NFC South Blog
Often times after a team invests the kind of money the Panthers invested in franchise quarterback Cam Newton, the QB is encouraged to play it safe and reduce their running. That will not be the case with Newton in Carolina. General manager Dave Gettleman was recently asked if the team would ask Newton to run less to protect their investment. Gettleman's answer couldn't be clearer. "No. He's got to be Cam," Gettleman said. "You don't hold back a thoroughbred, you don't. I don't know if you watched the Belmont. When (American) Pharoah came around that backstretch and that horse was nipping at his heels, the jockey let him go. He didn't whip him. He's just, 'Go baby!' And that's what a thoroughbred does. You don't change their game. …You can't do it."
Falcons' second-year running back has put a strangle hold on the starting job this offseason. Tevin Coleman has showed promise but has clearly fallen to the RB2 spot. Antone Smith will be the RB3, however, he's more of a specialist anyway. Smith's role was always going to be what it is. Regardless of the depth chart, both Freeman and Coleman will see touches, while Smith will see targets in the passing game.
Buccaneers' running back Doug Martin has apparently received his wakeup call. After the team decided not to pick up his fifth-year option and rumors swirled that he was on the trade block, Martin went on to have his best offseason since prior to his rookie campaign. He has slimmed down to improve his speed and quickness, and it has shown. The Muscle Hamster has outperformed every other back on the roster.
Vincent Jackson will start for the Buccaneers this season, however, his role may be different. Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter plans to line Jackson up outside, in the slot and everywhere in between. Look for more versatility out of Jackson than we've ever seen before. Mike Evans will take over as the clear-cut WR1, nevertheless, that doesn't meant Jackson won't be just as productive as he was last season, perhaps even more so now that he has a legitimate NFL quarterback to throw him the ball.
We have heard nothing but positive things about first-overall pick Jameis Winston coming from the Buccaneers camp. They thoroughly believe he will be a very successful NFL quarterback. Nonetheless, offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter understands that he is going to go through his struggles. "Jameis is still a rookie. He's going to make mistakes that 21-year-old guys make," Koetter said. "Here's a guy that won a Heisman Trophy and a national championship yet his immaturity does show up sometimes on and off the field. It's been a learning process for me I'm sure just as much as it has been for him … In a perfect world as a coach, you really want to feel like you have control over knowing exactly what this guy is going to do. We don't have that with Jameis right now … Jameis does some things both sides. He does some things like 'Wow!' above and beyond what you would ask him to do every day. And then he does a couple of things every day where you go, 'Jameis, oh my god! Why did you just do that?' There's going to be growing pains."
Buccaneers' first-overall pick Jameis Winston has been accused in the past of being a bit chubby. He now wants to get back into peak conditioning. He spoke about this recently when he was asked about his goals (other than learning the playbook) between minicamp and training camp. "Trying to lose some weight, try to get back skinny," Winston said. "Right now I'm 238 (pounds), I'm trying to be my redshirt freshman year (weight), about 230. I mean, learn that playbook too, man, you can never go wrong with that."
Panthers potential main deep threat Philly Brown has developed both physically and mentally this offseason. He has worked hard to pack on five pounds of muscle and still manage to increase his speed as well. Not only that, but he has also improved as a receiver. Star tight end Greg Olsen had high praise of Brown. "Last year at this time, Corey (Philly) was a guy where we said, 'Wow, he's fast.' This year he is a receiver," Olsen said. "The guy can play. He's not just a one-trick pony, a guy who is just going to run deep. He has a lot of natural instinct to him. He has a good feel."
Last season, the Buccaneers offense was a complete disaster. Despite playing in the league's 30th ranked offense, Evans still managed to have a breakout rookie season and total 68 receptions, 1,051 yards and 12 touchdowns. At times last season he grew frustrated with his duo of incompetent quarterbacks and believes Jameis Winston will be a major upgrade. "The quarterback would just look me off, and then I'd be dead," Evans said. "And I didn't understand, because I always think I'm open. Just throw that thing up."
Panthers' rookie Devin Funchess was a projected first-round pick before a disastrous combine. He struggled down the stretch last season and ran a 4.7 40-yard dash. He blames a serious toe injury, which also hindered him last season, for his poor showing at the combine. Nonetheless, Funchess doesn't care about his 40 time and knows how good he is and can be, especially with Kelvin Benjamin on the other side. "You don't let people bring you down," Funchess said. "I proved it to everybody at the pro day. It wasn't open, as open as I wanted, but there were videos and film. And you can ask any scout there about what I ran. So, I don't really care about what I ran at the combine. I know what I know, and my game speed is faster than what most can run … We're (Funchess and Benjamin) going to be a dynamic duo, two 6-5 guys out there on the outside just making damage and causing havoc on the field. You never see that type of duo in the league, two 6-5 guys on the outside that are athletic and that can run and go up and get the ball. Nobody has that wingspan in the league like us, so it's going to be fun during the season."
Josh Morgan has put together some solid seasons in his career. However, things were beginning to look bleak as he was set to be on the wrong side of 30 this season and caught only 30 passes for less than 300 yards over the past two seasons. Then he signed with the Saints this offseason and things appear to be turning around. There will be plenty of opportunities for targets in New Orleans. Marques Colston is well past his prime, Jimmy Graham was traded to the Seahawks and Kenny Stills was shipped off to Miami. Morgan knows he has "a big opportunity" and led the teams WR corps in catches this spring. Head coach Sean Payton has taken notice and says Morgan fits what they're looking for. "Josh is someone that on film has shown that he does that and that he does it pretty well," said Payton. "He's smart, he's tough, he will block, he does a lot of things well. I think as we were beginning to put together the numbers at that position he fit a lot of the things that we were looking for."