NFC South: Pete Carmichael

METAIRIE, La. -- Sean Payton might be the best offensive playcaller in the NFL, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be in that role this season.

Payton gave a vague answer Wednesday when asked if he or offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael will call the plays.

“We haven’t worked through all that yet,’’ Payton said during Wednesday’s minicamp. “But Pete’s invaluable. His role will be significant.’’

Carmichael has called the plays much of the past two seasons. He was the sole playcaller last season when Payton was serving a suspension and the Saints put a productive offense on the field. In 2011, Carmichael took over play-calling duties after Payton suffered a broken leg and a knee injury in a sideline collision.

I don’t think the Saints can go wrong either way. If they let Carmichael call the plays, Payton’s influence will show through. Carmichael has been with Payton since 2006 and was with quarterback Drew Brees in San Diego. If Payton ends up calling the plays, I’m sure he’ll listen to input from Carmichael.

Report: Mike Sullivan on BC's radar

December, 2, 2012
We’ve known that New Orleans assistants Aaron Kromer and Pete Carmichael were on the radar for the head-coaching job at Boston College. But, apparently, they aren’t the only NFC South coaches being linked to the job.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter just reported that Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan has expressed an interest in the Boston College job.

If Sullivan were to land the Boston College job, it would be a big blow to the Buccaneers. In his first season as Tampa Bay’s offensive coordinator, Sullivan has revived quarterback Josh Freeman’s career and given the Bucs the most entertaining offense in franchise history.

In addition to what he’s done on the field with the Bucs, Sullivan could have one other edge in getting the Boston College job. Sullivan previously was an assistant to New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin, who is a former Boston College coach with deep ties to the school.

NFC South evening update

November, 28, 2012
ATLANTA -- Let’s take a look at the latest headlines from around the division:


Tight end Tony Gonzalez continues to say he’s 95-percent certain he’ll retire after the season. That could end up being the case, but I don’t think anyone is going to force him to retire. He still is playing at a high level. If he wants to continue, I think the Falcons would encourage that.


With defensive tackle Ron Edwards out for the season with an injury, second-year pro Sione Fua is expected to move into the starting lineup. Might as well throw him out there and let whoever is coaching this team next season determine if Fua has a future.


Offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael said he has heard nothing from Boston College about its opening for a head coach. Carmichael is a Boston College graduate with a nice history. I think it’s only a matter of time before he at least is contacted by Boston College.

William Robinson said he is sore after his first NFL start. That beats the alternative because Robinson was working as a bouncer at a Los Angeles bar before the Saints turned to him after injuries to their first three right tackles. If Zach Strief and Charles Brown can’t play Sunday, Robinson could get his second career start.


Although first-year coach Greg Schiano has cleaned a lot of problems out of his locker room, former Bucs’ tight end Jerramy Stevens reportedly was arrested for violating probation.

Around the NFC South

November, 28, 2012
Time for a tour of some odds and ends from around the division:


Michael Cunningham writes about how the Falcons are using a committee approach at running back with Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling splitting time with Michael Turner. That makes sense on a lot of levels. Rodgers is showing all sorts of potential, and Snelling is reliable, if unspectacular. Using multiple running backs also is a common theme around the league. In the NFC South alone, New Orleans and Carolina use the committee approach. Only Tampa Bay, with Doug Martin, has a true feature back.

The Falcons reportedly have increased their credit line to $200 million. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re planning to use that money toward the new stadium they are seeking.


Former Carolina safety Mike Minter officially was introduced as the new head coach at Campbell University. The Camels went 1-10 this season. But I wouldn’t be surprised if they get better results with Minter. He knows a thing or two about quick turnarounds. He was on Carolina’s 1-15 team in 2001 and saw how John Fox turned things around and had the Panthers in the Super Bowl in the 2003 season.

The Panthers have started to let quarterback Cam Newton make more audible calls at the line of scrimmage. That seemed to work pretty well Monday night in Philadelphia. Newton’s a smart guy, and it only makes sense to let him audible more often going forward.


The rivalry game between the Saints and Falcons won’t be played until Thursday night, but some other games already have started. New Orleans defensive end Will Smith admitted he’s using some previous comments by Atlanta receiver Roddy White as motivation. When the Saints beat the Falcons in New Orleans a few weeks ago, White implied the Saints didn’t do anything to win the game and the Falcons handed them a victory. If Smith is using the comments as motivation, I’m guessing he’s not the only member of the Saints taking that approach.

Immediately after Thursday night’s game in Atlanta, Smith and linebacker Jonathan Vilma will leave for Washington D.C. They plan to be present when their attorneys question former New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams in a hearing on the appeals on suspensions for Vilma and Smith.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is a finalist for Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year.’’ I’m guessing he’s not going to get too many votes from New Orleans fans.

New Orleans offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael reportedly is on the radar for Boston College’s coaching vacancy. Makes plenty of sense, because Carmichael is a Boston College graduate and also is viewed as one of the top young offensive minds in the sport.


Stephen Holder writes that offensive tackle Jeremy Trueblood, who was placed on injured reserve this week, probably has played his last snap with the Bucs. That’s a pretty safe assumption. Trueblood, whose contract is up after the season, took a pay cut during the preseason and lost his starting right tackle job early in the season. Even with Tampa Bay’s offensive line enduring all sorts of injuries, he wasn’t able to work his way back onto the field. It’s pretty apparent Trueblood doesn’t have a place in this team’s future plans.

The Bucs announced Wednesday morning that they have signed Derek Hardman to take Trueblood's roster spot. Hardman previously spent some time with the Bucs.

Rick Mayer reports New England tight end Rob Gronkowski bought a $1.6 million house in Tampa. Buc fans shouldn’t read anything into this. Gronkowski isn’t scheduled to become a free agent until 2020, and apparently plans to use the Tampa property as an offseason home. Lots of professional athletes have offseason homes in Tampa, mostly because of the nice climate.

NFC South evening update

October, 9, 2012
Let's take a look at the top Tuesday afternoon headlines from around the NFC South:


Former NFL coach Tony Dungy said Atlanta coach Mike Smith should get running back Michael Turner more involved in the offense. I respect Dungy as much as any coach I’ve ever covered and I do think the Falcons need to keep some semblance of a running game. But I think it would be a mistake to force too much Turner’s way. He’s looked slower than usual this season and the Falcons finally have a dependable passing game. Stick with what’s working. There was a time when the Atlanta offense revolved around Turner, but that time was when Mike Mularkey -- and not Dirk Koetter -- was the offensive coordinator. Turner still has an important role, but this is an offense that's built mostly around the passing game.


Ron Rivera has been criticized for not having quarterback Cam Newton attempt to leap over the Seattle defense from the 1-yard line on Sunday. Rivera and offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski explained the decision to attempt a pass. They said Seattle was putting up a 10-man front and they liked their chances with three receivers lined up. They also pointed to the fact that center Ryan Kalil was playing with an injured ankle and might have been pushed around by Seattle’s defensive tackles.


In his weekly film study, Mike Triplett notes that the Saints finally generated a consistent pass rush out of their front four. That’s the way a Steve Spagnuolo defense is supposed to work, with the back seven allowed to concentrate on pass coverage. I’m not sure the Saints have the personnel up front to be really dominant, but this is a sign that Spagnuolo’s defense can have some success. I think there’s also the chance Spagnuolo’s teachings could really help young defensive ends Cameron Jordan, Junior Galette and Martez Wilson blossom as the season goes on.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced Tuesday afternoon that Drew Brees has sent the ball he used to break the record previously held by Johnny Unitas for touchdown passes thrown in consecutive games. The Hall of Fame said the ball was accompanied by a play sheet signed by interim head coach Aaron Kromer, offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael and Brees, who added "48'' to his autograph. The mementos were placed on exhibit inside the Hall of Fame's Pro Football Today Gallery on Tuesday. The Hall of Fame has been informed that Brees also intends to add the football he throws for a touchdown from the final game of the streak, when that occurs.


Coach Greg Schiano said backup running back LeGarrette Blount has looked better in practice in recent weeks. The Bucs aren’t ready to push Blount ahead of rookie Doug Martin for the starting job, but I think you’ll continue to see a gradual increase in Blount’s work load as the Bucs still seek to find their offensive identity.

The Bucs also sent out an announcement Tuesday afternoon, saying they have placed cornerback Anthony Gaitor on injured reserve (designated for return) and promoted linebacker Jacob Cutrera from the practice squad.
The next stop in our series of NFC South previews and projections is second place in the division, which was kind of difficult to determine.

That’s because I had one answer (it is my blog) and the consensus of our panel of experts was another answer. But I made the decision to go by what the consensus had to say.

Here’s the link to the preview and prediction page for the New Orleans Saints. New Orleans fans, you can thank Jeffri Chadiha for pulling the Saints down to No. 2. He has them finishing third in the division.

Here’s what I wrote about the Saints:

Five things you need to know about the Saints:

1. Who's missing? Coach Sean Payton is serving a season-long suspension. Assistant head coach Joe Vitt has a six-game suspension, and general manager Mickey Loomis has an eight-game suspension. But aside from the coaches and the administrator, the impacts of the punishments from the bounty program should be minimal. Middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who has a season-long suspension, was a great player a few years ago, but his age caught up to him last season. The Saints went out and upgraded when they signed Curtis Lofton. Defensive end Will Smith will be missed while he's out the first four games, but players such as Junior Galette and Martez Wilson can be decent temporary fill-ins.

2. Sproles will be better: The coaching staff only just began to figure out how to use Darren Sproles last season, so it's a safe assumption he'll continue to get better. Sproles can make things happen as a runner, receiver and return man. Offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael is going to unveil new ways to get the ball into Sproles' hands.

3. Coach on the field: Drew Brees always has been highly motivated and competitive. He signed a $100 million contract in the offseason, and that alone should have Brees motivated to prove he deserves to be the best-paid player in the league. Oh, and he can just grab onto the us-against-the-world mentality the rest of the Saints are embracing.

4. Defense will be better: The Saints parted ways with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams long before we started to hear about the bounty drama. That's because Williams' defense was no longer getting the job done. He produced enough turnovers to help the Saints win a Super Bowl in his first season. In the two seasons after that, his defense didn't produce much of anything. It's now Steve Spagnuolo's job to get the defense fixed, and that may not be an impossible task. There is some individual talent, and Spagnuolo should be able to at least slow opposing offenses with a more balanced approach. You'll see very little of the type of gambling that was common in Williams' scheme.

5. O-line change: If there's one on-field area of concern, it's the offensive line. The Saints lost Carl Nicks to Tampa Bay in free agency. They quickly replaced him with Ben Grubbs, who is only a notch or two less of a player than Nicks. But the parting of Nicks and Jahri Evans means the Saints no longer have the NFL's best guard tandem, and that's siginificant. I've always thought Nicks and Evans made center Brian De La Puente and tackles Jermon Bushrod and Zach Strief look better than they actually are. Grubbs is solid, but I don't know if he's one of those guys who can make people around him better.

Around the NFC South

August, 24, 2012
Time for a quick look at the headlines from around the NFC South:


There’s some significant news out of Atlanta. Tim Tucker reports that the Georgia World Congress Center is optimistic a deal can be worked out on a new stadium for the Falcons by the end of the year. The plan is for a retractable-roof stadium to open in 2017 downtown. An exact location and some other significant details still need to be worked out.

Predictions are popping up all over. Here’s another one that has the Falcons winning the NFC South and going to the NFC Championship Game.

There’s an interesting subplot to Friday night’s game between the Falcons and Dolphins. Atlanta defensive tackle Peria Jerry will be facing his brother, John, an offensive guard for the Dolphins. They last time they faced each other was in the 2010 preseason. Coincidentally, that’s the last time the Falcons won a preseason game. They have lost seven straight exhibitions, the longest active streak in the NFL.


With all the injuries the Panthers had last season, I don’t think we truly got to see what coordinator Sean McDermott’s defensive scheme is all about. The Panthers have their injured players back and have added some new pieces. McDermott provides a big clue about what he wants to do when he says, “We’ll throw fastballs at the quarterback’’. That’s another way of saying he expects a lot from the pass rush.

Here’s a look at players that might be on the roster bubble in Carolina. At first, I was a little surprised to see Thomas Davis’ name on the list. But, when I really thought about it, it is possible that the linebacker might not even be on the roster on opening day. He’s trying to come back from his third torn ACL, and comeback stories don’t always end well.


Aaron Kromer said he’ll lean heavily on the assistants as he fills in as head coach for the first six games of the season. That’s a wise plan. Even with coach Sean Payton and assistant head coach Joe Vitt serving suspensions, the Saints have a strong staff. It’s highlighted by offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael, who joined the Saints when Payton took over, and new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who previously was the head coach of the St. Louis Rams.

Recently acquired linebacker Barrett Ruud has had very little practice time. But the Saints might give him some playing time in the second half of Saturday’s preseason game with Houston. The important thing here is just to get Ruud on the field and see what he has left physically. The Saints need to find out if Ruud can help them. If not, they’ll need to pick up some more linebackers to help them get through a bunch of injuries at the position.


The Bucs have been happy with what they’ve seen out of rookie linebacker Lavonte David so far. But, as Stephen Holder points out, Davis faces his biggest test yet in Friday night’s game with the Patriots. David could find himself trying to cover New England’s dynamic tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

Roy Cummings has a list of five things to watch as the Bucs play the Patriots. He starts with Tampa Bay’s offensive line, which is only fitting because that group didn’t play very well in last week’s loss to Tennessee.
The New Orleans Saints, who already have faced a lot of turmoil this offseason, made a wise move Wednesday night. They took the path of least possible disruption by announcing that Aaron Kromer will be filling in as head coach for the first six games of the regular season.

Head coach Sean Payton is serving a season-long suspension for his role in what the NFL said was a three-year bounty program. Assistant head coach Joe Vitt has been running the team in Payton’s absence, but he has to step aside Sept. 3 to begin his own six-game suspension.

There had been indications the Saints would go with Kromer, who is their offensive line coach/running game coach, over offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. The thinking was that would allow Spagnuolo, who previously was a head coach, to focus entirely on defense, and allow Carmichael to do the same on offense.

That’s pretty much what general manager Mickey Loomis said in the statement the team issued to formally announce the decision. “This was a difficult decision because we have several coaches on our staff that would do a great job in this role,” Loomis said. “Ultimately, I wanted to have the least amount of change with both the offensive and defensive staffs, and maintain the most continuity with the program that has been in place for the last six years.”

Kromer has been with the Saints since 2008 and is popular with the players and other assistant coaches. There will be a lot of things that aren't normal for the Saints this year. But by making Kromer the temporary head coach, the Saints have made things as close to normal as possible.

“Aaron knows Sean’s system very well and how he would be expected to operate this team,” quarterback Drew Brees said. “We have a very strong coaching staff and Aaron is a coach that is very well respected in our locker room.”

NFC South evening update

August, 22, 2012
Let’s take an afternoon run through the top headlines from around the division:


Bradley Handwerger reports that the assistant head coach Joe Vitt still hasn’t found out exactly when his six-game suspension will begin. It’s going to come sometime before the regular-season opener (Sept. 9) and likely after rosters are trimmed to 53 players on Aug. 31. The bigger issue is who will step into Vitt’s role as the acting head coach. The Saints still haven’t made that announcement, although it seems a certainty the pool of candidates goes no deeper than offensive line coach Aaron Kromer, offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.

Jeffri Chadiha salutes former New Orleans special-teams ace Steve Gleason for speaking out and, no matter how you interpret his comments, at least admitting that he was offended by the way former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams spoke to his group the night before last season’s playoff loss to San Francisco.

Linebacker injuries continue to pile up. Ramon Humber is out with a hamstring injury.

On the positive side of the linebacker situation, Barrett Ruud says he’s happy to be with the Saints.


New coordinators Dirk Koetter and Mike Nolan each say they’re happy with what they’ve seen so far in the preseason, but there still is plenty of work to be done.

Justifiably, running back Michael Turner never has been viewed as much of a threat as a pass catcher. But Daniel Cox brings up a good point as he writes that Turner has been getting more receiving opportunities this preseason. I think there could be more chances for Turner as a receiver in Koetter’s offense. I’m not saying Turner suddenly will turn into Darren Sproles, but you might have to account for him as more than a blocker in the passing game.


Receiver Steve Smith missed Wednesday’s practice and was seen on crutches. Team officials said Smith has a foot infection and is not expected to miss significant playing time. With a veteran like Smith, I say shut him down for the final two preseason games and just make sure he’s completely healthy for the regular season. The Panthers have a bunch of young receivers fighting for roster spots. Let them have all the snaps the rest of the preseason.

Joseph Person has a story about how Carolina centers Ryan Kalil and Jeff Byers have undergone a stunning reversal of roles since their college days. Byers once was a blue-chip recruit, but now is fighting for a roster spot. Kalil was supposed to lose his college job to Byers. That didn’t happen and Kalil has gone on to become an All-Pro.


Coach Greg Schiano has had a digital clock installed in the Bucs’ locker room that is counting down the days, minutes and seconds until kickoff of the regular season. Not a bad idea to emphasize the sense of urgency for a young team.

Olympic silver medalist Jeff Demps said he signed with the Patriots instead of the Buccaneers (and others) because several former University of Florida teammates are on the roster and recruited him. I think it also might have helped that New England’s offer included more than $200,000 in guaranteed money, which is unheard of for an undrafted rookie free agent.

Around the NFC South

August, 20, 2012
Time for a Monday morning look at the headlines from around the NFC South:


Through two preseason games, Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan has yet to be sacked. That’s highly encouraging because improving the pass blocking has been one of the most important goals of the offseason. Ryan was pressured too much last year and often did not have enough time to make the down-field throws the Falcons wanted.

The Falcons have ended the training camp portion of their preseason. They’ll remain on a similar practice schedule for the remainder of the preseason, but players get to go home at night.


Little by little we keep finding out about all the plans the Panthers have for fullback/running back Mike Tolbert. In addition to have him blocking, running and catching passes out of the backfield, coach Ron Rivera said Tolbert can do some of the same things that tight end Jeremy Shockey did last season. Shockey has not been re-signed. I’m not sure you’ll see Tolbert lined up at tight end a lot, but I think you could see him picking up some of Shockey’s blocking duties to make the load a little lighter for tight end Greg Olsen.

After starters Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell, the competition for the backup receiver jobs remains strong. Louis Murphy, Seyi Ajirotutu and Kealoha Pilares all looked good in Friday night’s preseason game. The Panthers also are hoping David Gettis can get healthy and be a factor.


After running into all sorts of injury troubles at wide receiver, the New Orleans Saints reportedly have added veteran receiver Greg Camarillo. Nick Toon, Adrian Arrington and Andy Tanner, who were in contention for the final roster spots at receiver, have been injured.

Jeff Duncan writes that offensive line coach Aaron Kromer is the favorite to take over as the temporary coach when Joe Vitt begins his six-game suspension at the start of the season. I agree that’s the logical choice. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo or offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael also could do the job, but it makes the most sense to elevate Kromer and let the two coordinators continue to focus on their side of the ball.


Apparently the Bucs are using a rose-colored lens in their projector because coach Greg Schiano said he saw some positives in Friday’s 30-7 preseason loss to Tennessee.

Defensive tackle Roy Miller may be in the best shape of his career from a physical standpoint. He’s healthy after dealing with injuries last year. More importantly, the Bucs might be using him properly. Miller will be used as a tilted nose tackle, which should allow him to maximize his strength. This is a huge year for Miller and fellow defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. If they can play well, the interior of Tampa Bay’s defensive line could turn into a strength.

NFC South Preseason Stock Watch

August, 20, 2012
The Saints have played three preseason games and the Panthers, Buccaneers and Falcons each have played twice. Let’s take a look at whose stock is headed in which direction.


Steve Spanuolo, defensive coordinator, Saints. Some people believe Spagnuolo is the logical choice to take over as the temporary head coach when Joe Vitt steps aside at the start of the season. But Spagnuolo’s defense didn’t do him any favors when it got torn up by the Jaguars on Friday night. The Saints may be better off turning things over to offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael or offensive-line coach Aaron Kromer. That way Spagnuolo can focus solely on getting his defense ready.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Zuttah
AP Photo/Brian BlancoCenter Jeremy Zuttah, seen at June minicamp, stumbled in Tampa Bay's second preseason game.
Jeremy Zuttah, center, Buccaneers. The team made a big leap of faith when it signed Zuttah to a large contract, shifted him to center and ushered Jeff Faine out the door. Coach Greg Schiano had Zuttah at Rutgers and has faith in him. But that faith will be tested quickly if Zuttah doesn’t play better than he did Friday night against the Titans. Zuttah was fine in the opener and a young guy at a new position should show improvement every week.

Michael Turner, running back, Falcons. I know it’s only the preseason and offenses are holding back a lot of their tricks. But so far, Turner looks a step slow and no longer seems like a great fit in the Atlanta offense. I know Turner is one of those guys who needs carries to wear down a defense and really be effective. But the Falcons have insisted that Turner’s carries will be limited this season. I’m not sure he’ll have as big an impact if he’s not getting the carries.


Doug Martin, running back, Buccaneers. The injury to LeGarrette Blount is supposed to be minor, but he’s likely to miss some practice time and a preseason game or two. Blount had been sharing first-team work with the rookie. Martin’s going to get all the first-team snaps for the next bit and this could be when he really separates himself from Blount.

Akeem Dent, middle linebacker, Falcons. He’s expected to play in Friday night’s preseason game, after sitting out the last one with a concussion. The Falcons must have been happy with what Dent already was showing because they didn’t go out and sign a veteran when he went down. All indications are the Falcons still plan to use the second-year pro as their starting middle linebacker.

Cam Newton, quarterback, Panthers. If you didn’t see what he did in one half Friday against the Dolphins, you owe it to yourself to go back and watch it. Newton moved the ball effortlessly. He’s got plenty of help at the skill positions and this Carolina offense is well on the way to being one of the league’s most entertaining.

Who will coach the Saints?

August, 15, 2012
The New Orleans Saints are 25 days away from their first regular-season game and we still don’t know who will be their head coach when they host the Washington Redskins in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

We know it won’t be head coach Sean Payton, who is serving a season-long suspension. We know it won’t be assistant head coach Joe Vitt, who has been running the team in Payton’s absence. Vitt has to step aside just before the start of the regular season and begin a six-game suspension of his own.


Who should fill in as head coach of the Saints when Joe Vitt begins his six-game suspension at the start of the season?


Discuss (Total votes: 2,222)

As Gerry V. points out, it’s totally out of character for the Saints not to have a plan. Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis have thrived because they pay such close attention to every detail. Although Vitt has repeatedly said no decision on his replacement has been made, I have a hard time believing the Saints don’t already know who will be running the team. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Payton helped make that decision before starting his suspension.

There were some early reports that offensive line coach Aaron Kromer would be the temporary head coach. But the Saints haven’t confirmed that and a long time has passed since those reports.

Still, you have to believe that, as long as the Bill Parcells rumors don’t start floating again, that Kromer is one of three in-house possibilities.

Let’s take a look:

Kromer: He’s respected in the locker room and he’s respected enough around the league that his name was at least tied to some head-coaching jobs in the offseason. There also would be strong logic in going with Kromer because that would allow the coordinators to focus on their side of the ball.

Pete Carmichael: Don’t be fooled by the offensive coordinator’s shy public nature. He also has tremendous respect and he’s been on the staff since Payton took over in 2006. Plus, Carmichael has one other thing going for him. He’s got a strong bond with quarterback Drew Brees. The two worked together in San Diego, long before they ever arrived in New Orleans. And we all know Brees carries a little bit of clout.

Steve Spagnuolo: The new defensive coordinator has one thing going for him that Kromer and Carmichael don’t. He’s been a head coach in the NFL before. Spagnuolo was brought in to fix the defense after he was fired as the head coach in St. Louis. Yes, he’s busy installing a new defense, but he at least has experience as a head coach.

Around the NFC South

August, 15, 2012
Time for a look at the top headlines from around the division:


Atlanta offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter isn’t going to show the whole playbook in the preseason that he’s going to use a three-receiver formation (along with one running back and one tight end) frequently. That’s good because it gets slot receiver Harry Douglas on the field and he has the potential to make big plays. It also means the season-ending loss of Bradie Ewing might not be as devastating as some think because the fullbacks might not be used nearly as much as in the past.

Roddy White sometimes gets hit with the “diva receiver’’ label and, in some ways, he has those qualities. But I’ve always thought White was a little short in some of the diva categories and wasn’t as selfish as some of the receivers that really symbolize that category. The latest example of that came when White said he has told the Falcons he doesn’t want to be the NFL’s most targeted receiver and he wouldn’t mind if teammate Julio Jones ends up with better statistics. White realizes the Falcons have a lot of playmakers and have to get them all involved to be successful. If they are, he’ll still put up solid numbers.

Coach Mike Smith said Douglas will not return punts the rest of the preseason. The Falcons have been testing out cornerback Dominique Franks in that role and he’s fared well. But Douglas is still in the mix if Franks struggles in the later preseason games. The Falcons already know that Douglas can handle punt returns if needed, but they’d like to let him focus on being the third receiver. They’ll use the rest of the preseason to make sure Franks really is the guy they want returning punts.


The Panthers have been getting testy with each other in practice. That’s not a sign of dysfunction. It’s completely normal for that to happen this time of year. It means it’s time to wrap up training camp and gear up for the regular season.

DeAngelo Williams said he has no problem splitting carries with Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert because he views football as a team game. But I’ve got a hunch the Panthers have plans to give Williams more than the 155 carries he got last season.


Offensive tackle Zach Strief has had plenty of practice against Steve Spagnuolo’s new defense in recent weeks and he’s noticing some nice changes from the past. Strief said it’s much more difficult to get a big play against this defense than it was against Gregg Williams’ gambling scheme. Williams’ defense got the Saints a Super Bowl title in his first season, but became a liability after that. Spagnuolo’s bringing a more conventional approach and that should be a positive.

Strief said he wouldn’t mind seeing offensive line coach Aaron Kromer take over as the head coach when assistant head coach Joe Vitt begins his suspension at the start of the season. Strief said Kromer will be an NFL head coach at some point. Kromer’s name came up in connection with a couple of head-coaching jobs in the offseason. The Saints still haven’t announced their succession plan for when Vitt’s suspension begins, but it’s widely believed the choice will come down to Kromer, offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael and Spagnuolo.


Friday night’s preseason game has not sold out and that means it will not be televised live locally. Does that really surprise anyone? The Bucs have had attendance problems in recent years and this is a meaningless preseason game against the Tennessee Titans, a team that doesn’t exactly have huge national appeal. The real test of all the tactics the Bucs have tried to avoid television blackouts, including electing to go with the 85 percent threshold (for non-premium seats) as the standard, will come in the regular season. If the Bucs can’t sell out then, they’ll know their box-office problems are continuing.

Coach Greg Schiano said he hopes defensive tackle Gerald McCoy’s run of injuries is in the past. The Bucs are all hoping that’s the case for the third-year defensive tackle. There’s no question he has big-time talent. If he can play a full season, the Bucs will have a solid defensive line. Take McCoy out of the equation and there’s a big drop off.

Things to watch at Saints' camp

July, 26, 2012
METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints will be hitting the field for their first practice of training camp late Thursday afternoon.

I’ll be out there gathering information for my Camp Confidential profile on the Saints, which is scheduled to run Monday, as well as stuff for our season preview that will be running late in the preseason. I’ll also be providing some live updates after practice and interviews.

This will be one of the more unique seasons in NFL history, because coach Sean Payton is suspended for the season and other members of the organization will serve suspensions at various times. So let’s run through a quick preview of some of the things I’ll be watching.

[+] EnlargeJoe Vitt
AP Photo/Margaret BowlesJoe Vitt will be the Saints' acting head coach in training camp, but will serve a six-game suspension to start the regular season.
The chemistry of the coaches: Assistant head coach Joe Vitt has been running things during the offseason, and will continue to do so during training camp. But Vitt will have to serve his suspension during the first six games of the regular season. It has been reported that offensive line coach Aaron Kromer will take over for Vitt, but the team hasn’t made any official announcement. Putting Kromer in the top spot makes sense, because it allows coordinators Steve Spagnuolo and Pete Carmichael to focus on the defense and the offense. Vitt has been Payton’s right-hand man since their arrival in New Orleans in 2006, so training camp is likely to look like business as usual for the players. But it’s going to be different for the coaches. After a bizarre offseason, the coaches have to use training camp to prepare for what will be a major change at the start of camp.

Running back Mark Ingram: He didn’t have a huge impact as a rookie because of injuries and a steady rotation in the backfield. But Ingram was a first-round pick, and the expectations are high. We’ll first find out if he’s healthy. If he is, then we’ll start to see how he will fit into a backfield that’s crowded with Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory.

Junior Galette: New Orleans fans have had a fascination with this guy since he arrived in 2010. It’s understandable, because the defensive end has a unique combination of size and speed, and has shown flashes of promise in the past two training camps. That didn’t translate into much in Galette’s rookie season, but there were some signs last season, that he could be an impact player. Galette produced 4.5 sacks as a part-time player. With Will Smith expected to serve a four-game suspension at the start of the season, the Saints are looking for a pass-rusher. Galette and second-year pro Martez Wilson, who is making the transition from linebacker to defensive end, have the most upside of the younger players in camp. If they continue to develop, they could take on major roles in the regular season.

The young cornerbacks: Patrick Robinson and Johnny Patrick are a lot like Galette and Wilson. They’re young, have a lot of potential, and likely will get a lot more playing time than they have in the past. With Tracy Porter departing as a free agent, the Saints are expecting Robinson to step into the starting role opposite Jabari Greer, and Patrick to become the nickel back. This is all part of a master plan. The Saints were preparing for Porter’s departure when they drafted Robinson and Patrick.

The changes at linebacker: No position received more attention in the offseason. Knowing Jonathan Vilma could face suspension, and realizing that the linebacker play wasn’t great last season, the Saints added Curtis Lofton, David Hawthorne and Chris Chamberlain as free agents. They still have veterans like Scott Shanle, Will Herring and Jonathan Casillas. Other than Lofton in the middle, no one is guaranteed a starting job. The Saints are going to throw all the other linebackers out there in camp, let them compete and see who steps up to earn starting jobs.
It sounds as if players won’t be the only ones competing for positions in the New Orleans Saints' training camp.

Coaches also will be on the spot. The Saints have a unique situation with coach Sean Payton suspended for the season. Assistant head coach Joe Vitt is currently running the team, but he will have to step away at the start of the season and serve a six-game suspension. Although there have been wide-spread reports that offensive line coach Aaron Kromer will step into the role of head coach for the first six games, Vitt said Tuesday that nothing has been decided and that general manager Mickey Loomis and owner Tom Benson still are discussing options.

“[The talks] are in the infantile stages right now,’’ Vitt said. “Mickey has a couple of coaches that he will talk to. He has a couple people in mind. But again, I think this is critical. We are going to see the personality of this team and what it takes on. Every year is different and the coach that can best serve the needs of this team is the guy that Mickey and Mr. Benson will pick. This is not something that is going to be made in the next week or two. We are going to see who can best serve the needs of our team. We’ve got great coaches here now. We’ve got coaches that have been here since 2006 and know our team and roster. We are blessed to have them.”

Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael would seem to be likely possibilities. Spagnuolo is new to the Saints, but he has experience as a head coach with the St. Louis Rams. Carmichael hasn’t been a head coach, but he’s been with the Saints since 2006 and he previously worked in San Diego, when quarterback Drew Brees played for the Chargers.

Maybe the Saints turn things over to Spagnuolo or Carmichael. Or maybe they let them focus on defense and offense and let Kromer fill the shoes of Payton or Vitt. I don’t think any of those three are bad options for the Saints. They have a veteran staff and a veteran team that largely will be following Payton’s system, no matter who is running the team.

“There are a lot of things that are going to be staying in place,’’ Vitt said. “We are going to do the best job that we can at getting this thing scripted and prepared for the guy that comes in. We’ll do a good job.”