NFC South: minicamp

There seems to be a little bit of a lull in news after the NFL draft, but that’s not going to last long.

Two NFC South teams will hold rookie minicamps later this week and the other two will follow next week. Teams already are into their offseason programs and the on-field portion of organized team activities (OTAs) will be coming up soon. So will mandatory minicamps.

Let’s take a look at the upcoming schedule for each NFC South team:

The Atlanta Falcons will hold their rookie minicamp Friday through Sunday. Their OTA dates are May 28 through May 30, June 4 through June 6 and June 11 through June 14. The mandatory minicamp is scheduled from June 18 through June 20.

The Carolina Panthers will hold their rookie minicamp May 10 through May 12. Their OTAs are scheduled for May 21 through May 23, May 28 through May 30 and June 3 through June 6. The mandatory minicamp is slated for June 11 through June 13.

The New Orleans Saints will hold their rookie minicamp May 10 through May 12. OTAs are scheduled for May 21 through May 23, May 28 through May 30 and June 10 through June 13. The mandatory minicamp is scheduled for June 4 through June 6.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will begin their rookie minicamp Friday and it will conclude Sunday. OTAs are scheduled for May 20 and May 21, May 23, May 29 through May 31, June 3 and June 4 and June 6 and June 7. The mandatory minicamp is scheduled for June 11 through June 13.

Offseason programs kicking off

April, 16, 2012
4/16/12
9:17
AM ET
Most of the NFC South gets back to work Monday, but not the division’s best player.

Barring a sudden turn in contract talks that didn’t appear to be heating up recently, New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees is not expected to be in Metairie, La., as his teammates begin their offseason program. The Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers also begin their offseason programs Monday.

Brees
The three teams will begin with conditioning and meetings, but the Saints begin their offseason program with perhaps the most intrigue ever surrounding an offseason program. Coach Sean Payton begins his season-long suspension Monday, and assistant head coach Joe Vitt takes over. But Payton won’t be the only leader missing for the Saints.

Brees has been hit with the franchise tag, and has not signed his tender. Brees has said throughout the offseason that he was optimistic a long-term contract would be agreed to, but that hasn’t happened. Brees could take part in the offseason workout if he signs a waiver, but franchise players almost never do that.

As much as it would appear to hurt the Saints that they’re opening the offseason program without their leader, it’s mostly just a symbolic thing. The Saints won’t hit the practice field for a couple of weeks. It’s a virtual certainty that Brees, who always has taken good care of himself, will work on conditioning on his own.

Brees’ absence isn’t that big a deal right now. But it would be in the best interest of the Saints and Brees to get a contract done before the team holds its minicamp. The exact date for that hasn’t been announced, but it’s likely to be in mid-May.

Speaking of minicamps, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers begin one on Tuesday. The Bucs got to start their offseason program two weeks earlier than the other NFC South teams because they had a coaching change. New coach Greg Schiano will get his first real on-field look at his team in a minicamp that starts Tuesday and continues through Thursday.
Malcolm JenkinsDerick E. Hingle/US PresswireConsidering the Saints' quality starters and depth at cornerback, moving Malcolm Jenkins to safety was the quickest way to get the 2009 first-round pick into the starting lineup.
METAIRIE, La. -- As the New Orleans Saints talk about Malcolm Jenkins' move to free safety, they repeatedly talk about his eyes.

“He just needs time to learn to believe in his eyes and learn to trust his eyes when it’s time to make a break," starting strong safety Roman Harper said.

Funny, but Jenkins’ eyes already appear to be functioning perfectly. That’s why he’s at safety after spending his rookie season at cornerback. Jenkins and the Saints looked around and the numbers made it easy to see that his future is at safety.

Let’s do the math. The Saints have Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter, a pair of starting cornerbacks who turned out to be better than anyone imagined at the start of last season. They’re not coming out of the starting lineup. The Saints also have reserve backup Randall Gay, who probably could start for some teams, and they used this year’s first-round draft pick on cornerback Patrick Robinson.

That’s two very good starters and two quality backups. If Jenkins had stayed at cornerback, he’d probably be somewhere in the middle of the depth chart. That’s not what anybody wants from a player who was New Orleans’ first-round draft pick a year ago.

Soon after the Super Bowl, the Saints and Jenkins looked around and there was only one real choice.

“To be totally honest, it’s a lot easier to get on the field at safety right now," Jenkins said.

The Saints want Jenkins on the field and in the starting lineup right now. That’s where he was as the team opened a three-day minicamp this past weekend. Jenkins missed the last couple practices after bumping knees with a teammate, but the team said the injury is nothing serious. Jenkins is expected to return soon as the team continues its OTAs (organized team activities).

“Right now, it seems like it’s a perfect move," Jenkins said. “I’m just happy to be on the field."

The Saints keep talking about their cornerback depth when explaining Jenkins’ move and there is plenty of truth to that. But it doesn’t tell the whole story. Jenkins isn’t being moved just because of an overload of talent at cornerback.

He’s being moved because of the situation at safety. As much as New Orleans fans worship free safety Darren Sharper, and they should after what he did last year, the 34-year-old might be closer to the end of the road than the public realizes.

Darren Sharper
James Lang/US PresswireDarren Sharper wore down toward the end of last season and had offseason microfracture surgery.
After a blazing start last year, Sharper got banged up and tailed off in the second half of last season. He had microfracture knee surgery in the offseason and the Saints aren’t putting any public timetable on his return. Lots of players younger than Sharper have not successfully returned from microfracture surgery and there are no guarantees.

Sharper may be destined for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and maybe he can make a comeback from the surgery and have another year like last season. But the Saints clearly can’t count on that and that’s why they made the decision months ago to move Jenkins to safety.

They let Sharper hang out there in free agency for several months and re-signed him only after he didn’t get much interest anywhere else. And that came only after Sharper agreed to return at a bargain-basement salary.

Maybe Sharper surprises people and comes back as good as ever. But the Saints can’t count on that.

They drafted Jenkins as a cornerback, but they’ve said all along he could move to safety at some point. It looks like that point is now.

“He’s doing well," coach Sean Payton said. “He’s an intelligent player, so a position move for someone like him who’s a thinker on the field can become mentally easier and I think he’s handling it, handling the snaps that he’s getting, he’s getting a lot of them right now. The one thing that we know is that he’s a pretty good football player. He’s working hard and handling the adjustment"

It’s really the only logical adjustment for Jenkins' career right now. With his knee wrapped by a brace, Sharper has been out on the practice field, acting like an extra coach. He frequently is seen talking to Jenkins between plays and that advice is welcome.

“He’s kind of grooming me," Jenkins said. “He’s been very open and helpful with anything I ask. The biggest thing he has taught me is to not be afraid to make a play. A lot of things he does, the coaches kind of grind their teeth at it because you never know what he’s going to do. But he makes a lot of plays and he’s always telling me not to be afraid to pull the trigger."

Maybe this situation is exactly what the Saints need to make a good defense even better. Maybe they’ll go with Jenkins as their starter and Sharper as an insurance policy/tutor. In a best-case scenario, having Jenkins on the field could give the Saints something like Sharper’s mind in a much younger and healthier body.

“In this league, I think I could be a good corner," Jenkins said. “But I think I have the potential to be great at safety."

If he turns out to be anywhere near as great as Sharper, the Saints might have found their free safety for the next decade or so.
METAIRIE, La. -– New Orleans' tight end Jeremy Shockey spoke to the media Saturday for the first time since he was hospitalized after collapsing in the Saints’ weight room more than a week ago.

But he didn’t have much to say about what coach Sean Payton described as a situation where Shockey was dehydrated, had low blood sugar and fainted. Payton said Shockey had gone through an assortment of medical tests and there were no indications the problem would happen again in the future.

Shockey wouldn’t elaborate.

“I think Sean already described that,’’ Shockey said. “I’m not a doctor.’’

Shockey sat out Friday’s practice with back spasms, but participated in the Friday afternoon session and Saturday morning.

“My back is still hampering me a little bit,’’ Shockey said. “That’s expected. I really wasn’t expecting to do much today, but I felt better. It’s hard to just sit and watch my teammates practice and being just watching. I did some things and I hope to keep continuing to work in and getting back to 100 percent.”
METAIRIE, La. -- I’ll have a lengthy column in the next few days on New Orleans SaintsMalcolm Jenkins and how he’s making the transition from cornerback to safety, but first we’ve got a bit of news on the first-round pick from 2009.

Jenkins missed Saturday morning’s minicamp practice because of a knee contusion, coach Sean Payton said. Jenkins had worked as the first-team free safety in Friday’s sessions. But Payton said Jenkins bumped knees with a teammate Friday afternoon. Payton also said the injury is minor and he said it was possible Jenkins could practice this afternoon or in Sunday morning’s final minicamp practice.

A few other observations:

  • Just overheard former New Orleans quarterback Bobby Hebert, who is sitting right behind me, bring up a good point on his show on WWL Radio. The Saints presently have Chase Daniel working as their holder. It’s been obvious Friday and Saturday that there are some issues there. Daniel, a reserve quarterback, has had trouble handling some snaps. Besides that, Daniel probably is going to be the third quarterback this season and the Saints don’t want to have to use a game-day roster spot on a holder. Backup quarterback Mark Brunell handled the holding duties last year, but has not been re-signed. The Saints may bring in a veteran quarterback at some point and that player could also be a holder. But, ideally, the Saints would like punter Thomas Morstead to handle the holding duties. The Saints didn’t have Morstead do that last season because they wanted to allow him to concentrate on punting. But it makes a lot of sense for a punter to be the holder because he and the kicker have lots of time to work together during practice.
  • It’s interesting to see fullback Heath Evans back on the practice field after missing much of last season with an injury. Evans is never going to put up huge stats simply because of the nature of his position. But his presence gives the rest of the offense a lot more flexibility because Evans does so many little things well.
  • Rookie tight end Jimmy Graham has been drawing a lot of attention in minicamp. The third-round pick remains a very raw prospect because he played only one season of college football after playing basketball. But it’s obvious Graham has excellent athletic skills and lots of potential.
  • Strong-side linebacker isn’t a flashy position, but that’s where the Saints have the best competition going on. I’ve seen Jo-Lonn Dunbar and Troy Evans each getting first-team work at the spot that came open when Scott Fujita left as a free agent. But don’t go writing either of those guys in as a starter just yet. They both are viable candidates, but the Saints also have added Clint Ingram, who previously started in Jacksonville. Two other young players -- Jonathan Casillas and Stanley Arnoux -- also could factor in. Don’t look for this one to be settled until late in the preseason.
METAIRIE, La. -– I just arrived at the New Orleans Saints' practice facility and it looks like a large part of Who Dat Nation is here.

Saturday morning’s practice is open to the public and it looks like the bleachers are pretty close to full even before the Saints take the field. Practice doesn’t start for about another 20 minutes and there is a line of fans waiting to get in at the gate.

I’ll be heading out to the field in just a few minutes. I’ll give you updates after practice and interviews. We’ll see if tight end Jeremy Shockey, who wasn’t available to the media Friday, talks today.
Darren SharperAP Photo/Bill HaberSaints coach Sean Payton stopped the escalating back and forth between Darren Sharper and Visanthe Shiancoe.
METAIRIE, La. -- In what might be his most brilliant move since that onside kick in the Super Bowl, New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton called a halt to a little war that had grown out of hand.

Payton, who is supposed to be an offensive genius, played defense this time. He put an end to the Twitter war between New Orleans safety Darren Sharper and Minnesota tight end Visanthe Shiancoe.

"I'm done with that,'' Sharper said after Friday afternoon's practice. "Let it ride.''

As New Orleans fans pay tribute to the Lombardi Trophy, which is on public display at the Saints’ facility this weekend, they also should thank Payton for another contribution that is almost as meaningful to society as a whole.

“I think it’s fairly silly that we’re sitting in the month of June talking about two players … it would be different if they were texting each other,’’ Payton said after Friday’s first minicamp practice.

But Sharper and Shiancoe have not been texting one another. They have been Tweeting and taking shots at one another as they look ahead to the season opener between the Saints and the Vikings. They’re former teammates and there’s no doubt this all started harmlessly. But the fact is, with Twitter, there is no privacy.

“I don’t have a Facebook and I don’t have a Twitter or anything like that,’’ Payton said. “But when you decide to do something like that, you are having a mini press conference. We make sure the players understand that.’’

Payton may not be an expert on social media. But he’s as good a football coach as there is right now and social media was becoming a big issue for his team.

“I don’t anticipate it being any more of an issue,’’ Payton said.

Visanthe Shiancoe
Scott Rovak/US PresswireVisanthe Shiancoe and Darren Sharper have been waging a Twitter war for more than a week.
Translation: Payton, perhaps using slightly differently language, has told Sharper to stop it.

"He had a couple of words for me,'' Sharper said. "That might be part of why I'm not responding.''

The coach doesn’t have any control over Shiancoe, but closing one side of a ping-pong table usually ends the game.

Payton wasn’t providing any more details about what he told Sharper, but it was pretty obvious the same message was given to all the Saints.

“I’m trying to learn everything I can from [Sharper], but not the Twitter stuff. I’m not going to do that his way,’’ said Malcolm Jenkins, New Orleans’ first-round draft pick from a year ago, who is being groomed as Sharper’s eventual replacement at free safety.

Sharper spent much of last season talking about how much he’d like to face Minnesota, his former team, in the NFC Championship Game. He got his wish and the Saints won that game, but that act wore itself out on Twitter and in Payton’s eyes. Sharper's got the message now.

"The first game will be the time to talk about it and let the actions speak,'' Sharper said.

Sharper was on the practice field in the morning, but not practicing. He’s recovering from offseason knee surgery and he spent time between plays going over assignments with Jenkins. That’s the kind of input the Saints want from Sharper. He can give lots of good advice to a young player. He also still can play, if you go by last year.

What the Saints don’t want from Sharper is public output. Coming off a Super Bowl, the last thing the Saints need is a distraction. They already are the biggest target for every team on their schedule. There has been controversy this offseason with the team’s former security director alleging in a lawsuit (that since has been sent to arbitration) that senior officials were stealing pain pills. The Saints also have left tackle Jammal Brown and running back Pierre Thomas not showing up for workouts as they look for new contracts. Tight end Jeremy Shockey might be a walking distraction.

The Saints don’t need to spend the next few months firing up the Vikings. Sharper’s got bigger things to worry about, too. He’s put together a career that could land him in the Hall of Fame. Another strong season could put him over the top.

Sharper needs to get himself healthy and back on the field because the Saints are pleased with how Jenkins is progressing. Sharper doesn’t need a Twitter war to keep himself relevant. He needs to get on the field for the season opener.

“I figure there’s going to be a lot of people watching that game anyway,’’ New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees said.

As always, Brees is completely accurate. The actual game between the Saints and Vikings will be played in the Superdome. The Saints don’t need any other games right now.
METAIRIE, La. -- The weather and back spasms have played a little havoc with the New Orleans Saints’ opening day of minicamp Friday.

After getting through about half of their opening session outdoors, the Saints had to move practice to their indoor facility because of lightning. They are about to begin their afternoon session and that will be indoors because of uncertainty about the weather. This practice initially was scheduled to be outdoors and open to the public. But the Saints said they are closing this practice because of the move indoors.

The Saints now say the Saturday and Sunday morning sessions, each starting at 10:15, will be held outdoors and open to the public.

Tight end Jeremy Shockey, who collapsed in the team’s weight room last week, was held out of Friday morning’s practice. Coach Sean Payton said that wasn’t related to last week’s incident. Payton said Shockey was held out because of back spasms and said it is possible the tight end could participate in some part of the three-day minicamp.

Payton said last week’s incident was caused by dehydration and low blood sugar. He said Shockey did not have a seizure, but fainted. Payton said fainting is not a future concern for Shockey, who underwent numerous medical tests.
METAIRIE, La. -- In just a little bit the Saints will take the field for the first of five minicamp practices over the next three days.

I’ll head out there and bring you any news and my observations. The big story, of course, is tight end Jeremy Shockey. He collapsed in the weight room last week with what witnesses described as “seizure-like symptoms.’’ Shockey was hospitalized and was expected to go through an assortment of tests to see what caused the incident.

The Saints and Shockey haven’t provided any update, but the tight end reportedly will be on the field today. So we might hear more on his situation in a few hours.

The media will have access to players after the morning practice and, if Shockey talks, I’ll bring you whatever he has to say. I’ll also bring you whatever else comes out of the locker room. Coach Sean Payton isn’t scheduled to address the media until after the afternoon practice.

I’ll be back with more later.

On the way to Metairie

June, 3, 2010
6/03/10
3:09
PM ET
TAMPA, Fla. –- I’m about to head out of Tampa International Airport to begin the trek to Metairie, La. for this weekend’s minicamp with the New Orleans Saints.

It starts Friday morning and I’ll bring you the latest from the Super Bowl champions. It sounds like the rest of the NFC South is relatively quiet this afternoon. But, keep an eye on the “headlines’’ section of our NFL page for any breaking news the rest of the afternoon and evening.

Also, a quick reminder that there will be no NFC South chat this Friday because I’ll be tied up with the Saints.
A reader recently asked if the New Orleans Saints would be opening minicamp practices to the public this week. I just got the answer and wanted to share it with all of you.

The Saints have just announced their schedule for their minicamp, which begins Friday and two sessions will be open to the public. The Friday session that is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. is open. So is the Saturday session that’s slated to begin at 10:15 a.m.

There will be three other sessions that aren’t open to the media. I’ll be traveling to New Orleans on Thursday and will be in place to cover Friday’s practices. Also, because I’ll be tied up with minicamp, we’re going to skip the NFC South chat this Friday.

Taking roll at One Buc Place

June, 16, 2009
6/16/09
11:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

TAMPA, Fla. -- I'm out at One Buccaneer Place and about to head out to the first of two minicamp practices Tuesday.

My first duty will be to take a roll call. We'll see if linebacker Barrett Ruud, who has stayed away from workouts because he reportedly wants a new contract, shows up for the mandatory session. Same for quarterback Brian Griese, who I sincerely doubt will show.

Griese has no future in Tampa. He knows it and the team knows it. The Bucs still are holding out hope they might be able to get something for Griese in a trade, but don't count on it. They'll almost certainly have to release him at some point.

I'll be back with an update this afternoon on who's here and who's not.

Looking ahead to Saints' camp

June, 1, 2009
6/01/09
3:19
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

I'll be heading to New Orleans (actually, Metairie, La.) this weekend for Saints' minicamp. I'll be live from Metairie, starting Friday morning.

Some story lines I'll be watching:

1. Just how much does a defensive coordinator matter? With all the hype about Gregg Williams, he better have this defense shining from Day One.

2. Who's lining up where in the secondary? My guess is Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter are the starting cornerbacks and Malcolm Jenkins is the nickelback to start with. Roman Harper and Darren Sharper are the safeties, probably.

3. Will the Saints use Reggie Bush any differently than in the past?

4. Who's the short-yardage runner?

5. Can linebacker Dan Morgan stay healthy for a whole season?

6. Who will be the defensive ends if Charles Grant and Will Smith are suspended for the first four games?

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- I meant to post an item on this yesterday, but forgot with everything else going on. The Falcons have four players who are getting tryouts during their minicamp.

Here's the list: Wide receiver Troy Bergeron, offensive lineman Chris Jamison, offensive lineman Ronald Thompson and linebacker Rashad Bobino. All are undrafted rookie free agents. The Falcons will make decisions on signing them soon after the minicamp ends Sunday.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- One of the smarter things the Atlanta Falcons do is open their minicamp to fans.

There's a great atmosphere and a lot of fans out here at the Falcons' complex today as the morning and afternoon practices (today only) are open to the public. That's a great concept because fans are starved for football in May. It also allows the Falcons to build goodwill and it gives the team a nice opportunity to hand out some brochures on season-ticket sales.

More teams should do this, but they don't. Blame it on the coaches. They live in a paranoid world where they fear that someone might see something that ends up costing the team in the fall. That's taking things a little too far.

I'm watching the crowd file in past the media room and I haven't seen any scouts for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints or any other team so far. If coaches are so concerned about "spies," there's still plenty of time throughout offseason workouts to install "top secret" plays. Save them for all the other days that practices aren't open to the public.

But give the fans a little chance to feel involved and get a look at their team. It's only going to help in the long run.

I'm heading out to practice in a couple of minutes and will be back with updates this afternoon.

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