NFC South: Robert Lester

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Charles Godfrey's value went up when Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton fractured his ribs.

Even though Newton is expected to start in the Sept. 7 opener at Tampa Bay, the Panthers appear set on keeping three quarterbacks on their final 53-man roster.

Godfrey
That means somebody at another position has to go. In this case, that means a defensive back, which is why Godfrey was back working at strong safety on Tuesday after spending all of the preseason at cornerback.

Because Godfrey can play cornerback, nickel and both safety positions, Carolina can juggle the defensive back numbers to keep one less player -- most likely a safety.

"When you've got a guy that can play all three positions, you might as well keep him up on everything," Godfrey said. "You never know what will happen."

Godfrey was a starting safety for his first six years with the Panthers before suffering a season-ending Achilles injury in Week 2 against Buffalo last September.

Because of his high salary-cap figure and the uncertainty of his return to full strength, the Panthers moved him to cornerback and renegotiated his contract to save more than $4 million in cap space.

But with the Panthers planning to keep Newton, Derek Anderson and Joe Webb at quarterback and the injuries at strong safety -- starter Roman Harper just returned from turf toe, backup Robert Lester is out with an ankle injury and rookie Tre Boston has been slowed by a sports hernia -- it was time to reintroduce Godfrey to safety.

He will take reps there in Thursday night's exhibition finale at Pittsburgh as well.

"That adds value to who Charles is," coach Ron Rivera said. "He can play corner, he can play nickel. Because of the slow progression of Tre, knowing that [Godfrey] is one of our guys that makes the 53, what are we going to do if we get that situation? That's why we did what we did.

"That's out of necessity. If we were to keep five safeties and those guys aren't up, that only gives us three. Knowing that Charles has that ability, we wanted to get a couple reps with him this week just to make sure on that."

Godfrey will continue to work at corner, primarily as a nickel with the top three every down corners spots belonging to Antoine Cason, Melvin White and Josh Norman.

Rivera made it clear the move to safety was not permanent.

"We've put a lot on his plate, but he seems to be handling it very nicely," he said.

Godfrey said the return to safety wasn't difficult and he likes the challenge of playing different positions.

"Like I said before we went to camp, I can play pretty much any position right there," he said. "Just keeps me polished up on things. I did a great job at corner. I'm still corner, still nickel. Just keeping me polished up on safety."
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers finally will get a look at their restructured secondary that was a big question mark entering the preseason in Thursday night's preseason finale at Pittsburgh.

Strong safety Roman Harper returned to practice this week for the first time since suffering turf toe after stepping on the foot of tight end Greg Olsen during an Aug. 1 practice in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

The two-time Pro Bowler with New Orleans was signed to a two-year, $4.5 million deal to bring stability to a secondary that lost three of four starters -- two in free agency.

[+] EnlargeRoman Harper
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsStrong safety Roman Harper is eager to suit up for the Panthers following his preseason absence dealing with a turf toe injury.
"I definitely think I can help with a sense of attitude, with a sense of leadership," Harper said. "At times we can be better at open-field tackling, doing some different concepts and just kind of understanding our fit."

Coach Ron Rivera has been emphatic that Harper's absence in practice and the first three preseason games wasn't an issue even though the defense has given up some big pass plays. He's reminded that Quintin Mikell started last season's opener at strong safety after signing a week earlier.

He also could have reminded that free safety Mike Mitchell, who went to Pittsburgh in free agency, didn't become a starter until after the secondary was decimated by injuries in Week 2.

But Rivera is glad Harper is back.

"Roman does have a veteran quality to himself," he said. "We're excited to have him around. What is missing is that veteran leadership presence."

Harper is glad he's returning before playing his first regular-season game -- Sept. 7 at Tampa Bay -- as a Panther.

"Not even so much [for getting ready for] Tampa Bay, but more so for myself," he said. "I've got to get back out here and get into shape. I've tried to get in shape as best as I can, but there's nothing like football shape."

Harper won't discuss whether the toe is completely healed, reminding he doesn't discuss injuries. But he admitted being a spectator for more than three weeks with a new team hasn't been easy.

"You come in with a sense of wanting to fit in and do the different things and show your work," Harper said. "When you get injured, that kind of sets you back. Training camp is a time where guys work on things and physically come together as a team.

"For me being gone, I was here but not really out there playing with the guys and going through the wars. It was kind of difficult."

With Harper, Carolina's secondary is set. Thomas DeCoud, a free agent from Atlanta, will start at free safety. Antoine Cason, a free agent from Arizona, will start at one cornerback and returning starter Melvin White will be on the other side.

Harper's return means either Anderson Russell or Robert Lester likely will become expendable when the team shrinks its roster to 53 players. Russell has started the past two preseason games over Lester, who missed the past two practices with an ankle injury.

The big question now is will the new secondary be as solid as the one last season that helped Carolina rank second in the NFL in total defense?

"Communication has been fine," Harper said. "Guys are getting lined up. We've got to get to the huddle calls a little bit faster. But overall, if you look at it on tape, the defense has not played bad."
Losing free safety Mike Mitchell to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Tuesday was a big loss for the Carolina Panthers.

Godfrey
Mitchell brought a lot of fire and aggressiveness to the league's second-ranked defense last season. The Panthers wanted him back, but were willing to risk him testing the market in hopes of getting him at a price that would work under their salary-cap restrictions.

That didn't happen as Mitchell got a five-year, $25-millon deal, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

Fortunately, Carolina had a backup plan that included a starter.

Charles Godfrey is on target to return from an Achilles injury that ended his 2013 season in the second game. The seventh-year player out of Iowa was the starter at free safety before his injury allowed Mitchell to move there from strong safety.

Depending on what Carolina does in free agency and the draft, Godfrey could be paired with Robert Lester, who last season started four games at strong safety as an undrafted rookie.

The Panthers also could look at bringing back free agent Quintin Mikell, who played 14 games at strong safety this past season.

Regardless, losing Mitchell didn't leave the cupboard bare. Godfrey has 74 career starts and 11 interceptions. He was so impressive after posting five interceptions and 84 tackles in 2010 that Carolina signed him to a five-year, $27.5 million extension.

There has been speculation with Mitchell's strong play that Carolina would either cut Godfrey after June 1 to save about $5.1 million under the salary cap or get him to renegotiate his deal. A renegotiation remains a possibility as Godfrey is to count $7.1 million against the cap.

But with Mitchell gone, Godfrey's immediate future with Carolina is secure.

Statement win for Newton and Panthers

November, 19, 2013
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The song "Sweet Caroline" began blaring over the Bank of America Stadium loudspeakers to signal a Carolina victory Monday night when rookie safety Robert Lester intercepted New England quarterback Tom Brady on the final play of what appeared to be, and ultimately was, a 24-20 win.

But then there was a flag, and the music stopped.

Then the officials gathered to discuss an apparent pass-interference penalty against Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly on tight end Rob Gronkowski in the back of the end zone.

Then they waved it off, saying the pass was uncatchable, and the music started again.

Tears turned to cheers.

And the magic continued.

For those who had any doubt about whether or not the Panthers (7-3) were legitimate playoff contenders, it's time to stop doubting.

In consecutive weeks, they have beaten reigning NFC champion San Francisco on the road and AFC powerhouse New England at home.

For those who had any doubt about whether or not Cam Newton can be a leader and a winning quarterback in the NFL, it's time to stop that as well. Newton showed the poise of his counterpart -- using athletic skills that Brady can only dream about -- to pull off the biggest victory of his career.

It was a statement win for the Panthers, who have won six consecutive games and seven of their past eight to establish themselves as one of the hottest teams in the league.

It was a statement game for Newton, who completed a 25-yard touchdown pass to Ted Ginn Jr. with 59 seconds left for the go-ahead score.

The Panthers won with guts, playing much of the second half with sack leader Charles Johnson on the sideline nursing a knee injury. He returned for the final series just to give his team a motivational boost.

They won with spectacular playmaking from Newton, who accounted for all but 8 of the 83 yards on the game-winning drive.

"We're letting the world know we're a great team,'' Lester said.

It's starting to look that way. Even those who doubted Carolina after a four-game winning streak against teams that at the time were 8-33 can't deny the accomplishments of the past two weeks.

"You have to pay attention to what we're doing in Carolina now,'' safety Mike Mitchell said. "This is a new day; it's a new team.''

But it's not a satisfied team.

"The thing that I'm satisfied with right now is that we're 7-3,'' Newton said. "No one has time to just sit back and say, 'Oh, man, we just beat the New England Patriots.' No, you don't have time for that.

"This is the NFL and we've got to continue packing our lunches and saying that we've got to hold ourselves accountable, and go do it again next week.''

But this one was special. It was a second straight close victory for a team that two weeks into the season was 2-14 in games decided by a touchdown or less under coach Ron Rivera.

Monday was a victory that one day we all could look back at as the one that propelled Newton to the type of greatness he achieved at the college level.

He carried the offense on this day, leading the team in rushing, with 62 yards on seven carries, and compiling a 125.4 passer rating. At no point was he more spectacular than on a third-quarter play on which he eluded six defenders and covered 75 yards while scrambling to gain 14 on third-and-7.

That led to a 15-yard touchdown pass to tight end Greg Olsen after Brady had pulled the Patriots to 10-10 on the previous series.

"Seventy-five yards of fantasticness,'' wide receiver Steve Smith said. "It was unbelievable.''

But perhaps more impressive was Newton on his final series. He had a 15-yard run on third-and-6. He gained 3 hard yards up the middle on third-and-2.

And on second-and-15 from the New England 25, he floated a perfect pass to Ginn near the 10 that the speedster was able to convert into a touchdown.

"I hear the statistics of all the other guys having game-winning drives; now Cam has his game-winning drive against a worthy opponent,'' Smith said. "Watching that young man grow, that 24-year-old Cam Newton just chipping away, and a little bit of his greatness is starting to shine through.

"And it was fun to be a part of.''

As dramatic and nail-biting as this was, there was a normalcy about it that was impressive. Unlike after Carolina's victory over the 49ers, when players were so excited that Newton said it was like Jesus was in the locker room, Monday's celebration was much more subdued.

"You definitely could tell last week we won a big game,'' left tackle Jordan Gross said. "This week, it was a little less surprising.''

Well, for the players it was. Rivera was so emotional he barely could speak afterward.

"You can tell I'm a little speechless about this game,'' he said. "I'm excited for our players. They won the kind of game that a lot of people don't think we can win.

"That proved a lot today. We are relevant.''

And the music keeps on playing.

Lester, Barner, Edwards doubtful

October, 11, 2013
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Starting strong safety Robert Lester missed his third straight day of practice on Friday with a hamstring injury, making him doubtful for the Carolina Panthers on Sunday at Minnesota.

The undrafted rookie, who spent the first two weeks of the season on the practice squad, has an interception in each of the last two games since becoming the starter. He would be replaced by veteran Quintin Mikell.

"We'll how Robert is [Saturday], how many reps he takes,'' coach Ron Rivera said. "We'll take Robert off to side and see how he handles it, see how he wakes up Sunday morning.

"If he's ready to go, I'll start Robert. I want to keep playing hot hand of young guys right now.''

Mikell began the season as the starter, but injured his ankle in a Week 2 loss at Buffalo. Lester was called up from the practice squad. He has played so well that Rivera and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said he would remain the starter even with Mikell back.

Lester seemed confident all week he would play Sunday, but if not Rivera thinks Mikel is ready.

"I really liked what I saw from Quinton those first two games,'' Rivera said.

Defensive tackle Dwan Edwards (hamstring) looks like he'll miss his third straight start. He'll be replaced again by Colin Cole.

Rookie running back Kenjon Barner is listed as doubtful after the pain in the foot that kept him out of the first three games resurfaced.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina coach Ron Rivera had some concerns over the officiating in Sunday's 22-6 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, but he didn't articulate them as loudly as wide receiver Steve Smith.

Smith called umpire Dan Ferrell "garbage'' on Monday for missing at least one pass interference call and for not giving him the proper spot on a third-down play.

"To be honest, I make enough money where if Roger [Goodell] wants to fine me, he can,'' Smith said of the NFL commissioner. "I really think that referee probably was the sorriest referee I have ever met.''

Rivera wouldn't get into specifics, but said he sent in "things that we're concerned with'' as the league allows coaches to do following games.

"I took advantage of what I'm allowed to do through the league, and they handle it in a very professional manner as was our approach,'' Rivera said.

Asked if they were specific plays such as the ones Smith addressed, Rivera said, "There were plays. Again, it's what we do. We send them in, we talk about them and we try to get those things worked out."

As for Smith, Rivera said, "I know this. Steve speaks from the heart and Steve made his comments and he's sticking with them. We'll go from there."

As of Wednesday's open locker room period, Smith had not been notified by the league of a fine.

Sticking with Lester: Robert Lester was held out of Wednesday's practice with a sore hamstring, but Rivera said the undrafted rookie out of Alabama will continue to start at strong safety even though veteran Quintin Mikell returned from an ankle injury.

Other injury updates: Tight end Greg Olsen, who leads Carolina in catches with 21, missed practice with a foot injury. Rivera said it was just precautionary and he had no doubt that Olsen would play on Sunday at Minnesota.

Travelle Wharton is expected to start at left guard for Amini Silatolu, who suffered a season-ending torn ACL on Sunday. Silatolu hasn't been placed on injured reserve yet. Rivera said it's just a matter of time as the team continues to look for the right player to replace him in the lineup.

Carolina defense championship caliber

September, 22, 2013
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Rookie strong safety Robert Lester summed it up better than me or anybody else how dominant the Carolina Panthers were defensively in Sunday's 38-0 victory over the New York Giants.

"Honestly, it felt like the 2011 National Championship when we just about played the perfect game,'' he said.

Lester was referring to the way his University of Alabama held high-powered LSU to 92 yards of total offense and five first downs en route to a 21-0 victory.

This one had many of the same ingredients. Let's break it down:
  • Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who came to Bank of America Stadium with the No. 1 passing offense, was held to 119 yards.
  • The Panthers intercepted Manning once and backup Curtis Painter once.
  • Carolina sacked Manning seven times; defensive end Greg Hardy had three in the first half and everyone on the front four had at least one.
  • The Giants rushed for only 60 yards, which isn't surprising since they came in with no running game.
  • New York had only 150 total yards.

In other words, near perfection.

The first half was almost laughable for the Giants as Carolina held them to 18 yards and sacked Manning six times. And this from a defense that was missing starting tackle Dwan Edwards (thigh) and two starters in a secondary that was allowing opponents to complete a gaudy 72.2 percent of their passes.

Lester did his share to make sure the completion percentage trend didn't continue, collecting an interception, fumble recovery and five tackles in his first NFL start.

"It was a phenomenal team effort,'' Hardy said.

That the front seven finally played a complete game isn't surprising. They got a lot of national attention in a 12-7 loss to Seattle on opening day. Former Panthers general manager Bill Polian, now an analyst for ESPN, called them one of the best front sevens nobody really knows before kickoff.

But the secondary has been one of the worst every opponent has wanted to know. Predictions of Manning having a big day were rampant.

Few outside the Carolina locker room believed such a shellacking was possible. But the Panthers believed. Free safety Mike Mitchell warned on Wednesday that sleeping on the Carolina secondary will get you a rude awakening.

Rude, indeed.

But nothing Lester hasn't seen before at Alabama.

Locker Room Buzz: Carolina Panthers

September, 22, 2013
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Observed in the locker room after the Carolina Panthers' 38-0 victory over the New York Giants:

Smiles: For the first time after an 0-2 start players actually were happy to see reporters and talk about the game. "More than anything I wanted our young players to feel success,'' tackle Jordan Gross said.

Payton
Rivera
Oh say can you see? This wasn't in the locker room, but it is worth sharing. Coach Ron Rivera apologized to reporters before his opening postgame comments for having his sunglasses and not his reading glasses so he could see the final stats. No apologies were necessary, and he would have liked everything he saw.

Lost at sea: Rookie strong safety Robert Lester, a week removed from being on the practice squad, was buried behind a sea of cameras and reporters after collecting five tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery in his first NFL start. How did it feel? Like after an Alabama game.

Alone time: Steve Smith sat alone in front of his locker, no reporters around, and read messages on his cell phone. For once he wasn't the center of attention during or after a Carolina game as his fellow receivers finally stepped up.

W2W4: Giants at Panthers

September, 21, 2013
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Either the Carolina Panthers or New York Giants will win for the first time this season in Sunday's 1 p.m. ET game at Bank of America Stadium.

Unless they play to a rare tie, that is.

Here are three keys for the Panthers:

Licking his chops: Giants quarterback Eli Manning has to be salivating over what he'll see in Carolina's secondary. There will be rookie Robert Lester starting at strong safety. Mike Mitchell is playing a new position, moving from strong safety to free. Left cornerback Josh Thomas is out after suffering a concussion in Week 2, and his backup, Josh Norman, has a deep thigh bruise. Veteran Drayton Florence is back from what he calls a "two-week vacation'' after being cut. This unit was suspect even before the injuries, allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete 72.2 percent of their passes. That the Giants' passing game ranks No. 1 in the NFL makes this even more of a mismatch. But maybe this will be a reverse of last season, when New York came to town with key injuries at wide receiver and running back and posted a 36-7 victory. "If you're sleeping on our secondary, you'll get a rude awakening,'' Mitchell said.

Now or never for Newton: If Panthers' quarterback Cam Newton wants to prove he's a true leader, this is his opportunity. An 0-3 start would make him truly the "Forgotten 1,'' as the ESPN the Magazine headline suggested. But in order to take charge, offensive coordinator Mike Shula may have to turn Newton loose. So far in Shula's more-traditional attack, Newton has rushed only nine times for 53 yards. He's passed for only 354 yards. Twenty-seven quarterbacks in the league have thrown for more. The Giants haven't done much in terms of pressuring the quarterback or stopping the pass, so perhaps this is Newton's opportunity.

Playmakers make plays: That's the challenge by Carolina coach Ron Rivera. So far, Carolina has 20 pass plays of 20-plus yards. Opponents have eight. Carolina has three sacks, none from Greg Hardy, who suggested 50 was his goal this season. Opponents have seven, with Buffalo's Mario Williams collecting 4.5 last week. As mentioned above, Newton has passed for 354 yards; his counterparts have passed for 607. I could go on, but you get Rivera's points. Carolina's stars have to start starring to get this team over the hump.

Florence and Panthers need each other

September, 19, 2013
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- There's nothing like a two-week vacation without pay.

That pretty much sums up what happened to veteran cornerback Drayton Florence, who was re-signed by the Carolina Panthers on Wednesday night after being cut following the final preseason game in August.

That pretty much sums up the injury-riddled Carolina secondary.

Florence has gone from taking his son to swim lessons to possibly starting at left corner in Sunday's 1 p.m. game against the New York Giants.

Then there's rookie Robert Lester, who went from the practice squad to definitely starting at strong safety.

When they say next man up in the NFL, they mean it. Florence is just happy for the opportunity after being at home on opening day for the first time since he was selected in the second round of the 2003 draft.

Now he has a couple of days to get ready for the Giants, who lead the league in passing.

"I'm ready,'' Florence said. "This is my opening day.''

Florence most definitely will play. Whether he starts depends on Josh Thomas being cleared by doctors after suffering a concussion in Sunday's 24-23 loss to the Buffalo Bills.

Thomas practiced on a limited basis on Thursday, as did backup Josh Norman (thigh bruise), and is optimistic he'll be cleared.

But as head coach Ron Rivera said, the signing of Florence "was a very prudent move.''

He's insurance.

He's also a veteran who may be able to help a young group that even before the rash of injuries against Buffalo -- the most severe free safety Charles Godfrey lost for the year with a torn Achilles -- struggled to stop the pass.

Opposing quarterbacks have completed 72.2 percent of their attempts, a big reason for the 0-2 start. Only the Washington Redskins at 73.1 are worse.

"It's like he never left,'' Rivera said of Florence. "He did a nice job of understanding what we're doing, the concepts we're using for this game, and he just fit right in. It was good to have him back in the meetings and the practice field. It was kind of neat watching him work with some of the younger guys, too.''

The Panthers need experience even though they are excited about the young, athletic potential of Thomas and Norman. Of the starters without Florence, no member of the secondary has been in the league more than five seasons.

"I always thought it was very athletic,'' Florence said of the secondary before he was cut. "We were taking the underdog approach. It was something we kind of established in training camp.

"[But] those things don't mean much until you start winning games.''

The Panthers need Florence almost as much as he needs them. After several weeks of taking the kids to school in Jacksonville, Fla., his wife "was a little bit tired of me hanging around the house.''

"We're all happy now,'' said Florence, who has offers from right cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and defensive tackle Dwan Edwards to sleep on their couch or spare bed. "I'm just coming here to help the team out anyway I can.''

Carolina DBs take wounded dog approach

September, 18, 2013
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers' secondary situation might not be as dire as advertised.

Starting left cornerback Josh Thomas told ESPN.com he expects to be cleared to play on Thursday. Thomas suffered a concussion in the second quarter of Sunday's 24-23 loss to the Buffalo Bills and has been undergoing the league's mandatory testing.

Mike Mitchell, who was the starting strong safety throughout most of the preseason until suffering a calf injury and losing the job to Quintin Mikell (ankle), will move to free safety to replace Charles Godfrey (Achilles, injured reserve).

Starting right cornerback Captain Munnerlyn is healthy.

So that leaves strong safety as the only spot where the Panthers will be inexperienced. Robert Lester, who was signed from the practice squad on Tuesday, will start as things stand now.

There's also a chance backup cornerback Josh Norman (thigh, knee) could be ready. And James Dockery is back after missing the first two games with a thumb injury.

In other words, the Panthers (0-2) believe they'll be ready on Sunday for the New York Giants (0-2) and quarterback Eli Manning, who is second in the NFL in total passing yards.

"If you're sleeping on our secondary, you'll get a rude awakening,'' Mitchell said defiantly on Wednesday.

Coach Ron Rivera wasn't that enthusiastic. He admitted the secondary is a concern, but it has been throughout the preseason when everybody was healthy.

What Rivera likes is the way players have stepped up, particularly Mitchell.

"He was solid,'' Rivera said of Mitchell's practice. "I'm excited about that.''

The injuries will impact the depth and ability to run nickel packages. But it shouldn't be as bad as it was on Sunday at Buffalo when the Panthers were so thin that they couldn't play nickel for a quarter, and at times had linebackers playing the slot receiver out of a base defense.

Rivera said the team will duplicate those reps in practice this week just in case. He also will rep a cornerback to play safety with the potential for only three healthy players if Mikell is sidelined.

For the most part, the Panthers are taking the wounded animal approach -- as in, you don't approach a wounded animal.

"I was a starter,'' Mitchell said. "I am a starter. I'm going to continue to be one. I love the guys in our secondary. I love the men we have. I want the guys that I have in my room.

"I cannot wait to get out and play this game. Right now we have that underdog, back-against-the-wall mentality. You've got to live for this, man.''

Links: Criticism of Cam Newton unjustified

July, 3, 2013
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Atlanta Falcons

Julio Jones came in at No. 26 on the NFL Network's list of the top 100 players of 2013. How does Jones compare to the five wide receivers ranked ahead of him? Daniel Cox of the team's official website takes a look.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's D. Orlando Ledbetter continues his ranking of the Falcons' top 25 players. Coming in at No. 23 is Garrett Reynolds.

The Falcons like their top four cornerbacks and Mark Bradley of the AJC, with an assist from Rivers McCown of Football Outsiders, presents the analytics that show why.

Carolina Panthers

Ron Rivera is one of six NFL coaches on the hot seat this season, according to NFL.com's Elliott Harrison.

Robert Lester had one idea about who Cam Newton was after the two squared off in college -- Lester for Alabama and Newton for rival Auburn -- but now that the two are teammates, Lester has a different view of Newton, writes Don Kausler Jr. of AL.com. “[Newton] mingles with everybody in the locker room,” Lester said. “He’s just overall a great guy. He’s funny. He’s a guy that messes with me every day. Whenever I see him, he says, ‘War Eagle!’”

Newton’s greatness is being overshadowed by a lot of needless criticism, writes Frank Schwab of Yahoo! Sports.

New Orleans Saints

The Times-Picayune continues its series on the Saints’ top 25 players, with No. 13: Thomas Morstead.

The team's website is showcasing 25 reasons to get excited about training camp, and coming in at No. 24 is John Jenkins.

After studying some film of Patrick Robinson, Canal Street Chronicles concludes that the cornerback is in for a breakout season.

The Saints made more scouting department moves Tuesday, promoting Terry Fontenot to director of pro scouting and naming Jason Mitchell as an area scout and Paul Zimmer as college scouting coordinator.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Recently retired cornerback Ronde Barber will be in the broadcast booth for Bucs preseason games this summer, reports the Tampa Tribune.

Wide receiver Vincent Jackson and guard Davin Joseph are back from their USO tours overseas. In a video interview with Rachel Ramirez of the team's official website, the players talk about their first experience in a war zone.

Coach Greg Schiano said that Dekoda Watson could be in the mix for the starting strongside linebacker job.

Links: Falcons' Rodgers aims to play

June, 24, 2013
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Atlanta Falcons

With the addition of Steven Jackson to the Falcons' roster, backup Jacquizz Rodgers maintains a positive attitude toward his potential playing time. “When I get in the game, I’m going to try to make my plays and try to get my number called more often,” Rodgers told D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I’ll try to make every carry and every catch count.”

Rookie cornerback Robert Alford says he's a versatile player who is willing to play anywhere in order to get the Falcons a Super Bowl ring.

Since joining the Falcons in the offseason, Osi Umenyiora has shown the rest of Atlanta’s young defensive ends what it means to be a professional pass-rusher, writes Daniel Cox of the team's website.

Carolina Panthers

J.J. Jansen "understands if fans don’t know his name. He plays a position with little clout: long-snapper," reports the Charlotte Observer's Ben Weinrib.

Undrafted rookie safety Robert Lester accepted the Panthers' free-agent offer, and as the Charlotte Observer's Joseph Person writes, "if Lester’s showing at the team’s three-day minicamp is any indication, it was a decision that could prove to be mutually beneficial."

New Orleans Saints

The Saints need new cornerback Keenan Lewis to stop the big plays, and former Steelers teammate Ike Taylor offers high praise for Lewis and his abilities. SB Nation's Canal Street Chronicles breaks down film on Lewis.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune continues its top 25 players on the Saints series, kicking off Monday with No. 20 defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley.

QB Drew Brees takes to Twitter to calm fears over a fake news story that he'd broken his legs in a car accident.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Unwanted faxes could create a $270M headache for the Buccaneers, according to the Tampa Bay Times' Peter Jamison.

While the Bucs' new defensive backs coach has been afforded some significant luxuries in CB Darrelle Revis and S Dashon Goldson, Tony Oden still has a sizable workload on his hands.

Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy has focused on his diet in the offseason, dropping 20 pounds.
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

The major question facing each team in the NFC South as summer break looms.

Atlanta Falcons. Is the pass rush good enough? The Falcons replaced John Abraham with Osi Umenyiora. That might end up being something close to an even trade. But, just like when the Falcons had Abraham, you have to wonder who else might be able to generate a pass rush. Kroy Biermann is versatile and could bring some pressure from either defensive end or outside linebacker. But the Falcons really need one of their young defensive ends to step up. Second-year pro Jonathan Massaquoi appears to be the leading candidate for that.

Carolina Panthers. Who will be the starters in the defensive backfield? Aside from Charles Godfrey at one safety spot, that question remains wide open. The Panthers don’t have a clear starter at the other safety spot or at either cornerback spot. Veteran Mike Mitchell is one option at safety, but the team has been very impressed by rookie Robert Lester. The cornerback situation is even less clear. Captain Munnerlyn is a lock to be among the top three corners, but Drayton Florence, Josh Thomas, Josh Norman and D.J. Campbell appear to be competing for the other spots. The winners will have to distinguish themselves in training camp and the preseason.

New Orleans Saints. Where’s the pass rush going to come from? Just when it seemed like we were getting some clarity on this, it’s become a bigger question than ever before. Outside linebacker Victor Butler, who had a strong minicamp and played for defensive coordinator Rob Ryan in Dallas, went down with a torn ACL this week. The Saints firmly believed Butler was going to be a force. Now, they have to look at alternatives. Martez Wilson, Junior Galette and rookie Rufus Johnson all have some potential. But none of them are a sure thing. The Saints could end up bringing in a veteran that’s released somewhere else in the preseason if they don’t like what they’re seeing from the young linebackers.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Are they really set at tight end? All indications are the Bucs are planning on going with Luke Stocker and Tom Crabtree as their top two tight ends. That sounds a little dicey because Stocker hasn’t distinguished himself to this point of his career and Crabtree was used sparingly in Green Bay. But the Bucs appear to believe Stocker might be ready to elevate his game and they seem to think Crabtree has upside as a pass-catcher. It still is possible the Bucs could bring in a tight end, but that position doesn’t appear to be all that important in their passing game.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Some random observations and thoughts out of the Carolina Panthers’ minicamp:
  • Coach Ron Rivera was vague on this topic, but I get the sense that there’s a good chance running back Jonathan Stewart, who is recovering from surgery on both ankles, might not be ready to go at the start of training camp.
  • I don’t think the Panthers will scrap the read-option completely, but I came away with a strong sense they’ll be leaning much more heavily to a traditional running game. I think that’s a wonderful thing. Let Stewart, DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert truly be running backs, and let Cam Newton be a true quarterback. Let him use his mobility when receivers aren’t open and plays are breaking down. But don’t ask your quarterback to be your leading rusher.
  • Speaking of running backs, rookie Kenjon Barner seems to have plenty of explosiveness and speed. The Panthers might have to figure out a way to get him into the backfield rotation.
  • After starters Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell, the Panthers are going to have some very intriguing competition for the other receiver spots. Free-agent pickup Ted Ginn Jr. stood out during minicamp. Ginn has great speed, and I saw him catch several deep passes from Newton. I also thought Armanti Edwards, a former college quarterback, finally looked comfortable at receiver. But Ginn and Edwards will be competing with Kealoha Pilares, Joe Adams and David Gettis in training camp for playing time and roster spots.
  • Speaking of Ginn, the Panthers have plenty of options in the return game. But I get the sense that what they ideally would like to do is have Ginn handle both punt and kickoff returns.
  • Safety Robert Lester was signed as an undrafted free agent, but it’s obvious the Panthers are very high on what he has shown so far. There have been times when Lester has gotten some work with the first team.
  • I wish I could give you a clear picture of the situation at cornerback. But I can’t, and that’s mainly because the Panthers still don’t have a clear picture. Captain Munnerlyn hasn’t participated in minicamp as he recovers from an injury. The Panthers were giving a bunch of different cornerbacks work with the first team. I didn’t see any of them really stand out, and that means the competition will continue into training camp.

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