NFC South: Rob Chudzinski

TAMPA, Fla. -- The more I watched Marcus Mariota in Thursday night's Rose Bowl, the more convinced I became that the Oregon quarterback can fit nicely with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

I went into the game thinking Mariota was a product of Oregon's up-tempo, spread offense. I came out of it thinking Mariota can fit in with just about any type of offense.

Mariota can do more than run, which he does quite well. He showed signs he can be a good pocket passer as his team shredded Florida State.

Mariota is no Tim Tebow, and that’s a wonderful thing. Mariota showed all sorts of signs he can succeed at the NFL level.

That’s where the Bucs come in. They hold the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft and there’s an excellent chance they’ll use it on a quarterback.

Mariota and Florida State’s Jameis Winston are the highest-rated quarterbacks by virtually all the draft experts. Despite the score, Winston didn’t play all that badly. He showed signs he can succeed in a pro-style offense.

But, with Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht in attendance, Mariota moved ahead of Winston in the pecking order.

The scouting combine, private workouts and interviews will come in the future. And the Bucs certainly should look closely at tape of all of the games played by Mariota and Winston before making a final decision.

But, at the moment, Mariota has the edge. There are skeptics that say Mariota can’t thrive in a pro-style offense, but I saw evidence to the contrary. But I’m not sure Mariota needs to play in a pro-style offense in the NFL.

Conventional wisdom says there’s no way conservative Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith would go with a spread offense. But Smith went 2-14 last season and the offense was dreadful, so conventional wisdom goes out the window.

Why not bring in an offensive coordinator like Rob Chudzinski? He had a lot of success running the spread offense with Carolina and Cam Newton.

Who says the Bucs have to make Mariota fit in their system? If they build a system to take advantage of Mariota’s strengths, they might end up with the first true franchise quarterback in team history.
TAMPA, Fla. -- As the losses continue to pile up, it’s fair to wonder if Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith could follow the path of Rob Chudzinski and Mike Mularkey.

Chudzinski lasted only one season in Cleveland and Mularkey was ousted after one year in Jacksonville. Could Smith, whose team is 2-10, face the same fate?

Nothing is out of the question, but I think Smith is safe. Smith was ownership’s hand-picked coach to follow Greg Schiano and was given a five-year contract.

Ownership obviously can’t be delighted with the early results. But I think they are smart enough to look at the big picture, due largely to trial and error in the past. Since firing Jon Gruden after the 2008 season, the Bucs have gone through constant change.

From Raheem Morris to Schiano and now to Smith, the Bucs have kept overhauling their roster but never gave it a chance to stabilize. The Bucs have some good individual talent (Gerald McCoy, Mike Evans and Lavonte David to name a few) to build around. Some complementary players are needed, and that’s what the upcoming offseason is for.

But what the Bucs need more than anything right now is continuity. Smith isn’t like Morris or Schiano, who were unproven in the NFL. Smith won in Chicago, and history is the best indicator of what is to come. Smith needs another offseason to get the roster to where he needs it to be.

Smith hasn’t panicked this season. He’s stayed the course and stuck with his philosophies. I don’t anticipate that changing. Smith is a creature of habit.

And that’s a good thing. The last thing the Bucs need right now is another dramatic change. There’s no question some personnel moves need to be made, but the Bucs need stability.

They need to stick with Smith and let him finish what he has started.
The Carolina Panthers made an offer to Hakeem Nicks thinking they had a legitimate shot to sign the former New York Giants receiver.

That was until the Indianapolis Colts stepped in and not only offered Nicks a one-year contract worth up to $5.5 million, but also an opportunity to be on the receiving end of passes from quarterback Andrew Luck and be a part of a team that could be one of the best in the AFC next season. Panthers reporter David Newton and Colts reporter Mike Wells talk about Nicks' decision to sign with Indianapolis

[+] EnlargeHakeem Nicks
Al Bello/Getty ImagesHakeem Nicks chose the Indianapolis Colts over the Carolina Panthers.
Wells: David, Carolina quarterback Cam Newton proved last season that he's one of the best young quarterbacks in the league. But Luck has proven in just two years -- with 22 victories -- that he has the complete package: arm, foot speed and mental toughness. So it seems Nicks made the right decision to sign with the Colts. What are your thoughts?

Newton: Totally agree. When Nicks picked Indy over Carolina I mentioned one of the reasons may have been Luck was the more proven quarterback. It didn't sit well with Carolina fans. My argument was simple. Two trips to the playoffs to one. But the bigger reason is Nicks will be surrounded by proven receivers in Indy. Maybe that would have happened at Carolina, but at the time of the decision the Panthers didn't have a receiver on its roster with an NFL catch. When Brandon LaFell signed with New England on Saturday that guaranteed Newton won't have any of his top four wide receivers from last season. At Carolina, Nicks risked the possibility of being double-teamed because there wasn't anybody proven to take coverage away. He would have been the clear-cut No. 1, and I'm not sure he's a No. 1. Luck also has a more established offensive line. So when I said Luck was more proven there were other factors around that.

Having said that, if you were starting a team from scratch would you pick Luck or Newton?

Wells: I like how Newton played last season, but I've still got to give Luck the edge over him and players such as Seattle's Russell Wilson and San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick. Luck's résumé speaks for itself. He led the Colts to an 11-5 record during a rookie season when his coach, Chuck Pagano, missed 12 games while battling cancer. He repeated that record last season while losing five offensive starters by Week 7. Luck has led the Colts on 11 fourth quarter or overtime game-winning drives in his young NFL career. Should I continue? It also helps that Luck's Colts have already beaten the Seahawks and 49ers. Maybe you and I can corner Rob Chudzinski somewhere after the season and ask him his thoughts because he obviously coached Newton in Carolina and he's about to coach Luck with the Colts next season.

It seems like the Panthers don't seem to know which direction they're headed with players like receiver Steve Smith being released. Am I wrong to think that could sway a free agent's decision?

Newton: It would have to cast doubt. It certainly casts doubt in my mind. It'll all come down to how convincing general manager Dave Gettleman is on selling his plan. And yes, there's a plan. Jerricho Cotchery is coming in for a visit on Monday and James Jones says he'd like to play for Carolina. If the Panthers can get a couple of solid veterans -- even if they aren't bona fide No. 1s, and select a dynamic receiver with either their first- or second-round pick, the receiving corps potentially could be better than last season. Even Smith admitted he's not a No. 1 anymore. So for all the grief I've given Gettleman for making a mistake in dumping Smith, in the long run it could work out. I mean, the beef on LaFell last season was he wasn't a bona fide No. 2. Ted Ginn Jr. had a nice season, but he had only two catches the year before. Domenik Hixon had only one catch that impacted a game. So big picture, they didn't really lose a lot.

So how do you expect Nicks to fit in at Indianapolis? Can he help put Indy over the top?

Wells: Colts fans are a little leery because there was high hope last year when Darrius Heyward-Bey, the No. 7 pick in the 2009 draft, signed a one-year contract the same way Nicks did. Heyward-Bey, to put it as nice as possible, was brutal last season. So brutal that he ended up being demoted to special teams where he actually did a great job downing punts inside the 20-yard line. I think Nicks will fit in nicely because he doesn't have the pressure of being the No. 1 receiver. He simply has to just fit in alongside of fellow receivers Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton. Tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener are also receiving options for Luck. The fact that Nicks had almost 900 yards receiving last season and that was considered a down year for him is a good thing for the Colts. Luck will find him as long as he can get open.

Newton needs somebody to throw the ball to. What are the Panthers going to do since Smith is gone and Nicks decided playing with the Colts was a better option?

Newton: As I mentioned above, Cotchery is coming in for a visit and I still believe they'll get Jones. The plan is to find a few bargains and blend them in with a draft pick. Smith would have made a nice No. 2 receiver in this package in my opinion. But from everything I gather Newton won't be heartbroken to see his top receiver gone. Smith has gotten in Newton's face more than a few times the past few years. As much as that may have been needed, there is a belief on the team that Smith might have been a distraction to Newton as the central leader of the offense. It will be interesting to hear how Newton spins it when we finally hear from him.

Now that the Colts have Nicks, what's the rest of their free-agency plans?

Wells: General manager Ryan Grigson has put an emphasis on defense so far. They still need to find a safety to replace Antoine Bethea, who signed with San Francisco last week. The interior part of the offensive line could use some help, too. They signed former Dallas center Phil Costa last week. The Colts haven't completely shut the door on Cleveland center Alex Mack even though it is a longshot that they'll be to get him because the Browns used the transition tag on him. Adding another guard wouldn't be a bad idea, either.

Cam Newton better than No. 100?

August, 19, 2013
Cam NewtonAP Photo/Chuck BurtonThe Panthers like what they've seen from Cam Newton so far during training camp.
Let’s start this off with a trivia question: Whatever happened to Cam Newton?

Yeah, I know he's still the starting quarterback for the Carolina Panthers. But why is Newton, the offensive rookie of the year for the 2011 season, no longer even mentioned breathlessly as one of the NFL’s top young quarterbacks?

It seems as if Andrew Luck, Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson have made Newton an afterthought outside of Charlotte.

The latest example comes in’s list of the top 100 offensive players, which kicks off today. For the record, I had a vote and gave Newton high marks. But, apparently, I'm one of the few who thinks highly of Newton.

He came in at No. 100 on the list. He also came in as the No. 16 quarterback. Luck, Kaepernick, Griffin and Wilson all came in well ahead of Newton. So did Tony Romo, Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler, whose names rhyme with mediocrity, at least in my book.

I’m not saying Newton belongs in the upper echelon (Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, the Manning brothers, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan) just yet. But I do think Newton is substantially better than the 100th-best offensive player in the league right now, and I think he could be a top-10 quarterback by the time this season is over.

The guy has thrown for 7,290 yards and 40 touchdowns in his first two seasons. He also has run for 1,447 yards and 22 touchdowns in that same time frame.

So why does it seem as though Newton is in the witness protection program whenever people talk about great players or great quarterbacks?

The answer is simple. Newton hasn’t won, and the way he has handled losing (pouting on the sideline and his body language in postgame interviews) hasn’t earned him fans among the national media.

But I think all that is about to change. I say that after having a one-on-one sit-down with one of the most guarded coaches I’ve ever covered. I say that after talking about Newton with Carolina offensive coordinator Mike Shula.

“I feel really good -- and anybody that knows me knows I usually don’t say things like that -- but I do," Shula said on a July morning in Spartanburg, S.C. “When I think about why I feel good, it’s because of the look in [Newton’s] eye. He’s highly motivated. When you get guys that are motivated and are going to listen and do the things you’re asking them to do, you’re way ahead of the game."

Maybe we’ll be able to forget the body language, because Shula knows Newton’s eye language better than just about anyone. Shula spent the past two seasons as Carolina’s quarterbacks coach before being promoted when Rob Chudzinski left to become the head coach of the Cleveland Browns.

Teammates also are noticing a difference in Newton.

“I think we’re getting ready at the quarterback position, which is the most important position on the field," center Ryan Kalil said. “Experience is a big part of that, and he’s growing. His leadership skills have gotten better, and he’s somebody that guys are looking up to. Those are all good things."

But the main reason I think Newton is in for a big season is because the Panthers finally have figured out how to use his unique skill set. They started off 2-8 last season when they were asking Newton to run the read-option often. They largely scrapped that in favor of a more conventional running game late last season and won five of their last six games. Expect that trend to continue.

The Panthers are ready to let DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart be running backs, and they’re ready to let Newton be just a quarterback.

“One of the things I’ve talked to him about is don’t let a day go by here in training camp where you don’t think about how you felt the first half of the season last year and then how you felt at the end of the season," Shula said. “And just think about that every day as you’re going through practice and use it as motivation."

Maybe, by the time this season is over, Newton no longer will be a forgotten man.

Most important assistant coaches

July, 15, 2013
Assistant coaches often are anonymous, but they can be a big part of the reason why a team succeeds are fails.

Let’s take a look at the NFC South assistants, not including coordinators, that could be most important in 2013:

Atlanta Falcons. I’m going with two here because the Falcons list Tim Lewis as their secondary coach and Joe Danna as their defensive backs coach. Both will have their hands full because the Falcons released cornerback Dunta Robinson and cornerback Brent Grimes left via free agency.

Veteran starter Asante Samuel and nickel back Robert McClain remain, but the Falcons suddenly have a lot of youth at cornerback. They used their first two draft picks on cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford and Lewis and Danna will have to get those two up to speed quickly because the Falcons open their season against the pass-happy New Orleans Saints. It’s likely the Falcons will have one of the rookies starting and the other could compete with McClain for playing time.

Carolina Panthers. Aside from offensive coordinator Mike Shula, I think quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey could be the most important member of this staff. Dorsey is new to coaching. He had been working in Carolina’s scouting department the last two years, but was added to the staff when coordinator Rob Chudzinski left to become the head coach in Cleveland and Shula was promoted.

But Dorsey, who had a journeyman career as an NFL quarterback, should be able to relate well to quarterback Cam Newton. Dorsey worked as an instructor at IMG Academy when Newton was doing his combine preparation there in 2011.

New Orleans Saints. You could make a strong case for any of the defensive assistants as the Saints try to overhaul a unit that ranked No. 32 in the league last year. But I’m going with offensive line coach Brett Ingalls.

After spending the last four years as the running backs coach, Ingalls was moved to offensive line coach after Aaron Kromer left to become the offensive coordinator with the Chicago Bears. Ingalls spent a large chunk of his time as a college assistant working with offensive linemen, so this territory is not foreign to him.

Ingalls has his work cut out for him. A tight salary-cap situation prevented the Saints from re-signing Pro Bowl left tackle Jermon Bushrod. The Saints will go to camp with Charles Brown, Jason Smith and rookie Terron Armstead competing for the right to protect Drew Brees' blind side. Ingalls should be helped by the fact he has a strong interior line anchored by guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs, but he needs to get solid play out of the left tackle spot.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This one is easy because everything in Tampa Bay this season is about quarterback Josh Freeman. He’s headed into the final year of his contract and this season will determine if he has a long-term future with the Bucs.

That’s why I’m going with quarterbacks coach John McNulty. He’s new to the Bucs, but has history with coach Greg Schiano. McNulty worked for Schiano at Rutgers. Schiano tried to hire McNulty to his staff last year, but was refused permission by Arizona, where McNulty was coaching the wide receivers.

McNulty has a reputation for having a bright offensive mind and it will be up to him and offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan to help Freeman become more consistent.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- I’ll be heading out shortly to watch the Carolina Panthers open their minicamp.

Let’s take a look at five things I’ll be keeping a close eye on:

Cam Newton. For whatever reason, the quarterback is a magnet for scrutiny. I saw some signs of maturity the second half of last season and I’m curious to see if Newton is continuing to progress.

Mike Shula’s playbook. Shula replaced Rob Chudzinski as offensive coordinator. I’m thinking there’s a good chance Shula learned from what Chudzinski did last season. Early on, the Panthers were leaning heavily on Newton and the read option and not really using their running backs. The Panthers started 2-8. Then, they went to a more traditional running game and finished the season strong. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are talented running backs. The Panthers need to use them and let Newton be a quarterback.

Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short. The Panthers used their first two draft picks on these two defensive tackles. I thought that was a great move because the Panthers have struggled in this area for far too long. Lotulelei is a classic run-stuffer and Short has the potential to bring an interior pass rush. If these guys are anywhere near as good as advertised, Carolina’s defense has a chance to be very good.

The defensive backfield. The Panthers didn’t make any big moves here and that was somewhat surprising. But general manger Dave Gettleman and coach Ron Rivera know a lot more about football than I do. They must be confident that some of their mid-level free agents and some guys that were already on the roster can play.

The cluster at wide receiver. The Panthers have loaded up their depth behind starters Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell. They brought in free agents Domenik Hixon and Ted Ginn Jr. to compete with Kealoha Pilares, Armanti Edwards, David Gettis and Joe Adams. That should create some competition and competition usually prompts someone to step up their game.

I'll be back with more on the Panthers after they finish their morning practice and interview session.
Last offseason, we spent a lot of time talking about how Atlanta’s Matt Ryan had bulked up and Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman had dropped more than 20 pounds.

This offseason, there’s another NFC South quarterback with a reshaped body. Carolina’s Cam Newton told the media Wednesday he has dropped 12 pounds since last season. Newton said he now weighs 243 pounds.

Newton said the coaching staff did not ask him to lose weight.

“It's just me challenging myself to have an edge going into the season,’’ Newton said.

I don’t think Newton was out of shape last season. But a little less weight might make him a little more mobile.

Newton’s body isn’t the only thing that’s smaller this offseason. Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski left to become the head coach in Cleveland and quarterbacks coach Mike Shula was promoted. I’m not expecting major changes in Carolina’s offense, but Newton said Shula has simplified it.

“There was a lot of verbiage that was in the offense before, but I think Shula’s main focus has been to simplify things,’’ Newton said. “Call words that are just words rather than just minimizing the syllables of each and every play. When you know what you have to do, you execute.’’

So there’s less of Newton and less language in the playbook. But that could lead to the Panthers getting more out of Newton, which would be huge. If the Panthers are going to be playoff contenders, they need Newton to take some steps forward in his third season in the league.
PanthersElsa/Getty ImagesThe Panthers plan to feature a power running game and Cam Newton's pocket passing next season.
We haven’t heard much about Cam Newton lately.

Since early last season, it seems Newton has been overshadowed by a bunch of young quarterbacks. Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III started winning and took a lot of attention off Newton, who was the No. 1 overall draft pick and the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2011.

But it would be a huge mistake for anyone to overlook Newton. Call it bouncing back, breaking through or whatever you want, but I’m predicting a big 2013 season from the quarterback of the Carolina Panthers. Yeah, I’ll even step out on a limb and say he has a better 2013 season than Wilson, Kaepernick, Luck and RG III.


Several reasons pop to mind, but let’s start with this -- Newton has more all-around talent than any of those guys.

Luck can pass nicely, but opposing defenses don’t have to game plan for his running ability. Wilson, RG III and Kaepernick each have some throwing ability, but they aren’t pure pocket passers, and their big 2012 seasons came largely because of their mobility.

Newton is capable of more than any of those guys, because he’s as mobile as RG III, Kaepernick and Wilson. At the same time, he’s as good a pocket passer as Luck.

A lot of people think Newton slumped in 2012. But that’s not necessarily true. His numbers were comparable to his rookie season, but his visibility lessened because the Panthers didn’t take the leap many expected.

They went 7-9 and were largely overlooked.

But you can’t overlook Newton and the Panthers headed into the 2013 season, and that takes us back to Newton’s rare ability. He is so talented, I don’t think Carolina’s coaching staff really knew how to maximize his ability in his first two seasons.

For reasons that never have been explained and I sure as heck can’t figure out, the Carolina coaching staff didn’t take advantage fully of what Newton brings or what else was on the roster at the start of last season.

Although the Panthers had a talented (and very pricey) backfield with DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert, they barely used that trio at the start of last season. Instead, they featured Newton heavily in the read-option early last season.

In other words, they turned their quarterback into a running back.

Opposing defenses didn’t have to worry much about Newton’s passing, and that was one of the major reasons the Panthers got off to a 2-8 start.

[+] EnlargeBrian Urlacher
Rob Grabowski/US PresswireA physical running game led by Jonathan Stewart could help quarterback Cam Newton turn the Panthers into a contender next season.
That changed down the stretch. The Panthers got back to using a power running game, and they let Newton be a pocket passer. They won enough games to save coach Ron Rivera’s job.

Rivera and his staff took notice of what happened late in the season, and that is another reason I think Newton is in for a big season. Rivera has said he wants to rely more heavily on the power running game in 2013.

In other words, it sounds like the Panthers are going to let their running backs be running backs, and they’re going to let Newton be a quarterback. That sounds to me like a formula for success.

Carolina is going through a change. Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski left to become the head coach of the Cleveland Browns, and former quarterbacks coach Mike Shula is taking over the play-calling duties.

Shula had a reputation for being too conservative when he was the offensive coordinator in Tampa Bay, and the head coach at the University of Alabama. But, like Newton, I think Shula is ready for a breakout season.

Part of the reason Shula was so conservative in previous stops was because he didn’t have big-time talent at the skill positions. He has that talent now with Newton, the running backs, receiver Steve Smith and tight end Greg Olsen.

I still expect Shula to be a bit more of a traditionalist than Chudzinski, but I think that’s a good thing. He’s going to rely on that running game more, and that’s going to open up the passing game for Newton.

Newton threw for more than 7,900 yards in his first two seasons. He also rushed for more than 700 yards in each of his first two seasons.

Newton’s legs are a valuable asset, and the Panthers can’t ignore that. The Panthers can use the threat of Newton’s running skills to keep defenses off balance, but they also need to keep their offense balanced.

I think they need to adjust things a bit and take an approach similar to what they were using at the end of last season. Scrap the read-option, or at least cut way back on it. Let Newton use his legs to scramble and keep plays alive.

But, first and foremost, let Newton be a passer.

There aren’t many quarterbacks in the league with Newton’s arm strength. The Panthers need to play to that strength.

If they do, Newton won’t be overlooked anymore, and this team could be in the playoffs.

Around the NFC South

March, 14, 2013
Time for a morning run through some odds and ends from around the division:
  • Jason Cole reports that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, so far, have been unwilling to include their first-round pick in this year’s draft in a potential trade with the New York Jets for Darrelle Revis. I’d be hesitant to part with that pick too. It’s the No. 13 overall pick in the draft. The Jets seem to want to unload Revis before he’s due a bonus on Saturday and it doesn’t seem like they have a lot of other potential suitors. Their price tag may come down.
  • Pittsburgh cornerback Keenan Lewis, a New Orleans native, is visiting the Saints on Thursday. The Saints had shown some interest in Derek Cox, but he signed with San Diego.
  • The Saints have re-signed long-snapper Justin Drescher to a four-year deal.
  • The Buccaneers have signed former New Orleans linebacker Jonathan Casillas. At best, Casillas could be a candidate to start if Quincy Black doesn’t return from injury. At worst, he’s a decent back and special-teams player.
  • Former Carolina tight end Gary Barnidge has signed with the Cleveland Browns, where he’ll play for head coach Rob Chudzinski, who previously was the Panthers’ offensive coordinator.

Around the NFC South

February, 25, 2013
Let's take a run through some odds and ends from around the division:


The Falcons top Jeff Schultz’s rankings of the pro and college teams in the Atlanta area. That differs from the usual belief that the Braves and college football are the biggest things in Atlanta. But the Falcons have had five straight winning seasons, which might explain why they finally are being fully embraced in Atlanta.

General manager Thomas Dimitroff said the Falcons are evaluating closely the tight end prospects at the combine. Even if veteran Tony Gonzalez decides to return for another season, I still could see the Falcons taking a tight end in this year’s draft. It wouldn’t hurt to have the eventual successor to Gonzalez spend a year learning from the best tight end ever.


Joseph Person writes that the Panthers plan to keep running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. That will probably mean a restructuring of Williams’ contract. But it would mean the Panthers have two top-notch running backs and another solid one in Mike Tolbert. But, if the Panthers do keep all three, it might be wise for new offensive coordinator Mike Shula to get them all more involved in the offense than they were last season when Rob Chudzinski was calling the plays.


Former Saints safety and special teams ace Steve Gleason continues to inspire. He completed the Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans Half Marathon on Saturday. Gleason, who is battling ALS, was pushed by his brother-in-law in his customized wheelchair.


Rick Stroud reports that the Bucs have yet to talk to safety Ronde Barber about playing another season. That simply may be because the Bucs want to give Barber plenty of time to decide if he wants to continue playing. It also could be a sign that the Bucs are contemplating moving in a different direction. Whatever the case, the Bucs need to handle this the right way if they don’t want Barber back. The franchise badly mishandled the release of Derrick Brooks back in 2009. Barber is as much of an icon in Tampa Bay as Brooks was and, if he’s going out, he deserves to do it on good terms.

NFC South afternoon update

February, 22, 2013
Time for an afternoon run through some odds and ends from around the division:


General manager Thomas Dimitroff said he’s confident the team will get quarterback Matt Ryan signed to a long-term contract. I’d expect the Falcons to settle things with their own free agents first and then start working seriously on Ryan’s extension later in the spring.

D. Orlando Ledbetter reports that the Falcons plan to interview linebacker Manti Te’o at the scouting combine. I wouldn’t get too excited about this. The Falcons are simply doing their homework on all draft prospects. But there’s a good chance Te’o will be taken long before the Falcons get around to picking at No. 30 overall.


Offensive coordinator Mike Shula got a ringing endorsement from his predecessor, Rob Chudzinski, who now is the head coach of the Cleveland Browns.


The team reportedly will not use the franchise tag on left tackle Jermon Bushrod. No big surprise there because the franchise tag for a tackle is almost $10 million. Bushrod is better than average, but he’s not a $10-million-a-year tackle.


The Bucs are saying they haven’t made any decision on the future of cornerback Eric Wright. Maybe they haven’t, but I still think his chances of still being on the roster when the league year starts March 12 are slim. The Bucs can free up $7.75 million in cap space by releasing Wright.

NFC South afternoon update

February, 5, 2013
Time for a run through of some odds and ends from around the division:


Jay Adams writes that most of the early mock drafts have the Falcons taking a tight end at No. 30. That could happen. But, as I wrote last week, the Falcons are lobbying Tony Gonzalez to come back for one more season and I think there’s a decent chance of that happening.


Now that the Panthers have finished making changes, Joseph Person takes a look at the complete updated coaching staff. The Panthers made changes in several areas, but I think the key ones were at offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach because this franchise is all about quarterback Cam Newton. There’s no doubt the Panthers will miss offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, who left to become the head coach in Cleveland. But I think they did a nice job making sure Newton has as much continuity as possible. They promoted Mike Shula from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator. They made Ken Dorsey, who had been working in their scouting department, the quarterbacks coach. Dorsey had worked with Newton at IMG Academy before he was hired by the Panthers.


The company that runs the Mercedes-Benz Superdome said it will hire an outside party to investigate what caused the power outage during the Super Bowl. Probably a good idea to let a neutral party get to the bottom of this. If New Orleans is going to host future Super Bowls, the NFL needs to have confidence that a similar problem isn’t going to occur.

Rob Ryan and Romeo Crennel reportedly are the two most likely candidates to become the new defensive coordinator. Both have history in the 3-4 scheme that coach Sean Payton wants to switch to. I think either one would be a good hire. Ryan’s had success as a defensive coordinator. Crennel hasn’t had much luck as a head coach, but has a good reputation as a coordinator.


Quarterback Josh Freeman makes an appearance in ESPN The Magazine’s Music issue. The photo is at least worth a look.

In this radio interview, Warren Sapp said his daughter will make his presentation speech at his Hall of Fame induction this summer.
It is possible the NFC South could have four new backup quarterbacks in 2013.

Three of the division’s No. 2 quarterbacks from 2013 are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents and the fourth team has said it would like to increase the competition at quarterback.

Atlanta’s Luke McCown, Carolina’s Derek Anderson and New Orleans’ Chase Daniel all can become unrestricted free agents. I’d say the chances Anderson moves on are very high.

It’s not that the Panthers are unhappy with Anderson. But, for a team with a nightmare cap situation, keeping the veteran probably would be too costly. Besides, the Panthers have Jimmy Clausen still under contract (at a reasonable rate) and it makes financial sense to simply move Clausen up to the No. 2 quarterback behind Cam Newton. Anderson had close ties to former offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, who became the head coach in Cleveland. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if Anderson ends up in Cleveland.

McCown has history with Atlanta offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, so it’s possible he could be brought back. I don’t see other teams beating down the door to sign McCown, so the Falcons can have him if they want him. But rookie Dominique Davis had a fantastic preseason last year and the Falcons could look to move him up to No. 2 behind Matt Ryan.

I think the Saints would like to keep Daniel as Drew Brees’ backup. The chances of that happening are pretty good. But the Saints don’t have the cap room to pay Daniel much. I think there’s at least a chance that another team could make an attempt to get a guy that has been the understudy to one of the league’s top quarterbacks. I don’t think there are teams out there that view Daniel as a potential starter. But I think there are teams that have more cap room than the Saints and they might be willing to pay Daniel good backup money.

Tampa Bay is the only team that has its backup quarterback from 2012 under contract for next season. That’s Dan Orlovsky. But, as the season ended, coach Greg Schiano said he’d like to bring in more competition for starter Josh Freeman. I think the Bucs still have hope that Freeman can turn into a consistent franchise quarterback. He certainly had some bright moments in 2013, but he didn’t play at a consistently high level. Freeman’s heading into the final year of his contract and the Bucs want someone to push him, maybe even someone that eventually can take over if they decide Freeman isn’t their guy. Orlovsky’s a decent backup, but he has no upside, so I think the Bucs will look for an upgrade.

Cam Newton endorses Shula promotion

February, 1, 2013
NEW ORLEANS -- The recent promotion of Mike Shula from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator by the Carolina Panthers got its most important endorsement Friday.

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
Pat Yasinskas/ESPN.comPanthers QB Cam Newton says he's excited to see what wrinkles Mike Shula will bring to the offense.
“I don’t think there was a better person that could come in and take over,’’ quarterback Cam Newton said Friday after a Gatorade Sports Science Institute news conference to talk about nutrition. “I’m excited about taking the next steps in the process with him.’’

Don’t underestimate the importance of Newton’s opinion on Shula. It might have had a lot to do with the promotion after Rob Chudzinski left to become the head coach of the Cleveland Browns.

Newton, after all, is the franchise in Carolina. Coach Ron Ron Rivera ultimately made the decision on the hire. But I have little doubt that Newton’s thoughts mattered.

I asked Newton if he and Rivera talked during a process, during which Hue Jackson and Pat Shurmur also were interviewed. Newton said he and Rivera chatted and shared thoughts.

Newton said he and Shula have talked multiple times since the promotion.

“I believe it will be similar (to Chudzinski’s scheme), but you always have to evolve,’’ Newton said. “You can’t stay the same. If you do, you’re going to get schemed up. I’m looking forward to (Shula’s) twist on the offense. I’m as curious as everyone else to see what we’re going to be as far as an identity.’’

Around the NFC South

January, 31, 2013
NEW ORLEANS -- Before we begin another day of Super Bowl hoopla, let's take a look at the headlines from around the division:


Although Calvin Johnson generally is viewed as the NFL’s best wide receiver, at least one long-time personnel guru ranks Atlanta's Julio Jones ahead of him. I think that might be a little premature. Jones already is very good and has the potential to become the best, but I don’t think he’s quite there yet.

The Falcons announced they have promoted Marty Lauzon to director of sports medicine and performance, and named A.J. Neibel as the strength and conditioning coach. Lauzon was the team’s head trainer the past three seasons. Neibel was a strength and conditioning assistant the past two seasons.


Receiver Steve Smith told Joseph Person he’s happy the team promoted Mike Shula from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator. Smith said he expects Shula to keep predecessor Rob Chudzinski’s system largely in place. I agree that continuity is very important in this situation, and I also think it’s significant that the mercurial receiver is on board with this move, otherwise Shula’s chances of succeeding would be doomed from the start.


Mike Triplett writes that you don’t have to look beyond the Super Bowl to understand why the Saints are switching to a 3-4 defense. Both the Ravens and 49ers use that as their base system. The NFL is a copy-cat league, and teams follow what’s working elsewhere. The system switch is good, but the Saints still have a lot of work to do in upgrading their personnel to make the 3-4 work.


The team reportedly has fired special teams coordinator Bob Ligashesky It seems a little strange that the Bucs waited this long to make a move. But I’m assuming coach Greg Schiano would not have made this move if his eyes weren’t already on a replacement.