NFC South: Tracey Porter
Saints. Coach Sean Payton went ahead and already declared running backs Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush out. Same for cornerbacks Randall Gay and Tracy Porter. What’s it all mean? Get ready to see a lot of Ladell Betts and Julius Jones at running back and rookie cornerback Patrick Robinson. On a positive note, linebacker Scott Shanle, who was added to the injury report during the week, is listed as probable.
Falcons. They only have two injuries of real note. Defensive end John Abraham is listed as questionable with a back injury and was limited in Friday’s practice. Abraham is a veteran guy and things like this are going to happen, but I think he’ll be on the field Sunday, if at all possible. On the flip side, rookie linebacker Sean Weatherspoon also is listed as questionable with a knee injury and did not participate in practice. The Falcons aren’t going to rush their first-round pick back onto the field and risk making the injury worse. That decision is made a little easier by the fact they have a very competent alternative in former starter Stephan Nicholas.
Eagles. We’re going to step outside the division on this one for obvious reasons. Philadelphia coach Andy Reid said quarterback Michael Vick (ribs) will not start against the Falcons, his former team. Kevin Kolb will get the nod. But it appears to be at least a possibility Vick still could play. Vick is listed as questionable and took part in Friday’s practice on a limited basis.
Buccaneers. As we’ve known for several days, center Jeff Faine is out and will be for at least a month. Rookie receiver Mike Williams (foot) returned to practice on a limited basis, but is listed as questionable. Cornerback Elbert Mack is questionable, which could mean some action for rookie Myron Lewis.
Panthers. They’ve got their bye this week. But the good news is we only have to wait another week for new receiver Devin Thomas to come in and carry this franchise to victories in its next 11 regular-season games and straight to the Super Bowl. In fact, I’m hearing rumblings that, now that the Panthers have Thomas on board, Jerry Richardson and John Fox are going to dinner tonight to hammer out a life-time contract for the coach. General manager Marty Hurney originally was supposed to attend, but he’s going to be on the phone with general managers in Chicago and New York. Apparently, upon hearing of the Thomas acquisition, Julius Peppers and Kris Jenkins have demanded to be traded back to the Panthers. Also, linebacker Kevin Greene is pondering coming out of retirement to join the dynasty.
“We have said since the end of the season that we would love to have Darren back in a Saints uniform for 2010 and I’m glad we’ve been able to make that happen,” general manager Mickey Loomis said. “Darren was an integral part of our Super Bowl-winning team and we look forward to having him back.”
Sharper had nine interceptions last season and solidified a secondary that went from terrible to very good. But, this time around, Sharper’s signing isn’t the kind of act that should be viewed as solving everything. In most areas of the secondary, the Saints really have nothing that needs solving. This is insurance, almost an embarrassment of riches.
With starters Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter firmly entrenched at cornerback and Roman Harper at strong safety, Sharper’s return leaves a slight question about his role. While Sharper was hanging out in free agency, the Saints viewed moving cornerback Malcolm Jenkins to free safety as one alternative and letting veteran Usama Young step into a starting role as the other.
Those still could be options, but the Saints now have all sorts of flexibility in their secondary. They just drafted cornerback Patrick Robinson in the first round and they’ve got safety Chip Vaughn coming back from an injury that cost him his rookie season.
They’ve still got a quality veteran backup cornerback in Randall Gay. That leaves all sorts of possibilities for Jenkins, who I think is the most interesting guy in this whole mix. The Saints’ first-round pick last season, Jenkins spent his rookie year as a backup cornerback. He did some good things there, but he also has the tools to move to free safety.
But, with Sharper’s return, the Saints don’t have to make an immediate decision on Jenkins’ future. They can let things play out naturally in a secondary with loads of talent.
The New Orleans Saints are next in our tour of team-by-team mailbags.
Jody in Hammond, La writes: Hey Pat! Great Work Man. I Constantly check for your updates every day and i must say i enjoy your enthusiasm... atleast on paper.. anyway big news right now is that LeRoy Hill is now on the market.. Do the Saints Make a play at him?
Pat Yasinskas: I also have been wondering about the possibility of the Saints making a move for LeRoy Hill. It would make lots of sense on the field. But, from a salary-cap view, it might be tough to bring in a player like Hill. Then again, general manager Mickey Loomis repeatedly has found ways to make moves despite limited cap room this offseason, so I wouldn't rule anything out.
Caleb in Ruston, La writes: I'm wondering who the odd man out is as far as CB depth. Greer and Porter on the outside with Jenkins in the nickel? Or do you think Jenkins supplants one of those two by the end of the season? Is Jason David gone? Will Usama Young be given a shot to learn under Sharper at safety? Thanks, Caleb
Pat Yasinskas: The Saints suddenly have a bunch of defensive backs who look decent on paper. The plan is to play rookie Malcolm Jenkins at cornerback and I think he will step right into the mix with Jabari Greer and Tracey Porter. At worst, he'll open the season as the nickel back. At best, he starts and Porter becomes the nickel back. Jason David looks expendable, but the Saints would only cut him now if they feel they need cap room. The past has shown a lot of things can happen as far as injuries and I think the Saints would like to go to camp with as many cornerbacks as possible and let things sort out. And, yes, it sounds like the Saints are moving Usama Young to safety. This is a good opportunity for him. He can spend a year learning from Darren Sharper and that might allow him to find his niche.
Trent in parts unknown writes: Pat, great stuff on the blog. Just wondering why everyone thinks the power back the Saints need has to be a half back, isn't that why they brought in Heath Evans?
Pat Yasinskas: Good point on Heath Evans. One reason the Saints signed the fullback was he can run and catch some passes. Evans could end up getting some short-yardage carries. Undrafted free agents Herb Donaldson and P.J. Hill also are big backs who will get a chance to show if they can handle short-yardage situations. But, keep in mind, there were reasons why they went undrafted. Don't forget Mike Bell, who already is on the roster. He ran pretty well in Denver earlier in his career and could end up being a factor.
Jorge in Ft. Huachuca, AZ writes: Trading up for a punter notwithstanding, do you think that this draft class along with the free agents signed by the Saints will translate into a division crown and a trip deep into the playoffs?
Pat Yasinskas: Well, I certainly like what the Saints have done with their defense throughout this offseason. If this defense can at least be average, the Saints will be a playoff team. I know the Saints are taking a lot of heat for trading up to get punter Thomas Morstead in the fifth round, but I'm going to defend them on this move. If the Saints had taken a player at another position, there's no guarantee he makes the team or contributes. It's the fifth round. There's not much to lose here. Yes, I thought Glenn Pakulak did a nice job at the end of last season, but we haven't seen that much of him. A little competition at punter isn't a bad things.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
ATLANTA -- The news that New Orleans cornerback Mike McKenzie suffered a fractured right kneecap has a lot of implications.
First, you have to wonder if this could mean the end of McKenzie's career. He's 32 and this is the kind of injury that often takes more than a year to recover from. McKenzie already showed an amazing work ethic in bouncing back from a torn ACL in the same knee last December. He was back on the practice field during training camp and his comeback had been a success.
But this is a huge setback and going through major rehabilitation two years in a row could be very difficult at McKenzie's age.
In the short term, McKenzie's injury is another blow to a secondary that already has had plenty of problems. Rookie Tracey Porter, who showed early promise, already is out for the season with an injury.
Randall Gay is the starter on the other side and the Saints are going to have to go with veteran Aaron Glenn, Usama Young and Jason David the rest of the way. Glenn's near the end of his career, David's been inactive the last couple weeks because he can't cover anybody and Young might be nothing more than a special teams player.
Maybe the Saints should have made a stronger run at DeAngelo Hall before he signed with the Redskins last week.