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JOESAM2002 06-21-2003 11:37 AM

Fox Sports looks at the NFC South...
Like it or not, here it is.
SCOUT'S HONOR: NFC South first look
Special to
Jun. 16, 2003 6:57 p.m.

Here is a brief early look at how the NFC South stacks up heading into the 2003 season:
Jon Gruden brought a competitive edge to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season, but it’s the defense that still propels the Buccaneers. Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli get their guys to play aggressively, but the level of intelligence among this unit sometimes goes too unnoticed. Ronde Barber, Derrick Brooks, John Lynch, and Shelton Quarles are the brains of this defense.

Gruden relies heavily on Brad Johnson to avoid turnovers and schemes his offense to keep opponents off-balance with his multiple formations. At some point though, consistency is needed out of the backfield and along the offensive line. Gruden and offensive lineman Bill Muir know how to cover their weak spots at offensive tackle. That plays a big difference in what was a 9-7 offense to a 12-4 record last season. Gruden will find a way to keep the Buccaneers rolling again.

Michael Vick is the Atlanta Falcons’ answer to Brett Favre, but in a much different sense. Vick’s pure athleticism and physical skills open a lot of things up for their offense. Peerless Price provides a legit downfield threat and there is more overall speed for Vick to utilize. But the biggest element of success for Vick and the Falcons is the diversity they have in the backfield between Warrick Dunn and T.J. Duckett. They give their offense a true balance.

Their defense could have some trouble against physical running teams, but the biggest factor will be their secondary. They need more consistency from their cover guys. Ray Buchanan is poised to prove he can still play at a high level. He’s their best answer to matchup against an opponent’s top receiver despite his lack of ideal size.

The Carolina Panthers are a scary team because their defense keeps them in a lot of games. It all starts up front. Kris Jenkins is evolving into an interior force. Julius Peppers and Mike Rucker generate a lot of pressure off the perimeter. Their linebackers cover a lot of ground, and that production helps hide their vulnerable spots in the secondary. The biggest question is whether they can protect that secondary for another season. Reggie Howard and Terry Cousin are capable corners, but are best-suited as nickel guys. And Deon Grant must become more consistent at free safety. This group didn’t generate enough turnovers despite the production it had from the front seven.

There aren’t many thrills offensively, but Stephen Davis will help them control the clock on the ground. That could make their defense even stronger. Rodney Peete deserves a lot of credit, but I feel Jake Delhomme will eventually take hold at quarterback when he becomes comfortable with the system. Delhomme is smart and efficient. That’s all the Panthers need from their offense.

Critics wonder whether or not the talented Aaron Brooks is the right quarterback to lead the Sains back to the playoffs.
Erik S. Lesser /
Getty Images

The New Orleans Saints are putting a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of quarterback Aaron Brooks. They have the personnel to create a lot of favorable matchups and production from their backfield with Deuce McAllister. Brooks must be held accountable this time around. Todd Bouman is an intriguing alternative if Brooks fails to produce. And they still have Michael Lewis providing their offense with good field position.

I have questions whether they really upgraded the secondary. Tebucky Jones looks good on paper with his size and speed, but he must show he can make plays. Dale Carter is unpredictable and Ashley Ambrose began to fade in Atlanta last season. There is no question they have more quickness upfront and Orlando Ruff offers more stability against the run at middle linebacker. But I still feel their matchup ability remains suspect. Nobody really knows what to expect of this Saints’ team at this point. They could be very good or find themselves struggling for answers and dodging controversy again.

tweeky 06-21-2003 11:45 AM

Fox Sports looks at the NFC South...
I hope its in alphabetiacl order instead of his predicted finish.

Bottom line: I believe its a 4 way toss up with a 2 game difference between 1st and last.
Tampa with a slight advantage
Atlanta and New Orleans virtually identical potential
Carolina with a slight disadvantage.

Fact: Nobody\'s looking forward to playing any of the teams in our division.

BillyCarpenter1 06-21-2003 01:35 PM

Fox Sports looks at the NFC South...
Mike Vic could crumble and I think everyone is a little too high on the Panthers.

subguy 06-22-2003 08:44 AM

Fox Sports looks at the NFC South...
I think the Panthers were setting themselves up very well in the off season. However, they did suffer a fairly major casualty to their offense. They cannot lose any more receivers,for Delhomme to be successful.

duece4heisman316 06-22-2003 03:43 PM

Fox Sports looks at the NFC South...
The Saints have added speed to their defense the way that Jim Haslett has wanted to do since the 2000 season, and they have done so, and the Saints are being VERY under-rated this season. I heard someone predict that Aaron Brooks would be the next Charlie Batch. Brooks has the ability to become a good Quarterback, but he has to learn to \"hate to lose.\" When throwing a bad pass or interception last season, he would smile and laugh it off, that\'s not exactly going to help your motivation or the team\'s trust in you.

The Panthers are being way over-rated this season. Stephen Davis will help out the team a lot, no question, but Rodney Peete started to ware off late last season, and does not have many good games left in him. I expect former Saint, Jake Delhomme to step in at mid-season at the latest to start for the Panthers, but it may take some time to gel.

Michael Vick may be in for a rude awakening this season. Near the end of last season, it seemed that teams were beginning to figure out just how to stop this guy, and now teams have the whole off-season to do so as well, plus the Falcons open against one of the NFL\'s best defenses: The Dallas Cowboys.

The Bucs will just be the Bucs again this year barring\'s how I see it going:

1.Tampa Bay
2.New Orleans

glad to be on the boards

BillyCarpenter1 06-22-2003 05:55 PM

Fox Sports looks at the NFC South...
Here are Lindys take on the Panthers........

Overall scouting report: Fox slyly raises Panthers hopes. Give the rock to (Stephen) Davis and they could pass .500. Coaching 6.5, Quarterbacks 6, Running backs 7, Receivers 5.5, Offensive linemen 7, Defensive linemen 9.5, Linebackers 7, Secondary 7, Special teams 9, Intangibles Plus 1.
Draft report card: (Jordan) Gross was the perfect pick in the spot and should start immediately. (Bruce) Nelson never stops trying, but he\'s very limited for a second rounder. (Walter) Young was a real bargain in the seventh round. B

Overall scouting report: Can these big cats get their claws out on offense to make a mark on the competition? Quarterbacks 5.5, Running backs 6.0, Receivers/Tight ends 7.0, Offensive Line 6.5, Defensive Line 8.0, Linebackers 8.0, Defensive backs 6.5, Special teams 7.5, Management 7.5
Draft report card: Carolina made a smart move taking Utah\'s Jordan Gross in the first round. The Panthers offensive line was in desperate need of a tackle with pass-blocking ability. Center Bruce Nelson out of Iowa is a solid second-round pick and could be starting in the League sooner rather than later. In the later rounds, the Panthers continued to make good choices including the addition of tight end Mike Seidman, cornerback Ricky Manning and fullback Casey Moore, who should make for a good fullback in Caroli

BillyCarpenter1 06-22-2003 06:05 PM

Fox Sports looks at the NFC South...
Lindy\'s take on the NFC South

NFC SOUTH - by Don Pierson

Suddenly, This Division Might Be NFL’s Strongest (back to top)
This new division was supposed to be the easy one — leftovers and doormats from the old NFC West and NFC Central. Instead, it won more games than any other division in the league and produced the world champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It was the only NFC division with three winning teams.
For an encore, the Bucs have to worry not so much about repeating their Super Bowl title as repeating their division title. First things first. Half of the Bucs’ four losses came against the New Orleans Saints. While the Bucs boast of the No. 1 defense in the league, the Carolina Panthers were second. In Atlanta, fans can’t wait to see what Michael Vick will do with speedy receivers.

Atlanta Falcons
Trading for receiver Peerless Price from Buffalo was worth their first-round draft pick because coach Dan Reeves doesn’t want to waste a minute exploiting Vick’s big arm. MarTay Jenkins also arrives from Arizona with more speed than the Falcons had.
Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips improved the defense last season and added cornerback Tyrone Williams and safety Cory Hall to start. One of five teams in the league to score over 400 points, the Falcons should have the luxury of playing with leads. Soon, owner Arthur Blank will be able to raise ticket prices instead of lowering them.

Carolina Panthers
They don’t plan on finishing last again and if ex-Saints quarterback Jake Delhomme looks as good as his promise, they won’t. Coach John Fox concentrated on offense in the offseason and revamped the offensive line to protect his quarterbacks. Running back Stephen Davis was productive but unwanted in Washington. He’ll juice up the 25th rushing offense, which will help the defense and young star Julius Peppers.
If DeShaun Foster can return from injury to pick up where his promising rookie season started, Fox will have the kind of running game the Panthers have always craved.

New Orleans Saints
Coach Jim Haslett made key moves after fading down the stretch for the second year in a row, losing their last three games to fall out of the playoffs. Tebucky Jones and Ashley Ambrose will tighten up a shaky secondary and Haslett liked rookie defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan enough to trade up to draft him. Free agent Wayne Gandy will replace controversial left tackle Kyle Turley.
The Saints were the highest-scoring team in the NFC, but quarterback Aaron Brooks is going to have to figure out a way to beat his cousin Vick, who holds a 2-0 edge.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Coach Jon Gruden won it all despite an unfamiliar roster. He wondered whether any of his offensive starters could have started for his old Oakland Raiders. The Bucs are still paying for Gruden in the draft, but they added two offensive line starters in center John Wade and guard Jason Whittle and hired Dwayne Rudd to replace Al Singleton at linebacker.
Staying focused and healthy will be the challenge, as usual, but the Bucs are good enough to win again. Retaining defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin was a smart start. The defense is good enough to keep carrying the team, but the story of last season was the improvement of the offense, especially in the playoffs. Quarterback Brad Johnson led the NFC in passing efficiency in his best year ever and was getting better by the week.

1. After so many years (decades) of misery, will one grand season go to the Bucs’ heads?
If it does, these guys aren’t as smart as they think. The Bucs don’t want to join the pantheon of one-year wonders.
2. Can Michael Vick stay healthy?
He missed only one game last season and is the fastest quarterback ever, but skeptics still worry that he takes too many risks.
3. Will the Saints get their masks on straight?
If they figure out the schedule includes December, they could get dangerous. Must be Mardi Gras anticipation.
4. Is Jake Delhomme ready to take the next step?
In only a couple of brief outings in New Orleans, he looked intriguing enough to interest several suitors seeking the next Kurt Warner. He takes over the Panthers’ 31st-ranked offense.
5. Is Jon Gruden really that good?
Still the youngest coach in the league, he is also the best until proven otherwise. Maybe that’s why Bill Parcells came back.

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