A quick look at the news being generated at training camps around the Tampa Bay Buccaneers division:
The final preseason outings for the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers and Saints barely warrant mentioning, but the massive roster cuts that followed produced some big news, as always. All four teams are also now deep in their preparations for their Week One opponent, and for Carolina and Tampa Bay, that already means an intra-division showdown. The Panthers had some tough decisions to make at wide receiver and the Saints weren't willing to pare down from their abundance of useful running backs.
Quarterback Luke McCown continues his tour of the NFC South as he lands in Atlanta just before the preseason finale. McCown, who spent four seasons with the Buccaneers before he was traded to Jacksonville just before the 2009 regular season, had gone to training camp with the Saints but was released in late August. The Falcons grabbed McCown in favor of their long-time backup to Matt Ryan, Chris Redman, then ended up keeping three passers, including promising first-year man Dominique Davis. The Falcons' interest in McCown is understandable given that former Jacksonville assistant Dirk Koetter is now Atlanta's offensive coordinator, replacing Mike Mularkey. McCown's time in Jacksonville should make his last-minute indoctrination into the Falcon offense a little easier. Said Head Coach Mike Smith: "He's behind in terms of the learning curve to learn our offense, even though there are some similarities in terms of what he did with Coach Koetter in Jacksonville. The verbiage is somewhat similar, but there are some differences and there are some small nuances that we put in the 2012 Atlanta Falcons playbook, and they're different than what they've done in the past. We've got to get him up to speed as quickly as possible." Smith declined to say whether McCown or Davis would be the number-two quarterback to start the season, but simply, as he said, for strategic reasons. It should be evident after Sunday's opener in Kansas City.
In Carolina, one of the fiercest battles for roster spots was waged among the receivers, where the Panthers have been looking for the right mix behind star Steve Smith for several years. Smith, obviously, was kept, and the team also came out of the preseason feeling very confident that third-year man Brandon LaFell could be a strong complement to the veteran receiver. LaFell seemed to develop a good chemistry with quarterback Cam Newton in training camp and the Panthers believe he can improve quite a bit on his 36 receptions and three touchdowns last year. Carolina kept six receivers overall, as Smith and LaFell are joined by Louis Murphy, Kealoha Pilares, Joe Adams and Armanti Edwards. Edwards, a converted college quarterback who returned punts last year but did not have a reception in his second NFL season, was thought to be on the bubble during camp but was retained over veteran Seyi Ajirotutu, who had just one catch in 2011. Probably the most important development for the Panthers' receiving corps, at least as it relates to their season opener in Tampa, is that Smith was on the practice field on Monday as he returns from a foot infection that cost him the final two preseason games. Smith did not appear to be slowed in the first practice of Week One. "Right off the bat [Smith] went back to his normal practice mode: 100 percent all the time," said Head Coach Ron Rivera. "It was a lot of fun watching Steve back on the football field."
In New Orleans, Aaron Kromer, a former Buccaneer assistant, takes over as the acting head coach as Joe Vitt begins his six-game suspension. Vitt, of course, was serving in that role in the absence of Head Coach Sean Payton, who is suspended for the season in connection with the "bounty" issue. Kromer will attempt to keep the team operating just as it would be under Payton and Vitt. "I'm following the formula, so any time you have a plan you have a good sense that things are going to go well," said Kromer. "We have a good plan here. I'm following the plan and the team is with us." Part of the plan, of course, involved forming the 53-man roster over the weekend, and the most interesting development from that process was that the Saints kept five tailbacks: Mark Ingram, Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory and undrafted free agent Travaris Cadet out of Appalachian State. Given the amazing manner in which quarterback Drew Brees is able to spread the football around, there's a good chance all five will make an impact at some point in the season. "We will find a way to use them," said Kromer. "There is no way you are going to let some of these guys out of the building even if they are one more in the position that you are loaded in. You need to keep good players."