NFC South: Pierson Prioleau

SaintsDerick E. Hingle/US PresswireAubrayo Franklin (left), Darren Sproles and Mark Ingram will all be role players to start the season.
What had been suspected for a month or so became official when the New Orleans Saints made their roster cuts last week. They now have the deepest roster in franchise history.

Deeper than the 2009 team that won the Super Bowl?

By far. Let’s start with two prime examples -- Chris Reis and Pierson Prioleau -- and work our way back up to the top of the roster. On that 2009 team, they were bottom-of-the-roster guys, but they were still important. Both were backup safeties, but they made their real impact on special teams. Although Jonathan Casillas officially was credited with recovering the famous onside kick in the Super Bowl, Casillas and others involved in the play said Reis actually made the recovery. Reis and Prioleau made lots of other important plays on special teams that season and also helped last year when the Saints went 11-5.

They’re gone now. Both were released in moves that demonstrated the Saints have upgraded the bottom of their roster.

They’ve also upgraded the middle and the top by adding guys like running back Mark Ingram, defensive tackle Shaun Rogers, running back Darren Sproles, center Olin Kreutz, defensive end Cameron Jordan and defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin. Sproles was the franchise player for the Chargers last year, and Franklin held the same tag with the 49ers.

On the Saints, they’re going to be role players. Same with Ingram and Jordan, a pair of first-round picks, at least at first. This roster is jammed with talent that runs from established stars such as quarterback Drew Brees and linebacker Jonathan Vilma, to rising stars such as safety Malcolm Jenkins and tight end Jimmy Graham, and right on down to rookies Martez Wilson and Johnny Patrick.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Patrick
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireThere's so much depth in the New Orleans secondary that rookie cornerback Johnny Patrick may only see playing time with special teams.
Wilson and Patrick are third-round picks, and the Saints have high hopes for Wilson as a linebacker and Patrick as a cornerback. But that’s down the road. The Saints are so loaded at those positions -- and everywhere else -- that Wilson and Patrick will probably be nothing more than special-teams players this season.

Think of them for the moment as replacements for Reis and Prioleau. A pair of journeymen have been replaced by third-round picks with the possibility of big futures. That’s called upgrading.

“I’d like to think we’re a little deeper in our roster,’’ coach Sean Payton said. “We were able to, during that brief free-agency period, pick up a couple players. Each year is different, but I feel like we’re a little deeper right now.’’

Maybe that’s why observers repeatedly said Payton seemed slightly more relaxed during training camp this year compared to his five previous camps. He’s still intense, like just about every head coach in the league, but those who’ve watched him throughout his tenure say he showed signs that he knows he has the deepest team he’s had and one of the best rosters in the league.

Does that automatically translate into the Saints winning another Super Bowl? Of course not. The 2009 Saints were good but, like most Super Bowl champions, they also were a bit lucky at various times throughout the season.

There’s also the matter of a very well-stocked NFC; the Atlanta Falcons are loaded with talent in the same division, and many consider the Philadelphia Eagles the conference favorite. Oh, and there are the Green Bay Packers, the defending Super Bowl champions whom the Saints open their season against Thursday night at Lambeau Field.

The past two Super Bowl champions kicking off the season in an historic venue -- it’s the stuff movie-script writers come up with, not NFL schedule makers. But the Packers might be carrying more of a burden than the Saints. They’ll carry the title of defending Super Bowl champions, a load the Saints toted last season.

“You’ve got to answer all the questions about the hangover, and you feel like you’re being scrutinized every step of the way,’’ Brees said. “You lose a game and people are, like, waiting for something bad to happen to your team so they can say, 'I told you so.' There’s pressure with that and obviously the expectation level after winning a Super Bowl.’’

The Saints don’t have to worry about that this year. And the fact that their roster is so deep and talented could open the door for them to step right back into Super Bowl form. At least on paper, it shouldn’t be that difficult.

The Saints are so much better than they were in 2009 in many ways. Guys like Jenkins, guards Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks, and defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis were all very young players on that 2009 team. Now, they’re just hitting their prime.

The offensive backfield should be dramatically better. In 2009, the Saints used a combination of runners that included Reggie Bush, Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell. Thomas was the best of the bunch that year, but he should be just a role player this season.

Ingram might be better than the Saints have let on. He might be the most complete back this franchise has had since Deuce McAllister was young and healthy.

“He’s a really talented back,’’ Brees said. “He’s just got great instincts and he’s a pure runner. You watch him run and you say, 'Man, this guy was born to be a running back.'"

Throw in Sproles, who should be able to do everything Bush did, except get injured often, and the backfield should be much better. So should the run defense.

Rogers and Franklin are proven run-stoppers, and both made it clear they wanted to finally play on a team that has a chance to win big. That’s going to make life easier for Ellis, who was pretty good even when he was playing next to a very ordinary Remi Ayodele the last couple of seasons.

[+] Enlarge Jonathan Casillas
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireThe Saints got younger at outside linebacker by giving Jonathan Casillas increased playing time.
That’s also going to make things easier for Vilma and a linebacker corps that should be better than it was in 2009 and last season. The Saints won the Super Bowl with Scott Fujita and Scott Shanle as their starting outside linebackers. They were nice complementary players, but not big playmakers. It looks like the Saints will go with Casillas and Will Herring on the outside this year. They’re younger, and fresh legs could lead to more big plays.

The secondary should be better than 2009. Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter are firmly established as the starting corners, and the Saints have high hopes for Patrick Robinson, a 2010 first-round pick, as the nickelback. I know free safety Darren Sharper was a fan favorite in 2009, and there’s no question he was an important part of that team’s success. But he wore down at the end of that season and is gone now. For those who don’t believe me when I say Jenkins is now better than Sharper was early in 2009, let’s talk at the end of the season.

The receiving corps -- Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem -- is pretty much the same as it was in 2009. But Graham has replaced Jeremy Shockey as the pass-catching tight end. Graham is younger and more athletic than Shockey. Consider that another upgrade on a team that has plenty of them.

A lot of teams like to intentionally sell themselves short as they enter a season. The Saints aren’t doing that, and that’s probably because they’re looking at their roster and seeing what they have.

“We all know the potential here,’’ Brees said. “But we’re not going to take anything for granted and assume that we can walk out there with the talent that we have and we’re going to scare people away with our talent. That’s not the way it works. You’ve got to go out and make plays and prove it every time out. I like what we have. I think we have the opportunity to be great. But we still have a lot of work to do.’’

New Orleans Saints cutdown analysis

September, 3, 2011
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Check here for a complete list of the New Orleans Saints’ roster moves.

Biggest surprises: Although the Saints almost certainly will have the NFC South’s oldest opening-day roster, they did show they’re not stuck on having a bunch of veterans. They released linebacker Clint Ingram and safety Pierson Prioleau.

Both had deep ties to defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, and Prioleau was the special-teams captain last season. But the release of Ingram shows the Saints believe the younger legs of Will Herring, Martez Wilson, Ramon Humber and Jonathan Casillas can cover more ground at outside linebacker. By releasing Prioleau and safety Chris Reis, the Saints are showing a lot of faith in undrafted rookie Isa Abdul-Quddus.

No-brainer: The Saints, who ran out of running backs in last seaosn’s playoffs, are determined not to let it happen again. Even though Chris Ivory was put on the injured-reserve list, the Saints kept Joique Bell to go along with Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles.

Bell had an outstanding preseason and made it impossible for the Saints to cut him.

What’s next: Don’t be surprised if the Saints bring in another tight end, and look for it to be a guy who specializes in blocking. They currently have only two tight ends on the roster. Jimmy Graham is likely to be used mostly as a pass-catching specialist, and David Thomas is a jack of all trades. The team wants to get back to a more consistent running game, so a run-blocking specialist would be a good fit.

Saints put two RBs on injured reserve

September, 2, 2011
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It looks like running back Joique Bell, who has been one of the stars of the preseason for the New Orleans Saints, will make the 53-man roster.

That’s not definite yet, but Bell’s chances increased considerably Friday night as the Saints made some roster moves at running back. They placed Chris Ivory and Patrick Cobbs on injured reserve.

That leaves Bell with a chance to be a backup and special-teams player in a backfield that also includes Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles.

Wide receiver Joe Morgan, another preseason star, was placed on injured reserve along with safety Paul Oliver. Defensive end Greg Romeus was placed on the non-football injured list.

The Saints terminated the contracts of tackle Jordan Black, safety Quincy Butler, tackle George Foster, tight end Tory Humphrey, cornerback Trumaine McBride, safety Pierson Prioleau, safety Chris Reis and fullback Chris Taylor.

The Saints also placed receiver Montez Billings, defensive tackle Dexter Larimore, tight end Tyler Lorenzen and linebacker Dwight Roberson on waivers.
All four NFC South general managers have been doing some very astute salary-cap maneuvering when it comes to the veteran minimum salary benefit -- even Tampa Bay’s Mark Dominik, who seems to think the word “veteran’’ applies to anyone who has reached his 22nd birthday.

The minimum-salary benefit is designed to give teams that sign veterans a salary-cap break. It can be used on any player with four or more accrued seasons, who signs for the minimum base salary, which varies depending on the number of years the player has in the league. As a general rule, the cap hit for those players is $525,000, even though the player might actually earn far more in base salary. The cap hit can also escalate a bit if there is a signing bonuses involved in the deal.

Let’s use New Orleans safety Pierson Prioleau, a 12-year veteran to demonstrate because he the highest-possible minimum base salary. Prioleau is scheduled to earn $910,000 in base salary. He also got a $50,000 signing bonus. Under normal circumstances, Prioleau would count $960,000 million against the salary cap. But the benefit drops his cap figure to just $575,000.

The Saints also used the veteran minimum benefit on offensive lineman Jordan Black, linebacker Clint Ingram, safety Chris Reis, receiver Courtney Roby, cornerback Leigh Torrence, running back Patrick Cobbs, tackle George Foster and tackle Alex Barron. In the case of Barron, general manager Mickey Loomis did a very nice job of guarding his team against the cap. Barron’s deal, which was for $685,000, was structured with a split salary, meaning his salary and cap hit drop dramatically if he’s placed on injured reserved or waived while injured.

Barron currently is on the injured-reserve list and his cap figure has dropped to $228,000. It could be lowered even more if the Saints release Barron with an injury settlement.

Carolina general manager Marty Hurney was almost as active as Loomis with the benefit. He used it on six players – safety Sean Considine, quarterback Derek Anderson, linebacker Omar Gaither, receiver Legedu Naanee, cornerback E.J. Wilson and cornerback Cletis Gordon.

Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff used it twice and got some big savings because both of his veterans have a lot of years under their belts. Tight end Reggie Kelly and linebacker Mike Peterson each got $910,000 base salaries with $50,000 signing bonuses. Kelly and Peterson each are counting only $575,000 against the cap.

Tampa Bay, which is poised to have the league’s youngest opening-day roster, used the benefit on only one player. That’s defensive tackle John McCargo. His base salary is $685,000 with no signing bonus, so his cap figure is $525,000. The Bucs also protected themselves against injury to McCargo. His deal also includes a split salary, which would pay him only $353,000 if he is injured.
Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson breaks down the safeties of each NFC South team. Today: New Orleans Saints.

Malcolm Jenkins, a 2009 first-rounder, entered the league as a big cornerback. He is a bit stiff in the hips for the aggressive schemes the Saints use -- they ask a lot from their cornerbacks -- and has now found a home at free safety. With more seasoning at his new position, Jenkins has a chance to be an excellent free safety. Gregg Williams will ask him to do a little of everything. He will cover slot wideouts, blitz, play the run, play man coverage against tight ends, play the deep half and act as a true centerfielder. He isn’t a thumper in the run game or a great tackler, and his angles and recognition need work. But he hasn’t played the position long, and these things could really improve as soon as next season. A breakout season could be in the cards for Jenkins.

Roman Harper is remembered for having a terrible game in the Saints’ playoff loss in Seattle, but he is a solid player who has a substantial role in this defense. Coverage has never been Harper’s strong suit and he takes too many penalties, but he is a very good complement to Jenkins. He will never be special, but Harper is a solid starting strong safety who makes big plays as a run stuffer and blitzer. He shows a consistent ability to change a game. Harper simply makes plays. He is a free agent, but it seems likely that he will return to New Orleans. The front seven looks to be vastly improved. He could have another big statistical season for the Saints in 2011.

Darren Sharper, Pierson Prioleau, and Matt Giordano will become free agents. Sharper has had a wonderful career and was absolutely instrumental in New Orleans’ Super Bowl run two seasons ago. A student of the game and very intelligent on the field, Sharper reads quarterbacks and gets his hands on the ball about as well as anyone in recent memory. But to think that Sharper is still the same player that he was in his prime would be foolish. Still, it would be surprising if he weren't brought back. If he returns, Sharper could still play a centerfield role on passing downs while Jenkins is used more in a joker role -- like Charles Woodson -- while New Orleans has extra defensive backs on the field. Sharper also could be a terrific mentor to Jenkins.

Prioleau was nondescript roaming the secondary, but does know what it takes to succeed at this level. He just doesn't have a lot of play-making ability at this point of his career. Prioleau also isn’t a great player on special teams, which clearly limits his value at this point. Giordano is smart and tough but is a limited athlete. Losing Giordano would not be a big deal, but the depth at this position could really be hit hard with free agent defections.

Usama Young was an early third-round pick in the 2007 draft. Young remains a bit of a corner/safety tweener and really didn’t show up on tape last year when he did see the field. He and Chris Reis should also be eligible to test the market when free agency inevitably hits. Among Prioleau, Giordano, Young and Reis, Reis seems like the best candidate to be brought back.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com. Follow Matt Williamson on Twitter @WilliamsonNFL

Analyzing Saints' roster moves

October, 12, 2010
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The New Orleans Saints, reeling from a slow start and a bunch of injuries, made a pretty major series of roster moves Tuesday afternoon.

We’ll summarize the moves first and then we’ll analyze them. The Saints signed running back Julius Jones and safety Matt Giordano while releasing kicker John Carney and waiving running back DeShawn Wynn.

The Jones signing easily is the biggest of the moves. The Saints have struggled with running backs Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush sidelined in recent weeks. They’ve been using veteran Ladell Betts and rookie Chris Ivory, but haven’t gotten a lot of production. Jones is a veteran and is in his seventh season. He played for the Cowboys from 2004 to 2007, before landing with Seattle. Jones has started 75 of his career 85 games and rushed for 4,875 yards and 22 touchdowns on 1,232 carries. He’s the kind of player who could move ahead of Betts and Ivory very quickly and still fill a role when Bush and Thomas return.

The release of Carney is a sign the Saints are ready to turn their kicking duties back to Garrett Hartley. The Saints signed Carney, 46, after Hartley missed an easy field-goal attempt in an overtime loss to Atlanta. The Saints said they were bringing in Carney to help Hartley get his accuracy back.

Giordano also fills a need at a spot where injuries have been prevalent. Safeties Roman Harper and Pierson Prioleau have missed time with injuries and Chris Reis is out for the season. A sixth-year player, Giordano has spent time with the Colts and Packers and was in Atlanta’s training camp this year. He’s played only sparingly in the secondary, but has played extensively on special teams, which means he could fill Reis’ role.

The Saints also tweaked their practice squad a bit. They signed cornerback Reggie Jones, who was with the team previously, and released linebacker Harry Coleman.
An already-thin New Orleans secondary has taken another hit.

Porter
Porter
Mike Triplett reports that starting cornerback Tracy Porter has a knee sprain that will sideline him two to four weeks. Porter suffered the injury in Sunday’s 16-14 victory.

The Saints have some quality depth at cornerback and veteran Randall Gay likely will move into Porter’s spot opposite Jabari Greer. Rookie Patrick Robinson might step into Greer’s role as the nickel back.

The Saints already had issues at safety. Usual starter Roman Harper missed Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury. Coach Sean Payton expressed hope that Porter will return this week, but the depth behind him is questionable.

Pierson Prioleau got the start against the Panthers, but had to leave after suffering a bruised chest. Chris Reis replaced Prioleau, but promptly suffered a shoulder injury. Payton already has said Reis has been ruled out for this week. Triplett just reported that Reis will have to have surgery and will miss the rest of the season.

The Saints finished the game with Usama Young playing opposite starting free safety Malcolm Jenkins. Payton said the Saints would have had to move Gay to safety if there had been any more injuries.

The Saints are expected to work out several free-agent safeties Tuesday. Veteran safety Darren Sharper has to remain on the physically-unable-to-perform list for at least another two weeks.

Around the NFC South

October, 4, 2010
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I just arrived back at NFC South Blog headquarters and it’s time to take a quick trip the headlines around the division.

It’s no shock that Carolina coach John Fox would only say that wide receiver Steve Smith is day-to-day with a high ankle sprain. Fox lists just about every injury as day to day. But Smith’s agent admitted it’s likely his client will miss Sunday’s game against Chicago. The Panthers have a bye after the Bears, so it’s possible Smith might miss only one game.

The Bucs aren’t quite ready to hand the starting flanker job to rookie Arrelious Benn, but coach Raheem Morris said Benn has earned time in the rotation. Look for Benn to start getting more snaps and Sammie Stroughter to start transitioning to the slot.

The Saints will audition some free-agent safeties on Tuesday after having several injuries Sunday. Coach Sean Payton said he’s hopeful starting strong safety Roman Harper can return after missing Sunday’s game. Chris Reis got playing time as one of Harper’s replacements, but suffered a shoulder injury. Payton said Harper already has been ruled out for this week. Pierson Prioleau, who started in Harper’s place, suffered a lung injury and the Saints aren’t sure if he’ll be ready to play this week.

It appears as if Atlanta's William Moore is taking over the starting job at strong safety on a permanent basis. He’s played well after Erik Coleman suffered an injury. Coleman is back and healthy, but Moore is still starting. This is the arrangement the Falcons had hoped for all along, but things got delayed a bit in the preseason as Moore was overcoming an injury of his own.

Late-game mettle serves Saints well

October, 3, 2010
10/03/10
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Lance MooreChris Graythen/Getty ImagesLance Moore and the Saints made the plays they needed to late in the game.
NEW ORLEANS -- The question was about one specific play and one specific drive in Sunday’s game between the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers. The answer Lance Moore gave addressed the question, then went way beyond it.

“We’ve been there before,’’ the New Orleans receiver said. “We’ve had those kinds of drives before.’’

Maybe Moore was only talking about the final drive the Saints went on to set up a John Carney field goal for a 16-14 victory Sunday at the Superdome. But you could take Moore’s words and make them the story for the Saints so far this season. And last season.

For the first time in franchise history, you truly can say the Saints have been there before, and now they’re acting like it. That’s the beauty of a team that has tan lines on its fingers when the Super Bowl rings come off on Sundays.

Even when they’re playing a lousy game against a lousy team, the Saints still can turn on the look of a winner when they need to. That’s what the Saints did for the final 13 minutes and 20 seconds against the Panthers.

First, the offense went on an 18-play, 86-yard drive to set up a 25-yard field goal by Carney that put the Saints ahead with 3:55 remaining. Then the defense, led by big plays from safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Usama Young, shut down the Carolina offense.

Is it something to celebrate when you beat a winless team that is starting a rookie quarterback (Jimmy Clausen) and has its best player (Steve Smith) sitting in the locker room with an air cast on his ankle in the final minutes of the game?

“To me, if we’re 3-1 and not playing our best football, we’re in a good spot,’’ said defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, who played perhaps the best game of his career while recording a sack, a tackle for a loss, a quarterback hurry and knocking down two of Clausen’s passes at the line.

Ellis might be the only member of the Saints playing his best these days. Before the ugly win against the Panthers, the Saints had lost to the Falcons and preceded that with ugly wins against San Francisco and Minnesota.

The offense that was best in the league last year has looked ordinary. The defense, which was a turnover and scoring machine for much of last season, hasn’t been nearly as opportunistic. The Saints even lost the turnover battle (two to one) Sunday, but all that really matters is they won.

They’re 3-1 and so are the Atlanta Falcons. At 2-1 and with a bye this week, Tampa Bay is still in the NFC South race. Carolina is not. At 0-4, the Panthers have reached the point of no return with John Fox as a lame-duck coach and the possibility of having to play a few weeks without Smith.

No, New Orleans hasn’t been great in its first four games, but the Saints are far from being Carolina. Four games into a season, that’s good enough for the Saints. There is still plenty of time to be great.

“Although it wasn’t always perfect, it was a good win,’’ New Orleans coach Sean Payton said. “We are just trying to win each week. If you look back on the back end of last season, you will see a lot of hard-fought games also.’’

Don’t underestimate the importance of winning those games last season as it relates to the present. The Saints know how to win.

They did it without their top two running backs (Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas were sidelined with injuries) and starting strong safety Roman Harper, who also sat out with an injury. Harper’s replacement, Pierson Prioleau, had to leave the game with an injury and his replacement, Chris Reis, also had to leave after getting hurt.

[+] EnlargeJohn Carney
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesClutch field goals from John Carney proved vital for the Saints.
That left Young, who usually is limited to special teams, and Jenkins, who is in his first year as a starting free safety, as the only two healthy safeties. Whenever there are injuries in the NFL, every coach likes to talk about how the next man has to step up and make plays.

That’s what Young and Jenkins did as Clausen tried to move the Panthers into the range where a John Kasay field goal could win it for Carolina. With the ball at the New Orleans 36-yard line, Young came up to tackle running back DeAngelo Williams for a four-yard loss. The Saints blitzed Jenkins on the next play and he sacked Clausen for a four-yard loss. That left the ball at the 44-yard line, out of Kasay’s range, and created the exact kind of last-gasp play every defense dreams of.

Yep, the Panthers had Clausen throwing for Dwayne Jarrett, who hasn’t made a play that matters in his four-year career. That’s about as pure as desperation can get. Jabari Greer just knocked the ball away from Jarrett to end any chance Carolina had.

No, the Saints aren’t great right now. But they’re good enough.

“We definitely still have a killer instinct,’’ quarterback Drew Brees said. “We’re just making stupid mistakes. We’re getting that stuff corrected, slowly but surely. Obviously, you look at us and I can speak for the offense, we haven’t scored like we’re used to scoring and we’re 3-1 and a field goal away from being 4-0. That’s a good thing.’’

It definitely beats the alternative, but the real benefit of the fact the Saints have been here before is they know the way they’re playing isn’t good enough to take them deep into the postseason.

“We left some points on the field,’’ Moore said. “We have to make sure that stops. If a team makes one more play, we lose.’’

The Panthers didn’t make that play. Other teams ahead on the schedule might be capable of making those plays and that’s why the Saints have to get better. Maybe getting some injured players back will help, and there is time for Payton to start coming up with some new magic for an offense that has been way too quiet and time for defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to get his guys generating turnovers again.

“If there’s one thing about this team, it’s that we’re battle-tested,’’ Brees said. “We know how to win tight games.’’

That’s because the Saints have been there plenty of times before.
NEW ORLEANS -- I’m heading down to the locker rooms for interviews with the Panthers and Saints. I’ll be back with more postgame analysis in a bit. But in the meantime, here’s Rapid Reaction on the Saints' 16-14 victory.

What it means: A win is a win. But all three of New Orleans’ victories have been ugly. This team has some issues and injuries. You can survive that against the Panthers, but there are some tough games coming up later in the season and the Saints can’t win some of those unless they start playing a lot better. Despite playing better than they have all season, it’s over for the Panthers. They’re 0-4 and John Fox is a lame-duck coach. Injuries to receiver Steve Smith and defensive tackle Ed Johnson looked significant enough that Carolina could face a couple of games without those two players. The effort was there Sunday, but that’s tough to continue when you’re in a downhill spiral.

Hero: John Carney. The 46-year-old kicker was signed this week after Garrett Hartley missed a field goal in overtime last week. Carney connected on all three of his attempts, including the game winner.

Injuries of note: Carolina wide receiver Smith left the game with an ankle injury late in the third quarter. The Panthers went with rookies Brandon LaFell and David Gettis the rest of the game. New Orleans opened the game without starting strong safety Roman Harper, who was injured last week. Pierson Prioleau started in Harper’s place, but was injured in the first half. Chris Reis took Harper’s place, but suffered a shoulder injury. The Saints had to finish the game with Usama Young, their only remaining safety.

What’s next: The Saints will be on the road the next two games. First, they travel to Arizona. Then, on Oct. 17, they go to Tampa Bay. The Panthers host Chicago in a game that has a big subplot as Bears defensive end Julius Peppers returns to play against his former team for the first time. The Panthers have their bye the following week.

Saints down to two safeties

October, 3, 2010
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NEW ORLEANS -- We already told you the Saints were running low on safeties. Now, they’re down to just two.

Chris Reis just left the game with what appeared to be an arm injury. Reis, normally a special-teams player, was inserted at strong safety after Pierson Prioleau went down with an unspecified injury in the first half. Prioleau was starting in place of Roman Harper, who is out with an injury.

Usama Young is now in at strong safety. Young and starting free safety Malcolm Jenkins are the only remaining healthy safeties on New Orleans’ roster. If there are any more injuries, the Saints may have to use a backup cornerback at safety.

Saints suddenly thin at safety

October, 3, 2010
10/03/10
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NEW ORLEANS – The New Orleans Saints just suffered what could be a big blow.

Pierson Prioleau, who was starting in place of the injured Roman Harper at strong safety, just went down with an injury and left the field. We don’t know exactly what the injury is yet or whether there’s any chance of Prioleau returning.

But the Saints suddenly are very thin at safety. They’ve put Chris Reis, who generally plays only on special teams, in at strong safety. Malcolm Jenkins is the free safety and Usama Young is the only other healthy safety who is active today.

Moments after Prioleau left the game, Carolina tied the game, 7-7, on a long pass from Jimmy Clausen to Jonathan Stewart. Not sure exactly what happened, but Stewart was wide open in an area where there should have been some safety help.

Thomas, Harper out for Saints

October, 3, 2010
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NEW ORLEANS -- As expected, the Saints will be without injured running back Pierre Thomas for Sunday’s game with Carolina.

The Saints have said Ladell Betts will start in place of Thomas. The Saints also are without injured running back Reggie Bush, and that means Chris Ivory and DeShawn Wynn likely will share carries with Betts.

The Saints also will be without starting strong safety Roman Harper. Pierson Prioleau will start in his place. John Carney will handle place-kicking duties as Garrett Hartley is inactive after missing a short kick in overtime last week.

Also inactive for the Saints are linebacker Anthony Waters, offensive lineman Charles Brown, tight end Tory Humphrey and defensive end Junior Galette.

NFC South: Free-agency primer

March, 4, 2010
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Atlanta Falcons

Potential unrestricted free agents: CB Brian Williams, WR Marty Booker, QB Chris Redman.

Potential restricted free agents: RB Jason Snelling, RB Jerious Norwood, P Michael Koenen, CB Brent Grimes, OL Quinn Ojinnaka, T Tyson Clabo, G Harvey Dahl.

Franchise player: None.

What to expect: General manager Thomas Dimitroff repeatedly has used the phrase “fiscally responsible’’ when talking about the approach to free agency. In other words, the Falcons aren’t going to go on some wild spending spree. This organization prefers to build through the draft. But history has shown the Falcons aren’t afraid to make a strategic strike or two in free agency. They have a huge need at defensive end and that’s a tough spot to get guaranteed production from when you’ve got the No. 19 overall pick in the draft. The Falcons aren’t likely to target elite free-agent DE Julius Peppers, but you could see them make a move for another pass-rusher.

Carolina Panthers

Potential unrestricted free agents: DE Julius Peppers, WR Muhsin Muhammad, QB Josh McCown, QB A.J. Feeley.

Potential restricted free agents: LB Thomas Davis, QB Matt Moore, TE Jeff King, CB Richard Marshall, DT Louis Leonard, LB James Anderson, DT Tank Tyler, CB C.J. Wilson.

Franchise player: None.

What to expect: Owner Jerry Richardson is very concerned about the uncertain labor situation and that may keep him from spending big money in free agency. The Panthers avoided a $20 million hit by not placing the franchise tag on Peppers, but that doesn’t mean all of that money is going to be used in free agency. The Panthers traditionally are a team that builds through the draft and they didn’t sign a single UFA last year. But look for at least a few smaller moves because coach John Fox has to win this year and needs to improve this roster, especially on the defensive line, at wide receiver and perhaps at quarterback.

New Orleans Saints

Potential unrestricted free agents: QB Mark Brunell, S Darren Sharper, TE Dan Campbell, TE Darnell Dinkins, DT Kendrick Clancy, LB Scott Fujita, S Pierson Prioleau, LS Jason Kyle.

Potential restricted free agents: G Jahri Evans, RB Mike Bell, RB Pierre Thomas, WR Lance Moore, TE David Thomas, T Jermon Bushrod, S Roman Harper, S Usama Young, DT Remi Ayodele, DT Anthony Hargrove, T Zach Strief, S Chris Reis, WR Courtney Roby, LB Marvin Mitchell.

Franchise player: None

What to expect: As a final-four team the Saints aren’t allowed to sign any unrestricted free agents unless they lose one of their own at a similar price tag. That’s likely to keep the Saints from being big players in free agency. But the good news is they don’t have a lot of dramatic needs. They will have to keep a protective eye on some of their restricted free agents, who may draw interest from other teams.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Potential unrestricted free agents: WR Antonio Bryant, DE Jimmy Wilkerson, S Will Allen, LB Angelo Crowell, S Jermaine Phillips.

Potential restricted free agents: RB Cadillac Williams, LB Barrett Ruud, T Donald Penn, WR Maurice Stovall, T Jeremy Trueblood.

Franchise player: None.

What to expect: The Bucs haven’t spent a lot of money in free agency in recent years and they’ve been sending out signals this year won’t be much different. They’re focused on the 10 draft picks they hold. But the Bucs could pull a small surprise or two. They’ve got a restless fan base and more needs than those draft picks can handle. A couple of signings in free agency could energize the fan base and help the rebuilding process. The Bucs really need a No. 1 wide receiver and they’re not truly positioned to get that in the draft.

Saints looking relatively healthy

February, 3, 2010
2/03/10
7:30
PM ET
MIAMI -- The Saints were relatively healthy for Wednesday’s practice.

Only one player, reserve running back Lynell Hamilton (ankle), did not participate in practice. One of the bigger question marks of late has been tight end Jeremy Shockey’s knee injury, but he practiced on a limited basis along with cornerback Randall Gay (foot), cornerback Malcolm Jenkins (hamstring), defensive end Bobby McCray (back, ankle), safety Pierson Prioleau (quadriceps), receiver Courtney Roby (knee), safety Darren Sharper (knee), defensive end Will Smith (groin), tackle Zach Strief (shoulder) and linebacker Jonathan Vilma (knee).

The Saints have a bunch of other players on the injury report, but they all practiced fully Wednesday -- tackle Jermon Bushrod (thumb), linebacker Jonathan Casillas (ankle) tight end Darnell Dinkins (foot), guard Jahri Evans (foot), linebacker Scott Fujita (knee), cornerback Jabari Greer (groin), receiver Robert Meachem (ankle), receiver Lance Moore (ankle) and cornerback Tracy Porter (knee).

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