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this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; http://www.profootballweekly.com/PFW...?mode=nfcsouth Atlanta So now the Falcons are cranky, bitter even. Maybe taking offense to the notion that so many fans and pundits have thrown in the towel on the season after star QB Mike Vick was knocked out with a ...

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Old 08-27-2003, 08:12 PM   #1
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PFW Team Preveiw

http://www.profootballweekly.com/PFW...?mode=nfcsouth


Atlanta

So now the Falcons are cranky, bitter even. Maybe taking offense to the notion that so many fans and pundits have thrown in the towel on the season after star QB Mike Vick was knocked out with a broken right leg in a preseason game can work to the Falcons’ advantage.

With Vick, the Falcons were seen as a legitimate playoff contender. Without him, they’re … what? Well, prized offseason acquisition Peerless Price can tell you what they’re not.

“Weâ₠¬â„¢re not just another bunch of guys,â€? said the former Bills wide receiver, who was acquired in a March trade to jump-start the Atlanta passing game. “Just because everybody else writes us off, we don’t write us off.â€?

If Atlanta is to string together back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in the 38-year history of the franchise, Vick won’t be a part of it for at least the first four games — and perhaps as many as seven — depending on how quickly his broken right fibula heals.

Price should help fourth-year quarterback Doug Johnson transition into a starting role. Newcomers in the secondary, namely CB Tyrone Williams and SS Cory Hall, also will be counted upon to join now healthy CB Ray Buchanan to get the ball back to the offense faster than they did last year.

Quarterbacks — Johnson’s not shy, and the former undrafted free agent survived a tenuous relationship at the University of Florida with Steve Spurrier. He benefitted from it. Johnson knows plenty about a pro-style passing offense, even if he has sarted only three NFL games. Johnson has good size, a strong arm, and a gunslinger’s mentality. He was masterful in his only start in 2002, a 17-10 win on the road over the Giants. Until Vick returns, the four-year veteran will have to be better than most people think. Beyond Johnson, however, there’s no depth. Second-year pro Kurt Kittner did not attempt a pass as a rookie and routinely loses his aim in practice. Before suffering a modest knee injury, David Rivers was good in NFL Europe this spring — as a backup. Grade: C-plus (B-minus When Vick is back)



This content is an excerpt from one of the team previews in the print edition of our 2003 Kickoff Issue, where you'll find thorough analysis of each of the team's other positions as well. Besides the team previews in this issue, you'll find staff predictions and comments for each division race and PFW's consensus forecast for the playoffs and Super Bowl. Pick up your copy of the PFW Kickoff Issue at newsstands and bookstores across the country, or call 1-800-FOOTBALL to order your copy or to subscribe.

Past Atlanta Team Reports >

Carolina

You will not find the Panthers playing on “Monday Night Football� this season. They are strictly an under-the-radar team — one without splashy offensive stars or cool nicknames.

What the Panthers can boast, however, is one of the NFL’s finest defenses. Carolina ranked No. 2 in the NFL in total defense in 2002, trailing only Tampa Bay. That defense returns just about everybody, save one crucial player. Veteran Mark Fields, the linebacker who led the team in tackles (127) and forced fumbles (seven) last season, will miss the 2003 season after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease in mid-August. But if head coach John Fox’s defense can overcome Fields’ loss, it should remain as one of the NFL’s best.

DE Julius Peppers recorded 12 sacks in 12 games last year as a rookie and got serious about weights for the first time in his career this offseason. DT Kris Jenkins, LB Dan Morgan and DE Mike Rucker all are legitimate Pro Bowl candidates if they stay healthy.

If this team falters, it probably will be the fault of the offense. The acquisition of former Redskins RB Stephen Davis should give Carolina the second 1,000-yard rusher in team history. But the QB situation remains murky. Ranked 31st in team offense last season, Carolina still doesn’t have enough weapons.

Quarterbacks — At age 37, Rodney Peete is the oldest player on Carolina’s roster. Originally signed as a backup, he wrested the starting job away from Chris Weinke just before the 2002 regular season and set career highs in touchdowns (15) and passing yardage (2,630). Peete likely will open the season at No. 1 for Carolina, but he’s being hotly pursued by backups Jake Delhomme and Weinke. Delhomme was signed away from New Orleans during the offseason with the idea that he finally could be a starter. But his preseason hasn’t been as impressive as Weinke’s, the former Heisman Trophy winner who started during Carolina’s dreadful 1-15 season in 2001 and then rode the bench all last year. With Peete nursing an injured finger and not playing that well in the preseason, either or both might get an opportunity before this year is over. Weinke has the strongest arm and Peete makes the fewest mistakes, but Fox thinks Delhomme could be a good leader. Grade: C-minus.



This content is an excerpt from one of the team previews in the print edition of our 2003 Kickoff Issue, where you'll find thorough analysis of each of the team's other positions as well. Besides the team previews in this issue, you'll find staff predictions and comments for each division race and PFW's consensus forecast for the playoffs and Super Bowl. Pick up your copy of the PFW Kickoff Issue at newsstands and bookstores across the country, or call 1-800-FOOTBALL to order your copy or to subscribe.

Past Carolina Team Reports >

New Orleans

One win. That’s all the Saints needed to clinch a playoff spot over the final three weeks of the season last year. But a one-point loss to Minnesota, a seven-point loss to the lowly Bengals and a four-point loss to the Panthers in Week 17 kept the Saints out of the postseason and marked the second straight end-of-the-year collapse for the boys from the Big Easy.

Erasing those bad memories won’t be easy for the Saints, but they do still have an explosive offense to turn to. Sure, there have been some changes — namely OT Kyle Turley being sent to the Rams — but it is on the defensive side of the ball where there has been the most upheaval. Six new starters dot the Saints’ lineup for a defense that ranked 26th in points allowed and made a habit of giving up big plays.

Head coach Jim Haslett knows that the pressure is on for his team to get to the postseason, and if the Saints fail again, it could mean his job. New Orleans isn’t lacking for talent, but it is up to Haslett to push his team to execute and escape from the rough-and-tumble NFC South with a playoff berth.

Quarterbacks — Aaron Brooks can be devastating when he gets hot, and his athletic ability gives the Saints a matchup that few teams can stop. He has a powerful arm, has improved his accuracy this offseason, and he has become more of a vocal leader in the huddle. Arm problems derailed Brooks last season, and he has pushed himself to get in shape without risking his health. He also must learn to play with poise and confidence, even when he gets off to a rough start. Backup Todd Bouman showed promise in his limited time as a starter in Minnesota, and his arm strength is a positive. He isn’t the most mobile QB in the league, but Bouman can fill in admirably in short stints. Grade: B.



This content is an excerpt from one of the team previews in the print edition of our 2003 Kickoff Issue, where you'll find thorough analysis of each of the team's other positions as well. Besides the team previews in this issue, you'll find staff predictions and comments for each division race and PFW's consensus forecast for the playoffs and Super Bowl. Pick up your copy of the PFW Kickoff Issue at newsstands and bookstores across the country, or call 1-800-FOOTBALL to order your copy or to subscribe.

Past New Orleans Team Reports >

Tampa Bay

No sooner had the Super Bowl-champion Bucs gotten over the ticker-tape parades, the gala events and the dinner circuits had head coach Jon Gruden rallied his troops at the cozy confines of One Buc Place to relay an important message.

In a manner common with the fiery leader, Gruden powerfully reminded his team that starting then, on that very spring day, all teams had the same record. He reminded them — though a team loaded with so many veterans hardly needed reminding — that those who ponder the victories of yesterday are doomed to be plundered.

So with almost mechanical efficiency, the Bucs returned to work, got busy with their organized team workouts, enjoyed almost 100 percent participation in the offseason program and blew into summer camp with a sense of purpose.

Little change was needed. The Bucs added free-agent LB Dwayne Rudd to start for the departed Al Singleton and turned CB Dwight Smith into their starting free safety, with Super Bowl MVP Dexter Jackson now in Arizona.

So it is status quo for the reigning champions, who let it be known that they won’t be repeating the chorus about repeating.

“We were doing pretty well for seven years, we just needed a championship to say we’re one of the best ever,� DT Warren Sapp said. “Now that we have that championship, we want to solidify ourselves as the best all-time.�

Quarterbacks — When you consider that the Bucs’ offense was capable of just one touchdown in the three games veteran Brad Johnson missed in 2002, his importance to the team’s ability to repeat in ’03 cannot be overstated. Johnson, who will turn 35 during the second week of the season, is more comfortable now that he is entering his second season with Gruden and has looked tremendous in training camp. Last year, he earned the respect of his team by showing uncanny leadership and a willingness to throw the ball away when things weren’t working well. Should Johnson not be available, all indications are that backup Shaun King, who signed a one-year deal in the offseason, is more ready to step in. King has benefitted from a second summer in Gruden’s system and looks much more like the quarterback who took Tampa to the NFC championship game in 1999. Rookie Chris Simms is a few years away but has received praise from Gruden and Johnson for his footwork and work ethic. He likely will carry the clipboard. Grade: A.

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