NFC South Notes and Quotes

From the SportsXchange, here are notes and quotes from around the NFC South:

ATLANTA

Falcons owner Arthur Blank and president and general manager Rich McKay said the team would pursue roughly $22 million in signing bonus money it paid to Michael Vick. The process could take months. Blank said that cutting Vick would make a lot of people feel better but the Falcons have to keep Vick on their roster to collect the money.

Vick's $6 million base salary will come off the cap this season. Any money the team collects from Vick will also be credited to the salary cap the year after they collect a check from Vick.

"We don't do this in a way that's spiteful at all," McKay said. "We do this in a way that we feel is in the best interest of our football team."

— CB DeAngelo Hall shaved "I own 85" in the back of his head as part of his long standing, good-natured battle with Cincinnati's Chad "Ocho Cinco" Johnson. Johnson, who shaved off his blonde Mohawk hairdo last season when the Falcons defeated the Bengals, got revenge against Hall Monday night, beating him for an eight-yard touchdown then torching him on a slant-and-go for 31 yards.

— For the past three seasons, former head coach Jim Mora and offensive coordinator Greg Knapp said run-oriented quarterback Michael Vick should be exempt from the passer-rating statistic. Vick typically finished with a mark below 80. Well, when Joey Harrington registered a QB rating of 118 Monday night, the mark was raised several times by the team.

— The Falcons have slowly increased the use of punter/kicker Michael Koenen throughout the preseason, in part to ease the strain of a back injury. Koenen, who is the team's punter, took over kickoff duties in Week 2 and twice against the Bengals, he tried lengthy field goals. He missed both. The Falcons tried to have Koenen handle all three kicking chores at the start of last season but bailed on that rather quickly after Koenen struggled with field goals.

BY THE NUMBERS: 720 -- The combined weight of defensive tackle Grady Jackson and recently acquired DT Montavious Stanley (380)

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're focused on playing football and getting better as a team. When you bring the questions we're open to answering them. It helps the team move on. It takes away the elephant in the corner." -- QB Joey Harrington on how players have handled the Michael Vick situation.

CAROLINA

After tackling running backs for the first time in nearly a year, Carolina Panthers middle linebacker Dan Morgan was forced to tackle some tough questions after the game at his locker. Questions like: "Why are you still playing after five career concussions?"

Of course, he knew it was coming.

Morgan cleared his first obstacle by returning to live action Aug. 24 against New England, making it through the first quarter without any problems. His final line looked like this: 16 snaps, three tackles and no concussions.

It's the last number that has the Panthers excited.

The Panthers already know what Morgan can do on the football field. They just want to make sure he's there to do them, which is why coach John Fox limited Morgan's contact in training camp and in the preseason.

"We're a better team with Dan on the field," Fox said.

Although there are some people who fear Morgan is making the wrong move by returning to the NFL, he reiterated that he feels entirely comfortable with his decision.

He also said the entire issue is being overblown.

"I think it has in a way," Morgan said. "Nobody knows how I feel. Unless you are in my shoes and know how I feel then that's something that somebody can't talk about if they don't know."

Clearly, Morgan is looking forward to the day where doesn't have to answer any more questions about concussions.

But that may be a long time down the road.

Morgan cleared one obstacle on Friday night, but he still must prove to coaches, teammates and fans that he can play a full 60 minutes week in and week out for at least 16 weeks.

"It's good to have people worried about me," Morgan said. "I would be concerned if they didn't worry about me. I wouldn't have too many friends. So it's nice to have people that care about me. At the same time I feel really good about my situation and staying healthy this year. I feel like I made the right steps toward getting healthy. I felt good tonight and I'm going to keep building on that."

— The Panthers held starting quarterback Jake Delhomme out of practice Aug. 27 one day after he felt a "twitch" in his side while throwing. The injury, which occurred late in Sunday's practice, is not believed to be serious and coach John Fox emphasized that Delhomme was held out only as a precautionary measure.

Carolina's starters aren't getting many reps this week anyway.

"Really, there was not much to (what happened) on Sunday," Fox said. "We rested him today and we'll move from there."

Delhomme did dress for practice, but he did not participate in team drills. He seemed in good spirits, at times joking with other teammates.

After Sunday's practice Delhomme told reporters he felt a "twitch" in his side, but said it was no big deal and that he felt fine.

— QB David Carr is battling through a broken toe that he injured last week when he got stepped on in practice. He hasn't missed any practice time, but it limits his ability to scramble.

— S Nate Salley's comeback is on temporary hold. Salley, who has been trying to get back on the field after a knee injury earlier in training camp, was held out of practice Aug. 27 while he battles some swelling in his knee.

It's expected that if Salley can get healthy soon he has a decent chance at reclaiming the starting free safety spot from Deke Cooper. However, Salley's lingering knee problems could put additional pressure on the Panthers to sign a veteran free agent if one is cut next week.

"Any time guys are on the shelf it's concerning because they are not out there practicing and, hopefully, getting better," Fox said. "It's not his fault. It's not our fault. It's just part of the game."

— The Panthers have been working to rectify their problems on their field goal team after the New England game. With backups on the field, Carolina's line broke down twice resulting in two blocked John Kasay field-goal attempts by New England.

"We had some rotation in there due to some things that happened in the game and we didn't execute," Fox said. "It was poor execution and something that we've got to get cleaned up."

BY THE NUMBERS: 32 -- Panthers' NFL rank in both kickoff return average and punt return average last season.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I love to play the game. I have a family and obviously they come first in my life. I've sat down and had long talks with them about coming back and playing. I have the support of my family and my teammates, and that's all I need. I feel good about my decision about coming back and I have no regrets." -- LB Dan Morgan on returning to football after five concussions.

NEW ORLEANS

The close duel between veteran punter Chris Hanson and incumbent Steve Weatherford ended a little sooner than expected when the Saints released Hanson last Tuesday.

Saints coach Sean Payton said last week the competition likely wouldn't be settled until the final cut. But Hanson, who made the Pro Bowl in 2002 with the Jacksonville Jaguars, was released when the roster was cut to 75 players.

Hanson was signed in early May to provide competition for Weatherford, who averaged 43.8 yards a kick a year ago as an undrafted rookie.

Neither punter got much of a chance in the first four exhibition games because the Saints' offense was so efficient. But Weatherford clearly held the upper hand in averaging 48.5 yards on 10 kicks, while Hanson averaged 40.6 yards on five attempts.

— The Saints waived two other players before their final preseason game with the Miami Dolphins, cutting wide receiver Jamal Jones and running back Jamaal Branch to reach the limit of 75 players.

Jones made the active roster last season after impressing the coaches in training , but he's been bothered most of the summer by a sore left knee that limited his practice time and playing time in exhibition games.

Branch, a member of the Saints' practice squad ion 2006 before being activated for the season finale, was buried on the depth chart this summer and didn't get much of a chance behind Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush and backups Aaron Stecker and Antonio Pittman.

Cut earlier last week were quarterback Jason Fife, wide receiver Aaron Hosack, linebacker Desmond Sims and cornerback Joe Porter.

— If the Saints had been playing their season opener last week instead of on Sept. 6, All-Pro left tackle Jammal Brown would have been in the starting lineup.

Brown practiced last week after missing three weeks of work with a bruised bone in his right knee, but Payton held him out of the exhibition finale with the Dolphins.

"He would be starting this weekend if we weren't just resting him," Payton said. "He's close to 100 percent right now and he's practicing with the ones and going against (Pro Bowl defensive end) Will Smith. We plan on playing him against Indianapolis, certainly."

— Payton expects tight end Mark Campbell to return to practice next week and hopefully be ready for the Colts' game after getting an injection in his ailing back.

"He had an epidural to kind of calm it down," Payton said. "He should be fine. We won't play him in this game, but we're just resting that injury and let it take 24 hours or so. He should be able to practice all next week."

— All-Pro quarterback Drew Brees, who didn't play in the final preseason game with the Dolphins, wasn't overly impressed with his play in the previous three games.

The Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals and Kansas City Chiefs might beg to differ, however, after Brees completed 35 of 39 passes for 355 yards and a TD against them.

"I think it's what you expect," said Brees. "In the preseason, you want to look efficient and sharp. That's obviously what I've tried to do. I can tell you every one of those four incompletions that should be complete."

— Sports Illustrated has tabbed the Saints to win Super Bowl XLII in the magazine's annual NFL Preview Issue that hit newsstands Wednesday.

Also, NFL writer Peter King ranks Drew Brees eighth and Reggie Bush 19th among his list of top 500 players in the league.

BY THE NUMBERS: 6,264 -- Total offense in 2006 for the Saints, who led the NFL for the first time in the 40-year history of the franchise.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "The only thing separating them is the rings. The work ethic, attitude, leadership skills. I'll tell you what, man, they're not that far apart." -- Saints WR David Patten on the differences between quarterback Drew Brees and former teammate Tom Brady, who has won three Super Bowl rings.

TAMPA BAY

Second-year receiver Maurice Stovall was the early darling of training camp, even earning the No. 2 spot on the first depth chart. But since then, David Boston has replaced him.

Stovall fumbled inside the red zone against Jacksonville. But coach Jon Gruden said Stovall is slowly getting his legs back under him.

"He's a magician. He disappeared on me for about 10 days," Gruden said. "I haven't seen him around here for about two weeks. He's showing up again. I think his legs are coming back. He really showed up at training camp and was dominant. He had a great opening week or eight days of training camp. He did disappear, in my opinion, from what I wanted to see in the next 10 days. He's picked it back up."

— As preseason tests go, the Bucs offense couldn't ask for a better exam.

Tampa Bay played three of the top six ranked defenses from 2006 -- the Patriots (6th), Jaguars (2nd) and Dolphins (4th).

Quarterback Jeff Garcia believes it will only make the Bucs better.

"They're great challenges for us," Garcia said. "We have to prepare for those types of things. We need to be a better offense than we've been, especially in the past, and we need to continue to build upon. But going against quality defenses week in and week out can only help."

"Eventually, preseason gets a little old and you're risking injury stepping out on the field and you want it to count if you're going to be risking something," Garcia said. "That's why I think I'm ready for the regular season."

— On receiver David Boston's arrest Thursday on DUI charges, Gruden reiterated the sentiment in the team's statement: "Whatever happens will, obviously, be determined. But there is no evidence that we have to support those charges."

BY THE NUMBERS: 5 -- This is the fifth team in five years for QB Jeff Garcia.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Eventually, preseason gets a little old and you're risking injury stepping out on the field and you want it to count if you're going to be risking something. That's why I think I'm ready for the regular season." -- QB Jeff Garcia.


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