A quick look at the news being generated at training camps around the Tampa Bay Buccaneers division:
The four teams of the NFC South are preparing for the third week of the preseason (and the fourth game, for the Saints, who played in the Hall of Fame Game), and that is generally seen as the most important stop on the August schedule. Most teams choose to play their starters for the longest amount of time in the third week, thus the game results are, at least in theory, somewhat more indicative of how prepared each team is for the games that count.
In Atlanta, Head Coach Mike Smith downplayed the idea of bringing in another player after reserve tackle Will Svitek was lost for the season with an upper arm injury. Svitek was considered the team's primary backup at both tackle spots and he actually started 10 games last year in place of left tackle Sam Baker. "We have a lot of talent and effort invested in the guys we have on our roster," said Smith. "I wouldn't speak to any roster moves based on what happened yesterday to Will." Smith said part of the solution would be to begin "cross-training" more of the reserve offensive linemen to be able to play both guard and tackle. Prior to the Falcons' preseason opener, when the team released its first depth chart, Smith said he felt as if there were 12 linemen in training camp who had a chance to win nine spots. The Falcons' front line appeared to be a bit in flux after a so-so campaign last year, but the team has provided good protection so far (four sacks allowed, none on starting QB Matt Ryan).
In Carolina, linebackers Thomas Davis and Jon Beason have made strides over the last week in their respective returns from injury, which was a major topic of discussion when last we looked in on Panthers camp. "We increased [Davis'] workload; he's looking really good," said Panthers Head Coach Ron Rivera on Monday. "Jon Beason's starting to move a little bit more, he's starting to do some of the installation stuff, so that was a huge plus as well. We're pretty excited about that." Davis is coming along well enough from his third consecutive season-ending knee injury that he may be able to make his 2012 debut when the Panthers play the Jets on Sunday. "Absolutely," said Rivera. "If Thomas is feeling strong enough and we feel he's made enough of a recovery, then we'll certainly play him. He looks good right now, moving around, and we've increased his work." With all of the ups and downs for the Panthers' linebacking corps over the last 12 months – including the very big addition of Boston College's Luke Kuechly in the first round of the draft in April – unsung veteran James Anderson has helped that crew immensely. Rivera called Anderson a "steady force" earlier this week and lauded him for the different number of roles he has ably filled for the team.
In New Orleans, the Saints coaches are particularly looking forward to watching fourth-year linebacker Ramon Humber play on Saturday night against Houston. That has suddenly become an important consideration for the Saints, at least in the short term, because injuries have recently thinned the team's linebacking corps. Curtis Lofton, the former Falcon signed as a free agent this offseason, sustained a high ankle sprain against Jacksonville and Coach Joe Vitt says Lofton will not play this week; how the injury will affect the start of the regular season isn't obvious yet. The Saints also just sent linebacker David Hawthorne to get surgery for a meniscus tear in his knee, so he too will miss at least a couple weeks. The Saints looked to add depth to the spot on Thursday by trading for former Buccaneer middle linebacker Barrett Ruud, who came over from Seattle for an undisclosed draft pick. Of course, even if the Saints' linebacker situation takes a while to come into focus, the team obviously has the offense to win any number of Sunday shootouts. Vitt said on Thursday that he has been pleased with how Drew Brees and company have looked so far: "I think the starting offense has done a good job. We had a missed block the other night that got [Brees] hit – and I think it's in the eyes of the beholder whether it was a fumble or not – but up to that point I think they've really done a good job. It's a veteran group that's been together and takes a lot of pride in their work ethic. They're accountable to one another and they continue to get better every single day."