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papz 06-09-2005 08:15 AM

NFC South key players.
Don't know if any has read it yet, but here it goes. I also would have to agree... it all starts with our interior line.

Scouts Inc.

It was a busy offseason in the NFC South, with all four teams undergoing big changes. While the Falcons and Bucs are counting on more firepower offensively, the Panthers and Saints will be looking for their defenses to blaze the trail. Our scouts identify the players who could help shape the division in 2005.

Michael Jenkins, WR, Falcons

The Falcons resisted the urge to upgrade their wide receiver position via free agency and the draft. Instead, the front office chose to deal with the situation internally by trusting its past evaluations. That leaves Michael Jenkins, the second of two first-round draft picks in 2004, as the offense's biggest X factor heading into 2005.

Jenkins notched just seven receptions as a rookie last season. He had some trouble staying healthy early on and the Falcons' coaching staff also wanted him to earn his stripes as a youngster on special teams. Fully healthy, with a complete year of mental and physical development under his belt, Jenkins is primed for a breakout sophomore campaign.

Jenkins brings an outstanding combination of size (6-foot-4, 215 pounds), strength and speed to the table. In recent mini-camps, he has shown much improved hands, as well as increased confidence as a route runner.

Originally it was hoped that Jenkins would provide a great complement to speedy flanker Peerless Price. However, plans may change due to Price's vision problems, which are caused by an inoperable retinal condition. If the disorder worsens, it may lead to a premature retirement for Price, in which case Jenkins would be thrust into a starting role at the flanker position.

Even if Price does return healthy, Jenkins will still compete with him for the starting flanker job because of Price's inconsistent hands and lack of toughness.

Finally, even if Price and Dez White retain their starting jobs, Jenkins still factors greatly into the equation. As the No. 3 receiver, Jenkins could be inserted on the perimeter, which would allow the smaller and less physical Price to move inside to the slot.

In that scenario, QB Michael Vick would have a "high-low" combination of Price and Jenkins on the same side of the field that would be more dangerous than anything he has had to work with in his previous four NFL seasons.

Ken Lucas, DC, Panthers

There are several Carolina players facing high expectations in 2005. The team needs Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster to stay healthy in order to rejuvenate the power-run game. Newly signed Mike Wahle may need to move outside to right tackle in order to solidify a patchwork offensive line from a year ago.

Also, second-year pro Keary Colbert must emerge as a legitimate go-to-receiver opposite the healthy Steve Smith in order to ease the departure of free agent Muhsin Muhammad, who raked in 93 receptions for 1,405 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2004.

But if the Panthers are to return to Super Bowl form in 2005, it will be the defense that once again blazes the trail.

DT Kris Jenkins' healthy return should provide a huge boost. The additions of safeties Idrees Bashir (free agent, Colts) and rookie Thomas Davis (first round pick) should also help. However, the player who could make the biggest difference in the defense's return to glory is DC Ken Lucas, Carolina's premier free-agent acquisition in 2005.

Even in its finest hour, during the 2003 Super Bowl run, the unit's weakest link was at cornerback. As a result, head coach John Fox and coordinator Mike Trgovac needed to protect their cornerbacks by playing a lot of cover-two zone and soft man-to-man coverages.

Ricky Manning Jr. was the unit's most reliable cover guy down the stretch of that season, but he has since been exposed for his lack of size and speed on the perimeter. Chris Gamble, the team's top pick in 2004, made strides as a rookie and should be even more consistent with a year's experience under his belt, and Lucas' playing opposite him.

Lucas has an outstanding blend of size (6-0, 205) and speed. He is capable of holding up on an island versus bigger receivers in man-to-man coverage and also has great experience reading and reacting in zone coverages.

Furthermore, Lucas is an emerging playmaker. His six interceptions with the Seahawks last season matched Gamble's team-high with the Panthers in 2004. If both cornerbacks continue to provide a similar big-play element this season, the Panthers could have one of the best young playmaking cornerback duos in the league.

With Lucas and Gamble on the perimeter  and Manning Jr. in the slot in nickel personnel  Fox and Trgovac can be more aggressive than ever before. They might not need it with their existing front four, but the Panthers should be able to play SS Mike Minter in the box more to beef up run support. They also can better exploit the pass-rushing skills of LBs Dan Morgan and Will Witherspoon on the blitz. If it all works out as planned, Lucas could be the key addition that returns the Panthers' defense to elite status in 2005.

Jonathan Sullivan, DT, Saints

With glaring deficiencies along the interior of their defensive line and with a noticeable lack of athleticism across the board at linebacker, it was surprising to see how quiet the Saints were in free agency. Not to mention their decision to trade up for OT Jammal Brown, when the best linebacker in the 2005 draft class, Derrick Johnson (Chiefs), was still on the board.

The organization's thought process on the subject is now clear; the defense made strides in 2004 and the Saints are banking on the development of several youngsters in order to take the next step in 2005.

The addition of FS Dwight Smith should improve the athleticism and versatility of the secondary. The team also understandably has higher hopes for the linebacker corps this season, as Courtney Watson (ML, James Allen (SL, Colby Bockwoldt (WL and Cie Grant (MLB/WL are all promising players under the age of 26.

Unfortunately for the Saints, the one player (Sullivan) who could upgrade this unit the most is the player who has shown the least progress. In fact, as the sixth overall pick in 2003, Sullivan has to be considered the biggest disappointment on the organization's current roster.

Sullivan started 12 games as a rookie in 2003, but finished with just 34 total tackles and one sack. He regressed in 2004, finishing with 15 tackles and a half sack in only four starts (seven games played). In comparison, Kevin Williams (Vikings), who was selected three picks after Sullivan in the 2003 draft, has 16 more starts, with 73 more tackles and 21 more sacks in the same two-year span.

Sullivan has good size and is a fine natural athlete, but his technique is sloppy, his motor is inconsistent and there are lots of questions regarding his intelligence. He has the physical tools to still emerge as a playmaking interior defensive lineman but the light has yet to come on. Judging by his playing time in the second-half of last season, it seems as if the Saints' coaching staff is close to giving up on Sullivan. The only hope now is for Sullivan to answer the wake-up call.

The team has a decent starting combination of Howard Green and Brian Young at defensive tackle, but its lack of depth really hurt the team late in games, as well as late in the season. If Sullivan were to at least develop into a consistent 15- to 20-play-per-game contributor in 2005, it would allow the Saints to utilize a heavier "wave" rotation in order to keep the starters fresher.

The strength of the Saints' defense is clearly at end, where Charles Grant, Darren Howard and Will Smith make up one of the best trios at that position in the NFL. With a young and emerging linebacking corps, followed by a more athletic and versatile secondary, Sullivan's development into a playmaking No. 3 DT could make all the difference in the world for a fluttering Saints' organization.

Ike Hilliard, WR, Buccaneers

Hilliard is not much more than a short-term fix for the Buccaneers, but such is life under excitable head coach Jon Gruden. Hilliard has had loads of trouble staying healthy throughout the course of his eight NFL seasons. As a result, he has been inconsistent and unreliable.

The good news for Bucs' fans is that Hilliard is coming off a 2004 season in which he played all 16 games. He is still only 29 years old and has averaged 12.6 yards-per-catch in his career. Hilliard lacks ideal height (5-11), but he is well built at 214 pounds and possesses game-breaking speed.

Joey Galloway can also stretch the field vertically, but he isn't as fast as he once was and is coming off another injury-riddled season, when he missed seven games due to a lingering groin problem. The other starter, Michael Clayton, proved to be a precocious rookie with the size, hands, route-running consistency and blocking skills of an upper-echelon starting possession-type wide receiver. In fact, Galloway and Clayton should complement one another well as starters, if Galloway returns to form and stays on the field in 2005.

But Hilliard is the player who could take this unit to the next level. He has the speed to stretch the field out of the slot position, which should help take attention away from the slower, but bigger and more reliable Clayton underneath. Hilliard also is experienced enough to quickly pick up on Gruden's complex scheme, which should prevent early-season growing pains.

With the addition of versatile rookie RB Carnell Williams, and what promises to be an upgraded offensive line, Hilliard's vertical presence could be just the ingredient that Gruden needs to get his version of the West Coast offense back on track. That is, of course, assuming that Brian Griese can put together the first consistent 16-game regular-season performance of his pro career.

saintswhodi 06-09-2005 08:21 AM

Dude, I posted this like a month ago. :P You're about as reliable as a Chase Lymon knee. :wink:

papz 06-09-2005 08:28 AM

Hey bite me! That's why I said I don't know if anyone read it dammit!

saintswhodi 06-09-2005 08:52 AM

Touchy, touchy. :wink:

mayoj 06-09-2005 10:55 AM


I'm not too knowledgable about NFL contracts. When will we be able to cut Sullivan if he doesn't produce. When you cut a player, do you still pay him? Are there no clauses in contracts about practicing, conditioning, conduct etc?

Bottomline: If Sullivan doesn't come around, when will we be able to stop leaning over the bench and taking in it the a** from this guy? His raping us is bad enough, but my back hurts from his fat stomch resting on it in the process.

Hopefully, he'll come around.

saintswhodi 06-09-2005 11:26 AM

Simply put, it costs too much to cut Sully now cause of his bonus. It would be accelerated. Of course, it wouldn't count this year since it's after June 1st, it would count on next year's cap, but the number would be fairly big for a player who would no longer be on the team. If he does not perform this season, and I have my doubts he will, then next year after June 1st the cost of cutting him should be more palatable for the following year's cap, since once they get a new CBA in place with the new TV contracts figured, we should have enough room to afford it and it will be a year less.

mayoj 06-09-2005 11:40 AM


spkb25 06-09-2005 05:00 PM

saintswhodi that was some funny **** about lymans knee. papz you always have really good post im pretty sure he was joking you brother. anyway i think everything starts with both lines. if you can dominate there the sky is the limit.

papz 06-09-2005 06:15 PM

Lol spk... don't read into that comment. He knows it was a joke. He can take those Chase Lyman comments and stick it in his earhole... while I eat my words. :P

papz 06-09-2005 06:16 PM

Double post... edited.

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