NFC South: Tony Pike

Around the NFC South

August, 31, 2012
Let’s take a Friday morning run through the top headlines from around the NFC South:


Jay Adams writes that Kevin Cone might have pushed himself ahead of the pack for the final receiver spot with a 49-yard touchdown catch Thursday night. But Adams says not to write off Tim Toone and James Rodgers. They can contribute on special teams and that’s going to factor heavily into the Falcons’ decision.

Coach Mike Smith’s decision to sit many of his veteran starters in the final preseason game makes lots of sense. He knows what his veterans can do and believes it’s more important to make sure his team is as healthy as possible for the regular-season opener.


Ron Green Jr. writes that the final roster spot at wide receiver may come down to Seyi Ajirotutu and Armanti Edwards. If Edwards is released, it would be another sign that Carolina’s 2010 draft class was far from the best in league history. Brandon LaFell and Greg Hardy are starters, but Eric Norwood already is out of Carolina, receiver David Gettis and cornerback Brandon Hogan have been hurt most of their careers and quarterback Jimmy Clausen might have trouble staying on the roster. Oh, and don’t forget about the great pick that was Tony Pike.

I know some Carolina fans are thinking the Panthers should go out and get another kicker after Justin Medlock missed two field goal attempts in Pittsburgh on Thursday night. But the folks at Carolina Huddle bring up a good point -- Heinz Field is not an easy place to kick. Medlock’s misses were from 56 and 50 yards. The 50-yarder would have tied the record for longest field goal by an NFL player at that stadium.


Mike Triplett has an overview of the biggest question facing the Saints on cut-down day -- do they keep undrafted rookie running back Travaris Cadet? He’s had an outstanding preseason, but keeping him likely means the Saints would have to carry an extra running back and sacrifice a spot at some other position. The Saints have a history of being creative with their roster. If they're as sold on Cadet as fans seem to be, they’ll make room for him.

The final preseason game and trimming the roster will be among the last acts of assistant head coach Joe Vitt, at least for a while. Vitt is scheduled to begin his six-game suspension Monday. Offensive line coach Aaron Kromer will step into the role as temporary coach. Vitt got emotional Thursday night, when discussing his suspension. That’s understandable. Vitt is an emotional guy to begin with and, as he has said repeatedly, coaching football is the only job he’s had as an adult.


Teams don’t have to announce the moves they made to get their roster down to 53 players until 9 p.m. ET on Friday night and my guess is official word won’t come from most NFC South teams until right around that time. But the Bucs reportedly already have told running back Mossis Madu he’s been released. This is not a huge shock. Madu got some playing time last season and wasn’t bad this preseason. But the Bucs already are set at running back. They invested draft picks in Doug Martin and Michael Smith and they also have LeGarrette Blount.

Roy Cummings writes about how former starting safety Cody Grimm appears to be on the roster bubble. Grimm’s had injury problems in his first two seasons and the Bucs used a first-round draft pick on Mark Barron and have moved veteran cornerback Ronde Barber to safety. Ahmad Black also has emerged this preseason. Grimm’s situation is tenuous, but I’ve got a hunch he may stick because he brings some of the intangibles coach Greg Schiano mentions when he talks about “Buccaneer Men."
We mentioned some Carolina transactions in the earlier item on the Saints releasing defensive end Alex Brown. But the Panthers just sent out their official list of transactions, so let’s get them all on the record for posterity.

The Panthers reached an injury settlement with quarterback Tony Pike. They also waived (injured) guard Duke Robinson and released long-snapper Chris Massey.

The Panthers also placed tight end Gary Barnidge, guard Geoff Schwartz, center Zack Williams and receiver David Gettis on the injured reserve list. That puts the roster at 80 players. The Panthers and the rest of the league have until Saturday evening to get down to 53 players.
Surprising news out of New Orleans. Defensive end Alex Brown, who has worked with the first team throughout the preseason, sent out a tweet saying he’s been released.

Consider that a sign that the Saints are pleased with the progress of first-round draft pick Cameron Jordan. Brown had been starting opposite Will Smith, who could serve a suspension for testing positive for a banned substance in 2008. Even though there is uncertainty about Smith’s situation, the Saints must feel good about Jordan and some of their other defensive ends.

Veteran Jeff Charleston has been a steady backup, and the team likes what Turk McBride has shown in the preseason. The release of Brown could also help Junior Galette’s chances of staying on the roster.

The release of Brown comes with no salary-cap implications. He was scheduled to make $3 million in base salary and had no outstanding roster bonus pro-rations. His release clears up $3 million in cap space.

Teams have to have rosters down to 80 players by the end of the day and there have been some smaller moves around the division.

The Carolina Panthers released second-year quarterback Tony Pike and offensive lineman Duke Robinson. The Panthers also placed guard Geoff Schwartz and tight end Gary Barnidge on the injured reserve list.

The Saints haven’t announced any official moves yet, but receivers John Chiles and Jarred Fayson reportedly have been released.

Earlier in the day, New Orleans safety DeAndre McDaniel tweeted that he had been released.

Stay tuned. We’ll update you with any official announcements from teams as they come. But Saturday is the main day for roster cuts. That’s when teams have to go from 80 players to 53.

NFC South programming notes

August, 13, 2011
The Falcons, Saints and Buccaneers all got their preseasons started Friday night. On Saturday night, the Carolina Panthers open the Ron Rivera/Cam Newton era when they play the New York Giants at 8.

I’ll be watching the game closely and will provide you with general observations on the Panthers as soon as it’s over. But my plan is to provide a more specific post earlier.

Jimmy Clausen is expected to start at quarterback and Newton is likely to follow them. As soon as Newton and Clausen are done playing, I’ll post an item on how their performances might have impacted the competition for the starting job. I don’t think I need to wait to see Derek Anderson or Tony Pike, because they’re not in the mix to start. If either Pike or Anderson does anything significant, we’ll get to that in the postgame observations.

Looking ahead, we’ve already run our Camp Confidential profiles on the Panthers, Saints and Falcons, and that means the Buccaneers are the only one left. I’ve been in and out of Tampa Bay’s camp several times between road trips to see the other teams and already have some stuff gathered.

But my plan is to go out to watch Tampa Bay practice and do some interviews Sunday and Monday. I’ll probably hit you with a few notes on those days, but the Camp Confidential segment on the Bucs is scheduled to run Wednesday.

Carolina QB Tony Pike sidelined

August, 2, 2011
SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- A day after signing Derek Anderson, the Carolina Panthers are back down to three quarterbacks.

Second-year pro Tony Pike, who had not been throwing in the first few days of camp, had an MRI on his throwing shoulder (right) and inflammation was discovered, coach Ron Rivera said. Pike will rest in the short term and that might not bode well for his future with the Panthers.

A sixth-round draft pick a year ago, Pike is behind Jimmy Clausen and Cam Newton on the depth chart. The Panthers have much higher draft picks invested in those two. They also brought in Anderson so they would have some experience at the position.

Anderson previously played under offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski in Cleveland and that should be enough to secure a roster spot. Pike’s best shot at sticking with the Panthers might be on the practice squad.
SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- Coach Ron Rivera just said the Carolina Panthers are close to completing a contract with quarterback Derek Anderson.

Rivera said he and general manager Marty Hurney met with Anderson in Spartanburg on Monday morning and Hurney is putting the finishing touches on a deal.

Rivera said he and Hurney made it clear to Anderson what his role would be. Part of it would be to serve as a mentor to Cam Newton and Jimmy Clausen. But Rivera also emphasized that Anderson wouldn’t be coming in already settled on a backup role.

Rivera said he told Anderson all he wants him to do is come in and compete. Rivera admitted offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski was instrumental in recruiting Anderson. The two were together in Cleveland in 2007, when Anderson had the best season of his career.

Second-year quarterback Tony Pike did not take part in Monday morning's light practice. Rivera said that was because of a medical reason, but did not elaborate.

Hitting the NFC South hot spots

July, 17, 2011
The NFC South mailbag got pretty full while I took my last bit of time off before training camps open, so let’s go ahead and get to some of your questions.

Jordan in New Orleans wrote to ask if Reggie Bush could be primed for a big season if he stays in New Orleans.

Pat Yasinskas: We’ll go on the assumption that Bush and the Saints work out a way to handle his contract and answer your question. Part of the reason that Bush has never put up the kind of numbers so many people expected is because he has dealt with a variety of injuries during his career. I think he’s a guy who possibly could benefit from the lockout. He’s had an entire offseason to let his body recover and get fully healthy. Let’s say he stays that way. Bush has only played a full 16-game season once in his career. That was 2006, his rookie season. Combine his rushing and receiving numbers from that season and you come up with more than 1,300 yards and eight touchdowns. I expect Mark Ingram to sort of fill the old Deuce McAllister role. In 2006, McAllister and Bush made a nice tandem. Plus, I think Sean Payton has had an entire offseason to come up with different ways to utilize Bush’s talents. I think it’s possible he could put up numbers similar to what he did as a rookie, if he can stay healthy all year.

Dustin in San Diego asks about the possibility of Tampa Bay pursuing Atlanta free-agent tackle Tyson Clabo.

Pat Yasinskas: Not out of the realm of possibility. Right tackle Jeremy Trueblood is a free agent and he lost his job to James Lee last season. I don’t think the Bucs are going to make a huge effort to re-sign Trueblood. Atlanta may try to keep Clabo, but the Bucs might be wise to make a run at him. Clabo would be an upgrade over Trueblood or Lee.

Jason in Winston-Salem, N.C., asks if there’s any chance of the Panthers keeping quarterback Matt Moore.

Pat Yasinskas: I just don’t see it. Cam Newton and Jimmy Clausen are guaranteed roster spots, unless they get injured. The Panthers also have Tony Pike and have talked about signing a veteran to mentor the young quarterbacks. Moore has a little experience, but not enough to really be the true mentor type. I still think Moore can be a decent NFL backup. I just think it’s in his best interest to go somewhere else and get a fresh start.

Jill in Atlanta wanted to know my thoughts on Ricky Bell as a potential member of Tampa Bay’s Ring of Honor.

Pat Yasinskas: I think Bell is someone who should get in to the Ring of Honor in the next couple of years, if the Bucs continue to go in some sort of chronological order. Bell was a little before my time and I was in junior high school in Pennsylvania most of the time he played for the Bucs. But, even from a distance, I remember Bell in the same category as Lee Roy Selmon and Doug Williams, especially in that wondrous 1979 season. That might have been Bell’s finest season and he had several good years. Sadly, his career was cut short by illness and he died in 1984. I’ve talked to several former teammates about Bell and they all say he was a marvelous talent and wonder what he could have done if he had a longer career. I think he did enough to earn a spot in the Ring of Honor.

Brian in Athens, Ga., inquired about the status of Atlanta defensive tackle Peria Jerry.

Pat Yasinskas: I’ve asked that question of coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff several times this offseason. Every time, each of them has given the same answer: they’re expecting big things from Jerry, their first-round pick in 2009. He had a major knee injury early in his rookie season. Jerry came back last season, but was only a situational player with rookie Corey Peters playing ahead of him. Smith and Dimitroff have admitted the plan was to go slowly with Jerry last season. They firmly believe this is the season his knee will be totally healthy and they think he can finally be the player they thought they were getting when they drafted him.

Mike in Chapel Hill, N.C., said he’s read a lot about players working out on their own or in groups during the offseason, but wonders what coaches have been doing during the lockout.

Pat Yasinskas: Excellent question and not much has been written about this. Around the league, coaches were more involved in the draft than in past years. They’ve also spent a lot of time working with personnel staffs to prepare for free agency. I think that’s one bright side of the lockout because coaching staffs and personnel staffs have had more time to get on the same page about who they want in free agency. Beyond that, I’ve heard that coaches have spent a lot of time reviewing the players they already have and thinking about ways to make them better. I’ve also heard coaches have done a lot more advance film work on their opponents for this season.
Several times this offseason, new Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera has implied pretty strongly that he wants to add a veteran quarterback to help mentor Cam Newton and Jimmy Clausen.

I get the idea. Clausen and Newton are both very young and raw. If the lockout shortens training camp, the Panthers could even open the season with someone like Marc Bulger or Jake Delhomme as the starting quarterback. Someone like Delhomme or Bulger could come in and run the offense efficiently until Newton and/or Clausen gets up to speed.

But let’s say the lockout gets resolved quickly and training camp starts on time. In that scenario, I’m not so sure it’s necessary the Panthers go out and sign a veteran to work as a mentor. In fact, I think the idea of having a player mentor another player at the same position is overrated. First off, there are competitive juices flowing through every professional athlete and that doesn’t always lead to dedicated mentoring.

Besides, I think the Panthers already have some pretty good mentors for Newton and Clausen. They are offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski and quarterbacks coach Mike Shula. They’ve been around and are good at what they do. They can do more as mentors than some veteran backup.

Look at how Tampa Bay handled Josh Freeman. They had Byron Leftwich there as a (very short) bridge in Freeman’s rookie year. But Leftwich wasn’t a mentor. Freeman’s development came because he worked hard and because he got some very good coaching from offensive coordinator Greg Olson and Alex Van Pelt joined the Bucs as quarterbacks coach last season. Freeman frequently credits Olson and Van Pelt for his progress. It was kind of the same thing with Matt Ryan in Atlanta. Chris Redman might be an extra set of eyes and ears for Ryan, but offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey and former quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave were the ones who developed him.

It probably wouldn’t hurt the Panthers if they add a veteran mentor for Newton and Clausen. But will it really help them? They’ve got another quarterback, Tony Pike, who they drafted last year. Some in the organization thinks Pike has potential. If the Panthers bring in a veteran, Pike will be gone, unless the Panthers find some way to carry four quarterbacks. Putting Pike on the practice squad is possible, but not likely. If he’s released, some other team will sign him before Carolina can get him on the practice squad.

The idea of bringing in a mentor sounds nice. But the fact is the Panthers might already have all the mentors they need in Chudzinski and Shula.

Hitting the NFC South hot spots

June, 25, 2011
Time for a plunge into the NFC South mailbag.

Rick in San Diego asks what the cap hit would be if the Saints release Reggie Bush and wonders if it would be better to trade him.

Pat Yasinskas: Trading Bush really isn’t an option because the new team would have to pick up the final year of his contract, which includes an $11.8 million base salary. He currently is scheduled to cost the Saints $16 million against this year’s cap. If they release him, they still would take a $3.5 million cap hit for pro-rated bonus money, but it would be a savings of $12.5 million in cap space compared to where things currently stand.

Zac in Pfafftown, N.C., asks about the possibility of trading Jimmy Clausen and what his value might be.

PY: Nice idea and a lot of Panthers fans are wondering about trading Clausen. But really it makes no sense at this point and it’s not in their plans. Yes, the Panthers just drafted quarterback Cam Newton essentially to replace Clausen. But they still need a backup for Newton and it’s possible Clausen could be the opening-day starter if Newton is slow to pick up the playbook in training camp. There also are people within the organization who believe Clausen still has a chance to be a good NFL quarterback and was simply put in a bad spot last season. Besides, after last season, Clausen really wouldn’t have much trade value right now.

Let things play out. Clausen could play some this season and maybe he plays well and that jacks up his trade value. The Panthers could end up with a situation like the Falcons had a few years ago when they were able to get quality draft picks by trading Matt Schaub. But Clausen doesn’t have that kind of value right now and the Panthers still need him in case Newton’s not ready right away.

Matt in West Palm Beach says my column on Drew Brees never mentioned my thoughts on if he’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer while my column on Tony Gonzalez was very clear that the Atlanta tight end should go in on the first ballot.

PY: I'm doing periodic looks at potential Hall of Famers from the NFC South and I started with Brees and Gonzalez. There's no set formula for this project. In fact, the approach I'll take in some upcoming installments will be far different from what you already have seen. I'm thinking about doing a combo piece where I explore the chances for veteran defensive backs Darren Sharper and Ronde Barber. I may do something similar with receivers Roddy White and Steve Smith.

The columns were written with different premises. In Brees’ case, I was only writing about his chances of making the Pro Football Hall of Fame and speculating ahead because he likely will be playing for at least a few more years. In Gonzalez’s case, I was arguing he should go in on the first ballot. That’s a pretty big issue in Gonzalez’s situation because voters have traditionally been reluctant to let tight ends go in on the first ballot. Shannon Sharpe had to wait until his third year of eligibility and will be inducted this summer.

But, if you’re asking for my thoughts on if Brees will go in on the first ballot, I think he’s got a real shot. But it will depend on if he can put up big numbers for at least a few more seasons and it wouldn’t hurt if the Saints win another championship or two.

Karim in Chicago asks if defensive end Ray Edwards really is worth the money many are expecting the Falcons to throw at him in free agency.

PY: If you look at Edwards’ sack totals, they’re not overwhelming. He had eight last season and 8.5 the year before that. He never got above five sacks in the first three seasons of his career. But the past two seasons showed an upward trend and Edwards is only 26. In these situations teams have to look at their system and personnel and project a guy into that and ask if they think he can thrive.

Lots of scouts around the league think Edwards can produce double-digit sacks in a season, but it’s not like he’s got the resume of a Julius Peppers. Conventional wisdom is that Edwards is the guy the Falcons will target, but we don’t know that for sure. Carolina’s Charles Johnson could be a target if the Panthers don’t re-sign him and there could be another guy or two the Falcons like.

Alex in Rochester, N.Y., wrote to say all the quarterback talk in Carolina is about Newton and Clausen. He wonders if Tony Pike is so bad that he doesn’t deserve mention.

PY: Pike was a sixth-round pick for a reason last season and it’s rare for a sixth-round pick to become anything more than a backup quarterback. I’m the first to admit Carolina had a unique situation last year because former coach John Fox was so opposed to the youth movement. He grudgingly played Clausen when he had no choice. When Clausen and Matt Moore were both out with injuries, the Panthers signed veteran Brian St. Pierre off the street and started him ahead of Pike.

The word out of Carolina was that Pike had shown no signs of progress in practice and that’s why Fox went with St. Pierre. I’m sure Pike will get a look from the new staff in training camp, but he better show something. Clausen and Newton are practically guaranteed roster spots and there’s talk the Panthers might bring in a veteran to mentor them. Unless he has a very strong camp, Pike might not have a roster spot.

Matt in Houston says he repeatedly has heard about the Saints’ offseason workouts, led by Brees, and wonders if other teams have been less active.

PY: Any workouts that have been done around the league have been positive because they help players stay somewhat sharp so they’ll be ready when the lockout ends. But none of these workouts are even close to what usually happens in the offseason when coaches are working with players. I’m sure Brees has done a great job with the Saints’ workouts and all indications are attendance has been great.Not to sell their efforts short in any way and I think the Saints are in the best shape of any division team coming out of the lockout, but I should point out their workouts have been open to the media and drawn far more attention than in most places.

Matt Ryan's been doing similar workouts with the Falcons, but Atlanta is a one-newspaper town and the television stations don't come out for every workout, so it’s not like there’s been wall-to-wall coverage. The Panthers didn’t do anything formal until a few weeks ago and only opened the last workout to the media. Josh Freeman has been leading workouts for offensive skill-position players for the Bucs since March, but he tried to keep them pretty private and didn’t allow much media access. The Bucs will be doing a minicamp -- that will include defensive players but won't be too heavy on linemen on either side of the ball -- next week that will be open to the media and it should get plenty of coverage.

But the bottom line is that while workouts may help a little bit, they’re no substitute for working with the coaches. Every team around the league is going to have to do some serious catching up in training camp.
As I visited with Josh Freeman the other day, the quarterback of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers brought up a very significant point that I don’t think has been talked about enough during the lockout.

Freeman started talking about how, in addition to leading group workouts for the team, he’s been spending a lot of time studying film. Sometimes he does it with teammates, but, mostly, it’s been on his own.

“Usually, that’s something that you do with your coach,’’ Freeman said.

In the lockout, Freeman hasn’t been able to break down film with offensive coordinator Greg Olson and quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt the way he did last offseason. That’s a plight facing quarterbacks all around the league.

Wonder how they all deal with it?

Well, I’m sure it varies, but I asked Freeman how he is handling that issue and he provided a very interesting answer.

“I have all of our (2011) opponents’ games from last season on my computer and I can put them on my projector,’’ Freeman said. “Obviously, I’m familiar with the teams in the division, but I’ve been studying the other teams that we’ll be playing. The Colts, the Bears and the Packers, I’ve been spending a lot of time watching them and trying to figure out their tendencies and nuances.’’

Freeman got the film from Tampa Bay’s coaching staff before the lockout began. Backups Rudy Carpenter and Josh Johnson got the same package. I’m not certain, but I’m guessing the Bucs are not unique in this area.

I’m pretty sure Sean Payton and his staff made sure Drew Brees got something similar. I’d also guess Atlanta offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey made sure Matt Ryan had some tape to watch during and after his honeymoon. If that somehow didn’t happen, Brees and Ryan are very resourceful guys and I’m sure they could find a way to get video of their upcoming opponents.

I’m not sure if the Panthers, who have an entirely new coaching staff were able to slip rookie Cam Newton any video while he was in their building during the brief period the lockout was lifted in April.

But new coach Ron Rivera and his staff seem to be pretty sharp guys and I’m guessing they also set up some sort of video package for Jimmy Clausen and Tony Pike before the lockout.

Around the NFC South

May, 3, 2011
Let's take a run through some headlines around the NFC South.

Tampa Bay defensive end Kyle Moore makes it sound like it’s going to cost rookie Adrian Clayborn some money to get his jersey (No. 94). Moore better get as much as he can because the arrival of Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers means he’s not even guaranteed a roster spot. Of course, if Moore had produced more than zero sacks in his two-year career, he might have a guaranteed roster spot and his jersey number might be safe because the Bucs might not have felt the urgency to go out and draft two defensive ends.

Joe Person has projected the depth chart for the Carolina Panthers. I’ve only got one small disagreement with him. I’d go ahead and slide Cam Newton straight up to No. 1 at quarterback. If there is a veteran on the way, it’s not going to be anyone who is a serious candidate to start over Newton and Jimmy Clausen. The only way the Panthers open the season with a veteran is if the lockout wipes out all or most of training camp and Newton and Clausen have had virtually no time to work in the new offensive scheme. If there is a normal training camp, I'm not sure the Panthers even carry a veteran on the roster. They also have second-year pro Tony Pike, who they invested a draft pick in last year.

Nice gesture by the Buccaneers on Saturday night as they honored Derrick Brooks with a formal retirement party. This was a big step in mending a relationship that was fractured when the Bucs released Brooks in 2009. There has been some thawing, but there still needs to be more. The Bucs need a friendly relationship with the best player in franchise history and Brooks needs to start embracing the team again. No sense in going through life with bitterness in your heart (see Doug Williams). Matter of fact, if things keep going the way they currently are, I think Brooks gets into the team's Ring of Honor before Williams.

Chris Harris has a list of his top-10 rookies for fantasy purposes. Mark Ingram, Julio Jones and Cam Newton all are on the list.

Heath Evans wrote an op-ed piece for The Huffington Post. If this seems like an unusual place for the fullback of the New Orleans Saints to surface, give his article a read. It’s not the usual football story, not even close.

The Saints are getting together for some workouts at Tulane University. As you might have guessed, quarterback Drew Brees is running the show. Josh Freeman's been leading a similar effort for the Bucs.
Cam NewtonAP Photo/Mark J. TerrillCarolina is going to expect Cam Newton to be able to start right away.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- For just a second Thursday night, the new Carolina Panthers looked just as deliberate as the old ones.

The team that has set NFL offenses back a decade the past couple of years, ran one straight up the gut. New coach Ron Rivera and general manager Marty Hurney weren’t playing any games as they talked about Cam Newton, the man they took with the first pick in the NFL draft.

They didn’t come right out and say it, but you don’t have to look for any mysterious lines to read between. Rivera uses the term “bottom line’’ a lot and, in this case it’s real obvious what the bottom line is.

The Panthers’ plan is to play Newton right away. In fact, go ahead and pencil him in as the opening-day starter.

“He’s not drafted to be a franchise savior,’’ Rivera said. “He’s drafted to be a part of what we do and how we do it. If this team is going to win a championship, we’re going to get back to running the football the way we did and the way we can.’’

Translation: The Panthers believe they’ve got enough offensive talent in place that they can put Newton in a good situation from the start. Think back to Ben Roethlisberger's rookie year in Pittsburgh. He sat just briefly behind Tommy Maddox before becoming the starter. Then, surrounded by a very good team, Roethlisberger came on and led the Steelers all the way to the AFC Championship Game before losing to New England. In those days, the Steelers asked Roethlisberger to throw the ball 22 or 24 times a game and they won.

They won the Super Bowl in Roethlisberger’s second season.

Yeah, Rivera and Hurney said all the right things about how Newton will have to compete with Jimmy Clausen, a second-round pick a year ago. But they probably would have said the same thing about Tony Pike, who now falls to third on the quarterback depth chart.

They even answered diplomatically when asked the standard question about bringing in a veteran to serve as a mentor or even as a bridge.

“I think that’s something to discuss after the draft,’’ Hurney said.

[+] EnlargeCameron Newton
Jerry Lai/US PresswireThe Panthers are convinced Cam Newton will be able to run a pro-style offense this season.
Yeah right, Clausen’s got a chance to win the job and the Panthers are going to go out and sign some veteran to help bring Newton along? Neither of those scenarios will happen unless Newton absolutely fails to pick up the playbook and has a disastrous training camp.

The Panthers already are in a youth movement. They just added the most important piece of that movement. The best news of all is that the lockout may be over and the Panthers can hand Newton a playbook when he arrives at Bank of America Stadium on Friday morning. On-field work in minicamps will follow quickly.

“The bottom line is Cam will play when Cam gets himself ready to play,’’ Rivera said.

That process starts as soon as Newton walks in the building in the morning. Heck, it started long ago as the Panthers went through a grueling process of looking into everything about Newton.

“I can tell you he is the most researched player I’ve ever been around,’’ Rivera said.

The Panthers did plenty of research on Newton’s character and background and they signed off on that more than a month ago. The Panthers started off considering eight players for the No. 1 pick and narrowed that number to four.

“I tried to ride that four as long as I could,’’ Rivera said. “Everything kept coming back to Cam.’’

This decision wasn’t about character or background nearly as much as it came down to purely a football decision. All that speculation about Newton not being ready to step right into an NFL offense? Well, it brought a lot more concern to the media and fans than it did to the Panthers. They put Newton through some serious tests long before they made this pick and they’re convinced he can handle their playbook.

They sent it to him a couple of months ago before they brought in offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, who is supposed to install a system similar to what the San Diego Chargers run. They also sent quarterbacks coach Mike Shula to meet with Newton.

With Carolina’s playbook in his mind, Newton was asked to guide Chudzinski and Shula through their offense. He passed the test with flying colors.

“He’s going to open things up with Rob Chudzinski’s play calling,’’ Rivera said. “Our coaches were on board right off the bat.’’

Chudzinski and Shula came back to Charlotte with visions of Newton extending their plays with his arm and legs dancing in their heads. They made a presentation to Rivera about how they could use Newton in their offense.

“We drafted a player who touches the ball on every play,’’ Hurney said.

He just might touch the ball on every play from the very start of the season. Remember, the Panthers are convinced the rest of their offense isn’t nearly as bad as last season’s 2-14 record would suggest. They have running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. They have a good offensive line, led by Jordan Gross and Ryan Kalil, that can be great if Jeff Otah comes back from injury. They've already imported veteran tight end Jeremy Shockey and they're high on young receivers Brandon LaFell and David Gettis. Even if veteran receiver Steve Smith is on his way out the door in a trade, the Panthers are convinced they can plug in a quarterback and instantly become much better.

“I think his learning curve will be a lot quicker,’’ Rivera said. “It’s not just about one guy.’’

No, in some ways, it’s not. There are 10 other players on offense and the Panthers think those guys are fine. They just need a quarterback to ease their offense into this century. Over time, he might even get the chance to do a lot more than he'll be asked initially.

They drafted that guy Thursday night. Rivera’s right. Newton doesn’t have to come in and be the savior -- at least not right away. He just needs to come in and be the starting quarterback right away and the Carolina offense -- and the entire team -- instantly will be much improved.

In this Insider post, Todd McShay says the Carolina Panthers are feeling more urgency than teams who have held the No. 1 pick in past years.

The reason? McShay points to Armanti Edwards.

Yep, the Panthers gave up this year’s second-round pick, which turned out to be No. 33 overall, for the chance to take Edwards in the third round last year. The lack of a second-round pick, McShay reasons, could force the Panthers to take Auburn quarterback Cam Newton with the No. 1 overall pick. If the Panthers still had that second-round pick, the Panthers could use it on a quarterback or even package it to move back into the first round and grab a quarterback.

It all makes sense. But let me add one thing here. There are a lot of people in Carolina and elsewhere who point to Edwards as a bust and they blame him for the Panthers being without a second-round pick.

I don’t think that’s fair at all. The Panthers knew Edwards was a project when they drafted him. He’s a former college quarterback and the team views him as a wide receiver who also has some ability as a return man.

The problem was, former coach John Fox pretty much refused to let Edwards near the field as a rookie. Fox was fighting a youth movement as well as an owner and front office. Refusing to use guys like Edwards and starting Brian St. Pierre at quarterback ahead of rookie Tony Pike was Fox’s way of sending a message. It also turned out to be his way of getting run out of town.

I’d tell any Carolina fan not to give up on Edwards just yet. A big part of the reason Ron Rivera was hired as the new coach was because he’s open to building with youth. Carolina general manager Marty Hurney was the guy who drafted Edwards and he still has high hopes for him.

At least with Rivera, we’ll get a chance to see if Edwards was worth the draft pick.
The quarterbacks are up next in our Power Rankings series and I get to write the analysis of our voting, which will appear Tuesday.

Aside from John Fox, everyone else on the planet will tell you quarterback is the most important position in football, so this edition should spark lots of conversation. I’m about to fill out my ballot.

I’ll share this much with you. I’m putting three NFC South quarterbacks on the ballot and Jimmy Clausen, Tony Pike and Cam Newton are not among them. Yeah, it’s pretty obvious what I’m saying.

Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Josh Freeman will be on my ballot. I’m sure the rest of the voters will have Tom Brady and Peyton Manning in the top two slots. But I’m going to break from convention and put one of the NFC South guys in one of those two spots. Again, it’s pretty obvious I’m talking about Brees.

Where will Ryan and Freeman fall? Well, they’ll each be in the bottom five of my top 10. We got a question in last week's chat that asked me if Ryan or Freeman is the better quarterback. I don’t think that’s a very fair question -- or at least an easy one to answer -- at this point. I think Freeman’s upside is tremendous and there’s not a thing about him I don’t like. But he’s only had one full season as a starter, so I’m not ready to flat-out say he’s better than Ryan. He could be, but we need to see a little more evidence.

Hitting the NFC South hot spots

April, 9, 2011
Let’s take a look into the NFC South mailbag and hit on some of the questions that seem to be on a lot of minds.

Justin in San Francisco wrote to say, with talk of teams cutting staff members due to the lockout, how many people does an NFL team employ beyond players and coaches?

Pat Yasinskas: Very good question, because a lot more people behind-the-scenes are being affected by the lockout. To the best of my knowledge, the NFC South teams seem to be doing a pretty good job of protecting most of their employees so far, and I don’t know of any major cuts within the division. With coaching staffs and players alone, you’re generally talking about 80 people. Then, you have to throw in personnel people and scouts. After that, there are all sorts of people ranging from business executives to groundskeepers and people in the equipment department, and we won’t even go into the part-time people who are brought in for game days. There is no exact number for full-time employees because it varies from team to team. But I would say 300 is probably somewhere close to the average.

Michael in Baltimore asks why no one is talking about the Carolina Panthers bringing back Matt Moore next season.

Pat Yasinskas: Michael also points out Moore played better than Jimmy Clausen last year, and I don’t disagree with that. But Moore’s contract is up, and I don’t think the Panthers will bring him back. They’re probably going to draft a quarterback, and they might even bring in a veteran to mix with Clausen and Tony Pike. Those two were drafted by the Panthers last year and are still under contract. Harsh as this may sound, Moore got his shot last year, however brief, and things didn’t fall into place. I know that wasn’t entirely his fault by any means. But I think he’ll probably move on and try to land a backup job somewhere else.

Dan in Houston wrote to say he read our post about Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl bid and said he agrees with my suggestion on rotating Super Bowls among Miami, Tampa, New Orleans and Arizona, but wonders why I didn’t include Houston on the list.

Pat Yasinskas: Good point. I’ll be totally honest and admit that Houston slipped my mind. I’m glad you reminded me. I was covering the Panthers for The Charlotte Observer when they played in the Super Bowl hosted by Houston after the 2003 season. Can’t say I got to spend a lot of time out on the town because that was a hectic week. But that Super Bowl seemed to go off very well, Reliant Stadium is first-class and Houston’s weather rarely gets too cold that time of year. I’ll add Houston to my list.

Stan in Thomaston, Ga. wrote to ask why Atlanta isn’t bidding for the 2015 Super Bowl and if the city would have a chance if it bid on that or any future Super Bowl.

Pat Yasinskas: As far as I know, Atlanta hasn’t entered the mix for the 2015 Super Bowl, which is expected to be awarded in the fall. We all know the Falcons are seeking a new, outdoor stadium, and Atlanta may be awaiting the outcome of that before pursuing any future Super Bowls. But I’m not sure the idea of an outdoor stadium works in Atlanta’s favor when it comes to getting another Super Bowl. The last Super Bowl in Atlanta didn’t go off that well, even though the game was played indoors in the Georgia Dome. That wasn’t the fault of the people in Atlanta or the people running the logistics for the Super Bowl. It just so happened that week was exceptionally cold, and Atlanta got hit hard by an ice storm that caused many problems. It was very similar to what happened in North Texas this year, and I think the NFL is going to be a little more cautious about going to cities where there’s the potential for bad weather when awarding future Super Bowls. As I’ve said before, it’s not just about game day. The week leading into the Super Bowl is all part of the event, and weather can cause problems with that. If Atlanta gets an outdoor stadium, that could make future Super Bowls a tough sell.

Charles in Metairie, La. says he’s disappointed in the people who are down on Drew Brees because of his involvement in the labor situation. He adds that Brees always has been a leader and is simply following through on that.

Pat Yasinskas: No argument here. Brees accepted his role on behalf of the players four years ago. I would expect him to handle that the same way he handles everything else -- by doing his job to the best of his ability.

Brandon in Houston asks if Lynell Hamilton is still in the plans for the Saints.

Pat Yasinskas: He hasn’t been forgotten. He scored some points with the coaching staff before last year’s injury and there’s still hope for him. That said, Chris Ivory emerged last season, Pierre Thomas got a new contract and the Saints have made it sound like Reggie Bush is staying. There’s plenty of speculation the Saints could draft another running back, and I don’t disagree with that. But, even if someone is added in the draft, Hamilton still has a shot. All the injuries at running back last year showed the Saints the importance of depth at that position.

Michael in Perry, Ga. wrote to say he thinks many in the media are wrong for portraying Carolina as a team with no talent.

Pat Yasinskas: I agree. It's not the typical 2-14 team. Now, there still are some questions to play out as far as free agency, possible trades and possible contract extensions once the lockout is over. But you look at Carolina’s roster right now, and it includes guys like Jordan Gross, Steve Smith, Ryan Kalil, DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Charles Johnson and Jon Beason. Heck, if healthy, you might be able to include Thomas Davis and Jeff Otah on that list. Those are guys most people would qualify as “core players,’’ and the Panthers aren’t that far off other teams in terms of core players. What they need, however, is a quarterback and some spark on offense. If they can add that, I see no reason why this team can’t instantly be a lot more competitive than last season.

Tyler in Florida wrote to say he knows players can’t be traded during a lockout, but wonders if draft picks can be exchanged.

Pat Yasinskas: Teams can still trade draft picks in a lockout. But there can’t be any transactions involving current players until the lockout is resolved.