NFC South: Dwayne Jarrett

What happened with the Carolina Panthers on Monday morning is a reminder that the NFL is a cold, hard business and the win-loss record is all that really matters.

The Panthers fired general manager Marty Hurney. It was inevitable. Carolina came into the season with very high expectations but is off to a 1-5 start. The Panthers haven’t had a winning season since 2008.

Fans are getting restless, and so is team owner Jerry Richardson, a man who spent a ton of money coming out of this past summer’s lockout.

[+] EnlargeMarty Hurney
AP Photo/Bob LeveroneMarty Hurney had been the Panthers' GM since 2002.
Someone had to take the fall, and Hurney was the choice. You can question whether Hurney was the right guy to sacrifice, and some already are doing that.

“Marty wasn't the reason we are losing!" Carolina defensive end Charles Johnson said on his Twitter account. “That's bs! Unbelievable! Marty might be the realist GM that I know #InMyMind BS BS BS BS!"

You can wonder if maybe head coach Ron Rivera, offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski or defensive coordinator Sean McDermott should have been ousted. At least to me, it looks as though the Panthers have a talented roster that is not being coached very well.

And you can certainly question the timing of Hurney’s firing. Does it really make sense to fire the guy who runs the personnel department after Week 7?

No, it doesn’t. The Panthers will bring in someone from outside or elevate director of pro scouting Mark Koncz, but either way, they’re not going to right the ship in the middle of the season. Any personnel moves that can help this team will have to come in the offseason.

But this wasn’t just a football move. It went much deeper than that.

To understand what I mean by that, you have to know a bit about Hurney and Richardson. They were -- and even now probably will remain -- exceptionally close. After saying he’d never have a general manager again after Bill Polian’s ugly departure, Richardson hired Hurney to manage the salary cap in 1998.

The two hit it off, and Hurney quickly gained Richardson’s trust. When former coach George Seifert ran the franchise into the ground in 2001, Richardson reversed course and promoted Hurney to general manager. He also essentially let Hurney hire John Fox as coach.

The Panthers reached the Super Bowl in Hurney and Fox's second season together, 2003. Two seasons later, they were back in the NFC Championship Game.

But soon after that, Richardson started to see cracks. He wanted to see back-to-back winning seasons, and he was starting to worry about growing egos.

Richardson’s worries eventually turned into realities. Fox never produced consecutive winning seasons, and the level of trust between the coach and Richardson seemed to erode to a point where things became downright hostile in Fox’s final season, 2010.

But the Richardson-Hurney relationship survived all that, and Richardson let Hurney hire Rivera to replace Fox. Part of the reason is Hurney is one of the nicest, most down-to-earth people you’ll ever meet in football or anywhere else. He’s the kind of guy who picked up the phone to offer condolences to a reporter whose father had died the moment he heard about it.

Hurney is the kind of guy who would call a reporter on draft night just to exchange thoughts on what happened around the league. He’s the kind of guy who would never lie to you and always try to steer a reporter in the right direction, even if it wasn’t necessarily in his best interest.

On the job, Hurney made some brilliant moves through the years -- signing Jake Delhomme and Stephen Davis as free agents, drafting the likes of Julius Peppers, Jordan Gross and Ryan Kalil. His drafting of quarterback Cam Newton looked brilliant last year, but not so much this season.

He also made some very questionable moves -- signing Delhomme to a big contract extension after the quarterback had flamed out, drafting Armanti Edwards, Jimmy Clausen, Dwayne Jarrett, Terrell McClain, Eric Norwood, Everette Brown, Jeff Otah and some other busts. He also committed $80 million of Richardson’s money to running backs DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert.

But for some reason, the coaching staff isn’t making much use out of Williams, Stewart and Tolbert. Is that Hurney’s fault?

I don’t think so. And I don’t think Richardson totally believes that, either.

Still, it really doesn’t matter. Richardson needed a scapegoat, and it had to be hard for him to decide on Hurney. But keep in mind, Richardson once fired his two sons (Mark as team president and Jon as stadium president). His logic on that move was that their dysfunctional relationship was taking a toll on the other 300 people who worked in the building and on fans.

The logic on Hurney was similar. Things weren’t going well, and fans were giving up on the Panthers.

When I spoke to Hurney last week, he seemed resigned to the idea that his time was running out, but it seemed he thought the move would come more toward the end of the season.

That might have been more logical. But Richardson had to send a message now to his fans that he still cares about winning and that the current product is unsatisfactory. It would be difficult to fire the entire coaching staff or fire Rivera and elevate one of his assistants in the middle of the season.

Someone had to go now, and that was Hurney. But I think it should be clear to Rivera, every assistant coach in the building and every player that if Richardson is willing to get rid of Hurney, no one is sacred.

There’s going to be a lot more housecleaning in Carolina after the season. This was just the first step.

NFC South breakout players

June, 12, 2012
6/12/12
10:15
AM ET
As we get ready for Tuesday night’s "SportsCenter" NFC South preview (ESPN2 at 7 p.m. ET), let’s take a look at four players from around the division that I expect to have breakout seasons in 2012.

Atlanta running back Jacquizz Rodgers: He had a minimal impact as a rookie, but the normally-quiet Falcons have talked openly about Rodgers taking on a bigger role. Michael Turner still will be the main ball carrier, but the Falcons have said they want to limit his number of carries. That’s where Rodgers can fit in. He’s an entirely different type of runner than the powerful Turner. Rodgers is about speed and elusiveness, and new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter will try to utilize those skills as he attempts to add more explosiveness to Atlanta’s attack. Rodgers is at his best when running on the outside. He also has pass-catching skills and can make things happen in the open field. That’s why it’s a virtual certainty the Falcons won’t finish last in the league in screen passes attempted like they did the past two years. Rodgers has the perfect skills to make things happen on screen passes.

Carolina wide receiver Brandon LaFell: It seems like the Panthers have been trying to find a solid No. 2 receiver in the second round of the draft. They tried and failed miserably with Keary Colbert and Dwayne Jarrett. I blame much of that on former coach John Fox and his staff. They were conservative in every way -- from their offensive scheme to their hesitation in allowing young receivers much of a chance to do anything. But Fox only had LaFell for one season and it’s time for Ron Rivera and his staff to turn LaFell loose. He seemed to slowly gain trust from Rivera’s staff last year. If those coaches put even more trust in LaFell in 2012, they could be rewarded in a big way. In a lot of ways, LaFell is similar to Muhsin Muhammad, the only wide receiver that ever has worked successfully in tandem with No. 1 receiver Steve Smith. LaFell is big and strong and could provide a nice target over the middle for Cam Newton.

New Orleans safety Malcolm Jenkins: The New Orleans defense had a lot of unflattering statistics last season, but this one might be the worst: neither starting safety had an interception. Yes, Jenkins and Roman Harper went through the entire season without coming up with an interception. Harper’s never been known for his pass-coverage skills. He plays the run like a linebacker and was a productive pass-rusher in the scheme used by former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. But the fact Jenkins went through an entire season without an interception was shocking. He has all the skills of a free safety that can be a true centerfielder, but he didn’t really have the chance to do that with Williams. Now that Steve Spagnuolo has taken over as coordinator, Jenkins should be allowed to sit back in coverage and use his intellect and physical skills to take advantage of mistakes by quarterbacks.

Tampa Bay safety Mark Barron: I’m going out on a limb and including a rookie as a breakout player. That’s because I’m very confident Barron will step in and have an instant impact. You don’t take a safety at No. 7 in the draft unless you’re pretty sure he’s going to be something like an Ed Reed or a Ronnie Lott. New Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano obviously has huge plans for Barron. A coach’s first draft pick is supposed to be a cornerstone of the team and Schiano has said the NFL’s transition to more passing in recent years has added value to quality safeties. Schiano has made it clear that Barron will be expected to play man coverage against wide receivers at times. But Barron’s biggest value could come in matching up with tight ends. In the NFC South, Barron will have to go against New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham, Carolina’s Greg Olsen and Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez on a regular basis. A lot of linebackers and safeties have struggled against those guys. But Barron might have the right combination of size and speed to at least keep some tight ends in check.

Around the NFC South

June, 8, 2012
6/08/12
8:56
AM ET
Time for a look at the Friday morning headlines from around the NFC South.
  • Although the New Orleans Saints have made a new offer to quarterback Drew Brees for a long-term contract, Mike Triplett writes that it doesn’t appear like a deal will be finalized anytime soon. Triplett suggest Saints’ fans stay patient and I think that’s the right approach.
  • The Atlanta Falcons have sent out hints that their offense will look different this year. They also have repeatedly said running back Michael Turner will have his carries reduced. Turner’s response: "They always say that." There’s some truth in that. In the past, the Falcons have said they wanted to limit Turner’s carries, but he still has gotten a bunch. I think you may see some changes, but Turner still is approaching things the same as he always has. Not a bad idea. Even if Turner’s carries are limited and the Falcons are doing other things on offense, Turner still will be an important part of whatever the Falcons do.
  • This probably won’t come as a surprise to those that followed receiver Dwayne Jarrett back when he was with the Carolina Panthers. Jarrett had recently signed with the Canadian Football League’s Saskatchewan Roughriders amid a lot of hype. But things didn’t go well for Jarrett in Canada and his career is over. Jarrett has retired at 25. As a former second-round pick by the Panthers, it’s not too harsh to call Jarrett a bust. He certainly had some talent, but never blossomed for the Panthers. I covered part of Jarrett’s time in Carolina and the impression I got (reinforced by his former coaches and teammates) was that Jarrett was too laid back. Unlike Steve Smith and some other very successful receivers, Jarrett just didn’t seem to have a lot of drive. Speaking of former USC receivers that were second-round draft picks by Carolina that didn't have a lot of drive, whatever happened to Keary Colbert?
  • One of the bigger breaks the Panthers caught in the offseason was that offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski didn’t get a job as a head coach. Tight end Greg Olsen recently called Chudzinski one of the greatest offensive minds in the league and I think there’s plenty of truth in that. The Panthers better enjoy the Chudzinski era while they can. If they put up offensive numbers similar to last year, I’m pretty sure Chudzinski will be a head coach somewhere next year.
  • Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano wouldn’t discuss the trade of Kellen Winslow immediately after the move was made. But Schianio finally has admitted what everyone suspected. The coach wasn’t happy because the tight end wasn’t a regular at offseason workouts. Schiano also said he didn’t think Winslow was going to be a good fit with the Buccaneers. Schiano obviously saw a problem brewing and he elected to address it before it could have an impact on the team.
  • The NFL reportedly has asked the New Orleans Saints for film of Wednesday morning’s minicamp session in which a minor incident between linebacker Curtis Lofton and quarterback Chase Daniel prompted a team-wide skirmish that lasted about one minute to 90 seconds. Contact is not allowed in these workouts and the league is taking that seriously. The NFL recently stripped Seattle of two offseason workout days for violating rules. If the Saints end up getting punished for this one, it’s a shame. I saw the incident. Lofton barely grazed Daniel’s jersey. The quarterback, perhaps a little frustrated that his last few passes weren’t great, threw the ball at Lofton’s feet. That prompted some pushing and shoving between offensive and defensive players. I didn’t see any punches thrown and the whole thing was broken up quickly. I’ve seen plenty of more intense practice outbursts through the years.
  • The Saints apparently liked what they saw out of quarterback Luke McCown in recent days. They signed him to a contract after he went through a three-day minicamp on a tryout basis. I think the Saints like Daniel as their backup quarterback, but McCown could have a shot to beat out Sean Canfield for the third spot – assuming the Saints carry three quarterbacks.

Around the NFC South

May, 14, 2012
5/14/12
9:49
AM ET
Lots to catch up on as several NFC South teams held rookie camps over the weekend. Let's take a quick spin through some of the headlines from around the division.
  • Carolina first-round draft pick Luke Kuechly went through the team’s rookie camp working at weak-side linebacker. He could end up staying there, but I don’t think anything is set in stone right now. The Panthers want to get a look at middle linebacker Jon Beason and outside linebacker Thomas Davis in training camp before making any firm decisions. Beason and Davis each are coming back from major injuries. Beason has played a little on the outside in the past and Kuechly spent most of his college career in the middle.
  • Receiver Plaxico Burress caused a stir last week when he mentioned the Panthers as a team he’d be interested in playing for. I think the real question is, do the Panthers have any interest in Burress? I strongly doubt it. Burress will turn 35 in August. I just don’t see general manager Marty Hurney signing a receiver that’s about to turn 35. Besides, the Panthers have lots of young options -- Brandon LaFell, David Gettis, Kealoha Pilares and Joe Adams -- to go with Steve Smith. Also, Carolina history has shown that it’s not always a wise idea to bring in big-name receivers (see Keyshawn Johnson). There only has been one guy who has truly fit well opposite Smith and that was Muhsin Muhammad.
  • Speaking of Carolina receivers that never really worked out, Dwayne Jarrett has signed to play in the Canadian Football League. Maybe Armanti Edwards can follow?
  • Mike Triplett has a good overview of the contract standoff between Drew Brees and the Saints. He points out this situation isn’t all that unusual, it’s just unexpected because many fans thought the team would give Brees a blank check or the quarterback would give the Saints a hometown discount. Don’t be surprised if this one drags on until close to the July 16 deadline for Brees to sign his franchise tag.
  • New Orleans fifth-round draft pick Corey White caused a bit of a stir when he said he was looking forward to intercepting passes from Brees in practice. Brees had a good-natured response, but made it clear he doesn’t expect the rookie defensive back to be picking off very many of his passes.
  • With middle linebacker Curtis Lofton leaving for New Orleans as a free agent, Atlanta outside linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said he needs to become a more verbal leader. That’s a good idea. It’s pretty obvious new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has big plans for Weatherspoon. He’s Atlanta’s most athletic linebacker and the Falcons believe he can be a playmaker. They wouldn’t have let Lofton go if they didn’t think Weatherspoon was ready for the next step.
  • Defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi showed up at Atlanta’s rookie camp weighing about 260 pounds. That’s about 15 less pounds than Massaquoi carried in his final season at Detroit. The weight loss was by design. The Falcons believe Massaquoi can make more of an impact as a pass-rusher if he’s not carrying as much weight.
  • After his first practice with the Falcons, rookie offensive lineman Peter Konz broke into the “Dirty Bird’’ dance that was popular when the 1998 team was on its way to the Super Bowl. Although Konz grew up in Wisconsin, he became a fan of the Falcons during their Super Bowl run.
  • Keeping with the league-wide trend of getting draft picks signed much earlier than in past years, Konz and the Falcons agreed to contract terms. The Falcons also signed three other draft picks.
  • Bradley Handwerger writes that the NFL should show all its evidence related to the Saints’ bounty program. Fans have been screaming for more evidence after the team was hit hard by suspensions of coaches and players. I understand the frustration and I also would like to see more evidence. But the fact is, this isn’t a court of law. The NFL isn’t required to show all its evidence. If grievances, appeals or lawsuits (or some combination of the three) can get this situation into a court of law, that’s the only way we’re going to see all of the NFL’s evidence.
  • Those of you that have been reading this blog regularly through the years know that I’m forever indebted to legendary former Tampa Tribune sports editor and columnist Tom McEwen. He gave me my first job in this business. As the one-year anniversary of McEwen’s death approaches, McEwen’s family and friends are making sure his legacy of helping young journalists continues. University of Florida journalism student Emily Padgett is the first recipient of a scholarship established in McEwen’s name.

Previewing and predicting the Panthers

September, 1, 2011
9/01/11
12:12
PM ET
As promised, we’re rolling out our predictions for the 2011 NFL season today.

We’ll go in reverse order in the NFC South. Here’s the link to the preview page for the Carolina Panthers.

Here’s what I wrote about the Panthers, followed by my prediction on where they’ll finish in the division. By the way, up until a day or two ago, I had Carolina third in the division, but a series of injuries on the offensive line scared me off that stand.

Five things you need to know about the Panthers:

1. This is not the same predictable team you're used to: John Fox is gone and so is his belief that you have to win with ball-control offense and strong defense. New coach Ron Rivera also is a big believer in defense and his background is on that side of the ball. But Rivera realizes this has become a quarterback-driven league and his plan is to open up the passing game. That's why he hired Rob Chudzinski as the offensive coordinator. Chudzinski was previously tight ends coach in San Diego and the offense is going to be pretty similar to what the Chargers run. The Panthers still have DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, so they're not going to abandon the running game, but they're not going exclusively with it. You'll see things you never saw with Fox, like passes to the tight ends and deep passes.

2. This is not the roster of a typical 2-14 team: Last year's record had a lot more to do with the bickering between Fox and ownership than it did with the talent level. Fox refused to embrace the youth movement that was ordered by management and was more conservative than ever. It's easy to look at the record and assume the cupboard is bare. But that never was the case. Besides Williams and Stewart, the Panthers had -- and still have -- core players such as Steve Smith, Charles Johnson, Jon Beason, Jordan Gross and Ryan Kalil. Tight end Greg Olsen also looks like he could be a core player. If this team can just get some production out of the quarterback position, the Panthers could take a big step forward.

3. Cam Newton won't be asked to carry the team: He was the No. 1 overall draft pick and that comes with all sorts of expectations. The Panthers think Newton can grow into a superstar, but they're not asking him to be that right away. The plan is to rely on the running game and the defense to help prevent him from getting into difficult spots. Ideally, the Panthers don't want Newton throwing the ball more than 25 times a game, at least until he gets established. But the belief is that Newton can make four or five big plays a game with his arm and legs.

4. There's room for a No. 2 receiver: For the last few years, Smith has been the only real threat in the receiving game. The Panthers want that to change and believe Olsen will help, but they'd like another wide receiver to step forward. They had high hopes for David Gettis, who showed some promise as a rookie last season. But Gettis suffered a major injury in training camp and will miss the season. That suddenly puts the heat on Brandon LaFell, a second-round pick from last year. Carolina doesn't have great history with receivers taken in the second round (Keary Colbert and Dwayne Jarrett were flops), but some of that was because so much of the passing game was geared toward Smith. In the new system, there will be opportunities for LaFell. He just has to take advantage of them.

5. The pressure is on general manager Marty Hurney: Owner Jerry Richardson was somewhat distracted the past few years as he went through a heart transplant and came back to take on the leadership role among owners in the labor negotiations. Hurney outlasted Fox and is very much on Richardson's good side. But the owner spent a ton of money signing the players Hurney wanted coming out of the lockout. Richardson realizes this team is in the middle of a youth movement, but he's not the world's most patient man. He needs to see some progress this year.

DIVISION FINISH: 4 The Panthers aren't going to go from worst to first. But they will be much improved. Rivera has brought new life to a locker room that has some talent. If the Panthers can develop a passing game, they could be a .500 team.

Hitting the NFC South hot spots

June, 18, 2011
6/18/11
1:10
PM ET
Time for a plunge into the NFC South mailbag

Bobby in Burlington, N.C., wrote to say he loved Cam Newton’s comments at Steve Smith’s football camp and wonders if those two would make a good tandem and if Smith would be a good mentor for Newton.

Pat Yasinskas: Definitely a smart move by Newton to make it clear he wants Smith back. If that happens, Newton has an elite receiver to throw to and that’s a positive. But let’s not go projecting Smith into the role of mentor, a role he’s never embraced. He didn’t exactly help Jimmy Clausen along, and he was never known as a mentor when Carolina had young receivers like Keary Colbert, Drew Carter and Dwayne Jarrett. Smith is very good at going out and catching passes, and he’s always prepared himself well to do that. If Smith decides he wants to stay in Carolina, then Newton will have an excellent target to throw to.

Daniel in Jamestown, N.Y., wrote to ask if it’s na´ve to think Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman can throw so few interceptions every season.

Pat Yasinskas: Freeman threw just six interceptions last season, which is a very low figure. Obviously, Tampa Bay had a very young offense, and as the wide receivers mature there might be temptation to take more chances and go deep more often. That could lead to more interceptions. But Freeman is a perfectionist, and I doubt he’s ever going to be a guy to throw a lot of interceptions. Look back at this story where I talked to Anton Clarkson, Freeman’s private quarterback coach. Clarkson said one of Freeman’s goals is to go through a season without throwing an interception. That’s probably impossible. But if you use that as your goal and come somewhere close, you should be in good shape.

Chris in Augusta, Ga., asks if being exciting to watch helps Drew Brees’ case for the Pro Football Hall of Fame?

Pat Yasinskas: Sure. Let’s be honest. Fans love to watch teams that throw the ball a lot and score a lot of points. So does the media. Brees and the Saints have been entertaining to watch since he got there. He’s brought them national attention and raised the franchise’s profile, and those kinds of things will help him when it’s time to vote on his Hall of Fame candidacy.

Adam in West Virginia asks if Matt Ryan doesn’t stretch the field enough because he’s not an elite quarterback or because he’s the victim of conservative play calling.

Pat Yasinskas: I think Ryan already is an elite quarterback or, at the very least, will become one soon. I believe the Falcons haven’t really let him maximize his talents. I think that’s about to change. I think the coaching staff realizes it’s time to put more on Ryan’s shoulders. That’s part of the reason they went out and got Julio Jones. Last year, Roddy White was Atlanta’s only real downfield threat. Defenses knew that and gave White lots of attention. The other receivers couldn’t make big plays, and Ryan frequently was left to throw short passes to tight end Tony Gonzalez. I think the arrival of Jones and a conscious effort by the coaching staff will lead to more big plays from Ryan.

Draft Watch: NFC South

March, 17, 2011
3/17/11
12:00
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | SouthAFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: draft rewind -- examining the past five drafts.

Atlanta Falcons

Best choice: Taking Matt Ryan with the No. 3 overall pick in 2008. Yeah, he was the third pick and you should hit when you’re drafting in that territory. But look at how many quarterbacks, including some No. 1 overall picks, haven’t hit. The Falcons did their homework and were totally convinced Ryan was a franchise quarterback when they drafted him. He’s backed it up. You can still debate whether Ryan is an “elite quarterback,’’ whatever that means. But he came to a franchise that probably had hit a lower point than any franchise at any time in NFC South history and has produced nothing but winning seasons. Sure sounds like a franchise quarterback to me.

Worst choice: Jamaal Anderson. He has become a serviceable defensive tackle in the past year or so, but this guy was drafted as a defensive end in the top 10 in a draft where teams were reaching for pass-rushers (see Tampa Bay and Gaines Adams). This falls on a past regime and is part of the reason that regime failed. In four seasons, Anderson has produced 4.5 sacks and, as they head into the 2011 draft, the Falcons are, once again looking for a pass-rusher.

On the bubble: Peria Jerry. The Falcons thought they had a solid pick when they took Jerry in the first round in the 2009 draft. Jerry injured his knee early in his rookie season. He came back last year, but wound up as a backup to 2010 third-round pick Corey Peters. The Falcons are saying they expect a fully healthy Jerry to emerge in 2011. If that happens, there will be vindication. If not, Jerry will go down as a bust.

Carolina Panthers

Best choice: Ryan Kalil. Center didn’t seem like a huge need when the Panthers used a second-round pick on Kalil in 2007, and he did very little as a rookie. But the guy has turned into a consistent Pro Bowler. We won’t weigh this down by going into the labor situation, although the Panthers placed a franchise tag on Kalil. They’re still looking for the first true franchise quarterback in their short history. But they’ve got a franchise center to snap the ball.

Worst choice: Dwayne Jarrett. We’re only going back five years, so Keary Colbert is not eligible and he at least had a few productive moments. But the Panthers compounded that mistake by taking another USC receiver in the second round in 2007. Colbert should have been a major warning sign.

On the bubble: We’ll go with a tie between quarterback Jimmy Clausen and receiver Armanti Edwards. It’s tough to call anyone a bust after just one year, but the production of Clausen and Edwards as rookies makes that very tempting. We’ll give them a pass for the moment because they were emblematic of former coach John Fox’s refusal to embrace a youth movement. They get a fresh start with new coach Ron Rivera, and we’ll see how that works out.

New Orleans Saints

Best choice: Marques Colston. Yep, we’ll go all the way back to the first draft class of coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis as a team. They used the second of two seventh-round picks (No. 252) on the little-known receiver out of Hofstra. All they got was a guy who instantly became a very good No. 1 receiver. His numbers would be spectacular if Payton and quarterback Drew Brees weren’t so good at spreading the ball around. Colston is the definition of a value pick, and guys like guards Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans aren’t far off.

Worst choice: Al Woods. It’s hard to find any flaws in the way Payton and Loomis have drafted. They haven’t totally missed on any early picks. Woods was a fourth-round pick in 2010, but he ended up getting cut in the preseason. You generally expect a fourth-round pick to at least make the roster.

On the bubble: Reggie Bush. Yes, five drafts into this regime, you can still say the first pick Payton and Loomis made is on the bubble. Bush might stay there for his entire career because opinions are widely divided, and that’s understandable. He was the second overall pick in the 2006 draft. He never has produced the kind of numbers you would expect from a running back taken so early, and injuries have slowed him. But the flip side is that Bush is much more than a running back. He’s also a receiver and a return man. When you factor all that in and remember the role Bush played in the Saints' first Super Bowl title in franchise history, it’s tough to say categorically he’s been a bust.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Best choice: Josh Freeman in a landslide. He wasn’t a popular pick when the Bucs traded up to get him in the middle of the first round in 2009. That was only because the Tampa Bay fan base had been schooled from the beginning that defense is most important. But general manager Mark Dominik and coach Raheem Morris departed from that philosophy in their first draft. They landed a franchise quarterback who might not even be close to hitting his full potential.

Worst choice: Dexter Jackson. He was the modern-day Tampa Bay version of Booker Reese, which says a lot. But I’ll say even more and anoint Jackson as the worst draft pick any NFC South team has made in the past five years. In their last draft, former coach Jon Gruden and former general manager Bruce Allen used a second-round pick (No. 58) on the receiver/return man from Appalachian State. They made matters even worse moments after the pick by walking into the media room and saying they had found the second coming of Carolina receiver Steve Smith. It turned out the only things Smith and Jackson had in common were their size and the fact that both had spent some time in North Carolina. The Bucs quickly found out Jackson had no business being in the NFL. Maybe somebody should tell Jackson there's an opening in that flag-football league at the Siskey YMCA in Charlotte.

On the bubble: Gerald McCoy. Again, it’s tough to declare anything about a player after just one season. But McCoy was the No. 3 overall pick in last year’s draft. With a weak supporting cast, he got off to a slow start and probably didn’t do himself any favors by talking so much about it. McCoy started to come on as the season progressed but suffered a season-ending injury. Throw in the instant success of Detroit’s Ndamukong Suh and that places lots of pressure on McCoy to become a star in his second season.
Yep, I know I wrote Saturday in a mailbag that I don’t see veteran tight end Jeremy Shockey joining the Carolina Panthers. And, yes, I know it was reported late Saturday night that the Panthers are bringing Shockey in for a physical.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Shockey
Mitch Stringer/US PresswireTight end Jeremy Shockey had 41 catches and three touchdowns last season with New Orleans.
I could end up being wrong, but I’m sticking with my original statement. The Panthers will bring Shockey in for a physical, but I really don’t see it turning into a contract.

I’m basing this on what I know of Shockey, who spent the past few seasons in the NFC South with the New Orleans Saints. I’m also basing this largely on what I know about how the Panthers think.

Now, I know they’ve got a new coach in Ron Rivera and a new offensive coordinator in Rob Chudzinski. Rivera has been open about saying the Panthers need a pass-catching tight end, and Chuzdkinski was an assistant at the University of Miami when Shockey was there.

Situations like that often times are reason enough for courtesy visits, and this might be nothing more than that. It also could be an exploratory physical, just to find out where Shockey’s health stands (it has been a question much of his career), so the Panthers have an idea as they go through the process of looking at all the options for a pass-catching tight end.

Shockey reportedly passed a physical with the Dolphins, and I can see him in Miami a lot easier than I can see him in Carolina. Again, I think the new-age Panthers simply might be doing some homework on a guy who at least one of their coaches has some ties to. Besides, the Panthers would have to do something before the end of the day March 3, because a lockout is expected March 4. If there is a lockout, no players, can be signed until the labor situation is resolved.

But it’s the old-school Panthers that make it tough for me to see this developing into anything of substance. I’m talking about owner Jerry Richardson and general manager Marty Hurney. Unless they’ve undergone sudden personality changes or handed total control of the team to Rivera (and I don’t think that’s the case), signing Shockey simply doesn’t fit their style.

Hurney and Richardson started a youth movement last season, and Shockey, 30, doesn’t fit that profile. He has more wear and tear on his body than most 30-year-olds, and hasn’t been as productive as he was in recent seasons. I’d even make the argument that if you took current Carolina tight ends Jeff King and Dante Rosario and put them in a tight-end-friendly offense, they’d be more productive than Shockey.

I think the Panthers get their tight end somewhere else in free agency or the draft. There are a lot of other reasons why Shockey doesn’t fit the profile of Richardson and Hurney. First off, he’s flamboyant, and flamboyant generally doesn’t fly with Fox and Hurney. Second, although Shockey behaved (other than some hydration issues) in New Orleans, I think that was only because he knew better than to challenge quarterback Drew Brees.

In his days with the New York Giants, Shockey flat-out abused quarterback Eli Manning, who doesn’t have the locker-room control Brees does. Shockey was constantly calling for the ball and steamrolling Manning.

In case you haven’t noticed, the Panthers don’t have any quarterbacks right now who command respect. Maybe they bring in a Donovan McNabb or a Carson Palmer and that changes. Even those veterans have been pushed around in the past, McNabb by Terrell Owens and Palmer by Chad (Ochocinco) Johnson.

But, unless the Panthers trade receiver Steve Smith, they already have one very strong-willed pass catcher. Smith openly clashed with rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen last season. Smith also doesn’t have a history of being real generous when it comes to sharing the spotlight or the ball.

The season he and equally flamboyant Keyshawn Johnson were together was a disaster on and off the field. In the locker room, Smith shot dirty looks at reporters when they talked to Johnson, and it also worked in reverse. When Smith was paired with young receivers like Dwayne Jarrett and Keary Colbert, he walked all over them and was probably part of the reason they were busts.

Putting Smith and Shockey in the same locker room and on the same field has all sorts of downside potential. Even if Smith goes in a trade, I just don’t see this happening, knowing what I know about Richardson and Hurney. At best, Shockey would be nothing more than a short-term fix. At worst, he wouldn’t add much on the field, and could be a distraction off it. Besides, I think if Shockey has any real choice between the Dolphins and Panthers, the night life in Miami and Charlotte becomes a factor, and South Beach has a big edge there.

But maybe I’ll end up being wrong. Maybe Rivera and Chudzinski have more power than previous coach John Fox, and maybe they can convince the owner and the general manager to stop being conservative and take a chance. But I seriously doubt it.

The best player not at the combine?

February, 25, 2011
2/25/11
12:21
PM ET
Vidal HazeltonCary Edmondson/US PresswireVidal Hazelton's college career didn't go as planned, but he thinks he has a bright future in the NFL.
If it hasn’t happened already, Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff is going to hear Vidal Hazelton's name at the scouting combine at some point this weekend.

Hazelton, perhaps the biggest draft-eligible name not at the combine, has given his agent, Kelli Masters, some very specific orders.

“Get my name in front of the Falcons," Hazleton said. “Remind them that I’m out there. That would be a dream scenario to end up with the Falcons. They’re the team I always rooted for growing up."

The fact Hazelton has spent much of his life living in Georgia also is a factor. And Hazelton’s biggest fan (more on that in a bit) lives in Alpharetta, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta.

But Hazelton realizes he’s no longer in a position where dream scenarios are likely. That’s why Masters’ job is to also remind 31 other general managers that Hazelton is out there. Hazelton is proof that the NFL and college football are games that move quickly and even the brightest of stars can be forgotten.

“I have no question that, if things had gone a little differently for Vidal, you’d be hearing all about him as a first-round pick during the combine," said University of Cincinnati receivers coach T.J. Weist, who has coached 14 future NFL receivers during a lengthy career in the college ranks. “He’s got the size, he’s got the physical tools, he’s a great competitor and he’s mentally tough and a great worker."

So why wasn’t Hazelton even invited to the combine?

This is where the story veers way off that dream scenario and takes twists and turns that lead back and forth across the country. It could be a tragic story, but it’s not. At least not at this point because Hazelton is adamant that this story is far from over and he's in charge of writing the ending. Before we get to that, though, let’s go back to the beginning.

Let’s go back to 2006, when Hazelton was one of the top college receiver prospects in the nation. He signed with a football factory, the University of Southern California, which has produced plenty of NFL receivers through the years.

[+] EnlargeVidal Hazelton
Kevin Reece/Icon SMIVidal Hazelton's best season came in 2007, when he had 50 receptions for 540 yards at USC.
The plan was to go slowly and let Hazelton spend his freshman season playing behind Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith before making him the main target in the passing game. He led the Trojans with 50 receptions the next year, but things took a strange turn the following season. In the 2008 opener, Hazelton suffered a high-ankle sprain. By the time he returned, Damian Williams, Patrick Turner and Ronald Johnson had emerged and there wasn’t a lot of playing time.

While this was going on, Hazelton’s grandfather, James Hazelton, was diagnosed with cancer. Hazelton wanted to be closer geographically to his grandfather. He transferred to Cincinnati and sat out the 2009 season. In a pass-happy offense, huge things were expected of Hazelton in 2010.

“In camp last summer, he was looking better than ever,’’ Weist said. “He was just exploding off the ball and [NFL] scouts were getting all excited.’’

The buzz lasted for a little over half a game. In the season opener, Hazelton fielded a kickoff return and tore his anterior cruciate ligament.

“It happened on a Saturday," Hazelton said. “I cried on Sunday. On Monday, I woke up in good spirits and I haven’t looked back since. My father and my grandfather raised me to never look back and to only worry about the things you can control."

What Hazelton has controlled in the months in between is his knee. He made what doctors have jokingly told him was the quickest recovery ever from an ACL injury. He was even cleared for Cincinnati’s last two games, but didn’t play because there still was the possibility of him being granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA. That didn’t happen and Hazelton has moved on quickly.

He’s spent the last few months working out at Athletic Performance Institute in the Los Angeles area, along with many other prospects who are at the combine, and he’s actually happy he wasn’t invited.

“I look at it as a blessing," Hazelton said. “I’m almost 100 percent, but this gives me more time to get ready."

The target date is March 28, when Cincinnati holds its pro day workouts.

“I need to prove everything," Hazelton said. “I need to show my knee is back. I love days like that. I’m more anxious than nervous. This whole thing has humbled me and made me more motivated."

It’s Masters’ job to make sure NFL teams show up for Hazelton’s workout, and Weist said he’s been getting a lot of calls from NFL scouts recently. Weist is happy to share here the same scouting report he’s been giving to the NFL people.

“Look at how quickly he’s come back from the injury," Weist said. “That says a lot about his work ethic. You just don’t come back from an ACL in a few months. He showed he’s going to put in the work and he showed he’s got good genetics to be able to recover like he did. People ask me which NFL receiver I’d compare him to and I say T.O. [Terrell Owens]. He’s a thick, powerful and explosive player. He’s right up there with any receiver in this draft in terms of physical ability. But what sets this kid apart is his maturity. He’s been through adversity and he’s very hungry. A lot of guys going in aren’t as hungry. He’s not going to take anything for granted."

Now, let’s go back to the Falcons. Like every other team, they’re not giving away any draft plans right now. It’s obvious Hazelton’s circumstances will push him down into the later rounds or perhaps make him a potential undrafted free agent.

Any chance with the Falcons would be a dream come true for Hazelton and for someone else. James Hazelton lives in Alpharetta and is a lifelong Falcons fan. James Hazelton is still battling cancer, his grandson said.

“He’s doing all right and he’s fighting," Hazelton said. “He keeps telling me he’s not going anywhere until he sees me play in the NFL."

The Falcons have needs at wide receiver, where not much is certain after starters Roddy White and Michael Jenkins. Two other NFC South teams, Carolina and New Orleans, could be in the market for a developmental receiver in the later rounds. Even if it’s not in Atlanta or anywhere in the NFC South, Hazelton believes he’ll be in the NFL soon. He’s not showcasing his talent at the combine, but he’s hoping to, once again, grab the attention that slipped away from him when he works out in Cincinnati.

“I’m totally confident I have the ability to play in the pros," Hazelton said. “But next month my job is to go out and show the pros that I can play. I have to make sure they haven’t forgotten about me."

Carolina Panthers mailbag

October, 14, 2010
10/14/10
10:25
AM ET
The Carolina Panthers are next in our tour of team-by-team mailbags.

Rob in Houston writes: Do you think the Panthers can actually win a game coming off of the bye week? I'm worried we may not actually win a game all season. On the plus side, if there is actually a draft next year, we may get the #1 pick.

Pat Yasinskas: Coming off the bye, the Panthers have the 49ers on the horizon. Nothing’s a given for Carolina this year, but San Francisco also has lots of problems. That’s a game the Panthers could win. On the bright side, there definitely will be a draft in 2011. We don’t know if there will be a season, but the draft will take place and the Panthers certainly have a shot at No. 1.


Grant in Washington, D.C., writes: The Panthers pick up a wide receiver off the waiver wire and there's no news about it in the blog? What gives? I know the Cats are terrible this year (I get terribly depressed every time I read what you write about them, yet a keep coming back for more) and they're headed into a bye week, but isn't Devin Thomas coming into the division worth noting?

Pat Yasinskas: We don’t do individual items on every transaction here. We have certain guidelines from above and one of them is to limit posts to guys with reasonable significance. A wide receiver claimed off waivers doesn’t quite meet that criteria. I’ve been waiting to address the Thomas move in a round-up post or somewhere where I can briefly make a quick reference to him. So, here’s that opportunity. Devin Thomas is a guy who busted out in Washington, kind of the same way Dwayne Jarrett did in Carolina. He’s been added to a very weak wide receiver corps. He may or may not take advantage of the situation. We’ll see if he’s any factor at all. If he is, then, we'll do something more extensive on Thomas.


Will in Gastonia, N.C., writes: I just saw where Shawne Merriman will be released soon by the Chargers. Do you think there's any chance the Panthers will pick him up to bolster the linebacker corps a bit?

Pat Yasinskas: Not a chance. Seriously, if you’ve seen one pattern from the Panthers over the past year or so, it’s that they aren’t looking to bring in older players. Besides, their linebackers have been one of their few bright spots.


JM in Charlotte writes: Feels like history is repeating itself. Last season, Carolina saw that it was hurting on the D line and scrambled to find an answer all year long. This year, it seems like they're doing the same thing for WR. Am I wrong in thinking that these are moves that should have been made during the preseason when all of the red flags starting appearing on offense?

Pat Yasinskas: You make a good comparison by pointing back to the defensive tackle situation last year. Yes, the receiver position is somewhat similar this year. But the Panthers did at least use three draft picks on receivers -- Brandon LaFell, Armanti Edwards and David Gettis. Still, they had to know there was a pretty good chance Jarrett wasn’t going to pan out. I would have liked to have seen them add a legitimate No. 2 receiver as a free agent. But, for whatever reason, the Panthers weren’t playing the free-agent game this year.

NFC South turning to rookie WRs

October, 8, 2010
10/08/10
1:00
PM ET
LaFell/Williams/Gettis Icon SMI, AP PhotoRookie receivers Brandon LaFell, Mike Williams and David Gettis are expected to start this Sunday.
TAMPA, Fla. -- When you’re watching NFC South teams this Sunday, keep an eye on the wide receivers. By choice and by circumstance, you’re going to see something rare.

You’re going to see a whole bunch of rookie wide receivers starting or playing a lot. That’s rare because there’s a school of thought, and most NFC South teams have backed it up through the years, that you shouldn’t ask too much of rookie receivers too soon.

We’re almost certainly going to see at least three rookies start at receiver for NFC South teams on Sunday and a fourth will get considerable playing time. A fifth might even be active for the first time in his career. In Week 5 of the NFL season, it’s kind of amazing that NFC South teams are leaning so heavily on rookie wide receivers, especially when not a single one of them was a first-round draft pick.

Tampa Bay’s been starting Mike Williams, a fourth-round pick, since the start of the season. Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris hinted strongly during the bye week that second-round pick Arrelious Benn will get increased playing time going forward, probably splitting time with second-year pro Sammie Stroughter. The Bucs play at Cincinnati on Sunday.

In Carolina, it appears highly likely the Panthers will start two rookies at receiver on Sunday against Chicago. They likely will go with third-round pick Brandon LaFell and sixth-round pick David Gettis as the starters. Armanti Edwards, who is converting from playing quarterback in college, might be on the game-day active list for the first time this season.

In Carolina, this wasn’t exactly the plan. The Panthers, who traditionally have been very patient in playing young receivers, wanted LaFell starting as a rookie, but they thought Gettis and Edwards would have time to develop. But that’s all changed because the Panthers are likely to be without Steve Smith due to an ankle injury. They cut veteran Dwayne Jarrett after he was charged with driving while impaired Tuesday morning. The rookie receivers will be working with rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen.

While putting rookie receivers around a young quarterback might sound like a formula for disaster, that’s actually the plan the Buccaneers have had since draft day.

“We made the conscious decision to draft these young guys and let [quarterback] Josh [Freeman] grow with them," Morris said.

Morris then pointed to the New Orleans Saints and how they let a young crew of receivers grow up around Drew Brees. Not a bad example, although Brees had been a starter in San Diego before coming to New Orleans in 2006. Freeman’s only been starting since the second half of last season.

“They, and I’m talking the wide receivers and Josh, always talk about growing up together," Tampa Bay receivers coach Eric Yarber said. “We talk about that as a staff. We’ve got a lot of young guys, but eventually these guys are going to become big-time players in this league."

Williams already has shown promise. In three games, he has 12 catches for 139 yards and two touchdowns. Although Benn was the higher draft pick, he hasn’t been much of a factor so far after missing some preseason time with an injury. But the Bucs are saying that’s about to change.

[+] EnlargeArrelious Benn
AP Photo/Paul AbellSecond-round pick Arrelious Benn is expected to see more playing time for the Bucs.
“Arrelious is coming on very well," Yarber said. “Early on, he had to spend a lot of time in the playbook. But now that he’s got the plays down, he’s playing much faster and we’re seeing the real Arrelious Benn now."

Still, is it wise or even productive to rely on rookie receivers so early? History has shown it’s a position that often takes time to grow into. Atlanta’s Roddy White, now the best receiver in the NFC South, didn’t really produce until his third year and he was a first-round pick. Smith spent a year as a kick returner before even getting a chance at wide receiver. Then, there’s a pretty lengthy list of guys who never really developed.

Carolina drafted Jarrett, Keary Colbert and Drew Carter and got very little from them. Tampa Bay used early picks on Michael Clayton and Dexter Jackson. Clayton had a big rookie year, but did nothing after that. Jackson never even made an impact and couldn’t make Carolina’s roster in the preseason.

Yarber admits there are challenges to playing rookie receivers right away.

“It is difficult because of the physicality on the outside against bump and run," Yarber said. “The guys in college are going against maybe one good DB that’s physical. On this level, every DB they face is physical and good at rerouting you. They’ve got to get used to the physicality on the outside.’’

But it’s far from just being a physical thing. The Panthers have been historically hesitant to play rookie receivers too much because they believe the mental adjustment takes time. In four seasons, Jarrett never was able to grasp the playbook. They don’t have much choice but to go with rookies now.

In Tampa Bay, the choice was made deliberately. The Buccaneers let veterans Antonio Bryant and Mark Bradley go to clear the way for Williams and Benn. They held onto Clayton through the preseason, but cut him once they were comfortable with the way the rookies were progressing.

Still, the Bucs admit their receiving corps is very much a work in progress and that affects the entire offense.

“You have to scale back a little bit," Yarber said. “You want to get them out there, but you don’t want to give them too much. That’s when you get to paralysis by analysis. They’re thinking so much that they can’t play fast. You need a happy medium that you don’t taper the offense down too much, but you don’t want to put too much in so that they’re thinking too much and they don’t play fast.

“One thing that can be a detriment to young guys early on is if you give them too much, they can lose confidence. You don’t want to give them too much too soon. You want them to have some success that they can build on and develop confidence and play better."

For better or worse, much of the NFC South is turning to rookie wide receivers.

Carolina Panthers mailbag

October, 7, 2010
10/07/10
10:50
AM ET
The Carolina Panthers are next in our series of team-by-team mailbags.

Nicholas in San Marcos writes: If I could ask you to do me and other Panther fans a favor, please ask Jerry Richardson why he gave up on us and why he hasn't told us what he is doing with his franchise? I've been a believer through thick and thin, but he hasn't given us any hope. It’s 2001 all over again I just wish he would say why.

Pat Yasinskas: Nicholas, I think it’s past the time for Richardson to come out and address his fans. He has a standing offer to talk to me on the record anytime he wants. He knows it and his media relations people know it, so here’s another reminder for them. Richardson agreed to talk with me on the record at the NFL owners meeting in Orlando back in the spring, but he had some scheduling conflicts and it didn’t happen. Any time he wants to talk, my recorder is ready.

JM in Charlotte writes: With Dwayne Jarrett gone and Steve Smith (probably) out this week, any chance Armanti Edwards makes his pro debut?

Pat Yasinskas: Yes, I think you’ll see Edwards for the first time. That said, I wouldn’t expect too much. This is a guy they’re bringing along slowly as he learns to play wide receiver. You might see him involved in certain packages, but I think fellow rookies Brandon LaFell and David Gettis will be the starters.

Will in Raleigh writes: I wish the Panthers were the ones to make a move for Randy Moss. I understand they're in a youth movement, and Richardson doesn't like the dramatic type. But imagine Smith and Moss combined with that run game. I think there's a time and place to break a little from a philosophy and that may have been it.

Pat Yasinskas: Well, Moss certainly would not have fit with the youth movement and he probably would have required a big contact going forward, something the Panthers aren’t doing right now. Besides, putting Smith and Moss on the field together might seem like a nice idea, but do you really want to see those two in the same locker room?

John in Charlotte writes: What do you think of the decision by the Panthers to waive Dwayne Jarrett. I think Richardson is a great owner & man, and this is a decision that I love. To be honest here in the Charlotte area, we have been tired with Dwayne's lack of production.

Pat Yasinskas: I think it was a move that had to be done. I’m not sure why Jarrett was still on the roster coming out of the preseason. I respect Richardson and the front office for pulling the plug when Jarrett was arrested. They’ve done that several times when players have gotten into trouble.

Buck in Havasu, Arizona writes: With the Panthers not having a second round pick next year, this being a rebuild year, a new coach next year, and Steve Smith wanting to be a winner, doesn't it make sense to trade him while we can get something for him? I think with a 1st and 3rd round pick (for him) plus our first round pick we have, that maybe we could get a guy or two like a Crabtree or a Bryant. The picks would really help out the new coach and let's be honest... Smith hasn't had a stellar year in quite a while. I love the guy but for the greater good???

Pat Yasinskas: I hear you, but you’re not going to get anything for Smith right now while he’s injured and the trade deadline is coming up later this month. So I don’t think anything’s going to happen. Besides, say what you want about Smith and a lot of people are speculating he wants to go to a winner. That may be true, but Smith has never even hinted that he wants to be traded.

How I See It: NFC South Stock Watch

October, 6, 2010
10/06/10
10:00
AM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | SouthAFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

[+] EnlargeSmith
AP Photo/Bill HaberSteve Smith's injury leaves the Carolina Panthers with no established big-play threats at wide receiver.
1. Cadillac Williams, running back, Tampa Bay. One thing about coach Raheem Morris that sets him apart from most other coaches is he’s not afraid to telegraph his moves. During the bye week, he made it pretty clear that the Bucs are going to cut down on Williams’ carries and try to insert LeGarrette Blount and Kareem Huggins more often.

2. Carolina’s wide receivers. With Steve Smith likely out with an ankle injury and Dwayne Jarrett released after he was charged with driving while impaired, the Panthers are down to rookie receivers Brandon LaFell, David Gettis and Armanti Edwards. They also claimed David Clowney off waivers Tuesday. Edwards has yet to be active on game day. Rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen doesn’t exactly have a stellar cast to throw to.

3. New Orleans’ offensive line. It’s not what it was a year ago. That’s a little disappointing because the line returned intact, but it hasn’t been dominant. Drew Brees is getting pressured more than usual, the running game’s been only ordinary and All-Pro guard Jahri Evans has developed a sudden knack for getting called for holding penalties.

RISING

1. Curtis Lofton, linebacker, Falcons. He’s been a pretty good middle linebacker in his first two seasons. But the knock on Lofton was that he didn’t make big plays, and he talked this summer about how he wanted to change that. It’s happening. In Sunday’s victory against San Francisco, Lofton had nine tackles, a sack and an interception. A few more big plays and Lofton could be a strong candidate for the Pro Bowl.

2. Roddy White, receiver, Falcons. It’s hard to put White’s stock much higher than it already was. We declared him the best receiver in the NFC South last week. But White went out and took his game to a higher level Sunday. He made one of the most incredible plays of his career and it didn’t even involve him catching the ball. After Nate Clements had a late interception, White ran him down from behind and popped the ball loose to cause a fumble that the Falcons recovered. Atlanta then went on a drive and kicked the game-winning field goal.

3. Usama Young, safety, Saints. He’s usually just a special-teams player. But a series of injuries forced him into the strong safety spot in Sunday’s victory against Carolina. With the Panthers close to the range where they could kick a game-winning field goal, Young stepped up and had a tackle where he dropped DeAngelo Williams for a four-yard loss. That and a sack by free safety Malcolm Jenkins on the next play took the Panthers definitively out of field-goal range.
Jerry Richardson, who has been conspicuously silent as fans wonder what direction the Carolina Panthers are headed in, just made a very strong statement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Around the NFC South

October, 5, 2010
10/05/10
4:14
PM ET
Tuesdays generally are off days for players and coaches around the league. But there's still a fair amount of happenings in the NFC South today. Let's take a look at some headlines.

Trent Dilfer said the New Orleans Saints still are the best team in the NFL. He says the mark of a great team is being able to win with your “C’’ stuff and that the Saints will continue to improve as the season goes on. I agree with Dilfer, but I also put the Atlanta Falcons right there with the Saints.

With the Buccaneers talking about getting more work for running backs LeGarrette Blount and Kareem Huggins, Cadillac Williams acknowledges that his days as a feature back could be coming to an end. But I wouldn’t go writing Williams off completely just yet. He might be more productive playing in some sort of rotation.

The Chicago Bears have signed former New Orleans defensive end Charles Grant. Kind of ironic that Grant’s replacement is Alex Brown, who came from the Bears as a free agent in the offseason.

Mike Ornstein, a marketing agent with a frequent presence at New Orleans Saints’ practices and games and the man Sean Payton talked about handling the team’s accommodations in Miami during the Super Bowl, reportedly has entered a guilty plea for conspiring to scalp Super Bowl tickets. Ornstein also was the former marketing agent for New Orleans running back Reggie Bush.

With the arrest of Dwayne Jarrett for reportedly driving while intoxicated, Joseph Person writes that it’s time to get rookie Armanti Edwards some playing time in Carolina. I couldn’t agree more. Yeah, Edwards might be a project, but the entire Carolina team is a project right now. Might as well let Edwards get involved with the rebuilding while its on the ground floor.

New Orleans safety Darren Sharper says he’ll be ready to come off the physically unable to perform list and play in a few weeks. With all the injuries the Saints have at safety, Sharper’s return could be very timely.

With one quarter of the season over, Atlanta coach Mike Smith offers a progress report to D. Orlando Ledbetter on the Falcons.

SPONSORED HEADLINES