NFC South: Plaxico Burress
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Roy Cummings points out that New York has some of the strictest gun laws in the country. That could be a problem for defensive end Da’Quan Bowers, who was charged with illegally carrying a gun at LaGuardia Airport on Monday. The charge comes with a mandatory prison term. NFL receiver Plaxico Burress was arrested on a similar charge in 2008. Burress took a plea deal to a lesser charge, but still spent two years in prison.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Coach Sean Payton stopped by Tulane’s practice and caught up with Hall of Famer Joe Montana, whose son, Nick, is competing for the starting quarterback job.
Coach Ron Rivera said the team is working through the details of getting under the salary cap before the start of the league year on March 12. The Panthers already have restructured center Ryan Kalil’s contract and there are likely to be more restructures. But there also could be some releases of veteran players and cornerback Chris Gamble and defensive tackle Ron Edwards appear to be the most likely candidates.
D. Orlando Ledbetter writes that the Falcons will be looking closely at the tight end position at the scouting combine. They should because they may need a replacement if Tony Gonzalez decides to retire. Even if Gonzalez decides to play another season, the Falcons might want to grab his eventual successor now.
Williams has been suspended indefinitely for his role in the Saints’ bounty program. Williams declined comment on the bounty scandal and said the golf event was “all about the kids,’’ who benefit from his charity foundation.
Williams left the Saints for the St. Louis Rams immediately after last season. He previously issued a public apology for his role in the scandal. The fact Williams is staying quiet might seem out of character. But it’s probably the smartest thing Williams can do right now. If he is ever going to have a chance to work in the NFL again, staying quiet and humble is his best approach.
Although NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has been stern when handing out punishments in the past, he also has shown a willingness to give people second chances (see Michael Vick and Plaxico Burress). Williams was the only player, coach or administrator that did not appeal his suspension.
There have been many that have said Williams never again should be allowed to coach in the NFL. That might end up being the case.
But Williams is at least making an effort not to anger Goodell, any further and that could score him valuable points in the long run.
The Tampa Bay Times has a projected starting lineup for the Bucs heading into training camp.
Ball carriers are getting used the the "high and tight" approach to carrying the football that coach Greg Schiano and offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan strongly emphasized during the offseason, according the Bucs' official website.
New Orleans Saints
Interim Saints coach Joe Vitt has taken exception to his name being associated with a list of names who purportedly pledged money to a pool, writes Nakia Hogan of the Times-Picayune. "Information released by the NFL to the NFLPA (Monday) resulted in the media inaccurately reporting that I was accused of pledging money to an incentive or a so called 'bounty' program," Vitt said in a statement. "The NFL never accused me of such conduct, because I did not pledge any money for any incentive, pay for performance, bounty or any other alleged program in connection with any game, including the 2010 NFC Championship."
Congress doesn't have plans to probe the NFL over the Saints' bounty scandal, reports USA Today's Nate Davis. Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin: "The NFL has taken the issue of bounties in professional football seriously and has been open and willing to take additional steps to protect player safety and football's integrity. Because of that willingness to address the issue, and due to the reforms the league is announcing after meeting with me today, I will withhold Congressional hearings on this matter and continue to work with the league and its players to ensure the league's rules are sufficient and that nothing like these bounty programs ever happens again."
Free agent wide receiver Plaxico Burress has expressed interest in the Carolina Panthers, but apparently the feeling isn't mutual. A Panthers official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Wednesday that the Panthers are not interested in signing Burress, reports Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer.
Athlon Sports breaks down the Panthers' 2012 schedule.
Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter doesn't seem too concerned that he won’t get to see tight end Tony Gonzalez in the team’s new offense until training camp, writes AJC's D. Orlando Ledbetter. “Tony is one of the greatest tight ends to ever play the game,” Koetter said. “We are not re-inventing football out here. ... He’s seen it all and done it all. We don’t need to be worried about that. He’ll be fine.”
Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan says defensive end John Abraham has been running a little behind the other D-linemen, reports Ledbetter. Nolan: "I’ve known him a long time. He’s missed some of the OTAs, and we are a little bit at an advance state as far as the language. … Right now, John is kind of going a little bit slower. He’s having to ask more questions because he wasn’t here for those classes. But, nonetheless, John is a good player."
AJC has a Q&A with assistant special teams coach Eric Sutulovich.
- Carolina first-round draft pick Luke Kuechly went through the team’s rookie camp working at weak-side linebacker. He could end up staying there, but I don’t think anything is set in stone right now. The Panthers want to get a look at middle linebacker Jon Beason and outside linebacker Thomas Davis in training camp before making any firm decisions. Beason and Davis each are coming back from major injuries. Beason has played a little on the outside in the past and Kuechly spent most of his college career in the middle.
- Receiver Plaxico Burress caused a stir last week when he mentioned the Panthers as a team he’d be interested in playing for. I think the real question is, do the Panthers have any interest in Burress? I strongly doubt it. Burress will turn 35 in August. I just don’t see general manager Marty Hurney signing a receiver that’s about to turn 35. Besides, the Panthers have lots of young options -- Brandon LaFell, David Gettis, Kealoha Pilares and Joe Adams -- to go with Steve Smith. Also, Carolina history has shown that it’s not always a wise idea to bring in big-name receivers (see Keyshawn Johnson). There only has been one guy who has truly fit well opposite Smith and that was Muhsin Muhammad.
- Speaking of Carolina receivers that never really worked out, Dwayne Jarrett has signed to play in the Canadian Football League. Maybe Armanti Edwards can follow?
- Mike Triplett has a good overview of the contract standoff between Drew Brees and the Saints. He points out this situation isn’t all that unusual, it’s just unexpected because many fans thought the team would give Brees a blank check or the quarterback would give the Saints a hometown discount. Don’t be surprised if this one drags on until close to the July 16 deadline for Brees to sign his franchise tag.
- New Orleans fifth-round draft pick Corey White caused a bit of a stir when he said he was looking forward to intercepting passes from Brees in practice. Brees had a good-natured response, but made it clear he doesn’t expect the rookie defensive back to be picking off very many of his passes.
- With middle linebacker Curtis Lofton leaving for New Orleans as a free agent, Atlanta outside linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said he needs to become a more verbal leader. That’s a good idea. It’s pretty obvious new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has big plans for Weatherspoon. He’s Atlanta’s most athletic linebacker and the Falcons believe he can be a playmaker. They wouldn’t have let Lofton go if they didn’t think Weatherspoon was ready for the next step.
- Defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi showed up at Atlanta’s rookie camp weighing about 260 pounds. That’s about 15 less pounds than Massaquoi carried in his final season at Detroit. The weight loss was by design. The Falcons believe Massaquoi can make more of an impact as a pass-rusher if he’s not carrying as much weight.
- After his first practice with the Falcons, rookie offensive lineman Peter Konz broke into the “Dirty Bird’’ dance that was popular when the 1998 team was on its way to the Super Bowl. Although Konz grew up in Wisconsin, he became a fan of the Falcons during their Super Bowl run.
- Keeping with the league-wide trend of getting draft picks signed much earlier than in past years, Konz and the Falcons agreed to contract terms. The Falcons also signed three other draft picks.
- Bradley Handwerger writes that the NFL should show all its evidence related to the Saints’ bounty program. Fans have been screaming for more evidence after the team was hit hard by suspensions of coaches and players. I understand the frustration and I also would like to see more evidence. But the fact is, this isn’t a court of law. The NFL isn’t required to show all its evidence. If grievances, appeals or lawsuits (or some combination of the three) can get this situation into a court of law, that’s the only way we’re going to see all of the NFL’s evidence.
- Those of you that have been reading this blog regularly through the years know that I’m forever indebted to legendary former Tampa Tribune sports editor and columnist Tom McEwen. He gave me my first job in this business. As the one-year anniversary of McEwen’s death approaches, McEwen’s family and friends are making sure his legacy of helping young journalists continues. University of Florida journalism student Emily Padgett is the first recipient of a scholarship established in McEwen’s name.
There have been plenty of one-year suspensions (and some longer) for substance-abuse violations. But Vilma’s suspension ranks as one of the longest in history.
With help from the Associated Press, by way of ESPN Stats & Information, here’s a list of the longest non-substance-abuse suspensions in NFL history:
- Art Schlichter, life, suspended one year for gambling in 1983, never reinstated
- Merle Hapes, eight years, suspended for conversing with known gambler in 1946, reinstated in 1954
- Frank Filchock, three years, suspended for conversing with known gambler in 1947, reinstated in 1950
- Michael Vick, two years, two games, suspended indefinitely in 2007 after pleading guilty to role in dogfighting
- Plaxico Burress, two years, suspended for duration of jail term in 2009 after pleading guilty to criminal possession of a weapon
- Donte’ Stallworth, one year, suspended for one year after pleading guilty to DUI manslaughter in 2009
- Paul Hornung, one year, suspended one year for gambling in 1963
- Alex Karras, one year, suspended one year for gambling in 1963
- Adam Jones, one year, suspended one year for violating Personal Conduct Policy in 2007
Those suspensions all involved off-field actions. Here is the list of the longest NFL suspensions for on-field incidents:
- 2006: Albert Haynesworth suspended five games after stomping on head of Cowboys center Andre Gurode. Gurode was not wearing a helmet at the time.
- 2011: Ndamukong Suh suspended two games after stomping on right arm of Packers lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith.
- 1986: Charles Martin suspended two games for body slamming Bears QB Jim McMahon to turf.
Since he took over as NFL commissioner in 2006, Roger Goodell has been so consistent that he’s become predictable.
Cross the line on anything that involves player safety or his precious “integrity of the game’’ and you’re going to pay a steep price. Mess with anything that jeopardizes “the NFL shield’’ Goodell loves to talk about and you’re going to feel his wrath.
Oh, and be sure never to lie to the commissioner because that’s only going to make matters worse.
Any or all of the above have brought suspensions or hefty fines in Goodell’s era. Think Michael Vick, Donte' Stallworth and Plaxico Burress, to name a few.
Now, it seems like Goodell’s becoming even more of a moral stickler. The punishments for the New Orleans Saints’ bounty program are severe and unprecedented. Goodell has suspended coach Sean Payton for a year, general manager Mickey Loomis for the first eight games of the 2012 season, assistant head coach Joe Vitt for the first six games and banned former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams indefinitely. He has also hit the Saints with a $500,000 fine and taken away their second-round draft picks for 2012 and 2013. The league also has said 22 to 27 players were involved and discipline for them will come soon.
No question this is severe, but has Goodell really intentionally destroyed the franchise, like so many New Orleans fans seem to think? No, he hasn’t and anyone that thinks that simply is shooting the messenger -- the guy who had the nerve to tell them that their beloved head coach and team weren’t quite as perfect as they had been made out to be.
If you really think about it, Goodell is just doing what New Orleans owner Tom Benson should have, but didn’t. Shouldn’t Benson have been the one to suspend or fire people once he found out his team was out of control? Or shouldn’t Benson have been the one who stepped in and stopped things before they got totally out of hand? After all, there were lots of warning signs and warnings from the league.
But they went unheeded by the Saints, who turned around and lied to Goodell. Lots of people are saying that the lies are the main reason Goodell is burying the Saints. Yeah, there’s no doubt the lies added to the severity of the punishments. But I disagree with anyone who says Goodell has crushed the Saints.
If he really wanted a franchise that’s been among the league’s most successful since 2006 to fade back into the type of mediocrity and obscurity that came with most of its earlier history, Goodell could have barred the door and sealed it up tight. Instead, he’s left more than enough cracks to help allow the Saints to still be very competitive in 2012.
Goodell didn’t have to allow that, but he did. If Goodell really wanted to make life impossible for the Saints, he would have made Payton’s suspension take hold immediately and not let Loomis continue to manage all the offseason moves when he announced the penalties last week.
Instead, Goodell made April 1 the date Payton’s suspension starts (it’s possible that date could be pushed back if Payton decides to appeal) and Loomis’ suspension doesn’t start until right before the opening game of the regular season. Loomis can keep on signing free agents, oversee a draft in which the Saints don’t have a lot of picks and sign those rookies.
Loomis also can sign more players if he finds out some of his own will miss time because of suspensions and he can make roster tweaks all through training camp and the preseason as injuries pile up. Most importantly of all, Loomis has time to work out a long-term contract with Brees, who is carrying the franchise tag for now and will have to carry the franchise through the season.
I also find it more than a little curious that Goodell has left enough time and wiggle room for Payton and Loomis, the two men in the center of the controversy (along with Williams), to appear to be the ones making the decision on the coaching situation. Goodell keeps saying that decision is ultimately up to Benson and there might be a few grains of truth in that because the owner is the one who will pay the new coach.
But Benson’s not the one who’s really running this show or putting in a plan for the season. With Goodell’s blessing, Benson is catching a huge break. Benson never has fancied himself a football guy or been a hands-on owner. Before hiring Payton in 2006, the last good football move Benson made was putting his team into the hands of coach Jim Mora and general manager Jim Finks back in the 1980s. Oh, and you could state pretty accurately that Benson didn’t really hire Payton. Loomis was the one who ran the coaching search and Benson simply signed off on what Loomis wanted.
Since then, Benson has left the franchise exclusively in the hands of his “football guys’’ -- Payton and Loomis. That brought a Super Bowl championship and a lot of victories. It also brought a lot of shame.
But when reports surfaced that Loomis and Payton were meeting with Parcells earlier this week, it become obvious that this franchise is still being run by the “football guys.’’ All indications are Payton and Loomis will put Parcells or someone else in front of Benson and he’ll sign off on whatever they recommend. Anybody out there think that if Payton and Loomis weren’t allowed to handle this that Benson, a true non-football guy, could go out and get Parcells or any coach close to that level on his own? I don’t.
There’s more than a little irony in all this. In the scorching report that announced the Saints’ punishments and thoroughly detailed their violations, one of the things Goodell criticized Payton for was telling his assistants to “get their ducks in a row’’ as they attempted to cover up the bounty program.
That, no doubt, played a role in how harsh the punishments were. But the funny thing here is that Goodell now has allowed Payton and Loomis time to get their ducks (or their Parcellses) lined up. That’s not part of the punishment.
That’s what I would call showing the Saints some mercy.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, four of the five worst completion percentages on passes of more than 10 yards downfield are from the NFC South. This includes only receivers who have had a minimum of 20 such targets.
Carolina’s Cam Newton and Legedu Naanee are worst in the league at 23.8 percent. Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman and Mike Williams are second at 26.9 percent.
Atlanta’s Matt Ryan and Julio Jones are third worst at 30 percent. Ryan and Roddy White are No. 5 at 38.5 percent. Last season, Ryan and White connected on 57.4 percent of passes of more than 10 yards.
New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez and receiver Plaxico Burress are the only non-NFC South tandem among the top five. They’ve connected on 34.8 percent of their passes of more than 10 yards.
A bit later Friday, we’ll continue our series in which we look at the Hall of Fame chances for some current NFC South players. The next installment will feature a look at two veteran defensive backs -- New Orleans safety Darren Sharper and Tampa Bay cornerback Ronde Barber. If you haven’t voted for one of them in our recent Call It poll, consider this your final reminder to do so.
Speaking of the Hall of Fame and polls, jump over to SportsNation, where there is a whole package of polls about current and former players with a chance at the Hall of Fame. One of them includes Sharper. Carolina fans, if you can forgive him for leaving, Julius Peppers’ name appears on a few of the polls.
We’ll also have an item later today on how frequently NFC South teams used six offensive linemen last season. I think you’ll be somewhat surprised to see two teams used the formation more often than just about any other teams in the league.
On Tuesday, we’ll have our weekly Hot Button debate on our main NFL page. This debate is about if a team would be better off signing Plaxico Burress or Tiki Barber. I took Barber and made a case that he can help a team -- maybe even one in the NFC South, although I think that’s a long shot.
Due to the holiday weekend, we won’t be doing the NFC South chat this Friday. Also, I’ll be out next week, so we won’t have another chat until July 15 and, hopefully, the labor situation will be settled by then and we’ll have some real football to talk about. Things may be a little quiet next week, but our editors will pop up some headlines and video and you might see an item or two from a guest blogger. Heck, you might even see analysis pieces on how all four teams stand coming out of the lockout. I’ve got them written already and we can hit the button on them if we get word that the lockout officially is coming to an end. I’ll be back at it July 11.
It’s “Best of the NFL’’ week on ESPN.com and you’ll see all sorts of best throughout our site. On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, we’ll have lists of bests in all sorts of categories for NFC South players, coaches and franchises on this blog. As part of the “best’’ theme we also will have our Power Rankings on the 10 best overall players in the NFL. I’ve seen the results of our voting, but am sworn to secrecy until they’re unveiled Tuesday.
Also on Tuesday, I’ll be an hour or so south of NFC South Blog Headquarters. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, led by quarterback Josh Freeman, will be holding their version of a minicamp at IMG Academies. The NFLPA also will be holding its version of the rookie symposium at IMG Academies and it initially looked like I’d be covering that. But the NFLPA has decided not to open the event to the media and access to players will be limited to a very brief period after the event is over. It looks like our television side will handle the rookie event and share some video with us and I’ll focus on the Buccaneers.
I’ll also be working ahead on some future columns for down the road. I’ve been enlisted to take a turn in our Hot Button series. The debate is going to be on if Plaxico Burress or Tiki Barber has a better chance of helping a team this year. Let me be clear, I don’t think either of those guys is going to land in the NFC South this year, but I will be making the case on which one of them I think can have a bigger impact on a team somewhere else.
I’ll also continue on our series that looks at the chances of some current NFC South players eventually getting into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. We’ve already examined Drew Brees and Tony Gonzalez. Next on the list will be a combination piece where I’ll take New Olreans’ Darren Sharper and Tampa Bay’s Ronde Barber and explore the possibility of them landing in the Hall of Fame.
Other than that, we’ll just wait to see what happens on the labor front and be ready to react if the lockout is lifted.
Let’s take a look at what it all means.
- Is this a sign that owner Jerry Richardson is abandoning years of making it a point to stay clear of guys with character issues? Probably not and I don’t think new coach Ron Rivera has much more influence than predecessor John Fox did in this department. Yeah, the Panthers might be pushing things a bit by signing a flamboyant tight end who has been followed by controversy throughout much of his career. But, if you really look at Shockey’s track record, it’s not like he’s had a slew of major legal issues. I don’t think this is going to suddenly open the gates for the Panthers to jump up and sign Plaxico Burress as soon as he gets out of jail. Shockey’s issues have been more about personality than legal problems. He can be outspoken, controversial and he’s always going to want the football. There’s no crime in any of that.
- Can we interpret this move to mean anything about Carolina’s plans at quarterback? Yeah, I think you can read some things between the lines. My take is this is another sign the Panthers probably won’t draft Cam Newton or Blaine Gabbert. Shockey used to bully a young Eli Manning when they were together with the Giants. Put him with Carolina receiver Steve Smith and their competitive desires and outspoken natures could make life real difficult for a young quarterback. I’m thinking trading for or signing a veteran like Donovan McNabb or Carson Palmer, who reportedly could be available, would make for a better situation. Shockey was relatively well behaved in New Orleans because the Saints have basically one rule: You don't mess with Drew Brees because it's his team. Shockey followed that rule.[+] EnlargeAP Photo/Gerald HerbertJeremy Shockey should give the Carolina passing game an extra dimension.
- Can Smith and Shockey coexist? Flip a coin here and we may not know the answer until well into late next season. Like I said, both are strong personalities and both want the ball, so there is potential for them to clash. Smith clashed badly with Keyshawn Johnson in the one season they spent together and wasn’t exactly a warm influence with young receivers like Dwayne Jarrett and Keary Colbert in the past. But the bottom line is that these two guys really want to win and if each can see that side of the other, this thing could work. Besides, we’re not even sure if Smith will be with the Panthers next season. Rivera’s made it clear that situation is fluid and much of it will be up to Smith. But adding another threat in the passing game might help persuade Smith to stay.
- Will there be enough passes to go around? Rivera has been very vocal about wanting the tight end to be a big part of the passing game. The Panthers haven’t had anything remotely close to that since Wesley Walls, nearly a decade ago. This is a sign Rivera’s serious about that. Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski was Shockey’s tight ends coach at the University of Miami a long time ago. Again, a lot will depend on what happens at quarterback, but I don’t think Shockey would be signing with the Panthers if he wasn’t sold that the tight end is going to be a big part of Carolina’s passing game.
- What does this say about Carolina’s youth movement? The Panthers went through most of last season with only four players who were 30 or older. I don’t think they’re suddenly abandoning the youth movement and I don’t think you’ll see them sign a bunch of veterans. I think this move is sort of like the character thing above. The Panthers might be bending some of their old rules just a bit to help speed the youth movement along. But, given Shockey’s age and durability issues, I wouldn’t look for him to suddenly be an 80-catch, 1,000-receiving yard tight end. I think he’ll be more of a role player. He’ll be a tight end who will be expected to go out and catch some passes and help add a little variety to the passing game.
Frank in Clearwater, Fla., asks if the Bucs might follow a strategy similar to last year and draft defensive ends with their first two picks.
Pat Yasinskas: I wouldn’t rule that out at all. The Bucs set the precedent last year when they were desperate for help at defensive tackle and took Gerald McCoy and Brian Price with their first two picks. This year, they’re desperate for help at defensive end. They almost have to use at least one of their early picks on a defensive end and I wouldn’t be surprised if a second draft pick is used on a defensive end. I also wouldn’t be surprised if they sign a defensive end in free agency.
Ned in Canada wrote to say the Falcons should draft a wide receiver or a running back that’s a home-run threat because the only one they have is Roddy White.
Pat Yasinskas: No argument here. I said in our Leading Questions segment Tuesday the Falcons need to add a playmaker on offense and defense if they really want to take the next step. They do have to get a defensive end somewhere early in the draft or free agency. But I’d like to see them use an early draft pick on a receiver or running back with breakaway speed.
Sean in Charlotte, N.C., asks about the possibility of the Panthers signing wide receiver Plaxico Burress once he’s released from prison.
Pat Yasinskas: Not sure how long you’ve been in Charlotte, but if you’ve followed the history of the Panthers, you’d know there’s no chance of this happening. Ever since the Rae Carruth saga, owner Jerry Richardson has made sure the Panthers stay clear of any players with trouble in their background.
Clint in Santa Cruz, Calif., asks about the possibility of Burress landing with the Bucs.
Pat Yasinskas: Nice thought, but the Bucs are in a youth movement. They already have good young receivers in Mike Williams, Arrelious Benn and Sammie Stroughter. Burress will be 34 before next season starts. If the Bucs wanted an old wide receiver they could have just hung onto Joey Galloway.
Jamie in Minden, Nev., asks about the future of Reggie Bush with the Saints.
Pat Yasinskas: Bush remains under contract to the Saints. He has a big salary and that would make him tough to trade. I don’t think the Saints really want to trade him. He’s a Sean Payton favorite. I think you could see a situation where the Saints restructure Bush’s contract to make sure they keep him. But I also think last year’s injury problems at running back and the likely departure of Pierre Thomas mean the Saints will seek another running back to go with Bush and Chris Ivory.
Steve in New Jersey asks if Carolina owner Jerry Richardson’s hard-line stance in the labor negotiations could end up hurting the Panthers down the road.
Pat Yasinskas: That’s a good point because the labor situation is getting nasty and Richardson’s right in the middle of it all. That could come back to haunt him with players perceiving him in a negative light. It would be pretty ironic because Carolina used to be viewed as a destination spot by a lot of players because Richardson, a former player, was widely considered one of the best owners in the league, Bank of America Stadium is a top-notch facility and Charlotte’s a nice place to live and has decent weather.
Devin in Tampa writes that the Glazer family seems very uninterested and uninvolved in the Buccaneers and asks about the possibility of Eddie DeBartolo buying the team and being a hands-on owner.
Pat Yasinskas: Wow, it never ceases to amaze me how some people in the Tampa Bay area continue to perceive the Glazers. Let’s clarify what I think is Devin’s biggest misconception. The Glazers are very involved and interested in their team. If you’re around One Buc Place, you’ll almost always see a Glazer brother around. Their employees will tell you they’re very involved in business operations. It’s true that they’re not heavily involved in football operations, but I view that as a good thing. Leave the football stuff to general manager Mark Dominik and coach Raheem Morris. They seem to have things going in the right direction. Also, I think the Glazers get labeled because they’re not out in front of the cameras all the time. Is that really necessary for owners? How’s that worked out for Dan Snyder and Jerry Jones? Finally, Eddie DeBartolo had to disassociate himself from the San Francisco 49ers for legal reasons. Even if the Bucs were for sale, and they’re not, it might be difficult for DeBartolo to get back into the league.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
The second week of training camp in the NFC South is shaping up to be even more dangerous than the first.
Last week, the Panthers lost Maake Kemoeatu and the Falcons lost Harry Douglas for the season. In the last 24 hours, there's been a rash of injuries, including some to very prominent players. None of them is season-ending, but they're all going to hurt.
Carolina coach John Fox never puts timetables on how long injured players will be out. But the agent for Steve Smith said the receiver will be out at least two weeks. Smith may be the best player in the NFC South and injuries are never a good thing. But, if Smith is only out two weeks, this isn't all negative. Smith is a veteran and knows the offensive system well. As long as he's healthy for the regular season, the Panthers will be fine. The side benefit to this one is it will give third-year pro Dwayne Jarrett a lot of work with the first team and that could help him clinch the No. 3 receiver spot.
The injury to Antonio Bryant potentially has much bigger consequences for Tampa Bay's receiving corps. Bryant's going to miss the entire preseason and you have to be a little concerned that it could spill over into the regular season. Michael Clayton, the other starting receiver, also is banged up. Yes, this provides some opportunities for guys like Maurice Stovall and Sammie Stroughter, but the Bucs are probably going to have to make a roster move to get an experienced receiver. They've sniffed around a bunch of big names previously, but it might be time to make a move for someone like a Marvin Harrison. Also, keep an eye on the Plaxico Burress situation because the Bucs sure are.
New Orleans linebacker Mark Simoneau has a torn triceps muscle and is going to be out for several weeks. That cuts into the depth at linebacker, where the Saints already lost Dan Morgan to retirement and rookie Stanley Arnoux to injury. Once again, go ahead and start the cries for the Saints to sign Derrick Brooks. But I still don't think that's going to happen.
Tampa Bay kicker Matt Bryant, who missed some time with a leg injury last week, reportedly appeared to aggravate the condition in Tuesday morning's practice. Missing more time isn't going to help Bryant in his battle with Mike Nugent.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
Time for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in our series of team-by-team mailbags. Side note to Atlanta fans: The Falcons will be next and thanks for answering my plea to freshen up your questions in light of the Roddy White contract. You've given me more than enough new questions to work with, but you're welcome to keep sending.
Anyway, let's move on and talk about the Bucs.
Chris in Harrisburg, Pa., writes: Pat, how is Josh Freeman coming along? Is there any chance of seeing him starting on opening day? If not, who do you see opening up as the starter?
Pat Yasinskas: Freeman is coming along just about the way the Bucs expected. He's playing like a rookie, which means he's doing some things extremely well, but he's also making some mistakes. The only way he'll win the job for opening day is if he suddenly starts lighting it up in practices and preseason games, but the Bucs are content to go slowly with Freeman. That's been the plan all along. Right now, it's truly a battle between Luke McCown and Byron Leftwich for the starting job. Both have done some good things in camp, but there's not a clear-cut winner yet. The plan is to start McCown in the first preseason game and Leftwich in the second. Either one of those guys can win the job with a strong showing in the preseason games.
Ed in Cape Coral, Fla., writes: Pat - I like the Bucs new offense, I don't care who is under center, I think it will be pretty good and for once I am excited to see them on the field. Also for once I am afraid to see what will be of their defense. Bates has a great history, but what do you see of their starters, can they do what the coaches think they can?
Pat Yasinskas: I'm with you on the offense, Ed. Tampa Bay has a very good offensive line. I also like their running backs. Derrick Ward and Earnest Graham (and maybe even Cadillac Williams) can form a nice combination at tailback and B.J. Askew is a solid fullback. With all that, the Bucs should be able to run the ball and that's going to take pressure off whoever ends up at quarterback. There also are some weapons in the passing game with Antonio Bryant and Kellen Winslow. This is going to give whoever plays quarterback a decent chance to succeed. As far as the defense, well, it's a work in progress. Aside from linebacker Barrett Ruud, the Bucs don't have another true starter on defense. They've got some nice parts in place and Jim Bates is a good coach. But I think there will be some growing pains for the defense early on.
Mobycack in Greeley, Colo., writes: Say Plaxico Burress is allowed to play this season, and isn't in prison, what are the chances that the Bucs would bring him in?
Pat Yasinskas: Let's not rule that one out. The Bucs have been sniffing around wide receivers all offseason and they've been keeping an eye on the Burress situation. They have the salary-cap money to do something if they want. Aside from Bryant, they don't have much in the receiving corps and Burress could solve that. Michael Clayton appears ticketed to be the No. 2 receiver right now, but there's still time for that to change.
Freeman in Pittsburgh, Pa., writes: Tampa Bay is flying under the radar. The defense may have a new scheme and we may have purged a little (lol), but with the young talent that we already had along with the acquired talent, we will surprise a lot of teams. Along with the added weapons to the offense, I can see the Bucs going well into the playoffs. What do you think?
Pat Yasinskas: Living in Tampa, I hear from a lot of people that they fear the Bucs are going to be really bad. I don't buy into that at all. When I hear that stuff, I usually point to the Atlanta Falcons of last year. There were a lot of people who had them No. 32 in the league or said they'd win only a few games at this exact time last year. I was one of those people. But the Falcons came out, won 11 games and made the playoffs. In some areas, the Bucs are better off than the Falcons of a year ago. I'm not saying the Bucs will make the playoffs, but I will say it's possible.
Chris in Virginia writes: Hey Pat, everyone is talking about McCown, Leftwich, and Freeman but I haven't forgotten about the speedy little 5th round pick from last year. How does Morris feel about the wildcat and is there any chance of him implementing it in the bucs offense?
Pat Yasinskas: I assume you're talking about quarterback Josh Johnson. Well, don't get too fired up about that one. Fact is, he's a long shot to even make the team right now. The Bucs almost certainly will carry only three quarterbacks. McCown, Leftwich and Freeman almost certainly will be those three. Johnson could end up on the practice squad or somewhere else. I think coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski will stick with the basics on offense. Installing a new system with a new quarterback is enough of a challenge. Part of the reason Jon Gruden's not in Tampa Bay is because his offense was too complicated. The Bucs are going with an anti-Gruden system in a lot of ways and they want to keep things simple.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
Not a huge surprise because the Bucs have been linked to just about every available or possibly available receiver this offseason. Names like Plaxico Burress and Marvin Harrison have been thrown around. Nothing's happened yet, but it's a pretty safe bet the Bucs, despite their youth movement, will bring in a veteran receiver at some point.
The only sure thing they've got at receiver is Antonio Bryant. They're also counting heavily on Michael Clayton, who's not a sure thing. After that, they've got nothing but a bunch of young guys, although some of them have upside.