NFC South success is on lines
Sunday, May 22, 2005
If there's anything we've learned in the brief existence of the NFC South Division, it's that the road to the title is littered with blood, sweat and sod.
Atlanta led the NFL in rushing last season and -- not coincidentally -- won the division title.
In 2003, Carolina rolled to the division crown on the strength of a power rushing attack that ranked a deceptively low seventh in the league.
Tampa Bay won the inaugural title in 2002 despite a lackluster ground attack, but that appears to be an anomaly and largely due to the team's dominant defense.
To their credit, the division's most pass-happy residents, New Orleans and Tampa Bay, have wised up and joined the competition.
New Orleans signed drive-blocker Jermane Mayberry in the opening days of free agency, then traded up to select road-grading right tackle Jammal Brown with the No. 13 overall pick of the NFL draft.
With 6-foot-6, 315-pound Brown and 6-4, 325-pound Mayberry on board, the Saints will average 6-3ÃƒÂ‚Ã‚Â½ and 318 pounds across the front line.
It took just two practices behind the new line for running back Deuce McAllister to notice a difference. Running behind the massive front wall, the two-time Pro Bowler said an 1,800-yard season is well within reach.
"If I don't, it's on me," McAllister said.
Tampa Bay would settle for a 1,000-yard season out of any of its backs. The Buccaneers have not ranked higher than 24th in rushing in three seasons under Coach Jon Gruden.
Not coincidentally, the Bucs' record has steadily plummeted since their 12-4 Super Bowl season in 2002. They were 7-9 in 2003 and 5-11 last season.
A faulty running game is one of the primary reasons for the decline.
The Bucs aimed to fix that this offseason.
They signed blocking tight end Anthony Becht in free agency, then devoted three of their first five draft choices to players they hope can improve the running game. The first-round selection of Cadillac Williams gives the Bucs a feature back for the first time in years. Offensive linemen Chris Colmer and Dan Buenning are considered excellent run blockers.
"It's important," Buccaneers general manager Bruce Allen said. "It hasn't been our strength. Our running game was poor and you can't just blame the running back when your running game is that way."
There's another benefit to a strong rushing attack. It neutralizes the strength of the division's defenses.
The end tandems in the NFC South rank among the best in the NFL. Few divisions have rushers on the edges like New Orleans' Darren Howard and Charles Grant, Tampa Bay's Greg Spires and Simeon Rice, Carolina's Mike Rucker and Julius Peppers and Atlanta's Patrick Kerney and Brady Smith.
Of the 17 players that recorded double-digit sack totals last season, five of them played defensive end in the NFC South: Kerney (13), Rice (12), Howard (11), Peppers (11) and Grant (10.5). Rucker, meanwhile, had 12 sacks in 2003.
"It's not a glamorous division," Falcons coach Jim Mora said of the NFC South. "It's a hard-hitting division with four teams that are passionate about football. We're like a bunch of street punks fighting each other."
In the NFC South, that fight is won in the trenches.
Around the NFL
There's growing concern in Jacksonville that running back Fred Taylor's knee injury is worse than expected. He's out until June and new offensive coordinator Carl Smith has hinted that the former Florida standout could miss the entire season. That leaves unproven back-up LaBrandon Toefield, who played at LSU, as the primary ball carrier. . . . More bad news in the River City: Rookie wide receiver Matt Jones missed several practices recently with a hamstring injury. Jones struggled with the condition at Arkansas, so there's some concern it could be a chronic condition. . . . Another reason optimism is high in Cincinnati: The signing of center Rich Braham means the Bengals return all starters to an offense that scored 374 points, the most in a season by a Cincinnati unit since the 1989 Super Bowl team scored 404. . . . Two players expected to be released after June 1 are Bears cornerback R.W. McQuarters and Chiefs wide receiver Johnnie Morton. Neither was invited to their teams' recent minicamp. Morton has a chance to remain in Kansas City if he accepts a restructured contract. . . . A pair of former Saints kickers have signed with the Bears, who want to replace incumbent Paul Edinger. Veteran Doug Brien, who kicked for New Orleans from 1995 to 2000, was signed last week. He joins Edinger, Nick Setta, who spent the 2004 training camp with the Saints, and rookie free agents Tyler Jones and Nick Novak in the Bears' camp. Edinger has made just 68 percent of his field-goal attempts the past two seasons.
Around Saints camp
TICKET SALES SAGGING: The contentious offseason negotiations with the state and the possibility of relocation appear to be having a negative effect on ticket sales.
As of late last week, the Saints had sold fewer than 26,000 season tickets for the 2005 season.
That's a renewal rate of about 45 percent. It's also about half the number of season tickets the club sold in 2003.
NUMBERS ON HORN: The final numbers are in the books for Joe Horn's six-year, $41 million contract extension. Horn will earn base salaries of $665,000 (2005), $1.635 million (2006), $4.450 million (2007), $4.73 million (2008), $5.010 million (2009) and $5.29 million (2010).
The deal included a $7 million signing bonus. It also includes roster bonuses of $1.5 million (2006), $1 million (2007), $2 million (2008), $3 million (2009) and $4 million (2010).
Horn will receive workouts bonuses of $100,000 and $200,000 each season
SCRIMMAGE MAY MOVE TO JACKSON: Jackson, Miss., is the front-runner to host the annual Black and Gold scrimmage in August. The plan is to play the game at Veterans Memorial Stadium, where the team hopes to draw a crowd of 25,000 to 30,000.
ROOKIE MAKING NOISE: Rookie cornerback Dwight Ellick is a strong candidate for the practice squad.
A former Florida high school state sprint champion, Ellick has 4.37 speed in the 40-yard dash, making him one of the fastest players on the roster.
AUDIBLE: "Thank you, whoever got that done. Thank you, (Rams coach) Mike (Martz). Thank you, everyone upstairs. It's a lot better than the cement we were on before." -- Rams tight end Roland Williams on the new FieldTurf playing surface that will replace the 10-year-old AstroTurf at the Edward Jones Dome.
RE: NFC South success is on lines
RE: NFC South success is on lines
RE: NFC South success is on lines
Wow - you're kidding. Jacksonville hired Carl Smith to improve their offense??? LOL. Sure hope that defense stays nasty. LOL
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