NFC South: Rae Carruth

Around the NFC South

July, 28, 2013
SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Before I head out to watch the Carolina Panthers in their first padded practice, let’s take a run through the headlines from around the division:


Kroy Biermann isn’t the only Atlanta defensive end getting some work at linebacker. Osi Umenyiora has been spending some time standing up. Biermann might be used in that capacity a lot, but I think the Falcons are probably just experimenting a bit with Umenyiora.


Jonathan Jones takes an in-depth look at how the Panthers do extensive background checks on players before they draft them. The Panthers always have looked at character, but owner Jerry Richardson made sure the team put more emphasis on it after the Rae Carruth saga.


Running back Mark Ingram said he wants to be more productive in his third season. I think there’s a good chance of that happening. Coach Sean Payton has said the Saints want to be more efficient at running the ball, and I think the Saints want to make sure Ingram, a first-round pick in 2011, gets more carries.


Co-chairman Bryan Glazer said ticket sales are going well and he’s confident the Bucs won’t have as many home games blacked out locally as they have in recent years. Tampa Bay had 19 home games blacked out in recent years.

Although he’s been very limited so far in camp because of a toe injury, guard Carl Nicks said he has no doubt he’ll be ready for the regular-season opener.

NFC South afternoon update

February, 28, 2013
Time for a run through some odds and ends from around the division:


Mark Cook reports that the agent for wide receiver Mike Williams has had some productive talks with the team about a possible contract extension. But the agent said no deal is likely to come until after free agency and the draft. That makes sense because those two events are coming up fast. There will be plenty of time in the offseason to work on an extension for Williams.


Larry Holder takes a look at the Saints’ signings in free agency since 2006. It’s pretty clear that the class of 2006 was the gem, simply because that’s when quarterback Drew Brees arrived. But I think the 2009 class also was significant. That season, safety Darren Sharper provided a big spark. Jabari Greer also came in that class and I think he’s been one of the league’s most underrated cornerbacks.


Bryan Strickland runs through some first-round prospects for the Panthers after the combine. One of them is Tennessee receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. He’s a playmaker and he’s from nearby Rock Hill, S.C., and we all know owner Jerry Richardson has always been in favor of bringing in local guys. But the Panthers have used a first-round pick on a wide receiver only once in franchise history. That came in 1997. The pick was Rae Carruth and we all know that didn’t work out very well.


Coach Mike Smith will be inducted into the East Tennessee State Hall of Fame. If this guy can keep putting up the same regular-season winning percentage he has been and win a few Super Bowls, he could someday end up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
What key event significantly changed the fortunes of the Panthers -- for better or worse? Give us your take and we’ll give you our definitive moment on May 25.

The Carolina Panthers are the newest team in the NFC South, coming into the league as an expansion team in 1995. But this team already has seen just about as many highs and lows as any team in the division.

You could even make a case that no team has gone lower. The Panthers were 2-14 last season, 1-15 under George Seifert in 2001 and they went through some tragic circumstances early on with first-round draft picks Rae Carruth and Kerry Collins.

But the high points have been there too. Just two seasons removed from the 1-15 disaster, coach John Fox had the Panthers in the Super Bowl. Quick turnarounds were nothing new to Carolina. The expansion Panthers struggled a bit early in their first season, started showing improvement and were in the NFC Championship Game in only their second year in the league.

Success never has lasted long for the Panthers, though. But there’s room for that to change with new coach Ron Rivera and quarterback Cam Newton coming to town.

If you vote Other, give us your suggestion in the comments area below.

Panthers need to take Cam Newton

March, 31, 2011
Cam NewtonPaul Abell/US PresswireAt Auburn, Cam Newton proved to be a dangerous athlete who could throw and run.
There was a time when you could read the Carolina Panthers like a book. The title was “Third and Long: A Draw Play to Nick Goings.’’

Take any situation -- on or off the field -- and you could ask yourself, “What would Jerry Richardson, John Fox and Marty Hurney do?’’ The answer was obvious: the most conservative thing possible. That’s why what I’m about to say still shocks me.

The Panthers need to use the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft on Auburn quarterback Cam Newton.

There, I said it, even though I was thinking just the opposite only a few weeks ago. What's changed?

Well, Fox is gone as coach, and Ron Rivera is in his place. That’s significant. But it’s about more than that. The world has changed, and I think the Panthers finally have realized it.

I’m not saying the Panthers absolutely will take Newton -- they haven’t made any final decision. I’m just saying they should take Newton. I’m also sensing that’s a very real possibility because the Panthers have been doing heavy homework on Newton, pretty much since the moment Andrew Luck said he wasn’t entering the draft, and all indications are they’ll continue to do their homework on Newton right up until draft time.

That’s exactly what they should be doing. For too long (at least Fox's nine seasons as coach), the thinking in Carolina was you don’t draft quarterbacks early because they take too long to develop and you go out and win with defense, a ball-control offense and a game manager at quarterback. It worked at times, but it also ended up being the reason Fox is gone.

At the same time that Fox was refusing to embrace last year’s youth movement or adjust in any way, I believe Hurney and Richardson took off the blinders. When they looked around, they realized they’re in a league driven by quarterbacks.

We’re talking quarterbacks who can throw and quarterbacks who can run. Green Bay won a Super Bowl with a mobile quarterback, Aaron Rodgers. Tampa Bay won 10 games last season with Josh Freeman, who can throw and run. Rules have changed, and they’ve changed in favor of quarterbacks and offenses in general. It's way past time for the Panthers to change, and that's why they're playing catch-up now.

New Orleans has Drew Brees and Atlanta has Matt Ryan. You do the math, but my quick calculations say three out of four NFC South teams have a franchise quarterback who will be around for the foreseeable future.

That’s why the Panthers need to take Newton. He is the only guy in this year’s draft with a chance to be a true franchise quarterback. The No. 1 pick is a gift designed to help the league’s worst team get better, and at least in theory, you have to take your shot when it’s there because you shouldn't be sitting at No. 1 repeatedly.

Jimmy Clausen
AP Photo/Margaret BowlesThe Panthers took Jimmy Clausen in the second round last year and he struggled: throwing just three touchdowns to nine interceptions while getting sacked 33 times.
Newton’s sitting right in front of the Panthers, and they need to just go ahead and grab him. Yeah, I know there are questions about Newton’s background and character, and there are even questions about his ability to adjust to an NFL offense because he had such a short college career.

But do you really think the Panthers still would be in the Newton mix if they viewed Newton’s background as a bright red flag? Yes, a big part of this column is about how the Panthers are changing right in front of us, but one thing hasn’t changed. That’s Richardson’s position on character.

He has been a stickler on that subject ever since the Rae Carruth saga. Richardson has his hands full with the league’s labor negotiations, but trust me, the man has seen and heard everything Hurney and his staff have gathered on Newton. To date, Richardson hasn’t come out and told his general manager to scratch Newton off the list.

We’re less than a month away from the draft, and the Panthers are still going down the Newton road. It’s one of several scenarios -- Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert, several defensive linemen, LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson and Georgia receiver A.J. Green -- still in the mix.

The old Panthers automatically would have gone with a defensive lineman because the general rule of thumb is you don’t take a cornerback or receiver at No. 1 and the quarterbacks would not even have been a consideration.

But Newton and Gabbert are still very much in consideration, and that says a lot. Even if you take the next step and narrow it down to the two quarterbacks, the old Carolina rule of thumb would have dictated that the Panthers go with Gabbert. He doesn’t have the background questions.

He also doesn’t have the upside Newton does. At best, Gabbert’s going to turn out to be something like Mark Sanchez, a solid quarterback but not a guy who is going to carry you to the Super Bowl on his own. Believe it or not, the powers that are still with the Panthers think Jimmy Clausen, a second-round pick last year, could turn out to be something comparable to Sanchez.

Newton can be more than that. At best, Newton’s going to be Freeman or Ben Roethlisberger or maybe even something better than we’ve ever seen.

And don’t give me that old line about how missing on a quarterback will set back your franchise for five years. And I sure don’t want to hear that you’re three years away from winning when you draft a quarterback at the top of the draft.

The Bucs started winning in Freeman’s first full season as a starter, and the rest of the roster wasn’t all that talented. The Falcons, who were about as low as a team can be in 2007, drafted Ryan, played him right away and immediately started winning in 2008.

Speaking of Ryan, he is the prototype quarterback in Hurney’s eyes. When Ryan was coming out in that draft, Hurney was saying he hadn’t seen a more surefire prospect in years, maybe ever. He had studied Ryan and had some strong inside knowledge because Hurney’s nephew was the equipment manager at Boston College and a close friend of the quarterback. Hurney had a pretty similar view of Luck right up until the moment he said he was staying at Stanford.

When you’re out of Luck, there’s only one thing left to do in this brave new world in which the Panthers are living.

You take a chance. You aim straight for the sky instead of worrying about the floor collapsing.

You take Newton.

More debate on Cam Newton at No. 1

February, 22, 2011
Here’s a column that basically says the Carolina Panthers have to take Auburn quarterback Cam Newton with the first overall pick in the NFL draft. There’s even a quote from long-time Dallas personnel guru Gil Brandt saying the Panthers should not pass on Newton.

But the whole premise of the story is that talent rules over character in the draft. I think that’s generally true, but I think the Panthers are an exception to this theory.

If you know anything about the history of the Panthers, you know that this is a franchise that was scarred deeply by some off-field problems in its early days. Quarterback Kerry Collins, the only quarterback the team ever has drafted in the first round, has admitted problems with alcohol led to his quick demise in Charlotte.

That episode was an experience that pained owner Jerry Richardson greatly. Soon after that, came the sad saga of Rae Carruth, which went way beyond football. After the Carruth disaster, Richardson made it very clear to the people that make the football decisions that he doesn’t want to take chances on anyone with serious character issues in their background.

Does Newton fall into that category? Well, his problems haven’t been in any category near what Collins and Carruth went through. But he had some minor issues (allegedly stealing a computer and questionable academic situations) while at the University of Florida. The NCAA is still looking into allegations that Newton’s father was seeking money when his son was looking to transfer.

Newton said he plans to be transparent when he meets with officials from teams around the league at the combine later this week. The quarterback said he has nothing to hide and believes he can convince general managers that he comes with no baggage.

Newton will be taken in the first round, but he might determine the location during his interviews. His most important one could be with Carolina general manager Marty Hurney. If Newton can convince Hurney there are no problems, he could be at the top of Carolina’s board. If Hurney believes a potential remains for problems, Newton will be off Carolina’s board.
On a conference call with the national media, ESPN’s Todd McShay was asked how Cam Newton’s off-field issues might impact his draft status.

I think McShay gave an answer that sums up the situation very well.

“That’s the biggest question and issue in the draft right now,’’ McShay said. “I don’t think anyone knows. It’s a matter of diving deeper into his background. …One GM I talked to recently said, “Our team is not in the quarterback hunt right now, but if we were I’d be in this kid’s hip pocket every day between now and the end of the draft’.”

Newton reportedly had some academic issues at the University of Florida and the NCAA is investigating allegations that some rules might have been broken before the quarterback transferred to Auburn. There’s no doubt Newton is a rare physical talent.

But the Carolina Panthers are holding the No. 1 overall pick and could be in the market for a quarterback. Is Newton the answer?

Ever since the Rae Carruth saga in 1999, Carolina owner Jerry Richardson has made it a rule of thumb for the Panthers to steer clear of players with major off-field issues in their backgrounds. Exactly what transpired in Newton’s past is open to debate.

Carolina general manager Marty Hurney is very methodical in his background searches. Although the Panthers have a new coaching staff, most of the front office remains in place. Hurney has a team of guys that are well connected to the college ranks and a security director who knows how to open doors and get to the bottom of things.

I’m guessing that Hurney’s staff already is well into the process of looking into Newton’s past.

Hitting the NFC South hot spots

February, 16, 2011
Let’s take a plunge into the NFC South mailbag.

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.

NFC South links: Support for Richardson

February, 16, 2011
Atlanta Falcons

According to Jason La Canfora of, the Falcons will not use the franchise tag this offseason. Offensive linemen Tyson Clabo and Harvey Dahl were possibilities for the franchise tag.

Carolina Panthers

Owners are coming to the defense of Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, who has become a bit of a target during recent collective bargaining agreement negotiations.

A federal appeals court upheld former Panthers player Rae Carruth's conviction for plotting to kill his pregnant girlfriend.

New Orleans Saints

Drew Brees is providing a steady influence in the CBA storm.'s Vic Carucci says the fact Sean Payton is moving his family to Dallas shouldn't be an issue with the Saints or the team's fans.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Bucs will not use the franchise tag on offensive lineman Davin Joseph, according to his agent.

The Tampa Bay defense cut down on the number of big plays it allowed in 2010 as compared to 2009.

Josh Freeman taking hold of Buccaneers

December, 15, 2010
It seems like just about every week we talk about how much Josh Freeman grew up on Sunday. Well, I think we saw another step in the process of becoming a true franchise quarterback and it happened on a Wednesday.

In light of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and coach Raheem Morris suddenly taking a lot of heat after linebacker Geno Hayes became the latest player to get into off-field trouble, Freeman stepped up twice -- once very publicly and once very privately -- and did exactly what a franchise quarterback should do.

Freeman took the heat off Morris and pointed the blame firmly where it belongs. That part happened in a public venue, as Freeman met with the media.

“I don’t think it says anything about the type of coach Raheem is,’’ Freeman said. “I think some people could look at it that way. But honestly, the circumstances where the stuff occurred, it is all on the player. I mean, his job is to coach us and put us in position to win football games. He’s done just that. When we get done with football, you can’t expect Raheem to go to everybody’s house at a certain hour. It is the NFL. We have to take a higher level of responsibility on ourselves from college. As team captains and team leaders, we’ve been stressing that a lot lately.’’

The last part of that quote, about captains and team leaders, leads us to the private area. There was a players-only meeting Wednesday, according to a team source, and Freeman and veteran cornerback Ronde Barber were the ones running the show. Freeman’s election as a team captain at the start of the season was a sign that the second-year player already had the respect of his teammates. But the fact that he was the one telling 52 other guys to be responsible on Wednesday shows that Freeman’s role as a captain isn’t just some meaningless title.

Quarterbacks are the faces of franchises and Freeman’s actions reminded me of a couple of things I’ve seen through the years in the NFC South, even in times before there was the existing NFC South.

Let’s start with Steve Beuerlein and the Carolina Panthers in 1999. In one of the worst off-field incidents in NFL history, wide receiver Rae Carruth eventually was charged and convicted with arranging the murder of his pregnant girlfriend. Carruth obviously disappeared immediately, but the spotlight stayed on the Panthers.

Camera crews from national news networks showed up on a regular basis and, understandably, a lot of players hid because Carruth’s problem wasn’t really their territory. Even coach George Seifert kept a very low profile.

That left Beuerlein to stand and face the music day after day. Beuerlein might not have been the greatest quarterback ever, but he understood his role. He was the leader of the team. No matter how tired he might have been about answering questions about a teammate he barely knew, Beuerlein handled every day with grace. He said all the right things about how the Panthers were just praying for everyone involved and it took the heat off his coaches and teammates. Beuerlein and the Panthers actually had a pretty decent season on the field and there was no doubt about who was running the team.

Now, let’s move on to a current NFC South quarterback, who might be the best example of what Freeman seems to be headed for. That’s New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees. If you have ever been around the Saints, you almost instantly realize they operate out of Brees’ locker room.

Nobody crosses Brees and that’s not just because he’s one of the best on-field quarterbacks in the league. Brees totally gets what it takes to be a champion (he’s got the Lombardi Trophy to prove it) and he constantly spreads that message to his teammates. Publicly, he says all the right things. Privately, he does it even more firmly.

If a guy isn’t working as hard as he should be or is heading down a bad road off the field, Brees often gets in that guy’s ear before the coaches and front office have to. You want an example of how sternly Brees runs the locker room?

Take the case of Jeremy Shockey. In his days with the New York Giants, Shockey pushed around quarterback Eli Manning and usually not in a good way. That led to dysfunction and eventually got Shockey traded.

In New Orleans, Shockey hasn’t been nearly as flamboyant and it has been that way right from the start. That’s because Shockey knew coming in that you do things Brees’ way. He has, and it’s part of the reason the Saints won the Super Bowl last season.

It’s early in the process, but Freeman is showing a lot of the same traits as Brees. He’s playing well and leading his team to victories on the field. During the offseason, you heard stories about how no player was spending more time around One Buccaneer Place than Freeman. He’s also showing a growing knack for saying all the right things.

Lots of guys come into the league looking the part of a franchise quarterback, but never really act the part. Freeman is doing both. Contrary to popular belief, the Bucs aren't some team running amok. Yes, they have some issues. But they have the one guy in the locker room who, with a few words, can straighten out a lot of things by standing up and taking control.
Jerry Richardson, who has been conspicuously silent as fans wonder what direction the Carolina Panthers are headed in, just made a very strong statement.

It was done silently and didn’t get into the whole youth movement or the future of coach John Fox. But Richardson sent a loud-and-clear message that he still is very much in control of the Panthers.

The team just announced it has waived receiver Dwayne Jarrett, who reportedly was arrested Tuesday morning for driving while impaired. Jarrett also was arrested on a similar charge in 2008.

In these situations, a lot of teams around the NFL wait for the legal system to play out. But Richardson has been known for not putting up with much when it comes to off-field troubles. The Panthers have released multiple players as soon as they’ve gotten into trouble and they also generally stay away from players with trouble in their past.

Jarrett, a second-round pick in 2007, had been a huge bust. He never came close to his potential and was playing behind rookies Brandon LaFell and David Gettis on Sunday.

“I talked to Dwayne and told him the situation here is just not working out for either side,” says general manager Marty Hurney. “We had a chance to pick up off waivers a receiver we considered claiming when he became available four weeks ago. We wish Dwayne the best.”

The Panthers claimed receiver David Clowney off waivers from the New York Jets to fill Jarrett’s roster spot.

Saturday morning NFC South mailbag

September, 25, 2010
Lloyd in Charleston, S.C., writes: I'm a huge Carolina Panthers fan and I just wanted to know if the rumor of Michael Vick going to the Panthers was ever true because if it was then we missed out on the new and improved Vick. Not only does he still has the moves but he looks better in the pocket and looks to have improved accuracy as well. Do you think the Panthers made a mistake in not pursuing Michael Vick when they had the opportunity?

Pat Yasinskas: I can tell you unequivocally that the Panthers had absolutely no interest in ever pursuing Vick. That came from a reliable source pretty high up the ladder in Carolina. Owner Jerry Richardson instituted a policy of staying away from troubled players after the Rae Carruth saga and he’s made sure his organization has followed it with only a few minor exceptions. Signing Vick after all his problems would have violated that policy in a big way and it was never going to happen. In hindsight and in fairness to Vick, he has handled things well in his new life. In spite of all that, I don’t think the Panthers have any regrets.

Rob in Orlando writes: I haven't read any news about Tampa Bay selling out this week’s game hosting the Steelers. Have you heard if it sold out?

Pat Yasinskas: Rob, I’m not trying to be sarcastic here. But the reason you haven’t heard any news about the Bucs selling out is because they didn’t. The game will be blacked out in the Tampa Bay area. Kind of sad because the Bucs are 2-0 and playing an undefeated Pittsburgh team. But it is what it is.

Ryan in Wilmington, N.C., writes: With the Panthers WR corps in total disarray once you get past #89, why not put Dante Rosario at wideout and let Jeff King handle the full time TE positions?

Pat Yasinskas: Ordinarily, I’d laugh and try to blow a theory like this out of the water by saying a tight end is too big and too slow to play wide receiver. But I’m not going to do that this time because it’s not a ridiculous idea in Carolina’s current situation. They really have nothing besides Steve Smith at wide receiver and we know that Rosario can at least catch the ball a little. I’m not saying this will happen, but it’s not a bad idea.

Joey in Bloomington, Ill., writes: I heard you used "small market" about the Saints quite a few times lately. What does it really mean? I don't understand because lately every time you have Saints on TV, they drew very high record rating. Small market?

Pat Yasinskas: In its annual Record and Fact Book, the NFL includes the rankings of the top 100 television markets in the country. I’m looking at it right now. New Orleans is ranked No. 51 with 633,930 television households. The only television markets in NFL cities that are smaller are Buffalo (No. 52) and Green Bay-Appleton (No. 70) and you could argue that Milwaukee (No. 35) is part of the Green Bay market. Non-NFL cities like Orlando, San Antonio, Harrisburg, Pa, Grand Rapids, Mich. and Oklahoma City all are ranked well ahead of New Orleans, so there’s no doubt it’s a small market. That said, the penetration factor in New Orleans is outstanding. The numbers I saw for the opener said that 60 percent of the households in the New Orleans market were tuned into the game. But it's still 60 percent of the households in the nation’s 51st largest market. For other NFC South readers, Atlanta is No. 8, Tampa/St. Petersburg/Sarasota is no. 14 and Charlotte is No. 24.

Jon in Montreal writes: Should Bucs fans be worried that we're not seeing Arrelious Benn on the field (other than on special teams)? It's too early to call a rookie a bust but...

Pat Yasinskas: No, from what I’ve heard out of the Bucs, they believe Benn is making progress and has lots of upside. Yes, he’s being overshadowed by fellow rookie Mike Williams, but Williams is off to an uncommon start. More often than not, it takes rookie receivers time to make an impact. If you want to talk about drafting wide receivers who turned out to be busts, talk to Carolina fans. Or go back to Tampa Bay’s days of Reidel Anthony and Jacquez Green. But nobody with the Bucs is even close to thinking Benn will be a bust.

Gabe in Washington, D.C. writes: As a Saints fan I've been very excited about how Chris Ivory played in the preseason but know nothing about his status or his injury. Given Reggie Bush’s setback and the Saints' penchant for finding starters in UDFAs like Pierre Thomas, I am surprised we haven't heard more about Ivory. Have you heard anything about if and when Ivory might make it into the mix?

Pat Yasinskas: Hang loose just a bit. I think you might see Ivory this Sunday. He had a knee injury that had sidelined him. But he practiced this week and is listed as probable. With Bush out, I think you’ll see Ivory as part of the backfield rotation.

The NFC South polls are closed

September, 3, 2010
The voting for the beloved and disliked figures for all four NFC South teams is now over.

I’m about to ship the final batch of ballots off to intern Kevin Little, who will spend his holiday weekend calculating the final results. We in Florida have a reputation for being a little controversial when counting votes. But we’re going to break that trend. Kevin is following the rules closely and counting every ballot that met the criteria.

That means the votes that came in for Rae Carruth as Carolina’s disliked figure aren’t going to count because we declared up front that his troubles went beyond football and made him off limits. Kevin’s also tossed aside the ballot for the beloved and disliked figures for LSU football, although Kevin and I appreciated the effort and passion.

Anyway, if the counting goes as planned, I hope to announce the winners next week. I’m hoping for Tuesday or Wednesday. We’ll do posts for each team and will include some of the comments you sent along to explain your votes.

Thanks to all who participated.

NFC South polls are now open

August, 30, 2010
It started as a suggestion from loyal reader Mark H. in Greensboro, N.C., and it quickly has grown into what I think could be one of the more interesting projects we’ve ever attempted on the NFC South blog.

Mark’s basic suggestion was to pick the most disliked person for every NFC South team.

We’ve kicked around parameters for this and you have been phenomenal about providing input to make this work. While on the basketball court, which is where I do some of my best thinking, Sunday afternoon, I thought of a whole other layer for this project. I thought of also including a vote to see who is the most beloved figure for each NFC South franchise and we’re going to do that.

I’ve also settled on the parameters and here they are:
  • Send votes for the figure you dislike most from your team and the most beloved figure from your team to my mailbag. Some of you have already voted, but that was before we set the rules or added the beloved category. So those votes won’t count. Fire away with your new ones and specify the team and the disliked and beloved figures clearly.
  • By “figure,’’ I mean anyone associated with your favorite team. That means players, coaches, general managers and owners. For the beloved category, I’d even nominate Carolina equipment manager Jackie Miles, a legend in his own right, and Jill Hobbs, who started working as a secretary for the Buccaneers back in 1976 when she was something like 4 years old.
  • After a lot of debate, we’re going to open the time frame up on this to the entire history of each franchise. There was some debate about limiting it to current figures or starting the clock when the NFC South officially became a division in 2002. But the narrow consensus was to make it for the entire history of each franchise. In other words, figures such as Hugh Culverhouse, Doug Williams, Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp, Kerry Collins, Sam Mills, George Seifert, Archie Manning, Mike Ditka, Jeff George and Tommy Nobis are as eligible as figures like Drew Brees, the Glazer family, Matt Ryan and Sean Payton are. I’m not implying disliked or beloved for any of those figures. I’m just using their names to illustrate the time frame. Let’s please avoid the votes for guys who only had a cup of coffee in the NFC South – Reggie White, Brett Favre, etc.
  • I can’t ask this one strongly enough: Please limit your votes only for your favorite team. If we let Atlanta fans list Brees as a disliked figure or allowed former Carolina punter Todd Sauerbrun to vote for Martin Gramatica, we’d turn this thing into a shouting match and that’s not the goal of this project.
  • If you only want to vote for a beloved figure or only want to vote for a disliked figure from your team, that’s fine. Your vote will still count.
  • With each of your votes, feel free to include a little of your reasoning. We’ll use some samples when we post the results, so keep them clean and at least try to make the grammar reasonable.
  • Carolina fans, I’m going to impose one special rule on you. Do not vote for Rae Carruth. He’s ineligible and any votes for him will not be counted. I understand the venom for Carruth. What he was convicted of was beyond terrible, but it went way beyond the scope of football. So let’s just leave that one alone.
  • Other guys who have had off-field troubles for any of the four teams are eligible.
  • To ensure the integrity and the accuracy of the voting results, I’ve gone out and hired a prestigious accounting firm to tabulate the votes. Well, wait, I wasn’t able to afford that. But I’ve done something even better. I’ve turned to my alma mater, Saint Leo University, and enlisted the help of Kevin Little, who I’ve been doing some career mentoring with. Kevin is a Sports Business major with a keen interest in the NFL and numbers. Kevin’s agreed to help me tabulate the results.
  • I haven’t set an official date for the closing of the polls or when we’ll run separate posts on the winners in both categories for each franchise. We’ll just kind of play that by ear, but I’m hoping to have it ready for sometime right around the start of the regular season.
Just took a look at the mailbag and it was overflowing. I’m going to go ahead and try to knock out a series of team-by-team mailbags. If I don’t get all the way through Wednesday, I’ll finish it up Thursday.

We’re going in random order and we’re going to go ahead and start with the Carolina Panthers.

Brad in Charlotte writes: With the recent acquisition of Brandon Marshall and the claim from within the Dolphins organization that they "might" get a 5th round pick for Ted Ginn, why don't the Panthers make a play for him? We do not have a 5th rounder, so why not offer our non-compensatory 6th round pick, or a combination of our 6th and 7th rounders? I am in no way saying we should trade one of our first 3 picks, but Ginn would immediately step in and be that return man we desperately need and contribute in the slot. This way we can focus on our #2 receiver early and not settle for Jacoby Ford, Armanti Edwards, Scott Long or any other speedy unproven slots at the tail end of the draft.

Pat Yasinskas: I’m with you on this one. You’re theories are all very logical. Let’s see if John Fox and Marty Hurney agree.

Joel in Endicott, N.Y., writes: You've said that Carolina wouldn't go after someone like Michael Vick or Brandon Marshall because of off-field questions. Bill Parcells was the one who got Marshall and he's all about character guys. At what point does Carolina put its pride aside and take a chance on someone who might not be the kind of guy they want but the kind of player they need?

Pat Yasinskas: Yep, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. As long as Jerry Richardson owns this franchise, the Panthers aren’t going after anyone with major off-field issues in their background. If you know anything about Richardson, you know that the man was deeply scarred by what happened with Rae Carruth and Kerry Collins in the early years of the Panthers. I’m not saying Richardson is right or wrong, but I’m just telling you his philosophy. Although some people might point at Steve Smith and say the Panthers have bent their rules for him, they haven’t bent them for anyone else. Also, I think Fox and Hurney believe strongly in that philosophy. A guy like Parcells might take a chance on a guy with issues because he has confidence that his organization might be able to keep things under control. Richardson doesn’t take chances like that.

Cory in Knoxville, Tenn., writes: If you did this and I missed it please excuse me, but what do you think Carolina would do if they had their #17 pick?

Pat Yasinskas: Good question. That pick is in the hands of San Francisco after the Panthers dealt it last year to get Everette Brown in the second round. If Carolina still had this pick, I’m guessing they would go with a defensive lineman. I’d say either Michigan defensive end Brandon Graham or Penn State defensive tackle Jared Odrick.

NFC South mailbag

March, 4, 2010
Lots of great questions in the mailbag as we approach the start of free agency (it comes at 12:01 a.m. Friday). Let’s get to it.

Scott in Alexandria, La., writes: Do you think that the Saints will retain Scott Fujita and Darren Sharper?

Pat Yasinskas: I think the Saints are being smart here. We’re talking about two veteran guys coming off very productive years. In other times, they probably already would have contract extensions. But we’re entering a very different free-agency period. Owners are going to be fiscally responsible, in other words, cheap, in free agency. I believe the Saints have interest in retaining Fujita and Sharper and I believe both players would like to stay. But the Saints are going to let them test the market and see what’s out there. I think the agents for both players will be in touch with the Saints and give them a chance to bring them back before they sign elsewhere.

Dylan in Las Vegas writes: Pat, It doesn't make sense to me that the Bucs would go public with their intent not to re-sign Antonio Bryant if they did not already know who they were going to replace him with. Is this a signal that Dez Bryant is their #1 draft choice or does it show that they have their sights on a certain WR in free agency that will be in Tampa come March 5?

Pat Yasinskas: I don’t think the Bucs know exactly who will replace Antonio Bryant just yet. Dez Bryant is at least a possibility with the No. 3 overall pick in the draft, but I think the Bucs would prefer to get a defensive tackle there, if possible. The Bucs haven’t been big players in free agency in recent years, but I think they might make something of an exception at wide receiver this year. Josh Freeman needs a true No. 1 receiver and the Bucs are well aware of that. The top guys available in free agency and possibly trades all come with some baggage. That comes with the territory at wide receiver. The Bucs just have to figure out how much baggage they want to take on.

David in Raleigh writes: I remember when the Panthers drafted Julius Peppers. He was all, "I am going to show why I should have been No. 1’’. How did that work out for you? And after 9 years, if you felt you could do more, guess can speak up, you mute!!! Someone please shed some light on why he wants out of Carolina?

Pat Yasinskas: I took a crack at explaining the mystery surrounding the Peppers situation in this Feb. 19 column. I’ve been told by several former and current Carolina employees that was the most accurate portrayal that’s ever been written on this complex situation. I’ve got to disagree with you on one thing. Although Peppers might once or twice have said he believed he should have been the top overall pick in the 2002 draft, he never shouted it from the rooftops. One thing about Peppers is he never was anything remotely close to what I call a “helicopter," a guy that constantly beats his chest and tells you how good he is. No doubt Peppers deserves some of the blame for this breakup. The Panthers made several strong offers to keep him, including a last-ditch effort in recent weeks. Peppers turned all of them down. This one was never all about money. Peppers just wants to go somewhere else. That right there tells me that the Panthers probably deserve some blame in this one, too. They were good to Peppers, no doubt, but he never was totally comfortable in Carolina.

Robbie in Murphy, N.C., writes: What are your thoughts on the Panthers putting a second-round tender on Richard Marshall? I feel like you need to retain as many starting DBs as possible.

Pat Yasinskas: Yeah, I was a little surprised by that, too. But, basically, I think it’s a calculated gamble. The Panthers would like to keep Marshall, but they’re taking a chance that nobody’s going to come in and give him an offer they can’t match. Like I’ve said repeatedly, I think owners around the league are going to be very hesitant to spend big money this year.

Glenn in Lancaster, Pa., asks about Michael Vick possibly coming to the Panthers:

Pat Yasinskas: Glenn, I’m summarizing your note because we have space rules here and I’m already pushing them with the length of this mailbag. Yes, Vick has done his time and he does have Tony Dungy battling for him. But I will keep saying that Jerry Richardson is a man who was very scarred by the sagas of Kerry Collins and Rae Carruth. There’s no way he’ll pursue Vick. Besides, I don’t think Vick fits Carolina’s style of play. I do think he can be a starting quarterback in the NFL again, but not in Carolina.

Carlos in Panama City, Fla., writes: When are we going to see some releases for the Bucs? Free agency is one day away and we haven't done anything.

Pat Yasinskas: Hang loose. I’m anticipating a very busy day and night. One thing I’ve learned is NFL teams don’t make moves until they absolutely have to. Although we’re heading for an uncapped year, I anticipate some teams will be trimming veterans very soon. Stay tuned.