NFL Nation: Devery Henderson

METAIRIE, La. -- The first thing I noticed when watching the New Orleans Saints practice was the silence.

There was no messing around and no coaches screaming at players. Instead, the Saints looked like a veteran team that is intensely focused -- more focused than last year, when chaos surrounded the entire season. Maybe even more focused than in 2009, when the Saints eventually won their first Super Bowl championship.

The quiet practices are a firm sign that coach Sean Payton is back in charge and that this team wants to put last season as far in the past as possible. The bounty scandal that led to the season-long suspension of Payton and a disappointing 7-9 record is over, and the Saints want to return to their winning ways.

“Last year was an apparition," quarterback Drew Brees said. “It was a different time with all the situations that had taken place. This year, just knowing that we’ve got everybody here, this is our team. Nobody’s missing. This is the team that can accomplish great things, and there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. Here’s our window of time to bring it together. We know there’s going to be tough times. We know there’s going to be adversity. Build that attitude, build that chemistry, and get ready to make a run at it.”

Payton’s return alone should make a big difference. He’s one of the league’s best coaches and possesses a brilliant offensive mind. After watching his team from a distance last year, Payton had some strong critiques for his players, even the superstars.

Soon after Payton was reinstated, he called tight end Jimmy Graham and told him that a season in which he caught 85 passes but led the league in drops, according to ESPN Stats & Information, wasn’t good enough.

“First, he called me and I didn’t recognize the number so I didn’t pick it up," Graham said. “He was pretty mad because it took like two or three days for me to call him back. The conversation was very serious, talking about his expectations for me and the things that I need to correct from last year and how he’s ready to be back. He’s ready to see my growth even more."

Payton needs to see growth from more than Graham. He’s made it clear that he wants to run the ball more often and that the Saints have to be substantially better on defense.

If the Saints can combine those things with Brees and the passing game, they should be right back in playoff contention.

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. The defensive overhaul. Payton is an offensive guru, but the first order of business upon his reinstatement was to replace defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo with Rob Ryan. Spagnuolo’s defense never caught on in New Orleans, and the Saints finished last season ranked No. 32 in total defense.

The Saints aren’t just switching coordinators. They’re switching schemes. With Payton’s blessing, Ryan is installing a 3-4 scheme. The pass rush now will have to come from the outside linebackers, particularly Junior Galette, Will Smith and Martez Wilson, a trio of guys that previously played defensive end.

The secondary also is going through some major changes. The Saints signed free-agent cornerback Keenan Lewis and drafted safety Kenny Vaccaro in the first round.

The defense will look a lot different because Ryan uses a lot of exotic looks. If the results are different from last season, the Saints will be in good shape.

[+] EnlargeMark Ingram
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireThere won't be any excuses for Mark Ingram this season, as the Saints plan to keep him involved in their running game.
Ingram’s time? Payton repeatedly has said the Saints need to get back to running the ball more efficiently. They were good in that area in their Super Bowl season but got away from the run last season.

There really is no reason the Saints shouldn’t be able to get production from the running game. They have a good offensive line and three talented running backs -- Mark Ingram, Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas.

The real wild card is Ingram. Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis used a first-round pick on Ingram in 2011, but he hasn’t produced a lot in his first two years. I think Payton is going to make it a point to give Ingram more carries this season.

A new age of receivers. A few years ago, the Saints had a receiving corps as deep as any in the league, which came in handy because they use so many three- and four-receiver sets. But Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson left over the past two seasons. Joe Morgan, who had been ticketed for the third receiver spot, suffered a season-ending injury in camp.

That leaves starters Marques Colston and Lance Moore as the only sure things. Beyond them, there’s a lot of uncertainty. But the Saints hope veteran Steve Breaston, who was signed this week, and second-year pro Nick Toon, who missed his rookie season with an injury, can fill the void.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

Any team that has Brees as its quarterback is going to be competitive. With weapons such as Graham, Colston and Sproles, the Saints are going to score plenty of points. It would be difficult for the defense to be any worse than last season.

If the Saints can just put a middle-of-the-pack defense on the field, they can be a dangerous team.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

Rob Ryan
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsRob Ryan will bring an aggressive new 3-4 attack to New Orleans, but do the Saints have the proper personnel to run it effectively off the bat?
The Saints already have had some tough breaks when it comes to injuries. Defensive end Kenyon Coleman and outside linebacker Victor Butler, who were brought in specifically to fill important roles in Ryan’s defensive scheme, already have suffered season-ending injuries.

Ryan is an aggressive coach, and the 3-4 has had plenty of success around the league in recent years. But I’m not sure Ryan has the personnel to make this defense succeed. It could take another offseason to get this defense fully stocked.

OBSERVATION DECK

One of the brightest spots in training camp has been the play of second-year defensive lineman Akiem Hicks. I saw him make several big plays during my visit. Hicks is going to get his chance to shine in the regular season, and with Coleman out, it looks like he'll be a starter at defensive end.

In another sign that the Saints are serious about running the ball more, Graham has bulked up. The tight end said he now weighs about 270 pounds and that he’s focusing on becoming a better blocker.

The Saints have a history of finding unheralded running backs who end up making a contribution (see Chris Ivory and Travaris Cadet). They might have found another one in Khiry Robinson, an undrafted free agent out of West Texas A&M. Robinson has flashed big-play ability in camp. The Saints have so much depth at running back that it might be tough for him to make the roster, but he could end up on the practice squad.

There was some thought that Jason Smith, a former first-round pick by the St. Louis Rams, could end up as the starting left tackle. But it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. Charles Brown has been getting virtually all the first-team work. Smith has fallen to third on the depth chart and is working behind rookie Terron Armstead. It’s looking like Smith might not even make the roster.

In recent years, the Saints have brought rookie defensive backs along slowly. Malcolm Jenkins and Patrick Robinson didn’t play significant roles in their first seasons. But I don’t think the Saints are going to be cautious with Vaccaro. Whether it’s at one of the safety spots or as the nickelback, Vaccaro is going to play a lot this season.
Highlights from Monday's Washington Redskins' practice:

  • Monday was the first day the Redskins’ defense played with all of its starters on the field as DeAngelo Hall (ankle) and Brandon Meriweather (knee) returned to work. Jarvis Jenkins worked with the starters, too, after spending more time with the second unit last week.
  • One thing that secondary coach Raheem Morris stresses to his young defensive backs, particularly the safeties, is communication. He constantly was shouting at each of his rookie safeties, notably Bacarri Rambo and Phillip Thomas, to remind them to talk loud. Morris was pleased with how Rambo handled this, “Way to talk Bacarri!” But he implored Thomas to talk “Louder! Louder! Louder!”
  • [+] EnlargeBrandon Meriweather and DeAngelo Hall
    Geoff Burke/USA Today SportsBrandon Meriweather and DeAngelo Hall have been making progress from their injuries.
    Thomas did do a good job in the box on one read, coming up closer to the line based on the formation. He read the quarterback’s eyes, forced a tight window and subsequent incomplete pass with his coverage. Thomas is slowly coming along with his play in the box.
  • Second-year left tackle Tom Compton has had an uneven camp thus far. One problem he had last season was being unable to react to a counter move, partly because his initial punch at a defender wasn’t strong enough to knock him off line. Compton continues to allow inside pressure -- and not only to established players.
  • One player who has jumped out on occasion is rookie linebacker Brandon Jenkins. He has a ways to go and the games will be vital for him. But he got some work with the starting defense and faced the No. 1 offense. However, right tackle Tyler Polumbus handled Jenkins. One area Polumbus focused on this offseason -- keeping his shoulders square and his hands in tight on the defender -- was on display against Jenkins. Polumbus must prove he can be that consistent against quality pass-rushers, though he did a good job on a wide rush by Ryan Kerrigan. The third-year linebacker has had more success rushing inside the tackles with his counter move this camp.
  • It was second-year right guard Adam Gettis' first day back after his hamstring injury. So you have to take that into consideration. But he had a bad habit last season of getting stood up by his man. Gettis had the leg strength to sometimes anchor in these situations, but the coaches want him to get stood up much less. However, that’s what was happening to Gettis on Monday. Just something to watch.
  • Corner Josh Wilson intercepted two passes Monday, with one coming in a two-minute situation when he stepped in front of the receiver to grab a Kirk Cousins pass.
  • It’s hard to imagine anyone but Roy Helu ending up as the third-down back for Washington. He’s done a decent job in pass protection and he remains their best receiving threat out of the backfield. He also had a nice run today, running with excellent pad level through the hole.
  • Mike Shanahan talked about the need for Leonard Hankerson to be more consistent in camp. Thus far, that has not been the case. Hankerson dropped two passes this afternoon; both were very catchable. Shanahan said the same about Aldrick Robinson and aside from one day in which he dropped three passes, he has been consistent. Robinson made a nice grab in tight coverage against Chase Minnifield along the sideline. Though Robinson isn’t big -- he’s 5-foot-10, 181 pounds -- he has done a good job in camp of holding onto passes after being hit.
  • Cousins is obviously not as mobile as Robert Griffin III. But Cousins understands how to move in the pocket and showed a subtle slide to his left to elude pressure, then reset and threw to Pierre Garcon. Cousins makes one or two really nice throws each practice. He’s not afraid to throw into tight windows, which will lead to big-time throws and occasional trouble.
Injury report: Hall returned to practice after spraining his right ankle a week ago. Meriweather participated in the bulk of practice, a good sign for a player who missed a week of practice. The test for Meriweather is how his surgically-repaired right knee feels Tuesday. Rookie running back Chris Thompson also practiced. He, too, has been in and out after ACL surgery last fall. Thompson looked quick in the open field; durability will always be an issue with him… Receiver Devery Henderson missed practice due to a death in the family. …Rookie tight end Jordan Reed bruised the top of his foot and will undergo an MRI Monday night.

Quotable: “Last year and this year he lost a good 10 pounds. He decided to be in the best shape he could possibly be in. He had a great offseason and you see the dividends from being in great shape… He has continued to do that this year. He is in excellent shape. You can see some of the plays he has made thus far at camp, see that he is hungry and he is going to play at a very high level.” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan on wide recei er Santana Moss.
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

One key positional battle for each NFC South team as training camps get underway.

Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons are pretty well set at the offensive skill positions, but one guy to keep an eye on in training camp and the preseason is running back Jacquizz Rodgers. With the arrival of Steven Jackson, will Rodgers have a role as the third-down back? Jackson has a strong history of catching passes out of the backfield, but the coaching staff likes Rodgers and believes he has home run potential every time he touches the ball.

Carolina Panthers. From a fantasy standpoint, the issue is whether DeAngelo Williams or Jonathan Stewart will be the primary ball carrier. If both are healthy, they’ll split carries to some degree. But Stewart’s health remains a big question. He’s coming off surgery on both ankles and has had an assortment of injuries throughout his career. Williams had a strong finish last season and that may put him in the good graces of the coaching staff.

New Orleans Saints. The departure of Devery Henderson leaves the Saints looking for a third receiver after Marques Colston and Lance Moore. This position is critical because the Saints use so many three-receiver sets. Joe Morgan and Nick Toon appear to be the leading candidates for this job. Morgan seemed to have the advantage in minicamp, but the competition likely will go through camp and the preseason. Morgan is a long strider who has shown an ability to make some big plays. Toon, who missed his rookie year with an injury, is more of a possession receiver.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Veteran tight end Dallas Clark wasn’t re-signed and that means there will be a preseason battle for playing time at tight end. Luke Stocker and Tom Crabtree appear to be the front-runners, but neither has produced much yet. The Bucs believe Stocker can do a little bit of everything and could blossom. But they also think that Crabtree, who was brought in from Green Bay, can be a productive pass catcher. Still, from a fantasy standpoint, drafting a Tampa Bay tight end probably isn’t a great idea.

Eight in the Box: WR status check

March, 29, 2013
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NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

How does each team look at wide receiver, and what still needs to be done?

Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons have one of the best starting combinations in the league in Roddy White and Julio Jones, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. White and Jones are as good as most No. 1 receivers, and that creates matchup problems for opposing defenses, especially when you factor in the presence of tight end Tony Gonzalez. What has been mildly disappointing is that the Falcons haven’t gotten more out of their third receiver. Harry Douglas was used primarily in the slot last season. He has big-play potential but was limited to 38 catches and one touchdown. There is no serious challenger to Douglas on the current roster. That means the Falcons could look for an upgrade in what remains of free agency or in the draft.

Carolina Panthers: The team might not be sitting still at this position. It’s very possible the Panthers could use an early draft pick on a receiver because it’s time to start grooming an heir apparent to Steve Smith. He still is the No. 1 receiver, but his age is due to catch up with him at some point. Brandon LaFell has established himself as the No. 2 receiver but doesn’t look as if he’s a candidate for anything more. The No. 3 receiver spot is wide open after Louis Murphy departed via free agency. The team has some young options in Kealoha Pilares, Joe Adams and Armanti Edwards. But the Panthers recently signed Ted Ginn Jr. He primarily was a return man in San Francisco the past three seasons. But he contributed as a receiver in Miami before that. Ginn has a chance to win the third receiver job.

New Orleans Saints: There could be change on the horizon in New Orleans’ wide receiver situation. Veteran Devery Henderson is a free agent, and it appears unlikely the Saints will bring him back. The Saints still have veterans Marques Colston and Lance Moore, but several young players are going to have a chance at significant playing time because the Saints use a lot of three- and four-receiver sets. Joseph Morgan flashed potential at times last season. But the player to keep an eye on is Nick Toon, who missed his rookie season because of injury. Toon might have the inside track on the third receiver job and eventually could develop into a starter.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Bucs are well set with Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams as their starters. But the real competition should be for the No. 3 receiver spot as the team continues to try to give quarterback Josh Freeman everything he needs to succeed. Tiquan Underwood emerged as the No. 3 receiver last season, and he has a chance to stay in that role. But the Bucs brought in Kevin Ogletree to compete with him. Ogletree did some good things in Dallas last season and might be just starting to reach his potential.

Reviewing NFC South free agents

March, 7, 2013
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We’ve shown you the lists of potential NFC South free agents before. But let’s do it again because there have been some minor moves and the free-agency period is getting ready to start Tuesday.

Here’s the list of potential free agents for all four NFC South teams:

Atlanta Falcons. Tony Gonzalez, Brent Grimes, Sam Baker, William Moore, Will Svitek, Mike Cox, Todd McClure, Luke McCown, Christopher Owens, Mike Peterson, Garrett Reynolds, Lawrence Sidbury and Vance Walker all can become unrestricted free agents. Michael Palmer can become a restricted free agent.

Carolina Panthers. The potential unrestricted free agents are Derek Anderson, Antwan Applewhite, Gary Barnidge, Dwan Edwards, Ben Hartsock, Sherrod Martin, Captain Munnerlyn, Louis Murphy and Mike Pollak. Richie Brockel can become an exclusive-rights free agent. Andre Neblett, Nate Ness and Jason Phillips are scheduled to become restricted free agents.

New Orleans Saints. Jermon Bushrod, Jonathan Casillas, Chase Daniel, Sedrick Ellis, Devery Henderson, Ramon Humber, Elbert Mack, Turk McBride, Will Robinson, Courtney Roby and Scott Shanle can become unrestricted free agents. Brian De La Puente, Justin Drescher, Junior Galette and Chris Ivory are scheduled to become restricted free agents. Eric Olsen and Michael Higgins can become exclusive-rights free agents.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Ronde Barber, Dallas Clark, Michael Bennett, E.J. Biggers, Andrew Economos, Geno Hayes, Roy Miller, Roscoe Parrish, Sammie Stroughter and Jeremy Trueblood can become unrestricted free agents. LeGarrette Blount, Jacob Cutrera, Corvey Irvin and Daniel Te’o-Nesheim are scheduled to become restricted free agents.

Looking at New Orleans' free agents

February, 11, 2013
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Time to continue our look at the NFC South’s potential free agents with the New Orleans Saints.

Their list includes left tackle Jermon Bushrod, linebacker Jonathan Casillas, backup quarterback Chase Daniel, defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, receiver Devery Henderson, linebacker Ramon Humber, cornerback Elbert Mack, defensive end Turk McBride, tackle Will Robinson, receiver Courtney Roby and linebacker Scott Shanle. Center Brian De La Puente, center Justin Drescher, defensive end Junior Galette and running back Chris Ivory can be restricted free agents. Safety Rafael Bush, guard Eric Olsen and tight end Michael Higgins can be exclusive-rights free agents.

The big names are Bushrod, who has made himself into a Pro Bowler, and Ellis, a former first-round pick. Although the Saints have major salary-cap issues, they are likely to at least make an attempt to keep Bushrod. But it’s important to remember the Saints aren’t like most other teams when it comes to their philosophy on paying offensive linemen. They have a history of paying more to guards (see Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs) than they do to tackles and Bushrod could get big money on the open market.

Ellis never has lived up to his draft status and, with the Saints switching to a 3-4 defense, I’m not sure he’s a good fit for the scheme.

Henderson and Shanle used to be key players. But age started to catch up to them last season and I don’t see the Saints making a big push to keep them.

NFC South halftime thoughts

December, 23, 2012
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All three of Sunday’s NFC South games are at halftime and the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints are holding leads.

The Panthers have a 14-3 lead on the Oakland Raiders, courtesy of an early touchdown pass from Cam Newton to Steve Smith and a Luke Kuechly interception that set up a Newton touchdown run late in the second quarter. If Carolina can hang onto this one, the Panthers will be on a three-game winning streak and coach Ron Rivera may have a chance to keep his job.

In Dallas, the Saints lead the Cowboys, 17-14. The New Orleans defense, which had shown some improvement in recent weeks, is back to its early-season form. The Saints have allowed Tony Romo and Dez Bryant to hook up on two touchdown passes. The Saints also have been plagued by some penalties on the offensive line and drops by Marques Colston and Devery Henderson. But Drew Brees put the Saints in the lead by leading them to a touchdown and a field goal late in the second quarter.

In Tampa Bay, there are probably more fans than ever jumping off the Josh Freeman bandwagon with the Bucs trailing 14-6. Freeman threw an interception that Janoris Jenkins returned for a touchdown early in the second quarter. Later in the second quarter, Freeman was picked off again to set up another St. Louis touchdown.

I'll be back with wrap-ups on all three games soon after they end.

Drew Brees' streak defines him

October, 7, 2012
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Since his arrival in New Orleans in 2006, Drew Brees has been piling up huge numbers.

He’s set records and won a lot of games -- and a Super Bowl. But I don’t think those records or even the Super Bowl are what define Brees.

[+] EnlargeDrew Brees
Chuck Cook/US PresswireDrew Brees celebrates his record-breaking touchdown pass in the first quarter Sunday night.
I think the record he set Sunday night against the San Diego Chargers will be what defines Brees down the road. Brees threw a touchdown pass to Devery Henderson with 2:58 remaining in the first quarter.

That score gave Brees a touchdown pass in 48 consecutive games, dating back to 2009. He entered the game tied with Johnny Unitas, who established the previous record (47) from 1956 to 1960.

Breaking any record set by Unitas is monumental, but this one is particularly big.

If you’re throwing a touchdown pass in 48 straight games, you’re consistently excellent. That’s why I’m more impressed with this streak than anything else Brees has done. He broke a record that lasted for 52 years.

What he’s showing is sustained greatness. When he’s in the Pro Football Hall of Fame some day, people will look at Brees’ streak, which could end up going on much longer, as his trademark.

I compare Brees’ streak a little to Cal Ripken’s string of consecutive games played. Fans may not know his career batting average, but even the most casual fan knows that Ripken broke Lou Gehrig’s record.

Break a record held by a Unitas or a Gehrig and that’s going to be one of the things people will remember most about you.

The record also brought some joy to what, up until this point, has been a joyless season for the Saints. It came with suspended coach Sean Payton, assistant head coach Joe Vitt and general manager Mickey Loomis in attendance. Although they're not supposed to have contact with the Saints during their suspensions, the NFL gave the trio permission to attend after Brees requested.

For at least a brief moment, all was well with the Saints again.

Saints without two injured starters

September, 16, 2012
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- As expected, the New Orleans Saints will be without two injured starters. Receiver Devery Henderson (concussion) and cornerback Johnny Patrick (thigh) are inactive for Sunday’s game with Carolina.

The other inactives are running back Chris Ivory, running back Travaris Cadet, defensive lineman Tyrunn Walker, offensive lineman Bryce Harris and defensive end Turk McBride. Lance Moore is likely to start in Henderson’s place with Greg Camarillo and Joe Morgan getting time as the third and fourth receivers. Jabari Greer returns after missing last week’s game and will start at cornerback opposite Patrick Robinson. Rookie Corey White is expected to be used as the third cornerback.

Also, rookie defensive tackle Akiem Hicks will be active for the first time.

Carolina’s inactives are quarterback Jimmy Clausen, defensive back D.J. Campbell, linebacker Kenny Onatolu, tackle Bruce Campbell, guard Mike Pollak, tight end Ben Hartsock and defensive tackle Frank Kearse. Receiver Steve Smith and running back Jonathan Stewart, who had been listed as questionable, are active for Carolina.

Some thoughts on the Jaguars’ 27-24 win over the Saints Friday night in New Orleans:

Justin Blackmon looked the part: I saw a physical, confident receiver who made himself available for Blaine Gabbert. On an early catch, he stopped and went backwards to allow a tackler to miss and gain some extra yards. And he pulled in a dart from Gabbert on a third-and-7, skipped a defender who tried for the ball and bolted into the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown. He wound up with four catches for 48 yards and the score. I thought it was a strong start that showed us a bit about who he can be.

Gabbert: A smooth and efficient night for the second-year quarterback. If he plays like this, the Jaguars are going to be a competitive team that surprises a lot of people making the too-easy prediction the Jags will struggle. He connected on 13 of 16 passes for 112 yards, two touchdowns and a 135.4 passer rating. Those numbers were enhanced a bit by replacement officials who were too quick with pass interference flags. But Gabbert was not sacked and he looked confident and in command, stepping up to deliver the ball with minimal concern about what might have been closing in on him. He fired one pass to Mike Thomas even as he was getting hit by Junior Galette. Take it all as a major cause for encouragement with him as he built on last week’s good showing.

Rashad Jennings and the run game: The Saints were not in a tackling mood, and the Jaguars took advantage. Jacksonville averaged 5.5 yards on the ground, with Jennings turning 11 touches into 62 yards. He continues to look like a starting-caliber back to me in the absence of Maurice Jones-Drew.

The rush: Defensive end Jeremy Mincey is not Jason Allen or Julius Peppers. But he’s not “just” a high effort guy, either. He was a real pain in this game, hounding Drew Brees as a consistent presence in the backfield. He can really be a tone setter. We also saw some flashes of just how dangerous Andre Branch’s speed can be coming off the other edge.

Coverage: The Jaguars got picked apart by Brees at times -- particularly on the nine-play, 85 yard drive that cut the Jags lead to 17-10 -- but that’s what the Saints can do. Jacksonville was without Derek Cox (hamstring) and Rashean Mathis (resting knee on turf) so the corner depth got work. William Middleton was draped on Devery Henderson when he made a strong, one-handed catch of a perfect 8-yard touchdown throw.

Winning it: Preseason results don’t mean much, of course. But you’d rather have the late drive to win a game than not, and Jordan Palmer provided it -- a 12-play, 74-yard march that ended with an 11-yard TD pass to undrafted rookie Kevin Elliott with 13 seconds left to provide the winning margin.

NFC South evening update

July, 31, 2012
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Time to take a look at the day’s headlines from around the NFC South.
  • Carolina general manager Marty Hurney said he plans to meet with offensive tackle Jeff Otah on Wednesday. The Panthers previously traded Otah to the New York Jets, but that deal was rescinded after Otah couldn’t pass a physical. The Panthers already were prepared to move on without Otah, and I don’t see them hanging onto him now. It will be tough to find another trade partner now because the fact Otah couldn’t pass a physical was made very public. I think Carolina’s only choice is to release Otah. But we’ll see if Hurney has something up his sleeve.
  • Undrafted rookie quarterback Dominique Davis drew some praise from coach Mike Smith. The coach talked about Davis’ strong arm. I can verify that. When I was at Atlanta’s camp, it clearly was evident Davis has a strong arm. But the thing that caused me a little concern was that he seemed to have only one speed -- fast. It didn’t matter if it was a screen pass or a shot over the middle to a receiver or a tight end, Davis was throwing the ball very hard, and didn’t seem to have a lot of touch.
  • Tampa Bay middle linebacker Mason Foster said he knows there are no guarantees as to how the linebacker group will be utilized in the regular season. But it’s pretty obvious the Bucs want Foster starting in the middle, with Quincy Black and rookie Lavonte David on the outside. Unless they really struggle in the preseason, I don’t think you’ll see any changes.
  • The Buccaneers got their first day off from training camp Tuesday. That’s probably a good thing. This team is off to a rough start when it comes to injuries, and a little rest can’t hurt.

Saints Camp Watch

July, 24, 2012
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Three thoughts as training camps open around the NFL:

One thing I’m certain of: The New Orleans Saints will be coming to camp on a mission. They’re not happy about what has happened this offseason and they’ve taken on the mindset that the world is against them. That’s going to lead to an increased focus across the board, which is not a bad thing.

This team will miss suspended coach Sean Payton, but the Saints have some very strong veteran leadership. Quarterback Drew Brees has spent his career playing with a chip on his shoulder. After recently becoming the NFL’s highest-paid player, he’ll be out to show the world he deserves it. This team always has fed off Brees’ work ethic and leadership. That’s going to be needed more than ever.

One thing that might happen: I still think there’s a decent chance the Saints will add a pass-rusher at some point in the preseason. They’re putting in a defense, with new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, that will rely on the front four more than ever. Aside from Will Smith, who is suspended for the first four games, the Saints do not have a proven pass-rusher among their current crop of defensive linemen.

There are high hopes that some young players, such as Junior Galette and Martez Wilson, can emerge as threats. But the Saints don’t have a history of sitting around and waiting for young players to develop. More than any team in the NFC South, they’ve shown a willingness to bring in veterans in recent years. They couldn’t do that early in the offseason because of salary-cap concerns. But now that Brees’ deal is done, the Saints have some cap space to work with. If an experienced pass-rusher is released elsewhere or becomes available via trade, I can see the Saints pouncing.

One thing we won’t see: A rookie in the starting lineup. The Saints didn’t have a pick in the first two rounds of this year’s draft. But this isn’t a team that has even asked many of its first-round picks (see Malcolm Jenkins, Patrick Robinson and Robert Meachem) to start right away. The Saints did a nice job of addressing their needs through free agency.

Defensive tackle Akiem Hicks, a third-round pick, and receiver Nick Toon, a fourth-round choice, might be the only rookies you’ll see much of this season. Hicks has chance to work his way into the rotation with Sedrick Ellis and Brodrick Bunkley. Toon has a chance to be the fourth receiver, behind Marques Colston, Devery Henderson and Lance Moore. At best, Hicks and Toon will be role players this season. But the hope is that those two and the rest of this draft class can make a bigger impact down the road.
The fourth round is just about over. It's down to the compensatory picks and those can't be traded, so this round will end with only three picks made by NFC South teams.

But this still was a relatively eventful round for the division. Carolina was the star in this round as the Panthers used back-to-back picks to get Oklahoma defensive end Frank Alexander and Arkansas receiver Joe Adams. I don’t think either is a candidate to start right away, but they give the Panthers some depth at positions where they needed depth.

Charles Johnson is Carolina’s big threat at defensive end and Greg Hardy hasn’t really produced the way the Panthers had hoped. They still have hope Hardy will emerge, but Alexander provides another option behind him.

I like the Adams pick even more. Carolina has one certainty at receiver. That’s Steve Smith. After that, the Panthers are hoping Brandon LaFell can continue to develop and David Gettis can come back strong from last year’s season-ending injury. But there are no guarantees LaFell and Gettis will become stars, so it makes sense to add another guy to this mix. Adams could end up being used as a slot receiver fairly early on. He has the potential to be explosive and, with Cam Newton’s arm, the Panthers could use someone besides Smith that can get open down the field.

Speaking of wide receivers, the Saints got one with the only other NFC South pick in the fourth round. They took Wisconsin’s Nick Toon. A lack of top end speed and questions about his durability are the main reasons Toon slid to the fourth round. But this is a polished player from a big-time program. In New Orleans’ offense, wide receivers tend to produce more than their draft status would suggest. Just look at what Marques Colston and Lance Moore have done.

The Saints did lose Robert Meachem in free agency. They still have Colston, Moore and Devery Henderson. Toon should have a chance to compete with Adrian Arrington for the fourth receiver spot.

Randy Moss could fit with Saints

March, 6, 2012
3/06/12
11:46
AM ET

The news that Randy Moss is working out for the New Orleans Saints is big, simply because names don’t come much bigger when it comes to wide receivers.

But I don’t know that a 35-year-old wide receiver who was out of football last season is suddenly going to come in and carry the Saints to a Super Bowl title. I don’t even know if the Saints actually will sign Moss.

What’s happening here is the Saints are looking at possibilities. That’s not a bad idea because they could be losing top receiver Marques Colston when free agency starts next week. They also could lose Robert Meachem, who, while not as prolific as Colston, has become an important cog in the Saints’ rotation of wide receivers.

Moss is worth a look. If he has anything left, he becomes an option if Colston and/or Meachem depart. Like Colston and Meachem, Moss is a taller wide receiver and could pair nicely with shorter receivers Lance Moore and Devery Henderson.

But Moss isn’t a carbon copy of Colston. In his best days -- and it’s been a while since Moss was at the top of his game (2009 in New England was his last good season) -- he wasn’t the same style of receiver as Colston. Moss was a long-striding receiver, who could get open deep. Colston’s never been that kind of player. But Colston’s real value to the Saints has been in the mid-level passing game. He has dependable hands and his size allowed him to make a big impact over the middle.

But the reality is that New Orleans’ cap situation could make it impossible for the Saints to keep Colston. Moss likely would come at a cheap price.

The question that’s always been associated with Moss has been, is he worth the trouble, at any price? As we all know, Moss’ enormous talent often has been overshadowed by his behavior. At just about every one of his stops, Moss has gained a reputation for being selfish and not a great influence in the locker room.

But, if the Saints lose Colston and Moss shows in his workout that he has some physical skills left, I say go ahead and sign him.

The Saints have taken shots on guys with less-than-stellar reputations in the past and that often has worked out. That’s because the Saints have a different locker room than most teams. They have a locker room that’s run with an iron hand by quarterback Drew Brees.

There’s an unwritten rule in New Orleans that nobody messes with Brees and everyone in the locker room is held accountable by the quarterback. A lot of people said tight end Jeremy Shockey would be a problem when the Saints brought him in a few years back.

Shockey had pushed Giants quarterback Eli Manning all around when the two were together in New York. But Shockey’s time in New Orleans was relatively peaceful. That’s because Shockey knew he wouldn’t be there long if he crossed Brees or didn’t work up to the standards expected by the quarterback.

It can work the same way with Moss.
The New Orleans Saints will work out veteran receiver Randy Moss, according to Kristian Garic of WWL Radio.

It’s not known when the workout will take place, but the Saints can sign Moss at any time because he was out of the NFL last season. At the very least, consider this a sign that the Saints are looking at Moss as a possible option if receiver Marques Colston leaves when free agency starts next week.

That’s a real possibility because the Saints are expected to have minimal cap room and also could lose receiver Robert Meachem.

Like Colston and Meachem, Moss is a big target. The other top receivers remaining on the roster, Lance Moore and Devery Henderson, are smaller receivers. The Saints traditionally have liked to give quarterback Drew Brees a mixture of big and small receivers.

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