- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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As we count down to the start of the regular season, let's take a look at the Wednesday morning headlines from around the division.
As he gets ready for Sunday’s return to Arrowhead Stadium, tight end Tony Gonzalez reflected on his 12 years in Kansas City. He talked a lot about 1998, which certainly wasn’t his best season. Gonzalez dropped 17 passes that year. That prompted him to start reading inspirational books, seeking advice from veterans and staying after practice to catch passes. The result was the drops stopped and Gonzalez has caught more passes than all but one player (Jerry Rice) in NFL history.
Speaking of Atlanta tight ends, Tommy Gallarda made the roster and is third on the depth chart behind Gonzalez and Michael Palmer. But I think you’ll see a fair amount of Gallarda. He is Atlanta’s best blocking tight end.
Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said his expectations for defensive tackle Peria Jerry were “in limbo’’ entering training camp. Jerry had struggled since suffering a knee injury early in his rookie season (2009). But Nolan said Jerry has had an impressive preseason. That should help, because Jerry is expected to start with Corey Peters out for at least the first six games of the regular season.
Special teams were a problem area last season, so the Panthers made a bunch of changes in the offseason. The results weren’t apparent in the preseason, but coach Ron Rivera said he’s confident the special teams will be better in the regular season. They better be. The Panthers made changes at kicker and punter and plan to play several starters extensively on special teams. If the performance isn’t any better, the Panthers won’t have any excuses.
Although the Panthers arrived in Florida on Tuesday night and will practice in Bradenton starting Wednesday, a team of staff members have stayed back at Bank of America Stadium. Team president Danny Morrison said those staffers are helping behind the scenes with the Democratic National Convention and will join the team in Florida on the weekend.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Mike Triplett caught up with suspended New Orleans coach Sean Payton, who is helping coach his team’s youth-league football team. Payton said he’s kept a close eye on the Saints throughout the preseason, but largely has stayed quiet on the league-imposed suspensions. Payton said he, assistant head coach Joe Vitt and general manager Mickey Loomis are in a different position than the players, because they don’t have a union to challenge the NFL. He said his ultimate goal is to get reinstated at the right time, and he’s received no indications the league would consider reducing his suspension.
The NFL Players Association is making a last-ditch effort to get a temporary restraining order that would stop suspensions for New Orleans defensive end Will Smith and two other former Saints (Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove) before the season opens. A similar motion previously was filed for linebacker Jonathan Vilma. The union is arguing irreparable damage will be done to the players if they’re suspended at the start of the season.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
At least according to the latest unofficial depth chart put out by the team, Preston Parker has lost his job as the No. 1 punt and kickoff returner. Sammie Stroughter is listed as the top punt returner and Michael Smith as the top kickoff returner. If the depth chart is accurate, it’s not a huge surprise. Parker has struggled with returns and the Bucs might have been forced to keep Stroughter over receiver Tiquan Underwood because they wanted to make sure they had someone dependable to field punts.
Coach Greg Schiano and co-chairman Bryan Glazer asked fans to help give the Bucs a home-field advantage at Raymond James Stadium. The team has struggled to get good attendance in recent years, and Bucs’ fans are sometimes outnumbered by those of opponents. The Bucs have repeatedly said this offseason that they want to reconnect with their fan base. They’re doing their part so far, but the next step is to win consistently.