this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; FOCUS ON NFL The South shall rise again By ALLEN WILSON News Sports Reporter 5/29/2004 (This is the seventh of eight stories examining NFL teams by division as they prepare for training camp. Today's installment focuses on the NFC South.) ...
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Join Date: May 2004
The South will rise again. (article)
FOCUS ON NFL
The South shall rise again
By ALLEN WILSON
News Sports Reporter
(This is the seventh of eight stories examining NFL teams by division as they prepare for training camp. Today's installment focuses on the NFC South.)
Is there a tougher division in the National Football League than the NFC South? All four teams have a legitimate shot to win the division and each of them has playoff potential.
The Carolina Panthers made a surprising run to the Super Bowl, where they fell three points short of a championship. They are aiming for a return trip to the big game, but losing six starters (three each on offense and defense) and the pressure of higher expectations will make the task very difficult.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers went from Super Bowl champions to non-playoff participant in one year. Coach Jon Gruden overhauled the roster in an effort to reclaim the Bucs' place among the NFL's elite.
The pressure on New Orleans Saints coach Jim Haslett to make the playoffs increases with every failed attempt. If he can get his defense together, this might be the year he breaks through.
Having quarterback Michael Vick is enough to improve anyone's outlook, but new Atlanta Falcons coach Jim Mora Jr. will have to rebuild a dreadful defense to keep his team in contention.
Here's a review of the offseason moves by each club:
Carolina Panthers (11-5)
Key gains: RT Adam Meadows (Colts), CB Chris Gamble (draft), LB Jessie Armstead (Redskins).
Key losses: G Jeno James (Dolphins), LT Todd Steussie (Bucs), CB Reggie Howard (Dolphins), FS Deon Grant (Jaguars).
Breakdown: Gamble (Ohio State) brings exceptional size and athleticism to the secondary. He'll compete with veteran CB Artrell Hawkins (Bengals) for a spot opposite playoff hero Ricky Manning. Jordan Gross, a rookie standout at right tackle last year, moves to left tackle to make room for Meadows. Veteran Travis Claridge (Falcons) and rookie Travelle Wharton (South Carolina) might fill vacancies at guard. WRs Keary Colbert (Southern California) will have to produce if Muhsin Muhammad becomes a salary cap casualty. Armstead joins a linebacker crew that might include former starter Mark Fields, who is trying to comeback after missing 2003 with Hodgkin's disease.
Questions: How quickly will the revamped offensive line come together? Who is going to replace Grant at free safety? Will the Panthers stay hungry after last year's improbable playoff run?
New Orleans Saints (8-8)
Key gains: DE Will Smith (draft), DT Brian Young (Rams), FB Sam Gash (Bills).
Key losses: None.
Breakdown: The Saints already have two excellent defensive ends in Charles Grant and Darren Howard, but they couldn't pass on Smith (Ohio State), possibly the best pass rusher in the draft. Young deepens the defensive tackle rotation. Courtney Watson (Notre Dame) is a versatile linebacker Haslett believes could start as a rookie. The trade for CB Jason Craft (Jaguars) helps secondary. Gash is a quality lead blocker for RB Deuce McAllister. Second-round pick Devery Henderson (LSU) adds more speed to a fleet-footed wide receiver corps.
Questions: Will talented Saints finally shed underachiever label? Can Haslett survive if the team doesn't reach the playoffs for a fourth straight time?
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-9)
Key additions: RB Charlie Garner (Raiders), WR Joey Galloway (Cowboys), WR Michael Clayton (draft), OT Derrick Deese (49ers), LB Ian Gold (Broncos).
Key losses: DT Warren Sapp (Raiders), SS John Lynch (Broncos), WR Keyshawn Johnson (Cowboys).
Breakdown: The big news was the Bucs severing ties with Sapp and Lynch, who, along with LB Derrick Brooks, were the foundation of the franchise for nearly a decade. Garner reunites with former coach Jon Gruden, who used his running and receiving skills well in Oakland. Gruden is glad to be free of Johnson. Galloway gives them more speed and versatility. Clayton (LSU) is a big, physical receiver who will push '03 top receiver Keenan McCardell. Deese and Steussie are reliable veterans at offensive tackle. Gold's athleticism will be a great fit in the Bucs' defense. S Will Allen (Ohio State) was a good middle-round selection.
Questions: Is 32-year-old Garner the answer for a 24th-ranked rushing attack? How much do Deese (age 34) and Steussie (33) have left? Will the defense fill the void created by the departures of Sapp and Lynch?
Atlanta Falcons (5-11)
Key gains: CB DeAngelo Hall (draft), DT Rod Coleman (Raiders), WR Michael Jenkins (draft).
Key losses: CB Ray Buchanan (Raiders), CB Juran Bolden (Jaguars).
Breakdown: The Falcons love Hall (Virginia Tech), whose speed and cover skills should help the NFL's worst pass defense. Hall and Jason Webster (49ers) are expected to start at cornerback, while Aaron Beasley (Jets) provides solid depth. Coleman will be tough to keep out of the starting lineup even if Ellis Johnson, who led NFL defensive tackles in sacks in '03, ends his contract holdout. MLB Jamie Duncan (Rams) allows stud Keith Brooking to move outside, where he'll be a blitzing terror in Mora's attacking defense. At 6-foot-4 and 209 pounds, Jenkins (Ohio State) gives QB Michael Vick a skilled, big receiving target opposite Peerless Price. With Vick on board, did they really need to draft QB Matt Schaub (Virginia)?
Questions: Have the Falcons done enough to improve the NFL's worst defense? Will Vick manage to avoid the injury bug?