NFL Nation: Frank Okam

Buccaneers could be thin at DT

August, 31, 2012
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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers went to great extremes this offseason to build up their depth at defensive tackle so they don’t face a situation like last season, when they became so desperate they had to bring in Albert Haynesworth.

It doesn’t look like things are working out quite as planned. According to multiple reports, defensive tackle Amobi Okoye has been released by the Bucs and the Chicago Bears already are working to finalize a contract with the veteran. That’s ironic, because Brian Price, who once seemed to factor into Tampa Bay’s interior-line plans, was traded to Chicago this summer.

The Bucs spent decent money ($2 million) to bring in Okoye, a former first-round draft pick by Houston. The thinking was he could at least be a rotational player behind Gerald McCoy and could end up as a starter if McCoy’s injury woes continued. Instead, Okoye was the one with the injury problem. A knee issue forced Okoye to miss a lot of time in training camp and the preseason. The Bucs are off the hook for Okoye's $1.8 million base, but his $200,000 workout bonus still will count against their salary cap.

Roy Miller appears to have earned the starting job next to McCoy. Okoye’s release would leave Gary Gibson and Wallace Gilberry as the apparent top backups at defensive tackle. Gibson played for coach Greg Schiano at Rutgers and has bounced around the NFL. Gilberry also has NFL experience. But, given McCoy’s history of injury problems, I don’t see how the Bucs can feel too great about their depth at defensive tackle. I think there’s a decent chance they could end up with another defensive tackle off the waiver wire.

There also are reports that the Bucs have released defensive tackle Frank Okam and safety Cody Grimm, but the team hasn’t made any official announcements yet.

Observation deck: Bucs-Redskins

August, 29, 2012
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Tampa Bay’s 30-3 loss to the Washington Redskins on Wednesday night didn’t make for great viewing.

Blame much of it on Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano. But, more importantly give Schiano lots of credit for making one of his best decisions since taking over the Buccaneers in January.

The Tampa Bay starters did not play. Instead, they stood on the sidelines after going through a full practice at Georgetown University earlier in the day.

It’s not unusual for an NFL coach to use his starters lightly or sit some of them in the final preseason game. But Schiano took this to an extreme. He even sat long-snapper Andrew Economos and a few guys that are likely to be key backups.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. After watching Pro Bowl guard Davin Joseph go down with a season-ending knee injury last week, Schiano wasn’t taking any chances. He wants his starters healthy for the regular-season opener, which comes Sept. 9 against Carolina.

That game is going to be a lot more important -- and, hopefully more entertaining -- than the preseason finale.

Some quick observations from Wednesday night’s game:
  • The Bucs still are trying to figure out how they’re going to replace Joseph. Jamon Meredith started at right guard, but I don’t know if that means he’ll be there for the Carolina game. Meredith surrendered a sack and was called for two penalties in the first half. The Bucs are experimenting with their options at that spot. Ted Larsen, who got the start at center, and Derek Hardman, also are possibilities from the current roster. But the Bucs also could scan the waiver wire for help in the coming days. After watching all the backup offensive linemen, I’d suggest the waiver wire might be the way to go.
  • Defensive tackle Wallace Gilberry might have helped his chances of landing a roster spot. He batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage early in the game. The Bucs are expected to use Gerald McCoy and Roy Miller as their starters. Amobi Okoye is expected to be part of the backup rotation, but he’s missed a lot of time with an injury. Gilberry likely is in the mix with Gary Gibson and Frank Okam to be part of the rotation.
  • I remember a preseason or two back in the 1990s when third-stringer quarterback Scott Milanovich was the most popular quarterback in Tampa Bay. After watching Brett Ratliff get the start and play the entire game, I don’t think starter Josh Freeman or backup Dan Orlovsky have anything to worry about. In fact, I think there is at least a chance the Bucs could follow the path a lot of other teams have taken in recent years and go with only two quarterbacks on the regular-season roster. In fairness to Ratliff, he got no help from his offensive line.
  • Broadcaster and former Buc John Lynch might have stirred up some speculation when he said the Bucs should try to sign tight end Chris Cooley, who recently was released by the Redskins. Usually, I try to shoot down speculation about the Bucs signing guys in their 30s because that really doesn’t fit the profile of a team that’s doing most of its building through the draft. But I’m with Lynch on this one. I think the Bucs could use a little more depth to go with Dallas Clark and Luke Stocker. If Cooley’s healthy, he might be worth a shot. I think he’d be a better lockerroom fit than Jeremy Shockey, who still remains unsigned. General manager Mark Dominik said during a fourth-quarter interview with the broadcast team that there had been contact with Cooley's agent, but said the team is now aggressively pursuing the veteran tight end.
  • Rookie safety Sean Baker still might be a long shot to make the 53-man roster. But he intercepted two passes and recovered a fumble Wednesday night. That might help Baker land a spot on the practice squad.
  • Nice to see Bucs’ co-chairman Joel Glazer hugging Raheem Morris before the game. Morris coached the Bucs the last three seasons and is now Washington’s defensive backs coach. Morris had a good relationship with ownership, but it was obvious to all that a move had to be made as the Bucs lost their final 10 games of last season. I’m just guessing here, but I doubt any members of the Glazer family were exchanging hugs with Washington general manager Bruce Allen, who once held the same role in Tampa Bay.

Bucs thin at defensive tackle

December, 24, 2011
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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have struggled against the run most of the year, particularly after losing defensive tackle Gerald McCoy to a season-ending injury.

That could be even more of a problem Saturday as the Bucs play the Carolina Panthers with a very thin group of defensive linemen.

Defensive tackles Brian Price and Albert Haynesworth have been declared inactive for this game. Price has been dealing with an ankle injury. Haynesworth has been listed with a knee injury, but the fact he’s inactive comes as a bit of a surprise. The Bucs had been listing Haynesworth on the injury report since acquiring him. They frequently give him days off from practice, but he had always been active for games.

That leaves the Bucs with Roy Miller and Frank Okam as their only two defensive tackles. Like most teams, the Bucs like to rotate defensive tackles. That means they’ll have to get creative.

Defensive ends Michael Bennett and Jovan Haye also can play inside. The Bucs also may elect to abandon their 4-3 front at times and go with a 3-4 defense.
As he met with the Tampa Bay media Thursday, defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth said he should have signed with the Buccaneers when he was a free agent back in 2009.

Haynesworth
Haynesworth
“This is where I should have been like three years ago,’’ Haynesworth said. “But I think all good things come to somebody that waits.’’

Instead of signing with the Bucs, Haynesworth signed with the Redskins. Haynesworth previously has said the Bucs’ offer was greater than Washington’s. When things didn’t work out with the Redskins, Haynesworth signed with the New England Patriots, who waived him Tuesday. The Bucs claimed Haynesworth off waviers Wednesday, and he went through his first Tampa Bay practice Thursday.

Haynesworth gave a pretty interesting answer when he was asked why he didn’t sign with the Bucs in 2009.

“You want to know the truth on that one?’’ Haynesworth said. “It was too pretty, it was too much water, too much sun here. I had just bought a nice, big boat, a good fast boat, and I really thought like if I came here I’d mix my time in with football and boating. When I was at Tennessee, during the offseason then I’d do the boating and do all my toys and playing around and all that. I figured with the water and the sun being here all year round, I was a little afraid of myself on a Tuesday going for a boat ride or something like that. I should have trusted myself and known, but I was kind of scared of that.’’

Haynesworth isn’t scared of Tampa Bay’s recreational opportunities this time around. Haynesworth said he felt he wasn’t getting enough playing time in New England. That shouldn’t be a problem with Tampa Bay.

The Bucs lost defensive tackle Gerald McCoy to a season-ending injury Sunday. They had to finish the loss to New Orleans with only two healthy defensive tackles (Brian Price and Roy Miller) because reserve Frank Okam was out with an injury. Haynesworth said Tampa Bay’s 4-3 defense is similar to what Tennessee used when he played for the Titans during the best seasons of his career.

“I think I can be pretty effective,’’ Haynesworth said. “I’m an older guy and I think they brought me in here to play hard and also to teach some of the younger guys how to play. I’ll be somewhat of, I guess, a mentor. … Get off the ball and disrupt and show them really how good it is that the grass ain’t greener on the other side always.’’

Bucs take plunge on Haynesworth

November, 9, 2011
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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who have made it very clear the last two years that they intend to build through the draft, veered slightly off course Wednesday, by claiming veteran defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth off waivers from the New England Patriots.

Ironically, the Buccaneers tried to sign Haynesworth as a free agent in 2009. But Haynesworth signed with the Washington Redskins. He later said the Buccaneers offered more money, but he didn’t want to have “distractions’’ in Florida.

The move comes at a time when the Bucs are thin at defensive tackle. Gerald McCoy went on injured reserve after injuring his arm in Sunday’s loss to New Orleans. The Bucs were left with Brian Price and Roy Miller as their only healthy defensive tackles because reserve Frank Okam was out with an injury. The Bucs also signed John McCargo on Tuesday.

But Haynesworth could vault quickly past Okam and McCargo. If he’s healthy and focused, Haynesworth could even provide a temporary upgrade from McCoy.

Buccaneers shore up DT position

November, 8, 2011
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After losing defensive tackle Gerald McCoy to a season-ending injury, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced they have re-signed John McCargo, who was with the team in the preseason.

A first-round pick by Buffalo in 2006, McCargo never really panned out. In five seasons, he played in 39 games with just one start and 2.5 sacks.

But he can add some depth behind defensive tackles Brian Price, Roy Miller and Frank Okam. There’s one other scenario that’s at least worth pondering at the moment.

That’s Albert Haynesworth. He was waived by the New England Patriots on Tuesday and will go on the waiver wire at 4 p.m. ET Tuesday. Teams will have until 4 p.m. ET Wednesday to claim Haynesworth.

It’s worth remembering that the Buccaneers tried to sign Haynesworth in 2009, soon after coach Raheem Morris and general manager Mark Dominik came to power. Haynesworth later said that Tampa Bay’s offer was financially larger, but he elected to sign with the Washington Redskins, saying that there were too many distractions in Florida.

Would the Bucs put in a claim on Haynesworth now?

It’s possible, but I doubt it. Since 2010, Tampa Bay has been hesitant to bring in high-profile players. The Bucs constantly remind us that they’re building through the draft and punter Michael Koenen was their only free-agent pickup of any consequence this year.

Plus, Haynesworth comes with lots of baggage. The Bucs are pretty conscious of their public image these days. If you’re thinking there’s a big move on the horizon, I’m thinking you probably will be disappointed. McCargo might have been the big move.
NEW ORLEANS – The Tampa Bay Buccaneers might have to finish a second consecutive season without defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.

He suffered an arm injury in Sunday’s loss to the Saints and early reports out of the locker room suggest McCoy could be out for the rest of the season. McCoy had just returned from missing two games with an ankle injury. He missed the final three games of last season with an arm injury.

If the Bucs are without McCoy, the No. 3 overall pick in 2010, their depth on the defensive line will be tested. McCoy had been starting next to Brian Price, a second-round draft pick from last year. Price has been playing well and Roy Miller likely would slide in next to him in the starting lineup.

Reserve defensive tackle Frank Okam sat out Sunday’s game with a calf injury. Rookie defensive end Da’Quan Bowers also can slide inside in certain situations, but the Bucs likely will have to sign a defensive tackle if McCoy is lost for the season.

Checking injuries that don't matter

November, 4, 2011
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Usually, we use this time on Friday’s to tell you about the injuries that matter most across the NFC South. We’ll do that in a moment. But, first, let’s tell you about the injuries that don’t matter, because that’s kind of become a bigger story when it comes to the New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who play each other on Sunday.

Payton
Payton
New Orleans coach Sean Payton admitted the Saints called the NFL to ask why Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman wasn’t on the injury report after he was spotted with something on his right thumb in an interview with NFL Network. The league called the Buccaneers, who went ahead and put Freeman and safety Tanard Jackson on the injury report Thursday.

Soon after the Bucs did that, the Saints went ahead and added right tackle Zach Strief to their injury report. All three remained on Friday’s injury report. They all practiced fully Friday.

Here’s the deal: Freeman, Jackson and Strief are going to play Sunday. The Saints and Bucs were just involved in what Payton called a bit of “gamesmanship’’.

Beyond the games, there are some real injury issues on the reports for the Saints and the Bucs. The Saints declared running back Mark Ingram (heel) out for the second straight game. Presumably, they’ll use the backfield rotation of Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles and Chris Ivory.

New Orleans linebacker Jonathan Vilma (knee) has not practiced all week. He’s listed as questionable and Payton said Vilma will be a game-time decision.

The Bucs have ruled out guard/center Jeremy Zuttah (knee), but the good news is center Jeff Faine (biceps) is probable. The Bucs also ruled out reserve defensive tackle Frank Okam (calf).

Atlanta’s injury report is a lot less complicated. Left tackle Sam Baker is out and the team previously said he’ll miss three or four games. Everyone else is listed as probable.

The Carolina Panthers have a bye, so they don't have an injury report.

Final Word: NFC South

October, 14, 2011
10/14/11
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 6:

Road trip ending: It hasn’t drawn a lot of attention, and part of that is because the opponents weren’t marquee teams, but the Saints wrap up a series of three straight road games Sunday at Tampa Bay. They’ve won at Jacksonville and Carolina. If they can do the same against the Bucs, it will be a major accomplishment. Winning on the road is a big deal in the NFL. If the Saints can get this one, they’ll be 3-1 on the road (they lost the opener at Green Bay) and they have a bunch of home games coming up.

[+] EnlargeGerald McCoy
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireBucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who hurt his ankle in Week 5, is expected to miss Sunday's game against New Orleans.
Next man up? Injuries are starting to catch up to Tampa Bay. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (ankle) and running back LeGarrette Blount appear likely to miss Sunday’s game. Tampa Bay is still in the middle of building through a youth movement, and that means this team doesn’t have a lot of depth. Frank Okam and Da'Quan Bowers will rotate in McCoy’s spot, but there will be a drop-off. The drop-off will be even more apparent at running back. Earnest Graham is a competent role player as a third-down back and fullback. But he’ll be asked to take on Blount’s role as the feature back, and Graham no longer has the tools to handle that job. It's hindsight, but there's no doubt the Bucs should have invested the money in the offseason to find a quality backup for Blount.

The corner is in reach. It’s become very obvious the Carolina Panthers are a team on the rise. They’ve lost a series of close games and rookie quarterback Cam Newton has made them very competitive. The Panthers are 1-4, but you can sense they’re close to turning the corner. A win this week would be a major stride, and it’s not out of the question. Atlanta is very talented, but the Falcons are struggling. If Carolina can come out of this with a win, it could be a catalyst for a strong second half of the season.

Must win? The Falcons have been one of the league’s biggest disappointments. But you look at their roster and it’s not hard to imagine them snapping their slump at any time and going on a strong run that could put them in the playoffs. If that’s going to happen, the Falcons need to win this game. They’re 2-3. If they fall to 2-4, they might be in a hole that’s too deep to escape.

Critical stretch. The next few weeks could determine how Tampa Bay fares this season. The Bucs had an ugly 48-3 loss to San Francisco last week. They’re hosting a very tough New Orleans team this week. After that, the Bucs will leave Monday for London to play a “home’’ game against the Bears. They get a bye week after that, but then have to face the Saints in New Orleans. Tampa Bay is 3-2, but the Bucs haven’t played consistently well and haven’t had an impressive victory yet. If the Bucs can just keep their heads above water, and win a game or two in the next three, they’ll be very much in the playoff picture. If they don’t, they might not have a shot at the playoffs.

Wrap-up: 49ers 48, Buccaneers 3

October, 9, 2011
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Thoughts on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 48-3 loss against the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park:

What it means: You can blame it on the long trip across the country. Or you can blame it on the short week after the “Monday Night Football’’ victory against Indianapolis. I’m not taking either route. I’m thinking the Bucs weren’t as good as their record might have indicated. We’d seen some holes even when the Bucs were winning against ordinary or bad teams. The 49ers are pretty good, but it’s not like Joe Montana or Steve Young is leading this team. San Francisco was able to exploit all sorts of Tampa Bay's problems on offense and defense. The Bucs (3-2) fell out of their tie for first place in the NFC South with the New Orleans Saints, who improved to 4-1 with a victory against Carolina.

Injury of note: Tampa Bay defensive tackle Gerald McCoy suffered what appeared to be a serious ankle injury in the first half and did not return. That would be a huge loss if McCoy is out for an extended period because the second-year pro recently had been emerging as a force in the middle of the defensive line. Fellow second-year pro Brian Price also has been playing well. The Bucs can fall back on Roy Miller and Frank Okam, but neither of them has McCoy’s potential for explosiveness.

Stat of the week: Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman threw two interceptions, including one that was returned for a touchdown. That gives Freeman six interceptions for the season. That’s the same number of interceptions he threw all of last season.

Stat of the week II: The Bucs had a chance to put together their first four-game winning streak since Raheem Morris took over as coach in 2009. That didn’t happen.

What’s next: The Buccaneers host the New Orleans Saints on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. The schedule doesn’t get any easier after that. The Bucs will leave soon after the Saints’ game to head to London, where they will play a “home’’ game against the Chicago Bears. After that, the Bucs get a bye week, but they have to travel to New Orleans to play the Saints again the following week.

Tampa Bay's young defense grows up

September, 25, 2011
9/25/11
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Dekoda Watson and Gerald McCoyKim Klement/US PresswireBucs LB Dekoda Watson is congratulated by Gerald McCoy (93) after he sacked Falcons QB Matt Ryan.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Before he even took off his uniform and headed for the shower, Gerald McCoy went through the locker room, searching for a stat sheet.

When the Tampa Bay defensive tackle finally found one, his reaction came in one word.

“Wow,’’ McCoy said.

He then tapped fellow defensive tackle Frank Okam on the shoulder and pointed to one line. Sitting in his chair and taking off his shoes Okam looked at where McCoy’s finger was and elaborated.

“Thirty rushing yards?’’ Okam said. “We held them to 30 rushing yards? Wow.’’

What Tampa Bay’s defense did in Sunday’s 16-13 victory against the Atlanta Falcons at Raymond James Stadium was worth plenty of wows.

A defense that is incredibly young on the front seven shut down what many thought would be one of the league’s best offenses. The Bucs shut down a team that many considered a Super Bowl contender, but is now 1-2.

With rookie middle linebacker Mason Foster wearing the radio helmet and calling the defensive signals for the full game for the first time, a rookie (Adrian Clayborn) starting at defensive end and two second-year defensive tackles (McCoy and Brian Price) in the starting lineup, the Bucs turned in their best defensive performance since legendary defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin left after the 2008 season.

Heck, you can go back a month further than that. The Tampa Bay defense started falling apart that November when word leaked out that Kiffin was leaving to join his son, Lane, at the University of Tennessee. The Bucs lost their final four games that season and the defense hasn’t been very good since.

The Bucs couldn’t stop much of anything in a 3-13 season in 2009 and they rode the coattails of quarterback Josh Freeman and his last-minute miracles to 10 wins last season. But things changed in a big way Sunday.

The Bucs (2-1) played defense the way they did in the early 2000s or late 1990s, when Kiffin was running the show and guys like Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp, Simeon Rice and John Lynch were making the big plays.

In this brand-new age, it was guys like Foster (a sack, a quarterback hurry and a tackle for a loss), Clayborn (his first sack in the NFL), Price (a sack and two tackles for a loss) and veteran cornerback Ronde Barber (an interception) making the big plays.

More importantly, the Bucs didn’t give up a lot of big plays.

“They still threw for 300 yards [actually 330], but it didn’t matter,’’ Okam said. “We didn’t give up big plays and we kept them out of the end zone for the most part.’’

Atlanta’s lone touchdown didn’t come until the fourth quarter. That’s the same offense that scored 35 points last week against “The Dream Team’’ (the Philadelphia Eagles) and the same team that had beaten the Bucs five straight times, dating to 2008.

But that streak ended and Atlanta’s offense fizzled because the Bucs realized the real backbone of Atlanta’s offense.

Michael Turner is a great running back,’’ Foster said. “We knew we had to gang tackle him and we played at a high level all night. We swarmed to the ball and got him on the ground.’’

Turner, who had rushed for 100 yards in each of Atlanta’s first two games, carried 11 times for 20 yards (a 1.8-yard average). His longest run of the game was 9 yards and Atlanta’s longest run was a 12-yard scramble by quarterback Matt Ryan.

That’s pretty much the way coach Raheem Morris and his staff drew up the defensive game plan, although it certainly helped that a Tampa Bay offense that had started slowly in the first two weeks produced 13 first-half points.

“We knew it was really important to stop the running game,’’ Okam said. “If we could make them one-dimensional and knock out their run game, our rushers could get there and get pressure and help Matt Ryan make mistakes for us.’’

Ryan threw one interception, was sacked four times and was the victim of some dropped passes, particularly one by Roddy White in the fourth quarter that could have put the Falcons ahead. But the Bucs came in willing to let Ryan throw the ball a fair amount. The caveat that came with that part of the plan was to limit the big plays. The Bucs did a good job of keeping plays in front of the secondary and there weren’t many deep throws.

“They’ve got great receivers and a great quarterback and a Hall of Fame tight end [Tony Gonzalez],’’ Foster said. “We kept them in check and did what we had to do to win the game.’’

But, most of all, the Bucs stopped Turner. That’s more than a little surprising because this defense has struggled to stop the run since the final month of Kiffin’s time in Tampa Bay.

The Bucs have taken criticism from the media and their own fans for not adding a few experienced pieces to the front seven of their defense in the offseason. They didn’t seem to need any of that against the Falcons. They shut them down with youth, fresh legs and a well-executed scheme.

“Everyone was playing sound technique,’’ Okam said. “Everyone was holding their gaps and being physical at the point of attack, getting off blockers and making plays when they came to you. You make something happen just by doing your job. When you’ve got 11 guys focused on doing their job, the game plan comes to fruition and it just works out.’’

Maybe this was a game where Tampa Bay’s defense simply got lucky. The Bucs could have been in trouble if the Falcons got the ball back at the end of the game. Instead, Atlanta defensive tackle Corey Peters jumped offsides and the Bucs were able to run out the clock.

Or maybe this was a sign that Tampa Bay’s young defense has arrived and it just might keep getting better. If that’s the case, the Bucs could be a very real player in the NFC South race.

“I told the team we didn’t come into the season to beat the Atlanta Falcons,’’ Morris said. “We came into this season to win the division."

That just might be possible, if the Bucs can keep playing defense like they did Sunday.

Buccaneers continue going with youth

September, 2, 2011
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We were tied up with Friday’s NFC South chat as this emerged, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made a few interesting cuts a little bit ago.

They’ve parted ways with linebacker Tyrone McKenzie, defensive end Kyle Moore and defensive tackle John McCargo.

McKenzie is the most interesting of the bunch because it appeared he had a shot at the starting job at middle linebacker at the start of training camp. McKenzie even ran Tampa Bay’s defense and helped draw up practice plans for players-only workouts during the lockout. But, once camp started, it quickly became obvious the Bucs had rookie Mason Foster ticketed for the starting job.

What’s unclear now is who will be Foster’s backup? Adam Hayward has experience at the position and a couple of young players, Derrell Smith and Simoni Lawrence, have done some good things in the preseason. Outside linebacker Quincy Black is expected to be the middle linebacker on passing downs as Foster will come out when the Bucs go to their nickel package.

The releases of McCargo and Moore aren’t as surprising, but each comes with a bit of a storyline. The Bucs took a shot by bringing in McCargo, a former first-round pick, who has had a disappointing career. They took a look at him, but they obviously feel they’re in good shape at defensive tackle with Gerald McCoy, Brian Price, Frank Okam, Roy Miller and possibly Al Woods. There was some question about Price’s health early on, but he appears ready to contribute.

Moore was a fourth-round pick in 2009, the first draft for general manager Mark Dominik and coach Raheem Morris. He struggled with injuries and the Bucs used their top two picks this year on defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers. They also have Michael Bennett and Tim Crowder.
We’ve talked about potential unrestricted free agents at length and you can see the official list of all of them by clicking here.

But we haven’t done much on restricted free agents. So let’s run through the list of NFC South restricted free agents now. Restricted free agents are players with fewer than four years of service who received qualifying offers before the lockout. Teams have the right of first refusal if a restricted free agent receives an offer from another team. Depending on the tender, they also can receive compensation if a player leaves as a restricted free agent.

Atlanta has two -- cornerback Brent Grimes and receiver Eric Weems. If Grimes leaves, the Falcons get a first-round draft pick. If Weems leaves, they get a second-round choice.

Carolina’s restricted free agents are receiver David Clowney, long-snapper J.J. Jansen and linebacker Jordan Senn. If Clowney leaves, the Panthers would get a fifth-round draft pick. There would be no compensation for Jansen or Senn.

New Orleans has only one restricted free agent. That’s guard Carl Nicks and he would bring a first-round pick as compensation.

Tampa Bay has six restricted free agents. Kicker Connor Barth and tackle James Lee would bring second-round draft picks if they leave. Defensive tackle Frank Okam would bring a fifth-round pick and safety Corey Lynch would bring a sixth-round pick. Cornerback Elbert Mack and receiver Micheal Spurlock come only with the right of first refusal.

How I See It: NFC South Stock Watch

December, 29, 2010
12/29/10
12:52
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NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Certain New Orleans linebackers and defensive linemen. There’s no exact list, but it was guys from those two position groups who went out and posed for pictures on the Atlanta Falcons’ logo after Monday night’s game. The Saints say it was harmless and that they frequently take pictures to commemorate big victories. But there are unwritten rules in the NFL and these guys might have broken a big one by at least giving the appearance they were gloating. Not a real good idea because the Saints could end up coming back to the Georgia Dome in the playoffs and you can bet that Atlanta coach Mike Smith is going to have photos of the Saints celebrating hanging all over his locker room.

2. Roddy White, wide receiver, Falcons. If you’re going to spout off on Twitter or anywhere, it’s a good idea to come out and back it up. White didn’t quite do that with his 43 receiving yards in Monday night’s loss to the Saints.

3. Matt Ryan, quarterback, Falcons. He didn’t have a disastrous game against the Saints, but Ryan needs to win a few more games like that before we firmly put him in the elite category or put him ahead of Drew Brees.

[+] EnlargeFrank Okam
AP Photo/Chris O'MearaFrank Okam stepped up in a big way for the Bucs on Sunday.
RISING

1. Frank Okam, defensive tackle, Buccaneers. It’s only one game, but Okam took a big stride in possibly shedding the underachiever label that’s been with him for most of his career. In Sunday’s victory against Seattle, Okam played a major role in shutting down the running game. With rookie starters Gerald McCoy and Brian Price lost to injuries, Okam stepped in and produced seven tackles, including two for losses. With McCoy, Price and Roy Miller all returning next year, Okam has a good chance to stick around as the fourth tackle for the long haul.

2. Drew Brees, quarterback, Saints. He didn’t have a great game by any measure Monday night. But, when it mattered most, Brees drove his team 90 yards to victory. That’s why he’s firmly in the “elite’’ category.

3. Myron Lewis and E.J. Biggers, cornerbacks, Buccaneers. Things really could have gotten out of hand after Aqib Talib, Tampa Bay’s best cornerback, went down with a season-ending injury. But Biggers and Lewis have stepped up and kept Tampa Bay’s secondary respectable. Biggers has been starting and Lewis, who wasn’t a factor early in his rookie season, has taken over as the nickelback and played well. Biggers and Lewis were part of the reason Seattle’s Mike Williams caught only two passes Sunday.

Final Word: NFC South

December, 17, 2010
12/17/10
4:22
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 15.

[+] EnlargeSteve Smith
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesReceiver Steve Smith may not want to stick around for the ongoing rebuilding process in Carolina.
Another farewell? There has been all sorts of talk about John Fox coaching his last home game for the Panthers. But there also seems to be a lot of speculation from Carolina fans that this could be the last time wide receiver Steve Smith plays for the Panthers in Bank of America Stadium. It’s a legitimate question about one of the best players in franchise history. Smith remains under contract with the team through 2012. But it is fair to wonder whether Smith might want out or whether a new coach might want to start fresh with young receivers. Does Smith want out? I think it’s important to note that a guy who rarely hides his feelings has never even hinted about wanting out. However, I wouldn’t blame Smith if he did ask out. He’s a guy who has an outside shot at the Hall of Fame if he can put up some big numbers for a few more years. Common sense says it’s going to take the Panthers some time to build, and Smith doesn't have time for that. He’s also a highly competitive guy, and I seriously doubt he enjoys losing. If he goes and asks management to trade him, I think he’d get his wish pretty much out of respect. But unless or until he actually says he wants out, I don’t think everyone should assume Smith wants to leave Carolina.

The Domeless Saints. I’m looking at Sunday’s weather forecast for Baltimore and it doesn’t look as bad as it did a few days ago when snow was mentioned as a possibility. The latest forecast says there is only a 10-percent chance of precipitation and the temperature might be a little above freezing. This might be a good warm-up game for the Saints because they could have to go on the road to someplace like New York, Philadelphia or Chicago in the playoffs. They have that perception of being a “dome team." Might be a good time to start shedding that perception.

Turn down “The Burner." It sounds like there is a decent chance Atlanta running back Jason Snelling could return to play against Seattle after sitting out the last couple of games. If he does, that’s really good news for the Falcons. They’ve been riding starter Michael Turner very hard the last few weeks, and he has produced in outstanding fashion. The Falcons aren’t going to do anything to dramatically cut Turner’s carries because he’s such an important part of the offense. But they’d love nothing more than to give a few of those carries to Snelling, who is a quality backup. At the moment, Turner has 275 carries. He’s been getting around 25 carries a game recently. If you project it out at that rate, Turner’s on pace for 350 carries for the regular season. That number is a little higher than the Falcons would like, especially when you consider that more carries will be coming in the playoffs. I’m thinking the Falcons would like to chop Turner’s pace down to a point where he ends the regular season with somewhere around 330 carries.

Mix and match. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who seem to have been scrambling to compensate for injuries every week in recent memory, will have to do it again. This time, the big question is how they will replace rookie defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. There is no singular answer to that. The Bucs haven’t laid out their entire plan, but coach Raheem Morris has said the team will take a committee approach at defensive tackle. Defensive end Michael Bennett could slide over there and backups Al Woods and Frank Okam could get some time in what figures to be a heavy rotation. There even have been hints that nose tackle Roy Miller could slide over to McCoy’s old spot at times.

Suh Flu outbreak. I’m sort of glad I’m getting on a plane to Baltimore on Saturday because there could be an epidemic hitting Tampa Bay on Sunday. It’s called Suh Flu, and symptoms are offensive linemen breaking out in a cold sweat at the prospect of having to block Detroit’s rookie sensation Ndamukong Suh. He’s lived up to all the hype that came with being the No. 2 overall pick in the draft. The Bucs are expected to start rookie guards Ted Larsen and Derek Hardman. They certainly will get some attempts at help from center Jeremy Zuttah, but I’m not sure that will be enough to stop this outbreak.

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