NFC South: Omar Gaither

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith said he has options at linebacker. It will be interesting to see what those are if Akeem Dent doesn't return to the lineup Sunday.

Dent, who missed the last game with an ankle injury, was back at practice this week but is listed as questionable for Sunday's NFC South clash against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He started at middle linebacker when healthy.

Omar Gaither started at middle linebacker in the last game alongside outside linebackers Joplo Bartu and Stephen Nicholas. Paul Worrilow, who surpassed Nicholas in the starting lineup in Week 4, seems to have recovered from the knee injury that bumped him back out of the starting lineup during the last game.

"We've got some guys that have now played in our sub package -- a number of guys -- Akeem being one of them, Stephen, and our two rookies [Bartu and Worrilow]," Smith said. "So we'll have some flexibility in our sub package.

"Omar has not played in any of our sub, but he's played in our base. So it gives us flexibility in terms of how we're going to put that together."

The Falcons have gone with a different linebacker trio in every game, not counting Week 2 when defensive coordinator Mike Nolan started the game with an extra defensive back in the nickel package.

Outside linebacker/defensive end Kroy Biermann, who started Week 1, suffered a season-ending Achilles' tendon tear in that opener. Fellow starting outside linebacker Sean Weatherspoon was placed on short-term injured reserve with a foot injury and is eligible to return. Weatherspoon tweeted Friday that he is targeting Nov. 17 at Tampa Bay for his return.

Injuries, of course, have taken a toll on the 1-4 Falcons. Wide receiver Julio Jones is done for the season after foot surgery. Fellow offensive starters Roddy White (hamstring), Steven Jackson (hamstring) and Sam Baker (knee) are all sidelined.

Here is the full injury report for the Falcons-Buccaneers game:

FALCONS – Out: WR Roddy White (knee, hamstring), RB Steven Jackson (hamstring), LT Sam Baker (knee), TE Chase Coffman (knee); Questionable: LB Akeem Dent (ankle); Probable: RB Jason Snelling (concussion).

BUCCANEERS – Out: G Carl Nicks (foot), RB Jeff Demps (groin); Questionable: WR Mike Williams (hamstring), DE Da'Quan Bowers (toe), CB Michael Adams (knee); Probable: G Davin Joseph (knee); C Jeremy Zuttah (groin).

Panthers: First look at free agency

January, 31, 2012
Let’s continue our NFC South look ahead to free agency with the Carolina Panthers.

We'll take a look at Carolina’s potential free agents. They’re all unrestricted unless noted as restricted free agents or exclusive-rights free agents.

Quarterback Derek Anderson, linebacker/defensive lineman Antwan Applewhite, offensive lineman Mackenzy Bernadeau, linebacker Dan Connor, linebacker Omar Gaither, cornerback Cletis Gordon, offensive lineman Geoff Hangartner, long-snapper J.J. Jansen, receiver Legedu Naanee, linebacker Jordan Senn, tight end Jeremy Shockey, receiver Seyi Ajirotutu (exclusive rights), tight end Richie Brockel (exclusive rights), cornerback R.J. Stanford (exclusive rights), linebacker Thomas Williams (exclusive rights), linebacker Jason Phillips (restricted) and guard Geoff Schwartz (restricted).

There’s not a single guy on that list that the Panthers absolutely have to have back. That's good because the Panthers are going to be tight against the salary cap. But there are several players they’re likely to have interest in retaining at the right price. They liked what Senn and Applewhite showed in 2011. Shockey seemed to fit well in tandem with Greg Olsen and could return for a one-year contract. The offensive line is in pretty good shape, but the Panthers likely will keep either Schwartz or Hangartner as a starting guard.

NFC South players not signed for 2012

December, 22, 2011
A lot can change between now and the start of free agency and I sure don’t see any way the New Orleans Saints let quarterback/King Drew Brees walk away. I also think there’s a pretty good chance tight end Tony Gonzalez can return to the Atlanta Falcons if he chooses. Same for cornerback Ronde Barber with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and maybe even Jeremy Shockey with the Carolina Panthers.

But all we know about those guys at the moment is they’re not under contract for 2012. We’ll do much more on free agency as it gets closer but I’ve got the complete list of every NFC South player presently not under contract for 2012.

I’ll list them by team here and we’ll only go with the guys who have at least four years of service and can become unrestricted free agents. We’ll deal with restricted and exclusive-rights free agents at another time.

Atlanta Falcons: Tony Gonzalez, tight end; Reggie Kelly, tight end; Todd McClure, center; Mike Peterson, linebacker; John Abraham, defensive end; Joe Zelenka, long-snapper; Chris Redman, quarterback; Kirk Chambers, offensive line; Kelvin Hayden, cornerback; Brett Romberg, offensive line; James Sanders, safety; Jason Snelling, running back; Kroy Biermann, defensive end; Thomas DeCoud, safety; Harry Douglas, receiver; Brent Grimes, cornerback; Curtis Lofton, linebacker; Eric Weems, receiver.

Carolina Panthers: Jeremy Shockey, tight end; Reggie Wells, offensive line; Derek Anderson, quarterback; Geoff Hangartner, center/guard; Omar Gaither, linebacker; Cletis Gordon, cornerback; Legedu Naanee, receiver; Antwan Applewhite, linebacker; Mackenzy Beranadeau, offensive line; Dan Connor, linebacker; J.J. Jansen, long-snapper; Jerome Felton, fullback; Jordan Senn, linebacker.

New Orleans Saints: John Kasay, kicker; Drew Brees, quarterback; Shaun Rogers, defensive tackle; John Gilmore, tight end; Aubrayo Franklin, defensive tackle; Marques Colston, receiver; Pat McQuistan, offensive line; Courtney Roby, receiver; Leigh Torrence, cornerback; Jeff Charleston, defensive end; Turk McBride, defensive end; Robert Meachem, receiver; Jo-Lonn Dunbar, linebacker; Carl Nicks, guard; Tracy Porter, cornerback.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Ronde Barber, cornerback; Earnest Graham, running back; Sean Jones, safety; Connor Barth, kicker; Geno Hayes, linebacker; Josh Johnson, quarterback; James Lee, offensive line; Corey Lynch, safety; Elbert Mack, cornerback; Frank Okam, defensive tackle; Micheal Spurlock, receiver; Jeremy Zuttah, offensive line.

Josh Freeman listed as questionable

December, 2, 2011
The Bucs just sent out their Friday injury report and they’re listing quarterback Josh Freeman as questionable.

Freeman has a shoulder injury. His participation in practice has been limited each day and coach Raheem Morris said the decision on if Freeman plays or not may not come until Sunday. Freeman did some light throwing Friday, but backup Josh Johnson has handled the first-team work.

Freeman hasn’t missed a start since taking over the job midway through his rookie season. Johnson hasn’t started a game since 2009.

The Bucs are listing defensive end Michael Bennett (groin) as out. That likely means another start for rookie Da'Quan Bowers. Defensive tackle Brian Price (ankle) is listed as questionable. Price did practice on a limited basis Friday after sitting out Wednesday and Thursday.

Carolina’s injury report also is out. Linebacker Omar Gaither (knee) is listed as questionable, but the Panthers already have indicated Jordan Senn will likely start in Gaither’s place. Rookie receiver/return man Kealoha Pilares (quadriceps) also is listed as questionable.

I’ll share injury updates on the Saints and Falcons as soon as their official reports are released.
Time for a Thursday update on the most significant injuries around the NFC South.

We already know Atlanta cornerbacks Brent Grimes (knee) and Kelvin Hayden (toe) aren’t expected to play Sunday. But receiver Julio Jones (hamstring), running back Michael Turner (groin) and linebacker Stephen Nicholas (quadriceps) each missed their second straight day of practice. However, coach Mike Smith didn’t go into specifics, but said some of the injured players could return to practice Friday.

Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman (right shoulder) was limited in practice for the second straight day. Defensive end Michael Bennett (groin) continued to miss practice. Defensive tackle Brian Price (ankle) did not practice for the second straight day. On the bright side, rookie defensive end Adrian Clayborn (back) returned Thursday and practiced fully after sitting out Wednesday.

Carolina rookie kick returner Kealoha Pilares (quadriceps) missed his second straight day of practice. Linebacker Omar Gaither (knee) practiced on a limited basis, but the Panthers already have indicated it’s likely Jordan Senn will start in Gaither’s place again this week.

New Orleans’ injury report is fairly light. Linebacker Jonathan Vilma (knee) remained limited in practice. Coach Sean Payton wouldn’t say if Vilma will play Sunday night against Detroit. But Payton did say Vilma has shown some progress this week.

Around the NFC South

December, 1, 2011
Time to take a quick run through the top Thursday morning headlines from around the NFC South.

Without verbally criticizing officials, which could lead to a fine by the NFL, New Orleans coach Sean Payton questioned a call Monday night in which defensive end Will Smith was flagged for a roughing-the-passer penalty on a hit against Giants quarterback Eli Manning. Payton has a right to question that one. Replays pretty clearly showed that Smith’s helmet did not make contact with Manning.

Scott Fowler writes about former Carolina coach John Fox, kicker John Kasay and quarterback Jake Delhomme have landed on their feet. Kasay is kicking well in New Orleans, which isn’t a surprise, despite his advanced age. Delhomme just signed with Houston, after the Texans had a couple injuries at quarterback and will try to recapture some of the magic that suddenly disappeared in a playoff loss to Arizona at the end of the 2008 season. Perhaps the biggest story of all has been Fox. He suddenly has found success in Denver, while playing quarterback Tim Tebow, who might be the most unconventional quarterback the league has seen in decades. That’s one of the most ironic stories the league has league has seen in decades because Fox used to be the most conventional coach you’ve ever seen. But Fox is suddenly thriving because he’s adapted, something he never was willing to do in Carolina.

The New Orleans offensive line has not allowed quarterback Drew Brees to be sacked in the last three games. Brees is very good under any circumstances. When he isn’t being pressured at all, Brees is capable of carving up a defense.

Although Carolina linebacker Omar Gaither has returned to practice, coach Ron Rivera said Jordan Senn has earned another start on the weak side. I like the call. Senn has shown some promising signs. He also is young. Gaither is a veteran and it’s obvious he’s an average player, at best. The Panthers obviously aren’t going to the playoffs this season, so why not take an extended look at Senn?

New Orleans running back Chris Ivory was a healthy scratch Monday night, but coach Sean Payton said that doesn’t mean the Saints will use just the rotation of Darren Sproles, Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas the rest of the way. That’s the beauty of Payton’s offense. He could elect to play Ivory at any time and give him a lot of carries. That also is the beauty of having depth, something the Saints lacked at running back last season.

Atlanta’s Will Svitek has done a nice job since taking over at left tackle for an injured Sam Baker. Svitek, who previously had worked as backup at both tackle spots and at guard, said focusing on one position has made his job easier. Baker still is not fully healthy after dealing with an injured back. Don’t look for Svitek to return to a reserve role anytime soon.

Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris said he’s not dwelling on job security. That’s a healthy approach in his line of work. But it’s fairly obvious Morris needs to get his team off a five-game losing streak and win some games down the stretch. The Bucs already have picked up Morris’ contract option for 2012. However, lame-duck coaches are rare in the NFL. If Morris wins some late-season games and the Bucs show some promise, he likely will get a contract extension. If not, he could be fired. It just isn’t a good idea to let a coach go into a season without a contract beyond that year. Just look back at what happened with Fox in Carolina in 2010.

It's time for Brandon LaFell to start

November, 25, 2011
The Carolina Panthers could have a shakeup in their starting lineup Sunday and this one might be overdue.

Receiver Legedu Naanee (Achilles tendinitis) missed his second straight day of practice Friday. That could clear the way for second-year pro Brandon LaFell to get his first start of the season.

Even before Naanee’s injury, a lot of Carolina fans wondered why he continued to start ahead of LaFell, a third-round pick last year. I’ve been wondering the same thing since LaFell has shown some promise in a backup role and the veteran Naanee never has been a standout.

Maybe the coaching staff didn’t think LaFell was ready to start. But the Panthers are in a position where it’s time to find out what they have in LaFell. Carolina obviously isn’t going to the playoffs and it’s time to take an extended look at some young players.

LaFell is the classic example of that. Even if Naanee gets healthy, the Panthers should start LaFell the rest of the year. The coaches need to know if LaFell can be the starter opposite Steve Smith. At the very least they want to find out if he can be a good No. 3 receiver if David Gettis returns from injury and claims the starting job next season.

Along those same lines, starting LaFell the rest of the season could allow the Panthers to give more playing time to rookie Kealoha Pilares and second-year pro Armanti Edwards. Those two have been used almost exclusively in the return game.

The Panthers knew Edwards was going to be a project when they drafted the former college quarterback last year. They thought he could develop into an explosive return man and wide receiver.

So far, Edwards has been just a return man and not a great one. The Panthers need to start taking a look at Edwards as a wide receiver even if it’s just in spot duty. If Edwards can show a little promise, he’ll come to training camp next year with a chance to be a contributor at receiver.

If he doesn’t show much promise, Edwards might not even be with the Panthers when training camp rolls around.

The Panthers also said linebacker Omar Gaither is doubtful for Sunday’s game with Indianapolis.

Hitting the NFC South links

November, 21, 2011
There were a number of interesting developments around the NFC South as I was traveling earlier this afternoon. So let's use one rapid-fire post to cover a lot of ground.

Seriously? Tampa Bay running back LeGarrette Blount said he got some high praise from Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers after Sunday’s game.

“He told me he thinks I’m one of the best backs in the league,” Blount told the media Monday. “He told me I have a chance to be one of the greatest backs in this league and he said he doesn’t just say that to anybody. He feels like me and one other guy have the potentinal to stand out and be two of the best running backs to ever play the game.’’

Hmm, just a thought, but wouldn’t it be pretty funny if the (“one other guy’’) Rodgers was referring to was Kregg Lumpkin? I’ve spent a little time around Rodgers and the guy does have a great sense of humor.

Silencing Suh. The Carolina Panthers did a decent job of containing Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. They did that largely by double-teaming him. By one calculation, Suh was double-teamed on 63.3 percent of his snaps.

That’s not all that surprising. The Panthers have their problems, but the offensive line isn’t one of them. Ryan Kalil might be the best center in the league, Jordan Gross is an elite left tackle and Travelle Wharton is a very underrated guard.

Injury list growing. Carolina’s problems are mostly on defense and they might be getting even worse. Coach Ron Rivera said defensive end Charles Johnson will have an MRI on his shoulder and linebacker Omar Gaither suffered a setback on a knee injury that has limited his playing time.

Still chasing the dream. Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris said Monday his team’s goal at the start of the season was to win the NFC South and that hasn’t changed even though the Bucs are 4-6.

To borrow a line from the character “Phil’’ in the movie “The Hangover’’ a few hours before his missing friend was scheduled to be married, “Yeah, um, that’s not going to happen’’.

Now, I will say this, the playoffs still are a possibility for the Bucs. But they’re going to have to get hot and it has to happen immediately. They pretty much have to run the table to have any shot at the postseason and there haven’t been many signs lately that the Bucs, who have lost four straight, are on the verge of getting hot.

Brees on parade. New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees used the bye week to make the talk-show rounds. He visited with Jay Leno and his next stop was “The Ellen DeGeneres Show." But I’m wondering if general manager Mickey Loomis and Brees’ agent spent any of the quiet time talking about a contract extension that I thought would have been done long ago?

Big decision ahead. Atlanta coach Mike Smith said Sam Baker is moving closer to returning from a back injury. But Smith said he’s not ready to determine if Baker will return to the starting lineup when he’s ready to play or if Will Svitek will stay there. Svitek has played pretty well and Baker was struggling earlier in the season.

Just my opinion, but I’d be inclined to stick with Svitek. I’m not sure how much individual credit he deserves, but Atlanta’s offensive line has been playing much better of late. Why break up the continuity?

Panthers considering LB movement

October, 31, 2011
The Carolina Panthers might lead the league in once category -- injured linebackers.

Thomas Williams and Jason Phillips each suffered injuries in Sunday’s loss to Minnesota. Coach Ron Rivera said Monday that both could be out for an extended period. Williams has a neck injury and Phillips has an injured calf.

The injuries came on a day when linebacker Omar Gaither returned after missing time with a knee injury. The Panthers lost starting linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis to injuries early in the season.

The Panthers started Gaither, James Anderson and Dan Connor on Sunday. After Williams and Phillips were injured, Gaither, Anderson and Connor had to fill in on special teams.

The Panthers have a bye this week and Rivera said he planned to meet with general manager Marty Hurney to discuss possible additions at linebacker. There aren’t a lot of quality linebackers available right now.

They might have to turn to their practice squad where they have Lawrence Wilson and Kion Wilson.

Inactives for Panthers and Redskins

October, 23, 2011
CHARLOTTE -- The Panthers and Redskins just announced their inactives for Sunday’s game.

For Carolina, quarterback Jimmy Clausen, safety Jordan Pugh, running back Mike Goodson, tight end Richie Brockel, linebacker Omar Gaither, tackle Lee Ziemba and defensive tackle Frank Kearse are inactive.

For Washington, receiver Donte Stallworth, safety Oshiomogo Atogwe, cornerback Byron Westbrook, tight end Chris Cooley, linebacker Markus White, tackle Trent Williams and defensive lineman Darrion Scott.

The injuries that matter most

October, 21, 2011
The final Friday injury reports are out. That means it’s time to check in on the NFC South’s most significant injuries.

New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham (ankle) returned to practice on a limited basis and is listed as probable. Defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis (ankle) practiced on a limited basis and is listed as questionable.

Although the injury report lists running back LeGarrette Blount as doubtful, coach Raheem Morris already said Blount will not play Sunday. The injury report also lists center Jeff Faine (biceps) as out. Ted Larsen likely will start in his place. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (ankle) did not practice and is listed as questionable.

Carolina linebacker Omar Gaither (knee) and safety Jordan Pugh (concussion) are listed as doubtful. Tight end Greg Olsen (toe) is probable and participated fully in practice.

Atlanta receiver Julio Jones (hamstring) is listed as doubtful and it’s likely he’ll miss his second straight game because the Falcons have a bye after the Detroit game. Defensive end John Abraham (groin) is questionable, but practiced on a limited basis. The Falcons also are banged up on the offensive line. Left tackle Sam Baker (back), center Todd McClure (knee) and right guard Garrett Reynolds (ankle) are all questionable, but all three were able to practice on a limited basis.
Carolina defensive end Charles Johnson (hip) is probable and participated fully in practice. Johnson had been added to the injury report Thursday. Right tackle Jeff Otah (back) is listed as questionable and participated in practice on a limited basis. Linebacker Omar Gaither (knee) is out for Sunday.

Atlanta has declared receiver Julio Jones (hamstring) and cornerback Chris Owens (concussion) out for Sunday’s game with Carolina. Defensive end John Abraham (groin), center Todd McClure (knee), guard Garrett Reynolds (ankle), and safety James Sanders (hamstring) are all listed as questionable. Abraham, McClure and Reynolds each participated in Friday’s practice on a limited basis.

The New Orleans Saints declared right tackle Zach Strief (knee), linebacker Will Herring (hamstring) and tight end David Thomas (concussion) out for Sunday’s game with Tampa Bay. Receiver Devery Henderson (calf) is probable.

The Buccaneers declared defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (ankle), tight end Luke Stocker (knee) and receiver Sammie Stroughter (foot) out for Sunday. Running back LeGarrette Blount (knee) is listed as doubtful and linebacker Mason Foster (knee) is questionable. Foster was able to participate in practice fully Friday.
Let’s take a look at the latest news on the NFC South’s most significant injuries.

Carolina added Charles Johnson to the injury report Thursday. He did not practice and the Panthers listed him with a hip injury. Right tackle Jeff Otah (back) and linebacker Omar Gaither (knee) did not practice.

Atlanta defensive end John Abraham (groin) missed his second straight day of practice. Cornerback Christopher Owens (concussion) and guard Garrett Reynolds (ankle) also missed practice.

Tampa Bay defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (ankle) and running back LeGarrette Blount (knee) each missed their second straight day of practice and it’s looking as if they will miss Sunday’s game with New Orleans. Earnest Graham would fill in for Blount and the Bucs likely would rotate Frank Okam and Da’Quan Bowers in McCoy’s place. Middle linebacker Mason Foster (ankle) also missed his second straight day of practice. If Foster can’t play, Adam Hayward likely would take his spot. Outside linebacker Quincy Black (ankle) returned to full practice after being limited Wednesday.

The Saints are getting a bit healthier. Receiver Devery Henderson (calf) participated fully after sitting out Wednesday. Linebacker Jonathan Vilma (knee) also participated fully after being limited Wednesday. Right tackle Zach Strief (knee) and linebacker Will Herring (hamstring) continued to miss practice.
TAMPA, Fla. -- I’m out at One Buccaneer Place, so let’s start our NFC South injury check with Tampa Bay.

Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (ankle), running back LeGarrette Blount (knee) and linebacker Mason Foster (ankle) did not practice Wednesday. The Bucs are prepared to go with Earnest Graham as their main running back Sunday if Blount can’t play. McCoy’s spot could be filled by a combination of Roy Miller and Frank Okam and the Bucs have said defensive end Da’Quan Bowers also could move inside in certain situations.

For New Orleans, receiver Devery Henderson (calf) and right tackle Zach Strief (knee) did not practice. Charles Brown already has been starting in Strief’s place and the Saints have good depth at wide receiver if Henderson isn’t ready to play against Tampa Bay.

Carolina linebacker Omar Gaither (knee) did not practice and is likely to be out for a couple of weeks. Right tackle Jeff Otah (back) also sat out practice, but there’s still hope he can play Sunday.

Atlanta’s injury list is getting longer and the Falcons already have ruled out receiver Julio Jones (hamstring) for Sunday's game. Tight end Tony Gonzalez (elbow) also missed practice. Defensive end John Abraham (groin) and center Todd McClure (knee), who did not play in Sunday night’s loss to Green Bay, also sat out Wednesday.

Around the NFC South

October, 10, 2011
I just arrived back at NFC South Blog headquarters. There’s a lot of day-after-the-game news to catch up on in the division.
  • The Buccaneers suddenly have some significant injury issues. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy suffered an ankle injury and coach Raheem Morris said he’s “week to week." Running back LeGarrette Blount also has a leg injury. Morris said he’ll know more on Blount’s condition later in the week. With McCoy probably out for a week or two, the Bucs still have Brian Price and Roy Miller, but Morris said rookie defensive end Da’Quan Bowers may move into the rotation on the inside. The Bucs aren’t as deep at running back and that could present problems if Blount can’t play. Earnest Graham and Kregg Lumpkin have shared backup duties and rookie Allen Bradford also could be in the mix.
  • Carolina’s already-battered linebacker corps took another hit. Coach Ron Rivera said Omar Gaither has an MCL sprain and a bone bruise and could be out two to four weeks. The Panthers already lost Thomas Davis and Jon Beason to season-ending injuries.
  • Carolina tight end Jeremy Shockey apologized for not shaking hands with his former New Orleans teammates after Sunday’s game.
  • New Orleans coach Sean Payton said the Saints came out of Sunday’s game relatively healthy.
  • The Falcons are pretty beat up after their Sunday night loss to Green Bay. Receiver Julio Jones (hamstring), safety William Moore (shoulder) cornerback Christopher Owens (head) and guard Garrett Reynolds (ankle) are among the injured. Coach Mike Smith wouldn’t go into detail about any of the injuries and said he’d have more information Wednesday.