Thursday, September 1, 2011
Final preseason tests for NFC South
By Pat Yasinskas
The final preseason games for all NFC South teams are Thursday night.
Baltimore plays at Atlanta at 7:30 p.m. ET and Tampa Bay at Washington kicks off at the same time. Pittsburgh at Carolina and Tennessee at Houston start half an hour later. Since final preseason games generally don’t feature a lot of playing time for the starters, we’ll make our preview a little more comprehensive.
Instead of doing three things to watch on each team, we’ll do one.
Cam Newton’s last test. The Panthers appear to be set to go with the rookie quarterback as their starter for the regular season. He has not had a great preseason as a passer and probably won’t get a lot of playing time tonight. But it would be nice to see him complete a few passes against the Steelers. That would help his confidence and also bring some optimism to the fans.
Cameron Jordan’s role. The Saints pulled a surprise Tuesday when they cut starting defensive end Alex Brown. Conventional wisdom says that probably means they’re ready to use Jordan, a first-round draft pick, as a starter. Coach Sean Payton hasn’t committed that far and said the Saints will use a rotation at defensive end. But Jeff Charleston, Junior Galette and Turk McBride aren’t the kind of guys you expect to see in the starting lineup on a weekly basis.
Mike Johnson vs. Garrett Reynolds. This competition for Atlanta’s starting right guard job is coming down to the wire. Johnson missed some time early on with a concussion and that gave Reynolds the early edge. But coach Mike Smith has said Johnson still is a contender to start and a strong showing could be the deciding factor. No matter if it’s Johnson or Reynolds opening the regular season at Chicago on Sept. 11, the Falcons will have two new starters on the line that day. Center Todd McClure will miss the opener with a knee injury, and second-year pro Joe Hawley likely will get the start.
Rudy Carpenter in a starting role. He was Tampa Bay’s No. 3 quarterback last season. But Carpenter will get the start against the Redskins and there’s a lot riding on this one. Carpenter is in a competition with Jonathan Crompton for the No. 3 spot. But coach Raheem Morris admitted that it’s possible the Bucs may go into the regular season carrying only Josh Freeman and Josh Johnson on the active roster, which would free up a spot at another position. Carpenter needs a strong outing to prevent that from happening.