NFL Nation: Keary Colbert

Aaron from Chicago wants to know why the Seattle Seahawks keep acquiring personnel from his favorite team, the Minnesota Vikings.

Cornerback Antoine Winfield was the latest addition to the "Minnesota West" roster in Seattle.

"Ever since we controversially signed Steve Hutchinson from them," Aaron writes, "it has seemed as though the Seahawks go out of their way to snatch whatever Vikings they can to stick it to us. It started with them signing Nate Burleson, then Sidney Rice and Heath Farwell, Darell Bevell and Tarvaris Jackson (for whatever reason). They even outbid us for T.J. Houshmanzadeh a few years back. They signed Ryan Longwell at the end of this past season. Obviously, it has continued with Percy Harvin and now Winfield."

Sando: It's a remarkable pattern, but there's likely no revenge factor. The people running the Seahawks during the Hutchinson controversy are long gone from the organization. They were involved in adding Burleson and Houshmandzadeh, but they had nothing to do with the Seahawks' more recent deals for Rice, Farwell, Bevell, Jackson, Harvin or Winfield.

Bevell's hiring as the Seahawks' offensive coordinator stands out as a factor behind the team's decisions to sign Rice and trade for Harvin.

John Schneider's presence as the Seahawks' general manager since 2010 provides a strong link to the NFC North in general. Schneider, after spending much of his career with the Green Bay Packers, played a role in Seattle adding former NFC North players such as Breno Giacomini, Will Blackmon, Cliff Avril, Steven Hauschka, Brett Swain, Frank Omiyale and others. Also, Schneider and Bevell were together in Green Bay. However, Seattle has added many more players without ties to the Vikings or the NFC North.

For a while, the Detroit Lions signed or otherwise acquired a long list of players with Seahawks ties. There were some connections between the organizations -- former Lions coach Rod Marinelli and former Seahawks GM Tim Ruskell shared a history with Tampa Bay, for instance -- but some of the overlap defied explanation.

Tyler Polumbus, Burleson, Will Heller, Rob Sims, Lawrence Jackson, Maurice Morris, Julian Peterson, Trevor Canfield, Marquand Manuel, Kole Heckendorf, Kevin Hobbs, Logan Payne, Chuck Darby, Keary Colbert, Billy McMullen, Travis Fisher, Cory Redding, John Owens, Joel Filani, T.J. Duckett, Kevin Kasper, Etric Pruitt and Mike Williams were among the players to play for both organizations.

NFC South breakout players

June, 12, 2012
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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.

Challenging the 49ers' divisional dominance

September, 11, 2011
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The San Francisco 49ers have changed head coaches and coordinators multiple times in recent years, but there has been at least one constant.

The team keeps defeating division opponents at home.

The 49ers have won their last seven NFC West games at Candlestick Park. The average final score: 31-12.

It's something to keep in mind when the Seattle Seahawks visit later Sunday. Seattle is the most recent NFC West team to defeat the 49ers at Candlestick, back in Week 8 of the 2008 season.

Eight 49ers starters from that 2008 defeat remain in the lineup or at least part of the game plan this week: Josh Morgan, Joe Staley, Vernon Davis, Frank Gore, Parys Haralson, Isaac Sopoaga, Justin Smith and Patrick Willis. Several 49ers backups and inactive players from that game also remain with the team, including Ray McDonald and Delanie Walker. Alex Smith was on injured reserve and did not play that season.

The Seahawks have had almost zero carryover. Koren Robinson, Walter Jones, Mike Wahle, Keary Colbert, Seneca Wallace, Jordan Kent and current 49ers assistant Bobby Engram were among their offensive starters that day. They're hoping a nearly all-new team can produce different results against the 49ers on the road.

New 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh inherits a team that has gone 11-3 in its last 14 divisional games, home or away. Seattle has accounted for two of those three defeats, including in the 2010 opener.

Kansas City Chiefs cutdown analysis

September, 3, 2011
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Check here for a complete list of the Kansas City Chiefs’ roster moves.

Surprise move: The Chiefs kept Keary Colbert ahead of fellow receivers Verran Tucker and Jeremy Horne. Colbert signed during the summer. He hasn’t been on an NFL roster since 2008. Yet, Colbert became a favorite of Kansas City coach Todd Haley. Defensive tackle Amon Gordon is another vet enjoying a career resurgence in Kansas City. He has played in just 17 games since entering the league in 2004. The Chiefs like Gordon as a run stuffer.

No-brainers: The big news out of Kansas City on Saturday is that standout tight end Tony Moeaki was put on the injured reserve with a knee injury he suffered at Green Bay on Thursday. Thus, the Chiefs kept both backups Jake O'Connell and Anthony Becht. Both players were considered bubble players but they are needed now.

What's next: It starts at tight end. The Chiefs could use a pass catcher. They could look at Donald Lee, who was cut Saturday, among other players. Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli could also make a run at safety Brandon Meriweather. He was cut by New England. Pioli was part of the team when it drafted Meriweather. The Chiefs also could scour the waiver wire at receiver, offensive line, inside linebacker and on the defensive line. So, yes, the Chiefs could look to upgrade throughout the roster. Also, if an interesting backup quarterback becomes available, the Cheifs could pursue him in favor of current backup Tyler Palko.

Evening AFC West notes

August, 10, 2011
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The Chiefs made two minor additions. They signed veteran receiver Keary Colbert. He has 49 career starts since 2004, but he hasn’t played since 2008. Colbert played at USC with Chiefs’ quarterback Matt Cassel. They also added kicker Todd Carter. He was claimed off waivers from Carolina. He played in one game with Carolina last year. He has virtually no chance of beating out Ryan Succop.
  • Denver tight end Richard Quinn has a knee injury that could potentially keep him out for some time. The Broncos are crowded at tight end, so the role of Quinn, a former second-round pick, may not be major, anyway.
  • Oakland coach Hue Jackson isn’t giving the media much information on how he plans to approach Thursday night’s preseason opener against Arizona. Don’t expect to see too many starters, which is common for the first preseason games.

Draft Watch: NFC South

March, 17, 2011
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NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: 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.
Jeremy ShockeyMark J. Rebilas/US PresswireWill Jeremy Shockey stunt or nurture the Carolina Panthers' youth movement?
Tight end Jeremy Shockey has said he’s signing with the Carolina Panthers. This move has all sorts of implications for the Panthers and Shockey.

Let’s take a look at what it all means.

  1. Is this a sign that owner Jerry Richardson is abandoning years of making it a point to stay clear of guys with character issues? Probably not and I don’t think new coach Ron Rivera has much more influence than predecessor John Fox did in this department. Yeah, the Panthers might be pushing things a bit by signing a flamboyant tight end who has been followed by controversy throughout much of his career. But, if you really look at Shockey’s track record, it’s not like he’s had a slew of major legal issues. I don’t think this is going to suddenly open the gates for the Panthers to jump up and sign Plaxico Burress as soon as he gets out of jail. Shockey’s issues have been more about personality than legal problems. He can be outspoken, controversial and he’s always going to want the football. There’s no crime in any of that.
  2. [+] EnlargeJeremy Shockey
    AP Photo/Gerald HerbertJeremy Shockey should give the Carolina passing game an extra dimension.
    Can we interpret this move to mean anything about Carolina’s plans at quarterback? Yeah, I think you can read some things between the lines. My take is this is another sign the Panthers probably won’t draft Cam Newton or Blaine Gabbert. Shockey used to bully a young Eli Manning when they were together with the Giants. Put him with Carolina receiver Steve Smith and their competitive desires and outspoken natures could make life real difficult for a young quarterback. I’m thinking trading for or signing a veteran like Donovan McNabb or Carson Palmer, who reportedly could be available, would make for a better situation. Shockey was relatively well behaved in New Orleans because the Saints have basically one rule: You don't mess with Drew Brees because it's his team. Shockey followed that rule.
  3. Can Smith and Shockey coexist? Flip a coin here and we may not know the answer until well into late next season. Like I said, both are strong personalities and both want the ball, so there is potential for them to clash. Smith clashed badly with Keyshawn Johnson in the one season they spent together and wasn’t exactly a warm influence with young receivers like Dwayne Jarrett and Keary Colbert in the past. But the bottom line is that these two guys really want to win and if each can see that side of the other, this thing could work. Besides, we’re not even sure if Smith will be with the Panthers next season. Rivera’s made it clear that situation is fluid and much of it will be up to Smith. But adding another threat in the passing game might help persuade Smith to stay.
  4. Will there be enough passes to go around? Rivera has been very vocal about wanting the tight end to be a big part of the passing game. The Panthers haven’t had anything remotely close to that since Wesley Walls, nearly a decade ago. This is a sign Rivera’s serious about that. Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski was Shockey’s tight ends coach at the University of Miami a long time ago. Again, a lot will depend on what happens at quarterback, but I don’t think Shockey would be signing with the Panthers if he wasn’t sold that the tight end is going to be a big part of Carolina’s passing game.
  5. What does this say about Carolina’s youth movement? The Panthers went through most of last season with only four players who were 30 or older. I don’t think they’re suddenly abandoning the youth movement and I don’t think you’ll see them sign a bunch of veterans. I think this move is sort of like the character thing above. The Panthers might be bending some of their old rules just a bit to help speed the youth movement along. But, given Shockey’s age and durability issues, I wouldn’t look for him to suddenly be an 80-catch, 1,000-receiving yard tight end. I think he’ll be more of a role player. He’ll be a tight end who will be expected to go out and catch some passes and help add a little variety to the passing game.
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.

NFC South turning to rookie WRs

October, 8, 2010
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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.
NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Can Carolina coach John Fox trust a rookie wide receiver?

He’d better. Although Fox is the ultimate creature of habit and rarely has given young wide receivers big opportunities in the past, that might not be possible this year. That’s simply because Fox really doesn’t have much choice.

[+] EnlargeBrandon LaFell
Sam Sharpe/US PresswireYoung receivers like Brandon LaFell may need to be called on this season.
The Panthers invested two early draft picks in wide receivers Brandon LaFell and Armanti Edwards . Beyond Steve Smith, who will miss at least part of training camp with a broken arm, the Panthers have virtually nothing else at wide receiver. Dwayne Jarrett is a guy who never has played up to his potential and Kenneth Moore might be able to be a role player.

Jarrett is a good example of Fox’s tendency to go slow with young receivers. The coach doesn’t like to play them because they’re capable of making mistakes. Aside from Keary Colbert, who had a decent rookie year before disappearing, Fox never has given a rookie receiver much playing time.

But Fox, who is in the last year of his contract, needs to think more about possible big plays than possible big mistakes by LaFell and Edwards. The Panthers desperately need someone to take some of the defensive attention off Smith.

LaFell is big and strong and has all of the tools to be an every-down receiver. Edwards is speedy and dynamic and can give the Panthers a real slot receiver for the first time in years.

Fox has been given the parts he needs at wide receiver. Now he just has to use them.
NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Besides Steve Smith, who is going to catch passes for the Carolina Panthers?

Seems we ask that same question every year, or at least every year since Muhsin Muhammad left the Panthers the first time. The Panthers have turned to guys such as Keyshawn Johnson, Keary Colbert, Drew Carter and Dwayne Jarrett and none have really worked out. Muhammad, in his second stint with Carolina, did all you could ask of an aging receiver, but still didn’t produce like a true No. 2 and wasn’t able to take defensive attention away from Smith.

[+] EnlargeBrandon LaFell
Skip Williams/Icon SMIRookie Brandon LaFell could help take some pressure off of Steve Smith.
But we’ve got a fresh set of names to look at now and there’s at least hope on the horizon. Will draft picks Brandon LaFell and Armanti Edwards be the combination that does what all the others couldn’t?

We won’t know for sure until the fall, but there are at least reasons for optimism. LaFell comes with good size and speed and he was productive in a program that wasn’t a passing machine on offense. Colbert and Jarrett were very productive in college too, but that might have had more to do with the fact they were playing for an offensive factory at USC than with their abilities.

Edwards was a quarterback at Appalachian State, but the Panthers plan to use him as a slot receiver. That might suggest that it may take some time for Edwards to learn a new position. Plus, the Panthers' history under John Fox shows a trend of going very slowly with young wide receivers.

But it looks like all that’s about to change, and LaFell and Edwards could get a chance at big playing time right from the start. The mere fact the Panthers used an early pick on a slot receiver means they’re serious about doing more with that position. That is long overdue and it will bring the Panthers in step with the rest of the NFL.

The days of bringing rookie receivers along at a painfully slow pace in Carolina may be over. Fox and general manager Marty Hurney know they have to win now and they drafted these two guys with the idea of playing them sooner than later. Besides, there aren’t any other real options on the roster. Jarrett’s still around, but he really hasn’t shown much of anything.

Smith is screaming for help and he just might get it. One other thing to keep in mind, and this is highly significant, is the change at quarterback. Jake Delhomme locked onto Smith way too much and used him as a crutch. That hurt all of the other receivers.

Delhomme is gone and Matt Moore or Jimmy Clausen will be the quarterback. They’ll still want to get the ball to Smith, but he no longer is going to be the only option in the passing game.

Mock pick for Carolina Panthers

April, 19, 2010
4/19/10
1:28
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As I’m sure you’re well aware, we published our Blog Network mock draft this morning. The Panthers don’t have a first-round pick, but I don’t want Carolina fans to feel slighted.

That’s why I’m going to go ahead and make my prediction on what I think Carolina will do with their first pick, which comes in the second round. Obviously, a lot depends on what happens with the picks ahead of the Panthers. Our mock only included the first 32 picks, so I’m doing some guessing on who might be off the board in the second round, before Carolina takes its turn.

I’m taking Al Woods, the defensive tackle from LSU. I know this isn’t the flashy pick many of you would like. But I’m not taking (alleged) quarterback Tim Tebow for the Panthers in the second round because I think that would be a wasted pick. Maybe Tebow develops into an NFL quarterback down the road, but John Fox doesn’t have the time to find out.

I also know a lot of fans are thinking Carolina will go with a wide receiver here. It could happen because the need is definitely there. But Carolina’s history of drafting receivers in the second round (Keary Colbert and Dwayne Jarrett) isn’t pretty at all. I think the Panthers will draft a wide receiver a little later.

Bottom line to my logic on Woods: I’d really like to give the Panthers super-sized defensive tackle Terrence Cody, but he went in the first round of our mock, although I have seen some others where he’s available in the second round. The Panthers really need a run stuffer for the middle of their defensive line. Fox has had Kris Jenkins and Maake Kemoeatu through the years and they worked out well. After Cody, Woods is the big body that makes the most sense for the Panthers.

Again, we all know Fox is under pressure to win this year. He’s a defensive coach and one of his core philosophies is to stop the run. That’s why I think Fox sticks with basics and gets a big guy for the middle of his defensive line.
Several times in the past, I’ve shared with you the positional personality profiles done by Dr. Arnold J. Mandell back in 1973 and specifically focused on his assessment of wide receivers.

[+] EnlargeSteve Smith
Kim Klement/US PresswireCarolina will have to draft a receiver who can work with Smith.
With Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers fans mad that their teams never even pursued Brandon Marshall or Santonio Holmes, I think it’s time to look at Mandell’s work once more. For background purposes, Mandell did these profiles while working as a team psychiatrist for the San Diego Chargers and coach Harland Savard.

"The wide receiver is a very special human being," Mandell wrote. "He shares many features with actors and movie stars. He is narcissistic and vain and basically a loner."

Here are a couple more excerpts from the Mandell profiles on wide receivers:
"They love to be the center of attention. They need to be noticed. They have an imperviousness in that they don't seem to mind criticism about being like that. All players want the respect of fellow players. Showing off usually is not an admired characteristic by most players, but by wide receivers it is very admired."

"They are interested in looking pretty, being pretty. They are elegant, interpersonally isolated. Wide receivers don't group, they don't mob out. They are actors, uninflected about showing off, individualists, quite interested in their own welfare, their own appearance."

Think about it a bit. Mandell’s profiles on all the positions were pretty accurate, but I think he put it in the upper deck with wide receivers. Marshall, Holmes,Chad Ochocinco, Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Steve Smith, Muhsin Muhammad, Keyshawn Johnson -– they all fit the profile. As a general rule, you can say the more a guy fits this profile, the better he is as a wide receiver. Of all the wide receivers I’ve ever covered, I’d say former Carolina player Keary Colbert came the furthest from fitting the profile. Colbert wasn’t full of himself and he wasn’t hyper-competitive. Those may be among the reasons he never fulfilled his potential.

Yeah, you can say that guys like Jerry Rice and Marvin Harrison succeeded without fitting the profile. But that’s not really true. Rice and Harrison might not have been all that flamboyant, but people who played with them or coached them will tell you they had a controlled selfishness about them.

Receivers are a very rare breed. As the Panthers and the Bucs look at drafting receivers next week, I think personalities will play into it. Obviously, their focus is on talent, but they have to find the right kind of receiver to fit in nicely. Carolina needs a guy who can co-exist with Smith. Tampa Bay needs a guy whose ego can fit in a locker room with tight end Kellen Winslow.

It’s a balancing act. Almost every wide receiver comes with some sort of baggage. You’ve got to take all that into consideration and determine which one you really need on your team.

Reminds me of a story from long ago. My high school baseball coach, the late and great Paul Fearick, had a strange dislike for guys who were on the wrestling team. In his own way, Fearick viewed them the same way Mandell described wide receivers.

When Fearick saw a sophomore, who also happened to be on the wrestling team, goofing off in practice one day, he erupted.

“Schubert, I don’t need you,’’ Fearick screamed. “You wrestlers are all crazy. I had a wrestler last year. But the guy could hit and he could play the field. We needed him. You? We can do just as well without you.’’

Turned out Fearick was setting some ground rules. He needed Eric Schubert, who pitched a few big games for us after we had some injuries late in the year and he became Fearick’s ace the next two years. Fearick, although not really thrilled about it, was willing to endure some quirks to get what he needed.

When it comes to wide receivers, the Bucs and Panthers have to ask themselves which ones they really need and how much they’re willing to turn their heads to all the other things that come with any given receiver.

Draft Watch: NFC South

February, 24, 2010
2/24/10
2:00
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NFC Busts/Gems: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Busts and late-round gems.

Atlanta Falcons

Some people called Thomas Dimitroff a genius after his first draft. Some called him an idiot after his second. I still lean toward the genius tag because we truly haven’t seen enough of Peria Jerry and William Moore, who got hurt early last year. It’s way too early to call any pick Dimitroff has made a bust. To find a true bust, all you have to do is go back to the year before Dimitroff and Mike Smith took over. Bobby Petrino and Rich McKay were so locked in on getting a pass-rusher that they reached for Jamaal Anderson, who has become a mediocre defensive tackle after Smith moved him inside.

Carolina Panthers

The jury’s still out on defensive end Everette Brown, last year’s top pick. But the Panthers have pretty much nailed it on every top pick since John Fox and Marty Hurney have been in power. Problem is they haven’t hit on much beyond the first round. Remember Dwayne Jarrett, Rashad Butler, Keary Colbert and soon-to-be Hall of Famer Eric Shelton? But, hey, if Shelton hadn't been such a tremendous bust, the Panthers never would have drafted DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.

New Orleans Saints

Jahri Evans, Marques Colston, Tracy Porter and Thomas Morstead have all been gems found beyond the first round. General manager Mickey Loomis hasn’t had anything approaching a bust since the days when Jim Haslett was coaching. There were a fair amount back then. But they’re gone now and that’s part of the reason the Saints won the Super Bowl.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Let’s be nice and start by giving the Bucs credit for finding a franchise quarterback in Josh Freeman last year. And for getting receiver Sammie Stroughter in the seventh round. Everybody likes to rip general manager Mark Dominik and coach Raheem Morris. But part of the reason the Bucs are in the shape they’re in is because Jon Gruden and Bruce Allen were busy using early picks on guys like Gaines Adams and Dexter Jackson. They somehow thought Jackson could be the second coming of Carolina’s Steve Smith.

Midseason Report: Panthers

November, 11, 2009
11/11/09
12:34
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NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas

Power Rankings: Preseason: 14. This week: 21.

2009 Schedule/Results

AP Photo/Donna McWilliam
Losing linebacker Thomas Davis was a huge blow to the Carolina defense.
Where they stand: You’d have a tough time finding a more disappointing team than the Panthers. There was preseason talk about a Super Bowl run and bragging about the fact they were returning 21 of 22 starters. Problem is they didn’t do anything to get better (like maybe adding depth?) after a 12-4 season. It’s pretty amazing that an injury to a very average player like defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu could take such a toll on this defense, but that’s what happens when you tie up all of your cap room by giving Jordan Gross a massive contract, giving Julius Peppers an $18 million franchise tag and signing quarterback Jake Delhomme to a contract extension. Yes, the Panthers still aren’t out of the playoff race -- yet. But the picture isn’t very pretty, especially now that linebacker Thomas Davis, who had been the team’s best player for the first half of the season, is done because of a knee injury.

Disappointments: You have to start with Delhomme, but don’t put the blame entirely on him. He gave off warning signs late last season and in a disastrous playoff loss to Arizona. Carolina fans saw there was a need to do something at quarterback. But the coaching staff and the front office didn’t and they’re paying for it now. Delhomme’s been a turnover machine, but some of the blame should go to the coaching staff for asking him to go out and win games on his own after he’s been nothing more than a game-manager his entire career. Delhomme’s struggles have taken a massive toll on wide receiver Steve Smith. I still say Smith is more talented than any receiver in the NFC South, but his numbers don’t show it because the Panthers haven’t been able to get him the ball consistently. Then there’s fellow receiver Dwayne Jarrett. This was supposed to be the year he finally emerged as the second coming of Muhsin Muhammad. Instead, he’s proved he’s the second coming of Keary Colbert. Oh, and that offensive line, which was supposed to be a strong point, hasn’t been.

Surprises: Safety/return man Captain Munnerlyn has shown much more than a seventh-round draft pick should. After going through about 35 defensive tackles after Kemoeatu’s injury, the Panthers finally found a suitable replacement when they picked up veteran Hollis Thomas a few weeks back. Carolina’s pass defense has carried a top-10 ranking all season. That’s great. But I can’t help but wonder if that has more to do with other teams getting ahead and running on them than it does with anything the secondary has done.

Outlook: There’s still time to climb back into this race, and the Panthers have a lot of individual talent. Also, you should never count out a team coached by John Fox. But an improvement is unlikely if there aren’t some dramatic changes in the second half. They haven’t shown many signs they’re improving and the schedule isn’t easy. Unless the running game can get back to being dominant, Delhomme can get back to being competent, Smith can get back to being one of the league’s most explosive players and the defense gets back to looking like a Fox-coached defense, this team might not be coached by Fox anymore. This season began with playoff expectations. Anything less probably won’t be good enough.

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