I thought I would take a look around the NFC South and see what our divisional foes have been up to this offseason so far. Let's start with the guys we are chasing, the Super Bowl champion Saints (still not used to saying that):
The Saints have re-signed a couple key cogs to their team, one on defense and the other offense:
Darren Sharper Re-Signs with Saints - Canal Street Chronicles
Hell yes! This is great news. Keeping Sharper in the fold was crucial. He was a huge part of the Saints championship season and the team really needs him if they want to seriously consider making another run for the title. Though I admit my love affair with him is slightly tainted after some of his off-season contract positioning ploys, I'm sure that will wash away with the first vision of him in a Saints uniform again.
It's just a one year deal for the leader of the secondary. Evans on the other hand received the richest deal ever for a guard:
Saints Sign Jahri Evans to 7 year, $56.7 million Deal - Canal Street Chronicles
Pro Bowl guard Jahri Evans and the Saints have reached agreement on a seven-year, $56.7 million deal. Big money... ...Jahri Evans' new deal with Saints, which could be announced today, is richest deal given to a guard, averaging $8.1 million per year... ...Saints G Jahri Evans will make $19 million in first year of his new deal, then $25.7 million over first three years of his deal.
The Saints blog now has a player posting on the site just as Chris Harris did here at CSR. It's rookie DT Al Woods, whom the Saints traded up to grab right before the Panthers picked:
Al Woods' Draft Days: 'And Then The Phone Rang' (Pt. 2) - Canal Street Chronicles
My favorite team of all-time was going to trade up at the end of the fourth round to get me, because - I think - they had gotten wind that the Carolina Panthers (or some other team) were getting ready to grab me before the Saints could. They were actually nervous that they'd miss their chance to draft me, because - according to Mr. Reiprish - they had kinda figured that I would have been gone a lot earlier in the draft.
I wonder if the Panthers truly coveted Woods? If we had one question mark from the draft it was the failure to draft a DT. This pick was the trade back pick with the Jets from earlier in the round (RB Joe McKnight) that netted the Panthers an extra 6th rounder for which they draft WR David Gettis. Given that scenario I doubt the Panthers had some grand scheme to select Woods but maybe they faked it and cost the Saints a 6th rounder? The Panthers then selected OLB/DE Eric Norwood.
Speaking of Norwood I had to stick in this side note that former college roommates have been reunited:
Scout.com: Panthers See Sunny Side of Youth Movement
Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said he's excited about being teammates again with Eric Norwood, his roommate at South Carolina. He thinks Norwood, who worked at strong side linebacker and defensive end in minicamp, will be a huge asset to the Panthers following an All-American career with the Gamecocks.
Does it surprise anyone that these guys are two peas in a pod? I know the Gamecock fans are excited to see this play out on the field.
The biggest offseason issue in New Orleans is the Vicodin scandal which has Saints fans feeling like they are being prosecuted for something that every NFL does:
Opinion: Vicodin Scandal Proves Need for League-Wide Reform - Canal Street Chronicles
Does this mean Joe Vitt should have been stealing medication on his own without recording it? Absolutely not. Should Sean Payton have been receiving medication for a condition he didn't possess. Negative. But if they were, can you blame them when the system and everything around them tells them it's okay? It would certainly be difficult.
Moving on to the Bucs, they are very high on former coveted Panther prospect WR Arrelious Benn:
Revamping with Rejus - Buc 'Em
The only doubts I harbor about Benn is his habit of dropping the occasional "easy" ball. We already have He Whom Must Not Be Named doing enough of that around here. Benn also rarely found the end zone in college. Despite his reputation as a game breaker, he crossed the goal line only seven times in his three years at Illinois (as a WR, Benn also returned several kicks for TD's). I'm sure the lack of end zone visits had more to do with the system (or lack thereof) he played in, but still it is something to be wary of. Benn could also use some polish on his route running, but this is true of virtually every college receiver transitioning to the NFL.
It was those easy ball drops that had me concerned. We can expect the Benn Vs. LaFell comparison twice a season for many years to come...The drafting of Benn and later Mike Williams has the Bucs wondering whether there is still a place for "He who must not be Named' (Michael Clayton) on the roster:
Random Thought of The Day: Will Michael Clayton Remain a Buccaneer? - Buc 'Em
So, rather than look at the past, what's worth discussing is his future and his place on this team. No doubt, his forte is getting a good block on a receiver and helping out in the running game. However, this roster now has two new guys suited for the outide WR slots who have good size and strength (although it's a worthless stat in my book, Benn did lead all WRs at the combine with 20 bench press reps). An improved Stovall is back and gives the Bucs another outside receiver with size and (some) downfield ability. Reggie Brown, while not as big as the other receivers, has shown the ability to play at a solid level before taking a backseat role in Philly. As such, Clayton's going to have to go out and win a roster spot in what will amost certainly be an open competition. Although it's outrageously early to prognosticate camp results, I have little faith that he will earn a starting spot, although he could remain on the roster in a reserve role....if he doesn't get the axe beforehand.
Time to cut bait in my view...Another burning question in Tampa is who is their starting RB?
Bucs believe in their running backs
Cadillac Williams, who was coming off two devastating knee injuries, surprised everyone by becoming the Bucs’ leading rusher again with 823 yards and four touchdowns in 2009. But he only averaged 3.9 yards per carry and his longest run was 22 yards. The Bucs weren’t sure how Williams would rebound, so they signed Giants free agent Derrick Ward to a four-year, $17-million contract. But Ward was neither Earth, Wind nor Fire for the Bucs. He amounted to little more than a change-of-pace back and finished with 409 yards on 114 carries and one touchdown for a 3.6 average.
There is no question the Bucs improved their defense with the drafting of DT's Gerald McCoy and Brian Price but their offense still doesn't scare me a bit....Now to the Falcons, who honestly would have made a bigger impact in 2009 IMO if not for the injuries.
Things to Worry About: WR Harry Douglas NOT Cleared for Minicamp or OTAs - The Falcoholic
[Harry]'s not been cleared [for minicamp]. Will not take part in offseason workouts [either]. Training camp is the earliest for Harry.
Douglas looked scary good in 2008 before getting injured prior to the 2009 season. You may recall he burned us for 4 receptions for 94 yards in the Falcons 45-28 victory in week 12...I hate to see a top pick get hurt before his career even begins but any tears I shed might be more of the crocodile flavor:
AJC Minicamp Report: Peria Jerry Recovering Slowly - The Falcoholic
Let's put it this way. Whatever injury Jerry actually suffered—the team is worse than Johnny Tightlips—was significant enough that he's still limping, roughly eight months after he was placed on injured reserve. Even if he's out on the field gamely gimping around, that doesn't bode well for his ability to be up to full speed by the time the season kicks off. Y'all may want to get used to seeing Corey Peters and his shiny new jersey on the field.
Still limping after 8 months does not sound good...Better news for this guy:
How I See It: NFC South Stock Watch - NFC South Blog - ESPN
William Moore, safety, Atlanta Falcons. After missing almost all of his rookie season with an injury, Moore has been cleared to practice when the Falcons start their minicamp Friday. This guy was a second-round draft pick last year and the Falcons have big plans for him as they touch up their secondary.
Finally, the news that should concern Panther fans the most out of the A-T-L:
'The Burner' is back and in top shape - NFC South Blog - ESPN
"I don't know that the weight was all that much different last year," Turner said. "But it was a different look of the weight. I'll put it like that. This is a better look for me right now and it's going to get better from here on out. I'm more fit now. I want to be as cut as possible. I'm eating right and staying away from the bad stuff. I'm from Chicago and we've got those greasy pizzas that I love. But I've got that stuff out and I've made it a habit to just eat better all the way around and I've worked very hard at my conditioning."
Let's hope our DL is ready for the challenge.