.
- The Saints have hired Ken Flajole as secondary coach, James Varney reports. Flajole was defensive coordinator in St. Louis under former Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo, who now is defensive coordinator for the Saints. Flajole also has some background in the NFC South. He spent some time as the linebackers coach in Carolina.
- Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez said 2012 probably will be his last season. I wouldn’t make too much of that. Gonzalez has hinted at retirement in past years, but keeps coming back.
- Carolina quarterback Cam Newton said he “failed’’ at the Pro Bowl as he played the entire second half and threw three interceptions. I think it’s nice that Newton’s critical of himself. But I don’t think anybody should be critiquing or celebrating the Pro Bowl performance. If you watched this year’s game all the way through, which wasn’t easy, it made you wonder why they even have an all-star game in football. Go ahead and name an all-star team, but, if the game is going to be played at half speed, why bother?
- Mark Cook takes a look at some possibilities to fill the job as Tampa Bay’s defensive coordinator. The early assumption was Butch Davis would fill that role because he has history with coach Greg Schiano. But there’s been no announcement of Davis’ hiring, which makes you wonder if it’s not going to happen. The name I like on Cook’s list is Green Bay defensive line coach Mike Trgovac. I covered Trgovac in Carolina, where he had a pretty successful run as a defensive coordinator. As a matter of fact, I believe Trgovac might have been a head coach by now if Carolina owner Jerry Richardson hadn’t seen the lockout coming and wasn’t offering any security to former coach John Fox and his assistants. Fox told assistants with families they should take other jobs if they could get them. That’s when Trgovac left for Green Bay. Although Trgovac certainly has a better résumé than a bunch of current coordinators, his family is content in Green Bay, so he might stay content in his current role.
Our Chris Mortensen reported that rock star Jon Bon Jovi has been negotiating to become a partial owner of the Atlanta Falcons. This isn’t a total surprise because Bon Jovi has previously owned an Arena League team and is a football fan. Mortensen reports Bon Jovi’s potential stake in the team would be 15 percent, which is pretty significant compared to some limited partners across the league. But a deal like this could give Falcons owner Arthur Blank a big cash infusion as he works to get a new outdoor stadium.
Joe Biddle writes that Atlanta coach Mike Smith is the perfect model for what the Titans should be looking for in their coaching search. Ironically, Tennessee has interviewed Smith’s offensive coordinator, Mike Mularkey, and a decision should be coming soon.
New Orleans owner Tom Benson was featured in a commercial on local television just before the Super Bowl in which he thanked the fans for their role in the Saints winning last year’s Super Bowl and said “together we can do it again."
Former Carolina coach Dom Capers was an unsung hero as Green Bay’s defensive coordinator Sunday night. You can throw in former Carolina defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac, who now is Green Bay’s defensive line coach, too.
Fine job by my friend Ira Kaufman in his presentation that helped launch NFL Films founder Ed Sabol into the Hall of Fame. I know this was a cause Kaufman felt strongly about for a long time. As the Tampa Bay voter on the Hall of Fame board, Kaufman theoretically would make the presentation for Mike Alstott next year. But, as popular as Alstott is in Tampa Bay, a guy who was a combination running back-fullback but wasn’t dominant at either has no shot at making the list of finalists who get presentations. Kaufman can go ahead and start working on his 2013 presentations for Warren Sapp and John Lynch because they each have a legitimate chance.
Take a look at Green Bay's coaching staff and take a look at Pittsburgh's coaching staff. Between the two teams, there are 37 coaches. Twenty of them have either coached or played for an NFC South team and that includes Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy and Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin.
Here's a look at each staff and its NFC South ties.
- McCarthy. Assistant coach with Saints, 2000-04.
- James Campen, offensive line. Played for the Saints, 1987-88.
- Dom Capers, defensive coordinator. Head coach Carolina Panthers, 1995-1998.
- Tom Clements, quarterbacks. Assistant coach for the Saints, 1997-99.
- Jerry Fontenot, assistant offensive line. Played for the Saints, 1997-2003.
- Kevin Greene, outside linebackers. Played for the Panthers, 1996, 1998-99.
- Ben McAdoo, tight ends. Assistant coach for Saints, 2004.
- Chad Morton, special teams assistant. Played for the Saints, 2000.
- Winston Moss, assistant head coach/linebackers. Played for the Buccaneers, 1987-90 and assistant coach with the Saints, 2000-05.
- Darren Perry, defensive backs. Played for the Saints, 2000.
- Jimmy Robinson, wide receivers. Assistant coach with Falcons, 1990-93 and assistant coach with Saints, 2004-2005.
- Mike Trgovac, defensive line. Assistant coach with Panthers, 2002-08.
- Joe Whitt Jr., cornerbacks. Assistant coach with Falcons, 2007.
- Tomlin, 2001-05
- Bruce Arians, offensive coordinator. Assistant with Saints, 1996.
- James Daniel, tight ends. Assistant with Falcons, 1997-2003.
- Al Everest, special teams. Assistant with Saints, 2000-05.
- Garrett Giemont, conditioning coordinator. Assistant with Buccaneers, 2003-06.
- Scotty Montgomery, wide receivers. Played for Panthers, 2000.
- Kirby Wilson, running backs. Assistant for Buccaneers, 2002-03.
His frequent quotes about “the process’’ aren’t all that enthralling and, like most NFL coaches, Smith isn’t going to give you a lot of information about injuries or his plan for an upcoming game. That’s why it was kind of surprising to look at the transcript of Smith’s meeting with the media on Monday and see a pretty good line.
Smith was asked if he’s feeling the excitement around the Atlanta area that’s come with the Falcons’ 12-2 start.
“Driving from Suwanee to Flowery Branch at six in the morning and 10:30 p.m. or dark thirty in the evening, I don’t get a whole lot of opportunities to really feel or see the buzz that’s going on here in the city of Atlanta,’’ Smith said. “I’m just glad that we’ve got the support that we do. I think you definitely see it every Sunday when we go to the dome when we come out as a football team you can hear the crowd and the passion that they have and the support that they give us.”
That made me think about the brutal hours coaches put in. I remember former Carolina defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac once, almost tearfully, telling me how he only got to spend time with his children on Fridays during the season. Trgovac said, on all the other days, he would walk into the rooms of each of his children and give them kisses as the slept when he got home at night and as he left in the morning. Trgovac also talked about how he tried to make up for that by spending extra time with his children in the offseason.
There is no question the life of a coach is a tough one and a lot of these guys go through life (or, at least, the season) with blinders on. Smith and the rest of the current NFC South coaches do about as good a job as possible at balancing their lives and they all stay plugged into the outside world to some degree.
It’s not that way everywhere and it’s been that way for a long time. There’s a legendary story about legendary Miami coach Don Shula, who might have been more disconnected from the outside world more than any coach in history.
Back in the 1980s, when “Miami Vice’’ was in its heyday, actor Don Johnson came out to watch the Dolphins practice in training camp one day. After practice, the actor went up to Shula and introduced himself and it went something like this, “Hey coach, Don Johnson from Miami Vice.’’
According to multiple eyewitnesses and repeated telling of the story through the years, Shula warmly embraced Johnson and thanked him for the work he and his colleagues did in protecting the city. Johnson, not fully realizing the road he was going down, then asked Shula if he’d like to come out on a “shoot’’ sometime.
Shula politely declined, telling Johnson that was too dangerous for his tastes.
Writers who covered the Dolphins during the Shula years, used to try to subtly test the coach on pop culture and current events. One of my favorite stories in this area comes from a former Dolphins’ media relations employee.
According to him, during a casual conversation one day, a writer made reference to musician Bruce Springsteen. Yeah, you guessed it. Shula asked who Springsteen was.
|Kurt Warner’s Cardinals and Jake Delhomme’s Panthers have gone in different directions since their playoff meeting last season.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando and Pat Yasinskas
The Arizona Cardinals did more than knock the Carolina Panthers from the 2008 postseason.
Their 33-13 victory in Charlotte delivered a knockout blow from which the Panthers' organization has yet to recover. What should be a Week 8 grudge match between playoff contenders is looking more like a mismatch.
Arizona is 4-2 and riding high following a nationally televised victory over the Giants, the Cardinals' fourth consecutive road victory dating to their divisional-round upset of Carolina. The Panthers are 2-4 and contemplating whether to bench veteran quarterback Jake Delhomme, who has more interceptions through six games (13) than he had in 16 starts last season (12).
NFC West blogger Mike Sando and NFC South counterpart Pat Yasinskas pick up the discussion.
Pat Yasinskas: That playoff game changed the momentum for both franchises. Going into that game, the thinking was how the Panthers would thump the Cardinals. Arizona had beaten Atlanta in the wild-card round to get its playoff victory, but the Cardinals were ultimately a 9-7 team from a weak division. They would be no match on the road against a 12-4 team. The upset vaulted the Cardinals toward the Super Bowl while absolutely crumbling the Panthers. Carolina hasn't recovered from it, starting with the quarterback and extending to the defense. The game led to changes on the coaching staff. The Panthers still could have a mental block heading into the rematch at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Mike Sando: These teams share quite a few similarities. Both re-signed older quarterbacks during the offseason. Both made significant changes to their coaching staffs. Both faced salary-cap limitations in free agency after naming franchise players. The results have been vastly different.
Fateful QB decisions
|Chris Keane/Icon SMI|
|Jake Delhomme and the Panthers haven’t been the same since last season’s playoff loss to Arizona.|
Mike Sando: The Cardinals had little choice but to re-sign Warner. In the back of their minds, though, they would have been entitled to wonder when Warner might hit the wall. Quite a few other quarterbacks have faded at around age 38. Would Warner be next? He made the trip to San Francisco in free agency, but there was still a sense the Cardinals were bidding against themselves. Committing $22 million to him over two seasons was a necessary risk. In the end, Arizona could not walk away from the quarterback who put them ahead in the final stages of Super Bowl XLIII. The Cardinals made the right move.
Pat Yasinskas: I think the playoff debacle against Arizona contributed to a rift on the Panthers' coaching staff over the direction of the team. Defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac decided he no longer wanted to be a coordinator. His departure started a near-total disbandment of the defensive staff. Line coach Sal Sunseri left for the University of Alabama. Linebackers coach Ken Flajole bolted to become defensive coordinator for the Rams. Secondary coach Tim Lewis left for the Seahawks. On the offensive side, Delhomme's longtime position coach, Mike McCoy, became offensive coordinator in Denver. Fox had passed over him for the same position on his staff a couple of years earlier. Some on the staff felt McCoy should have gotten that job.
|Jason Bridge/US Presswire|
|Kurt Warner has thrown for 1,672 yards and nine touchdowns this season.|
Pat Yasinskas: Absolutely, Mike. There’s a sense of that. Julius Peppers asked out after last season, shocking given that Fox is supposedly a defensive wizard. There was precedent for this. Kris Jenkins asked out for two years before Peppers did. People shrugged and said Jenkins was a flake. But when Peppers, who was born and raised in North Carolina, asked for the same, it raised some eyebrows. Fox used to build his team around the defensive line and suddenly you had the two cornerstones of that line asking to get out of there. That tells you something pretty major right there.
Pat Yasinskas: Franchising Peppers cost about $18 million total in cap space. The Panthers re-signed tackle Jordan Gross to a long-term deal. With those moves, they tied up their cap to a point where they could not do anything else. They did not sign any free agents. They had to let veteran cornerback Ken Lucas go. They could not even re-sign veteran snapper Jason Kyle, even though the savings for letting him go was only $600,000. That severely affected their depth across the board, which was demonstrated when defensive tackle Ma'ake Kemoeatu went down with an injury on the first day of training camp and there were no decent replacements behind him. The Panthers have struggled on the interior of their defensive line ever since. They bragged coming into the season that they had 21 of 22 starters back, but the salary-cap issues meant they had absolutely no depth behind those starters.
Mike Sando: The Cardinals charged $9.678 million against their cap by naming Karlos Dansby their franchise player. They paid more than $10 million per year to Warner. Larry Fitzgerald was already making that kind of money. Re-signing Adrian Wilson ate up another huge chunk of cap room, although some of that seemed by design. Arizona did manage to sign cornerback Bryant McFadden from the Steelers in free agency. When defensive end Antonio Smith left in free agency for $8 million a year, the Cardinals plugged in second-year player Calais Campbell, who has played well. Again, the Cardinals' moves have simply worked out better.
Pat Yasinskas: I think we're seeing the end of the Fox era in Carolina. The Panthers still have talent, but Delhomme appears finished. It’s time to blow up the roster and rebuild.
Mike Sando: The Cardinals are a good team with the potential to get better. The Cardinals were 4-2 at this point last season heading into their 30-24 regular-season defeat at Carolina. They should beat the Panthers this time. The rest of the schedule sets up favorably. Some of the games that once appeared toughest this season -- at Seattle, at the Giants, at Tennessee -- are either in the bank already or looking like they will be.
In the end, the Carolina Panthers won.
|Bob Donnan/US Presswire|
|Julius Peppers signed his one-year, $16.7 million tender under the franchise tag Wednesday.|
The real reason the Panthers won is because they're keeping a player they wanted to keep all along. A guy they've built their defense around for seven years. A guy who, is no worse than the second-best player in franchise history. (Steve Smith is the only other guy even in the discussion.)
"If you go by actions, and we've known Julius for seven years, Julius has been the same guy for seven years and we really haven't seen any change in that," general manager Marty Hurney said. "He's always been a very competitive person, who's always shown he likes to be a Carolina Panther. That's not a concern at all. He's the same guy.''
Hurney's a big believer in actions speaking louder than words. I share the same philosophy and so do a lot of other people. But you have to at least ask the question about the words Peppers and his agent spoke back in February.
They basically came out and said Peppers wanted out of Carolina, wanted to go to a team with a 3-4 defense and felt he hadn't been able to reach his potential with the Panthers.
If those statements came from another player or agent, you could roll your eyes and say it was all part of a contract negotiation. But Peppers isn't like any other player. He's about the most quiet and private player I've ever encountered. When he says something of that magnitude, you have to assume he meant it.
So what's changed in the months in between?
Maybe nothing. Before you go out and start buying No. 90 Carolina jerseys again, remember that Peppers really had no other choice than to sign the tender. Carey had months to shop him to the rest of the league. Nobody will say for sure if any team offered anything for Peppers, but we can at least be certain no one offered enough to convince the Panthers to part with the guy they drafted No. 2 overall in 2002.
The only other option was a holdout for the season and that would have cost Peppers almost $17 million in salary, so it wasn't really an option.
Time for another mailbag and we're going to start this one off with two back-to-back questions that are similar in a weird sort of way.
Jim in Tampa writes: Pat i hate how you love matt ryan so much! Would he be so great if he didnt have Turner or roddy??
Justin in Mount Airy, N.C., writes: Well hello, I have a question concerning the Carolina Panthers. Why does it seem that you always hate on Jake Delhomme? Jake has what the fourth best winnning percentage of NFL starters, been to two NFC Champioships, an 1 Superbowl. He also led his team to a 12-4 record last year, and there is nothing to show he is declining in winning, one bad playoff game in a career of great playoff games dosnet make me believe a QB is awful. Just concerned for QB as TO would say.
Pat Yasinskas: Wow, this is kind of funny because I feel like I've spent half my life being accused of defending Jake Delhomme and now I'm being accused of hating him. Truth is, I don't "love'' or "hate'' any player. I get paid not to be biased. I write my opinions and you're welcome to interpret them however you want. But, from my side, none of it's personal.
Kevin in Kelowna, B.C., Canada: Pat, great blog. I love the frequency with which you post new articles and all interesting stuff. I'm confused about the StarCaps issue. How come it seems that the two Williams' from the Vikings are being treated differently than the Saint's guys? Is there some evidence or some state law differences that make their case different? Thanks.
Pat Yasinskas: Yeah, here's the deal. A federal judge last week threw out most of the claims by the five players involved. But, at the same time, that judge also sent a couple of issues involving Kevin Williams and Pat Williams back to a Minnesota State court. So the two Vikings players remain in limbo. Barring some sort of successful appeal, it looks as if New Orleans' Charles Grant and Will Smith will be suspended for the first four games of this season. Same deal for Deuce McAllister -- if he signs with anyone.
JT in Nashville writes: Pat- with respect to your top q.b.s in the nfc south, I found your comments of why you put Redman above Leftwich interesting and convincing. One question though, why would you put Harrington above Redman? All 3 of those quarterbacks played on that same '07 Falcons team and Redman was by far the most productive.
Pat Yasinskas: That's just my opinion. But my logic is that, if you put Joey Harrington with New Orleans' skill-position players, he'd produce pretty good numbers. Harrington got a bad rap in Detroit early in his career and some of that was deserved. But he is a guy who has talent and he's had time to be around the league and get comfortable. If he somehow had to play in New Orleans, I think he could do well because of the system and the players around him. Not saying he's Drew Brees, by any means, but I think he could be decent in the right situation.
AlDogg in D.C. writes: Pat - When I saw that the Packer's Aaron Kampman is unhappy, I had the same idea as Bobby from your last mailbag: Peppers for Kampman? But then I remembered that Trgovac is in Green Bay. Not to mention, Peppers still hasn't signed his tender as far as I know, so the Panthers still can't even talk about a trade unless it is facilitated by Pep's agent. Three questions: Would Trgovac be a hurdle?
Pat Yasinskas: Let's just say, I think there's a big misconception among Carolina fans about Julius Peppers and Mike Trgovac. Reminds me a bit of the scene from "Hoosiers" (the greatest sports movie ever) where the Hickory faithful just assume Jimmy will rejoin the team if the coach is fired. But that wasn't the case in "Hoosiers" and it wasn't the case with Peppers and Trgovac. Peppers' issues are elsewhere. If they were with Trgovac, I think Peppers would be working out with his teammates right now. In fact, I could see Peppers playing for Trgovac, who is regarded as one of the best defensive line coaches in the league, in Green Bay -- if the Panthers and Packers somehow worked out a trade. But we don't speculate about trades here.
It's time for the Carolina Panthers in our series of team-by-team mailbags.
AlDogg in parts unknown writes: Pat - This question could apply to any team, but I'm interested in the Panthers. With the draft and free-agency essentially over, first and second string players are probably already on the roster - but I'm still concerned about our defensive tackles. Do you expect the Panthers to make any more moves? Who are the free agents out there that we might look at? Dewayne Robertson?
Pat Yasinskas: Yes, I agree that defensive tackle is a concern. Ma'ake Kemoeatu and Damione Lewis are decent starters, but John Fox likes to rotate his defensive linemen and there's not a lot of proven depth beyond those two. I'd like to say go out and grab a free agent. But the reality is the Panthers don't have the salary-cap room to get anyone who would make a big difference.
Tee in Greensboro writes: What's up Pat? I'm the #1 Panthers fan. Even though I was and still am very disappointed in Jake Delhomme's performance in the playoffs I'm still behind him and the teams decision to give him an extension. I think Delhomme is the best QB we've had in our short existence (short compared to most teams). But what is going on at the QB position. We gave him an extension but, I know they don't expect him to start the entire contract. We didn't do anything to even try to solidify the position. What do you think the Panthers are going to do about the future of the QB position?
Pat Yasinskas: Lots of people are asking that question and the common assumption is the Panthers have no plan in place beyond Delhomme. Knowing how Fox and Marty Hurney operate, I don't think that's the case. I think they have two guys on their roster who they believe can be their quarterback of the future. We didn't really get to see Josh McCown or Matt Moore last year because Delhomme stayed healthy. But the Panthers like both of those guys. McCown has some experience as a starter. Moore played well when he got a chance at the end of the 2007 season and his teammates rave about some of the things he does in practice. McCown or Moore might not excite you as much as a first-round pick or a big-name free agent. But think about what Delhomme was when the Panthers brought him in. McCown and Moore might have better résumés now than Delhomme did then.
Austin in Charleston, S.C., writes: Pat, since there hasn't been any news on the Julius Peppers front, my question is, when do you think something will start to develop?
Pat Yasinskas: Training camp. My guess is Peppers won't show up for training camp. We'll see if some other team steps up with a trade offer. If not, I'm guessing Peppers will re-join the Panthers shortly before the start of the regular season because he won't really have another choice.
Chris in Greenville, S.C., writes: Ok, my question is simple. I am a panthers fan. Can you give me a reason to not be freaked out about the panthers doing NOTHING in free agency and our first pick was in the second round? I mean yeah we were 12-4 last year, but we messed up a lot of the games at the end, even the ones we won. that game against the giants shouldn't have even been close the way we were letting that back up (i believe it was ward) torch us. and we have done NOTHING in the off season that makes me believe we will be any better, not to mention Peppers trying to leave us to play 3-4 which im sorry, i love peppers, I am also a big tarheels fan, but is stupid. I can see wanting a change, but your getting paid that much cash and have the love and respect from a city, you are going to leave to try something new? But seriously why should I not be worried?
Pat Yasinskas: No argument here on the Peppers stuff. As far as your worries, they're legitimate. But, on the bright side, the Panthers do have 21 starters (assuming Peppers is with them) back from a team that won the NFC South. The running game is better than it's ever been and the changes on the defensive coaching staff might spark something good.
Ronnie in Charlotte writes: Hey Pat, Everyone keeps saying the Ron Meeks did nothing for the Colts defense, but Tony Dungy recently said that Meeks is the perfect fit for Carolina. And Dungy also said the Meeks "is just great at being prepared and half-time adjustments". What do you think? Yeah I know John Fox is the man of the defense, but I do think he will give Meeks authority, after all, he took over defensive meetings b/c he prob felt Trovac wasn't getting "classroom" part right. Thoughts?
Pat Yasinskas: Everything I know about Meeks indicates he's a very solid coach. John Fox was notorious for having a heavy hand when Mike Trgovac was the defensive coordinator and that wasn't always healthy. But Trgovac was a guy who Fox first hired as defensive line coach and, then, gave him the coordinator job. In some ways, Fox might have viewed Trgovac as a younger brother and smothered him a bit. Meeks comes in with experience as a coordinator, so Fox might back off a bit. But I still think Fox will at least have a pretty big say in what happens on defense.
Ray Hamilton, Brian Baker, Bill Johnson, Todd Wash and Robert Nunn have more in common than being defensive line coaches in the NFC South.
They also might face the biggest challenges of any coach on their individual staffs this season. There's a common theme through all the NFC South teams this year -- the defensive lines have to get better.
That's going to be largely up to the guys in charge of the defensive lines. Here's a look at the NFC South defensive line coaches and the challenges they face.
Ray Hamilton. He's a veteran and has long been recognized as being one of the best in the business. Hamilton did a fine job last year as veteran end John Abraham had a huge season and the Falcons were able to get by with the aging Grady Jackson in the middle of their line. But the Falcons had almost no pass rush outside of Abraham and Jackson is now gone. That brings new challenges for Hamilton. He's worked very hard this offseason with underachieving end Jamaal Anderson and there's hope Anderson can emerge in his third year. But the Falcons have Chauncey Davis as an insurance policy and drafted a project in Lawrence Sidbury. In a perfect world, Anderson steps up, Davis plays a role and Sidbury can be groomed as an eventual replacement for Abraham. Hamilton's also got a lot of work to do in the interior. Jonathan Babineaux has emerged as a very solid tackle, but Hamilton will have to break in rookie Peria Jerry next to him.
Brian Baker. He's new to the Panthers and so is most of the defensive staff. Baker has a fine resume and has gotten big results out of Leonard Little, Robert Porcher, Luther Elliss and Kevin Williams in his previous stops. That's a good start because the coaching of the defensive line has been a controversial issue for the Panthers for most of John Fox's tenure. Once upon a time, the Panthers had Julius Peppers, Mike Rucker, Kris Jenkins and Brentson Buckner up front and they were coached by Mike Trgovac, who was regarded as one of the best defensive line coaches in the game. But Trgovac moved up to coordinator in his second season. That led to the hiring of Sal Sunseri as defensive line coach and some raised eyebrows around the league. A lot of people thought Sunseri, who was new to the NFL and had a background with linebackers, wasn't ready for the position and was hired because he was Fox's friend. Some players on the defensive line also held that view and the perception never went away. For reasons that haven't been fully explained, Jenkins asked out and got traded to the Jets, and Peppers still is asking out. Sunseri left after the season to coach at Alabama. Baker inherits a group that doesn't have nearly the talent level the Panthers once did, even if Peppers stays. He's going to have to coach up rookie Everette Brown very quickly and get some role players to overachieve. In the old days, Fox's teams were built around the defensive line. That's no longer the reality, but Baker has to bring this unit up to a respectable level.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Bill Johnson. This was a critical hire as the Saints, once again, overhauled their defense and brought in coordinator Gregg Williams and a bunch of new personnel. Johnson's inheriting a group with lots of talent, but some players who haven't consistently lived up to their potential. It's Johnson's job to draw that from them and he'll start with defensive ends Charles Grant and Will Smith. In his first season with Denver, Johnson helped second-year pro Elvis Dumervil get 12.5 sacks. There's no reason why Smith and Grant both shouldn't be around the double-digit mark in sacks. One way Johnson will try to help those two is to give them some help from the inside, and the Saints have the potential to get that from second-year pro Sedrick Ellis, who had a solid rookie season. But Johnson's not counting on just Ellis. He helped bring veteran Rod Coleman out of retirement. There's history with Johnson and Coleman. They worked together in Atlanta and Coleman produced 28 sacks in their time together. Coleman's age may prevent him from being the force he once was, but he gives Johnson another guy who can make things happen up front.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Todd Wash and Robert Nunn. Wash is coaching the defensive ends and Nunn is handling the defensive tackles. That combo approach is probably a good thing because the Bucs need all the help they can get up front. The defensive line was a major player in last year's late-season collapse, and there will be at least two new starters as end Kevin Carter and tackle Jovan Haye have left the team. Wash's main task is to get third-year end Gaines Adams to be more productive. There's talent there, but Adams needs to add some moves to go with his physical skills. Nunn's got to get young tackles Roy Miller and Dre Moore ready quickly because Chris Hovan didn't look like he had a lot left at the end of last season, and Ryan Sims and Jimmy Wilkerson are role players. New coordinator Jim Bates is bringing a whole new scheme to the Bucs, but that transition should be helped by the fact that Nunn worked with Bates in Miami and Green Bay.
The Carolina Panthers are the final stop on our tour of team-by-team mailbags.
Jaquay in Charlotte,NC writes: How is Mr. Richardson doing?
Pat Yasinskas: All the reports I hear from people within the Panthers organization are very positive about Jerry Richardson's recovery from a heart transplant. There's no hard date for a full return to work, but there's strong optimism he'll be back to most of his duties by the start of the season.
Nathan in Mooresville, nc writes: With Jerry Richardson recovering from his heart transplant, can we look for Mark Richardson to have a more hands on approach when it comes to the football side of things. I know that Jerry lets his football people handle the football side, just curious if Mark had any Jerry Jones in him?????
Pat Yasinskas: As team president, Mark Richardson long has played a bigger role for the Panthers than a lot of people realize. Even before his father's illness, Mark pretty much ran the day-to-day operations of the team. When the Richardsons first came into the league, they were pretty hands-on when it came to the football side. That didn't work out very well. They've backed off from that approach and have given Marty Hurney and John Fox a lot of freedom in their tenure. That's worked out pretty well, so I don't see that changing.
Mike in Winston Salem, NC writes: Pat, as always thanks for the great job you do. I have a question that I think you could answer. I tried to ask during the live chat but I understand you have 500 questions popping up every second. If Julius Peppers decides to hold out rather than play when does his money apply back to the salry cap so it could be used by the Panthers or are the handcuffed by that all year? Thanks again
Pat Yasinskas: The basic answer is the Panthers would have to carry the cap burden for Peppers all year if he holds out. Now, there could be some creative ways around that, like placing him on the retired list or pulling the franchise tag off him. But moves like that would be a last resort. There still is a lot of time for this situation to play out in a way the Panthers can live with.
Sheldon in Atlanta writes: Julius Peppers and his agent have been very quiet lately. Do you have any knowledge if they have been shopping Peppers to other teams and what sort of response they are receiving? Do you think maybe Peppers is not getting the kind of interest he expected?
Pat Yasinskas: I think it's safe to assume that Carl Carey (Peppers' agent) has shopped his client around the league for a few months now. Peppers wants out of Carolina and the only way he can get out right now is if Carey brings the Panthers a trade offer they like. As long as Peppers hasn't signed the franchise tender, the Panthers can't approach other teams about potential trades. The fact that nothing has happened is probably a pretty good indication that other teams aren't willing to pay a premium price in compensation to the Panthers. They also may be scared off by what it might take to get Peppers to sign a long-term contract.
Daniel in Charlotte, NC writes: Hey there Pat, I guess this is a bit late, considering the draft was last week, but I'm still wondering: what was the point of the Panthers drafting a running back (albeit in the 4th round), if they already have one of the best, if not best, running back duo in the league?
Pat Yasinskas: The Panthers weren't looking for someone to beat out DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart when they drafted Mike Goodson in the fourth round. They were looking for someone to help fill the role of Nick Goings, who was released after last season. They would like Goodson to be able to handle some carries if there is an injury, but his primary role is likely to be on special teams, where Goings was a fixture.
Jason in (KS) writes: I'm sure you will get tons of Peppers questions (and I'm sure you are getting a little tired of the whole situation) so I will ask what you think about Ron Meeks and can he revitalize the bland defense?
Pat Yasinskas: I'll start by saying I always thought former coordinator Mike Trgovac was a good coach, although I know a lot of you disagree. But, sometimes, change is good. Meeks did a fine job in Indianapolis and should help Carolina. But keep one thing in mind: As long as Fox is the head coach, he's going to play a big part in what his defense looks like.
Nathan in Charlotte writes: If peppers wanted to be traded so bad why would he not sign the tender that allowed him to be traded?
Pat Yasinskas: Good question and only Peppers and his agent could give you the true answer. But I'm guessing they think they would lose some leverage if Peppers signs the tender.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
Time for an evening trip through the local headlines in the NFC South.
This one should be a bit of a surprise to anyone who has ever flown into or out of Atlanta. Delta Air Lines Inc. has decided not to renew its sponsorship deal with the Falcons. Reportedly, the airline will focus its sports marketing efforts mainly on Major League Baseball and the New York City area. Kind of interesting when you've got Matt Ryan and the potential for the Falcons to be very good for the next decade in your own backyard.
There's been a lot of talk about how the Falcons have been so quiet in free agency. But Daniel Cox brings up a good point to counter that. He reminds us the Falcons re-signed defensive end Chauncey Davis after last season. They also signed receiver Michael Jenkins and defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux to contract extensions in the middle of last season. In a way, you have to count those three as part of this year's free-agency class.
Chris Mortensen reports Michael Vick has reached a settlement agreement with the Falcons in which he'll pay the team either $6.5 million or $7.5 million, depending on an upcoming decision by an appeals court.
Receiver Antonio Bryant insisted to the media that he's not unhappy about carrying the franchise tag, which guarantees him almost $10 million this season. But Bryant admitted he would have preferred a long-term contract, which still could happen. Bryant showed up for minicamp Tuesday and said all the right things. But he also sounded like a man with a chip on his shoulder. That's not uncommon for wide receivers. Actually, that formula worked quite well last year for Bryant when he was trying to prove himself after a season out of the NFL. Maybe keeping Bryant in that position and that frame of mind might be a smart move by the Bucs.
John DeShazier weighs in on the Saints' decision to move training camp to their year-round practice facility after three years at Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss. He likes the move and it's likely the players do, too. As he points out, this move isn't a slight of Jackson because the facilities at Millsaps are excellent. But having the Saints train in Metairie will generate a lot more buzz and goodwill at home.
Alabama outside linebackers coach Sal Sunseri isn't hesitant to tell his new players how he used to coach Julius Peppers. Sunseri used to be the defensive line coach for the Panthers and there was a fan-generated school of thought that he and defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac might have been part of the reason Peppers wants out of Carolina. But that doesn't hold any water. Peppers had a good relationship with both coaches and he hasn't reversed his desire to get out since Sunseri and Trgovac left.
|Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers and Cleveland defensive tackle Shaun Rogers both want off their current teams.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas and James Walker
Apparently, being a top-notch defensive lineman in the NFL doesn't guarantee success. With the possible exception of Denver quarterback Jay Cutler, Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers and Cleveland defensive tackle Shaun Rogers might be the most disgruntled players out there.
Both have made it clear they don't want to stay with their current teams. Although Peppers could make almost $17 million if he stayed as Carolina's franchise player, he and his agent have spent the last few months telling anyone who will listen he doesn't want to be with the Panthers. Peppers and his agent have said he wants to be traded away from the only team he's ever played for and away from the state where he's spent his life.
Rogers has asked the Browns to release him from his six-year, $42 million contract and just recently returned to offseason workouts. Rogers was one of the crown jewels of Cleveland's 2008 offseason, but that was with an old regime. Rogers and Eric Mangini have clashed pretty much since the new coach was hired.
So why are Peppers and Rogers so unhappy? How did these situations get so ugly and how will they play out? ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas and James Walker take an in-depth look at Peppers and Rogers:
Why are Peppers and Rogers unhappy?
Pat Yasinskas: I'll leave the Rogers situation to James, in part because the Browns are his territory and the Panthers are mine, but mainly because there's so much ground to cover on Peppers alone. Let's start by saying none of us truly know the full reason Peppers wants out of Carolina so badly. He and his agent have been vague about that.
But there's a lot to read between the lines. Peppers has been careful not to single out anyone and the conspiracy theories were flying when defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac and defensive line coach Sal Sunseri mysteriously walked away from the Panthers. But that didn't prompt any change in Peppers' tune.
Peppers still came out and said he wants to play with a team where he'll have a better chance to reach his potential. He also previously turned down an offer from the Panthers that would have made him the highest-paid defensive player in the league.
Let's be blunt here. If it's not about money and it wasn't about the assistant coaches, you have to draw the conclusion that Peppers, whether he's wrong or right, just doesn't want to play for coach John Fox.
|Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images|
|Cleveland Browns defensive tackle Shaun Rogers was miffed at coach Eric Mangini.|
James Walker: Similar to Peppers' situation, Pat, the quandary between Rogers and the Browns involves a lot of variables. This much I know: Rogers was unhappy with the way the new regime treated him, because this isn't exactly what he signed up for.
When Rogers was traded from the Detroit Lions a year ago, he was thought to be the missing piece to an up-and-coming Cleveland team that went 10-6 in 2007. Rogers, 30, had played on awful Detroit teams his entire career. He was finally refreshed, motivated, and playing for someone he liked very much in former Browns coach Romeo Crennel.
A year later all of that is gone. Not only that, new coach Eric Mangini refused to communicate with him, snubbing him on two separate occasions, and reportedly ordered a weight mandate when Rogers never had a weight problem all last season.
From a player's perspective -- a Pro Bowl player's perspective -- Rogers felt this was unnecessary. From a team's perspective, the Browns' loose culture needs to be changed and Mangini is a disciplinarian who is doing just that.
Also, there has been speculation that this is all about money. I'm not 100 percent sure that is the case. Rogers was unhappy in January, months before defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth signed for $100 million with the Washington Redskins. The deal certainly caught Rogers' attention and probably added fuel to the fire. But I don't think it was the start, or even central focal point, for his unhappiness.
Who shoulders the blame?
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
Tyler in Statesville, NC writes: Hey Pat, great work with this blog, i'm an avid reader. First of all let me say that I'm not a big fan of Micheal Vick. i didn't like him as a quaterback and the dog incident didn't help much at all. However I can't help but fantasize about what could happen if Vick were to join the Panthers and suddenly Paul Johnson (from Georgie Tech) was hired as our OC. Could you imagine the potency of a Triple Option with Hoover pounding it up the middle, Jonathon Stewart and Deangelo Williams split back, and Vick running the Option. Not to mention after we ran down the throats of every defense in the NFL we could use the amazing arm strength of Vick, the uncanny big play ability of Steve Smith, and the trickeration of play action to send shivers down every DC in the NFL. I think that would be nearly unstoppable. Probably a long shot seeing as how the option hasn't worked in the NFL. But with the rise of the Wildcat formation it's not unreasonable to think it wouldn't work now. I for one wouldn't mind watching it and I'm sure the rest of America would enjoy it.
Pat Yasinskas: It sure sounds like it would be entertaining, but stop right there. If there's one team, besides the Atlanta Falcons, that I can guarantee you won't be making a move for Michael Vick, it's the Carolina Panthers. Owner Jerry Richardson has been adamant about avoiding guys with character concerns ever since the Rae Carruth fiasco. Vick may never have an off-field problem again and a second chance could re-start his career, but that will have to happen somewhere else.
Vance in Greensboro, NC writes: What are your thoughts on Dwayne Jarrett. i don't understand why he gets so much crticism. I have watched him closely, and when he plays, he makes critical catches (3rd down mostly). He was very critical in game 1 in 2008 vs. Chargers. I just don't understand why his name isn't called more often. I see so much potential. What do you think?
Pat Yasinskas: I also have watched Dwayne Jarrett closely the last two years and I agree he's got potential -- good hands and great size. However, he hasn't always been able to consistently do what's asked of him in the offense. Part of that may have been his youth and it's not unusual for young wide receivers to struggle for a year or two and the Panthers aren't known for putting a lot of trust in young receivers right away. However, I think there was growth from Jarrett last season and you could see his role increase next season with Muhsin Muhammad getting older. Again, I think the Panthers still see some potential here and I think Jarrett might have started to earn the trust of the coaching staff last season.
Kashaud in Oxford writes: If The Panthers Franchise Julius Pepper and get a 1st Rounder. Should they look forward to get a QB in the first round, or should they just stick to getting a replacement for Peppers?
Pat Yasinskas: If the Panthers do end up with a first-round pick, I strongly suspect they'll use it on a defensive end to replace Julius Peppers. I know a lot of fans are down on quarterback Jake Delhomme and I understand that. However, I know the philosophy of coach John Fox and Marty Hurney and they strongly believe it takes too long to develop a rookie quarterback. Do you really want to see a rookie take over a 12-4 team? That's a scenario that usually (Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco were major exceptions) leads to a step back.
Wilson in Boone, NC writes: Why is Fox at fault for Jenkins and Peppers leaving? It seems as though people who do not have the drive to play on a perennial playoff contender, when they are given the opportunity to start every game, should be kicked out of town, not begged to stay. Peppers has not been used any differently than most defensive ends in a 4-3, and has suceeded when he actually tries. Jenkins would not stay fit in the offseason, which rightfully angered the coaching staff. So why is it Foxy's fault that both wanted out? What did he do that causes him to be so heavily blamed?
Pat Yasinskas: Your points about drive and desire are well taken. However, I think you have to realize the Panthers didn't want to get rid of Kris Jenkins and they don't want to get rid of Julius Peppers (at least they didn't before Peppers and his agent got the propaganda machine rolling). Jenkins and Peppers, two of the most talented defensive linemen in the league each asked out of town in back-to-back years. Actually, Jenkins was asking out of town for two years before the Panthers finally backed down and traded him. That's not a good sign when guys like that don't want to play for a coach who is known for having strong defenses. Yes, question their drive and desire, but realize you don't just replace talent like that with guys off the street even if the guys off the street have tons of heart. Jenkins never publicly discussed exactly what frustrated him and Peppers hasn't done that so far. But read between the lines of their actions a bit and it doesn't take much to see they're not on the same page with coach John Fox.
Nathan in Cary, NC writes: Hey Pat, Why is everyone so down on John Fox for being so heavily involved in the defense, and for Peppers wanting out. Both Wade Phillips and Lovie Smith were lauded for taking over defensive play-calling, but Fox sits in on defensive meetings, on a defense HE is responsible for, and he is the bad guy? Also, what is wrong with playing not to lose, on defense, the second half of the year when the offense put up 30+ points a game. His strategy won 12 games, yet he still is taking all kinds of flack, so what am I missing? What can he do better?
Pat Yasinskas: I don't think this is anything new with Fox. He always has been heavily involved in the defense. Despite the 12-win season, I think fans are looking for a logical target after the hugely-disappointing loss to Arizona in the playoffs. Now, that defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac is gone, Fox became the next logical scapegoat. As for what Fox can do better, I don't know everything that goes on behind the scenes. But let's just say it sure gives the appearance that something's not cool when your best defensive player and almost your entire defensive coaching staff begs to get out of town. Maybe, as a guy I know often says, "It is what it is''.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
The Panthers have completed the overhaul of their defensive coaching staff. The team named Brian Baker its defensive line coach Friday.
Baker, who previously held that position for the St. Louis Rams, will join the staff of new coordinator Ron Meeks. Coordinator Mike Trgovac, defensive line coach Sal Sunseri, defensive backs coach Tim Lewis and linebackers coach Ken Flajole all left the Panthers for other jobs after last season.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
John Fox is pushing hard for experience as he rebuilds his defensive coaching staff after four assistants left in January.
The Panthers just announced Richard Smith will be the linebackers coach and Ron Milus has been added to work with the defensive backs along with holdover Mike Gilhammer.
Smith comes with an extensive résumé and has previously been a coordinator with the Texans and Dolphins. He also coached linebackers for the Broncos, Lions and Oilers. But his biggest claim to fame might have come in a stint with San Francisco from 1997 through 2002 when he helped linebackers Julian Peterson, Winfred Tubbs, Ken Norton Jr. and Lee Woodall reach the Pro Bowl.
Milus has worked with defensive backs for the Rams, Giants, Cardinals and Broncos. Smith and Milus will join a staff that's now headed by Ron Meeks, who took over after defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac, linebackers coach Ken Flajole, defensive line coach Sal Sunseri and secondary coach Tim Lewis left the Panthers for other jobs.