NFL Nation: Michael Koenen

Projecting the Buccaneers roster

August, 30, 2013
8/30/13
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Roster cuts don’t have to be made until 6 p.m. Saturday. But let’s have a little fun in the meantime.

Let’s take a look at my best guess as to how the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 53-man roster will shape up:

Quarterbacks (3): Josh Freeman, Mike Glennon and Dan Orlovsky

Analysis: A rough outing by Glennon in the preseason finale might have convinced the Bucs it’s best to keep Orlovsky around.

Running backs and fullbacks (5): Doug Martin, Brian Leonard, Mike James, Peyton Hillis and Erik Lorig

Analysis: Hillis is very much on the bubble. The fact he doesn't play special teams could hurt him. But he also could stick around because he has the size to be a backup for Lorig at fullback and could be a valuable short-yardage rusher.

Tight ends (3): Luke Stocker, Tom Crabtree and Nate Byham

Analysis: The Bucs may have to keep Danny Noble if Crabtree’s ankle injury is going to keep him out for an extended period.

Wide receivers (5): Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams, Kevin Ogletree, Tiquan Underwood and Eric Page

Analysis: Page has emerged as the return man and that should earn him the final roster spot.

Offensive line (9): Davin Joseph, Carl Nicks, Donald Penn, Demar Dotson, Jeremy Zuttah, Gabe Carimi, Ted Larsen, Jamon Meredith and Cody Wallace

Analysis: The Bucs could carry an extra lineman if it looks like Nicks will be out for an extended period.

Defensive line (10): Gerald McCoy, Akeem Spence, Adrian Clayborn, Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, Da’Quan Bowers, Gary Gibson, Trevor Scott, William Gholston, Steven Means and Derek Landri

Analysis: The last few spots are very competitive and the Bucs could look to bring in a defensive tackle from the waiver wire.

Linebackers (6): Lavonte David, Mason Foster, Dekoda Watson, Jonathan Casillas, Adam Hayward and Najee Goode

This position is pretty clear-cut unless the Bucs bring in someone off waivers.

Defensive backs (9): Darrelle Revis, Johnthan Banks, Dashon Goldson, Mark Barron, Leonard Johnson, Danny Gorrer, Michael Adams, Rashaan Melvin and Cody Grimm.

Analysis: Melvin and Grimm are very much on the bubble.

Specialists (3): Michael Koenen, Andrew Economos and Rian Lindell.

Analysis: Kicker Lawrence Tynes still is recovering from a staph infection and could end up on injured reserve.
Tampa Bay cornerback Darrelle Revis will be on the field when the Buccaneers hold their first training camp practice Thursday, coach Greg Schiano said Wednesday.

Revis, Tampa Bay’s key offseason acquisition, is coming off major knee surgery. Schiano implied he will ease Revis in.

“He’s in good shape,’’ Schiano told the media. “I want to play him back in to cutting and moving with other guys, not just himself.’’

Schiano said he hasn't decided if Revis will play in any preseason games. Schiano said he has individual work plans for Revis and guards Davin Joseph and Carl Nicks, who also are coming off injuries.

Schiano said the only player who won’t be ready for the start of camp is punter Michael Koenen. According to Schiano, Koenen injured his toe while chasing his son at the beach last week. But Schiano said the injury is only expected to sideline Koenen for a day or two.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers continue to show they’re serious about having competition at just about every position.

The latest example of that came Tuesday. The Bucs have signed veteran kicker Nate Kaeding, according to the Tampa Tribune’s Roy Cummings.

Kaeding spent two games last season with the Miami Dolphins. Prior to that, he had been with the San Diego Chargers since 2004.

Tampa Bay already has one of the best young kickers in the NFL in Connor Barth and it’s likely he’ll keep the job. But a little competition can’t hurt. The Bucs followed the same theory when they signed punter Chas Henry to compete with Michael Koenen and they’re taking a similar approach at other positions.
Drew Brees, Matt RyanUS PresswireRecent history has raised the intensity between Drew Brees' Saints and Matt Ryan's Falcons.
For at least one week, it really doesn’t matter that the New Orleans Saints got off to an 0-4 start or that Bounty Gate seems to have been airing as long as “As The World Turns."

The Saints host the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, and that means only one thing. The NFC South’s best rivalry -- and one of the NFL’s best rivalries in recent seasons -- will take center stage, and everything else will be forgotten.

Yeah, the Saints are 3-5 and have had more turmoil than perhaps any team in NFL history. Yeah, the Falcons are 8-0 and cruising through a sea of tranquility.

But none of that matters. If the Saints are going to step up and be the Saints of old in just one game this season, it will be this one. If the Falcons are going to slide back in just one game this season (and we’ll discuss their past playoff issues when the time comes), it will be this one.

These teams simply don’t like each other. Although they came into the NFL at roughly the same time (in the mid-1960s) and always had a bit of a geographic rivalry, this only turned into a full-fledged feud in recent years. That’s largely because the teams have been good at the same time, egos have gotten out of control, egos have been bruised, and it’s all made for some great entertainment.

Let’s take a stroll down memory lane and look at some incidents that have come to define this rivalry.

Photo flap: I’ll start with a game in the Georgia Dome late in the 2010 season. In a classic battle, the Saints edged the Falcons, 17-14, to clinch a playoff spot. But it wasn’t so much what happened in this game that made it memorable. It was what happened after the game.

A group of New Orleans defensive players went to the locker room and then came back out onto the field to have their pictures taken on the Falcons’ logo. The Falcons, a team that tries very hard to keep a low profile and stay out of public controversies, were privately offended and irate.

The Saints, a team that’s not shy about anything, displayed the photos like trophies. Defensive tackle Remi Ayodele used some graphic terms to describe what the Saints were doing, even though I’m certain he was speaking only in the figurative sense.

After Ayodele’s comments went viral, New Orleans assistant head coach Joe Vitt tried to douse the flames by saying how much the Saints respected the Falcons. But, in perhaps breaking an unwritten rule (don’t celebrate on another team’s logo), the damage already was done.

Pouring it on? Then, almost exactly a year removed from the logo fiasco, there was the night in New Orleans when a lot of people (including some in the Falcons’ organization) thought coach Sean Payton was running up the score as he let Drew Brees continue throwing as he set an NFL record for passing yards in a season and the Saints defeated the Falcons, 45-16. In the Atlanta locker room that night, there were more than a few players that felt disrespected, although they could have prevented it by slowing Brees.

Statue war: Respect -– or a lack of it -– can flow both ways. That became obvious this summer when the Saints unveiled a statue of one of the most popular players in franchise history (Steve Gleason) making perhaps the biggest play in franchise history.

The statue replicates Gleason’s punt block in the first game back in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. But the other figure in the moment, former Atlanta punter Michael Koenen, has no Falcons’ logos and his name doesn’t appear on the back of his figure.

The Falcons said they realize the significance of Gleason’s play in the history of the Saints and the city of New Orleans, but said they were advised by the NFL not to allow their trademark to be used in connection with things out of their market. The Falcons could have made an exception to the NFL’s guidelines, but elected not to.

That angered a lot of New Orleans fans. Anger is a big part of any rivalry and doesn’t have to be limited just to fans.

Burning bridges: We were reminded of that in the offseason when Atlanta linebacker Curtis Lofton was a free agent. Lofton eventually signed with the Saints and, throughout the offseason, used every opportunity to take subtle -- sometimes not even subtle -- shots at his former team.

Lofton really drew the line in the sand when he said one of the reasons he signed with the Saints was because he wanted to be with a team that had a chance to go to the Super Bowl. That one didn’t go unnoticed in the Falcons’ offices or locker room in Flowery Branch, Ga. But, long before that, lots of lines were crossed both ways in this rivalry.

With the Saints off to a bad start, this game probably has no playoff implications for them, and the Falcons could pretty much put an end to New Orleans' playoff hopes with a victory. But the Saints would love nothing better than to knock the Falcons from the ranks of the unbeaten.

Heck, if the Saints could win and send the Falcons into a tailspin, it might make their crazy season worthwhile.

If the Falcons win, it keeps them marching toward their ultimate goal -- the Super Bowl -- and that could provide further motivation for them on Sunday. For those that haven’t thought that far ahead, the Super Bowl is in New Orleans this season.

Sunday might as well be the Super Bowl for the Saints. They want to derail the Falcons somehow, because the last thing anyone in New Orleans wants to see is Atlanta players celebrating in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in February.
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- There are two sides to every story and we’ve only heard the New Orleans Saints’ version of what has sparked controversy about the “Rebirth’’ statue that was unveiled outside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome last week.

The statue depicts Steve Gleason’s legendary punt block against the Atlanta Falcons in the first game in the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina. The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported that the Falcons had refused to allow the Saints and the statue’s sculptor to use their logo in the statue. The other figure in the statue is former Atlanta punter Michael Koenen. But the statue contains none of the Falcons’ trademarks.

Falcons president Rich McKay just explained the Falcons’ side of things and said this was not a case of spiting a division rival. There were other issues involved, McKay said.

“The first thing that happens in a request for marks is that it has to go to the league because we don’t own the marks,’’ McKay told ESPN.com. “The league does for anything outside of our market. When they brought it to us, we discussed it with them and we came to the conclusion that, obviously the fact they're honoring the moment is fantastic. We were all there. It was an incredible moment for the city. It was not something that we wanted to memorialize the game. So we kind of looked at it as though we didn’t want necessarily a statue in front of the building that had our marks. Albeit, we all understand how important the moment was for the city and what they had gone through. We all lived in that moment and it was a pretty special thing. Even losing, it was still a pretty special thing. But it was just something that when we talked to the league about it, we said we didn’t think it was appropriate to put the marks on it. Everybody knew what the game was. Everybody knew what the moment was.’’

McKay said he received a letter from the league months ago and a decision was made quickly. The initial report said the Saints tried to appeal to Falcons owner Arthur Blank for permission to use the logo. McKay said Blank was not involved in the process. McKay said after the decision was made he never heard another word about the statue until the report came out last week.

“We never intended to offend the New Orleans fans and we certainly didn’t intend to make light of the moment, which was truly special,’’ McKay said.
In recent years, the rivalry between the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons has been the best in the NFC South. Heck, I think it’s become one of the NFL’s best rivalries.

There have been some great games and even some heated words, especially after a 2010 game in which the Saints took pictures on the Falcons’ logo after a victory in the Georgia Dome. Add on this year’s free-agent defection by linebacker Curtis Lofton from Atlanta to New Orleans and the rivalry should only go stronger.

But now there is evidence the rivalry may be going too far. James Varney reports that the Falcons refused to allow their logo and images to be included in a “Rebirth’’ statue of Steve Gleason that was unveiled outside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Friday. The statue captures a classic moment in Saints history.

It portrays Gleason’s crucial block of a punt in the first game the Saints played in the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina. The 2006 game was against the Falcons and Gleason blocked Michael Koenen’s punt.

There’s a punter in the statue, but he’s not in an Atlanta uniform and Koenen’s name isn’t on the back of the punter’s figure in the statue.

I understand this was a great moment for the Saints, but not for the Falcons. But I think that not allowing the use of Atlanta’s logo and images might be going a bit too far.

Anyone that walks by that statue that knows anything about history knows that the punt block game against the Falcons and that Koenen, who now plays for Tampa Bay, was the punter.
METAIRIE, La. -- There will be a celebration of one of the most significant moments in NFC South history on Friday on the southwest plaza of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Gleason
Gleason
The Saints will unveil a “Rebirth’’ statue at 11:30 a.m. CT.

The statue is of former New Orleans special-teams ace Steve Gleason blocking a punt in the first game the Saints played in the dome after Hurricane Katrina in 2006. The statue will represent more than a moment in time. It represents the comeback of the Saints and the region from the Hurricane. It also represents the popularity of Gleason, who is battling ALS.

The statue comes with implications that ripple throughout the NFC South. I was reminded of that fact as I watched the Saints practice Thursday.

On the wall of their indoor practice facility is a huge photo of Gleason blocking the punt.

It came against the Atlanta Falcons. The punter was Michael Koenen, who now plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Is the door open in NFC South?

April, 12, 2012
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Greg Schiano, Vincent JacksonCliff Welch/Icon SMIA free-agent class led by Vincent Jackson, right, could push Greg Schiano and the Bucs into contention.


The best thing about living in much of the South is that you can leave the door open in December and January. The flip side is, you never know who’s going to walk in.

That’s been demonstrated repeatedly throughout most of the decade the NFC South has been in existence. Worst to first isn’t just a hokey slogan in this division. It’s been a reality.

Not counting the inaugural season (because there was no defending champion or reigning last-place team in a division that didn’t exist before 2002), there have been six NFC South teams that finished fourth in the division one season and ended up winning it the following year. The trend started with the Carolina Panthers and their miraculous run to the Super Bowl in the 2003 season.

The Atlanta Falcons pulled off worst to first in 2004. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers did it twice -- in 2005 and 2007. So did the New Orleans Saints. They did it in 2006 and again in 2009, the season after which they won their only Super Bowl.

But the worst-to-first trend has stopped since then. The Saints and Falcons have stayed consistently good and managed only to flip back and forth between first and second place.

This could be the season in which things get back to normal. Let’s be clear that I’m not ready to write off the Saints, as long as they have Drew Brees at quarterback, or an Atlanta roster that’s loaded with talent and has the potential to click at any moment.

But you look at what has happened in New Orleans and what hasn’t happened in Atlanta this offseason and you have to wonder if it’s at least possible that new Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano is about to pull off a miracle on Dale Mabry Highway or if Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis knew what he was talking about when he said the Panthers are headed for the Super Bowl.

The Saints’ bounty program has left them without coach Sean Payton for the entire season and they have little chance of pulling anything off in the draft because they don’t have a pick until the third round. They lost some free agents, like Carl Nicks and Tracy Porter. Plus, there’s the very real possibility that multiple players could face suspensions for their roles in the bounty program. Maybe adversity becomes a rallying cry for the Saints and they stay atop the division. Or maybe the bottom falls out of what was a great three-year run.

If that happens, the Falcons would seem the logical choice to step up. They did go 10-6 last season, although you could say they underachieved slightly throughout the regular season and tremendously in their playoff loss to the New York Giants. And what have the Falcons done to improve their roster this offseason?

Ladies and gentlemen, I present linebacker Lofa Tatupu and guard Vince Manuwai, two guys who didn’t play in the NFL last season.

Yeah, I know how the Falcons like to point to their roster continuity and changes at offensive and defensive coordinator as reasons they’ll be better this season. Those are valid points. But, still, the way last season ended, you have to at least wonder if the Falcons have already started their downhill slide.

[+] EnlargeThomas Davis
AP Photo/Bob LeveroneThe return of linebacker Thomas Davis should provide an immediate boost for Carolina's defense.
Then, you look at the Buccaneers and Panthers and you see two teams that almost have to be on the rise. In the case of the Bucs, that’s mainly because they can’t go any lower.

Tampa Bay ended last season on a 10-game losing streak. Raheem Morris left for London at 4-2 last October, looking like the NFL’s next great coach. That guy hasn’t been seen since. But Schiano is in his office now and he seems to be saying and doing all the right things. He got rid of safety Tanard Jackson and coaxed safety Ronde Barber into coming back for one more year. Plus, Schiano has one luxury Morris didn’t last year -- a free-agent class.

A year after punter Michael Koenen was their big addition in free agency, the Bucs went out and made one of the league’s biggest splashes. They signed receiver Vincent Jackson, Nicks and cornerback Eric Wright.

Mix those guys in with some young talent (Josh Freeman, Gerald McCoy, Adrian Clayborn and some others), let Schiano restore a little order in the locker room and on the practice fields and worst to first at least seems like a possibility.

But, even if the Saints and Falcons slip, the Panthers could be ahead of the Bucs. They only won six games last season, but it might have been the most positive six-win season in NFL history. With Ron Rivera taking over for John Fox, the Panthers suddenly realized the NFL became a passing league a few years ago and started playing catch-up. They used the No. 1 overall draft pick on Cam Newton and suddenly had one of the NFL’s most prolific offenses.

The problem was the Panthers couldn’t do the one thing they always did under Fox -- play defense. That was largely because defensive tackle Ron Edwards was lost to injury in training camp and linebackers Jon Beason and Davis quickly followed. All three are expected back and that instantly should give Carolina a better defense. It only needs to be a little better, because Newton and that offense are going to score enough points for the Panthers to stay in the game with anyone.

Can the Panthers and/or the Bucs pass the Saints and Falcons?

We’ll see. It’s only April and the NFC South door looks to be wide open. Let’s see if it's still ajar -- or maybe even off the hinges -- in December.
As expected, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced Monday afternoon they have placed the franchise tag on kicker Connor Barth.

The Bucs had attempted to negotiate a long-term contract with Barth, but weren’t able to pull that off before Monday afternoon’s deadline. They still can sign Barth to a long-term deal.

But, while he carries the franchise tag, Barth will cost $2.6 million against the cap. Barth has emerged as one of the league’s most accurate young kickers. In 2011, he completed 26 of 28 field-goal attempts (92.9 percent, which ranked second in the league. Barth also finished the season by making his final 15 field goals, giving him the longest active streak in the NFL.

Coincidentally, the Bucs can say they have a punter and a kicker that have carried the franchise tag. Punter Michael Koenen was once hit with the franchise tag while he was with the Atlanta Falcons.

The New Orleans Saints previously placed the franchise tag on quarterback Drew Brees and the Atlanta Falcons used it on cornerback Brent Grimes. The Carolina Panthers have elected not to use the franchise tag this year.

Pro Bowl voting ends Monday

December, 19, 2011
12/19/11
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A quick reminder that the fan portion of voting for the Pro Bowl ends Monday.

Here’s the link to the ballot if you want to hit the polls at the last minute.

I won’t tell you who to vote for, but I’ll throw out some names I think are worthy of consideration. On offense, I’d think about New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees, Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan, Atlanta running back Michael Turner, Carolina receiver Steve Smith, Atlanta receiver Roddy White, New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham, Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez, Carolina tackle Jordan Gross, New Orleans guards Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans and Carolina center Ryan Kalil.

On defense, I’d consider Carolina defensive end Charles Johnson, Atlanta defensive end John Abraham, Atlanta defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux, Atlanta linebackers Sean Weatherspoon and Curtis Lofton, New Orleans cornerback Jabari Greer and New Orleans safety Malcolm Jenkins.

On special teams, I think New Orleans punter Thomas Morstead, Tampa Bay punter Michael Koenen, Atlanta kicker Matt Bryant and New Orleans return man Darren Sproles are worth considering.

Worst team in the NFC South?

December, 1, 2011
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Josh FreemanJim Brown/US PresswireTampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman and the Buccaneers have lost five consecutive games.

The standings say the Carolina Panthers are the worst team in the NFC South. I say, they’re not even close.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have worked really hard to clinch that honor, at least for the moment.

Yeah, I know Carolina is 3-8 and Tampa Bay is 4-7. But this isn’t about finite numbers -- at least not until Sunday when the two teams play and the Panthers have a chance to draw mathematically even with the Bucs.

The Panthers have an offense and they have lots of hope for the future. The Bucs are on a losing streak that looks like it could reach infinity.

When they meet Sunday at Raymond James Stadium it won’t hold the star power of a Saints/Falcons game, but it could tell the story of two NFC South teams headed in very different directions. The Bucs also play the Panthers in Charlotte on Christmas Eve. If the Bucs haven’t stopped their free fall by then, things will get really ugly in Tampa Bay.

The Bucs are on a five-game losing streak and not even quarterback Josh Freeman can put his thumb on the reasons why. Hey, let's take it one step further since Freeman and the Bucs have opened that door -- "Fire those cannons,'' Josh!''

It wasn’t supposed to work out this way at all. This was supposed to be the season in which the Bucs joined the Saints and Falcons. But somewhere on the ride to the penthouse, it looks like coach Raheem Morris and his team have taken a very wrong turn.

Even before the losing streak started, the Bucs weren’t playing like they were supposed to. Tampa Bay was supposed to take a huge step forward after going 10-6 last season with the league’s youngest roster.

The Bucs didn’t make a lot of offseason changes and seemed to be going on the logical assumption that everyone would be a year better. There’s nothing wrong with a youth movement (and even an occasional Albert Haynesworth) as long as coaches and players keep it moving in a positive direction, even if the schedule is difficult. But it’s hard to find any positives with the Bucs right now, and punter Michael Koenen doesn't count.

[+] EnlargeTampa Bay's Raheem Morris
Jim Brown/US PRESSWIREIt's hard to imagine the Bucs letting Raheem Morris coach the final year of his contract, unless his team suddenly finishes on an upswing.
Freeman, who threw 25 touchdowns and just six interceptions last season, hasn’t been able to hit targets. Mike Williams, who looked like a No. 1 receiver as a rookie, has turned into the second coming of Michael Clayton. LeGarrette Blount, who ran for 1,000 yards in half a season, might need a season and a half to hit that mark again, which might coincide with the moment he finally learns to pass block.

People talked about Freeman, Williams and Blount as "The Triplets" last year. I still think Freeman has a world of potential, but it’s looking like he might end up being the only child. On defense, the Bucs have invested a lot of draft picks and money invested in their defensive line.

But this defense still appears to have the same track marks on its back as it did in the final days of the Jon Gruden era. Speaking of Gruden, the Bucs fired him after he lost his final four games to finish 9-7 in 2008.

If Morris ends up losing 10 games in a row (or anything close to that), do you seriously think he’s going to get a contract extension? He’s sort of up for one. When the Bucs hired Morris in 2009, they gave him a two-year deal with an option for two more. The Bucs picked up that option. But it’s hard to imagine the Bucs letting Morris coach the final year, unless his team suddenly finishes on an upswing.

In case you haven’t heard, the Bucs have a little problem selling tickets. Heading into 2012 with a marketing slogan of “Come see our lame-duck head coach and a bunch of guys who really underachieved last year’’ probably won’t cause a surge at the box office.

Besides, you don’t head into a season with a lame-duck coach. Just ask the Panthers. They did it in 2010 with John Fox and the only thing they got out of that was Ron Rivera as the head coach and the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.

The Panthers used that pick in April to select Cam Newton. As it turned out, those pre-draft scouting reports that were filled with lots of doubt now translate into "Big, strong guy, who can throw, run and even make Steve Smith smile."

Yeah, three wins don’t make a season. But four, five or six victories and visions of a healthy Jon Beason (maybe even a healthy Thomas Davis) sure would fire up a fan base that hasn’t seen many good things since Jan. 10, 2009. That was the night Jake Delhomme celebrated what reportedly was his 34th birthday (the reality was his right arm turned 68 that day) with five interceptions (and a fumble) in an embarrassing home playoff loss to Arizona.

The Panthers followed that up with a contract extension for Delhomme, whose right arm went on to turn 78 before his 35th birthday. That set the stage for a 2010 season in which Fox pointed fingers at ownership and the front office, hazed Jimmy Clausen (“Brian St. Pierre is better than you’’ and “I can make Timmy Tebow into a better quarterback than you, Mr. Notre Dame pedigree’’) and completely forgot to coach is team.

The Panthers went 2-14.

They hired Rivera. They drafted Newton, who came out of the gate putting up 400-yard games. With Beason and Davis hurt, the Panthers have been horrible on defense.

Even while losing, the Panthers have made their fans feel like they’re winning. Newton and the offense are flat-out entertaining and that’s brought tons of hope for the future. Rivera’s a defensive guru and a draft and a few free agents could fix that side of the ball.

Funny, but the Panthers appear to be headed for what the Bucs once were supposed to be and the Bucs seem to be headed for where the Panthers just were.

They’ll intersect Sunday and the result will tell us as much about the bottom of the NFC South as a game between the Falcons and Saints does at the top.

If both teams are 4-8 by the end of Sunday afternoon, the Panthers will have clearly soared past by the Bucs. Or, depending on how you look at it, the Bucs will have fallen lower than the Panthers.

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.
Darren SprolesDerick E. Hingle/US PresswireFree-agent pickup Darren Sproles of the Saints leads the NFL with 1,115 all-purpose yards.
We’re not even officially at midseason yet, but there’s one race we can go ahead and call.

In the category of “Best NFC South free-agent signing," we have a winner. It’s New Orleans’ Darren Sproles.

Yeah, Ray Edwards is fitting in pretty well with Atlanta, Michael Koenen’s doing a nice job in Tampa Bay and Ron Edwards would have been a really nice pickup for Carolina if he hadn’t suffered a season-ending injury in training camp. If we’re going to include a Carolina player in the honorable-mention slot on this one, let’s bend the rules a bit and go with tight end Greg Olsen, who wasn’t a free agent, but came in a trade with Chicago.

But none of those guys has come close to doing what Sproles has for the Saints. They’re all pretty much doing what they did in their other stops.

Sproles is doing more than he ever did in six productive seasons in San Diego. Through seven games, Sproles leads the NFL with 1,115 all-purpose yards and he’s getting more opportunities to run the ball and catch passes than ever before. He already has made New Orleans fans forget Reggie Bush, the last guy who was supposed to be a running back, receiver and return man.

The Saints have been very careful not to publicly declare Sproles an upgrade over Bush, but it’s become very clear that’s exactly what they got.

This didn’t happen entirely by accident.

It happened, in large part because quarterback/King of New Orleans Drew Brees wanted it to happen. It happened because Brees worked hard to recruit Sproles.

“Darn right I did,’’ Brees said.

There’s history with Brees and Sproles. Brees’ last season in San Diego (2005) was Sproles’ rookie year. The two have worked out together in California (where Brees keeps a home) in offseasons through the years, and that happened even more this offseason due to the NFL lockout.

As negotiators worked on a labor deal, Bush’s future in New Orleans was very much up in the air. He was scheduled to count $16 million against the salary cap and the Saints wanted to knock that number down. Bush wasn’t willing to do that and he wound up being traded to the Miami Dolphins.

[+] EnlargeNew Orleans' Drew Brees and Darren Sproles
Fernando Medina/US PRESSWIREDarren Sproles and Drew Brees formed a connection off the field that helped unite them on it. "I think his relationship with Drew Brees had a lot to do with us getting him here," coach Sean Payton said.
Sproles was sitting out there as a free agent. Brees didn’t view Sproles as the next-best thing to Bush. He imagined the possibilities and saw something that could be far better.

"I was like, 'Oh man, we’ve got to get this guy. He’s too special a player.'" Brees said.

It wasn’t a hard sell with the coaching staff or the front office. The Saints knew they needed someone to take over Bush’s many roles.

“Our feeling at that time was that a lot of the things we liked to do with Reggie, we thought we would feel very comfortable doing with Darren,’’ New Orleans coach Sean Payton said.

The Saints went out and offered Sproles a four-year contract that averages $3.5 million per season (and a much friendlier cap number than Bush’s). There were other teams interested, including the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who, at the very least, made some overtures toward Sproles, plus the Chargers wanted to keep him. But there was one big reason why Sproles was ticketed for no place other than New Orleans.

“I think his relationship with Drew Brees had a lot to do with us getting him here,’’ Payton said.

Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis are known for being excellent talent evaluators and projecting how players will fit into their system. But Payton admitted he underestimated what he was getting in Sproles.

“After having him here, we’ve seen he’s maybe even a better runner than we anticipated, just from the backfield without even all the screens and passes,’’ Payton said. “He’s versatile. He handles space real well. He’s quick. He’s a great teammate. He’s very smart. He’s just one of those dedicated players that football is very important to. He loves playing.’’

In New Orleans, Sproles is getting plenty of chances to play. It’s gone beyond the role of change-of-pace back and return man that Sproles had in San Diego. Sproles has been used in a three-man backfield rotation with rookie Mark Ingram and veteran Pierre Thomas.

The Saints are starting to use Sproles more as a pure runner out of the backfield. He got a season-high 12 carries in Sunday night’s victory against Indianapolis and he responded with a season-high 88 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown.

Sproles is averaging a career-high 7.3 yards per carry and the Saints may have used some very simple logic in deciding to give him more carries -- if he’s gaining 7.3 yards a carry, he can put up a lot more yards if he’s getting the ball more.

If the Saints keep feeding the ball to Sproles and he stays anywhere near his current pace, he could easily double his previous high for rushing yards in a season (343) in 2009. And it’s not like the increased running duties are diminishing Sproles’ value as a receiver or a return man.

Sproles is tied with teammate Jimmy Graham for second in the NFL with 45 receptions. He leads all running backs in catches and is on pace to shatter his previous-best season total of 59 catches from last season. In fact, at his current pace, Sproles would finish the season with 103 receptions. The NFL record for receptions by a running back is 101, set by Larry Centers in 1995.

The chemistry between Brees and Sproles has been particularly apparent on third downs. Sproles has a league-high 15 receptions for 139 yards.

“Sprolesy has been awesome,’’ Brees said. “He’s just so dynamic. There are so many different things he can do. He can run the ball inside the tackles and he can run the ball outside, obviously. We can split him out and run routes with him and throw screens to him. He’s obviously a big part of our special teams in the return game. He’s just so versatile. He’s great in pass protection. He’s just a really prideful guy who works extremely hard. He’s smart, he’s tough and I know what to expect out of him. Every play, I know exactly what I’m going to get from him.’’

Brees knew all along what he’d get from Sproles. The Saints and the rest of the NFL are just starting to realize that Sproles can do more than anyone else ever imagined.

Why the Bucs got Michael Koenen

July, 29, 2011
7/29/11
12:17
PM ET
There are lots of reasons the Tampa Bay Buccaneers agreed to terms with punter Michael Koenen.

The first is the guy was a pretty good punter for the Atlanta Falcons. But let’s look beyond the obvious because there were some other things that were extremely important in this decision. The Bucs let Connor Barth handle kickoffs last season and that wasn’t his strong suit, although he’s fine as a place-kicker.

The key here is that Koenen also is a kickoff specialist and did quite well in that role with the Falcons. In 2010, the Falcons led the league in average opponent starting field position after a kickoff (the 22.2-yard line). The Falcons also led the league in times opponents started inside the 20-yard line after a kickoff (23). On 88 kickoffs, Koenen reached the end zone 48 times, which ranked third in the league.

Koenen also has had success with kickoffs over time.

From 2005 through 2010, Koenen had 106 touchbacks. That ranks third among all kickers in that time span. Only Olindo Mare, who just signed with the Panthers and had 119 touchbacks, and Sebastian Janikowski (108) topped Koenen. He also finished third in touchback percentage (23.6) over that same time span.

Oh, one other thing: Koenen should have even more touchbacks this year. The league has moved the kickoff up 5 yards, so he should have an even easier time reaching the end zone.

Buccaneers firm up roster

July, 29, 2011
7/29/11
9:41
AM ET
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made several major moves as they get ready to start training camp.

As expected, they made it a point to finalize an agreement with their own most important free agent. They agreed to a seven-year, $52.5 million contract with guard Davin Joseph. They also agreed with offensive tackle Jeremy Trueblood on a two-year deal and punter Michael Koenen on a six-year deal.

Joseph is one of the anchors of an offensive line that has a chance to be good, and keeping him was Tampa Bay’s first priority. Trueblood had been the starting right tackle, but got injured last year and wound up losing his starting job to James Lee. Now that he’s healthy, Trueblood should get a chance to compete for the starting job.

Koenen had been with the Falcons, but they decided not to bring him back. In addition to his punting, part of the reason the Bucs wanted Koenen was because he’s also a kickoff specialist.

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